The coffee shop was a more downmarket joint than he was used to, a place for people whose government salary was not just low enough to bitch about, but low enough to truly necessitate counting the small change. It was quiet at this time of night; one server, and three customers. The couple by the door were too preoccupied with each other to notice his entrance, but the young man in the corner looked up, and gave him a wry smile. Josh picked up a coffee before going over to sit across from him.
Ash raised an eyebrow. "Slumming, Mr. Lyman?" he wondered.
"Actually, I'm talent scouting," he corrected, taking a cautious sip of his coffee. It was too hot to tell if it tasted okay, but his body was conditioned to take caffeine where it found it, and he kept drinking.
The young man gave him a look. "Have you tried the personal ads? I hear they're doing great things with internet dating these days."
"Funny guy." Josh grew serious, and leaned forward. "I've come to offer you a job."
He smiled faintly to himself, as if seeing a joke he knew no one else would get. "Mr. Lyman, that's-" He broke off and began again. "I appreciate that, but-"
"You haven't heard what the job is yet."
"That's not the-" He rolled his eyes. "What's the job?"
"Personal Assistant to Charles Young."
Ash frowned, thinking. "I know the name... Wait a minute." He narrowed his eyes.
Josh smirked. "Yeah."
"Charlie Young's the president's body man."
"That's right. Not to mention presidential son-in-law. You may have seen the wedding on TV."
"And he needs a personal assistant?"
"His wife's about to have a baby. You may have seen that, too."
Ash leaned back in his chair, and looked at him oddly. "Mr. Lyman-"
"Look, I'm not yanking your chain, and this isn't a sympathy appointment. This is the White House, and we don't do that."
Not so close to the president. The behind-the-scenes system of favours and connections that controlled most political positions stopped dead a certain distance from the Oval Office. That close to the president, it was who you were, not who you knew.
Josh let out a breath, and leaned back in his seat. "The fact is, sooner or later, Charlie Young's not gonna be able to fill his job description the same hours that he used to, and when that happens, the president's gonna need a guy. And that's not gonna be the first bright young thing fresh from the temp agency, we're looking for something in particular, and you can't pick it off of a résumé."
He pressed his fingers together, forming a tent over his coffee cup. "I think you might be it. Now, I won't lie to you. I'm not giving you the job. I'm giving you a shot at the job, and there's no guarantee in the world that the president will take to it, that Charlie Young will take to it... There are no guarantees. But I know what I'm looking for, and I think you've got it."
Ash rested his chin on his fist. "Might I remind you that I just resigned my last job for betraying a confidence?" he pointed out a little dryly.
"And it doesn't bother you that I might do it again?"
"Oddly enough, we prize that kind of behaviour."
"Because we're highly ethical, but stupid."
Josh stood up, and dropped a square of paper with his cell number on the table. "Think about it," he advised. "But do it fast, because this is the White House, and we don't wait around."
He wound his way out between the empty tables. He only glanced back once, as he was pushing through the glass door, to see that Ash had picked up the note, and was tapping it thoughtfully against his chin.
Those few staff still left in the West Wing had taken the opportunity of Toby and Andy's re-engagement to hold an impromptu party. The last food in the mess had been grabbed, and Donna had been happy to let them steal Josh's semi-secret supply of beer. CJ didn't know where Josh was; closeted somewhere with Leo and the Vice President, plotting strategies, perhaps.
She pushed such thoughts from her mind. Lord knew there would be time enough for getting caught up in spin control and damage limitation over the next few days. For now, this was a party.
Admittedly, a party with a sober undercurrent; the gratefully snatched chance for warmth and congratulations by people who knew it was anyone's guess when they might find something else to celebrate. But then, given that the couple in question were Toby and Andy, perhaps that was appropriate. They were a partnership who'd weathered their share of storms in the past, and no doubt would again.
Indeed, she found Andy in a more reflective mood than the occasion would seem to warrant, lingering around the edges of the party rather than in the thick of it. CJ filled herself another glass of wine, and crossed over to join her.
Andy gave her a slight smile, and for a moment they both watched the festivities going on around them. "Quite the shindig," CJ observed.
"I'm not sure if they're congratulating Toby or celebrating the chance to get him off their back for a while," Andy said, watching her ex-husband gesturing emphatically with a slice of pie. The unfamiliar observer wouldn't have known it from his scowl, but both of them could see that he was happy.
However, it wasn't only Toby who was at the centre of this. CJ slid her gaze sideways. "This is really what you want?" she asked quietly. She was Toby's friend, of course, first and foremost, but she also knew Andy better than any of the rest of them, and knew how tough things had been on both of them when the health of their marriage started to slide.
Andy let out a long slow breath before answering. "Well, it's not impossible I'm completely crazy," she admitted with a thread of humour.
"Marrying Toby Ziegler, that can only be an advantage," CJ noted.
"That's true." She sighed almost silently. "I don't know," she said softly, shaking her head. "Maybe I'm making a mistake, I don't know. But..." She trailed off. "He's... trying to do it right. And whether that's enough, if that's going to be enough... I don't know." She smiled faintly. "Maybe it's all going to implode spectacularly. But, well... maybe it's better if we try and implode than if we never try at all."
CJ smiled, and touched her arm in a gesture of solidarity. "It's worth trying for," she said sincerely. And this time, Andy's expression finally broke into a full, genuine smile.
"It really is," she agreed.
For a moment they just stood together, a little pocket of silence on the edge of the party. Then a beaming Sam came threading his way through the gathered people towards them. "CJ!" he called. "Ed's getting the music for The Jackal."
With a feral smile, she placed her glass down on the desk beside her. "Okay," she said, straightening her collar. "Now it's a party."
Andy chuckled, and followed her back into the thick of the throng as the crowd began to cheer her on.
Hoynes gave a wry smile as he entered the Oval Office. "Looks like there's a party going on in communications. Didn't realise you were that eager to get rid of me."
"Toby Ziegler's getting married," Leo explained. The president sat up and gave him a sharp look.
The Vice President frowned. "Who to?"
Jed grinned delightedly. "Andy agreed to remarry him?"
"Apparently so," Leo agreed.
"Well, there you go." He smiled broadly. "Anything's possible."
"Maybe," Hoynes conceded, not sounding particularly optimistic. Jed grew more serious, and looked him in the eye.
"It's gonna be tough," he acknowledged. "This is gonna be tough. But we're standing by you. You're gonna go out there and tell the truth, and we'll have your back. Are you ready for this?"
Hoynes straightened up. "Yes, sir," he said firmly.
The president nodded firmly, and stood up to shake his hand across the top of the Kennedy desk. "Then let's do this. We're with you, John." Leo moved around the back of the desk to stand beside him. "Tough times ahead... but we're gonna get you through this."