Title: The Last Tempest
Author: Elliott Silver
Rating: NC17 (Metaphorical NC17, for the most part, but NC17 nonetheless)
Timeline: After "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" and before "The Black Vera Wang" - in short, at the Helsinki summit
Author's Note: Is it believable? I don't know. Is it possible? Maybe.
Summary: They were fighting not to want each other and tonight, they stopped fighting.
Miranda: O brave new world/ that has such people in it.
Prospero: 'Tis new to thee.
The Tempest, 5.1.185-187.
She walked down the corridors of the Presidential Palace stiffly and faster than any woman should be able to, in not quite four-inch heels. It wasn't a walk of wobbles and sprains, but of sleeplessness, tension, and bone-jarring anger. Her pale blue square-neck dress rattled like bone teeth.
"You know what, I quit."
In his fonder moments, President Bartlet called CJ Cregg his Miranda. Tonight, he was less fond and called her an idiot, among other things.
She left the great gilded ballroom of the Presidential Palace with its stock of fools, liars, and devils, but she couldn't outrun him. He was trained to jog alongside moving cars, but even so, Simon Donovan was hard-pressed to keep up.
Anger rippled under her skin and invaded her movements.
Not three hours before, Presidents Bartlet and Chegorin had announced their glorious plans for a secure, undivided Europe and a free, peace-loving world. There had been not a word about a heavy water plant in Iran. He had seen the well-masked tension in CJ's face as she had announced that to the press. She hated lying.
She hated the helpless, struggling feeling that no matter how hard they worked, they always failed at something. She hated that no matter how much they gained, they always seemed to lose more. She hated that no matter how much they tried to make sense of the world and right its wrongs that schoolgirls still burned in Saudi Arabia, that the women of Qumar were still beaten to death, and that the Russians had given Iran the power and capability to destroy the planet.
She had been the last one to be told about Iran, for obvious reasons. And when she protested to Jed Bartlet about the truth, he had called her an idiot, among other things. She was the only one who stood up to the most powerful man in the world and argued for the right and true things; and he crushed her for it. But she was the one that had to tell the world and spin those lies with a gracious, resilient smile. She was half a step from collapsing, from letting go of all she held dear, because the world was caving in all around her.
"It's a new world," he said to CJ and she turned on him.
"Oh yes," she answered him bitterly. "A brave new world."
And then he turned on her, stopping and pressing her up against the gold-leaf wall in Helsinki simply by the sheer intimidation of his body. He never touched her; but the ten inches of space between them bent in like a caress. CJ forgot whatever smart-ass snide comment she had been about to spout off at him. Her back was streamlined against the wall and for the first time in a while, she stood straight. She forgot that the President called her an idiot and all the lies she spun about strong bilateral ties and she forgot she wanted to quit.
When he stopped, Simon made her breathe again. That dangerous look came back into her eyes, the one that said she did believe in one thing, maybe the last thing. He knew what it was; it was his last belief too.
But in this world, not brave and not new, it was the only thing they couldn't believe in.
She was wearing a blue dress and a necklace of fourteen tear-dropped topazes, each blue bead surrounded by a cluster of quarter carat diamonds furiously throwing prisms of light everywhere she turned. She had more money around her throat than the GNP of most former Soviet satellites and she was so exquisite, it was painful.
Their faces were so close that it hurt.
She could have had any man in the gold-gilded ballroom of the Presidential Palace tonight, including Chegorin, if she wanted them. The Russian President had noticed the American Press Secretary from the moment she stepped off the plane, securely bundled up but sans earmuffs, behind Sam. It had been a replay of Paris all over again, of Khruschev answering JFK he'd rather shake Jackie's hand first.
Simon had stayed firmly between Nikolai Chegorin and CJ Cregg all night.
She could have had Toby, if only she asked him, and she could have had Sam, if only she touched him. She could have had Josh much easier; after two shots of Koskenkorva at 40% alcohol it was quite clear Josh couldn't hold his alcohol with any of them. Simon had to pry Josh away from the press secretary before he conducted lewd and lascivious acts in the middle of the Helsinki summit. Josh's echoes of "mi amor" bounced against them even as Sam and Toby dragged him away.
In the gilded hallway lined with slick oil portraits, they leaned towards each other. Her cheek brushed against his, still smooth from shaving before the official reception. Their lips almost touched.
