TITLE: Out Here in the Fields
AUTHOR: Sabine
ARCHIVE: Anywhere, drop a line: sabine101@juno.com
RATING: R, language mostly.
SPOILERS: General for ITSOTG, also "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc," "Six
Meetings Before Lunch," and "Let Bartlet Be Bartlet."
SUMMARY: Let Lyman be Lyman.

DISCLAIMER: Property of Sorkin, Whitford, Kelly, and the rest of the campaign
trail.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to The Who, "Baba O'Reilly," for the title.
More thanks to all the great stump stories that came before, including Jae Gecko's
"For Everything You Have Missed," ITSOTG, and, particularly, the movie
"Primary Colors." The beta team stretched wide and deep: Jae, Penelepody,
Dawn, and enormous thanks to Shana, for economics, women, and the Great Josh
Exchange. West Wing fic is impossible to fake, and Punk spent hours researching
with me for this, for everything. Our browser bookmarks are fat, now, with
Democratic position papers, articles on congressional districts, Florida, Kentucky,
and South Korea. Plus she beta'd the whole way through, so there. Spring comes,
empires fall, and in between, there's always Punk.

NOTE: This Josh will grow up into the Josh in the triptych that is "Women,"
"Men," and "Statesmen" (yet to be written). But here, he's not that smart yet, and
this story stands alone.



Out Here in the Fields


"Jesus fucking Christ, I can't believe this shit!"

Mandy blows through the screen door of the motel room and out into the parking
lot, waving her hands over her head. Josh is leaning against the bumper of the
white van, sweating like a maniac.

It's six thousand degrees on the Main Line in Pennsylvania and it's only nine in
the morning. No one's slept. It's the first long trip Josh has taken since the funeral,
since the two weeks he'd spent in Westport taking care of his mother. She'd
begged him to leave earlier, to go back to Bartlet and the campaign, but at night
he could hear her pacing in the kitchen and until she could sleep, he wouldn't
leave. Though he'd wanted to. Mandy had called almost every day.

"Don't look at me," Josh shrugs, taking a breath and tasting Pennsylvania May
humidity. He reaches up to shield his eyes, even though he's wearing sunglasses.
Mandy tips her chin so she can stare at him.

"This is fucking amateur hour, Josh. We've got three days here, okay? Three
goddamned days, and CJ Cregg doesn't have the first clue --" Mandy grunts,
struggling with her lighter. She lights a cigarette and takes a draw off it. "We're
fucked. That's it. We're so officially fucked."

He tries not to laugh. "Cool it, Mandy," he says. "It was a bunch of college kids.
We've got them anyhow."

She seethes. "It was not just a bunch of college kids, Josh. It was Bryn Mawr,
Haverford, Swarthmore, and the University of Pennsylvania. It was four of this
country's top schools, and we're talking professors, and graduate students, and
parents, and deans."

"Haverford and Bryn Mawr are two of the most liberal colleges in the United
States," Josh says. "Swarthmore and UPenn are smart. We've got them anyhow,
Mandy. These guys have been looking for an alternative to Hank Douglas for four
years."

"And Temple, and Villanova, and the Wharton School of Business -- " Mandy's
ticking them off on her fingers, waving the cigarette around. "Two thousand seats,
Josh, and we blew it." She takes a breath, leans back against the van beside him,
and wipes a sweaty curl from her forehead.

"If we lose by two thousand votes in Pennsylvania I give you full permission to
holler at me," Josh says. "Until then, we've got three days here and, frankly, I'm
more concerned about the African-American vote and the steel workers than I
ever was about a bunch of twentysomethings majoring in philosophy."

"It's the way it looks," she sighs. "We cancel enough engagements and we look
like idiots. We look like we don't have our shit together."

He turns to face her. She's right, and he just said the same thing to CJ four hours
ago, but now he doesn't want to talk about it, he doesn't have it in him to fight
about it. "We don't have our shit together," he says, finally. "This thing's held
together with spit and prayers and you know it."

She places a palm flat on his chest and looks at the ground, arching her back a
little as if she wants to push him over. "It's May," she says. "We're a year late out
of the gate, but we can fix this. Let's not fuck up anymore."

It's this, her unflagging commitment, her strength, that initially attracted him to
her. That and the fact that she'd tied a cherry stem into a knot with her tongue
even though she didn't know anyone was watching. The night he met her, he and
Sam had gone wandering off from the Democratic Leadership Conference
because Sam had wanted something like seared ahi and Josh had been talking
about a cheeseburger for four hours. She was at the bar on a high stool, her legs
dangling because they were too short to reach the floor. She had been arguing
with a grey-haired guy in a suit, knocking back whiskey sours, raising her voice
on words like "irresponsible" and "partisan" and "bullshit," and then the man had
gotten up, and Mandy'd finished her drink and eaten the cherry last, and pulled the
knotted stem off her tongue with two fingers to deposit it in her empty glass. Josh
had stopped to watch her do it before stepping up to the bar to introduce himself.
Within two minutes, she'd tried to pick a fight.

Now it exhausts him sometimes, but mostly he loves that she's always on, she's
always working, thinking, doing. It's part of what brought him back from
Connecticut. She's stubborn, proud, and even more arrogant than he is, and now
when he's unmoored he likes that he can shut off and let her do the fighting for a
while. And he knows she likes to do it for him. He thinks it's cute that she yells.

He puts a hand over hers, feels like he's pledging allegiance, realizes with a snort
that he kind of is. He folds her into his arms and kisses her on the top of the head.
Her hair is dirty. "Fat chance," he says. She flicks her cigarette on the ground.

"Get in the van," Toby's voice comes from somewhere off behind Josh. "We're
back on. Get in the van. We have to be there ten minutes ago."

"We taking the blue van or the white van?" Josh asks.

Mandy goes around and gets into the driver's seat of the white van before Josh can
get there and he's left standing by the bumper like an idiot. Toby slides into the
middle bench seat and leans against the far window, and Josh turns around and
climbs in next to Mandy.

"And holy crap, it's hot," Toby grumbles. "I'm telling you right now, this place
better have air conditioning or you can just drop me off at a bar."

"Well, it's an outdoor amphitheatre," CJ says, walking up to the van with Sam.
"So I'm gonna guess no on the air conditioning."

"Where's the Governor?" Josh asks.

"The Governor and Mrs. Bartlet are traveling under separate cover," CJ says,
nudging Toby's legs aside so she can sit down next to him. Sam crawls past her
into the back and slams the sliding van door.

"Leo took them," Sam explains. "The Governor wanted to do the walking tour of
the Scott Arboretum before the speech."

Mandy smacks her hands on the steering wheel. "Why does no one tell me these
things?" she huffs. "This would have been a perfect opportunity for some press.
Governor Josiah Bartlet smells tulips on Swarthmore College campus." She
swipes her hands in the air, miming a banner headline.

"I smell tulips now," Toby mutters. "No, wait, that's the smell of my flesh roasting
in this godforsaken van."

"You weren't awake," CJ says to Mandy. "He left an hour ago. And we weren't
sure we could get the amphitheatre back for the speech until ten minutes ago."

"I was awake," Mandy says. "I'm always awake. Josh, tell them I was awake."

Josh looks over the back of his seat at CJ, and raises his eyebrows. "Oh, she was
awake," he says. "Was she ever awake, boy."

"Shut up," Mandy says, and starts the engine.

"Alice Paul went here," Governor Bartlet bellows, even before they're parked.
He's not smiling. He's standing in front of the rose garden next to the library, and
Mandy stops the van on the circle and lets everybody out. "Do you know who
Alice Paul is?"

Nobody answers.

Abbey Bartlet comes over, walking alongside Leo and another man. Before she
can introduce him, the Governor interrupts. "Abbey, tell these people on my staff
who Alice Paul is."

"She wrote the Equal Rights Amendment," Abbey says. "Jed, this is the president
of the college."

Handshakes all around.

"Why did no one tell me Alice Paul went here?" Bartlet says once they start
walking, shooting a look at Mandy and Josh, at Sam and Toby. "Why is this
something we didn't feel was important enough to cover in my speech?"

"Well, sir, we didn't --" Sam starts, and Bartlet scoffs.

"Tell me, did you do any research at all, when you heard we were coming here?"
Bartlet asks.

"We dropped the ball on that one, sir," CJ steps in.

