Set after "The Leadership Breakfast" ~~ previous / next
Characters property of NBC and Aaron Sorkin. No infringement intended.

Wartime Consiglieri

Leo sat in his office, staring at the scratched wooden surface of his desk, wondering how long it would take them to arrive.

There was a whole team in this building. He knew they hadnít gone home yet, because he knew them. They would be here at any moment, the team. The Committee to Re-elect the President.

President Bartlet was asleep, and it wasnít even midnight. That constituted a good day, but Leo knew it would be a while before he could bring himself to leave. He knew, too, that at least Toby felt the same way. And that the imminence of the next leg of their journey could not have escaped the attention of Josh and CJ and Sam.

They were all still in the building. Had to be. Soon it would occur to one of them that they had the next two years to do four yearsí work, and when it occurred to one of them, the rest of them would hear it. They would be here any time.

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

"I can't find my three."

Josh continued writing. "What?" he asked absently.

"I can't find my three," Sam repeated.

"Which three?"

"Clubs."

"You're using it as a bookmark."

Sam looked up, and Josh pointed. "Oh."

"Any ideas?" Josh asked, still writing.

"One."

"Which?"

"Don't send the letter."

Josh sighed. "I have to send the letter. I have no choice but to send the letter. What else you got?"

"Why do you have to send the letter? You're one of the few people in this wing who haven't embarrassed themselves in front of Karen Kayhill this week."

Josh looked up. "She mailed me my assistant's underwear."

"So?"

"So, that's about as personal as I've ever had a total stranger get with me."

"She didn't really mail them. She sent them by messenger."

"What the hell difference does it make?"

"A total stranger's never mailed you underwear before?"

"Certainly not Donna's underwear."

Sam plucked a two of hearts out of the deck. "Have you ever seen Donna's underwear before?"

"No," Josh said quickly.

"Then isn't this also about as personal as you've ever had Donna get with you?"

"Well, Donna didn't exactly get this personal with me. She didn't want me to end up with her underwear."

"Wait. You ended up with them?"

"Well. No."

Sam lost his game of solitaire and started another one. "I've seen Cathy's underwear," he announced a moment later.

Josh stopped writing momentarily. "Okay, Sam."

"I'm just telling you. In the interest of full disclosure."

"Is this one of those things we shouldn't be discussing in the White House?" Josh asked.

Sam smiled a little. "I think we've broken most of the rules of etiquette for working here, Josh."

"Sure we haven't."

"We lit the White House on fire."

"Go on."

"Well, you've received your assistant's underwear through the U.S. Postal Service, so if you want to --"

"By messenger," Josh corrected.

"So if you want to discuss what rules of etiquette we've broken, let's talk about --"

"When have you seen Cathy's underwear?" Josh interrupted.

"On trips. I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"We all do a lot of traveling. I've seen the contents of just about everybody's luggage."

Josh finished a swallow of coffee. "Doesn't count."

"Why not?"

"A reporter mailed me Donna's underwear, Sam. Is this one of the days when you can't recognize the rarity in that?"

"Sent them by courier," Sam corrected, searching for a six of diamonds. "Write your letter."

"What should I say?"

"You know what I think you should say."

"What do you think I should say?"

"Nothing."

"Then why did you tell me to --"

"If you're going to write it, write it. If you're not going to write it, go home."

"You're here. You're playing solitaire."

Sam shrugged. "I'm bored."

"You're not bored."

"I'm not bored. I'm waiting for somebody to get in action."

Josh looked up casually. "What do you mean?"

"At some point tonight, someone is going to realize that we've got two very solid years of work to do."

Josh sighed and nodded. "You're feeling it, too?"

"There's something different about the air," Sam said. "It's been said. Maybe not out loud, but it's been said."

"Re-election?" Josh asked, and Sam waved a hand in his direction.

"And now it's been said aloud for sure."

Josh started to answer when he caught a glimpse of blond hair passing the door.

"I'll be right back," he said, and stood to bellow, "Donna!"

"Later!" Donna quickened her step.

"Hang on!" Josh followed her, leaving Sam alone with his solitaire game.

"Later, Josh! I've got things to do!" she shouted over her shoulder, and bolted into CJ's office, slamming the door shut behind her.

