Title: Do Better Than Me (1/1)

Rating: Teen

Disclaimer: West Wing and its characters are not mine. I'm just working off a little creative energy here.

Summary: Josh gets a little clarity after difficult day- post episode to The Ticket

Spoilers: The Ticket

Feedback: Pretty please?

Author's Note: Funny thing happened when I went to finish Heart Condition… this came out instead. That will come too, but I had to get this out of my system first! This was inspired in part by the analysis of so many fans on various boards, most notably TWoP. Some wise person mentioned that Leo still wore his wedding ring as a reminder of what he'd given up, which kind of spurred this. So if you were the wise one who came up with that…Thank you! Hope you enjoy!

Josh collapsed intothe chair at his desklong after most of the new Santos campaign staff had left, weighed down by the events of the day. Between the uneasiness of the White House meeting, the frustration of Santos questioning Leo's every move and Leo's own stumbling at being the candidate instead of the man behind the scenes, it had been a very trying day. Add to that the misery of Donna's interview and Josh felt like he was holding all the world's burdens on his shoulders.

Josh leaned back in his chair, staring blindly at the nearly blank walls in his office. In his mind, he replayed the interview, trying to find a better outcome. How this happened? Less than a week ago, they'd shared beers and had some almost passable conversation. There were no uncomfortable silences, no cutting verbal barbs, just a pleasant conversation between two people who had once been friends. It was all in vain after the events of the afternoon.

If he was truly honest with himself, Josh knew that he was angry with her. Angry with her for not listening to him when he tried to stop her from humiliating herself, angry with her for not knowing her own limitations and angry with her for causing the situation to be so impossible to begin with. He couldn't hire her after months of her bloodying the Santos campaign with carefully crafted barbs. She may have just been doing her job, but she didn't have to do it so well. Josh laughed at his own ridiculousness. Asking Donna to do a half way job of anything was just impossible. That was part of why she had been so indispensable to him for all of those years. Part, but not all.

He'd come to terms with the fact that he was in love with her when she'd nearly been killed in Gaza. For a few moments at her bedside, Josh had even deluded himself into thinking that they would be able to make things work. Then her photojournalisthad shown upand brought him back to reality. He couldn't be the man Donna needed him to be. He couldn't be there for her when she needed him, he wasn'tsensitive to her needsand he had a career that was all consuming that had nearly cost both of them their lives. So he'd contented himself with the idea that they could just stay as they were, and he could stay close enough to her to bask in the glory of her smile from time to time.Then she returned home and everything fell apart.

Josh had known she was unhappy with work and wanted him to do something about it. Instead, he'd let her stay where she was despite her obvious frustration and outright anger with him. He told himself that she was still working through almost dying and she would be back to normal soon. But if anyone knew better about emotional upheaval, it should have been him. He should have realized that an experience like Gaza wasn't going to leave her unchanged.

So she had left him and gone to work in the one place he would never follow. Donna knew all too well his feelings about Bob Russell, and shebeen purposeful in her choiceto work for him. In the logical parts of Josh's mind, he knew that the reasons she had worked for Russell were about making her own way and getting real experience as a political operative, but that was cold comfort when faced with her cutting remarks about his candidate. Part of what made him so angry was that he knew Donna didn't believe Bob Russell would be a good president, yet she still chose to work for him. She had lobbed hardball after hardball at the other contenders while knowing her candidate wasn't up for the job. While he understood it for professional reasons, he couldn't reconcile that Donna with the woman who had packed up everything she owned and driven half way across the country to volunteer for Jed Bartlett because she'd been inspired by a speech she'd seen on TV. What had happened to that Donna?

He'd seen glimpses ofthat Donnatoday, which made telling her no that much harder. He'd seen it in the naïve way she expected him to hire her as his deputy, in the soft uncertainness of her tone in trying to defend herself for doing her job. Unfortunately, those were the reasons he couldn't hire her. She just wasn't ready. It was one thing to be on the front lines when your guy was the front- runner, it was quite another fighting to be taken seriously. Someone with a little more savvy might have realized that, but Donna was still very new to being an actual player in the game.

A light knock at the door interrupted Josh from his thoughts. He glanced up to see Leo watching him questioningly. He waved the older man into his office and sat up a little straighter, ready for whatever schooling Leo felt the need to give him.

"A little early in the campaign to move in, isn't it?" Leo asked sarcastically, but his eyes were full of understanding and concern, so much that Josh found it impossible to meet his gaze.

"Uh… I just wanted a little peace. It's been a hell of a whirlwind and this time of night seems to be the only time I can put two thoughts together." Josh answered, suddenly very interested in the files on his desk. Unfortunately, the file still sitting on top was his Donna file, which he tossed back into his top drawer as if it were lethal. After the way his afternoon had gone, he wasn't sure that it wasn't.

"Some people find going home a good way to get some peace. You want to tell me what's in that file you couldn't wait to get out of sight?" Leo didn't press, not sure he really wanted to know what it was the younger man was hiding. After the way the day had progressed, he wouldn't have been surprised to see a list of replacements for the Vice Presidency.

"Just a little opposition research. Nothing important." Josh continued to keep his gaze averted from Leo, certain he would see right through him.

"You knew this wasn't going to be easy. I'm not exactly a warm and fuzzy candidate and there's enough checkers in my past to offend damn near everyone." Leo's tone was cool andhis stance was wired, prepped for a fight.

"Leo, you are the guy we want. One thing you'll learn about Matt Santos is he doesn't care who he pisses off as long as he thinks he's doing the right thing. How else can you explain his comments about the New Hampshire primary while actually campaigning in New Hampshire? The file wasn't about you."