"I should say you did," Bartlet nods, and the Dean leads the staff down a flagstone
path between ivy covered buildings, through a sculpture garden, and down a
couple of grassy steps into the Scott Amphitheatre.

"What happened today?" Leo asks, later, when they're sitting around a table at
John Harvard's brewhouse and sharing two pitchers of beer.

"I think it went well," Toby says.

Leo shakes his head. "It was a bunch of egghead liberals," Leo says. "Of course it
went well. He's preaching to the confirmed, here. I'm asking what about this Alice
Paul thing? And what the hell was that about canceling this thing at the last
minute, first of all?"

"That was me," CJ raises a hand. "I thought we were going to have the
steelworkers thing in Pittsburgh this afternoon so I decided to blow off
Swarthmore."

"CJ, you can't just stand up two thousand college students --" Mandy starts in, and
Josh puts a hand on her knee under the table. She shakes him free. "From now on,
you've got to talk to me before you do something like that."

CJ looks bitter. "Well, for one thing, Madeline, I didn't blow off two thousand
college students -- he spoke to them today, and he spoke well. And for another
thing, last time I checked, I don't answer to you."

"CJ --" Josh says, and Leo waves him to shut up.

"CJ, you gotta keep us all in the loop when you make decisions like that," he says.
"And Mandy, cool it, okay? You've been pissy ever since we got to
Pennsylvania."

"It's hot as hell here, Leo," Mandy says. "Our schedule sucks. We've got twenty
minutes on a Friday night on Market Street to try and scrape together the African-
American vote, and we'll be lucky if ten people show up. We're doing the
steelworkers -- what is it now, CJ, noon on Sunday? That's bullshit. This is so
half-assed."

"Mandy!" Leo says. "That's enough!"

Josh decides to cut in, to take some of the heat off Mandy. "Leo, listen," he says.
"This is found time. We got the party's nomination two months --"

"This is not found time, Josh!" Leo shakes his head. "We've got six months. Six
months, do you get that? As it stands, we're ahead of the Republicans in four
states. Josh. I want you and Mandy setting us up for Florida, I want it in place
before we're outta Pittsburgh. Three good stops, make 'em count, and make sure
everything's set up for the WNXR interview on Thursday, since I'm not gonna be
around to babysit. CJ, work with Toby -- I wanna have real conversations in
Miami, not this Fireside Chat crap. Sam's got the thing --"

"I'm almost done," Sam says. Leo nods.

"Somebody call Donna," Leo says. "Get us some money."

"I got it," Josh says.

"I'm almost done with the Pittsburgh thing," Sam says again. "But I need some
facts checked."

"Call one of the kids back in New Hampshire," Leo says. "Not Donna, don't
distract her, but how about that other guy? The one with the hat? He seems
smart."

Sam nods and makes a note.

"And listen, guys," Leo says, more quietly, leaning across the table. "The
Governor's really pissed at you for that Alice Paul thing. Now, I know this was a
bogus stop, but we can't have him obsessing over these ridiculous mistakes and
fucking us up down the line. I'm gonna talk to him, but we need to really buckle
down now. This isn't a goddamned joke anymore. We've got six months."

"Yeah," Josh says. "I'm sorry about that, Leo."

"Don't apologize, just make it better," Leo says. "I've got enough to do keeping
Abbey and the Governor from killing you guys. You gotta cut me some slack,
now. I need you."

"Yeah," Josh says again. He wants Leo to stop talking, he wants to go home.

"It was my fault," Sam says. "I thought we were going to cancel the stop. I was
working on Pittsburgh."

"I blew the call," CJ says. "We shouldn't have even gone back there today. Friday
afternoon for the steelworkers would have been a better deal. I was just afraid
we'd lose Philly if we left town."

"Okay," Leo nods. "Okay, okay. Stop falling on your goddamned swords. Today's
the first day of the rest of this campaign. We got Philly tonight, and you did good
on the thing, Sam, it's good. The one thing we've got going for us is that the
Governor's a smart guy with a good stance on the issues. And that's more than
enough, if the rest of us don't fuck up. Josh, I'm counting on you."

"I'm on it, Leo," Josh says. Mandy looks like she wants to interrupt, but Josh lays
a hand on her thigh again and this time she closes her mouth.

Toby corners him in the parking lot.

"Josh --"

Josh knows what Toby's going to say. CJ said it to him this morning; Leo's been
on his ass about it all week.

"I'm gonna fucking kill her," Toby says.

"I know," Josh sighs. "There's not, there's not so much I can do. Everyone's just a
little high-strung."

"High-strung?" Toby's eyes go wide, sarcastic. "Yesterday she threw a coke can at
me! A, a, a full coke can! At my head! And you know why?"

"Look," Josh says. "I can't, like, bitchslap Mandy around. This is what she's like.
She's good at her job, Toby."

"She threw a goddamned coke can at me because I said the governor might not
want to wear white if he's gonna sweat. A coke can, Josh."

"Okay," Josh says. "I'll talk to her."

It's the same thing he said to CJ, the same thing he said to Leo. He hasn't done it
yet. He's not sure why. Maybe because he doesn't ask her to change. Maybe that's
not up to him.

"She's not a team player, Josh," Toby says, walking ahead of him toward the van.

"Neither are you," Josh reminds him. "Neither am I."

A hundred white guys show up outside the train station on Market Street. A
hundred white guys and nine black guys. A handful of women. The cops have
cordoned off the area, set up a couple risers and a PA mic velcroed to a stack of
felt speakers, and the Mayor gives the Governor a good introduction, grabbing
Bartlet's hand and holding it high, calling for cheers. Looking out at the crowd of
white faces, CJ whispers to Josh that perhaps they'd teleported to Kansas, but the
Governor speaks well, again, and the crowd gets bigger as he talks. Sam has
written a really kick-ass speech about liberty, justice, South Street speakeasies
and the 76ers, the Governor ad-libs a little, and the crowd grows. They wave
'Bartlet for America' placards; they chant anthems. When it's over, the staff comes
back to the motel, happy and tired.

Mandy's standing over the table, mousing at her laptop. She punches keys, ashes
her cigarette in the potted plant, and he wonders why she doesn't sit down.

Josh is sitting on the edge of the bed, looking at some pages Donna had faxed to
the motel, early polling in Florida mostly. Gun control is faring poorly, bilingual
education is doing unsurprisingly well, but the big-ticket item is health care, and
Josh digs around in his backpack for his notes.

"We need to tell Sam to bump up Medicare," he says to Mandy. "I think we
should leave guns out of the Miami thing. It's not polling well."

She looks up from her computer. "Maybe," she says. "Toby's working on
Medicare and prescription drugs for Fort Lauderdale and the radio thing, we'll do
Israel --"

"We'll do Cuba -- " Josh says.

"Josh!" Mandy turns around, stubbing out her cigarette against the trunk of the
fichus. "We do Cuba in the 2nd and we're just asking for --"

"I didn't say the 2nd," Josh says. "We'll do it in Palm Beach, in the 11th and the
20th. We'll follow up Medicare and Israel."

"Cuba didn't poll well in the 11th," Mandy says. "And it's risky to bring it up in
Miami -- Douglas is running attack ads this week in the 20th, the 16th, the 19th,
and you just know it's gonna be Cuba and Israel." She's on a roll, lisping a little,
talking with her hands. She's adorable, and Josh wants to stop fighting.

"We're getting some early tape on the ads," Josh says. "Donna's Fedexing them to
us. She says...yeah. It's Cuba and Israel. It's 'weak borders' and 'weak military.'
But I think, I think this can be an opportunity for us. I think instead of avoiding
those subjects we come in guns blazing --"

Mandy raises her eyebrows. "Guns blazing?"

"Poor, uh, word choice," Josh says. "But I think we've got some real wiggle room
in Miami if we play it right. I'm gonna talk to Sam. I'm gonna talk to Toby and
then I'm gonna talk to Sam and see if we can get Cuba in for Miami and for
Tampa, dump guns."

"Josh," Mandy says. "Aren't we talking about this? You're, what, you're just
gonna go tell Sam and that's it? Because I gotta say --"

"Mandy!" Josh squeaks, laughing. "Governor Bartlet's a liberal Democrat! We're
not gonna get anywhere pretending he's not, so we might as well take advantage
of the places where he's strong, where he's got ideology that's --"

"First of all," Mandy says, approaching the bed. "We use words like 'ideology'
and it's a quick way to put the entire state to sleep. Second of all --" she lights
another cigarette. "I don't know if the country's ready for a liberal Democrat.
Douglas is very popular in Florida, and if we start pushing these very
inflammatory issues we're gonna find ourselves alienating voters we really need."

