AUTHOR: Suki
TITLE: Secret Handshakes
PAIRING: Ainsley-centric, CJ/Ainsley
RATING: PG-13 for mature themes and colorful language
FEEDBACK: Love, love, love feedback. Constructive as well as what you may have liked is appreciated at suki@ashesofoldlovers.net
SPOILERS: Specific spoilers for Ways and Means, and everything up until that to be safe.
DISCLAIMERS: For what it's worth....The West Wing and it's characters are the property of Aaron B. Sorkin, Warner Brothers, NBC et al. No copyright infringement for profit is intended.
ARCHIVE: Please ask first. And, as always, this and my other pieces will be archived at http://www.ashesofoldlovers.net
NOTES: Missing scenes for Ways and Means abound, and are told from Ainsley's point of view. There is a definite CJ/Ainsley storyline, but nothing explicit. For Artemis, who was sure there was an inner-Ainsely lurking in here somewhere, just dying to come out.
TEASER: CJ, I am blond, and young, and southern. I have a hard enough time being taken seriously without adding murky political leanings.

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Secret Handshakes by Suki

She sits in the deserted mess, sipping at lukewarm tea and purposely ignoring a dog-eared and rumpled memorandum on discovery cataloguing procedures. She has marked, annotated, revised, digested and rehashed so many memoranda in the last five weeks, on mundane topics like the definition of internal versus external for interoffice communications, and the hierarchy of privileges, and on more exotic topics like Executive Privilege with regards to operations within the scope of the State Department and affecting the national security. The one under immediate scrutiny discusses the distinction in communications among staff and third parties. The section she has been slaving over for an hour covers communications of information covered under spousal, doctor-patient or attorney-client privilege, but subsequently communicated to third parties.

Ainsley drops her pen and rubs her eyes, pulling the sleeves of her sweatshirt down until her hands disappear into the navy blue cuffs, staring at the sea of yellow and green and pink highlighting flooding the memorandum, her familiar cramped notes filling the margins in blue and black and red, with arrows and stars and furious lines, and in one particularly treacherous section, purple ink. Oliver laughed at her color codes at first, but once the system was laid out in its own memorandum, with a color-coded and demonstrative key, he accepted it as effective, if excessively studious.

"Wow, is the text unmarked the important stuff?" A familiar and velvety voice says. "Because otherwise, it sort of beats the purpose of using a high lighter," CJ says, motioning toward the pages in front of Ainsley, covered in color thanks to her system.

"Actually, there is a system, mostly used by me alone, but recently gaining acceptance in the Counsel's office," Ainsley says, mentally cursing herself for explaining.

"Really?" CJ asks, her mouth quirking into an amused and curious smile.

"Yes," Ainsley says, looking down at the page and then noticing the ink and high lighter all over her hands and nails, hearing her mother's careful instructions to her when she was eleven on the importance of pretty and manicured hands to a lady's image. "Yellow is explanatory, green is substantive holdings, pink is deviations, black ink is critique of analysis, blue ink is questions raised, and red ink is areas in need of exploration," she says, looking up and blushing under CJ's perceptive stare.

"And the purple?" CJ asks, motioning toward the bottom paragraph, now marred by Ainsley's words and marks in a color slightly-darker than lavender.

"Here be dragons," Ainsley says with a rueful grin.

"Need a shield? Suit of Armor? I think there may be some up in my office," CJ says, motioning towards the stairs.

"I would think there would be, with the last few months being such as they have been, under fire and all," Ainsley says, looking at CJ seriously.

"Yeah, well, comes with the job," CJ says, shrugging and turning toward the kitchen. "I am going to find something to eat in this place that is not fried or processed. Can I get you anything?" She asks.

"No, thank you," Ainsley says, smiling, and then, before CJ can get more than two steps away, she reconsiders. "Unless you find some cheesecake,"she says, leaning toward CJ and pointing toward the kitchen, "when I was back there about two hours ago, I found some grilled chicken and mashed potatoes, and I swear I could smell cheesecake, but I couldn't locate any. So if you find some, please bring a piece for me, or at least let me know and put it somewhere prominent in the refrigerator. Okay?" She asks, blushing as CJ's head continues to bob for a moment under the cadence of her speech.

Ainsley can hear CJ laugh to herself as she turns and walks toward the kitchen, humming some vague tune that she finds herself straining to hear. She watches CJ move, her body shifting with her internal melody and center, and her shoulders more relaxed than they have been in weeks. She tries not to look at her legs, remembering her promise to herself after the mortification that followed almost getting caught staring at them when CJ was waiting to meet with Oliver a couple weeks ago.

"You're in luck," CJ says a few minutes later, placing a plate holding two slices of cheesecake on the table, followed by another plate loaded with chicken, broccoli, some brie and crackers, and a cut up pear, and finally, two bottles of beer. CJ pushes one open bottle toward Ainsley and they take a long, simultaneous sip, watching each other over their bottles. When Ainsley reaches for the plate holding the cheesecake, CJ grabs her hand. "One of those is mine, and they are the last two pieces."

Ainsley looks first at CJ's hand on hers, and then at the cheesecake before looking up and smiling at CJ's almost amused expression. "Well, you better eat fast. Because I am not known for being trustworthy when it comes to cheesecake," Ainsley says with a grin.

CJ begins eating, taking a cautious bite of chicken and making appreciative sounds in her throat with a smile, apparently finding it acceptable. CJ's soft moan at the first bite of brie and pear cuts through the blond's reserve, vibrating to her toes. Ainsley watches her, her fork poised over the larger slice of cheesecake, mesmerized by the sounds and her mind's extrapolation of what they would sound like amplified and involuntary.

She isn't sure how long she has been sitting there not quite watching, but more than listening, when she feels eyes on her. When she looks up, CJ is nibbling on a piece of pear, and watching her thoughtfully, and Ainsley can feel her cheeks reddening with the blood pounding in her ears. She holds CJ's stare, afraid to move or breathe, and incapable of finding her voice.

"Since when do you find pears more appealing than cheesecake?" CJ asks, breaking the stare to look down at the dessert just under Ainsley's fork.

Ainsley glances down and then feels her skin heating further under CJ's continued stare. She forces herself to take a big bite of the cheesecake, both to give herself something to do and to prevent herself from saying anything until her body cools, not trusting herself to not say something convoluted and ridiculous.

