Disclaimer: Aaron Sorkin and gang own the West Wing crew, and Tom Paxton owns his song "What Did You Learn In School Today", although Pete Seeger performed it at his concert at Carnegie Hall in 1963. I don't own a thing here. I'm just relieving stress. A lawsuit would be fruitless, since I'm so broke I won't even be able to buy groceries when I come back from spring break, so don't waste your time!
Author's notes: Hi :o) I've said before I like back-story, and having watched "Someone's going to emergency..." it occurred to me that there's never been any mention of CJ's family at all. So far as I know, there's never been any indication of where she's from, either. We know bits and pieces about just about every other major character, and even some things about more minor characters, like Charlie and Mrs. Landingham, so I got to thinking. I don't have any experience with wartime, unless you count Desert Storm, and I was 11, so I didn't really have much of a clue about what was happening. And my experience with Vietnam is infinitesimal- neither of my parents were really old enough to have been involved in any of it. So, everything I say about it comes from research on the internet, where I found some very interesting sites such as The Vietnam War Internet Project. This story is set in my "universe", like "Nervous" and "Choices Revisited" and this one might have some connections to a larger project I'm thinking out at the moment. Oh, also one more quick note about my time theories...my calculations may make CJ younger than she's meant to be. I'm basing this on the fact that she's mentioned she was in school for 22 years, and that she said she's been an expert in polling models since 1993. Those are the numbers I used to make my conjectures, and as far as I know, I'm not contradicting anything that has been stated on the show (which is what I'm accepting as canon). Feedback welcome as always at email@example.com, and enjoy
Leo sighed as he walked into his office, shrugging off his coat. Tossing it on the couch, he glanced at the clock. 4:45 am. He'd figured it wasn't really worth going home after accompanying the President to Dover and witnessing the soldiers' transport, so he was going to get some of the work that had been piling up due to the State of the Union address out of the way. Besides, he really didn't want to stop and think about what had happened here today. Too many lousy memories of too many lousy things. He'd meant what he'd said to Jed, that he would do anything to prevent another jungle war. Picking up his reading glasses, he sat down to start working when a note on the desk caught his eye.
Leo frowned. She hadn't called him, so it must not have been anything important, or at least not anything work-related. He could count the number of times he'd seen CJ actually disturbed by something on one hand. Upset like Josh at Christmas did not sound good. *She probably went home, but maybe I should check and make sure. I don't want someone else falling apart right now * he thought.
There were few lights on in the West Wing, which seemed totally deserted. Leo was used to the echoes and the shadows he made as he strode down the hall. Noticing a Secret Service agent, he paused and asked "Hey Eric, is Ms. Cregg still in the building?"
"I haven't seen her, but I haven't been over towards her office. I can check it out, though," Eric said, moving to activate his radio. "Is Flamingo still in the Wing?" he asked, listening a moment. "She was in her office about 15 minutes ago, she hasn't checked out, and her car's still here."
"Ok, thanks, Eric." Leo said as he walked away towards CJ's office. The lights were out, but he could see someone standing at the window. "CJ?" he asked. She whirled around, startled. In the dim light, Leo could just barely make out her face, but couldn't see her expression. "CJ, what are you still doing here, it's almost 5 am. Is something up?"
"No," she answered shakily. She sounded awful.
"Come over here, where I can see you, ok?" Leo asked gently and waited for her to move towards him. She was biting her lip, and he thought she'd been crying. "Are you ok, kiddo?"
"Yeah," she whispered.
"You're not convincing me. What's wrong?" He didn't think he'd ever actually seen her cry, not even after the shooting, although Sam had told him later that she'd been almost hysterical at first until they'd found Josh and then she'd gone into some sort of "crisis mode". *Which she's never really left, * he realized suddenly.
"I'm ok, Leo," she said softly. He noted that she seemed to have a death grip on a picture frame and glanced at the picture. It was too dim to really see it, but he could make out a young girl standing between two older boys.
"Is that you?" he asked, pointing at the girl in the photograph. When she nodded, he pointed again and asked, "Brothers?" She nodded again, and actually held out the frame when he moved to look at it again. "I didn't know you had brothers," he said, looking closer. The girl looked barely old enough to be in school, while the boys looked like high-schoolers. On a hunch, he gently took her elbow and said, "Let's go find some coffee, ok?"
She didn't resist as he led her down the hall to his office. He settled her on the couch and told her he'd be right back. Down the hall at the entrance to the Oval Office, Mrs. Landingham had a coffee maker, which Leo often made use of when he stayed late. The coffee pot was half full, and still hot. *Charlie must have made some before he left * he thought as he poured two cups and added sugar to one. He came back to his office and handed CJ the coffee with sugar. Her hands shook as she took it and nodded a thank you. He studied her critically a moment. She was too pale and he didn't like the fact that she was shaking. Thinking a moment, he headed out towards Margaret's desk. There was a bagel sitting by her computer, which he unwrapped and dug the jar of peanut butter that he knew Margaret hid in her bottom drawer and smeared a generous amount on the plain bagel. Reentering his office, he handed CJ half the bagel and said "Here." She looked at him, questioning, but took the bagel "You look like you forgot to eat your dinner," he explained.
"I'm not hungry," she said quietly.
"It's fresh, CJ. Margaret always leaves food around when she thinks I'll be working after the mess closes. Eat, you look like you could use it," he ordered and was gratified when she took a tentative bite. He sat quietly and sipped his coffee.
"Are we going to war?" CJ asked suddenly.
