Author's Note: Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah, everybody! I am practically in a food coma and pounding out this introduction from half-closed eyes, so I hope everything is spelled right. This is the last of the Christmas fluff stories, so I hope you have enjoyed this little theme week and all its love and good cheer. Starting tomorrow I'm back to the normal run of things, including new chapters in all my WIPs, so be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, enjoy the story, give me feedback, and have a very happy day, whatever and whether you're celebrating.
Abbey Bartlet hadn't planned on throwing a staff Christmas party that year, or rather, she hadn't planned on throwing two. They always threw an office Christmas party for the Governor's staff, the staff at Bridges House, and a few dozen select friends of the office. In Abbey's opinion that was quite enough to be dealing with in one holiday season. Even with caterers she was only one woman, and she had the family holiday to plan for, a demanding career of her own, and a husband gearing up to spend the next six months tilting at windmills. She had no time to spare for the handful of campaign staff he'd accumulated already, and even Leo was on her lump-of-coal list for getting Jed going in the first place
Unfortunately for her, she also had a sixteen-year old daughter harboring an enormous crush on her husband's new political strategist, a man twice her age but who looked ten years younger, and whose personal dynamism combined with a complete inability to cope with the polite niceties of adult life made him catnip to a politically-minded teenager. Abbey wasn't sure what she thought of Josh Lyman personally, except that she'd have mercilessly destroyed him for taking even one wrong look at Zoey, but he never so much as glanced in that direction. He treated Zoey more like a bratty little sister than anything else, which Abbey suspected was the fastest way to let the crush die on its own. For the moment, however, Zoey was deeply interested in spending time with the campaign staff, and somehow that had turned into an office Christmas party at campaign headquarters, hosted by the Bartlet family.
The one saving grace, as far as Abbey was concerned, was that there weren't very many of them yet. Leo had fired most of the staff holdovers from the gubernatorial campaign (perhaps the only reason Abbey had refrained from kicking his ass already over this ridiculous endeavor) and brought in a handful of youngsters with the energy to run a national campaign with no money or support. Jed had hired Toby Ziegler himself, after a brilliant speech he'd listened to in New York and a long conversation that Abbey had never been privy to all the details of. The speechwriter was dour, abrasive and a borderline alcoholic, but his stubborn idealism resonated all the way back to the way Jed and Abbey the political nobodies had felt back in the seventies when he'd decided to run for the state legislature on the first place. It made for uncomfortable abrasion at all the places they'd had to compromise since then, but Jed liked people who kept him honest, most of the time. Sam Seaborn, Toby's right hand man and interface to anybody who couldn't handle the speechwriter's unique style, was a friend of Josh's who'd given up an extremely lucrative career to join the campaign. Bright and handsome and eager to please, he reminded her quite a bit of Jed at that age, if Jed hadn't already been married and a father.
CJ Cregg was the only woman on Jed's new staff besides Leo's trusty assistant Margaret, though Jed and Leo both swore up and down that they'd be bringing more on board soon. Leo had muttered something about needing to sort out Josh's personal life first that hadn't sounded too promising. Maybe the entire campaign would wind up staffed with Leo's and Josh's and Toby's personal friends, because those were the only people they could coax into the jobs. It'd make for some interesting parties. In any case, Abbey liked CJ quite a lot; the press spokeswoman was still finding her feet on the campaign but had a gawky charm and snarky sense of humor that made her easy to talk to. As a thoracic surgeon, Abbey absolutely understood how it felt to be the one girl in the clubhouse, and sometimes it was nice to just have another woman to let down one's guard with. Those five, plus a handful of volunteers and office staff, made up the entirety of Bartlet for America. The caterers only needed a sedan and two workers to handle the entire event.