CJ goes back to eating and after several quiet minutes, Ainsley raises her eyes slightly and chances a look at her tablemate. CJ is absorbed in her meal as she constructs complex and obviously satisfying bites of the varied foods. Ainsley smiles softly and then allows herself to relax, eating her slice of cheesecake and cautiously avoiding CJ's, reminding herself with every mouthful not to eat the second piece.

It takes several more quiet moments to get her courage up to say what she has been meaning to say for more than a month, walking past CJ's office and the briefing room, hoping for an opening to offer her support. The thing is, that while she is tolerated, and even at times appreciated, she is rarely invited into the types of situations that would let her say it. As she is contemplating telling CJ she is sorry about the gaff and that she spent all those weeks climbing back out, she looks down and realizes that half the second piece of cheesecake is gone.

"Oh my lord," she says, dropping the fork and leaning away from the table. She looks up wide-eyed to find CJ staring at the half-eaten piece, her eyes wide. "CJ, I am so sorry, mortified actually, and after I promised and everything. I was concentrating so hard, reminding myself after every bite... `Ainsley, remember, the other piece is CJ's'," Ainsley says, pantomiming the conversation with herself.

CJ bursts into laughter, shaking her head and wiping at her eyes. As she regains her composure, she looks at Ainsley, and starts to laugh again at Ainsley biting her lip.

Ainsley looks down miserably and pushes the plate away. "I knew I should have moved my piece to another plate and put your's across the table," she says softly, staring at the high lighter on her hand, wishing for once this were one of those nightmares where CJ had ignored her and walked away.

"Ainsley, it's ok, really," CJ says, laughing only softly now.

"Yeah, now that it's done. I can just hear it now: `so, we were right about that Republican girl. Don't hang out with Ainsley, she'll eat your dessert right out from under you,'and after she promises not to and everything," Ainsley sighs, still staring accusingly at what's left of CJ's cake.

"Ainsley," CJ says, her voice rising. "I would never...Ainsley, look at me," CJ says, laughing.

Ainsley looks up reluctantly, pulling her sweatshirt cuffs down over her hands and wrapping her arms across her middle.

CJ smiles gently and tugs on Ainsley's sleeve. "First of all, it's fine. I sort of had a bet with myself to see if you would eat both without realizing. I've seen you eat cheesecake before. It's almost like watching someone lost in prayer," CJ says, chuckling. "Second, we don't talk about you like that."

Ainsley looks at her hard and raises her eyebrows, thinking that they probably don't even know they do it.

CJ closes her eyes for a moment and rolls her head slightly. "Ok, so maybe in the beginning, but not anymore," CJ says, waving her hand. "Here, you might as well finish it. I wasn't all that interested in it anyway," she says, pushing the cheesecake back towards Ainsley.

Ainsley smiles slightly and looks at the cake for a moment and then back to CJ. CJ motions toward the cake, and then picks up the fork, places it in Ainsley's hand, and pushes it into the cake. Ainsley smiles brighter as she eats the mouthful, wondering if cheesecake has ever tasted better.

"I know that my hiring was not, by many here, seen as a intelligent decision. I know Sam was upset, and he and Josh made their feelings very well known. And I heard you broke your door, by slamming it, when Leo told you that he'd hired me, before he even had, by the way," she says, spearing another fork-full of cake.

"Yeah, well, it wasn't about you," CJ says, pulling another piece of pear off her plate. "I just saw it as spin, and a bad idea, and I didn't care who the Republican was. I didn't even know *you* then," CJ says, shrugging her shoulders.

"I would argue you still don't," Ainsley says softly, looking at her cake but not eating it. She looks up and takes in CJ's puzzled expression before she looks directly at her and stiffens her spine. "CJ, you don't know *me* at all. You know who you think I am or who y'all occasionally need me to be, but you haven't gotten to know *me* at all, especially given that there is a very detailed set of parameters and expectations within which I exist in this building," Ainsley says, waving around her.

"Ainsley, do you really feel like that?" CJ asks with a gentle tone.

Ainsley shrugs and pushes the plate away. "It's fine, CJ. I'm a big girl, and I understand the realities of both my hiring and my position here. Don't worry about it. I am good at this job. I could be great at this job given the opportunity, but it doesn't have to be more. I am not imagining that there is any intentional or otherwise understood exclusion, but I understand that there is a whole system of philosophical differences and experiences between us, and I just hope that eventually my work will stand on it's own, regardless, and be enough."

As she plays with the edge of the memo in front of her, the silence surrounds her. When she looks up, CJ's look is almost audible, even though she still has not spoken. "CJ, really, it's fine. No one does anything wrong, or intentional, it's just...y'all are so connected, politically, philosophically, emotionally. Y'all are friends, soldiers in the bunker together. I don't expect to be included all the time. But maybe the next time y'all are commiserating about how tough this is, how hard the hours and the scrutiny and the system is, you'll remember that at least you have each other. I don't have anybody," Ainsley says, standing and gathering her memos and high lighters.

"Ainsley," CJ says, touching her hand. "I'm sor--"

"-CJ, I really don't want an apology. But don't think, because you sang me a song, and have heard a few stories, that you know me. None of that is *me*," Ainsley says, turning and walking away from the table. Before she gets more than three steps away, she turns and takes a breath, closes her mouth with a discernible noise, before taking another breath and shifting the memos so she has a hand to gesture with. "Thank you for the cheesecake," she says, in a tone that is almost apologetic. Before CJ can respond, she turns and hurries out of the mess.

Hours later, as CJ sits in her office working on the next day's releases, Ainsley knocks on her partially open door. "If I am not interrupting, would it be ok if I came in for a moment?" She asks timidly.

CJ puts down her pen and nods, almost smiling. "Sure, come on in."

"I couldn't find any more cheesecake, but I brought some other, perhaps acceptable, peace offerings," Ainsley says, placing a plate with a chocolate chip muffin and a slice of apple pie on the desk in front of CJ and the stepping back from the desk toward the door.

CJ looks at the plate and then pulls it closer, motioning to one of her office chairs with a crooked, closed-lip smile.

As she takes a bite of the apple pie, CJ looks up and raises an eyebrow, obviously waiting for Ainsely to continue.