CJ looked up. "Hello, Donna."

"Hi," Donna gasped as she leaned against the door to catch her breath.

"What's up?" CJ asked.

"I'm hiding from Josh."

"You're hiding from him?"

"Yes."

"You don't think the whole, you know, dashing in here and slamming the door behind you lent him a clue as to your whereabouts?"

Donna frowned. "I'm avoiding him, then," she corrected.

"Why are you avoiding him?"

Donna turned a couple of shades of pink as she answered. "He wants to ask me about something."

CJ looked up from her desk again. "About what?"

"A thing that happened."

"Which thing that happened?"

Donna shrugged and sat down in one of the chairs across from CJ's desk. "He got this package."

"In the mail?"

"Yeah. No. Delivered by White House messenger."

"What was in it?"

"Something that he wants to ask me about."

CJ waved a hand. "Donna, is it a secret, or --?"

"My underwear."

"What about them?"

"That's what was in the package."

CJís eyebrows shot up. "You sent Josh your underwear?"

Donna's eyes widened. "Absolutely not!"

"Okay."

"CJ!"

"How did your underwear end up in a package addressed to Josh?"

"I didn't send them!"

"Okay."

"And they didn't end up there. I got them back."

"Where are they now?"

Donna shrugged a little. "In my top drawer."

"How did your underwear get in a package addressed to Josh?"

"I dropped them."

"You dropped them?"

"Yes."

"Into a package addressed to Josh?"

"Onto the floor in front of a woman who picked them up, put them in a package, addressed it to Josh, and gave it to a White House messenger."

"Which woman?" CJ asked quickly.

"Karen Kayhill."

CJ's eyes widened. "Are you kidding?"

"Do I sound like I'm making this up?"

"Do you sound like you're making this up when you tell me you gave Karen Kayhill your underwear? You sort of do, yeah."

"Well. I'm not."

CJ looked like she was struggling to keep a straight face. "How on Earth did you give Karen Kay--"

"I dressed quickly," Donna said.

"Thatís it?"

"Whatís it?"

"You dressed quickly?"

"Yes."

"That's your entire explanation."

"Can we get past this?"

"Can we get past you giving Karen Kayhill your underwear?"

"Please?"

CJ shook her head. "All right," she said. "What do you want from me?"

"Is there any chance you could mention to Karen Kayhill that I'm not -- that I -- It wasn't a question of whether I -- that it wasn't, you know, I'm not interested?"

CJ looked at Donna for a moment and then began to laugh, about as heartily as she'd had cause to laugh all week.

"CJ --" Donna pleaded.

"Okay," CJ gasped. "Just let me catch my breath --" She launched into another fit of laughter.

Donna tried to look insulted but only ended up looking embarrassed. "I'm leaving now," she announced.

"Okay," CJ repeated. Donna stood and left the office, hearing CJ still laughing behind her.

Donna looked both ways, ignoring Carole's questioning glance, before she braved stepping out into the hallway. There had to be a safe way to get to the West Wing entrance. She needed to get out of here before Josh could ask her about the whole name-sewn-in-the-back issue, or anything equally embarrassing.

Maybe if she went this way -- if she detoured past Toby's office, she could avoid the entrance to Josh's. She decided to try it. Look both ways before leaving the safety of the hall -- ignore curious glance from Ginger -- use Bonnie for cover -- and she was almost --

"Josh!"

Donna heard Ginger's voice, and dove for cover into Toby's office. She kept low, ducking the window so Josh wouldn't see her, and it was a moment before she realized that Toby was actually in his office, too.

"Hi, Toby," Donna said from her awkward balance on the sofa.

Toby looked up slowly. "Donna."

"Do you see Josh out there?"

"No," Toby said without looking.

"Will you look and then answer?"

Toby sighed and made a point of looking up, then back at his desk. "No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"You really looked?"

"Yes."

"Because if I stand up, and he sees me, I'm going to have to talk to him."

"Damn."

"I don't want to talk to him, Toby."

"Okay."

"I don't want to have to explain to him my underwear."

"All right."

"I'm going to stand up now."

"Excellent."

"You're sure you don't see him?"

"Yes."

