I first posted this on JDFF in March 2005. I can't seem to find a way to indicate them as characters, but Matt Santos is certainly an important one, and so, to a lesser extent, is Helen. Donna is as well, although it might not look that way at first.
Except for the last scene, which follows immediately after the one before it, the different sections of this take place at different times—it doesn't really matter exactly when, but sometime after "King Corn" and before "A Good Day."
"I don't like that man."
It's late. Helen Santos is curled up on the couch in their suite, stirring a last cup of decaf thoughtfully. Her husband looks at her with surprise. It isn't like her to take a dislike to someone, or to be so vocal about it if she does.
"He's all right, Helen," Matt says. "He's a good Democrat. And he's very good at what he does."
"I suppose that's why I don't like him. He's such a—politician."
"You say that as if it's a dirty word."
"It is. I don't like politicians."
Matt grins a little. "You married one."
"You're different. You were different. He's changing you."
"I won't let him, Helen. I didn't like what I did on ethanol either. I won't do it again."
"He'll try to make you."
"I suppose he will. That's his job. He's trying to get me elected President."
"So, he'll change you."
"I won't let him. That's my job. I'll listen to him, I'll do as much of what he says as I can, but I won't compromise on anything else that really matters."
"Not really, Helen. He's kept his hands cleaner than most men who do his job. But politics is about compromise; you know that. You sacrifice some things so you can win on the bigger ones. It's all about knowing which is which."
"And he knows?"
"Most of the time, he knows better than anyone."
"He may have known once, but does he anymore, Matt? Why didn't he get Leo McGarry's position, when Leo had his heart attack? Bartlet sidelined him, chose his Press Secretary over him. And wasn't he was supposed to head up that delegation to China? They pulled him off that."
"That wasn't his fault, Helen—they needed the CoS and the head of Communications there more."
"If he's still so wonderful, Matt, why isn't he running Bob Russell's campaign, or even Hoynes'? Working for someone who's going to win?"
"You don't think we're going to win?"
"You don't, do you?"
"No, of course I don't. But Josh does."
"He's desperate, Matt. A sleazy politician, trying to salvage something from his career by running a candidate—any candidate. He couldn't get one of the big ones, so he came after you so he could have someone, anyone."
"Thanks for the vote of commendation, sweetheart."
"Well, why do you think he wanted you to run, Matt?"
"Honestly, I'm not sure."
"He has a weak handshake."
"Really? I've never noticed. When were you shaking his hand?"
"I wasn't. Theresa Gerard-Smith told me, after that fundraiser in New Hampshire."
"Come on, Helen, give the guy a break. You wouldn't want him playing power games on women with his handshake, would you?"
"Her husband commented on it, too."
"Oh well, maybe he was tired. He's working pretty hard on this."
"He is. I'll give him that."
"He's a good man, Helen."
"He's driving your staff nuts."
"Ronna was moaning about him at lunch. He tells her everything six times. Every single campaign office she opens, he reminds her to make sure it meets fire code. Every time! She says he must think she's a slow learner, or something."
"He's just busy and distracted. And he doesn't want anyone to get hurt."
"Doesn't want the liability, you mean."
"Well, that's important too. The last thing we need is a lawsuit."
"He's really getting to Ronna."
"I'll talk to her, sweetheart. He can be a bit intense, I know, but we need him. And he's a good man."
"So you say."
"Let's not argue about it."
"I'm sorry, Matt. I suppose I'm being unfair. It's just—what do we really know about him? I've never spent so much time around someone and still known so little about him. I don't know anything he cares about, except winning. It seems like he's willing to compromise on anything. And his personal life? He doesn't talk about anything or anybody. No wife, no kids; he never mentions a girlfriend—or a boyfriend. There doesn't seem to be anything that matters to him except this."
"Well, we need him, Helen. We don't really need to know more than that. Let's not talk about it any more—it's getting late."
"Oh, look at the time. You should be in bed."
"Absolutely with me."
Matt looks at her affectionately. There are a lot better things they could be doing than talking about Josh Lyman, after all.
Later, though, Matt finds himself thinking about what Helen has said about how much time they've spent with Josh, and how little they know about him. Josh has had a very public career, of course, which tends to make you think, Matt realizes, if you live in that world and follow those things, that you know quite a lot about him. You know the arc of his career, from Harvard and Yale to a Fulbright and Earl Brennan's office, from legislative director of the House to floor manager of the Senate, from Hoynes' sure-thing campaign to Bartlet's no-hoper to the White House. You know his spectacular successes, and his equally spectacular failures, and you know that every piece of legislation the Bartlet White House has proposed or put through has had his stamp on it. You know all that, so you think you know quite a bit about Josh Lyman, but actually, Matt thinks now, Helen is right: he knows almost nothing about the man that isn't part of the public record. And that's a little troubling, because if—and Matt knows that it's a very remote if—but if, just if, this all pays off and they actually do win the White House, he's going to have to reward Josh Lyman with a position that will require them to understand each other very well and trust each other completely. Not that Matt really thinks that's going to happen, of course, but he takes the possibility more seriously than he's willing to admit to his wife. Because it was Josh Lyman who recruited him, and who's running his campaign.
