Title: Almost Time
Author:
Willow
Summary: Leo explains his decision to Josh and then Josh and CJ talk.
Spoilers/Episode: Post season 6, Third Day Story, set after Unbreakable.
Characters: Josh and Leo
Rating: G


Saturday Evening

Josh was sat next to Leo's bed, reading a memo on pork farming subsidies. He didn't notice Leo watching him until he glanced toward the bed. "Hey, thought you were asleep."

"I was. How are you?"

"Isn't that suppose to be my question?" Josh asked.

"Thought I'd get in first."

"I'm okay."

"Good." Leo closed his eyes briefly before looking back at Josh. "Look after Mal," he told him.

Josh looked alarmed, "You're going to be fine. And Mal will be fine because you're going to be."

"While I'm in here," Leo clarified, "she's scared."

"I know," Josh agreed. "I'll look out for her, we all will. How you feeling?"

"I have no idea," Leo admitted.

"Pain relief's pretty good, huh?" Josh smiled.

"Maybe too good," Leo replied.

Josh knew what Leo was saying, knew he was worried about getting addicted. "You'll be fine. They wean you off it slowly," he assured him.

Leo nodded. "Don't you have a life away from here?" he asked with a small smile. Josh had been to see him on Thursday and Friday evenings and this afternoon, now he was here again.

"No," Josh shook his head. "CJ was suppose to be cooking me dinner, but the president summoned her."

"So I'm your fallback?"

"You are," Josh smiled. Zoey and Charlie had taken Mallory out for dinner. She had only agreed to go as long as someone else sat with Leo, so Josh had gladly volunteered.

"What you reading?"

"No," Josh shook his head.

"No?" Leo asked.

"It's work, you're not allowed."

"Because I don't work there anymore?" Leo teased.

"Because you've just had a major heart attack and hours of surgery," Josh replied.

Leo studied Josh, he couldn't help but worry about him. After spending hours in a German hospital worrying about Donna and blaming himself, this was the last thing Josh needed. Leo was fairly sure Josh would find a way to blame himself for this as well. "Okay," he said. "Have you slept in the last two weeks?" he asked.

"No," Josh smiled. "I'm fine, it's not like I need much sleep. You on the other hand are supposed to be resting. The nurse only let me in as long as I promised not to disturb you."

"You're not." Leo really wanted to go back to sleep, the energy required to talk to Josh for the last few minutes had left him drained, but he also needed to explain.

Josh could see Leo fighting to stay awake. "Go back to sleep, I'm not going anywhere."

While Leo slept, Josh read through another memo on pork subsidies and then turned his attention to the treasury reports he'd brought with him. After an hour he'd got completely lost and needed to speak to Toby. He'd learnt his lesson about cell phones and hospitals though, so he checked Leo was still sound asleep, left the room and went outside to make his call. Twenty minutes later he returned to find Leo awake. "Hey."

"Thought you'd gone."

"If you want some peace I can...."

"No," Leo interrupted. "I need to talk to you."

Josh moved his backpack off the chair and sat back down. "'Sup?"

"I wanted to explain about CJ."

"Look, don't worry about it, not now. You need to rest and relax, forget about work."

"I want to explain," Leo repeated.

Josh reluctantly nodded, "Okay."

Leo considered where to start. "Would you have taken the job?"

Josh didn't know how to respond to that, honesty seemed the only option. "Yeah."

Leo shook his head, he'd phrased the question badly. "I mean, would you have wanted to take it?"

"No."

"Okay."

"Leo, sleep; this can wait."

"You're just scared of Abbey," Leo smiled. While he really was exhausted, he needed to tell Josh this.

"Well, yes, who isn't," Josh agreed.

"I should have talked to you before, but with everything that's happened recently," Leo paused and gathered his thoughts. "Russell can't be our nominee."

"Leo, no work."

"Just this," Leo insisted. "You need to find a candidate to challenge him. Someone who isn't in the pockets of the Republican leadership, someone who'll be a worthy successor to Jed Bartlet."

"I know," Josh agreed. "That's a tall order though, someone worthy to succeed..... wait, me?" he asked. "You think I can find a candidate and get him elected?"

"Yes," Leo nodded. "You'd have got Hoynes elected."

"Don't remind me," Josh smiled ruefully. "You really think I could beat Russell? I mean not me, but.... you know what I mean."

"Yes," Leo repeated with a smile. This was the first time in months he'd seen Josh genuinely excited about something and it was doing Leo almost as much good as the drugs he was on.

"That's why you suggested CJ?"

"Yeah. He needs a chief of staff who'll stay 'til the end, that isn't you. It's almost time to move on, Josh."

Josh was stunned. Leo was telling him to leave The White House, to find a candidate of his own and challenge Russell. This was the best thing he'd heard in months, it was also the scariest.

Leo could see the emotions crossing Josh's face. "Don't be scared, you're quite capable, you just need a candidate."