"If it's not about me, than why did you stash it so I couldn't see it? I've been through this before, Josh. My ego will survive a few days of bruising, I promise."

"I know it will, Leo. But really, that file has absolutely nothing to do with you." At Leo's disbelieving stare, Josh pulled the file back out of the drawer and slid it across the desk to him. "Fine, see for yourself."

Leo picked up the file and calmly perused its contents. He chuckled at a few of Donna's comments.

"That Kung Pao comment was good. She's got spunk, that one. Who knew the girl who showed up eight years ago with hardly any self confidence would become so great with the press?" He commented mildly. Josh immediately felt the strange combination of pride and bitterness that had followed him with every mention of Donna since she had begun working for the Russell campaign.

"She's always been very persuasive. She convinced me to hire her despite her lack of degree, experience or any form of a resume. If I had to count the number of times she changed my mind on something… I couldn't even begin. Of course she'd be good with the press, she put up with me for eight years." Josh commented, allowing the pride to overtake his anger.

"So how did she take it when you told her you couldn't hire her?" Leo asked. Josh looked up, startled at the older man's insight.

"How did- I didn't tell anyone about that."

"Of course you told her you couldn't hire her. These quotes are good, but they're too much to overcome when you are already fighting an image problem from all sides. If the primaries hadn't lasted so long, if Santos was a little better known, hell if you had a vice presidential candidate who didn't come with a truckload of issues, you might be able to give her a shot. But not here, not now. I'm guessing she didn't see that?" Leo's voice was calm and unassuming, but the knowledge of the history between these two was in his eyes.

"She was applying to be my deputy. Can you believe that? Eight months ago, she was my assistant, now she thinks she can be the deputy campaign manager? It's ludicrous." Josh remarked with a mixture of sadness and frustration.

"What did you offer her instead?" Josh stared at the older man in disbelief.

"You just listed all the reasons Donna Moss can't work on this campaign. What could I offer her, but to make a few calls to help her find something else?"

"There are a thousand reason why you can't hire Donna, the least of which being that you've been in love with her for about eight years, give or take a year." Josh's eyes bugged out at this accusation, but Leo continued on. "On the other hand, she's good. She's smart, she knows her way around policy, she's got experience working with the press, with donors and with party leaders in Congress and out. She's green, needs a little polish to be in the big leagues, but we could use her around here. You could use her around here, if only to keep your head on straight. So what can we offer her that won't put her in the line of fire and will be palatable to the staff and the candidate?" Leo ticked off his reasoning with a cool logic that would be soothing to Josh if it weren't for the one truth that was like a lead weight in his gut.

"She wouldn't take it now. I… I had to be a little rough on her." Leo rolled his eyes knowingly.

"What did you say to her?" He asked with an edge in his voice.

"I read her quotes back to her. I humiliated her with her own words." Leo exhaled sharply before shrugging.

"Well, that may not have been the approach I would have used, but it could be worse."

"Leo, I tried to stop her before she got going, but she was determined to say what she came to say. I did the only thing I could think of to get through to her, to make her see this wasn't personal, that it was about politics and appearances." Josh was nearly pleading with Leo to see his side of the situation.

"Josh, I don't doubt that you did your best to let her down gently. In fact, I get the feeling something else was said that you aren't telling me that complicates things."

"How is it that you know everything?" Josh stalled, not wanting to admit his near breakdown to a man he admired more than any living person in the world.

"A little bird might have mentioned to me that Donna looked like she was crying when she left and that you stood in your doorway watching her leave like a lover scorned. Care to explain that observation?" Leo leveled a piercing glare at Josh, causing him to squirm even more.

"I…it's not what you think. I didn't do anything. I told her I missed her and she couldn't even look at me. She came for a job and schmuck that I am, I told her I missed her everyday. I think if she could have beamed herself home at that moment, she would have." Josh buried his face in his hands in frustration.

"You really watch too much Star Trek for your own good, you know? As far as Donna reacting like that, I would imagine she didn't expect for you to be that honest in a job interview. It took a lot of guts for her to come to you and ask for a job. She may have overshot a little, but that doesn't take away the act itself."

"Yeah… I guess that's true." Josh agreed in spite of himself.

"Look, Josh, I am the last one to give advice on anything that is not political. My wife left me, my daughter is currently not speaking to me and I have seen my granddaughter fewer times than I have fingers. What I do know after all of that is that I made choices along the way in all of those instances, and almost every time my choices revolved around what was good politically. I expected my wife to be all right with a husband who was basically absent for eight years, I ignored my daughter's wishes that I retire and spend time with her and I was too busy trying to fix an unfixable situation in Cuba to be around when my granddaughter was born. I'm an old man and I keep making the same mistakes. Do better than me."

"Leo, I'm running a presidential campaign that is counting its lucky stars that we're only nine points down in the polls. I don't have time to figure out what's going on between Donna and I or how to fix it." Josh ran his hand through his hair in irritation

"Funny thing about time, you always think there will be more of it later to do the things that really matter. There isn't. Somebody leaves or they marry somebody else or some maniac tries to blow them sky high half way across the world. All of a sudden, there isn't any more time. Is that what you want?" Leo stared him down for a few moments before leaving silently with a slight nod.

Josh sat at his desk for a long time contemplating what Leo had said. Finally, he picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. Hearing her voice mail pick up, he took a deep breath.

"Donna… I… I meant what I said today. I miss you. We need to figure this out and then we can figure out how to make you fit in the Santos campaign if that's what you want. I… I just miss you. Call me… please." Josh hung up the phone and for the first time considered that it might be possible for him to be happy.