Title: THE QUEST, Follow The Leader (Chapter 25)
Authors: Enigmatic Ellie and Westwinger247
Webpage: http:// wing_nuts.tripod.com
Note: Thanks to all our fans. What a long and wonderful ride it's been. This is the end of THE QUEST, but the storyline continues in a new series with the sequel: HEAVEN AND HELL. (Oh, and Mr. Sorkin: Thanks. We were sending Sam out of the West Wing to be a Senator in a few months. So much for our original idea. Back to the keyboard...)

*****************

The White House
CJ Cregg's Office
Dec. 8, 6:52 a.m.

CJ entered the office before the sun graced the District with its pale December rays. She had only been home for four hours before she needed to return to begin the day. She was not surprised when she arrived to see Toby's car in the parking lot. She wasn't sure if there was dust or frost on the hood for it seemed to leave the lot so rarely lately. Her plan for the day was to prep for the morning briefing; stay awake through the afternoon meetings and get home before midnight. That had been her plan since Election Night. So far, she had failed, but there was always room for hope, she told herself.

"There's something you should see," Carol said, holding out a page from the wires as CJ entered her office and took off her coat. "They're carrying it this morning."

CJ sat at her desk and put on her glasses. She read the blurb twice then looked up bewildered.

"No," she shook her head. "This is not... They didn't call anyone here for a comment?"

"Apparently not," Carol said. "They don't quote her, not exactly. I mean, they spoke to her and she told them..."

"Yeah, I see what she said," CJ read the statement again. " 'It's none of your business who received my vote.' Then later 'when asked if she could deny that she didn't vote for the President, Lyman said she could not.' Does Josh..."

"He knows," Carol said as CJ stood instantly and made for the door. However, she ran Carol's words through her mind again and then spun around. "He knows? I thought you said no one here commented or was called?"

"That's right, but she told him," Carol said. "Not that there was going to be a story, but apparently Josh's mother told him right after the convention that she was not going to vote for the President. I mentioned the story to him about two minutes before you got here this morning."

"And?"

"He said nothing," Carol reported. "He looked at this, shrugged and said, 'Yeah, she told me at the convention that she wouldn't vote for us.' Then he left. That's all."

"That's all?" CJ retorted. "That's a bit odd, don't you think?"

"A bit odd and Josh are sort of synonymous in my mind," Carol said with a shrug. "Toby's waiting for you. He's working on something about this for your briefing."

"Does the President know?"

"I don't know," Carol said. "But I wouldn't want to be Josh after someone tells him."

"Great," CJ nodded and started for Toby's office. "Okay, I need the thing on Oklahoma we were working with yesterday, and, oh yeah, would you print a copy of my resume. I'm resigning before lunch."

*****************

Chief of Staff's Office
1:23 p.m.

Josh entered from the Oval Office after a stilted meeting between the President and the Secretary of Agriculture. The story of his mother's choice had not been mentioned, but Josh could see it in the President's eyes. He knew and the President was not pleased. The day had been long and was not going to get any shorter. Josh was hoping for a few minutes to himself before his next meeting/teleconference, but was denied as he noted the visitors in the room: Toby, CJ and Sam all stood near the desk apparently waiting for Josh.

"What are you doing here?" Josh asked as he dropped into Leo's chair.

"We want to see you," CJ said.

Josh looked at her quizzically. In the pause between replies, Margaret buzzed the intercom.

"Josh, he's on line two," Margaret announced.

"Thanks," Josh said, stabbing the button then turning back to the group in the room. "CJ, what's going on? Make this quick."

"Josh, we're your friends," CJ said. "This isn't about who outranks who or any of that right now. We're all here because we want to tell you.... We want you to know that we're here for you."

"I know," Josh nodded. "You're here in my... well, Leo's office. I'm busy. If you've got a thing, it can wait. Get out."

Sam stepped forward. CJ and he had started talking over lunch and between them had decided that this needed to be done. Josh wasn't reacting to the loss of Leo in an appropriate manner. He wasn't speaking about it, and from all reports he hadn't even been to see Leo. They weighed the possible scenarios and decided it was time for action.

"Josh, I know you've had a rough couple of days... well, it's more than a week actually," Sam began. "I just want you to know that I'm here, pal."

"Again, I can see that," Josh said suspiciously. "Thanks.... pal. Now tell me, what the hell is going on."

Toby sighed explosively as he looked up from his notebook. He was trying to put together some punchy quotes for his appearance on Larry King that evening. This escapade was cutting into his writing time.

"CJ thinks....," Toby growled.

"Toby," CJ said silencing his descent. "We are all... concerned."

"About?" Josh asked.

"That you're going nuts again," Toby answered.

"Toby!" Sam scolded.

Josh's jaw dropped slightly. He looked down at the phone then back up at those gathered. The smirk started in his eyes then spread to his lips and trickled out as a chuckle.

"I'm tired of this After School Special already," Toby said.

"No, but all means," Josh grinned. "Continue. Amy told me last night that I misplaced my sense of humor weeks ago. This might do the trick."

"Josh, we're serious," Sam pleaded.

"Well, I've gotta say that I'm having a hard time responding in the same vein," Josh replied.

"Josh, this... event," CJ began.

"She means Leo's invalid impersonation," Toby offered. CJ and Sam glared at him. "Just speeding things along. I've got real work to do."

"Let me commend you for your compassion," Sam said. "I would think that after what we've all been through that you'd understand...."

"Okay, I think I know where you're going with this," Josh cut in. "I know everything has been extra stressful here lately. I appreciate the concern. Now, could we all go back to work or at least leave me alone so I can?"

"Yes, you've been under pressure," CJ agreed. "On the outside, we all are. What I'm saying is that an event like this can have lingering effects inside."

"Like you losing their grip on reality?" Josh asked.

"Josh, we're not trying to fight with you," Sam assured him.

"Okay, you keep looking at me like that and it's starting to scare me, " Josh observed.

"You could just chalk it up to Sam's affinity for circling the wagons for no reason," Toby shrugged.

"He's not going to put on a cowboy hat is he?" Josh asked. "'Cause really, the indians aren't storming the fort. You can put the musket down, Custard."

"You do know what happened to Custard, don't you Sam?" Toby chided.

"We're not having a history lesson," Sam interjected. "Could we stay focused?"

"That would be a first," Toby nodded. "Because staying focused is something we should try around here; I'm not all that fond of gallivanting off on some godforsaken cause."

"Depends on your view of the election," Margaret said from the outer room.

"Thank you," Josh called to her. "Guys, is there anyway you could have this discussion without me?"

"You can talk to us," Sam said. "First, things aren't so hot here in the office between you and.... well.... Then the election gets hung up and Donna leaves you. I mean, leaves to go home. Now Leo. That's a lot. We just want you to know that when you need to talk, you can trust us."

"Not when you're acting like this," Josh said. "This is pretty creepy so I'm going to ask you to stop."

"We've noticed that you haven't been yourself lately," CJ noted.

"Speak for yourself: He's been arrogant and caustic and argumentative," Toby mused. "Sounds normal to me."

"We're worried about you," Sam said with a dagger glare at Toby.

"Well, you're all scaring the hell out of me so let's call it even," Josh said, wishing he had a crash button his phone to have them all removed.

"Okay, right now, I'd like to mention that I'm here under protest," Toby commented and returned to his notebook.

"We need to get serious here," Sam said and stepped closer to the desk. "Josh, when we worry about you.... when we see you like this, it hurts us."

"What is that supposed to mean to me precisely?" Josh asked.

"Well, I.. I.... I don't know," Sam stammered. "You're supposed to tell the person their behavior hurts you."

"What am I doing that is hurting you?" Josh asked.

"Please, tell us, Sam," Toby rejoined the conversation. "You seem to be the emotional cruise director today."

"Well... there's.... CJ called this thing..."

"It was your idea," she shot back instantly. "Sam came to me."

"So this is the Three Stooges do an intervention?" Josh surmised. "Thank you for your time. You can all go now."

"Josh..."

"No, Sam," Josh cut him off. "This stopped being funny for about two minutes."

"We're your friends," Sam pleaded.

"You're also doing a good impression of lunatics," Josh added.

"You're like family to us," Sam continued.

"To them--not me," Toby said under his breath as he worked on his quotes. "I have one brother. I don't need another."

"Thank you," Josh said, standing and pointing to the door. "This was both entertaining and embarrassing. Let's not doing it again sometime."

"Good idea," said the gravely voice over the speaker phone.

"Leo?" the three visitors said in unison.

"Yeah, folks we can fit Josh for a straight jacket after the holidays," Leo said. "Until then, he's kind of busy."

"Hey, don't bring me in on this," Toby argued. "I was forced to join them."

"Guilt by association is part of life in Washington," Leo reminded him. "People, you're gonna make me want to slip into a coma if you keep this up."

"We were just making sure that Josh is all right," Sam explained.

"Sense when?" the Chief of Staff asked.

"Valid question," Toby mumbled.

"We just wanted to be sure," Sam started.

"Okay, let me do this," Leo growled. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"How you doin'?"

"I'm tired and want to this damn vote to be over with, Leo," Josh said confidently.

"There, it's settled," Leo proclaimed. "He's fine."

"Good," Toby said as he turned to leave. "We're done."

"Hey, next time you want to try something radical, try working," Leo offered.