"Does the president know your plan?"

"Yeah, I told him yesterday. He thinks it's a great idea, and we'll both support you and give any help you need."

"God," was all Josh could think to say.

"You'll do it?"

"Yes," Josh agreed without hesitation. "What about CJ?"

"The president's going to talk to her. She knows something's not right, she needs to know and you need to keep her informed."

Josh nodded. "Thank you," he said. He saw Leo was fighting to stay awake again. "Go to sleep, I'll stay a while longer."

Leo drifted back to sleep and Josh sat and watched him. He looked better than two days ago, but he still looked old and frail; two words Josh had never associated with Leo. After he'd taken Mallory home on Thursday evening, he'd gone back to his apartment and had finally given into the emotions of the last two weeks. He'd actually cried, something he hadn't done since his father had died, but as he sat in his lounge at midnight on Thursday, he'd cried; for Donna and for Leo and for himself, because CJ had been right, these jobs came at a price and sometimes it was too high.
Now here he was, excited about trying to find a new candidate, so that he could do it all again for another eight years. As he sat in Leo's hospital room, watching Leo's chest gently rise and fall, watching as his mentor slowly recovered from near death, he thought he must be insane, because he was excited at the prospect of eight more years working in The White House.

...................................................................................................................

Sunday

"Are you ill?" CJ asked as she followed Josh into his apartment.

"No, why?"

"Because it's 11.30 and you're not dressed."

"It's Sunday," Josh pointed out.

"So that means we're not going jogging then."

Josh gave a small smile. "Are you still allowed to go jogging, you know without an escort?"

"I don't have a constant Secret Service presence," CJ replied. "Are you still coming tonight?"

"Are you going to cancel again? 'Cos you know, I don't want to get my hopes up of a home cooked meal again and then....."

"You wanted me to tell the president, 'Sorry, Sir, I promised to cook Josh's dinner so I can't come by the residence tonight'?"

"Yes," Josh agreed with a grin. "What did he want, or is it a secret?" he teased.

"Don't," CJ warned. "I've had Toby snarking me, I don't need you as well."

Josh couldn't help but smile at CJ's use of Donna's expression, 'snarking me'. "Toby'll be fine."

"I don't think so, but maybe," she said and then turned to the real reason she was there. "You know I was more shocked than anyone?"

"I do. We've done this, I'm fine with it. I was fine with it on Thursday and I'm fine with it now."

"Have you spoken to Leo or the president about why they gave me the job?"

"Yeah."

"Okay. That's what the president wanted last night, or one of the things anyway. He talked to me about you."

"That doesn't sound good."

"It was," CJ said. "It seems him and Leo have plans for you."

"Apparently," Josh agreed. "You don't mind that?"

CJ laughed. "We have to stop doing this. We have to stop dancing around each other. Until you find a candidate, you're my deputy and we really need to not be awkward and second guessing each other."

"I know," Josh agreed and then smiled. "I just want you to remember that in the last seven years, I never once pulled rank, in fact you spent the time bossing me around."

"So we can just carry on as we are," CJ grinned.

"This is going to be hell," Josh gave a mock sigh. "I'm going for a shower, you want a drink or something?"

"I should go and leave you in peace."

"Don't be stupid, I'll be five minutes," Josh replied and went into the bathroom.

CJ made herself a coffee and sat at Josh's kitchen table to read the Sunday papers. Five minutes later she saw him walk into his bedroom. "What's Donna doing today?" she called.

"Sleeping I hope," Josh replied. He pulled on a pair of jeans and picked up a top. He was still pulling it over his head as he walked into the kitchen. "At least that's what she promised to do."

"Good, she looked well though," CJ commented as she watched Josh. She'd seen his scar before, knew he wasn't especially bothered about people seeing it, but it reminded her of something a reporter had asked her. "You think Leo's in a lot of pain?"

"I'm not a doctor," Josh replied.

"No, but you have had open heart surgery. You were on bi-pass for nearly 12 hours, surgery for 13. You've been there."

"Yeah," Josh agreed. He poured a coffee and sat down. "If he feels anything like I did then he'll be in some pain, yes."

"I was talking to a reporter, he mentioned chronic pain for three or four months. Did your's last that long?"

"Leo's procedure was completely different to mine," Josh pointed out.

"Were you in pain when you came back to work?"

Josh wanted to say no, wanted to lie, but CJ was staring at him in a way that made that impossible. "Yeah, some."

Even though that was the answer CJ had expected, she was still thrown. "And now?"

"It's been four years, CJ."

"And now," CJ repeated.

"When did this become about me?"

"Just answer the question, and by the way your refusal to answer is pretty telling."

Josh sighed. "Yes, I still have some pain in my back," he replied. "And my leg and, while we're on the subject, sometimes my arm and shoulder." He saw CJ's expression change to something between sadness and shame for asking. "Sorry," he said. "It's been a bad couple of weeks."