Ainsley shakes her head and rolls her eyes, finally leaning slightly forward and taking a deep breath. "It occurred to me, sitting downstairs, looking at the decorations on my office wall, that y'all put up, on your own initiative, that I was a little over the line downstairs earlier, probably rude and most likely inconsiderate. I'm sorry. Please know, from the bottom of my soul, that I value my position in this White House, and recognize that y'all have been, at times, deliberate in your efforts to include me, and I don't, for a moment, think that any of you would intentionally hurt my feelings or in any way disparage my work."

CJ slides the fork out of her mouth and then puts it down on the plate, looking at her intently as she chews her pie. "Did you mean what you said downstairs, about being good at this job, but thinking you could be great, given the opportunity?" CJ asks, leaning back in her chair.

"Yes," Ainsley says simply, her voice rising slightly with inflection. "And I will be," she says with a smile.

"What's changed?" CJ asks.

"Lionel was great, and extremely respectful, and I think, in time, I would have grown comfortable working with him, but I knew that I would always be a philosophical disappointment to him. But Oliver is different. He's pragmatic and competitive, and he values intellect and hard work over personal political leanings. Plus, he gave me a chance to leave gracefully if I felt the scandal would unduly impede my career. So, I feel like he chose me and I chose to be here: no imposition and no speeches about duty. I'm good at this job. And when everyone stops thinking of me as a token blond Republican sex- kitten, I'll be great at it," Ainsley says with a grin, smiling wider as CJ shakes her head at the sex-kitten comment.

"You can't worry about how anybody else thinks about you. Be great in spite of the blond Republican thing," CJ says with a wave of her hand.

"Easier said than done, CJ. When was the last time anyone patted you on the head and dismissed your opinion out of the gate," Ainsley asks sarcastically. "Sure, I'll argue a point or two, but so often I don't even get the chance to argue my position."

CJ raises an eyebrow, and her mouth twists into a smirk as she shakes her head slightly. "You're really asking me that after the last five weeks? Ainsley, I am the White House Press Secretary and for the last five weeks much of my daily existence was seeing the tops of everyone's head and the outside of closed doors. And in the first year, I spent an awful lot of my time being shut out of policy meetings and struggling to prove that I could do more than put on a show."

"I wanted to come up that night, after the briefing. I wanted to come up and say something, but I couldn't find the words and wasn't really sure that I would have been the most welcome member of the staff, so..." Ainsley's words trail off as she slumps back in her chair.

"What would you have said?" CJ asks curiously.

"That you made a mistake, but that it was entirely fixable. I would have told you to fix your makeup and go back in there in smack down mode and show them they weren't going to take you anywhere you didn't want to go. The problem wasn't the statement, it was the running scared thing going on around here coupled with a crack in the previously impenetrable defenses."

CJ smiles and nods her head. "Pretty much what I was saying, but no body could hear me with their heads up their asses. No one really knew how to handle it because I am the one who fix these things. I yell, then I let the person know it's going to be ok, usually, then I craft the message and I sell the message and I fix it. Leo counts on me to do the smacking and the fixing. But I couldn't this time, and no one else could either, so eventually they had to let me fix it."

"Well, I had heard rumors that you were thinking of resigning, so I, for one, am just glad you are still here," Ainsley says with a smile.

"What did you mean downstairs about not having anybody?" CJ asks, breaking the muffin in half and passing half to Ainsley.

"When I signed on here, most of my friends and family understood, not all, but most. But those same people called the day after the announcement with planning in mind. They all assumed that I would leave now. It never occurred to them that I would stay and help in the fight. Taking this job was a career risk, but staying may be a career-ender for me," Ainsley says, breaking off a piece of the muffin and popping it into her mouth.

"Surely people will respect your staying, not running from the fight," CJ says. "Surely the loyalty will count far more than the side."

Ainsley laughs and then shakes her head. "CJ, I am blond, and young, and southern. I have a hard enough time being taken seriously without adding murky political leanings. It makes me look ambitious and scheming and for sale. It makes me look weak on my side of the aisle," Ainsley says.

"Well, if you would come to your senses and belong to a party that made sense," CJ teases.

"CJ, it's not a Republican thing. It's a blond girl thing. I got patted on the head plenty at the Supreme Court, and then again here," she says looking down at her lap. "Maybe I should cut my hair, and take speech lessons," she sighs. "When I clerked for Dryefus, one of the senior clerks told me I should stop wearing makeup and wearing my hair down. She said no one would take me seriously as long as I looked like an airhead. It made me self-conscious, and so I tend to oversell, to over compensate," Ainsley says. "And they do it to you, too. How many times has someone commented on how you look instead of how you are? Don't you ever get sick of it?" Ainsley asks.

CJ laughs and leans back in her chair before leaning forward and shaking her head. "Sometimes, yes, it frustrates the hell out of me that I have to work that much harder, be that much stronger, because I am a woman. And I think sometimes I put the most pressure on myself. But I like how I look. It took me twenty-four years to be comfortable in this height, and I use it. I dress to feel powerful. Yes, I conform to my position: gone are the short skirts and sheer blouses, you know, the silk so fine it's almost sheer, with a silky camisole? I love that, but I can't do it on TV," CJ says with a wicked grin. "Yes, I conform, but I choose to, and only on the superficial. No one tells me about the important things," CJ says leaning even closer to her desk, her eyes dancing. "Ainsley, you're gorgeous. Shave your head and dress you in a potato sack and you'd still be gorgeous. So, use it, or don't, but don't blame anyone else for your feeling you're not taken seriously. Kick some ass if you have to, but don't wallow in it. It may not be fair, but this is the way it is. So, own it, whatever it is."

Ainsley sits there, slightly breathless at the expression on CJ's face and her words washing over her like gentle hands. She feels herself smiling and her body temperature rising again as CJ takes another bite of the apple pie, making a slight sound in the back of her throat in appreciation.

"Well, I should go," Ainsley says, standing and looking at CJ for a moment. "Goodnight, CJ."