The party was not an unqualified success. Zoey realized about halfway through that Josh did not actually celebrate Christmas, though he was happy enough to attend a party in its honor, and Abbey wound up spending half an hour wedged in a supply closet that had not yet been turned into office space, trying to convince Zoey that her life was not quite entirely over yet. By the time they emerged, the staffers had finished their meals and gotten into the adult-beverages-and-singing portion of the evening. CJ and Sam both had surprisingly decent voices as they managed a credible rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside, shamelessly flirting with each other in the manner of people who are never going to sleep together. Josh had neither a head for alcohol nor much of a voice, proving both with a spirited rendition of the dreidel song while Toby just glared at him from the sidelines, glass of whiskey in hand. The display did seem to cool the edge of Zoey's ardor, so Abbey just laughed and sat back to watch the show. Spending the next four months with these people was sure to be a memorable experience.
It was a little bit strange to only have two Christmas parties this year, after the social insanity that had been the Christmas season at the White House, but Abbey was more than happy to get used to it. While she did occasionally miss the housekeepers and chef and the fresh floral arrangements on any surface that stood still long enough, being back in her own home, with privacy and solitude and quiet whenever she needed it, was worth a thousand five star meals or fancy parties. It wasn't as though they hadn't kept busy this past year, Jed with lecturing and assembling his papers for the presidential library, Abbey with her second book (Danny Concannon was a very persuasive man), her grandchildren, and the occasional turn as a substitute doctor at the town's one low-income clinic. Jed's health had improved dramatically with the reduced stress, and these days he was moving as easily as he had before the reelection campaign. It wouldn't last forever, she knew, but she was going to appreciate the hell out of it while it did.
Christmas Day was for family, and Abbey was getting her whole brood this year, much to her delight. All three girls and their families would be there, with the not-at-all notable exception of Doug, and the very notable addition of Charlie, who'd finally put a stunner of an engagement ring on Zoey's finger. Annie was in college now, and wasn't that hard to believe, but Ellie's little girl was just old enough now to appreciate the lights and tastes of Christmas, if not most of the festivities. Abbey had made a million plans and bought a new camera just for the occasion.
Before that happy day, though, Jed had summoned all their other wayward children home for an additional Christmas party, shamelessly robbing the new administration and the private sector of their brightest talents for a weekend to gather his staff once more. And despite how far away they'd traveled, despite busy schedules and complicated personal lives, they'd all come when he called, these people who'd already moved mountains for him.
For CJ and Danny it was not so difficult, he'd been out to the farm twice this year already for the book, and she'd dropped by for a day or so each time on her way back and forth between all the many places she went these days. Getting out of the White House had been very good for CJ; the place had been draining her health and strength as surely as it had Jed's, but she'd been letting it take her joie de vivre as well. Abbey knew she herself hadn't helped at all, pitted against the Chief of Staff in a battle for Jed's time and energy that neither of them could really win. The visits this summer had helped the two women patch up a friendship that had grown strained, and now having CJ and Danny around was nothing but a pleasure.
Josh and Donna had performed minor scheduling miracles to fly up from Washington, both of them arriving late the night before the party, he as rumpled as Abbey had ever seen him, she looking every inch the sleek professional she'd spent so long growing into. It was nice to see them back in stride with one another, all that miserable romantic tension dissolved into the comfort of an actual romance. They looked good together, and for all they'd departed a year before the end, seemed to have little trouble fitting back into the gang. By breakfast time Donna was swapping bits of Christmas trivia with Jed while Josh and Danny argued over collegiate athletics and the freedom of the press to print unattributed quotes. It made for a lively discussion.
