6. Peace Treaty
I'm sitting at a gate in Dulles and I don't think I've ever been happier waiting in an airport. CJ's father called me this morning and told me she's on a plane coming home, but that she didn't want to be a nuisance. Eventually, we'll have to get it through her thick skull that she is *not* an inconvenience, but right now, I'm too excited to be exasperated. Her dad said she looks better than she did when she reached California, which is encouraging. I glance out the window and see the plane coming to a stop at the terminal and smile. Fifteen minutes later, I spot her filing off behind a group of business travelers, looking out of place in her track pants and t-shirt. She's still so thin that her shirt hangs off her shoulders a bit, but her cheekbones aren't nearly so prominent, which is a relief. "Claudia Jean!" I call, before she can walk past me. She stops short and turns to stare at me.
"How did you..." her voice trails off as she takes a step towards me, her face breaking into one of her brightest grins. I smile back and hold my hands out to her. She crosses the space between us with a laugh as she launches herself into my arms. I fold her into a bear hug, feeling my eyes sting with tears. "God, it's good to see you," she whispers in my ear. "I didn't know you'd know I was coming. I was going to call when I got here," she says as she pulls back a bit.
"Blame your dad. He called me this morning," I tell her, drinking in the sight of her. The light that used to surround her is almost back, and there's a spark in her eyes that had been gone far too long.
"I'm glad he did," she says, smiling again.
"Let's get your bags," I tell her, wrapping a loose arm around her waist as I guide her towards the hall to the baggage claim. We don't say much as we retrieve her luggage, but then again, we really don't need to. "I'm practically under orders to bring you to the White House, but I'm sure they'll understand if you'd rather go home."
"No, no, let's go there," she replies, slinging her carryon over her shoulder to pick up one of the suitcases. "I still have to figure out where I'm going."
I gently take the suitcase from her. "Not to your apartment?"
She shakes her head, the radiance dimming a little. "I don't want to go back there."
"Then you don't have to," I say, meeting her eyes. She smiles weakly, but shakes her head as if to show she wants to concentrate on something else. "Listen," I say, "I have something to tell you before we get to the White House."
"Sure. What's up?" she asks, curiously. "Is everything ok?"
"Everything's fine, we're all doing all right. It's just that Leo and the President are going to want to take you aside sometime today. You should let them and listen to what they have to say." I told Leo that hitting her with this the first hour she's back in town might not be the right thing to do, but I know time is of the essence.
"What are they going to say?" she asks as we get into the car.
"I promised I wouldn't tell you. But you should listen." I maneuver the car out of the parking garage and pay the parking fee.
"I won't be press secretary," she says firmly as I head for the expressway.
"No, no, they know that. They aren't asking you to do that," I assure her.
"But it's a job," she says slowly.
I hesitate. She really is too sharp sometimes, but I shouldn't expect less of her. "Yes," I answer. "But I won't tell you anything more." I feel awful for hitting her with this immediately, but she needs to know before she gets there. She hates being ambushed and I know that. I don't say anything for a few minutes, but finally turn and say "You should take it."
"The job?" She asks.
"Yeah. You should take it," I tell her.
"Why?" She asks, turning towards me.
"Because you'd be good at it," I shrug.
"We'll see," she shrugs back.
"Promise me you'll listen to their argument before you make up your mind?" I ask.
She nods. "Of course."
"Good." We drive quietly for awhile as "So, how are you, really?" I ask, realizing I hadn't yet.
"Better," she replies. After a moment, she adds, "It was hard."
"I know," I say softly.
"I missed you all so much," she says, her voice breaking slightly.
"I know, I missed you too. We all did," I spare a glance and a hand to reach over and squeeze her arm. She squeezes my hand and manages a smile.
She looks a bit tired, and I have no problem with the comfortable silence that falls over the car as she reacquaints herself with the DC area scenery. "I'm sorry I didn't really write," she says suddenly. "I didn't know what to say."
"No, it's all right. I understood." Leo had told us not to expect her to write much. We were getting close to the White House at this point. "You still sure you want to do this?" I ask.