"Hey, Ainsley," she hears CJ say as her fingers graze the door nob. When she turns, CJ is swiveling slightly in her chair, her head tilted back and a mischievous smile on her face. "The clerk at the Court was wrong. You shouldn't put your hair back and try to look less attractive, or do anything about that accent. If it were me, I'd leave it down. If you're going to be perceived as sexy, you might as well use it. And, for the record, yes, I broke the White House when I heard, but I also told Toby, not so long after, that I thought that everyone's linger issues were with you being an attractive young woman, and not that you were a Republican. No body thinks of you as an outsider, or scheming, or ambitious, at least no one that matters."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

As Ainsley passes through the staff security entrance on Monday morning, she smiles slightly, wondering if she'll come up with a reason to stop in and see CJ today. She laid in bed last night, thinking about their conversations the other night. She had come home, and stood in front of her closet, allowing her hand to leaf through her clothes, arranged by color and weight. There are these blouses and suits and dresses in the back, behind the seasonal things, that she didn't think were serious enough for the White House: skirts that seemed too short, blouses and shells that were deemed to sheer or too trendy, a dark pants suit, not quite black in color, and matching blouse, that she thought might be too severe, and too expensive. It was an extravagance, and when she got it home, she worried she might seem showy in it. And she worried that she looked like a little girl playing dress-up, realizing she needed the attitude to carry this suit. She pulled out the suit and blouse, and let her fingers drift along the seam and the cuff, to touch the blouse, before hanging it in the front of the closet.

Today, she blew her hair dry, and then tucked it back behind a headband, turning her head from side to side, looking at the slim band. Then she deliberately pulled out the dark pants suit and blouse, feeling a little adventurous. Once dressed, her feet encased in soft leather heels, she stood in front of the mirror, feeling the attitude and loving the rush.

She walks into her office and drops her bag, hangs up her coat, and reaches for the phone to check her messages. The first is from Oliver's assistant, telling her to come upstairs to his office as soon as she gets in.

"Hey," she says, as she walks into Oliver's office.

"Hey," he says, looking up from his desk, a phone cradled against his ear. "I'm on hold. Did you see the list?" He asks, motioning toward a crumped page on his desk.

"Yes, in fact, I did. How are we spinning them?" She asks, taking a seat across from him.

"That's why I called. Leo wants us to help CJ with spin, to figure out how to sell these things," he says, hanging up the phone. "Forget it, they can call me back."

"Well, we knew they were going to serve, we knew it would be soon, and we knew that we would have to deal with this, right?" She asks, motioning with her hands. "When we talked the other day, we were discussing defining the scope of the inquiry and the standard procedure, expected and non-interesting. Is that still where you think it should go?"

"Yeah, I do. I think we have to maintain that we are calm, we are ready, and we are cooperating. The story needs to be that this is going smooth and that nothing that has happened has been unexpected, otherwise we look scared," Oliver says, tossing his pen onto the desk.

"You're right, of course, from a legal standpoint, from legal strategy, but what will the story be? Won't they still write what they want unless we persuade them with something more interesting?" She asks, thinking aloud.

Oliver studies her for a moment and then blows out his breath as he rocks forward and stands. "We'll see. Come on, let's go see CJ and bat it around."

Ainsley can feel herself smiling and has to remind herself to stand and follow him out of the office, her legs needing to work twice as fast to catch up to his long strides. She catches up with him at the foot of the stairs and he looks to the side, looking surprised to see her rushing to catch up.

"Is she in?" He asks Carol, pointing toward CJ's office door, Ainsley in tow a step behind.

Carol nods, listening to whomever is yelling through the phone at her, as she leans over and pushes the door open, waving them in.

"CJ, got a minute?" Oliver asks, walking in and standing in the center of her office.

"Sure, Oliver, you know how much I enjoy our little chats, but won't the other girls get jealous that you actually came up to see me, in my office, instead of beckoning for me like you usually do?" CJ teases, standing up and walking around to lean against her desk. "Hey, Ainsely," she says, as if noticing the blond for the first time.

"Hi, CJ," Ainsley says, unconsciously smoothing down her blouse.

"So, Oliver, I was thinking, how many times do you think I am going to have to say the word `subpoena' today?" CJ asks.

"Yeah, CJ, that's why we're here," Oliver says, dispensing with small talk. "Do you have any questions about the procedure?" Oliver asks.

Ainsley takes a seat on the couch, watching CJ interact with Oliver, her gaze steady, her back straight. She tells herself not to smile at CJ's attitude and by all means, don't look at her legs.

"Yeah, what's the penalty? I mean, the President tells me that `subpoena' comes from the Medieval Latin for `under a penalty,' so what's the penalty?" CJ asks.

"It comes from the opening line of court summons. And in our procedure, the penalty would be a motion to compel, and likely a contempt charge," Oliver says, his tone showing his frustration at wasting time on this. "Look, CJ, the procedure is pretty standard and while I had hoped we would head off subpoenas for a while, this is not unusual or even, really, surprising," Oliver says, stepping back a few steps toward the door frame and almost leaning against it.

"Oliver, that's all well and good, but in my Press Room, it's complete crap. They're down there foaming at the mouth, wanting to know what behind the scenes intrigues caused the Special Prosecutor to issue subpoenas now. They are wondering what story is lurking underneath the procedures. And they aren't going to hear, yet alone care, that this is standard procedure," CJ says, beginning to pace behind her desk.

"CJ, they will hear it if you, you know, say it," Oliver says, pacing a little himself. "It's procedure. It isn't sexy and it doesn't need to be," Oliver says.

"And what exactly do you think I am going to say that will make them write that this is standard procedure?" CJ asks, pacing toward her windows and then turning. "How am I going to sell that this is anything but an indication that we aren't cooperating, when we are being compelled `under threat of penalty' to do what we have been saying we have been doing voluntarily for weeks? How do you want to sell that?"

Ainsley watches them pace and spar, Oliver emphasizing what is true, and CJ arguing what she can sell. She watches them, knowing that CJ is right. Oliver is a lawyer first, and he sees the best defense as calmness in the face of challenge. CJ is in PR, her instinct is to take control of the story and work the shadings. Ainsley is both, and she understands that the procedure is important, but only if it will get covered.

"Yeah, but isn't that like the way a mugger uses a gun to produce your wallet?" CJ asks, her voice rising, and Ainsley bites the inside of her lip to keep from laughing. She's right of course. A subpoena is formal and tactical, but it's not about defining the scope. It's about the power to define the scope. This is about Rollins using his position to define exactly what they will do, and that is the point, but not one that can be easily spun into a positive. The spin Oliver wants, this facade of calm, will be lost. CJ needs to take control of the story.