"Uh-kay," Josh says, sighing. "Whatever."

He stands up, and Mandy gets in his face, exhaling smoke. "This is what you
hired me for, Josh. This is my job. And I'm telling you, you're gonna fuck this up.
You're gonna lose us the goddamned state."

"Uh huh," he says. She's run out of ways she can insult him, since he's stopped
taking her insults seriously. He spent two weeks taking care of his mother, and
she'd cried twenty times a day, until Josh was numb to the sounds of her snorting
and sputtering. None of it means anything to him anymore, he just wants to do his
job and get in to bed and fall asleep in Mandy's arms while she mutters about
polling inaccuracies and local stump speeches. Now her hollering is just
background music to a normal day. But it's making him tired.

Josh rocks his head on his shoulders, listening to his back crack. He can't
remember the last time he's slept, not well, anyway. "Mandy, listen," he sighs.
"You've got to tone it down a little. You're pissing everybody off. I know we're
not running at full capacity, here, but you can't keep chewing everybody out for
this stupid little shit. They're yelling at me, Mandy."

She goes a little white. "Who's yelling at you? CJ? Is it CJ? Jesus Christ, Josh, it's
like it's the goddamned playground at recess for these people. I hope you told
them to grow the fuck up."

"It's not just CJ," Josh says, putting a hand on Mandy's arm. "It's Toby, it's Leo,
it's everybody."

"The Governor?" Mandy looks bruised. Josh shakes his head.

"I don't know about the Governor," Josh says. "But I do know he's tired, he needs
a victory soon or else he's gonna start losing steam. And we can't be at each
other's throats when we're going into Florida with everything else that's stacked
against us. So just -- try and be nice? Try and cooperate?"

"Fuck this shit," Mandy says, turning and crossing back to her computer.
"Whatever. Fuck this shit."

Josh stuffs his notes back in his backpack and shoulders it, kicking on his shoes.
"I'm gonna go talk to Toby about these numbers," he says. "I'll be back."

"Whatever," Mandy says again. She pulls out the chair and sits down, pursing her
lips and staring at her laptop. Josh takes off his backpack and sets it on the bed.
He walks over to Mandy.

"Hey," he says, laying his hands on her shoulders. "Look. It's just -- we're all, like
-- we gotta get through Florida," he says. "We just gotta get through Florida. Then
we'll go back to New Hampshire and we'll get a chance to regroup, a little. We'll,
like, sleep." He smiles.

She tips her head back and looks up at him. "Everybody hates me?" she asks in a
small voice.

"Nah," he says. "They're just not used to your -- inimitable brand of self-
expression." He comes around to the front of the chair and kisses her, and when
he pulls away, she smiles.

"I'm good at my job, Josh," she says.

"I know that," he says. "But so am I. And so's Leo, and Toby, and CJ and Sam.
You just gotta allow that maybe they know what they're doing."

"CJ Cregg is a Hollywood --" Mandy starts in, and Josh cuts her off.

"She tried to get us to Pittsburgh today," Josh says. "She was up all night making
calls, rearranging the schedule. And in the meantime, she's the one who got
Donna the new Douglas ads, and she's already working with our people on a
response. Cut her a little slack."

"Pittsburgh would have been good today," Mandy allows. "Sunday afternoon, lord
almighty."

"But we kept Philly tonight," Josh reminds her. "We would have lost Philly."

"Yeah," Mandy says.

Josh breaks away and goes to get his bag again. He looks at his watch. It's ten
thirty. "I'll be back," he says.

Sam's in Toby's motel room, sitting at the computer while Toby paces behind him.

"Say 'conflicted,'" Toby says. "No, no, say 'varying.' 'Disturbingly varying.' What
is that? I'm losing my mind here, Sam. Say 'conflicted.'"

"'Conflicting'?" Sam suggests.

"Yeah, okay," Toby says. "Hey, Josh."

"I want to talk to you guys about Miami," Josh says, sitting down. "I want to dial
down on guns, bump health care to the top and throw in Cuba."

"Good idea," Toby says. "Guns didn't poll well?"

Josh pulls out the fax from Donna. "No," he says. "But we'll want to keep
bilingual education in the lower districts."

"That's in there," Sam says. "In the notes. We should talk about that tomorrow
while we're traveling. We can't do it tonight, Josh." There's something cold in
Sam's voice, probably overwork and lack of sleep. They're all feeling this way.

"You working on Pittsburgh now?" Josh leans back in the chair and reaches over
the armrest to open the door of the mini fridge. There's beer inside, and he cranes
his arm around to grab one.

"Say 'conflicted,'" Toby says, pacing again. "'Conflicting,' is, like, too many ings."

"I already changed it," Sam says. "I was thinking the same thing."

"Good," Toby says.

"Can I have this beer?" Josh asks, pulling his shirtsleeve over his hand and
unscrewing the bottlecap.

"You're staying?" Toby gives him a weird look. "We've got this draft to do, Josh,
get out of here."

"Oh, okay," Josh says, standing up. "I just thought -- I wanted to go over these
numbers."

"We'll do it in the van tomorrow," Toby says. "It's two hours to Harrisburg and
he's just shaking hands and kissing babies once we get there."

"And doing a photo op with the Governor," Sam says.

"Whatever," Toby says. "Anyway, we've got time tomorrow to worry about
Florida. You should, like, sleep, Josh."

"We don't get to sleep," Sam says. "But certainly someone should."

"Yeah," Josh says, taking a long drink of the beer. "I'm gonna -- I've got some
stuff to go through, and Mandy's still working on --"

"Hey, did you talk to her? About the, you know, fact that she's a lunatic?" Toby
asks.

Josh nods. "I so can't wait to get out of Florida," he says.

"We're in Pennsylvania," Sam says.

"I know, I'm just saying, we do here, we do Florida, and then we're good for a
little while. I think the Governor's tired." Josh finishes the beer, too fast, and sets
the bottle down on top of the mini fridge. He burps.

"Has Leo said anything?" Sam asks.

"Leo's tired too," Josh says. "This whole thing sucks." He hadn't expected to say
that. He sits down. "We're making fools of ourselves out there."

"Yes," Toby says. "We are. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the
total asses we're gonna make of ourselves before we're done."

"Can we, like, is there any way for us to do this without making total asses of
ourselves?" Josh groans. "I kind of want to win this thing."

"Bartlet's never lost an election in his life," Sam says.

"And I've never won one," Toby says. "So there we are."

Josh stands up again. "I'm going to bed," he says. "Toby, we're talking about the
Florida numbers tomorrow. And good luck with the, you know, thing."

"Why does this always happen to me, Josh?"

Mandy's in a black tank top and grey Cornell University sweatpants that are too
big, and she's sitting on the foot of the bed crosslegged, looking up at him. Her
eyes are wide and pained and her hair's a little crazy and he thinks, not for the first
time, that she looks like Audrey Hepburn. He starts unbuckling his belt, kicking
off his shoes.

"Why does what happen?" he asks, though he knows. She collapses backwards on
the bed.

"At DD&M they called me Mandy the Vampire Slayer," she says. "I raised their
revenue six million dollars in nine months. It's supposed to be a joke, but it's not."

"Six million dollars in nine months, a firm that size?" Josh starts unbuttoning his
shirt. "Doesn't sound like a joke to me."

"Not that," she says, spitting the words at the ceiling. "The names, and the
relentless bickering, the whining, Josh, why do I take so much shit just for doing
my job?"

He sits down next to her and lays a hand on her stomach. "Hey," he says, and
doesn't really know what to say next.

"It really bothers me," she says. "Not enough for me to not want to win this thing,
not enough for me to not do what I do, but it pisses me off. I have good ideas."

"I know you do," he says. He scoots her over on the bed a little so he can lie down
next to her on his stomach, his chin in his hands.

"Fix it, Josh," she says. "Please fix it? I hate that they talk to you about me. Tell
them to stop."

"Want me to fire everybody?" he laughs.

"Yeah," she giggles. "Would you? Fire everyone."

"I'll start with the Governor, how's that?" He rolls over to face her, inches closer,
wraps his arms around her.