Down the twisting corridor, a door slammed somewhere and they separated so quickly she felt dizzy. CJ paced down the hallway towards her room, just slightly unsteady in her heels as she left him two steps behind. But he had seen her shaken eyes, like chips of ice spinning. He felt that way too.
Anna was waiting outside CJ's door, perfectly punctual. She rattled off to the command that Donovan checked in and she had Flamingo. She smiled soothingly at CJ; CJ slid open her door without ever glancing at the agent and turned her back on him.
"Good night, Ms. Cregg," he said and his voice was deep as he walked from her door to his.
She was standing too close to the window when he came into her room through the connecting door of his command room. The door wasn't open, but it was unlocked. As he stepped across the space, the world outside turned upside down - meteors flared over the skin of the skies like blue blood dripping.
He'd forgotten a storm had been predicted, but everything was different here in Finland, even the way the earth spun.
The door latched quietly behind him.
She turned to him as quickly as they had fallen away from each other. Blue stars shot over her face and he saw in their reflection that she hadn't thought he would come.
He knew he shouldn't have.
But he was tired of fighting her; he was more tired of fighting to not want her. As he walked up to her, each step echoed in the cold room.
Simon wasn't going to fight anymore.
CJ had given up in the hallway. She was always quicker; he was nobler.
There was enough fighting in the world without fighting these senseless battles.
"Itís a new world," he repeated and waited for her to choose. Outside comets were raining from the heavens like tears. CJ watched them fall, two people burning.
They were going to pay for this night, they both knew. They would pay for this undeniable pull between them, and they didn't care because they didn't yet know how much that would be. If they had known it would come at the price of couture dresses and bullets in his chest, they might not have paid the exorbitant price. All they knew was that they wanted something to believe: they wanted each other. It was as simple and as complicated and as terrifying as that.
She moved towards him on rays of blue starshine until there was nothing but one breath between them. The hem of her dress slid against the creases of his trousers. His breath grated in his throat. Her eyes shimmered like stars falling.
Outside, Anna's radio crackled with static.
He could feel her heart beating half off-key the space between them.
In a way, he prayed for her to move back, but she never did and he saw how tired she was of fighting too. When she swayed towards him, her body pressed into his and aligned like the cosmos that poured down outside their window.
He wrapped his hand around the back of her head, her hair slippery clean against his palm, and he met her open mouth with his own. Her lips tasted like demi sec champagne and when his tongue ran over the roof of her mouth and she shivered in his arms, he tasted the salty tang of Koskenkorva vodka. They kissed elegantly at first, and then when he felt her heart against his chest, frantically until she ran out of breath. As she kissed him again, slower and deeper, neither knew that the next time she tried to kiss him on the tree-lined street outside her apartment, he would remember his job and she would pull away, embarrassed and hurt for the fumbling. He would only know the stringing of the rebuff in her eyes as he tried to act normal for the secret service agent waiting for them on CJ's front steps - he would fail miserably. She would leave him alone on the dark street, reeling for her touch, the first time he had ever considered switching sides.
The glare of the comet shards spun round the earth reflected off her retinas.
They stumbled together into her bedroom where her clothes were still lying in unpacked heaps on top of her suitcases, pausing only at the foot of the bed to disentangle themselves. In the cold room, they stood alone and stared at each other. CJ's dress glowed pale blue like a faceted stone; his white shirt blazed like a flare.
It was their last chance.
"We can't do this," Simon said; his voice was even in a tilted world.
"I know," CJ answered him and her voice was all light and heat as she kissed him again and he tasted all the longing in the world.
Simon had wanted her ever since he had met her face-to-face and seen all that television couldn't possibly capture. He wanted her even though he knew he couldn't have her; he wanted her even though he knew it was impossible and he knew just because it was impossible made it no less real.
The night was shattered by the whiplash of comets; blue stars shivered throughout the sky. But they weren't looking there for their answers.
Simon shrugged out of his black jacket and let it fall to the ground. He saw the relief in her eyes as the material crumpled to the thick carpet.
His cuff links fell like pennies in a wishing well; the sound of their breathing was hundred-fold in his ears as he pulled the black leather holster from his shoulders. The Magnum glowed dully in the night; it was still hot and he flicked the safety before it slipped to the floor. CJ watched it fall slowly; it fell like a star between them.