"No, I'm sorry." CJ put her hand on his. "Definitely come at a cost," she said. "These jobs."

"Yeah." Josh strived for a change of subject. "So who else is coming tonight?"

"I don't know. Certainly not Toby, I've caught him eating doughnuts, brownies and a Danish."

"Lucky him," Josh smiled.

"No, because now I won't be cooking his dinner."

"Can you cook?"

"Yes," CJ replied. "I've invited Donna, Charlie and Will, they've all been good."

"Will always eats healthily, he's worse than you."

"And we'll both outlive you and Toby," CJ replied and studied Josh. "Promise me you'll try and keep this up, that you'll try and eat some healthy food. I don't mean no cake and fries, I just mean eat salad and vegetables as well."

"I'm fine," Josh insisted but CJ was starting to look upset so he promised but also added, "You know I have hospital check ups every six months and doctor's check ups every three months. My blood pressure is fine, as is my cholesterol, my heart and lungs."

"I didn't know that. You should still eat healthily," CJ said. "I don't know how someone who eats like you do and has your job can have normal blood pressure."

"May have something to do with the medication," Josh admitted with a smile. "Stop worrying about me." He was actually quite touched that CJ was so concerned about his health though.

"Okay, I'll stop nagging," CJ smiled. "Do you have anyone in mind then?"

"For what?"

"Iowa."

"No," Josh replied. "I haven't even thought about it yet. To be honest I was a little stunned when Leo suggested it."

"Really? I'd have thought it was obvious."

"That's what Sam said, and Donna."

"Will's not going to be happy."

"No, and we should probably not mention anything to him until we have to."

"Okay," CJ agreed.

"What's the real reason Toby's not coming tonight?" Josh asked.

"He's babysitting," CJ replied. "At least he said he was."

"It's not you he's angry with," Josh tried to tell her. "He is angry with me though."

"Why?"

"Who knows how Toby's mind works," Josh replied. "Maybe he expected me to wrestle you for the job."

"I'd have won," CJ said. She wasn't sure what was going on with Toby, but she didn't doubt she'd find out in the next few days. "Will you do me a favor?"

"Sure."

"Talk to Donna."

"What about?"

"You and her."

"I don't....."

"Josh," CJ interrupted. "When Leo sent you to Germany, it seemed like the most natural thing to all of us. When Kate asked why you'd gone, the only answer we could come up with was, because Donna was hurt. When the summit was sprung on us, but you stayed in Germany, that seemed perfectly normal as well, even to the president. No one expected you to leave until you knew Donna was going to be okay. On Wednesday, going to meet her from Andrews, even though Leo was in surgery, the president was basically AWOL, no one was in charge, it still appeared perfectly normal. Who else would go and meet Donna's plane?"

"CJ," Josh tried to object.

"I thought about it when a reporter asked me where you were. I thought, why does it seem so normal to us? Would it seem normal if I did that for Carol, or Toby did it for Bonny, if Will did it for Sandra, even Leo and Margaret, and the answer was, no it wouldn't. You have to tell her how you feel, Josh, sooner rather than later."

Josh gave up any attempt at denial. "She doesn't feel the same."

"Seriously?" CJ asked. "Did she actually tell you that or are you just guessing?"

"She was with Colin."

"And you were with Amy, but it didn't change how you felt about Donna. Talk to her. I can make it my first order as your new boss if you'd like," CJ smiled.

"I'll think about it," Josh said. "Let's give her chance to settle back in, to feel better, first."

"Okay," CJ agreed, it didn't escape her notice though that Josh hadn't disagreed with her about his feelings for Donna.

"You know we have to find a new press secretary now," Josh said in a quick change of subject.

"Toby's going to find us one, it's his department. He's going to start interviewing next week."

"Well that should put all the applicants off," Josh smiled.

"This is so big," CJ suddenly said. "I'm The White House chief of staff, Josh. How the hell did that happen? Eight years ago I was working for a Hollywood PR company, I'd never worked in national politics and now I'm White House chief of staff. How do I know I can do it?"

"Because Leo thinks you can," Josh replied. "What better endorsement can you have than that?"

CJ looked at Josh and smiled. "Yes," she agreed. "You're right, if he thinks I can do it."

"Of course," Josh added with a mischievous smile, "he was probably pretty high on morphine at the time."

"I don't care," CJ grinned. "I've got the job now. And," she smiled, "I have one of those cards. Although it's a kind of weird feeling."

"I know," Josh agreed. "Me, you and Jed Bartlet locked in a mountain together, possibly for years," he smiled. "I'm going to see Leo in a bit, you want to come?"

"Yeah. I want to thank him," CJ agreed.

"We'll have some lunch and then go. We don't want to be too late back, you'll need to shop for food for dinner," he smiled.


END