"Maybe I'll run for President," she says. "Would you work on my campaign if I
ran for President?"

"Are you crazy?" he chuckles. "I'd leave the country if you ran for President."

"Seriously," she says, wiggling out of his arms so she can slap off the light.
"Please help me with these people."

He wishes she'd stop calling them "these people." He wishes he weren't in this
position. He wishes she weren't so beautiful, lying there on her side unblinking in
the blue light coming in the window. He kisses her.

"Are we sleeping?" he asks.

"I can't make any more decisions today," she says, and he remembers from
somewhere that she's allowed to be tired of it all too.

"Okay," he says, and he leans in and kisses her again.

She's upset and he wants to fix things, the way his father always did. This one
time, when they were in Hilton Head and his mother was driving a rental car, she
got lost for an hour on the same beach roads, driving in a circle, cursing herself.
"I'm such an idiot, I can't believe it," she'd said, over and over. "I'm such a
goddamned idiot." His father had laughed and lead Josh and Joanie in the score
from Camelot, singing at the top of their lungs as they drove around and around
on the same beach roads. Josh's father had missed a golf game with his boss for it,
but he'd managed to convince Josh's mother that it was okay, that she wasn't an
idiot, that he'd wanted to see the beach, that they were having fun. He remembers
it now and he's embarrassed for his mother, but, in the back seat of the car, belting
off-key duets with Joanie, he hadn't even known they were lost.

"Mand," he says, quietly, reaching out an arm to find her cheek.

"Yeah?"

"Nobody hates you," he says.

"Oh, I don't care about them," she says. "I care about the Governor. I care about
this election. They can go to hell."

"Yeah," he says, lying. "Good."

"I care about you, Josh," she says. "They're not going to talk you into hating me,
are they?"

She's so vulnerable it terrifies him. He strokes her cheek, rolls her toward him,
slides his hand up inside her t-shirt. "Nah," he says. "Never happen." At that
moment, he almost believes it himself. "I love you," he says.

That's always been something he says easily, "I love you," like it's a compliment,
like it has nothing to do with him. It's as easy as saying "you're incredible," and he
says them both often enough that he suspects Mandy's bored and he wishes he had
better things to tell her, to keep her here.

"Whatever," she says, now. "That's not the point."

He doesn't want to talk anymore. He doesn't want to feel this way anymore. He
wants her to be happy; he wants to be happy. He wants her to shut up.

It's too hot even on top of the covers but he draws her on top of him, tracing the
sides of her ribs under her shirt with both hands. "Is this okay?" he asks.

"Stop asking things like that," she says. "Just...do what you're gonna do."

"I want to make you happy," he says. He feels weak and stupid. "You want -- you
want to sing the score to Camelot?"

"No," she says with a smile, and she's got that face that reminds him he wants to
let her be stronger than he is. "I want you to fuck me."

At five on Thursday morning they're in a condo in Delray Beach. Donna had
found it and rented it on spec, and the first thing Josh did when they got in and
threw their suitcases on the floor was call her in New Hampshire and compliment
her on her astounding lack of taste.

It's actually two adjoined four-bedroom condos, with the First Family in one, and
Josh, Mandy, Sam, Toby and CJ in the other. There's a little kitchen area, a
sundeck, and a couple of assorted pieces of wicker furniture that have been
spraypainted white and that creak under Josh's weight.

It's their last day in Florida, and Sam's making waffles. The Governor had tried to
help, but Sam had shooed him out of the kitchenette and back into the living
room, and now he and Mrs. Bartlet are sitting in wicker armchairs while Mandy
paces, bouncing around ideas for the radio interview in Miami.

"I know these guys, they're shock jocks," CJ says, sitting on the couch next to
Josh. "They're going to give you a hard time regardless, so you might as well try
and play their game."

"Play their game, but don't let them patronize you," Mandy agrees, and Josh nods.
CJ throws him a look. "You have to tread this very fine line between pretending
to be cool and being a jerk," Mandy says.

"I'm not cool?" Bartlet raises his eyebrows. "You hear that, Abbey?"

"I've known it for years, darling," Abbey says, slapping him twice on the knee.
"But you're excellent at faking it."

"Well, I wouldn't go that far," Josh says. "Excellent might be stretching the term a
little bit, I mean, we're talking about the man --"

"Just don't tell these guys you read Herb Stein for fun," Mandy says.

"I wouldn't tell anyone you read Herb Stein at all," Toby says. "Seeing as he was
part of the Nixon administration, and, I think, at this juncture in our campaign we
might not want to make that connection just yet."

"Herb Stein," Bartlet begins. "Is a genius. His theory of --"

"I don't even want to know," Toby throws his hands up. "Why are we talking
about Herb Stein?"

"You started it," Bartlet says to Toby.

"She started it," Toby nods toward Mandy.

"Not another word about Herb Stein!" Mandy presses a fist against her forehead.
"What I'm saying is that we've got to make sure you don't come off like someone's
crotchety old math teacher."

"I wrote you some stuff on soccer and some stuff on pop music, just in case," Sam
says, coming in with a plate of blackish waffles. "I've also made waffles. And
while they may look unattractive, I can assure you that they taste...like waffles.
I've eaten two myself."

"You're gonna drop dead before you're forty, Seaborn," CJ says. "I thought you
were a health nut."

"I used wheat flour," Sam says, sitting down.

"Herb Stein," Bartlet says, reaching for a waffle. "Said some very smart things
about government and economics. He said 'the government is no one. There is
nobody here but us people.' Don't you think that's something that would interest
drive-time listeners in the greater Miami area?"

"Not even a little, sir," CJ says. "Certainly not the listeners of the Stu and Andie
show. Who would rather hear Keanu Reeves making fart jokes."

"I'm going on a program where I'm supposed to make fart jokes?" Bartlet asks.

"No, sir," Mandy says. "But I was thinking a joke might not be bad. Something
relevant. Something to show your witty side."

"He has a witty side?" Mrs. Bartlet elbows her husband. "How fascinating."

"I'm witty," Governor Bartlet says. "I'd just rather talk about Herb Stein."

"If you say that name again, sir, I'm going to throw one of Sam's waffles at you, I
swear it," Mandy says.

"Watch out, Governor Bartlet," Toby says. "She'll do it."

Josh shifts in his seat and CJ meets his eye again and grins.

"I think you should do the Spanish joke," Mandy says. "The one Toby wrote."

"That was a joke!" Sam says.

"I get that," Mandy says. "Which is why I'm saying --"

"No," Sam says. "I mean, it was a joke that he wrote that joke. He didn't mean it
seriously. As a joke."

"Do I have smoke coming out of my ears?" Josh asks.

"The Spanish joke was just a joke," Sam tries again, ignoring Josh and looking at
Mandy. "It was never meant to be in the thing."

"It's not even a very good joke," Toby agrees. "I was just feeling punchy."

"I thought it was funny," Mandy says. "And you've got a bunch of bilingual
listeners. I think it'll go over."

"I don't know, Mandy," CJ says. "It's touchy. It could be weird."

"We've already got him on a trashy morning show," Mandy says. "He's got to play
the game or he'll look like a stodgy politician."

"I am a stodgy politician!" Bartlet says. "Now, will someone tell me about the
Spanish joke?"

"It was just a joke, sir!" Toby says.

"It was a sort of mildly offensive joke about the way Spanish sounds," Josh says.
"You know, kids and Latin music and what's his name, the guy with the fancy
pants."

"I thought you were the guy with the fancy pants," CJ nudges Josh with a knee.
"But seriously, yeah, I think we should forget the Spanish joke."

"So do I," Toby says. "I hereby retract any Spanish joke I may have written."

"No, listen to me!" Mandy says. "We're in south Florida, we're gonna be talking
about bilingual education, these people are on board with that, we might as well
try and get the younger voters too. I think we have to do the Spanish joke."

"Mandy," Josh says, and she stops pacing. "I really don't think we should. I think
we'll --"

"This is exactly what you hired me for," she says. "I've been sussing out these
demographics for weeks. I know who's listening, and I know what we need to do
to get these people. This -- you gotta trust me on this one, guys."

Everybody looks at Josh.

"Josh?" Bartlet asks, and Josh knows he's going to take shit from Mandy because
the Governor deferred to him.

"It's what we hired her for," Josh says. "But, Mandy, just to be clear --"

"To be clear, we do the Spanish joke," Mandy says.