"Okay." Donna stood, her eyes wide, looking frantically from side to side as she slowly reached her full height. "Okay," she repeated, this time whispering. "I'm going out there."

"That's a relief," Toby said.

"Wish me luck."

"Whatever you say."

Donna crept to the door, looked both ways, and tentatively stepped into the hallway.

Behind her, Toby kept staring at his desk, but he wasn't reading anything. Tonight he was sick with mixed emotions. Too much in a day. CJ and Ann Stark and the conference on the hill. And the President. And Leo. And re-election.

Re-election. The clock still counted hours the same way, and he still hated hiking, and his car was still blue. But saying the word "re-election" had changed everything today and from now on. Now it wasn't a concept in the back of his mind. It was now. It was here and it was everything.

"Have you seen Donna?"

Toby looked up to find Josh standing in the doorway.

"She executed a perfect swan dive onto my sofa and then smuggled herself on out of here five minutes ago."

"Damn." Josh sat on the arm of the sofa. "Did she say where she was going?"

"She said she didn't want to explain to you her underwear. If that helps."

"Okay." Josh sat there for a moment. "What are you doing?"

"There's just, uh -- I was going over -- What do you need, Josh?"

"Oh. Nothing, I was just looking for Donna."

"I'm kind of busy, so --"

"Okay," Josh said, and stood again. Toby looked back at his desk, and it took him a minute to realize Josh hadn't left yet.

"What are you going over?" Josh asked.

"Majority leader's going to run."

"I know," Josh sighed, sitting down again.

"It's time for us to get serious."

"I know."

"But it's not time for the President to get serious. Not yet."

"The President's always serious."

Toby shook his head. "Not about this."

"I know." Josh sighed. "So what are we doing?"

"Thinking about it."

"I was afraid of that." Josh said. "How is it time for this?" he added after a moment.

"It just is."

"Two years. I thought we could have a few more months to relax before we light the fire."

Toby, at last, smiled a little.

"Bad metaphor," Josh admitted with a grin.

They were both silent for a moment, and then Toby said, "So. We're going to think about it."

Josh answered with his own silence and then said, "This doesn't have to change everything."

"Yes, it does."

"Why?"

"Because we're going to think about it, and we've been trying not to think about it for two years."

"Toby, it's not like the notion hasn't crossed our minds a couple of times within the last two years."

"Sure," Toby said. "Sure it has. Sure it's crossed our minds. Re-election crossed my mind, for instance, the day I joined the Bartlet campaign, and it hasn't strayed too terribly far from it since. But now it's different. Now it means more than just 'how will that look in a couple of years?' It means 'how will that look right now, today, how will that look and who will spin it to look like something else and who will take notice of that and hang onto it until November 2002?'"

Josh shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. "I wish you hadn't said the date," he sighed. "It's looming now."

"Two years is short," Toby said, "and we've got less than that."

"It's time to start the game?"

"Yes, it is."

"Okay." Josh stood up again. "Okay." He left the office, stepping past CJ, who nodded a slight greeting to him and gave none at all to Toby.

"Hey, CJ," Toby said, so quiet he could barely be heard above Josh's retreating footsteps.

"Hey, Toby," CJ said in a voice somewhat higher than it usually was. She was angry with him, and he knew it even before she closed the door behind her and did not sit down.

"You know," CJ said, "Ann thinks she's working for the next President of the United States."

"I know," Toby confirmed.

"So you know it's time to start."

"Yes."

"Are you going to talk to the President about it?"

"No," Toby said. "And please don't. Don't mention it to the President."

"Why?"

"Leo thinks it's best."

CJ raised an eyebrow. "You've talked to Leo about this?"

"We aren't mentioning it to the President," Toby repeated.

"Why?"

"Because heíll give up."

"Thatís grim."

"And thatís tough."

"Toby Ė"

Toby closed his eyes for an instant and started again. "If we bring it up now, heís going to lose it. Heís going to declare he isnít running, and people are going to hear him say he isn't running."

"So by the time he changes his mind, itíll be difficult to undo the perception he's created," CJ finished.

"To say nothing of he'll be discouraged from the outset. Best not to mention it for a little while yet," Toby said.