*****************

Oval Office
5:15 p.m.

The Labor Secretary had just left the room following disappointing news for the unemployment rate to begin the next quarter. It was to be expected with the markets going haywire due to the election limbo. The Fed Chairman hadn't done the economy any favors--in the President's estimation--when he lowered interest rates earlier that week. It gave the impression that the economy was indeed slowing. It did not speak well for the upcoming vote. Then again, Josh surmised out loud, little did in recent days.

"Are you concerned about your job?" Bartlet asked hotly. "'Cause let me tell you..."

"My job is the last one I'm concerned with," Josh said shaking his head and reading over his notes again.

"From your tone, you seem to think it would improper for me to be concerned about mine," Bartlet remarked.

Josh looked up from his notes and realized he had done it again. There had been no discussion all day about the news story out of Florida alleging his mother had not voted for the President and may have said so to a golfing partner who had a big mouth and grandson who worked for a newspaper. The tension in the room had been higher than most days, which was never good, but Josh thought perhaps it was just his anticipation of the President asking him his thoughts on his mother's choice.

"I think we should be less interested in my tone and more interested in deciding who we should....," Josh began but was cut off as the President interjected.

"My job affects millions of others," Bartlet told him unnecessarily. "That I happen to think keeping me employed in my current capacity greatly improves the prospects for those I just mentioned isn't self-serving. It's what I believe. You're on my staff; you ran the campaign. If you haven't figured that out, then I know why we didn't win on Election Night."

"Due respect, Mr. President," Josh said. "But my name wasn't the one on the ballot."

Bartlet looked back at the Deputy and narrowed his gaze. There was a veneer of respect only--most of in to be found in the fact the comment had not been shouted. Bartlet straightened his shoulders.

"Right about now, you should be concerned about your job," Bartlet said in a cold, even tone.

"Mr. President, my point--if I even had one and I'm not sure I did--was that I belive that the best use of your time is to be concerned less with me and more about the welfare of 265 million people and the jobs that go with them," Josh said in flat tones.

"That's what you believe?" Bartlet said and shook his head. "Interesting take on faith you have there. Josh, you should learn a lesson from Job. God tested him because he trusted in Job's faith. Job didn't trust his own faith though. But in the end, God was right."

"Well, with him being God and all, you kind of had to figure that," Josh shrugged.

"I've learned that my faith doesn't fail me, even in the most dire of times," Bartlet scowled.

"That's.... commendable, Mr. President," Josh said slowly, wanting to change the subject.

"You don't believe that?" Bartlet asked in a calculating tone. "It's not about a divine destiny, you know. Religion isn't the blame of all problems. Human frailty; our pettiness; our greed; our lack of trust for one another. That's what causes strife."

"What about disease?" Josh asked shaking his head. "Your God is responsible for testing the faith of Job and however many others. What is the point of cancer? Of suffering? To make us more human and more frail?"

"You miss the point," Bartlet said, his pitch rising. "It forces us to make choices. I've learned more about myself and become a better person for the pitfalls that have found me in my lifetime. They're valuable lessons."

"Well, I've learned all I care to learn through the awful grace of God, thank you very much," Josh said and turned back to reading. "Maybe you and I just define faith differently."

This meeting was over as far as Josh was concerned, and he wanted to leave but didn't feel he was going to be set free so easily after his last comment. Bartlet eyed him with a laser stare that was unreadable but also unkind.

"Faith, like justice, is what it is," Bartlet said. "You either have it or you don't; this latest discussion answers a few questions for me. You seem to have as little faith in my campaign as I do in your ability to run it. Justice would be that I won the election. I have faith in justice; its is one of the great levelers in the universe. I have faith in that. That you cannot join in that belief with me is your choice. Was it not Joseph Roux who said, 'We love justice greatly and just men but little.' "

Josh scoffed and shook his head as Charlie stepped into the room and hung close to the wall.

"Is that disagreement I detect?" Bartlet asked, focusing on his staffer with a cold glare.

"I don't even know who that is, sir," Josh said. "I try to keep religion and politics in separate corners as much as possible. They're in an unhealthy mix in my estimation. I'm not alone."

"Yes, you and all the grade school children who believe government and religion are completely separate," Bartlet said as he placed his glasses on his nose and opened the memo in his hand to begin reading. "Apparently, I erred in thinking you could divine the point I was making."

"No, I understood," Josh said feeling like the idiot the President was making him to be. "I guess I'm just more of a believer in the Thomas Jefferson school of thought. 'Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.' "

"That is pure cynicism and borders on blasphemy when used in that context in the Oval Office," Bartlet warned him. "Jefferson was a hack and a hypocrite to some historians. I commend the man's accomplishments, but a man of God he was not. He did not live by his convictions so he was no different than so many others elevated to an unreachable heroic status. None of us are perfect, Josh. It's past time you learned that. I would have thought with your vast experience in politics that you would have already. Then again, I'm beginning to question the merits of you political experience after this election. Tell me, do you reserve the rose-colored glasses only for those select few who meet your definition of perfect? Leo will be the first to admit to his flaws, yet you revere him as though he were small-time deity. I don't seem to garner that kind of respect. Why? Did one have to bask in the glory of knowing your father before they can join this select club?"

"I'm sorry?" Josh asked stunned by the question.

"Respect is reciprocal thing," Bartlet said. "You get what you give. And let me tell you something else, your father was as flawed and inept as you deem the rest of us. You need not go any further than the transcript of a case he tried in the middle of his career: the Bennington case. Milo Reed told me about it. Your father bungled it so apparently even God didn't think the old man worthy of the title of perfect."

Josh stared blankly back at the man, feeling the blood drain from his face. He blinked and listen to the silence that followed as it filled the room.

"Nothing more to add?" Bartlet asked. "That will be all then."

Josh nodded and left the room without another word. Charlie assumed this was done with great effort as he spied the look on Josh's face. Bartlet looked up after a moment, unaware the man had left. It struck him as odd; Josh hadn't closed the discussion with the customary--if perfunctory--"Thank you, Mr. President."

"Mr. President," Charlie said, approaching the desk cautiously.

"Not now," Bartlet said tersely.

"Yes, sir," Charlie acquiesced with sigh. "The First Lady called. She won't be able to meet you for dinner; Ellie isn't feeling well so she's going to stay with her."

"She's got a neurology final tomorrow," Bartlet nodded. "Fine. I'll eat in the residence."

"Yes, sir," Charlie said. "Do you still want your requested hour of hermitude?"

"That's really not a word, you know," Bartlet remarked. "But yes, if possible, I would like it."

******************

Toby Zielger's Office
5:30 p.m.

Darkness filled the window panes as Toby and CJ sat in his office reviewing the latest round of statements issued by Ritchie's campaign regarding polls showing the Florida Governor ahead of the President in the House vote. The comments were biting and yet vague, making them difficult to combat from the podium without looking desperate. But there was a way. There had to be, Toby kept asserting.

CJ sat on his couch, shaking her head and resisting the urge to chuckle. It wasn't a humorous situation, but at the same time she felt the respective campaigns were playing out some junior high student council fight. She was thinking of how to word that precisely when she saw Josh walking with a purposeful stride through the Communication's Bullpen.

"Josh," she shouted, snagging his attention. "Come here. Toby and I were just talking about what The New York Times is going to say about us after this week's poll."

"They'll say that we're losing," Josh said unimaginatively.

"Since things are so close, they are asking the question that appears to be in all of Kevin Khan's statements lately," Toby said. "What is the difference between Ritchie and Bartlet?"

Without thinking or caring that he hadn't tried to censor himself, Josh answered.

"At least Ritchie looks me in the eye when he offends me," Josh said.

"Josh?" Toby said, dropping his notebook and taking in the Deputy for the first time.

The muscles around his jaw were clenched, and there was a hard cold stare in his eyes. He had just come from the Oval Office, Toby surmised with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

"Have you seen Sam?" Toby asked mildly. "He needed to speak with . He just left to grab something to eat. He was heading to that Poppy Twit place. Could you maybe go catch up with him? He probably just got there."

"Fine," Josh said then turned swiftly and departed.

He left the bullpen and headed directly for the northwest lobby not bothering to grab his overcoat from his own office. Toby instantly lifted his phone and shook his head as he frantically dialed.

"What did Sam need Josh for?" CJ asked puzzled by the exchange.

"He didn't," Toby said to her then spoke into his phone. "Sam! It happened--that thing we feared.... No, I don't have details, but I've sent him to find you... No, I think he's walking..... He didn't have a coat with him even so he should be cooled off by the time he gets there.... Yeah, just now. Latch on to him and keep him away from here for a little while. I'm calling the calvary."

Toby disconnected and dialed again. CJ, now both worried and intrigued, questioned him further.

"Toby, what the hell is going on?" she asked, rising to her full height.

"Find Charlie," he answered. "Ask him what just happened--tell him I need to know and that I'm calling Leo."

"Ask him what?"

"CJ, I think whatever is going on between Josh and the President just crossed the line from repressed animosity to a declaration of war," Toby said. "I'd like to control it before it ends up in a resignation or worse--a question in the briefing room. Go!"

*****************

Oval Office

"Charlie?" the President called. His aide returned promptly. "What's next?"

"The Housing Secretary," Charlie said. "She's on her way now. Her deputy just called and said she should be here in 15 minutes and apologies for the delay."