"...we need to pick a fight," CJ says, snapping Ainsley out of her internal musings.

"Why?" Ainsley asks, knowing that picking a fight with Rollins is the absolute wrong move and surprised that CJ doesn't realize that.

"Because in politics if you're not on offense, you're on defense," CJ says, agitated and her body tense.

"You're problem there, is that Clem Rollins doesn't foam at the mouth. He's a good guy, and he comes off as a good guy," Oliver says, his voice rising in defense.

"Plus, he was appointed by your own Attorney General, which is going to make it tough to fit him for a black hat," she adds, hoping CJ isn't serious about taking on Rollins in a spitting contest.

"Let me think for just a second," CJ says, pacing toward the door, and Ainsley turns in her seat to watch her, almost hearing her mind working through the information, looking for the hidden strategy. "What do Republicans think of him?" She asks, turning her intense stare on Ainsley.

"We don't all hangout in a little club," Ainsley says, suddenly frustrated, as if she should know him because they are both Republicans.

"What do they say about him?" She asks again, and Ainsley hear's the `they' as opposed to the `you,' understanding that CJ is seeking information, not a test of loyalty.

"He's well respected. He's deliberate. He takes his duties seriously. He wants to get at the truth, and he wants to avoid any appearance of impropriety or partisanship," Ainsley ticks off, trying to see where CJ is going.

She watches CJ slow, and can almost hear her working through the information, and then her face changes slightly and she turns, heading toward the door with a determined expression. "Excuse me," CJ says.

"Where are you going?" Oliver asks, obviously irritated at her taking control and ignoring his advice, and probably frustrated that he can't see what CJ is thinking.

"We need a new enemy," she says with clarity, striding confidently out of her office, leaving Oliver to watch her go.

"What is she up to now?" Oliver says, throwing up his hands and turning in a circle, looking around CJ's office. "This isn't something that can be dressed up and made fancy. A Grand Jury is not something to be screwed with," Oliver says, rubbing her eyes.

"Oliver, your focus is legal strategy and her's is political strategy. She understands the Grand Jury procedure, but she's right. If she goes in there with this is standard procedure, they are going to stay focused on a non-existent backstory and nothing else will get reported, and maybe a backstory will get created," Ainsley says, standing and walking toward CJ's desk.

"Ok, you stay here. When she get's back, you make sure she isn't planning on maligning the procedure, the Grand Jury or Rollins. Call me if she is about to do something stupid," Oliver says, leaving the office.

Ainsley stands there, her heart pounding, wondering what she will do if CJ is thinking about doing something risky. Will she back her up, like senior staff, or will she call Oliver, like counsel's staff? And if she decides to back her up, will it be because she respects CJ's instincts or because she likes her legs.

"You're still here," CJ says, breezing in and grabbing her briefing book off her desk. "Oliver think I am going to sink the ship?"

"Actually, yes, he has some concerns that, in an effort to make the story more interesting or in some way sellable, that you will malign or disparage, however unintentional, the process or Rollins or--"

CJ laughs and stops in front of Ainsley. "I am not going to disparage the process or Clem," CJ says with a mischievous smile, her emphasis on `Clem'. "Trust me?" She asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," Ainsley says, without hesitation, smiling herself at CJ's full smile.

"Good," CJ says, leaving her office.

Ainsley watches her walk down the hall toward the press room, and watches Carol hand her notes and feed her information as they walk, CJ leaning slightly toward her assistant. She turns and walks over to the bank of televisions along CJ's wall, turning the sound up on the one tuned to Fox news. She watches the virtual CJ step into the press room and up to the podium, and she laughs as they start firing questions at CJ before she is even fully behind the podium.

The first question asks about the subpoenas and CJ calls Rollins "Clem" and Ainsley is momentarily surprised by the familiarity, and wonders where CJ is taking them. Then she talks about turning over documents voluntarily and Ainsley smiles, getting a hint of where she is going. They ask about hearings and she praises Rollins, alleging that Congress is unhappy with his performance, but that the White House is pleased, and in control. And Ainsley laughs softly, understanding that this performance is for the Republicans in Congress. CJ just turned the story from a White House running scared under the weight of federal subpoenas, to a White House in complete control, and a Congress agitated by the Special Prosecutor's pace and performance. Oliver steps into the office and waves his hands.

"Do you know where she is going with this?" Oliver asks, waving toward the television.

"I believe I do, yes, have an inkling of the direction in which she is leading the story," Ainsley says, glancing back at the television as CJ comments on the contents of the boxes already sent to Rollins, watching for any wording that could be problematic, anything that could taint the process or waive privilege.

"Is she out of her mind?" He asks, rubbing his forehead. "I mean, this is a cake walk compared to Congressional hearings, and we need the time to get ready, and to let the information leak slowly so that there are no fresh stories left to get to during the hearings," Oliver says, slapping his hand on each point.

"Well, I guess we better ready," Ainsley says, without looking away from the television.

"I am going to find Leo. We need to reign her in," Oliver says, storming down the hall.

"Yeah, you do that, Oliver," Ainsley says to herself, watching CJ work the press with a knowing smile.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Ainsley, good to see you again," Mark Gottfried says as he takes his seat on the Capital Beat set. "You know Peter, right?" Mark says, motioning toward Peter Cavalo, Chief of Staff for Republican Senator Mason Kingston.

"Of course, Mark. We were just trading gossip and recipes," Ainsley says, smiling sweetly at the man across from her, who moments ago was calling her a traitor and coming real close to calling her a whore.

"Well, good," Mark says, glancing at Peter wearily.

"Marc, we're on in ten...nine...eight...seven...six...five...four...three," one of the crew says, as Ainsley continues to ignore Peter's cold stares.

"Good evening, tonight on Capital Beat, the investigation into the Presidential Health Scandal continues. We have with us, Peter Cavalo, Chief of Staff for Republican Senator Mason Kingston, and Ainsley Hayes, Assistant White House Counsel. Ainsley, Peter, thanks for being here," Mark says, looking from one to the other.

"My pleasure, Mark," Ainsley says, smiling and wondering if Peter will sheath his claws for the duration of the broadcast and how hard she will need to smack him back if he doesn't.

"Always happy to be here," Peter says, smiling.

