title: The Show Me State
author: Ellen Milholland
rating: PG-13 [language, adult themes, sexuality]
codes: cj/mandy, femslash, campaign fic
disclaimers: standard disclaimers apply.
summary: "They see harder and deeper than with microscopes, but they'll never know one another at all."
notes: for Luna. because she hates it, and I love her.
"Columbia, Missouri is redeemed only by the fact that I'll be drunk soon." CJ is crouching down in front of the minibar, and there's a gap where her shirt doesn't quite meet her wrinkled slacks. She's lining little bottles of liquor up in a row on the counter next to the sink. "And, hey, Jack Daniels. God bless America."
Mandy is sitting on the bed behind her. It's a Holiday Inn Express, so they have great suites with a bunch of beds, except it's practically three to a twin. Everybody's out foraging, and someone had even suggested that there might be a wine bar, but CJ had declined and Mandy had followed her upstairs because nobody liked it when Mandy came along.
In the hallway outside her room, CJ had said, "You should go out with the others. You must be hungry." Mandy's hair was messy from too much wind, and her eyes were swollen from too little sleep. She had cheap eyeliner smudged into the corner of her eye and no lipstick left. Her combination skin was perfectly honest.
"I ate on the road. I think. I distinctly remember a pretty unpleasant run in with a BK Broiler." Mandy was leaning against the too-tasteful wallpaper, her powder blue button-down blending in like corporate camouflage. Then she said, "No, seriously. I'm fine. I want to stay." She was asking for permission.
So CJ shrugged. "Wet bar?"
Mandy never turned down a drink. "Wet bar. Think we can smoke in here?"
"It's 1998. Smoking is still legal in about two square acres of Midwestern prairie."
"Looks like I've come to the right place, then." In the room, Mandy threw open the window and let the twilight in. It's a good sunset, well structured and well colored. Or at least, it's good enough. Now CJ's emptying the wet bar, and Mandy eats Pringles from a long can.
CJ says, "Could you chew quieter?"
"Am I disturbing your very professional appraisal of the liquor?" Mandy kicks off her shoes. "Would you like to be alone?"
"If I said yes, would you leave?" CJ asks.
"No. This is my room, too. Don't drink my Jack."
"I thought you were sleeping with Josh." CJ falls back onto her heels and lets her head fall until her hair slips between her shoulder blades. She's wearing a Bartlet for America teeshirt that's been washed one too many times, pulled tight across her shoulders. All Mandy can see is the top of her head, where her roots are growing out.
CJ says, "Well, there was a sentence I really didn't need to say out loud."
"No, it's a fair enough assessment. It's not like he likes me or anything."
"You're the token cheap fuck?"
"And you're not drunk yet, CJ?" Mandy leans back against the bed and crosses her ankles. CJ finally stands up and turns around. Her eyes are red, and her cheeks are pulled tight across bird-fine bones. Her mouth is liquid.
"I haven't slept in, I don't know, say forty-five, fifty hours. I'm a little punchy."
"Better tone that down. Press won't be impressed by your dirty mouth, no matter how corn-fed lovely you happen to be." Sulfuric acid is sweeter than the air in this room, so CJ opens a bottle of Absolut and pours it into a plastic cup. It gives her an excuse to turn her back again.
"What the hell is it about Missouri that makes us like this, Mandy?"
"Must be some sort of pollen. Grass or something. You gonna give me a drink?"
"I look like the bartender? Though, I'd like to point out, I do make a fabulous cocktail."
"I'll keep that in mind." Mandy pushes herself up, bare feet against the dark blue carpet. Her toenails are painted silver, and she brushes up against CJ as she reaches for a cup. CJ stiffens like Mandy's a spider, all slithery legs and big eyes, but Mandy can't see anything at all. "Hey, sorry," she says. "Pass me one of those?"
CJ hands her the bottle without meeting her eyes, and Mandy pours it into the cup and drinks it in one mouthful. She doesn't flinch. CJ keeps the vodka in her mouth long enough that her gums hurt and only swallows because she might vomit. Which is hardly an excuse, she thinks, but she swirls the liquor in the cup anyway.
She walks over, sits down on the bed so that she's as far away from Mandy as possible. She pulls her feet up onto the comforter, puts her back against the headboard. Closes her eyes. Mandy thinks she's beautiful in that tragic heroine sort of way but doesn't say so because CJ wouldn't understand, or worse, she would. Mandy sits down at the foot of the bed again, smiles emptily because that's what she does when she's in a situation that's uncomfortable.
"You didn't go either."
"To have dinner. To spend time with them. Toby looked particularly--"
Mandy laughs hollowly. "Touché. I'm just saying--"
"Don't just say, alright?"
"Right," Mandy says, looking over her shoulder. "Because you get to make me into the campaign slut, and you get off scot-free. That's fair."