"Well, since I'm not endowed with the powers to say off with her head, I'll just hang out," Bartlet mused. Charlie did not react to the comment.

"What is it?" Bartlet asked, taking his seat again. "Am I not the epitome of mirth?"

"Mr. President, can I offer an observation?"

"By all means."

"About Josh," Charlie began but was cut off swiftly.

"No," Bartlet shook his head. "I suppose you're going to say what you heard sounded harsh..."

"No, sir," Charlie shook his head. "Not sounded. It was harsh. It bordered on mean and bullying, but that wasn't my point. I was just going to say it seems to me that it's not Josh that you want to fight with."

"I don't want to fight with anyone, Charlie," Bartlet defended. "What's going on between Josh and me is not a petty spat that needs..."

"I don't think it is between you and Josh," Charlie said quickly. "Not really. I don't think it's a petty spat, either. Maybe Josh has convinced himself that it is and that's how he keeps coming back for the next round, but thing isn't petty and it's not a spat."

"It's not?" Bartlet asked, intrigued at the amateur psychology.

"No, I think it's something more like jealousy," Charlie replied carefully.

"I'm sorry?" Bartlet asked. "Jealousy? Maybe it's slipped everyone's mind because of this vote we're facing, but I am the President of the United States; I'm also a Nobel Laureate; I have a beautiful and brilliant wife and three amazing daughters who love and adore me. What could I possibly be jealous of Josh Lyman about?"

"Okay, so maybe it's not precisely jealousy," Charlie relented.

"Thank you," Bartlet nodded.

"It's more like envy," Charlie countered.

"Envy? Why?"

"Same reason I envy him," Charlie shrugged. "I suppose quite a few people would."

"Charlie." Bartlet's face questioned him further than his words.

"It just seems to me....," Charlie said hesitantly. "I mean, I've notice over the last several months that you tend to become most vexed with him and stick those barbs in him around the times the same subject comes up. And you did ask to read his press bio back before the convention and then you asked to look at that court case from Connecticut..."

"Charlie?"

"His father," Charlie said. "I may be out of line here, sir, but it appears that maybe you are angry that he had his father whereas you... had yours. Maybe this election and how it turned out sort of..."

"Your wrong," Bartlet said instantly and started reading the briefing memo on the upcoming meeting with the Housing Secretary--which as Bartlet realized, he would have to do without a staff member since he had dismissed Josh. "I'm neither envious nor am I jealous."

"Okay," Charlie relented. "But I am. I don't remember my father, but if I could, I think I would kind of like it if he had been like the way Josh's father sounds."

"Thank you," Bartlet said, not looking up. "That will be all."

"Yes, sir," Charlie said.

He left the Oval Office feeling relieved for two reasons. First, that he had spoken what had been on his mind for months. Second, that he had done so without angering the President. Charlie returned to his desk when CJ arrived.

*****************

Toby Ziegler's Office

Toby had weighed his options and possible actions. Eventually, he came back to his initial instinct and dialed the phone. Leo had to be informed.

"Leo," Toby said when his summons was finally answered. "I know you're supposed to be resting, but we need you."

"What happened?" the Chief of Staff asked.

"I think we just had that meltdown," Toby replied. "I wasn't in the room, but Josh just came through here and.... It is apparent that things got hot. What happened precisely, I don't know. I'm finding out."

"What did he say?" Leo asked sternly; he blamed himself for this latest turn. If he'd been in the office, the stress level for everyone would be lower and he could have steered clear of this land mine.

"I don't what was said," Toby answered. "But I'm pretty sure he offended him."

"How?" Leo asked. "If you don't know what Josh said... Tell me they haven't resorted to finger gestures."

"Leo, I didn't mean the President was offended," Toby interrupted. "He may be, but I was speaking about Josh just then. I wouldn't believe it was true except that Josh stood in front of me and said it was so. Hold on."

Toby covered the mouth piece as CJ returned to his office and reported her findings from the discussion with Charlie. Toby nodded his thanks and returned to the call.

"None of this makes sense," Toby said. "Charlie wasn't in the room for whatever this thing was when it started. All he's saying is they were talking about Thomas Jefferson and some court case the President asked Charlie to look up after Thanksgiving."

"What?" Leo asked. "Jefferson? What case?"

"I don't know," Toby sighed. "Something called Bennington--whatever that is. I don't know."

"Bennington? The only Bennington case I can think of is..." Leo groaned. "Oh, damn. Toby, let me take care of this. Where is Josh?"

"I sent him to fetch Sam at his froo-froo coffee place," Toby said.

"Find him," Leo ordered. "Do it quickly."

*****************

Presidential Residence
6:22 p.m.

"Mr. President, Leo is here," Charlie said, interrupting the President's dinner in the residence.

"Leo?" Bartlet asked as he pushed his chair away from the table. "He's not supposed to be here."

Leo entered a moment later dressed casually, meaning no necktie. His face was sporting that tight and perturbed look the staff knew all too well. Bartlet welcomed him into the quarters and gestured to a pair of chairs in the living room area.

"You're certainly looking much better than you were a few days ago," Bartlet remarked grateful to see his old friend looking more like himself. "Rest did you good, but I don't think you should push yourself. You shouldn't be here."

"That's for Congress to decide," Leo said gruffly.

"Touché," Bartlet agreed. "How are your feeling?"

"I'm fine," Leo said.

"Should you be out in weather like this?" Bartlet asked. "It's barely 30 degrees out there."

"I own a coat again," Leo said taking his seat.

"I'm sorry?" Bartlet paused. "Again?"

"Mallory," Leo shook his head. "She borrowed my topcoat last year for some school play or whatever and didn't return it."

"So you're using that for guilt leverage to spring yourself from her clutches?" Bartlet smirked.

"No," Leo shook his head, cursing himself for not thinking of the tactic. "I was allowed out today with her to go buy another. She can't find mine. Last time I wore it was in New Hampshire during the primary. We didn't have a winter after that."

"You could skulk around the playground and look for a well dressed fifth grader playing on the monkey bars," Bartlet offered.

"She thinks she sent it to the dry cleaners and forgot to pick it up," Leo explained. "With the holidays coming, every place is a zoo."

"So long as you have a replacement now," Bartlet nodded. "Keep you all bundled up and warm so you don't get sick again."

"Sir," Leo shook his head.

"So what brings you here tonight?" Bartlet asked. "I just talked to you three hours ago. What's going on?"

"We need to talk, Mr. President," Leo said, clasping his hands together and fixing the President with an even expression. "Just what the hell happened here today?"

"I'm sorry?"

"I would hope you were, but I don't know it for certain," Leo said hotly. "This thing has got to stop."

"What are you talking about?"

"You and Deputy Hothead," Leo said. "You're like two itchy gunslingers looking for a fight when you get in the same room together."

"It's not like that," Bartlet protested.

"You're right," Leo agreed. "Josh isn't the aggressor, which kind of surprises the hell out of me; he's taking the barbs and the jabs with more grace and patience than I thought he had. I guess today was different."

"I don't know what you've heard," Bartlet said. "If he called you looking for a mediator then he's...."

"I haven't talked to Josh," Leo said. "Mr. President, did you have Charlie do some research for you on an old lawsuit called Bennington?"

"Yes," Bartlet said reluctantly. "That lawyer--the one from Pennsylvania--mentioned it."

"Milo Reed," Leo nodded.

"Yeah," Bartlet said. "I was curious about it; I read about it. The lead attorney for Bennington dropped the ball; they lost the case."

"Did you say that to Josh?" Leo asked incredulously.

"History and the court record says it," Bartlet defended. "It was the most complex case of the man's career, and he lost it."

"Yes, Noah Lyman was the lead attorney for Bennington on the case," Leo said unnecessarily. "Initially, he was. And yes, Bennington lost. What the hell does that have to do with anything going on here now?"

"We were just talking," Bartlet growled. "We're informal in the office at times, Leo! The subject came up. Are you telling me that I got it wrong? That his father wasn't removed as lead counsel and then the client didn't lose a multi-million dollar lawsuit even though the transcript clearly shows all this? Is that what set Josh off? His father wasn't perfect and someone had the audacity to point it out?"

Leo looked at his friend and shook his head. He should have seen this; it was so simple in retrospect. The President wasn't mad at Josh--never had been. This was an old enemy he was fighting.

"Mr. President, I think you were out of line," Leo said calmly. "Noah wasn't removed from the case. He was replaced."

"Your loyalty to your friend is admirable," Bartlet said. "But Leo, semantics."

"No, sir," Leo said shaking his head. "He stepped down about two weeks into the trial because..."

"Because he was in over his head?" Bartlet ventured. "I read the case, Leo. It was a monster of a case, I can see that."

"Noah was a monster of a litigator," Leo replied. "He wasn't over his head, Mr. President. Not legally anyway. Personally, he was drowning. About two weeks after the opening statements, he had had to bury his only daughter. He felt his place at that time was taking care of his wife and son; they were more important to him than that court room."

Bartlet looked back at Leo thoroughly stunned. He had paid no attention to the dates in the trial synopsis. Not that they would have meant anything to him. He knew of the fire in Josh's childhood, but he was unaware of how old Josh was when it occurred. Leo observed the look on Bartlet's face then nodded.