"Okay," CJ answered. "But we're going to talk about it, arenít we."

"Yes, I would imagine so."

"All right."

CJ stood still for a moment, and Toby waited. There was still something she had to say, and he knew it, and he deserved it, so he waited.

But all she said was, "Okay." And she turned to leave.

"CJ," Toby said. CJ stopped, her back to him, one hand on the doorknob.

"What?" she asked.

"I'm sorry."

"You should be."

"I am."

"I know."

"I should have ..." He cleared his throat. "... listened to you."

"Well." He saw her nod, still refusing to look at him directly. "We've begun to fix it."

"Okay."

"I'm leaving."

"Okay."

CJ stood still for a while and then slowly turned to face him. "Sometimes I forget who works for who," she said, speaking in that high voice again.

"Me too," Toby said.

"Itís not that I donít Ė" she stopped.

"I know," he said.

"This whole wing agrees a lot of the time," she explained.

"I know," he said again.

CJ nodded. "So," she said.

"I should have listened," Toby repeated.

"I'm going now," CJ said.

"Okay." And this time she left the office.

CJ plowed back toward her own office, charged with an energy she couldn't place. It was time to get serious about a lot of things, and it felt strange to her, being alone right now in this White House. She felt like Sam ought to be beside her, that Josh ought to be, and Toby, and Leo, and Donna and Carole. That they shouldn't sleep for two years, that they should spend every moment that was available to them fixing things. Erasing the last two days; taking the focus off of Ann Stark's boss and putting things as they belonged.

Except that re-election had been spoken, and she knew it, though she wasn't in the room when it had happened. The air had changed. Her ears were popping with the difference in altitude.

"I don't understand. All your underwear have nametags?"

CJ slid to a halt outside her office.

"Josh!" came Donna's exasperated voice from inside.

"Is it in case you lose them?"

"Well," Donna cleared her throat. "It worked, didn't it?"

"In a weird and disturbing sort of way, yeah."

"Then shut up."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm in the middle of this letter."

"Don't write that letter," Donna growled.

CJ decided that the best thing to do was to pretend she didn't notice them. She entered her office and sprawled onto the sofa, closing her eyes.

"Hey, CJ," Josh said. "Do you have nametags in your underwear?"

CJ opened one eye. "Josh, do I look like I'm in the mood to, you know --"

"Forget I asked," Josh said quickly.

"Thank you."

"He found me," Donna unnecessarily explained to CJ.

"Well," CJ said. "Good, then."

"I thought, 'Surely he's left the building by now.' And you know what?"

"You were mistaken?"

"I was mistaken."

"Yes, you were," Josh said smugly.

"You know, Josh, you lit the White House on fire, so you might not be so quick to judge."

"Are you never going to let that go?"

"It's been three days."

"Could the two of you maybe have this discussion someplace else?" CJ pleaded.

"You gonna sleep here?" Josh asked.

"No, I'm going to work here. Seeing as how, you know, I work here."

"You need anything?"

"Someone to do this work for me."

"I can ask Sam."

CJ smiled a little. "Sam's still here?"

"Playing solitaire for reasons that escape me."

CJ was silently thoughtful for a moment. "Then we're all still here," she said at last.

"Leo?"

"In his office," Donna confirmed.

They were quiet, and then Josh said, "So we can talk about this."

"About what?" Donna asked.

"Come with us," Josh answered, and helped CJ to her feet. They left her office, asking Carole to come with them when they saw her. To Toby's office. "Come with us," Josh repeated, and Toby nodded, and stood, and followed them.

Sam looked up when they reached him. Josh nodded, and Sam looked from one to the other of his colleagues. They were starting the ground game, and he knew it. He walked silently with them to Leoís office.

Leo was staring at his desk, as most of them had been doing for a couple of hours. "Leo," Toby said as their small team reached his door.

Leo looked up, and even smiled a little as he nodded.

"There's an empty room across the street," CJ said, casting the edge of a glance at Sam. "Is it time for that yet?"

"Might be," Leo confirmed, studying the members of the infant re-election committee before him. And he stood, ready as the rest of them to get started.

~Sary
14 January 2000



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Set after "The Leadership Breakfast" ~~ previous / next