Leo jumped slightly. They'd been sitting in silence for close to 10 minutes and he'd begun to think she was in shock or something since she hadn't even moved except to eat the half a bagel he'd given her. "No, CJ, we aren't going to war."
"You're not just telling me that because you're leaving me out of the loop?" she asked dully.
"No, CJ, I am not leaving you out of the loop. We are not going to war right now. I swear to you. If we do, I promise you will be one of the first people to know. But we are not declaring war, we are not sending more troops, we are not doing anything other than what you told the press at 4 am." he said calmly. He handed the rest of the bagel. "Eat that too, there's a girl," he directed. She didn't even give him the mildly dirty look he'd expected to receive for that comment. She did look a little better than she had before the food and the coffee, which made him feel slightly better about the situation.
She'd finished the bagel and he'd finished his coffee before she spoke again. "You were in Vietnam." It was a statement more than a question.
"Yes, I was." he answered. She looked down at the photograph again. "How old were you?" he asked, on impulse.
"Six." she answered simply. "Mark was 18 and Steven was 13," she added before he asked.
"Was he drafted?" he asked softly, guessing that her older brother had also been in Vietnam.
"No. Enlisted. He thought having the choice of what to do would make it better. I guess he would have been drafted anyway. I don't really remember, but I guess his birthday was pretty high up on the list and my teacher told Steven to tell my mother that it was just as well that he enlisted. I don't remember much of what went on then," she said in a voice just above a whisper.
"Did he come back?" Leo asked after a moment, finally feeling like he had a handle on what was going on.
She shook her head. "He didn't come back at 4 am, but my brother did not come back," she said flatly. "I didn't know what happened. All I knew is that one night when I was six, Mark left in the middle of the night and didn't come home again until I was twelve. No one told me it was going to happen, and I didn't even really know why he left. I didn't understand what was going on until people started getting drafted and even then I still really didn't understand. When Mark came back, he wasn't my brother. Someone said that he was still my brother, I just probably didn't remember him, since he'd been gone so long and I was so little when he left. But I knew he wasn't the same person he was when he left." She paused a moment, running her finger around the edge of the picture frame. "Mark left right after his 18th birthday. When he came back, he was 24. Eighteen months later, at the age of 26, he was dead." she finished without looking up.
Leo didn't know exactly what to say. He surmised that CJ's brother committed suicide, and he was hesitant to ask her anything, since he'd never heard her mention anything about her family. "CJ," he started, but trailed off before saying anything.
"He got screwed, Leo. The system screwed us," she said bitterly. She looked up at him, and he could see the crushing pain in her eyes. "He thought the system would work for him, that he'd go, join the army, and it would all be ok. They'd tell us, at school, that the war was necessary, that we had to go to war because of the Communists. They told us that, and we believed them. There were kids in my class whose daddies were gone, whose brothers and cousins and uncles were gone. There were kids who wouldn't come to school one day and someone would say that their dad had died in the war, that their dad was a patriot and a hero because he'd fought in the war. And then there were kids whose brothers left town. And people whispered about them, and teased them, and sometimes even ganged up on them. I believed them. I said the prayers, and the pledge and did the air-raid drills and I believed them when they said it would all be ok. Mark would come home and it would all be ok. He'd come home and get a job and get married and have kids and he'd take care of me. The system failed, Leo. It was supposed to take care of me and it didn't," she finished, angrily.
Leo was taken aback by her vehemence. He had an inkling that she was talking about more than her brother and more than the war. "CJ, what happened?" he asked, finally. She froze a moment, and Leo could see her reviewing what she'd just said. "Are you all right?" he asked after a moment.
CJ sighed shakily. "I'm all right."
"There's more to this, though," he said.
She shook her head. "Not all families are happy." He looked at her and saw her eyes imploring him to let it stay at that.
"I know that, CJ," he said quietly.
"I know you do. But not everyone here does." she said, calmly.
"I think you'd be surprised," he told her. She shook her head. "I'm just saying, that people would listen to you, if you wanted."
"Not all families are happy, Leo. Leave it go," she said softly, not meeting his eyes.
"Ok." Leo agreed.
"Thank you," she whispered. Neither of them said anything for a long moment. "What time is it?" CJ finally asked, sounding more like herself.
Leo glanced at his watch and said "5:45."
She closed her eyes and sighed. "I should go down and get changed."
"You could go home, get some sleep," he said.
"Why? I'd need to be back here in an hour," she pointed out.
"I'm saying you could go home, sleep and come in at lunch time. Simon can do the morning briefing, there probably won't be much to say anyway," he told her.
"I did the 4am briefing, Leo."
"Yes, I know, and that's why no one would think it was wrong if you don't do the 8am briefing," he explained.
"I would, though," she said, looking him straight in the eye.
He nodded. In some ways he was relieved that she was insisting on staying and carrying on as usual. "All right then. But you don't stay all night tonight. Go home early and get some rest, CJ, you could use it."
"Ok," she acquiesced.
"Go on, then," Leo said gently.
She nodded and got up. At the doorway she paused. "Is it almost spring?" she asked softly.
He turned to look at her. She looked as though she'd been fighting a wearying and endless battle, but she wasn't defeated. Leo saw that she was asking about more than the change in seasons as he nodded. "Yes."
She nodded almost imperceptibly. "I've always hated winter," she whispered before slipping out of the office.
Leo watched her go for a moment. "Keep fighting, Claudia Jean," he said softly, getting up to start the day.