"That was the case Noah was trying when it happened," Leo said. "Prep for the case took weeks of 20 hour days. Once things appeared to be going smoothly, Noah took Anna out to dinner to thank her for her patience and understanding. They left the kids at home for a few hours. Then..."

"My God," Bartlet said and hung his head. "I... He never said...."

"Of course he didn't," Leo growled.

"Leo, I didn't know."

"I know," Leo nodded. "But, considering how things have been lately, I gotta ask: If you had known, would you have said what you said anyway?"

"Leo!" Bartlet snapped. "How can you...."

"Why did you say it at all?" Leo asked.

"I told you," Bartlet argued. "We were talking about the election and...."

"No, sir," Leo countered. "You said something about a lesson. Something about pointing out to him that his father wasn't perfect--as if Josh didn't know that. Just tell, explain to me: How is someone you've never met and who has been dead for years related to this election? Mr. President?"

Bartlet shook his head. He didn't know. At the time, in the heat of the discussion...

"I don't know," Bartlet said.

*****************

The Jefferson Memorial
7 p.m.

Josh had walked for nearly an hour and a half after leaving the office, eventually finding himself on the far side of the Tidal Basin. It was natural that he go there, he suspect. It had been his first taste of Washington. When he was a child, fourth grade, his father had taken him to the city for the first time. They had stayed in a hotel in Virginia, just over the District line. It had been a sweltering August day and the first place Josh saw was the Jefferson Memorial. He had marveled at the size of it and the statue within. But what he marveled at more was the way his father looked when he read the words chiseled on the walls. Josh had read them, too, feeling like he was in social studies class again. But for some reason, hearing the words spoken by his father made them make more sense.

Josh stood there again, in much different weather, reading the words again and feeling very small and insignificant in the sight of them.

How do you write this for the first time? How do you dream this up? We run this city, this country, based on these words--and we think that's hard. The hard part was done for us. I don't have this kind of genius.

Josh rubbed his hands together, feeling the cold for the first time as he realized he was wearing just his suit coat. His overcoat, gloves and scarf back at the office still. He could see his breath as he blew on his hands. Night had fallen completely and the wind off the Chesapeake was picking up causing ripples in the Tidal Basin and dropping the temperature further. It might snow tonight, he thought as he exchanged nods with the Park Police Officer standing watch at the monument. The man surely thought he was crazy as he kept his eye on Josh.

I may be. I'd have to be after today. Why did I say it? Why didn't I just nod and take it like I have every time since... since.... I don't even remember the last time he wasn't displeased with me. Probably the last time we looked good in the polls. It's not supposed to be like this. Leo said giving up is not an option, but I don't think I'm dedicated enough for this. I mean, there's dedication and then there's dedication. Like this guy. Writes the Declaration of Independence; serves his country; is President and is so married to this idea that he even dies on July Fourth. His thoughts on his deathbed are for the future of the country he's leaving behind; he even remarks that at least.... No wait, that was Adams talking about Jefferson. They died the same day. Adams was the one who.... Adams?

"Ha!" Josh laughed suddenly, his voice echoing off the chilled pillars. "That's it!"

"What's it?" Sam asked suddnely by his side, throwing Josh's coat over his shoulders. "I've been looking for you for more than an hour. The only reason I found you was one of Margaret's friends called and said she saw you here and wondered if the President was going to visit the monument."

"What?" Josh asked, struggling into his jacket as he registered that Sam was indeed there and speaking to him.

"I said that I've been...."

"Never mind," Josh cut him off excitedly. "Sam! Ha! I've got it! I mean, I know. We all know, but it's possible. That's why we know! It was Adams--I mean, not that Adams but the other one. Wait, I was talking to myself about that part. But that doesn't matter. In 1824, it worked because he knew how to work the back room. So that's what we forgot. Don't you see?"

"No," Sam said slowly. "What do you see, Josh?"

"No, not see see," Josh shook his head. "I mean, I know how we can do this. How we can win. We just need the votes."

"That's great," Sam said nodding and wondering how quickly and quietly he could get Josh admitted some place to be treated for what was likely hypothermia. "Why don't you come with me now and explain it all in my car?"

"You have a car?" Josh asked as they started down the steps. "Of course you do. That's how you got here! Great thinking, Sam! We have to go to the office. Get the staff. We're having a meeting."

"Josh, I think it would be best of you went home and...."

"Sam," Josh turned suddenly and looked him firmly in the eyes. "I haven't lost my mind. Trust me; I know what I'm doing. We can win this thing. We can do it because we're not the outsiders. They keep saying that being a beltway insider is a bad thing. But it's not. Know why?"

"Why?" Sam asked.

"Because we know them," Josh said simply and nodded. "Everyone who is going to vote--we know them. They know us. Ritchie's got people who know them too, but we've been here. We have the home court advantage, and we haven't used it enough. Now is the time. So, get on your phone and call Toby. We're having a meeting and everyone who wants to win this vote better be there."

Sam nodded and dialed his phone as they made their way to the parking lot behind the monument.

"Toby, I've got him," Sam said as they climbed into the vehicle. "You need to call a staff meeting. Get Bruno, too."

"Why?" Toby asked. "What did he do?"

"Nothing, it's what he wants to do," Sam said, starting to put together the missing pieces in Josh's recent proclamation. "It's either hypothermia or an epiphany."

"It's both," Josh grinned wickedly as he rubbed his hands together near the vents as Sam started the heater. "That's why it'll work."

*****************

Capitol Beat
Dec. 11, 10 p.m.

"The Bartlet Administration is giving long, serious and perhaps forlorn looks up the street as their opponents have quietly begun a victory dance," Host Mark Gottfried said as his introduction for the segment. "The Republicans narrowly control the House, and GOP insiders are confident the vote on Friday is a lock. But don't count the Democrats out. This morning, Deputy White the Washington Post quotes House Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman as giving notice that President Bartlet's team is approaching this upcoming vote in the House like Samuel Johnson vowing 'if we can't out-vote them we'll out-argue them.' Joining me now is White House Deputy Communication's Director Sam Seaborn. So, any bets?"

Sam grinned at Mark and the camera sheepishly. Since Josh's epiphany/hypothermia episode at the Jefferson Memorial two days earlier, Sam had been the campaign's leading spokesman. Keeping Josh under wraps was Sam's idea--a precautionary measure--but it seemed to be a good idea. The guy was turning into an insomniac to rival Toby. They were letting him out for limited media exposure, but they were supervised excursions. But it was working for them. Whatever had happened, Josh's epiphany at the national monument had given him his second wind.

"Well, let me put it this way," Sam said casually. "I don't bet with Josh; I don't bet against Josh. I... I just stand back and enjoy the show."

"So you're not as confident," Mark inferred.

"Oh, I'm confident," Sam said. "I'm just not quoting Samuel Johnson; I'm frankly surprised Josh did, but then again, Josh always surprises me. But if you're asking me do we have a good chance to win this vote next week? My answer is an unequivocal yes. We are reaching out to all members of Congress--we're talking to every last one one of them in the next three or four days--and I can tell you that we are getting support across party lines. I think the GOP insiders you quote are sorely mistaken if they think just because a member ran on their ticket that Governor Ritchie can automatically count on that support. Gov. Ritchie's platform is not friendly to a lot of states. It punishes vast segments of the population including but not limited to the middle class, minorities, single mothers, students, senior citizens. Republican congressmen are not going to forsake their constituents out of a sense of duty to the Party."

"You're predicting that members will be breaking ranks?" Gottfried asked.

"I'm not predicting it," Sam said. "I'm telling you it will happen; it's happening right now. The Republicans seem to think this vote is a scene from H.M.S. Pinafore. As if Congressmen are suddenly going to break into chorus singing: I always voted at my party's call, and I never thought of thinking for myself at all. These are wise men and women who are voting this week, and they know who won the election."

"You're still claiming victory?"

"The President won," Sam said. "All tallies have the President receiving more of the popular vote than his opponent, and he has more electoral votes."

"But not the required 270," Gottfried pointed out.

"If we had pursued this more vigorously in the courts, we'd have those, too," Sam responded. "We went this route because it allows for the will of the people to be done swiftly, openly and in the most democratic fashion."

"That is the view from the left," Gottfried said as he turned to face the cameras. "After this break, I'll be speaking with Kevin Khan from the right. We'll be back in a moment."

*****************

To: Joshua.Lyman@whitehouse.gov
From: d_tellamoss@yahoo.com
Date: 12DEC2002
Time: 10:02
Subject: "Hello, you must be going"

I just watched a Marx Brother's movie with Dad, and I think there are definite similarities between you and Captain Spaulding.

I just wanted to drop you a short note to wish you luck in the next few days. You're hard person to track down. I tried to get you at home, on your cell, in the office; you don't answer messages or take calls any longer it seems. I thought of trying carrier pigeon, but I think there is some sort of hunting season or other going on currently so the prospects were not good.

Margaret said things were hectic but not out of hand. Apparently with a little training and practice you might even learn her name. I wanted you to know that I will not be back by the 18th. Dad has had another set back and now surgery is unavoidable. They are trying to schedule it for next week, but its apparently not an easy matter.

I sent Margaret a quick reference list for material you need most often when the new legislative term begins. Despite news reports, I remain hopeful that this administration will be the one ushering in the next term. With that in mind, I sent Margaret the list and where to find certain resources. She will be discussing with you the necessity of you retaining some more permanent, full-time assistance.