CJ doesn't open her eyes. "I don't have the energy for this, Mandy."
"No, I wouldn't think so."
CJ blinks at that. "What do you mean by that?"
"You're a busy woman. You're a popular, professional, busy woman. I know."
"You talk like you don't even want me to understand."
Mandy gets up and walks over to the window. She lights a cigarette with a cheap lighter and leans her head outside. She holds the cigarette, smoldering, outside, then looks back at CJ.
"It's fine that you don't like me. I'm not here to be liked; I'm here to get a job done," Mandy says, her mouth twisting as she says it.
"Then why do you care what I think? Because you do. You stand there with your cheap cigarettes, and you're waiting for me to say, 'It's okay that you're a bitch, Mandy. I'm so glad you're sleeping with Josh--'"
"Fuck Josh," Mandy hisses.
"You've pretty much got that covered, don't you think?"
Mandy sighs, slumps back against the wall. She takes a drag off the cigarette, holds it in her lungs until it hurts, blows smoke rings.
"They're going to make us pay when they smell that."
"I'm good for it," Mandy says. "And could you just-- could you leave Josh out of it?"
"Out of what?" CJ stretches her legs down towards the end of the bed. Her teeshirt clings to her stomach. "You know, what I don't understand is why--" She shakes her head and laughs dryly. "You're standing here, even though you think I hate you."
Mandy doesn't move.
"Though, the real secret is that I don't hate you. I hardly know you for all you try to keep us on the outside. You don't want any of us to like you. You make sure we won't."
"Probably," CJ shrugs. "I don't even know where you went to school."
"Wellesley and Harvard."
"Of course," CJ laughs. "You went to Wellesley and Harvard. Of course, you did. I should have guessed."
"What's supposed to mean?"
"Nothing at all. I'm just saying, I should have known."
Mandy tries to hide behind her cigarette but it only succeeds in making her look nineteen and too old for this job. "I'm not going to just suddenly go and admit to you that deep down, I always just wanted my daddy to love me, so now I push people away."
Mandy's eyes harden. "Yeah, fuck you. I mean it. Everyone says, 'Oh, that CJ's so nice. So nice.'"
"You're angry because they think I'm nicer than they think you are?"
"You are nicer than I am. I'm angry because you think--"
"You have no idea what I think." CJ throws her legs over the edge of the bed, digs her toes into the carpet. Takes a few steps towards Mandy that might be menacing, so Mandy flicks her cigarette butt out the window. "You're so God-damned selfish that--"
"Oh, please. Yeah, let's play this way, CJ. Let's sling around the insults until one of us runs home to mommy." Mandy is the ugliest woman CJ's ever met, but she has great teeth.
"You're good at that. Deflecting. Did you have to practice that?"
"You don't even have to see me when you look at me. You just see a little pieced-together picture of all the things you hate about me," Mandy says, leaning back against the wall.
"Thank you, Dr. Hampton."
"Tell me that I'm wrong. You don't know me at all. You don't even know why you don't like me. It's not because I'm fucking Josh, because that's not your game. I'm not in competition for your job. I'm not that good at my own job. Toby hates me. Sam hates me. But you-- You, my dear, are the enigma."
"I think it's just because you're a bitch."
"That was my next guess," Mandy shrugs, and CJ's too close to her, too close, and Mandy says, "You're going to regret this, CJ."
"Regret what?" CJ says, too soft.
Mandy kisses her, mouth stinging with violence and alcohol lit aflame. CJ's hands go up to push Mandy away but end up on her shoulders pushing her back against the wall. This isn't the first time this has happened, but it's the first time CJ would admit to herself that it was exorcism. Mandy smells like citrus oil and grease and the inside of suitcases. She isn't wearing a bra; there are no straps where CJ's grabbing her, hard enough to bruise.
Mandy bites down on her lower lip hard enough to make CJ hiss, and then to make her moan. It's okay that she hates herself for it, because people do things like this. It doesn't mean anything, or it means everything. It doesn't matter. Mandy's thumb brushes past one of CJ's nipples, hard through the flesh-thin cotton of CJ's shirt. CJ grabs Mandy's wrist hard enough twist it down, and Mandy says, "Tell me you don't want it."
"I don't want it."
"Tell me you won't do it anyway," Mandy says.
CJ opens her mouth, like she's going to tell Mandy just that. She closes her mouth, then she says, "I always do."
"It's not me you hate, CJ," Mandy says, then runs her tongue along the underside of CJ's jawbone.
"No? I was pretty sure," CJ says on a caught breath, but she's not stupid.
"Let's not talk about it anymore. I think you're beautiful anyway," Mandy says, kisses CJ again. They see harder and deeper than with microscopes, but they'll never know one another at all. Not really.
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