"Ainsley, yesterday a federal Grand Jury, empaneled by Special Prosecutor Clem Rollins, issued subpoenas for documents to the White House and several governmental and quasi-governmental bodies, and rumor has it, he asked for the issuance of sixty-seven subpoenas for members of the First Family and White House staff. Why the subpoenas if the White House has been cooperating as fully as you claim?" Mark asks, looking toward Ainsley with a smile.

"Well, Mark, as I am sure you know, subpoenas are commonly used legal tools for defining the scope of the inquiry, and the subpoenas issued yesterday, and any to be issued in the future, are no different. They do no more than create a formal record of what has been requested and what has been and will be produced. The White House has already turned over eighty cartons of documents, voluntarily without the threat of subpoena, and is eager to cooperate with Mr. Rollins' investigation to it's conclusion. And let's be clear on this, because it is an important point: Clem Rollins is a man of great integrity and the White House believes he is running a thorough, fair and impartial investigation, and we believe, unlike some prominent members of Congress, that he should be allowed to complete his work," Ainsley says.

"Peter, do you agree?" Mark asks, swinging his gaze to the man across from Ainsley

"Well, I agree that these subpoenas are no more than procedural grandstanding, but I am not sure that I would characterize the Special Prosecutor's work as thorough, fair or impartial, and certainly not all three. The White House has been allowed to dictate not only the timing and terms of this so-called investigation, but also the scope, depth and pace. These subpoenas are a weak attempt to make this investigation *look* legitimate, and ultimately, the people of this country deserve an inquiry that *is* legitimate, and also zealous, exacting and in depth," Peter says, looking smugly back to Ainsley.

"Ainsley, how does the White House respond to allegations that President Bartlet claims to have waived Executive Privilege, however, still maintains the right to withhold certain documents. And what reaction can we expect from the Special Prosecutor to this so called, partial waiver?" Mark asks.

"Well, Mark, President Bartlet has waived Executive Privilege in the Special Prosecutor's investigation, however, there are matters and communications which bear no relevance on this investigation and would compromise the Office of the Presidency if revealed, matters of National Security for example," Ainsley says.

Mark nods and then looks to the man across from Ainsley. "Peter, would you--"

"Mark, it is exactly that kind of statement out of the Bartlet White House which has us concerned. The Special Prosecutor is allowing the White House to dictate what will be examined and what will be kept under the shroud of conspiracy," Peter says, pushing slightly against the desk.

"Mark, I'm sorry, but this is something that must be addressed," Ainsley cuts in before Mark can ask another question. "The Special Prosecutor was appointed by the Attorney General from a selection list compiled by a panel of federal Judges, all of which were appointed by Republican Presidents. Mr. Rollins has, thus far, conducted a meticulous and respectful investigation, and while I know that his reasonableness infuriates certain members of Congress, who would prefer that this be turned into a media circus, the White House will continue to cooperate with his office entirely in an effort to put this unfortunate matter to rest and get back to the issues which effect the daily lives of the people of this country, like health care, education and the strength of our economy," Ainsley finishes.

"There will be no real resolution of this issue so long as the man in charge of the investigation is a `close friend' and `former law school classmate' of the White House Counsel, and the President is allowed to trade on that friendship to manipulate the system and continue to perpetrate a conspiracy of fraud on the American People," Peter says, almost sneering at Ainsley, and Mark's look confirms Ainsley's belief that Peter's contempt showed through his words.

"Well, I'd like to thank Assistant White House Counsel, Ainsley Hayes, and Peter Cavalo, Chief of Staff for Republican Senator Mason Kingston, for being with us tonight. This is Mark Gottfried, have a good night. Hold the position while the credits roll," Mark says, smiling between Peter and Ainsley. "Ok, we're clear. Well, Ainsley, always a pleasure. Tell CJ I owe her one," Mark says, winking at her as he turns to Peter. "Peter, thank you for being here."

Ainsley unhooks the microphone from her suit jacket and lays it on the set, standing and turning toward the green room where she'll find her coat and purse. "Well, Peter, always a pleasure. Say hey to Ann for me," Ainsley says, walking away.

"They're just using you, you know," Peter says loudly, causing Ainsley to turn and look at him. "They're using you, just like they're using Rollins, and when you cease to be of use, they'll toss you aside. CJ Cregg, Lyman, Seaborne, Ziegler, McGarry, Bartlet...they will do anything they have to to stay in power, and you're nothing to them but a pretty face who they can hold out, a token, a trophy wife. But I guess it's what you were raised for, right? To look good and say little, be the perfect trophy wife? Except I would have thought your `mama,' God bless her soul, would have warned you about giving it away for free," Peter spats.

"How dare you even make reference to my mother. You can come at me all you want, but you keep your filthy mouth away from my mother," Ainsley says through gritted teeth. "And you can tell Ann it won't work. I'm not the same malleable, small-town girl she knew. If she wants to come at me, she better do it with more than a weak, piss- poor boy and talk of my mama," Ainsley says deliberately, her accent thickening in anger.

"You're through in politics, Ainsley. They'll never really accept you, and you've betrayed too many to ever be taken seriously in the Republican party again. But I guess it was worth it for your fifteen minutes of fame, right? Well, I hope it gives you something to hold onto when you are back in Carolina, a nothing," he says, walking quickly past her.

When Peter is almost to the green room door, Ainsley recovers her breath. "Peter, you're the one being used, and the sooner you learn that about Ann Stark the better. She may think she has things on me, but I have far more on her. If she wants to get into it, you tell her to bring it on. In my neck of the woods, I have a feeling they wouldn't care so much, but Schallick doesn't appear to me to be the accepting and open-minded type. Stay the hell out of my way, Peter, or next time I'll crush you while the cameras are rolling."

"Are you really willing to do this for them? Risk your career?" Peter asks, almost hurling his words.

"President Bartlet is a good man, Peter, and his staff are good people, and it's my job to defend them, and I take it seriously, and personally. And when this is done, I am going to make sure that each and every person that took a cheap shot learns what it's like to be on the other side of organized fury," Ainsley says with a smile, watching Peter leave before following him through the door a few minutes later and gathering her belongings.