I wish I could be there with you all this week. I feel like I am letting you all down. Especially you. You have done so much for me.

At least I do not need to worry about you personally. Sam tells me that Amy is becoming a faithful companion again. You should be nice to her; you're not an easy person to deal with in regular circumstances. Recent events can't have improved things.

I will check in after the vote.

Best of luck,
Donna

****
To: d_tellamoss@yahoo.com
From: Joshua.Lyman@whitehouse.gov
Date: 14DEC2002
Time: 01:15
Subject: Re:"Hello, you must be going"

I had ADP raid your computer for your info. lists the day you took extended leave. Thanks for offering anyway.

How long are you going to be gone or were you giving your notice?

JL

Ps. The only thing Groucho and I have in common is rapier wit and a nodding acquaintance with Judaism.

***

Margaret gathered the folders Josh was requesting in the Roosevelt room and noted his e-mail was still open on his computer. She knew it was improper to read other people's mail, but she hadn't heard from Donna in several days and that was odd. Margaret was worried so when she saw a message to Donna in Josh's SENT folder, she felt obligated to read it.

"Margaret?" Josh asked, leaning into the room. "The folders? What are you doing? Did it crash?"

"What?" Margaret said, looking up from the screen. "Oh, no. I can't believe what you said."

"When?" Josh asked as he approached and looked at the laptop screen as she read it again.

"This is what you wrote?" Margaret asked.

"What are you doing reading my mail?"

"Nothing," she replied guiltily.

"This is private," he argued.

"It's less personal than a form letter," she informed him.

"Is it bad?" he asked curiously.

"It's not good," Margaret shook her head.

"It's not?"

"No," she informed him. "Josh, you didn't even ask about her father. You didn't ask about anything."

"I did, too," he protested. "I asked how long she was going to be gone."

"You were cold and impersonal and you asked for her letter of resignation," Margaret said. "You dismissed her."

"I fire Donna for sport," he said trying to explain himself as he reread his words. "She knows that."

"You asked her to return or give you a formal letter of resignation," Margaret said. "That's different than your pathetic attempts to win an argument by firing her when she has a valid point."

"Hey, this is my letter that you read," he argued and resisted the urge to fire Margaret. Leo would kill him if he even thought it.

"You shouldn't be so proud of that," Margaret said, gathering the folders on the desk.

"I thanked her," Josh stabbed his finger at the screen. "Right there. I thanked her."

"I'm sure that will make all the difference," Margaret said as she headed out the door. "Don't forget Toby and Sam are in the Roosevelt Room about Iowa and Ohio."

*****************

The White House
December 15
8:30 a.m.

Morning meandered through the West Wing as the day of the deciding vote arrived. The staff, most of whom had not left the building the night before, was clustered in small meetings to let each other know there was nothing more to know or do. Leo entered the northwest lobby feeling like he had been gone for two years.

"Mr. McGarry?" the uniformed Secret Service officer greeted him as he swiped his security card.

"Hey, Mike," Leo replied.

"It's good to see you, sir," Mike responded. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine."

"What are you doing here?" Mike asked, stopping Leo's progress.

"What am I doing here?" Leo repeated. "I work here."

"Does Mr. Lyman know you're coming?" Mike asked.

"Mr. Lyman?" Leo asked. "He doesn't need to know. I'm his boss."

Mike nodded and lifted his phone.

"Put the phone down, Mike," Leo said firmly.

"I have orders, Mr. McGarry," Mike apologized as he dialed, then answered the unasked question. "From Mr. Lyman."

"And just what did Mr. Lyman order?"

"Yes, this is Officer Wilson at the Northwest Lobby," Mike said into the phone. "Tell Mr. Lyman the package has arrived.... Yes." He hung up promptly then responded to Leo. "He said I should feel free to wrestle you to the ground and throw you into the parking lot, but that I could also just let his office know if you entered the building. Enjoy your visit, Mr. McGarry. It's good seeing you again."

"Mike," Leo said. "I am the Chief of Staff of this White House. As soon as I set foot inside the building, I am in charge. Josh does not have the say-so as to my comings and goings. I am going to my office to work a full day."

"If you say so," Mike nodded and kept his face straight though his eyes were disbelieving.

Leo put his head down and walked with purpose toward the offices behind the lobby. He made his way down the hall and first encountered Ed wearing a puzzled expression and he looked at the cellphone in his hand.

"This is Larry's phone," Ed said aloud to no one. "Why do I have Larry's phone? Do I look like Larry? Hey, Leo. Does Josh know you're here?"

"Hey, Larry," Leo said.

"I'm Ed," he corrected.

"It was a joke," Leo said flatly as Larry approached looking as confused as Ed.

"Do you have my phone?" Larry asked. "Hey, Leo. How are you?"

"I'm fine," Leo said.

"Does Josh know you're here?" Larry asked. "Josh didn't say Leo was coming to visit, did he, Ed?"

Leo sighed and offered both his most displeased-for-no-apparent-reason stare. They stepped back feeling chastised.

"Thank you," Leo said of their reactions as he headed toward the communication

Things did not improve as he reached the bullpen. He rounded the corner and started to greet Ginger and Bonnie but was met with more surprise than pleasure at his return.

"Oh no," Ginger gasped. "Leo. You're breaking the rules."

"What rules?" he asked.

"The rule that says you can't be here," she answered succinctly. The look on the Chief of Staff's face let her know he did not like the rule nor it being quoted to him. "I didn't make the rule. I'm just supposed to.... I'm just going to pick up this phone and pretend I have a call to make."

"Good," Leo nodded.

Sam and Toby then entered the bullpen, bickering about coffee. They were so focused on their discussion and so weary from the protracted campaign that they did not see the newcomer.

"Look, it was a 20 second detour," Sam argued, holding the steaming cup in his hand. "You know how much I
hate the coffee in the Mess now."

"I don't care if it was a two second detour," Toby fumed. "I told you, I said I would never go to that place again. And by never I meant NEVER! Now, I'm laying down the law. You are to never go anywhere near that Poppy Tort place again and mention it to me!"

"It's Poppytwist," Sam corrected him. "And they had croissants. They were fresh. You should have bought one; a little bite of heaven in your mouth."

"I don't care if they've hired the top Chef from the Versailles Palace," Toby continued.

"I'm not sure Versailles actually has a chef," Sam pondered.

"That place no longer exists, do you hear me?"

"You'll change your mind after we have lunch there," Sam nodded. "They make great fruccacia bread. So, what you said in the car, did you I hear Josh right, there's really nothing left for us to do?"

"Morning, fellas," Leo said standing beside Ginger's desk.

Toby read his paper and answered Sam without registering the greeting.

"There's nothing more we can do," Toby sighed. "We're done. They're caucusing informally now; we'll work to phones if there's a chance someone will flip, but we went over that ground last night. We've exhausted all possibilities."

"Josh didn't go home again last night," Sam pointed out as he hung up his coat in his office and returned to the bullpen.

"He hasn't been home for more than an hour in the last week," Toby said. "His mother called me on Monday. She wanted to know if we had killed him or if he had run away from home."

"I called her last night," Sam said. "She left me a message. She apparently left him a dozen in the last 10 days, and his machine at home is full. He hasn't checked it or called her back. I said he was fine, just busy."

"You lied," Toby nodded. "Good boy."

"I couldn't exactly tell her the truth," Sam said. "That's he sits in his office at night staring at ... them--all night. It's like he turned into a Stepford Wife."

"He thinks that if he stares long enough, things might change," Toby offered. "Has anybody heard from Donna this week?"

"Margaret talked to her yesterday," Ginger explained. "She wished us luck."

"How's her dad?" Sam asked.

"Same," Ginger said somberly.

"You know, we should send her flowers," Sam said. "Leo, too."

"I'm right here," Leo said firmly.

Josh breezed into the bullpen with his eyes fixed on Toby.

"We miscounted Connecticut," he said. "I just talked to Poulin and two from Tennessee might swing too, so... I don't know; not that it changes anything in the end, but.... Can we run these through again?" He turned to leave but doubled back. "Oh, and I got a message Leo may have snuck into the building. If you see him, tackle him and lock him in a closet until I get Mallory down here punish him."

"Well, as long as no one knows I'm here," Leo remarked as he headed toward his office. "I might actually get some work done today."

"I'm sorry?" Josh said, whirling around to spot Leo for the first time. "Hey, Leo. Uh.... How you doin'?"

"Fine," Leo said. "I'm working today and no one--I mean no one--is saying otherwise or I'm locking all of you in a closet. Understand?"

"Not really," Josh answered bewilderedly. He was still marveling at the sight of Leo in the office again.

"With you I'm not surprised," Leo commented.

"I think what Josh means is.....," Sam started.

"No," Toby interrupted. "I would bet he doesn't understand; I vote to have Josh sedated or locked up.... or both. Now."

"Leo, you don't need to be here," Josh said, ignoring the comment. "You shouldn't be here. You should be home. Resting."

"I've had enough rest, thank you," Leo responded. "The election is about to be decided, and I'm here for it. Not to mention that I'm your boss so you've really got no say in the matter."

"Leo, you didn't need to rush back here so soon," Sam offered. "I can understand how you might have felt left out, but really there was no need to feel like that. It's perfectly normal. People who take extended medical leave are still part of the team. It's not unlike when a woman takes maternity leave."