"Yeah, I want to see everyone," she replies, excited.
I grin. "Ok."
She looks around her almost in awe as we walk to Leo's office. Surprisingly, we don't see anyone she knows well on the way. "CJ!" Margaret cries as we walk towards her desk.
"Margaret!" CJ grins at her.
"He's waiting to see you," Margaret said happily.
"Ok," she turns to me and nods.
"Oh, CJ," Leo says as we walk into his office. "You look good, kid."
"Thanks." She gives him a grin. Toby burst through the door at that moment. "Hey, Toby," she says, without turning around. "Miss me?"
"Of course not," he says, casually as she turns to face him. His eyes are smiling though. She shakes her head and walks over to him. Their eyes are talking, saying what he can't say, but Leo and I both know that Toby is incredibly happy to have her right where she is.
Impulsively, she squeezes Toby's arm and turns back to Leo and me. "So, where's Sam?" she asks, laughingly.
"Meeting in Philadelphia. He'll be back in the morning," Leo tells her. "I'm sure the President wants to see you, though," he says with meaning.
CJ's no fool and catches the meaning. "Ok."
"We'll wait here," Toby says.
She glances at him. "All right." I give her an encouraging smile as Leo leads her towards the Oval Office.
Toby and I sit down to wait. "She looks pretty good," I comment.
"Yeah," he replies. "She does." He looks at me a minute. "Does she know?"
"She knows it's a job. She doesn't know which job," I say.
"Do you think she'll take it?" he asks.
"I hope so. She promised to hear them out before making a decision," I shrug. "I think she will."
"Good." Toby nods.
"She doesn't want to go to her apartment," I say quietly.
"I don't blame her," he replies. "Where's she going to go?"
"She doesn't know yet. There's a vacant apartment in my building, I was thinking of telling her," I say.
Toby nods. "Do that. She might feel better being closer to someone she knows."
"That's what I was thinking. It's more expensive than the one she's got now, though," I shrug.
"She can afford it, even if she doesn't think she can," Toby sighed. I nod, knowing that CJ has more money that she thinks she does.
About 15 minutes later, Leo comes into the office. "Toby? Josh?" he says, nodding towards the Oval Office. We walk into the office, and find CJ smiling.
"Claudia Jean, why don't you give them the news," the President says, smiling at us. Toby and I sit down and look at her expectantly.
"I was just offered a job," she says, smiling a me.
"Oh, really," I say, trying to seem surprised. "What kind of job?"
"Campaign manager for a Presidential re-election campaign," she replies, nonchalantly.
"And did you take this job?" Toby asks.
"I don't know yet. That's why you're here," she tells him.
"I told her she could think about it as long as I had an answer either way by Friday. That being said, I think this lovely lady here could use some dinner, don't you?" the President said.
"Definitely," I say, smiling. "Where would you like to eat?"
"Whatever tickles your fancy, Josh. I am hungry enough to eat about anything," she says, grinning happily. I close my eyes a moment. I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd heard the words, "I'm hungry" come out of CJ's mouth. "Hey," she says softly, and I open my eyes. "It's all right, Josh. It really is," she says, nodding a little.
"Oh, I know it is, sweet-tart, I know it is," I whisper. And it really is.
"Hey," Josh says softly from my doorway.
"Hi," I say, not meeting his eyes.
"Look, I'm an idiot," he says, coming in and shutting the door. I know that's probably as close as he's going to get to actually saying "I'm sorry."
"No, no, I'm sorry," I say. "I really am."
"I know." He sits down and looks at me. "I just worry about you sometimes." I don't reply, not trusting myself to not start the argument all over again. "How's your arm?" he asks after awhile.
"It's all right," I shrug. "The swelling's gone down."
"That's good. I should have talked to you on the phone," he says.
"You didn't have to. Don't worry about it," I tell him.
He nods absently, and looks at me. "CJ, I'm sorry."
I'm a bit taken aback but nod. "I know. It's all right."
"Is it?" he asks.
"Yeah, it's fine," I lie. Sure, everything's great.
"Ok," he says, softly. "I missed you," he grins at me mischievously.