They do the Spanish joke at 7:30 in the morning in the drive-time block. The DJs
seem to like it. But that night on the local news, nineteen-year-olds in silver tank
tops cluck their tongues and shake their heads. In Latin accents, they tell news
reporters that Governor Bartlet of New Hampshire is an asshole. The news bleeps
out 'asshole' but the anchors shake their heads at one another too, and a woman
with a Spanish-sounding last name suggests that Governor Bartlet of New
Hampshire might have a hard time getting his hands on the Latin American vote
in southern Florida. Nobody uses the word 'racist,' but then, they don't have to.

Everything happens really fast, after that.

"You gotta know that I am this close to firing you," Leo says through his teeth.

They're in the suite in Manchester, in the second bedroom that's been converted
into an office for Leo and sometimes Josh.

Josh sits at the desk chair and flattens his hands on his knees. "I know," he says.

"No," Leo says, pacing. "I don't think you do, Josh. I don't think you realize just
how royally you fucked up."

"Mandy --" Josh begins, and then wishes he hadn't.

"Not Mandy," Leo says. "You. I didn't hire Mandy Hampton, Josh, I hired you.
You were in charge, down there."

"Yes, I was," Josh says, slipping into self-defense. "And I made an executive
decision to go with Mandy's strategy. She's --"

"She's your girlfriend, Josh!" Leo isn't going to let him finish a sentence tonight,
and Josh realizes he should probably stop trying. "And that's already six kinds of
complicated you shoulda been smart enough not to get involved in. You guys
dumb each other down like nobody's business."

"I was involved with Mandy before I brought her to work for us," Josh points out.

"Oh, I could care less about the finer points," Leo rolls his eyes. "You're treading
really thin ice, here, Josh. And I know you're still having a rough time because of
your dad --"

"My dad has nothing to do with it," Josh says, maybe too quickly.

Yeah," Leo says. "Forget about it. This isn't a -- forget it. Just sit it out. We've
gotta do this thing, we don't have any more time for fucking around. So I don't
want to hear another word out of you, because I can't waste my time and the
Governor's time wondering if I can trust your judgment or not. You got it?"

"You can always trust me, Leo," Josh says.

"That," Leo says, swinging the door open into the living room. "Is an outright lie."

It's like a punch to the gut, and Josh doesn't have anything to say in response. He
comes out with "uh huh," and nods, and follows Leo out of the bedroom.

Everybody's watching Douglas' latest TV spot, but CJ pauses the tape when Leo
and Josh come in.

Josh sits down on the couch next to Donna, and now Leo's talking about "the next
phase" and Josh tunes out. He's thinking about his father, instead. He'd never been
like this -- Noah Lyman had never screwed up like this, and Josh hadn't either,
until recently. Noah Lyman kicked ass and took names, and still, he knew the
score to Camelot, and sometimes he would make crepes in the kitchen before
anyone was up, and Josh would come downstairs to find his parents kissing over
the sink, dusty with confectioners' sugar.

Mandy had called every night when Josh was home in Connecticut. She told him
stories about the campaign, about funny things Bartlet did, she made him laugh.
Sometimes Leo would call and he'd talk to Josh's mother, and she would sit in the
Eames chair in the family room and hold her head, and Josh would come rub her
shoulders and when she couldn't take it anymore, she'd give him the phone.

Leo had been upset that he couldn't make it to the funeral. But Bartlet had needed
him here, and Leo had managed to convince Josh over the phone that Bartlet
needed Josh too. That they were on the edge of something, that they were peering
into the abyss, but that with Josh's help they could grow eagle wings before they
leapt. Josh had believed him, had believed in himself.

But the day he came back to New Hampshire he fell into Mandy's arms instead,
and hasn't climbed out since.

"What about Damon James?" Toby is saying.

"Ah, nice thought, but we can't take the liability," Leo says. "We're polling at --
what's it?"

"Twenty-nine percent," Donna says.

"Jesus Christ," Mandy says, slapping the arm of her chair. "How the fuck did we -
-"

"I'm not convinced you're the one who should be talking right now, Madeline.
Ask Donna what the numbers were before Miami, sometime," Leo says. "And
that's a no on Damon James. Who else?"

"Brett Fallow?" CJ asks. "I know a guy over at --"

"Brett Fallow's a pedophile," Leo says. "Next?"

"Leo!" Bartlet says. "Brett Fallow happens to be a friend of mine, a friend of
Abbey's, and a major player in the Democratic Party. What you've just said is
patently untrue, and I don't want to hear that kind of talk."

"I'm sorry, sir," Leo says. "But with that whole thing with the girl -- we just can't.
I'm sure he's a very nice man."

"He's a terrific man, and a terrible poker player," Bartlet says. "I've won hundreds
of dollars from Brett Fallow."

"Okay," Leo says. "But since we're looking for a running mate and not a card
partner, let's just table Brett Fallow for now. Who else is on the list, guys? Come
on. We looked at Guin McGovern, David Koben, Jerry Grant --"

"John Hoynes," Josh says.

"Yeah, right," Mandy says.

"Not Hoynes," Leo says. "Who else?"

Josh sits up a little straighter. "No, listen, I'm serious," he says. "He's a key
member of the party. He's from Texas. He was polling in the mid-sixties against
Wiley."

"He's in bed with big oil, he's got no discernible stance on domestic policy, and,
oh, before I forget, he's an idiot," Leo says. "Not Hoynes."

"Wait," Sam says. "Just think about it."

Josh shoots him a smile, but Sam's looking at Leo.

"I don't want to have to go talk to John Hoynes," Bartlet says. "The man despises
me."

"Who else we got?" Leo asks.

"I was thinking about Andy Stanton," CJ says. "I know he's never been to
Washington --"

"Lots of brilliant men and women have never been in Washington," Bartlet says.
"Stanton's a good guy. He's on the list. Good thought, there, CJ."

"Wait --" Josh says. "Hang on a sec. I could go talk to Hoynes, feel him out. He's
got money, he's got the support of a dozen --"

"Will you just let go of it, Josh?" Mandy says. "We're not putting Hoynes on the
ticket. Andy Stanton's good -- I was also thinking about Gabe Cox."

"I like Gabe Cox," Toby says.

"I'm saying --" Josh tries again, and Mandy cuts him off.

"Let it go, Josh," she says. She's got that look on her face, the one that says she's
hurt that they don't agree, she's pissed that they don't have a unified front. He
realizes he doesn't care. The room dissolves around him and it's just Josh and
Mandy, and he's damned if he's going to let her trick him into going against his
better judgment again.

"Listen, Mandy --" Josh raises his voice. "Just because you think --"

"We don't have time for this, Josh!" Mandy shrieks. "Tomorrow we've got to be
on the phone to Gabe Cox' people, we've got to get our asses in gear! Will you
stop fucking playing me?"

"Playing you?" Josh clears his throat, trying not to scream. "This doesn't have
anything to do with you, Mandy, this is about the campaign, about what I think is
best for --"

"You don't know shit, Josh," Mandy says.

"Excuse me, but after what just happened in Florida I don't think --"

"If you disagreed with me you should have had the balls to say something,"
Mandy says. "I didn't see you arguing in Delray Beach."

"You didn't see me arguing? What are you, like, like, off in some psychotic
Mandy world where everyone who disagrees with you just vanishes off your
radar?"

"Oh, fuck you," Mandy says, tossing her notebook in the air.

"Enough!" Leo says, leaping to his feet. "Get the hell out of here, both of you.
Right now. Out."

Mandy stands up on wobbly legs. Josh snorts and shifts in his seat. Everybody
else is still and quiet, Toby coughs.

"Oh, I am so fucking serious," Leo says. "Get out. I don't care where you go, just
get out. I'll let you know if I want you to come back."

Under the porte-cochere where the cars are pulling up to the late-night check-in
window, Josh makes Mandy give him a cigarette. She lights it without speaking,
close to his face, then lights her own. It's raining -- unimpressive diagonal rain --
and the pavement's still hot from the day so steam rises from it, smelling mossy.
Thunder cracks. Heat lightning. Josh backs a little closer to the wall of the hotel.

"Look --" he says. This is a disaster, and he knows he should fix it. He doesn't
know how. "Mandy."

"Whatever," she says, exhaling a thin white stream. "It'll blow over."