"What the hell?" Leo asked.

"And should you feel the urge to give birth," Toby said rolling his eyes, "Sam will have wise words to help you through that as well."

"I'll keep that in mind," Leo said with a confused look. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a call to make."

"To whom?" Josh asked instantly.

"What are you, my mother?"

"I'm the Acting Chief of Staff.," Josh said for lack of anything better. "I'm also the Political Director of the campaign to re-elect the President."

"Well, you can go back to your runner-up status on the first one now," Leo said confidently.

"I need to know who you are talking to and if it pertains to the vote," Josh insisted.

"Fine," Leo relented. "Senator Sanford."

"You mean Representative Sanford?" Josh ventured.

"Yeah," Leo nodded. He was still a little tired but that was mostly due to the clandestine escape he perpetrated that morning. Getting out of Alcatraz had probably been easier than giving his daughter the slip.

"Leo, you can't," Josh said. "If you talk to Sanford, Tredwell will call Greeley, and he'll talk to Domoni."

"Short version, we'll lose Kentucky," Sam yawned.

"We're losing Kentucky," Toby corrected him. "It puts Oregon back into in jeopardy."

"I thought Oregon was a lock," Leo said.

"It is," Ginger stepped in. "He meant Ohio."

"Right," Josh nodded. "Except that I was going to say it puts Iowa back in limbo. It was a shaky yes for us until Domoni stole Tucker's committee assignment and threatened to stop the highway funds that Greeley was going to swing into Tucker's district."

"We can't just talk to Domoni and head this off?" Leo asked.

"No, because the old gray mare just ain't what she used to be," Toby said.

"Domoni wants a seat on commerce and Tredwell blocked him because.... well, no reason other than spite and possibly something about a parking ticket about three years ago," Josh explained. "Anyway, Domoni thinks we backed Tredwell because, well, we did, but not in that instance."

Leo sighed at the insanity of it all. He understood the summary of what he had just heard. There were raw nerves and a lot of confusion up the road. He was glad that that much hadn't changed during his forced sabbatical. At least this was better than being babied by Mallory, Leo decided.

"Daddy!" Mallory fumed as if on key as she stormed into the bullpen with wild eyes and reddened cheeks.

"Mallory, what are you doing here?" Leo asked in defeat.

"I forgot my folder for math class and returned home in time to see you getting into a cab," she said. "I followed you."

"Mallory, I am not going back," Leo warned then turned to tall those present to issue an edict. "I am your father, your boss and my own man. Am I making myself clear?!"

"You probably should relax, Leo," Sam said. "You seem a little excited there."

"Go get a bagel, would you?" Leo snapped.

"Oh, they make these great croissants over at this..."

"Sam!" Toby shouted.

"I'm gonna just go in here," Sam said pointing to his office. "Good seeing you, Leo."

"Well, I guess he can hang around for a little while," Josh said to Mallory. "Well get take him home after this is over. Nothing much going on here today anyway."

"Gee, thanks, Josh," Leo said forcefully.

"He's not the one allowing you, Daddy," Mallory informed her father. "I am."

"Yeah, be mad at her," Josh said.

"You look like hell, by the way," Mallory said to Josh.

"I get that a lot lately," Josh nodded comfortably.

"Young lady, I'll have you know that you're still not too old for me to put you over my knee," Leo said.

"It's remarks like that which tend to get us in trouble," Toby remarked. "So I'm just going to go in my office and stare mindlessly at the wall for 8 minutes or so. Josh? Your office for Connecticut and Tennessee?"

"Yeah," Josh said as Mallory said good-bye to her father and made him promise to take it easy during the day. "Leo, you should probably just go to your office and work on.... you know.... stuff for the rest of the country if you like. We've got this."

"My office is so far away," Leo said starting towards the Operations Bullpen. "Maybe I'll just go to yours. It's closer."

Leo strode down the hall toward Josh's open door. He could hear Josh's feet swiftly on his heels and his voice pleading with him not to go into the office.

"Leo, really," Josh said, stepping in front of him as they neared the door. "I think the President needs you for... I don't know, something. Your office is so much closer. And, it should be, because you're the Chief of Staff. You should go.... staff something, like your empty office."

"Josh, am I barred from this meeting by executive order because that's pretty much the only thing that's gonna do it," Leo remarked.

Josh opened his mouth to respond then closed it as nothing came to him. In the pause, Leo stepped around him and entered the office. What he saw stunned him.

The walls were covered, wallpapered, with the faces of 538 congressmen. The pictures, 8 x 10 enlarged photocopies taken from the most recent congressional yearbook covered nearly every space on the walls. Beside each picture were masses of scribbles and post-it notes. Leo turned around slowly to survey the gallery of faces. Several taped to the windows were most curious. They contained not faces but stick figure drawings with the names of the congressman written at the bottom.

"What the hell?" Leo asked when he found his voice. "What have you done?"

"A little redecorating," Josh said. "This was my show to manage the last two weeks so this is command central. These represent every member of the House of Representatives. They're the most current pictures of all but those on the window. We couldn't find Sherman from North Carolina 12th or Fox from Alabama 1st so we improvised."

"Please tell me you haven't turned into a stalker while I've been gone," Leo remarked still taking in the room.

"No," Josh assured him. "Well, yes, but legal stalkers. We like to think of ourselves as lobbyists. Leo, this is the cast of today's big show. These are the players in this final act. We were... figuring out their lines. Ask me. Ask me anything, about any of them, and how they're going to vote."

"Okay, an easy one," Leo said. "Your college roommate, Chris Wick."

"Representative Wick is with us and he's bringing Briggs and Titamore with him from Maryland," Josh said with a firm nod at each individual's picture on the wall.

"So you've got this mess got this cross referenced by voting blocks across state lines?"

"Sort of," Josh replied.

"Sort of?" Leo repeated. "You mean to say you know in your head but you've also memorized on the wall where each guy's picture is."

"You look at this long enough and it sort of stays with you," Josh looked at the faces staring back at him then at Leo. "It's written down in our notes and I've got it in my head, but the pattern on the wall might not... We've got it down to who is coming to the party and who everyone is bringing with them."

"So you were saying about Briggs?"

"Right," Josh said pointing toward each Representative's picture as he spoke their name in fly pattern around the room. "Briggs and Titamore are with Wick because of H.R. 287 and the Special Education funding. That might turn Whalen--of Illinois--against us, that loses us nearly 10, but it gets us Jenner and Hollingsworth and the 12 votes in each of their blocks; draw us even in Georgia and takes Washington and naturally Hawaii for us."

"What about Hannagian and Wheeler?

"Hannagian is a question mark still," Josh said from memory. "It depends on where Elmer, of Ohio goes. Wheeler we lost. It was the tobacco thing."

Leo looked around the room again and the frantic pattern on the wall that allegedly made perfect sense to his lieutenant. It did not surprise him, though it did frighten Leo on some level.

"Josh, this is...," Leo started then shook his head in dismay. "I don't know what the hell it is. I don't know what to call it."

"Insane has been used a lot," Josh offered. "Ed, Larry and I put this together. Toby's kind of afraid to come in here."

"Then we're moving this to my office right after the vote," Leo suggested. "So, the Floor roll call?"

"Starts at nine, which means they won't actually start until closer to 9:30," Josh explained. "The Speaker will read the orders; there will be a few speeches; stuff no one needs to hear; and then they'll adjourn by 10:30 for a final caucus with the parties. The states convene by 11:30 for the close door votes."

"They're meeting all over the District?"

"Had to," Josh said. "The last time they did this New York had the largest delegation with 34 Representatives. Texas is using the Kennedy Center; California is going to the DC Convention Center; Michigan is at Constitution Hall over at the DAR, I think. CJ's got the list. Anyway, they're supposed to have certified results by five, but there's no way to enforce that. It'll take as long as it takes."

"In a perfect world, we'll know before they certify," Leo ventured.

"In a perfect world, the election has a winner on Election Night," Josh reminded him. The gruff stare he received in response curbed his mocking. "I've got calls out. Sanders, from Vermont called. He's in our camp, but you had to figure the only Socialist in the House wasn't going to vote for anyone else. He's been lobbying anyone who will listen to him."

"Does Bernie want anything in return?"

"No," Josh shook his head. "The guy's bored mostly. He's the only vote for his state and has nothing to do at all today. I told him to come over here and play cards with Charlie and me."

"Josh."

"We should start hearing results by 3," Josh continued. "They're'll be fights in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado. They could hold out until... Doesn't matter. Leo, we already know, okay? We're not.... "

"Yeah," Leo nodded, thinking it needlessly cruel to make his Deputy say the words out loud.

Leo knew Josh was going to take the loss hard and personal. Like most of the senior staff, he felt responsible for not securing the victory in the general election. His current estrangement with the President only furthered his belief that he was more culpable.

"They start the roll call as soon as every delegation has returned...," Josh started then stopped. Leo nodded the formalities were no longer important.

"Josh..."

"For the sake of correctness, I'm sure we got Connecticut wrong," Josh shrugged, looking at a cluster of faces on the wall opposite his desk. He cocked his head to the side as he looked at the wall. He went over to it as he continued to speak. "I say this because I checked the notes from our last meeting, and we counted the 2nd and 8th Districts twice--that was my fault. I didn't use my fingers I guess. So, we're not gonna win Connecticut; that's not my fault personally, despite what Toby says, no more than the fact that we'll win New York is his doing."