I manage a smile. "I missed you, too." Josh and I have had some spectacular blow ups, but we've never not made up almost immediately afterwards. And we've never been not speaking.
"I'm going to go get some food, do you want anything?" he asks, standing up.
"No, I ate," I lie again.
"All right. Don't work too hard," he jokes. "I'll see you later."
"Yeah, see you later," I say, trying to smile. "Josh?" I ask suddenly as his hand was on the door.
"Yeah?" he asks, turning back to me.
"Thanks for caring," I say, looking him straight in the eyes.
"Always," he says, smiling. I smile back and hope I've told him just how much he's meant to me.
If you're alone at this point, stop reading and go get someone, anyone, before you continue, ok? If you've never listened to me before, listen to me now. I'm going to hurt you in this letter. I don't want to, I don't mean to, but it's unavoidable.
By the time you read this, I will be gone. I know you'll want to look for me, but please don't. I've gone for a reason, and it's safer if you don't follow.
You were right when you said you didn't think that guy was treating me right. He wasn't. His name is Adam Cardington and he's a member of a radical group called the State of the Left. They wanted information to undermine the President's re-election campaign and other campaigns because they think the Democrats have become too centrist. So they tried to get the information from me. He threatened me, told me that if I didn't cooperated, they'd attack one of you. He told me in great detail what they'd probably do to you, or Sam or Toby. Then he told me he'd do the same thing to Donna that he was doing to me. And then he told me what he'd do if he got his hands on Ainsley. It was so awful I can't even think about it. So I let him do it to me. The bruise you saw the day we went swimming, he gave to me. And the others you didn't see. He also made it clear I would have sex with him or he'd force me, and he did when I tried to resist. So I stopped resisting. I submitted and let him do what he wanted. They fixed the grand jury to convince me that they could do what they wanted to do, and I agreed to give him the information he wanted so that he wouldn't go after anyone else. I didn't, though. Instead, I got information about the State of the Left. It's in the other files on the disk, but it's encrypted. If you think about it, you'll figure out the passwords. That's why I have to leave, so they don't know that I wasn't getting them the information, because I really think they'd kill me. He almost did when he found out you knew I was still seeing him. That's when he pushed me down the stairs and I broke my arm. So, I have to go, you see.
I'll try to write, if I can. If I can't, then I'm sorry. Tell everyone I'm sorry and give them my love. And tell yourself too.
"You are here," I hear Adam say in a deadly quiet voice. I nod. He's drunk, I can smell it from here. He glances around the room, and his eyes light on my suitcase. "Going somewhere?"
"We've got a trip," I manage.
"You're not going anywhere," he says in the same frightening voice.
"I have to go, I have to get back to the White House," I tell him.
"You're not going back to the White House. Not dressed like that," he says, nodding at my jeans and t-shirt. "Where do you think you're going?"
"On a trip. It's a late flight, I don't have to be dressed for work," I try to explain.
"Well, too bad. You aren't going anywhere," he says, grabbing my arm. I shiver, hard, but don't move otherwise. He spins me around and shoves me in the direction of the kitchen. I stumble, but manage to keep my balance, more or less.
"Adam, please don't," I whisper involuntarily. I discovered begging didn't work 6 weeks ago, but sometimes I say the words anyway.
He doesn't answer, but grabs me roughly again and pushes me up against my refrigerator.
"Thought you were going to leave, huh?" he slurs. "Well, I'll show you,
missy. You're not going anywhere," he repeats. I close my eyes, not wanting to know
what was going to come next. The next thing I know, I'm being spun around again and I fall
against a counter. "Come here, missy," he growls, just before he shoves me into
the stove, head-first. I don't even know my head made impact, all I know is I'm suddenly
dizzy. This wasn't supposed to happen, I didn't want it this way. He grabs my broken arm
and I scream at the sudden pain of my cast being pressed against my still tender wrist. I
spin again, barely conscious. I hear a sickening thud in the distance, and realize that
it's my head hitting the floor a second before I know nothing else.