For a second, he felt so naked without the gun that he almost stopped. But then she laid her hands on his and he felt her certainty.
She wasn't Miranda, he thought as he stood before her barechested, his heart exposed. CJ would never be that simple. No, Simon thought, she was the grand flawed wizard of words whose myriad of worlds slipped from her fingers. She was Prospero, the part so extraordinarily beautiful and painful that Shakespeare had written it with himself in mind.
He reached for the zipper of her dress and drew it downwards. The blue silk slid off her body like smoke, like magic.
Simon didn't know that when he would see her trying on dresses in Barneys with her niece in a week, he would feel the thick raw silk of the blue dress as it slid to the floor like a shadow, when she stood before him with nothing but the reflecting light of the meteors on her skin and he had kissed the path of every shooting star to touch her.
The fourteen topazes threw coruscated reflections across the walls like a planetarium's stars; half of those sparkling flashes slid across his chest. When she drew towards him, the reflections of the blue stone scattered across the space like her hands on his body.
Her eyes were depthless as meteors; her expression, the last tempest.
The necklace was the only thing, besides his hands, on her body.
They fell onto the bed, kicking off shoes and stockings and pants until, when they reached for each other, there was nothing between their blued skins but sweat. Cerulean light pooled in the curve of her collarbone where he kissed her and she shivered.
As he watched her, Simon knew only two things: that she was more brilliant than burning meteors and that he had never wanted anything, not even his post on the President's detail, as much as he wanted this woman in front of his now. He didn't know in three days, he would want her just as badly as this, as they walked to her apartment in the DC night. He didn't know he would want to kiss her to take the chastened expression from her face when she learned that he had been at Rosslyn, that the hands that had slid down her skin on a cold night in Helsinki had fired a bullet into a fifteen year-old's head.
Instead, tonight, they reveled in heat. Their bodies weren't young, didn't have that nubile spring to them anymore, but Simon had that steady power of rhythm, the way she imagined the hoofbeats of a knight's charger. There was an inflexible tension between them, the way their bodies didn't bend, more deeply provocative than any erotic contortionism.
Stiff angles jolted pleasure more fully than elastic give.
Her hands guided him as he pushed in and entered her with a joltingly straight stroke that hurt less than the jarring waves of pleasure seething through her. When he fit all the way, they both gasped, a drawn-out hiss of air between their teeth.
They both knew just by the way they moved into each other that neither had had anyone lately. As gentle as he was, he felt how tight she was and as much as she strained not to tighten around him, she felt how close he was.
There had never been anything like this, this perfect fit, because no one really ever fit. He was thicker than she liked and her body was the breaking glass of hipbones and angles that poked into him. But she had never felt like this; she had never been free and he had never seen light.
As they moved together, Simon knew there were things to remember in life: his father's fierce pride at his graduation two months before he died; when he helped apprehend Reginald Boss, a child killer, with the Chicago PD; the day he'd saved the President's life by ending a fifteen year old's; Toby's blessedly heartfelt benediction as he and she stood before him the day after the election and broke the news. CJ would be glowing that day, so nervously radiant she seemed like a pulsar standing next to him. But of all things he would remember, the one he would remember, even as bullets thudded into his chest in a dingy New York corner store and he thought he might be dying, was her eyes this starry night as she reached for him.
Simon braced up on his forearms, balancing his weight off her. Her fingers tightened around his arms, his own knuckles white as he clutched at the bed. They weren't interested in fancy tonight; they weren't interested in anything but the belief that bodies joined and hearts pounded and some things were real and truthful and more powerful than the heavens crumbling around them.
When CJ looked at him, it was as if she had stolen meteors, blue-hot and blazing, from the swirling sky and draped them around the cords of her neck.
He touched her like she was no less.
They moved like the sea, rocking into each other. His weight met hers and she thrust against him from below so that the back of his mind went black. The friction of their bodies was like meteorites burning, stripping away all matter into fragile, evanescent light.
As he touched her, he didn't know that after the sirens and blurred fluorescence he would wake in a New York hospital at the end of May. He didn't know the doctors would tell him he had slight internal bleeding and massive bruising, but that he would feel this woman's touch on his arm and only then he would know he was alive. He didn't know then that he would open his eyes and see her, and she would kiss him as he put his IV-ed hands around her head, and he would thank God for putting on the bulletproof vest.