Josh stood at the wall and picked up the two faces that had leapt free from the new wall paper job. In their former place was the pane of glass on the frame occupying that spot on the wall. Josh lifted the frame from its peg and replaced the pictures of the two congressmen on the wall. He returned to the desk, holding his father's framed picture in his hand then place it on the corner of his desk.

"He'd be proud of you regardless of what's gonna happen in a few hours," Leo said.

"I know," Josh said with weary confidence as he stared back at his father's easy and unwavering smile. "I'm just glad he wasn't around to actually see this."

"This office?" Leo quipped looking around him. "You may have something there."

"It could have been organized better, maybe," Josh shrugged, looking at the disaster around him with a weak and forlorn grin. He had decided to accept the loss with grace. It was going to be painful, but he had learned much from it--about himself, about his party and about this candidate. Most would be surprised to learn that nearly all of it was positive. "I promise to suggest to someone it should be picked up by the time my replacement arrives."

"You know, there are moments when you remind me of your father," Leo commented.

The remark caught Josh and his sarcasm off guard.

"Really?"

"Yeah," Leo shook his head. "This isn't one of them."

Josh nodded. He could imagine how insane he looked.

"He'd have flipped this entire building completely upside down then gone to the well of the House to chastise and castigate every congressman in the building with his indignation," Leo joked. "That would have been something to see. He was a ball of fire... Hell, a whole conflagration when it suited him."

"He would have lost, too," Josh said solemnly. "Tantrums don't win votes, and you look exceptionally stupid when you finish. Losing was not my preferred outcome, but I'll be back. Someday."

The statement caught Leo by surprise. Josh was not grieving the loss; he was taking it in a more mature stride than the Chief of Staff expected other staffers to display. Even the President was going to have a moment-long blazing stare spotted with anger and regret. Leo gave Josh a thoughtful look; he appreciated the calm and poise his Deputy was showing at what was possibly the lowest point of his professional life. It pained Leo as much as it made him proud. He felt ashamed for the way he had underestimated and even doubted Josh's dedication and ability to focus on what mattered during the campaign.

"Know a minute ago when I said there are moments?" Leo offered. "I changed my mind. This is one of them."

*****************

The White House
Interior Hallway
2:30 p.m.

Charlie made his way back from the Mess. He had tried to eat but found it impossible. The tension in the building made swallowing too difficult. He was now heading to the residence to get the President. The vote could begin in half an hour if all was well in the delegations.

"No need to rush, Charlie," Josh said as he wandered through the hall. "They're not all back yet."

"I was just going to get the President," Charlie told him. "He's having lunch with the First Lady upstairs."

"Yeah, no rush," Josh said again. "They're not all back yet."

"You said that," Charlie pointed out.

"Yeah."

"Everything okay?"

"No," Josh shrugged. "I mean, it's going precisely the way we knew it would, I suspect. I don't like it and that's..."

"The not-okay part?" Charlie ventured. Josh nodded. "You did your best."

"And we still failed miserably," Josh nodded again with a weak grin.

"I wouldn't say miserably," Charlie offered.

"You know another way to fail?" Josh asked. "I could say I failed spectacularly, but somehow they mean the same thing today."

"You mean we," Charlie corrected him. "You just said 'I failed.' You meant we as in the whole team."

"Sure," Josh said. "This is just one of those days, Charlie. You know."

"What days?"

"One of those days when you wished the clocks ran backward," Josh said then started back down the hall.

"Josh," Charlie called to him. "Have you talked to Donna recently?"

"No, why?" Josh asked, snapping out of his malaise at the mention of her name.

"No reason," Charlie said. "I was just thinking that since you've got nothing to do but think of another way to say miserable that maybe you might give her a call. See how she's doing, that kind of thing."

"I don't think so," Josh said. "The last thing she needs to hear is that she doesn't have a job to come back to."

"What about what you need?" Charlie asked.

Josh fixed Charlie with a questioning stare. Charlie held his own expression in check revealing nothing and denying nothing. After a moment of silence, Josh looked at the floor then shook his head slightly then walked away.

*****************

Presidential Residence
Dec. 15, 2:43 p.m.

The President folded his napkin and tossed it onto the coffee table in the sitting room. He had just finished lunch with his wife and was preparing to go downstairs to watch the vote with the staff. The last nose count in the morning put the race still too close to call, which by the read of all experts, meant the Ritchie would prevail. It was a hard fought race and would have been a sweet victory, Bartlet thought as he stood and rolled down his sleeves. As he glanced down, he noticed a spot on his tie--a drop of the soup he'd had for lunch. Shaking his head, he walked to the bedroom.

"Abbey," he called toward her dressing room. "I need a new tie."

"I saw that," she remarked. "It's too bad. I really like the burgundy one. Just grab another."

"I don't need advisors to pick the right one for me?" he quipped. "One that properly states, I'm unemployed because I just made history by losing the most contentious Presidential race in history."

"I think you place too much faith the power of a tie to be a spokesperson," Abbey said, as she put on her ear rings and entered the room. "Just grab a red one. Red will look good with your shirt and jacket."

Bartlet pulled open the doors to the antique chifforobe where once hung the clothes of Woodrow Wilson. His ties were draped in straight lines along the many pegs in the back of the door. He scanned the red variety for a moment, but his eyes were drawn to another tie that lay folded on the shelf inside the wardrobe. It too was red, but it was not his.

"I forgot to give this back," Bartlet remarked.

"What was that?" Abbey asked as she drew closer.

"It's Josh's tie," Bartlet said as he lifted the silky strip of material. "From the debate when you mugged me."

"It's tradition," Abbey said, taking the tie from him. "Josh's tie brings you good luck; you should wear it."

"No," Bartlet said.

"I like this tie on you," she smiled as she laced it around his neck. "He never asked for it back, did he?"

"No," Bartlet said solemnly and shook his head thinking back to ad different tie at a different time four years earlier. "He never does."

*****************

Four Years Earlier
Kansas
Night of the final Presidential Debate, 7:56 p.m.

"Damn!" Bartlet cursed as he noticed the damage; it was more than an unnoticeable singe mark. The thing had just about caught fire.

The burn was dead center of his tie--the one it took the fashion consultant (one of the most wasteful expenses any campaign could have in Bartlet's opinion) 40 minutes to choose. He wasn't sure he wanted to lead a country that was swayed by the color and style of neckwear of the candidates. With this and other unproductive thoughts filling his head in the minutes leading up to his final debate, he had stepped outside the auditorium for a quick and forbidden cigarette.

"Sir?" a familiar voice called to him from the darkness. "Governor?"

Bartlet turned to see his Political Director approaching him and pointing to his wrist.

"It's time, sir," Josh said as he rubbed his hands together as if noticing for the first time that it was cold in late October.

"Yeah," Bartlet said, feeling like he should hide rather than be scolded. "We, uh, have a little problem."

"Problem?" Josh asked, his voice registering the word and his expression reacting to it instantly.

"That is amazing," Bartlet remarked as he watched his advisor's facial expression. "I actually can see your mind shift gears, Josh. We are definitely sitting down to a hand of poker sometime."

"Governor," Josh sighed as he gave him an emploring and beseeching look.

"I'd ask what actually goes on inside your head at a moment like this, but frankly the possible answers scare me," Bartlet said.

"Sir, what's wrong?"

"I stepped outside to have a cigarette and now this," Bartlet answered and revealed the burn mark.

Josh looked at the blemish on the silk and opened his mouth to respond, but no sound emerged. He shut his mouth and took a deep breath for a moment.

"Sir, we've talked about this," Josh began as he shook his head. "How are we supposed to sound credible when we get tough on Big Tobacco if someone sees that you're....."

"You think this is really the time for...," Bartlet started testily.

"Governor," Toby called from the door to the auditorium. "We need you now."

"See, this is why we...," Josh started as he and Bartlet hurried toward the door.

"Are you lecturing me?" Bartlet asked. "Or just preparing to offer me some unwanted and unneeded advice?"

"Neither, sir," Josh said, yanking the knot at his neck looser and pulled the loop over his head.

"Then what?"

"I'm just giving you my tie," Josh said, his game face valiantly holding of the smirk behind his eyes as he handed over his tie.

Bartlet took the tie and placed it around his neck; snow was drifting down from the blackened sky. He looked back at his campaign's Political Director, standing in the snow with shirt sleeves and now an open collar. He was wearing a grin as well.

"You're ready, Governor," Josh said with a nod.

Bartlet nodded then burst through door held open by Toby who was looking flush and harried as he proclaimed they were starting in 10 seconds.

"Is everything Okay?" Toby asked in a stern and anxious fashion.

"It's fine," Josh said as he shook Bartlet's hand. "This guy's on fire."

*****************

Deputy Chief of Staff's Office
Dec. 15, 4:03 p.m.

The roll call had begun late, as predicted. So far, there were no surprises. No phone calls to say the miracle had occurred. All reports that had been received had been as expected. The other delegations were just now talking to each other to find out how each state had fallen. The White House was learning more watching C-SPAN than by answering the phones.