The pair from Washington had brought Sam back to the fold with them, and Annabeth Schott as well. Sam was ever so slightly reticent about coming, still sensitive about his tumultuous departure and a little unsure of his welcome. That had lasted about five minutes until CJ had spotted him and swept him up in a hug, kissed him on the mouth, and demanded to know why he'd had to leave California just when she was getting back there. Annabeth was a slightly tougher nut to crack; she was a good friend of Donna's and had been special to Leo in a way that had never been made public, but her role in the administration had been short and relatively small. She seemed mostly content to sit back and watch, absorbing the festivities rather than participating. Margaret had been invited to the party too, but she alone of all the invitees had begged off. Abbey had known Margaret for longer than she'd known any of the other staffers, but she'd never really understood the woman. There was probably too much water under that bridge to even try now. She did know that when Leo had died, Margaret had lost her good friend and father figure but still kept on working for his handpicked successor, then his protege. Maybe there were only so many reminders she could take, or maybe she just wanted a weekend with her own family.
Will Bailey had flown in from Oregon at presidential decree, good-humoredly enduring Josh's occasional heckling with the same stoicism he'd used against the press corps as he shared stories of trying to win hearts and minds in Oregon's poachable fourth district. Kate Harper showed up as well, from wherever she was and whatever she was doing now, questions she answered only with a smile and a shrug. She and Will were still dancing around one another, but if anything were going to happen between them, one of them was going to have to get a whole lot braver. Abbey suspected it wasn't going to be anytime soon.
As he'd promised, Jed's first activity of the day was coercing his team into hiking out to the back of the property and dragging back a tree for the sun porch. Abbey contributed to the effort by providing mugs of cocoa and sardonic commentary while everyone bundled up into whatever warm gear they had or could dig up in the depths of the mudroom from the girls' old collections. Will's bright pink bobble hat looked especially fetching. They were gone almost three hours before returning triumphant with a tree much too large for the sun porch, one of the neighbor's dogs who'd decided to join the party, and Donna riding home on Josh's back because her leg was bothering her. Abbey prescribed rest, elevation, and ibuprofen, ending Josh's fretting about whether Donna might have dislodged one of the screws holding her femur together. That just meant she got to join Abbey in supervising the tree-trimming (tree-bisecting, really, bringing only the top two-thirds inside) and decoration activities. Decorating the tree slid into the party itself so gradually that nobody really noticed until it was almost time for dinner.
Abbey liked to consider herself a pretty good cook when it came to family meals, but if God had meant for women to cook for their own parties, he wouldn't have invented caterers. When the doorbell rang at four, she opened it expecting to see the food, but instead finding a slightly bedraggled Toby Ziegler. It was awkward, to say the least. He was a Bartlet staffer, nobody could say otherwise, but honest to god, Abbey didn't know if he'd even been invited or not. She could forgive Toby for what he'd done, even admire it in a twisted sort of way, but Jed's feelings of anger and betrayal had run deep. Toby hadn't attended any of the farewell parties or the inaugural, and hadn't really been heard from since. She stood in the doorway, trying to frame words, wondering what to do, when Jed walked up behind her to see who was at the door. Abbey was glad to step aside and watch as the two men sized each other up before Jed extended a hand to Toby and welcomed him back into his home.
The caterers actually did arrive shortly after that, and it was time to eat, drink and be merry. Jed had mixed quite a strong punch to go with the food, so by the time pie was being served around, the general mood was loquacious and Josh was almost asleep in his mashed potatoes. Sam nagged CJ into doing The Jackal, which she countered by demanding he singThree Little Maids From School, much to the delight of the crowd. Donna and Annabeth got everybody to sing a few actual Christmas carols before everyone settled down around the fire in the living room to tell old stories and reminisce about the glory days of the old administration.
Jed was perfectly in his element here, Abbey realized, finished with his great work and surrounded by the people who'd carry on his legacy. They weren't finished yet, either of them, but things would be different from now on. The Bartlet era was over, and rightly so. A decade ago, Jed and his best friend had set out to sell the world on a promise of progress and new ideas, and had pulled together a team of the best young minds they could find. Now here they were at the end of that road, Leo gone in body but present in spirit, all those young minds older now but sharper as well, still working to create those changes and see the promise through. Abbey had every confidence that they'd do it, and just hoped they make time for a few more Christmas visits home along the way.