She doesn't cry until the shower, and then it's tears of loss, not frustration. For the first time in a long time, she understands her place, sees her purpose and can chart her exact position in the world. But she's twenty-nine years old, and she misses her mother, and tonight some mealy-mouth shithead hurled her memories, imparted to an unknown enemy too long ago to think about, like broken glass. Lying in bed, she wonders if Peter delivered her message to Ann correctly, and if Ann understood the undercurrent of threat. Then she wonders if CJ was impressed. When CJ told her not to oversell it, Ainsley couldn't help but be pleased she remembered that small detail of their conversation the other night, but now, only half awake, Ainsley wonders if she remembers the touch of their hands, or if she felt the friction that seemed to form in the air between them in the silences.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Ainsley chuckles to herself at telling Sam he needed a haircut as she follows CJ into her office the next day, knowing Sam will go directly to his office and spend the next fifteen minutes or so obsessing over whether he really does need a haircut, before he gives up and wanders down to ask Josh if he thinks Sam needs a haircut.

"You wanted to see me?" Ainsley asks, following CJ into her office.

"You did well last night on Capital Beat," CJ says, and while Ainsley is fairly certain CJ means it, she understands that it is just something to say to explain Ainsley's presence in her office.

"Thanks."

"Babish and Rollins wrote a paper together for the Yale Law Review," CJ says, closing the door.

"You should get it out there," Ainsley says, her heart beating a little faster, whether from being included in whatever plot CJ has brewing or whether from being close enough to CJ to smell her perfume.

"Yeah, the problem is, I can't just make photocopies and distribute it," CJ says, motioning with her hands.

"What do you need?"

"I want you to get with one of your friends in the press room from a conservative paper," CJ says, matter-of-factly.

"You really think we have a secret handshake don't you?" Ainsley asks, quelling the smile which threatens to ruin her focused seriousness, despite her thrill at being a central player in this plan.

"Do you?"

"Yes," Ainsley says, allowing herself a small smile at CJ's smirk.

"Get alone with this guy, go off the record, and say you can't believe how the President can be claiming to waive executive privilege yet still reserve the right to withhold certain documents. Can you do that?" CJ asks, taking two steps toward Ainsley, holding her stare

Ainsley repeats CJ's phrase, watching her eyes for approval.

"Yeah, do it quietly and kind of shake your head in disbelief," CJ directs, still standing too close to allow Ainsley to completely ignore her perfume.

As Ainsley repeats it again, she feels her cheeks getting warm, and feels foolish at concentrating so hard on shaking her head and not blushing, all at the same time.

CJ has been staring at her intently, as if concentrating on Ainsley's delivery, and her head has been moving with Ainsley's deliberate head shakes, almost making Ainsley dizzy.

"You don't have to keep shaking your head, just at the beginning," CJ corrects again, abruptly stopping her own head and her face showing her amusement.

Ainsley repeats it again, concentrating hard this time on the way she moves her head, wanting to please CJ and wanting to escape this dizzying proximity.

"Yeah, but think about it--" CJ begins to adjust again, and Ainsley knows she can not keep doing this, standing this close and staring at her, and not get tongue-tied or more light-headed.

"Ok, I've got it," Ainsley says, cutting off CJ's direction.

"Thank you," CJ says with a smile, and Ainsley nods, needing to escape the office, and to find Karla before the next briefing, missing CJ's softer smile as she leaves.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Karla, hey, got a minute?" Ainsley asks, nodding her head toward the side office.

"Sure, I could really use a cigarette. Want to take a walk?" The reporter asks, reaching for her coat. "Have you talked to Cliff lately?"

"Yeah, I talked to him last weekend. He is really bummed about Sheila," Ainsley says, walking out the press entrance with Karla.

"You look tired. You're losing all that wide-eyed, wrinkle-free innocence that I always thought was so appealing," Karla says, lighting her cigarette. "I'm going to have to stop hitting on you soon."

"I was never young enough for you. You like them perpetually twenty- three," Ainsley laughs. "I thought you were sleeping with that grad student who interned with the Post last year?"

"Nah, old news," Karla says with a wave of her hand. "So, what about you, still living like a nun?"

"Yeah, pretty much," Ainsley sighs. "With everything going on, I just really don't have the energy for interpersonal relationships."

"Ok, well, what did you call me out here to leak," Karla asks, nudging Ainsley's shoulder with her own and passing her the cigarette.

Ainsley takes a long drag and holds the smoke in her lungs for a moment before exhaling loudly. "It's not really a leak as much as a need to be out of there for a few. I spend all day discussing these things, and..." she rolls her eyes as Karla almost laughs at her, and then she stops her, takes a deep breath, and plays her part. "I can't believe the President can be claiming to waive executive privilege yet still reserve the right to withhold certain documents," Ainsley says, shaking her head for only a few seconds, seeing CJ's parting smile in her mind.

"Will she answer it if I ask it?" Karla asks, passing Ainsley what's left of the cigarette.

"Yeah, but start with something about the privilege, ok?" Ainsley says, dropping the cigarette and putting it out as she stretches her back.

Back inside, Ainsley sits in her office, watching the briefing. When Karla asks her first question, Ainsley can see CJ's eyes narrow almost unperceptively, as if wondering if this is the one. Ainsley knows she will be surprised it is a woman, knowing she asked for a conservative paper and is therefore expecting a male reporter. She smiles at the flicker of CJ's eyes and the knowledge that she will find the irony, a lesbian reporter for a conservative paper. She smiles wider when Karla tells CJ to stop being "coy," knowing Karla is probably giving her that you're-testing-my-patience-but-you-can- cause-you're-cute-smile, and laughs out loud at CJ's flirty "I was born this way." God she's sexy when she's in control, Ainsley thinks, wishing she were confident enough to just tell her so.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Hey," Ainsley says, knocking slightly on CJ's doorframe the next evening. "Good job," she says, smiling and nodding her head.

"Thanks, you, too," CJ says, tipping her beer toward her. "I couldn't have pulled this off without you. I made sure Leo and the boys know that," CJ says, motioning toward one of the chairs, pointing to the door before Ainsley gets more than a step in, and she turns and pushes the door closed with one hand.

"I figured you would be off celebrating," Ainsley says.

"Nah, bad form to celebrate on a day that is supposed to be a set back for us," CJ says with a Cheshire-cat-grin. "Besides, Josh and Toby are off with Doug working on the estate tax, and Sam and Leo are meeting with the President, and well, we all have work to do. Except that I've worked my ass off all week, and have decided I am done for the night," CJ says with a sigh, taking another long sip of her beer.