Josh left the Communication's Bullpen to grab his election folder that he had left on his desk. The Senior Staff and quite a few of the senior assistants were gathered in the bullpen watching the results. Josh shuffled down the hall to his area and noted how deserted it appeared. Some of the staff had been dismissed early after the weeks of long hours spent keeping the country afloat while the election remained in limbo. When Josh arrived at his office, he heard his phone ringing. His initial inclination was to ignore it. But he turned back to his desk. There would now be a limited number of times when he could answer the phone as the Deputy CoS. He thought it best not to waste them.

"Josh Lyman," he said evenly.

"Don't you people answer the phone?" the man snapped.

Josh recognized the voice. It belonged to Representative Roger Wildgust (D-OR). He was a master at behind the scenes politicking. The 60'ish legislator was a powerful and well-connected man in Washington. He and Josh did not often play nice, despite belonging to the same party. They had very different approaches to policy and execution of it. Josh was surprised to hear from Wildgust as he had thwarted all attempts to reach him during the staff's push for support in the last two weeks.

"Josh," Wildgust said in a hushed tone. "Are you watching?"

"Am I... Yeah," Josh said, thinking the question idiotic. "Why are you whispering?"

"Doesn't matter," Wildgust said. "It's yours."

"What?"

"The votes," Wildgust reported. "Bove and Young just told me that they struck a deal and Paulette and Lloyd. You have Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio."

"No, we don't," Josh said, looking at the faces littering his walls. "Our count said Ohio and Pennsylvania are the same. They're like Illinois. The count said Illinois was going for Ritchie."

"Was is right," Wildgust said. "I told you, Bove and Young are bringing their people and that got Paulette and Lloyd to rethink and... There was a committee chairmanship on the line so.... You can get the finer points later. What matters is this: Josh, it's yours."

"How?" Josh said, feeling much calmer than he thought he should--leading him to believe he was dreaming. "Why?"

Wildgust took a moment. Josh waited anxiously, hearing the Speaker of the House hammering his gavel to bring the members to order in the background as roll call continued.

"The will of the American people," Wildgust said. "The President got the most electoral votes and that counted for something. Also... I'm not saying this was the single most powerful factor, but it was important. Friends, Josh. The White House has friends."

"What?"

"Well, for one, the President never lost Saul Roth's vote," Wildgust said.

"I'm sorry?"

"You heard me," Wildgust said. "Domino Theory. One person changes his mind and it snowballs. There are powerful people and there are influential people, Josh. Some people are both of those things. The President never lost Saul Roth's vote and that meant a lot to a few people. Look, I have to go. Congratulations."

Josh sat still, listening to the dial tone in his ear. Slowly, he stood and replaced the phone. He looked at the picture sitting on the corner of his desk. His father looked back at him, grinning in victory. Josh smiled back briefly, shook his head then walked out of his office on weak knees. He made his way to the Communication's Bullpen where the senior staff was gathered with the President watching the TV coverage of the voting. Leo saw him enter and gave him a quizzical look.

"What is it?" Leo asked.

"Watch this," Josh said as the Illinois delegate stepped up to the microphone.

"What?"

"This," Josh nodded toward the TV.

"Mr. Speaker," the delegate announced. "The great state of Illinois casts its vote for Mr. Josiah Bartlet."

A resounding silence filled the bullpen as the staffers looked from the TV to each other and back again.

"That's...," Toby uttered first. "We don't have Illinois."

"We do now," Ginger said.

"Sam, pinch me," Toby ordered. "Someone, anyone. Do it."

"Illinois?" Sam shouted and raised his arms high. "Oh my god, Illinois! Illinois! That's... Oh... It's.... It's..."

"It's Illinois," CJ finished for him in equal astonishment.

"Mr. President, you know what this means?" Sam said as he turned around. "Wait! What does this mean? Josh?"

Bartlet turned to his Chief of Staff, who was intently gaping at his deputy, who was starting to grin in a weary fashion.

"Leo?" Bartlet asked. "What just happened?"

Indiana cast its vote--for Ritchie--then came Iowa--surprisingly for Bartlet--and the roll call continued. There was a new rumbling on the floor of the House and the TV commentator's began swiftly revising their predictions.

"Josh? What did you do?" Leo asked with a surprised and pleased grin.

"I'm not completely sure, but I think it's a long story," Josh said distantly.

"I've got the time," Leo said.

"Leo?" the President asked again.

"Congratulations, Mr. President," Leo said turning to face the victor. "It's gonna take another half hour or so to be official, but... Congratulations."

The bullpen then erupted into a wave of cheers. The cacophony swelled and spilled into the hall. Members of the press left their area and stepped into forbidden hallways, crossing over to the celebration pit. CJ was calling for a meeting as soon as possible so that she could hop into the Briefing Room and carve her name in the podium again. However, the request was drown out. Leo shook Josh's hand and gave him a rare and unabashed smile that was filled with more praise than words could express. Leo then stepped aside, letting Josh face the President.

President looked into the Josh's eyes; he did not see the satisfaction there that Leo had received. What he saw instead pained him. It was a sense of relief and reprieve. There was also the same distance that had existed between them for months. Bartlet put on serious expression as Josh offered his hand.

"Congratulations, Mr. President," Josh said solemnly.

Bartlet shook his hand reluctantly.

"I suppose you can explain this," Bartlet said.

"I'm working on that, sir," Josh nodded.

Abbey stepped between them and offered Josh a peck on the cheek and a warm embrace.

"I could kick your ass for this," she said softly. "I was already to start packing."

"You have my apologies, Ma'am," Josh said, not bothering to hide his grin.

Toby jostled Josh aside as he congratulated the President and First Lady.

"As for you," Toby said, as he turned to face Josh. "You, I could kiss."

"But you won't, right," Josh stepped back suspiciously.

"I'm feeling very happy right now," Toby said in a stern tone that was excited and still shocked.

"Someone hide me," Josh said and retreated as Sam reached an arm around Josh's neck and pulled him into the melee in the middle of the bullpen.

Bartlet watched as Josh disappeared in the crush of his colleagues. The President noticed the sudden appearance of an euphoric expression on the Deputy Chief's face as he took congratulations and adulation from his colleagues. The jubilant behavior stood in stark contrast to the aloof well wishes the President received moments earlier.

"Hold on," Josh said, pulling out of Sam's bearhug. "I gotta make a call."

"You want to sit on a wall?" CJ asked.

"No, my phone," Josh replied, extricating himself from the group and dialing his cellphone. He stepped into the hallway, oblivious of the President's watchful eyes following him.

Josh held one hand over his left ear as he pressed the phone tight to his other one. He waited several moments until she answered his summons.

"Hi...," he said breathlessly. "It's Josh. I don't have much time, but I wanted to call..... Yeah.... Yeah.... Did you see it? I mean, did you see what just happened?.... I know, it means we won.... Yeah, that's the ball game..... What? It's a little loud here.... Yeah, Sam and CJ and well, everyone..... What?.... No, Kentucky doesn't make any difference now... It's over.... It's ours.... Yes... 'Cause I know--trust me.... Hold on, I can't hear you; Sam's yelling..... What?.... I should go.... I just wanted you to..... I just wanted to say... Well, yeah, and for putting up with me being me through all of this.... Oh, and that I'm coming to see you.... No, I'm not kidding..... Yes, next week maybe.... I will.... I will... I love you, too..... Bye, Mom."

Josh then walked back toward his bullpen, for reasons he didn't comprehend, and stood in the relative quiet.

Four more years, he thought, grinning unconsciously. Four more.... Oh man, we did it.... This is.... I can't even put a cogent thought together.... We gotta celebrate.... This is the best night of my life.

His eyes then wandered over to the abandoned desk outside his office. Her computer screen was dark; her calendar was long out of date; dust was collecting on the shelves behind her chair. It was then that he noticed the missing details: several of the pictures from the shelf were missing, the sweater she wore in cold weather was not in the back of the chair. They had been gone for some time--much like her.

Donna's not here; she wasn't here for most of this. We did it. I did it... without her.

He realized for the first time that she might not be coming back. He also realized that he could in fact function without her--something he had never done since he started working in that building. It was both gratifying and disheartening. Before he could ponder it longer, the celebration from the communication's area spilled into the hallway as CJ yelled for him.

"I'll be right there," Josh called back, taking a fleeting backward glance at the Donna's desk.

"Hey there, Lucky Pants," Amy said suddenly beside him.

"Hey," Josh said smiling at the surprise. "Did you see...."

"Yes, I did," she grinned. "I was over at Cozi's deli getting ready to order a consolation/comiseration coffee when I saw what was happening. Leo's secretary signed me in. So I gotta ask, are you a witch or something? How did you do that?"

"I'd explain but.... "

"Tell me later," she said. "I owe you a drink."

"You do?" Josh asked. "Did you bet against us?"

"I've learned not to bet against you," Amy replied. "So, are you up for it?"

"A drink?"

"It's time to celebrate," she said lacing her arms around his neck. "I'll spring for a flood of champagne. We'll make a night of it."


THE END

But wait!
All the unanswered questions will be resolved with
the new WingNut series that picks up where "The Quest" ended:
HEAVEN AND HELL

There comes a time when debts must be paid.

Friendships will be tested.

And the world will change forever.

That time has arrived.

The election is over, and the future has never been so uncertain.

Between the Contest and the Victory, there is a place where all intentions must be judged.

HEAVEN AND HELL