Josh plays with his cigarette. He drops his chin and raises his eyebrows, groaning.
"Yeahhhh, I don't know," he says. "We can't -- what was that about, in there?"

"You know, it's not easy to be me," Mandy says. "I'm not sure you know that."

This is new, and absurd, and not a conversation he wants to be having, now, or
ever.

"Mandy --" he says again.

"Yes. What? What, Josh?" She spins a little, steps out into the rain and comes
back under the porte-cochere.

"This isn't gonna --" He sighs and takes a drag off the cigarette. "This isn't
working, Mandy. This sucks."

"Bigtime," she nods. "This sucks."

"I don't want to fight," he says.

"Too bad," she says, and it surprises him that she says that. "It's your job,
sweetheart."

"Yeah," he shakes his head. "That's not -- I mean, I don't want to fight with you. I
hate that I'm always fighting with you."

She comes a little closer to him. "No, you don't," she says. "What happened, Josh?
You used to love to fight with me."

"My dad died!" he says, widening his eyes, his voice going up a half-step in
surprise. "You can't expect -- I mean --"

"You don't want to talk about this?" She tips her head to one side and draws on
her cigarette.

"I can't," he says. "It's not that I -- we should get Hoynes."

"This isn't about Hoynes, Josh. Except, no, we shouldn't. That'll be the kiss of
death, I'm telling you."

"When I came back from home --" he starts again, and then stops and wonders
what the rest of that sentence was supposed to be.

"It's only been a couple of months," she says. "You'll get your stride back."

He thinks that maybe it's not his stride they're talking about. He thinks maybe it's
hers, and he just hasn't noticed until now. "Maybe," he says, furrowing his brow.

"So Hoynes was a bad idea. Leo'll get over it. He'll forgive you, Josh."

Josh shakes his head again. This is impossible, and there aren't any good words
left. "I don't -- I just -- and I don't think it's my dad. I just -- I think Hoynes is a
good idea. I think maybe we --"

He can't be here anymore. He flicks his cigarette into a puddle and it breaks in
half and sizzles out. "I gotta go," he says.

"Where?"

"I need a drink, or something," he says.

"You want me to --"

"Nah," he says. "We'll do this later. I just need to, like. Something. Regroup."

"Okay," she says. "I'm gonna go up to the room, then. I have about fifty thousand
phone calls to make tomorrow and I need to memorize the inner workings of the
Suffolk County Democratic headquarters."

"Uh-kay," he says, pushing open the glass hotel door with one splayed hand. "I'm
-- I'm going in."

She waves her cigarette and shrugs. "Okay," she says, and he turns around and
goes inside and leaves her there, in front of the hotel in the rain.

Sam finds him in the bar two bourbons later. He sits down before Josh says a
word.

"What the hell is wrong with you?"

Josh closes his eyes for longer than a blink. "Beats me," he says.

"No, man, I'm serious," Sam says. "You can't do this."

"I know," Josh says. "I totally know. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"Listen," Sam says. "Do you understand that no one knows what to do with you
lately? Leo was so completely incensed after you left that the meeting fell apart.
The Governor started yelling at CJ, and Toby started yelling at Bartlet and then
Leo was yelling at everyone."

"And that's different from our normal meetings how?"

"You weren't there," Sam says. "And the truth is that you haven't been there for
two months. You checked out after the funeral, Josh, and that's understandable,
but it still doesn't work for the campaign."

"Ah, I'm no use to anyone," Josh drawls, finishing his bourbon.

"Stop," Sam says. "I can't feel sorry for you right now. I just -- I came down here
to try and talk to you, because if it wasn't me it was going to be Leo, and I wanted
to spare you that."

"He's gonna --" Josh hiccups. "He's gonna fire me?"

Sam nods. "Yes."

"Fuck," Josh says.

"Josh," Sam says. "He's been trying to fire you for two weeks. Since
Pennsylvania. Toby and CJ and I have each had a turn talking him out of it."

This surprises him, through the bourbon stupor. "I had no idea."

"Yeah," Sam says. "He's upstairs doing damage control and trying to get it in
order so we can vet Gabe Cox and Andy Stanton --"

"We need Hoynes!" Josh moans, slapping the bar with a hand.

"I agree with you," Sam says. "But no one's gonna make a case for him. I tried.
They don't listen to me. And because of your intense stupidity, now they don't
listen to you."

"So we're pretty much fucked," Josh says.

"I haven't talked to you in two months," Sam says, more quietly. "I've avoided
you for two months. Have you even noticed?"

Josh presses four fingers to his forehead. He hadn't noticed. In the last two
months, he can't remember anything but Mandy. "Yeah?" he says, and it comes
out like a question. "Sorry."

"Also. Do you know that Toby never liked you?" Sam asks.

"He doesn't?"

"He thinks you're -- and this is a direct quote, now -- 'an arrogant fuckhead whose
only redeeming quality is that he possesses a sick kind of serial-killer-like
intelligence'."

"That's funny," Josh laughs. "I like that."

"Stop it," Sam says, and he's not smiling. "I've known you seven years. And I'm
not even sure I like you now."

Josh stops laughing. "Sam," he says. "Come on."

"I'm not telling you this to offend you. I'm telling you this because -- I don't know
why I'm telling you this." Sam stands up. "Anyway. Leo wants to talk to you."

"Sam!" Josh says, feeling like he's in slow motion. "Don't go. Come on. What's
up?"

"I think it's clear how I feel about Mandy," Sam says, sitting down again. "I
respect her, when she's not being a raving lunatic. And I respect your relationship.
But." He stops.

"But?"

"Do you remember that guy who wanted me to move to Italy with him? And you
told me he was just trying to have it all?"

Josh nods.

"You told me he was a manipulative prick. You were right. So I'm telling you
now."

"That Mandy's a manipulative prick?" Josh starts to laugh again, but Sam's face is
steel.

"That your relationship with her isn't good for you. That she's found the person
she wants you to be, and she's made you into that. And it's less than what you
are."

"That's not fair," Josh says, and he throws a look over his shoulder, expecting
Mandy to be standing there. She's not. He turns back to Sam.

"Maybe not," Sam says. "I know you care about her. And, believe it or not, I don't
blame her for this. It's you."

Josh sits very still, weighing his options. Mandy's probably upstairs by now, and
he knows he can go up there, he can climb into bed with her, he can ask her to go
down on him, he can fall asleep from the bourbon and the sex and deal with this
in the morning. He wants to ignore Leo. He wants to ignore Sam. Because the rest
of them might hate him, but Mandy doesn't. And maybe that's how it's always
been, Josh and Mandy against the world. At least that way he wouldn't have to
fight with her.

He can't imagine what any of the other options could be.

He stands up. "I'm tired," he says. "I can't talk about this now. I can't do this now,
Sam."

"Whatever," Sam says. "Neither can I. I was paying you a courtesy. It's up to
you."

Josh opens his mouth to say something, but closes it again. He slaps a couple
bucks on the bar and looks at Sam. He doesn't have anything to say.

But later, when he's in bed, and Mandy's got her fingers locked against his ribs
and her mouth wrapped around him, he can't shake it. And even later, after she's
switched off the light and she's asleep on his arm, cutting off the circulation to the
tips of his fingers, he can't sleep. Sobriety comes back, with a headache and a
gritty throat. And Josh lies awake and thinks about his father, and about the
campaign, and about Leo, and about Hoynes. And about Sam.

He thinks about the fact that something's gotta change.

Leo finds him in the morning, in the campaign's private dining room on the
twentieth floor. Before Leo can say anything, Josh starts talking.

"We need Hoynes," he says, and Leo rolls his eyes. "We need Hoynes," Josh says
again, louder, gesturing with a strip of bacon. "And I'll tell you why."

"Don't waste your breath, Josh," Leo says. "It's over. We gotta move on."

"No," Josh says. He's been thinking about it all night. "The Governor -- Governor
Bartlet is nine hundred times smarter than anyone the American people are used
to seeing on the stump, right? And because of that, we have to dumb him down in
order to make our points. And it's a waste, Leo. So we get Hoynes up there. We
send him to the rural districts, to the South, we let him do his shtick. It's good
shtick -- it'll be even better once we've got Sam and Toby writing for him -- and
he's got those people eating out of the palm of his hand."

Josh takes a breath, takes a bite of bacon. Leo's interested, now. "Keep going."