"CJ," he whispered, the first time he called her by her name. His voice was sharp as her muscles tensed around him, drew him even deeper, and he knew even before she did when she began shivering. Her body trembled like storm and he moved inside her the way he knew she needed.
"Simon," she breathed as she held onto him and her voice was a prayer. He rocked into her again, shuddering with the effort of holding off, and her eyes snapped shut so that there was a vacuum of blue. Her body shook as she let go and as he watched her, followed her, bursting from the inside out and falling like a star as the last tempest swept over them.
Outside the clatter of people watching the meteors rose in nonsensical syllables. Down in the ballroom, the presidents of America and Russia would still be celebrating their pact to keep the world safe. Up here in this blue-shaded room, CJ's necklace glistened into his skin as if the stones had melted. The world crowded back in between them and everything cold and real fell on their naked bodies. Hell crowded in where heaven had stood only a moment before.
The silence in the room was full of bitter frost and they both realized how cold it was in Finland outside the window, out in the world where the sky was falling and everyone thought it was a beautiful thing.
They had stopped fighting, forgetting that the worst battles were the ones still left to fight. They didnít know before New York he would be gruff and harsh because he wanted her so badly, that he would tell her he couldn't date or kiss or even call a protectee by their first name. He didnít know she would be angry with him because he had already kissed her and called her by her first name when the hypocritical secret service rules told them they couldn't.
Outside the sky burned with skidding meteorites like fallout.
"I'm going to get fired," he told her but the disbelief wasn't in his voice. She was still in his arms. He could still taste the tang of Koskenkorva from her mouth in his, as bitter as the icy frost on the window where she'd stood in the blue dress he'd been staring through all evening, watching meteors burst through the sky like bullets into dark layers of Kevlar.
Simon's words echoed off the walls like the reflections of the meteors that were in the end, nothing but dust motes burning; CJ had been waiting for them.
"At the very least I'll get a severe reprimand and leave your detail." Simon ran his hand across his face. He had been the achingly sober one. He didn't know what he had been thinking, except that he had been thinking of her. He had been thinking she was like a shooting star, burning and pulsing and crying out for him to catch her. He had been thinking how the blue light reflected on her skin where he kissed her and in her eyes as she held him. He had been thinking she was like a dervish storm; he had been thinking she was the last tempest. And he had wanted to feel her storm rage within him, on him, with him.
"It would be all over the press," CJ said dully and her voice hung suspended across the still air. Her head spun. It wasn't the potato liquor; it was the taste of his sweat on her tongue and the way he held her, with one arm around her waist so that their hipbones fit like a socket. It was the way she had always wanted to be held and he was going to let her go. He had to; neither of them could stop the world, neither of them could reach up and hold back the sea of hurling blue stars.
Simon knew far worse things had happened to the White House high staff and he also knew that at no time in any administration had that ever mattered. He thought about all the respect that she would lose not only with the press corps but with the staff. He imagined her censure from the President and probably from Leo as well; he imagined the hurt, shocked look on Toby's face. Everything she had ever worked for and wanted would slip through her fingers before she even realized it was gone and she would be left with a shell of a job and the honorary title of Press Secretary.
And then Simon thought about her stalker, whoever he was and whatever camera he was using to take pictures of her and whatever computer devices he was using to fake email address and send death threats. He had no idea what news of this night and his preliminary resignation would do. Would it act as a catalyst to action when he wouldn't be there to protect her? Would it anger him into violence? He could live knowing he was an idiotic jackass for giving in to everything he had ever wanted; he couldn't live if something happened to this woman because of it, for the simple reason they needed to feel heat in a freezing world.
And egotistical as it was, he still believed he was the best person to protect her. He couldn't protect her from himself, but if anyone else dare mess with this woman in his arms, there wasn't a corner of the world he wouldn't scour, no edge of the sky that wouldn't reflect the silver cartridges as they plunked to the ground, if that was what it would take.
"Simon," CJ's husky voice roused him. Her hand was on his bicep, her fingers curled around his skin. "This never happened."
And in three words, she managed to turn the world upside down and shake it so hard everything tumbled down in broken pieces. It was the only thing he had never wanted her to say; it was their only solution. He hated it; but he knew it too. It was the only way.
"CJ," Simon said and pulled her back to him. She looked up into his face and even in the dark, her eyes glowed white-blue.
Blue stars burned the hottest, but blueshift was how you knew a star was moving away from you, because the light "shifts" from white to blue.