"Ok, people, this is how this is going to work," Simon Glazer said, looking out over the Press Corps. "First, CJ is going to make an off the record statement and formally announce her resignation- that part will, of course, be on the record. She's not taking questions, so don't bother asking. Then, I will give the rest of the briefing. I will be taking some questions, but you won't get any more information about CJ than what she's chosen to give you, so again, don't waste your time asking me about her. Ready?" At the nods around the room, Simon nodded to Carol. "Ok. We're off record now until CJ says we're back on. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what she'll do to you if you don't comply." Everyone chuckled quietly. "CJ Cregg, ladies and gentlemen," Simon said as CJ came through the door.
The room was still as she made her way up to the podium. "We're off record?" she asked Simon quietly as he stepped back.
"Until you say otherwise," he nodded.
"Ok." She turned and faced the room. "Good morning, people. I'm sure you've been wondering what I've been up to and what exactly is going on, and since I consider some of you to be friends, I decided I'd share my reasons for resigning for you. I'm asking you, as a friend, to not take these reasons any further than this room. Don't worry, I know you all have to print *something*, and you'll get official reasons when I make my official announcement." She paused and looked around the room, making eye contact with Arthur, then Katie and Steve, and finally Danny, before continuing. "This isn't going to be the most eloquent statement you've ever heard me give. I'm not as good of a writer as Toby or Sam, and this is very difficult, so bear with me, please. This past summer, I was in an abusive relationship. And I know many of you are wondering exactly why I stayed with this guy. It wasn't because I thought I loved him, because I didn't. It wasn't because I thought he loved me, because he didn't. It wasn't because I thought this was a good relationship, because I didn't. I stayed because I was scared. I was scared of what would happen if I left." She swallowed and glanced down. "That was not the stupid thing. The stupid thing was that I didn't tell anyone I was in trouble. I ran, literally and figuratively, instead. And, as a result, I made myself terribly sick. When I finally did decide to leave this guy, he assaulted me, and I had done so much damage to myself, I couldn't fight back, even though I know how to defend myself against a larger and stronger attacker. So, that's how I got a moderately severe concussion and a couple broken ribs. However, because it was obvious that I hadn't been taking care of myself, and obvious that I really didn't remember how, certain people pointed out that it would probably be a good idea for me to take a leave of absence and go learn how to do that again. The past two months, I have been in an inpatient center in California. I won't give the name, because they don't need any publicity. When I left, I was ready to resign. Leo McGarry convinced me to make it a leave of absence so that I could change my mind when I was feeling stronger. However, as much as I loved my job, I do not think I could handle certain aspects of it at this moment in time. But, before I give you my official resignation statement, I want to publicly thank several people. I'm sure they can hear me," she said, smiling wryly at the back of the room, where most of the senior staff was standing. "First of all, Ainsley, thank you for caring for some of my favorite people when I couldn't do it myself. Carol, thank you for being an awesome assistant. I didn't mean to make the job quite so hard! Sam, I want to thank you for holding down the fort. I know it's not an easy job. Donna, thank you for pointing out the truth. Toby, thank you for letting me hit bottom. It was necessary, even though I know you didn't want to let it happen. Leo, thank you for understanding something fundamental. Mr. President, and Mrs. Bartlet, thank you for welcoming me, no matter what state I was in. And Josh," she paused a moment and locked eyes with him. "You're really very sweet sometimes." He grinned at her, and she smiled back. "So then. You've been awfully patient with me, and I hear you haven't even been abusing my deputies, so now, you can go back on record." She waited a moment to let everyone get settled in to write. "I am resigning my position as White House Press Secretary for personal reasons. I have enjoyed my tenure here, and I assure you, I have not been asked to resign. Right now, I feel I can be more useful in other capacities, so I am moving on. It's been a pleasure, folks. Simon Glazer is stepping up as my replacement, and I'll let him finish off your briefing. Have a nice day," she finished, smiling a little sadly as she looked out at the Press Corp. CJ nodded at them, one last time, then turned and stepped off.
She was almost out the door, when everyone in the room started applauding. She turned with her hand on the door and smiled at them. "Thanks, everyone," she said before slipping out the door.