"We beat him because after two months it was clear he wasn't a president. We
trounced him in the debates. Of course we did. But -- dig it -- we beat him
according to members of the Democratic Party. Now we've got to broaden our
horizons. And the people who like us don't like Douglas, but that's a given. We
need the people who DO like Douglas. And those guys like Hoynes too. More
than they like Bartlet, anyway."

"It's a good point," Leo concedes. "I'm just not sure --"

Josh waves a hand. "You don't have to be sure," he says. "I'm sure. I can talk to
him. I'm telling you, Leo."

Leo takes a drink of orange juice. "You really think so?"

Josh nods. "I really do."

"Okay. Do it. Talk to him," Leo says. "But first, I gotta say, your behavior last
night was so off-the-charts unprofessional --"

"I know, Leo," Josh says.

"Please let me finish."

"Sure," Josh leans back and takes a sip of coffee, and then is embarrassed for his
cool. He sits up a little straighter. "I'm sorry."

"Yeah," Leo says. "I'm just saying. I was offended. Your dad wouldn't'a --" Leo
stops himself. "You get my meaning."

"I really am sorry," Josh says. "Does the Governor --"

"The Governor's gonna listen to whatever advice I give him," Leo says. "I'll push
Hoynes. He's not gonna like it, but you've got a fair point and I think it merits
some exploration. But as for you -- I wouldn't be alone in a room with the
Governor or Mrs. Bartlet any time soon, if I were you."

"Yeah," Josh cracks a smile. "I kind of figured."

"Do this one right," Leo says. "You'll bounce back."

"What's going on?" Sam says, pulling up a chair and sitting down. His hair's
mussed from sleep, parted on the wrong side and sticking up in four directions.
Leo laughs.

"You recently in a wind tunnel, there, Seaborn?" Leo asks. Sam rakes his fingers
through his hair.

"I think I used too many pillows," Sam says. He looks at Josh. "Hi."

"Sam --" Josh starts. "Was I -- I can't remember all that much about what I said to
you, what I might have said to you last night. Did I --?"

"Yeah," Sam says. "You did."

Leo looks at Sam and then looks back at Josh. "Oh, Jesus Christ, don't tell me the
two of you -- hell, I don't wanna know. Don't tell me."

"No, not this time," Josh says with a grin. "I was just -- I was pretty much an
asshole. And I'm so sorry, Sam."

"Tomorrow is another day," Sam shrugs. "Today, actually. Is another day."

"Ain't it the truth!" CJ says, sitting down at the table as well. "What's going on
here, partners?"

"Josh is gonna vet John Hoynes for us," Leo says.

"You're kidding me," CJ says over the rim of her coffee mug.

"It's a good idea, CJ," Sam says. "Hoynes could really help us."

"Hoynes could really screw us," CJ says.

"We'll see," Leo says. "We're gonna give him a chance."

"What's going on, guys?"

Mandy shuffles up to the table, rubbing her eye with a fist like a four year old.
Josh looks up at her. "Nothing," he says. "We're just having breakfast."

Leo raises his eyebrows. Sam and CJ look at their food. Josh isn't sure why he
doesn't want to tell Mandy about Hoynes, but he can't help feeling like there's a
train coming at him at a hundred and fifty miles an hour, and any misstep is gonna
wind him up dead on the tracks.

"Sam? You wanna come help me talk to the Governor about Denver?" Leo stands
up. "CJ, you should come too."

"Is the Governor even awake yet?" CJ asks, but one look from Leo to Josh and
she gets the picture. She stands up too. "Well, if he isn't, we'll wake him up. Lead
on, MacDuff."

"Actually," Sam says, following them out of the dining room. "It's 'lay on,
MacDuff.' A lot of people get that wrong."

"You really are a spectacular geek, Sam," CJ says, and then they're gone. Mandy
sits down.

"What's with the mass exodus?" she asks.

"Beats me," Josh shrugs.

"Liar. They're afraid the two of us are gonna beat the shit out of each other again,
that's what it is," she says.

"Safe bet," he says, finishing his coffee. A waiter in an apron that looks like it has
blood on it comes and refills Josh's mug, and sets one down for Mandy too.

"You okay? Did Leo lay into you too badly?"

Josh shrugs again, and he can't find words. "It's okay," he says. He wants to
believe that he doesn't have to do this. He wants to believe they can make it work,
they can stay together and he can still do his job and no one will hate him. If he
tries hard enough, he can convince himself it's true.

"Good," she says. "I told you he'd get over it."

"You were right," Josh says, and it's as good a hollow compliment as "I love you"
ever was. And she smiles.

"I'm always right," she says.

He leaves that afternoon for Washington while Mandy's meeting with the promo
people. He hasn't told her where he's going, and he feels a pang of guilt when he
realizes Leo or someone will have to do it for him. But he couldn't face her,
couldn't deal with her thirty objections to Hoynes coming out in a long string of
insults and profanity. Not if he wants to do his job well. Not if he wants to
continue to love her.

That night, over dinner, Hoynes says no.

It doesn't feel unequivocal, but it's still a crushing defeat, and neither logic nor
groveling does anything to change Hoynes' response. Bartlet's going to have to
talk to Hoynes himself, and he's not going to want to, and Josh doesn't want to
have to ask him to do it. After two hours of arguing with Hoynes, Josh leaves.

He spends the night in his apartment in DC, and it's the first night he's spent there
in months. The air is cold and stale, the food in his fridge has gone rancid but he
doesn't bother to throw it away. He's got forty voice messages, and he doesn't
listen to any of them. Instead, he falls asleep on the couch in front of the TV.

In the morning, he wakes up to a rerun of Law and Order, switches the TV off,
and picks up the phone.

"You all support this?" Bartlet asks, back in the conference room in New
Hampshire that night.

"Josh convinced me it's a good idea," Leo says.

Mandy's way over on the other side of the room, not looking at him.

"Yes, so he said when he called me at the ungodly hour of six thirty this
morning," Bartlet says.

Josh hadn't realized it was that early when he called. "I'm sorry, Governor, did I
wake you up?" he asks.

"Nah, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway," Bartlet says with a wink. "But
understand if, in light of everything that's happened, I might seek a second
opinion here."

"I think Josh is right," Abbey Bartlet says. "John Hoynes may not be my favorite
person in the country. But he's got the districts we're weak in."

"What about after we win?" Toby asks. "Do we, do we really want to be stuck
with this asshole for four years?"

"It's not gonna matter who we choose to run with if we don't win, Toby," Leo
says, but Toby's point was a good one and Josh thinks about it.

"For the record, I think it's a terrible idea," Mandy says.

"Oh, and I'm really surprised," Sam says.

"Tell me what happened when you met with the man," Bartlet says to Josh.

"I think -- I think it shouldn't have been me. I mean, it should have been me to
feel it out, but he's still really mad, and I think he blames me that he lost in the
primaries."

"He's right to blame you," Leo says. "If you'd stayed with him, none of us'd be
here right now."

Those words, right there, say Leo's forgiven him, and Josh feels an unfamiliar
swell of pride. "Thanks, Leo," he says.

"Don't thank me, it's the truth," Leo says, and he means both those things. Josh
rests a chin in his hands. Mandy huffs.

"This is all very nice," Bartlet says. "But in the next four seconds, someone had
better give me a very compelling reason to add John Hoynes to the ticket or I'm
going to get bored."

"Uh -- all the reasons we've enumerated, sir," Josh says, scooting a little closer to
the edge of the couch. "He plays well in the South. He's got money, and even that
comes from reputable sources so we won't need to worry about it when we lay out
our campaign finance reform thing. And he's actually, he's actually not an idiot --
" Josh looks over at Leo when he says this. "I've worked with the guy. And his
political positioning might be a bit...questionable, but he's sharp. He actually does
have a stance on the issues. He knows how the game is played. And then, and
once we get to Washington, I have a feeling -- I think we'll do okay."

"I think he'll screw us with our pants still on," Mandy says. "The second he gets
the opportunity."

"Talk to me," Bartlet addresses Mandy for the first time ever, maybe. Mandy
looks surprised.

"We don't even have the clearest stand on the issues, sir," she says. "We mean
well, but between you, and Leo, and Josh, and myself -- we waffle. And we don't
need someone else who waffles too."

"I waffle?" Bartlet actually snarls. "Excuse me. Care to elaborate on that, Ms.
Hampton?"