Tonight they had seen each other fall, fall like those streaming pieces of blue meteors, and knew falling was possible. Tonight had been their mutual downfall and resurrection, although the resurrection would come three weeks later, in the artificial brightness of a hospital room after he had eaten a chestful of bullets. CJ would come to him that night, in the cursed black Vera Wang he had watched her try on, and she would run her hands over him the way he remembered. He didn't yet know that time she wouldn't let go.
Simon would wake months after that and see blue dawn in her eyes and they would both whisper three tiny words to each other in the morning stillness. And he would realize just as Shakespeare had known Prospero's tale would be his last creation, that CJ was the only woman for him, that she was his last tempest. He had known from the beginning and when touched that night in Helsinki, knew as Shakespeare had known, that some words last forever.
But he didnít know that now; he didn't know where it would all end. All he knew was that he had failed, and he had failed her. All he knew was that they had stopped fighting because fighting was too hard. They had stopped fighting because they wanted each other and believed in better things, like meteors and light, and forgot that even stars stopped falling sometime. More importantly, they had forgotten that they weren't allowed to fall.
Simon stopped looking at her and slipped out of the bed, pulling his clothes from the floor where they dropped them and yanking them on with more tension than he needed.
They would board Air Force One tomorrow; he would be off duty and sit in the back section of the plane. It would be Anna's day off when they arrived in Washington and Simon would take the Press Secretary back to the White House and no one would suspect a thing by the bland way they acted around each other. She would demand to drive her baby blue '65 Mustang convertible, tell him she would feel the wind blowing over her wherever she wanted it, and that he could stare at her taillights. He would steal her spark plugs and no one would be any the wiser.
His white shirt radiated in the Helsinki night as he finished tucking the tails into his black trousers. He held his tie in his hand and bent to pick up his holster from the floor. The Magnum had never weighed more in his life as he strapped it to his shoulder where it belonged. He walked silently to the connecting door and, hovering for a second between her room and his, closed it behind him so slowly the lock didn't catch until the last second.
Outside her walls, CJ heard the crackle of Anna's radio and a few muffled words. She hadn't heard him walk away and for that she was glad.
When they saw each other again, the sky would no longer be falling. Perhaps, CJ thought, that would be a good thing; then they would try to believe that the only reason for this night had been because meteors were flying down all around them in blue streaks and their reflections on nude skin made the end of the world seem imminent.
But she wondered about meteorites and the man whose flesh still resided in her: she wondered how to pick up the pieces when the pieces were gone.
Outside, the sky brightened with morning. The hail of meteors had slackened.
CJ lay back down in the bed redolent with their scent and she stared out the barred window at the dawn rising over the lapping Baltic and the golden spires of the Uspenski Cathedral. She didn't hear Simon, looking out his own window, hurl curses against the empty Helsinki horizon. She didn't see him pull the Magnum from his holster and watch the morning light reflect of its shiny surfaces; she didn't see him very slowly flick the safety off again, as per secret service regulations, as if everything was the same, but knowing it wasn't. She didnít see him sit numbly on the couch and hide his face with the palms of his hands, smelling her touch there and thinking of falling stars.
She would get out of bed in 47 minutes, shower in scalding hot water, and riffle through her bags for a high-necked blouse, an ivory cashmere turtleneck that hid the topaz necklace she wouldn't take off until they reached DC.
She would be CJ Cregg and she wouldn't quit. She would be the American Press Secretary and she would ignore the Russian President. She would tell the American President to re-read Shakespeare and to stop giving her minor roles, because she was Prospero and she didn't settle for less. She would pretend nothing had happened in Helsinki except for drunken lies and international policy. She would try to forget that she and Simon had burned together and made a light that brightened the dark places where all other lights had gone out.
But she wouldnít forget, and when she held his hand as they walked from the New York hospital into the early summer, the bullet bruises on his chest the colors of meteors, she knew he never had either.
Shakespeare was hard to forget.
But that was hours and eternities down the track, and in Helsinki, she was still alone and the stars had stopped falling. CJ cocooned in their bed and thought of Prospero darkly.
"O brave new world," she said from memory and her voice was heavy as ice and sin and the damned fallen tempest of meteors that had burned the sky to brightness. "That has such people in it."
Visit the Meteor Gallery for The Last Tempest
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