Ainsley watches her swallow the beer, and almost mimics the movement with her own throat. CJ tips her head to the side and holds the beer out. "It's starting to get warm, but it's beer, and it's the last one."

Ainsley reaches for the bottle and her fingers slide over CJ's and she prays she doesn't drop the bottle. She holds the bottle to her lips, her heart skipping for a moment at the feel of not quite cool glass against her lips, knowing it was warmed by CJ's mouth. She takes a deep swallow and then takes another, smaller sip, letting it flow over her tongue before swallowing and passing the bottle back over the desk. She smiles openly as CJ touches her knuckles deliberately with her thumb, smiling in response.

They sit in silence for a few moments, and then the smile fades from CJ's face and she shakes her hair out of her eyes, like she does when she is thinking about asking something that makes her uncomfortable.

"You ok?" CJ asks quietly, looking up at Ainsley.

"Yeah, why?" Ainsley asks, confused by the question.

"I'm on pretty good terms with Mark Gottfried. He called to make sure you were ok after what happened after the show the other night. I told him you were fine, but thought I should actually ask. So, what happened?"

"Peter was talking trash. It's no big deal," Ainsley says, not looking at CJ's eyes, afraid she'll see her discomfort.

"Yeah, that's what I thought, until I got details," CJ says, swiveling subtly in her chair and looking at Ainsley with an intent but gentle look. "What does Ann think she has on you?" CJ asks seriously.

"CJ, you really don't want to know," Ainsley says, and then from the small smile on her lips, Ainsley understands she already does. "She won't go there, CJ. She can't without outing herself as well," Ainsley says softly, but with a steady voice.

"So, am I the only person in this town who hasn't slept with Ann?" CJ asks, smirking.

"Probably, she gets around," Ainsley says with a smile, refusing to back away from this conversation. "But, in my own defense, I slept with her a long time ago, before either of us could have seen being on opposite sides of this table during a political war, and I maintain I was not in my right mind then."

"Peter mentioned your mother?" CJ asks softly, her eyes almost caressing in the dim office.

"Yeah, he did," Ainsley says, her voice thin and brittle.

"And she passed away?" CJ prods, leaning toward her desk and passing the bottle across again.

Ainsley takes a sip of the beer while she decides whether to continue this conversation. "Yeah, the summer after my first year of college, she had heart attack. I was working on a Congressional race in Kentucky, with Ann, and she knew my mother and I weren't getting along very well, mostly because Mama was quite unhappy that one year at Smith had undone years of careful teachings to make me into something I was never going to be," Ainsley says, with a rueful half- smile.

"A lady?" CJ asks, trying to lighten the mood.

"A wife," Ainsley says seriously. "When Daddy called, and told she was gone, I sort of fell apart. When I came back to the campaign after the funeral, Ann was a comfort, and a distraction, and probably a rebellion. But I didn't see her for what she was, and I let her into my head far too much." CJ nods with understanding and then motions for Ainsley to drink the last of the beer as she starts to pass it back. Ainsley looks at the bottle for a moment and then drains it in one long swallow, placing the empty bottle onto the desk and leaning back slightly in her chair.

"You could have told me," CJ says after a few minutes of silence, not bothering to pull her head up from the back of her chair, settling for turning slightly.

"What, like knowing I occasionally sleep with women would solve anything about my political leanings? Or help with the accent?" Ainsley says, laughing softly, mostly to herself, feeling the effects of the beer on an almost empty stomach.

"No, it actually makes me think you are deluded and brainwashed even more, but that's another conversation," CJ says seriously, but with a teasing glint.

"Just so during that conversation we can talk about failed economic and welfare policies, and an educational system in shambles," Ainsley says, smiling.

"What's with all the flirting with Sam?" CJ asks.

"What's all the flirting with Toby?" Ainsley counters.

"I like people, Ainsley," CJ says coyly. "And I like sex, and power," she says laughing, a warm wonderful sound to Ainsley's ears.

"So, wearing my hair down for you all week wasn't a mistake?" Ainsley asks with a smile.

"No," CJ says after a beat, touching her throat.

"I had wondered, of course, but I didn't really think that you would be receptive until the other night," Ainsley says, suddenly serious.

"I hadn't really wondered, until the other night, and then I was sure you would be," CJ smiles, shaking her head.

"You saw me staring at your legs, didn't you?" Ainsley asks with a self-deprecating, dramatic sigh.

CJ smiles, whether from the admission or the delivery, Ainsley isn't sure. "No, you were all flushed watching me eat. I figured if it was keeping you from cheesecake, it must be real."

"It was the sounds," Ainsley says softly. "You were enjoying it, and making these small sounds, and my mind just...I can not believe I just told you that," Ainsley says, covering her eyes with one hand.

"So, listening to me eat turned you on?" CJ teases, her smile warm and her eyes direct.

"CJ, you could turn me on in your sleep," Ainsley laughs, shaking her head and only looking at CH out of the corner of her eye.

"And you never said...anything?" CJ says, her tone showing her mild exasperation.

"Well, you could have dropped a hint or two," Ainsley says with a raised eyebrow.

"Berkley?" CJ says with inflection.

"Smith?" Ainsley counters, winning CJ's agreeing nod. "We need a secret handshake," she says with a sigh.

"Couldn't do it in public the way I would do it," CJ says, her voice slightly rough and her eyes dancing.

"Are you drunk?" Ainsley asks.

"No, you?" CJ asks.

"No, but it wouldn't take much," she sighs.

"Unfortunately, I need to stick around and be functional in case we need to deal with the fire," CJ says, shaking her head with resignation.

"Well, I am going to go home and crawl into bed, then," Ainsley says, pulling herself up out of the chair.

"Tease," CJ says, grinning evilly. "Do you still think the ERA is redundant and degrading?" She asks, as Ainsley reaches for the door.

"Yup. You still think late-term abortions are acceptable medical procedures?" Ainsley asks.

"Yup. Well, then, maybe we should just not talk," CJ says, pursing her lips.

"That could work," Ainsley says, smiling as she opens the door. "Goodnight, CJ."

"Sweet dreams, Ainsley," CJ says, to the now empty office.

~finis~

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