Mandy looks at Leo. "Leo pulls you back on the tough issues. Which is good for
the campaign, but once we get into office --"

"If we get into office," Toby says, but nobody listens to him.

"Once we get into office, we're gonna get a lot of flak from the party over
campaign finance, education, small businesses, the flat tax, social security --"

"Stop it," Josh cuts her off. She's right, all the issues she's listed are things that
Bartlet has wavered on in the past, but Josh can see the Governor's face falling
and now isn't the time. Leo looks offended. Josh goes on. "That's exactly why we
need Hoynes. His reputation is better than ours -- he had eight years in the Senate,
and his votes were consistent. People have a feel for where he stands, on social
security, on the ethanol tax credit --"

"He's right about that," Bartlet says.

Josh nods. "I know."

"Let's do it," Bartlet says. And the debate's over, just like that. The Governor's
face changes; Leo lets out a sigh of relief. Josh leans back on the couch. "I'm
going to Washington tomorrow," Bartlet says, and Donna writes it down. "I'll get
him here. What's next?"

Mandy groans, and Josh looks over at her. She shoots him a look, begging for
sympathy, but she's not gonna get it, not this time.

When the meeting's over, he walks out on the balcony with her so she can smoke
a cigarette.

"Hoynes is gonna fuck us in a year," Mandy says. "We can't do this, Josh."

Josh shakes his head. "Please stop."

She looks up at him, exhaling over a pouty lower lip. "What happened to you?"

"Huh?"

"You went to Washington, and you didn't tell me. Fucking CJ told me, playing
that dumb patronizing thing she does like she's just so proud to know something I
don't."

"CJ isn't like that," Josh says. "Stop it, Mandy. Stop."

"Why are you screwing me like this? You've totally knocked my legs out from
under me with the Governor. Leo hates me. Help."

He's not sure she meant to ask for help, there. He's not sure he's going to give it.
He thinks about his father.

"The campaign's more important than any of this," Josh says, slowly. "I got -- we
got a little derailed, there, for a while. But we've got our heads in the game now.
I've got my head in the game." He thinks his father would be proud of him, for
that.

"I can't work like this," she says, pulling her shoulders up and looking very small,
very tiny and alone on the balcony against the New Hampshire night. "Nobody
gives a shit what I say."

He reaches out to touch her arm, and she lets him. She drops her head and purses
her lips. "You gonna help me get them to listen to me?"

Josh thinks a minute. "How much were you making at DD&M?" he asks.

"Two fifty," she says. "Why?"

"You should ask for five hundred," Josh says. "You deserve it."

Mandy looks up. "Josh? Are you -- are you -- Jesus Christ, you're not firing me?"

"It's the wrong environment for you, Mandy," he says. "You know that. This isn't
a multimillion-dollar megacorp you're dealing with. You're gonna feel
unappreciated here. You already feel unappreciated here."

He actually doesn't mean to be so diplomatic, or so condescending. But he means
what he says, and he thinks for a second that this might solve everything.

He certainly doesn't expect her to smack him.

"Do you ever listen to yourself?" she shouts, and Josh rubs his bicep where she hit
him, vaguely impressed by her strength. He looks through the sliding glass door
of the balcony to see if anyone's watching. They're not, but they're drinking beer
and working on a six-foot hoagie and he wishes he were in there with them. "I
mean, do you ever even hear the astounding things that come out of your mouth,
you arrogant fuck?"

"Yeah, that was a little bit --" he starts, and she cuts him off.

"Oh, shut the fuck up," she says. "But tell me this. If you send me back to New
York. Do you really think -- I mean, you can't expect -- I'm not gonna put up with
a ten pm booty call from you just because Sam's mad at you and you need
someone to suck your cock and make you feel like a big man."

Josh looks in the window again, but nobody inside cares that Mandy's howling
like a psychopath. Josh is embarrassed anyway. He only barely lets himself think
that she's right, that that's exactly what he had expected. "Of course not," he says.

"So, what? You're gonna come to New York every weekend? What? I mean, tell
me. I want to know the specifics, here, Josh. I figure you've got some sort of
master plan. Tell me."

He has absolutely no master plan. He hadn't thought that far. He doesn't want to,
either. "We don't have to figure this out now," he says. "We can, we can talk
about this later."

She flicks her cigarette off the balcony. "Yeah," she sighs. And her voice sounds
like she's about to forgive him, she's about to come back and be his girlfriend
again. She reaches up and drops her hands over his shoulders, letting her fingers
dangle. "Hey," she says.

"Hey," he says. He looks down at her, at her big eyes, her tiny, perfect face. He
runs his fingers through her hair. "I think it's best," he says.

"And I think I can talk you out of firing me by the time we fall asleep tonight,"
she says, and winks. She licks her lower lip with the tip of her tongue.

His dick strains inside his jeans and he wants to grab her, kiss her, shut her up,
take her up to the room and hide inside her the way he has for two months. His
groin aches, phantom pain like when a limb's hacked off, because she's there, and
he can't feel her. He looks inside the room, and they're almost done with the
hoagie, but there's a couple of good middle slices left, pastrami sliding off onto
the table. He looks back at Mandy.

"Mandy," he says. And he realizes he can't do this, not one more argument, not
one more minute of his life wasted this way. He can't say the same words again.
"If you go to New York --" he stops, revises. "You gotta go to New York. I've got
to stay here. I'm gonna do this thing with Hoynes, we're gonna make it work. This
is so, so, so important to me. If we win this thing, my father would have been --"

"Fuck your father," she says, wheeling out of his arms and turning to peer over
the edge of the balcony. Twenty stories up it's a long way down. She lights
another cigarette and turns to look at him again. "Fuck your father, Josh. He's not
a good enough excuse for everything."

He can't believe it. His heart splashes against the inside of his ribs, and he can feel
his pulse in his temples and his thumbs. "What did you just say?"

She looks at the ground. "I'm sorry," she said. "That was obnoxious. But Josh, you
have to realize --"

And he doesn't want to hear one more thing from her about what he has to do,
what he should do, what he's supposed to do to be a better boyfriend and a better
person. There are people inside, coworkers, a campaign, a six-foot sandwich
calling his name. He doesn't want to be out here anymore. "Stop it," he says, for
what feels like the hundredth time. "I can't do this, Mandy. This job -- this is more
important to me. This is what I'm supposed to do, if anything's what I'm supposed
to do. This is what I'm --" he's rambling, and he stops himself. "Please."

"To be clear," she says, her voice shaking, just a little. "You're breaking up with
me."

The words sound like victory, like something easy, for once. "Yeah," he says.

"Okay," she says, turning back to the balcony. "Go away, Josh. Fine, and
whatever, and fuck you, and go away."

With the phantom pain still throbbing, he resists every impulse to throw his arms
around her and apologize. Instead, he slides open the glass door. "Okay," he says,
and he goes inside and closes the door behind him.

He stays in Sam's room that night, and in the morning when he goes to find his
toothbrush and a better t-shirt, Mandy's already gone. The Governor's left for
Washington, too, and Josh and Sam have breakfast with CJ and Donna and they
talk about next week's trip to Denver. Donna's made a friend at the Colorado
Democratic headquarters, and they're going to try and use him to get the Governor
of Colorado to throw a Party dinner in Bartlet's honor.

Leo comes and joins them, and Toby too, and nobody asks about Mandy. But Leo
puts a hand on Josh's shoulder and gives it a shake, and says "good work last
night," and Josh doesn't know if he means Hoynes, or Mandy, or all of it, but it
doesn't really matter. Josh has a conference call today with the DNC leaders, to
give them an update on the campaign, and he knows exactly what he's gonna say.

Because Donna's making lists and CJ's got nine hundred phone calls this morning
but she's putting them off for a little while, and Toby's reading lines from the
Denver speech and editing them as he mumbles, and Leo gets up and offers to
refill everyone's coffee, and he's never done that before. And Sam's shouting
verbs at Toby, and Donna's conjugating them for fun, and Josh laughs at her, and
Sam throws a grape at Josh and he catches it in his mouth.

Because these guys are his friends again. And the Governor's gonna get Hoynes,
and the campaign, with all the magic of a ninth-inning rally, is back on its feet.

And they're gonna take this show on the road.

***

"The experience of democracy is like the experience of life itself—always
changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for
having been tested by adversity." -- Jimmy Carter, January 2, 1978

drop me a line: sabine101@juno.com