Or is trying to. Matt realizes he's been giving Josh a hard time about that, ever since the beginning, really. Matt doesn't want to be run, doesn't want to be managed: he wants to do this campaign his way, because he really doesn't expect it to lead to the White House, and he wants to have said the things he wants to say and done things the way he thinks they should be done and have made his impact on the process by raising the level of debate and the standards of conduct for the campaign. But he can't help wondering, now, if he's really giving Josh enough credit or paying enough attention to his advice. Bartlet entered the race eight years ago for the same reasons, with the same modest goals, but then his campaign took off, he won the White House, and he'd achieved a great deal more as President than he ever could have as a losing candidate, however admirable a loser he might have been. And everyone said Lyman had been the key to the success of the Bartlet campaign. There had been others, of course—the acerbically intelligent Toby Ziegler, the brilliant wordsmith Sam Seaborn, the marvelous go-between to the press, C.J. Cregg. But by all accounts, Josh's strategical skills had been the key. Maybe, Matt thinks, he's been wrong to assume that a good campaign was the best he could hope for; maybe he's a fool to brush his campaign manager aside so often.
And so dismissively. When he thinks about some of his recent conversations with Josh, he can hear the arrogance in his own voice, and it makes him wince. "If you'd trusted me," Josh had said to him about hiring Amy Gardner, and he knows Josh was right—Matt hasn't trusted him. Hasn't trusted him with almost anything during the whole New Hampshire debate thing. And Matt was right, of course, to do the ad spot his own way—the results spoke for themselves. But it was Josh who'd thought of doing the ad at all—"something edgy, something to get attention"—and Josh who'd thought of organizing the alternative debate. The campaign is gaining momentum now, but Matt knows he owes at least fifty percent of that success to Josh. He hopes Josh realizes that; hopes he realizes Matt realizes it too. He remembers the way Josh said he hadn't served Matt well during the campaign so far, that he couldn't think of a single thing he'd done to make Matt's campaign more than just the standard-issue, cookie-cutter political campaign. At the time Matt had been surprised: humility was the last thing he expected from Josh. Surprised and, to be honest, pleased; he'd been annoyed with Josh for quite some time, and didn't mind watching the other man castigate himself at all. Thinking about it now, though, it makes him uncomfortable; Josh had been harder on himself than Matt would have been, harder than he ought to be. The word "served" had surprised Matt, too; it still does. Helen thought Josh was serving himself and, although Matt had disagreed with her, he knows he's been essentially assuming the same thing—it is, after all, what most politicians do, and Josh is nothing if not a career politician. Now he wonders. There's a lot he doesn't know about this man, he thinks again; a lot that, if they are going to work together effectively now or in the future, he really ought to know.
But Josh isn't an easy man to get to know. Looking back over the past few months, Matt realizes that just about every time a personal subject of any kind has come up in conversation, Josh has either turned it aside with some smart-ass remark, or ignored it outright and changed the subject back to political strategy. I'll have to try harder, Matt thinks, though he's not sure what approach would actually work with Josh.
Of course, telling the man that he doesn't give a damn about his personal life, as Matt did over the Amy business, probably won't have helped matters. Matt sighs. He wishes he hadn't said that; he'd been angry at the time, and tense, and of course he hadn't known anything about Josh having dated Amy Gardner, and it had irked him that Josh had assumed he did. Why would he? He doesn't have the time or interest to follow that sort of Washington gossip, doesn't pretend to notice or remember who shows up with whom at Washington social events. But it had still been a pretty abrasive thing to say to someone who's given up an important job at the White House to try to make you President; he doesn't want Josh to think that all Matt cares about is what Josh can do for him.
So he finds himself thinking about Josh and Amy now. Amy's an attractive woman, though a little harsh in her manner at times—in fact, if he'd ever thought about it, Matt would have guessed that she didn't like men very much. He wonders what it says about Josh that he'd dated her. Probably not much; people date each other for all kinds of reasons that don't go very deep, especially in Washington. Matt feels somehow that, whatever the private Josh Lyman might be about, Amy Gardner has very little to do with it. And yet he really doesn't know why he thinks that, or who or what beyond politics does matter to the man.
"Look, Matt! We're in the New York Times Magazine this week."
In spite of herself, Helen sounds excited. It's a big deal for a little campaign.
"Yeah, Josh told me they were doing something." Matt doesn't look up; he's drinking coffee with one hand and using the other to hold the papers he's reading. It's early Sunday morning, but he's busy reviewing some briefing materials for a vote that's coming up in the House tomorrow. It's hard, running a national campaign and still trying to be a responsible representative at the same time.
"Look, honey," Helen says, pushing the magazine section over the papers he's reading. "They're saying you could be the next Bartlet."
Matt looks, of course. He can't help being flattered; he hasn't always agreed with the President, but he's always admired him enormously. It isn't a big spread—just five pages—and the pictures outweigh the text, but the way it's set up makes the comparison clear to even the most casual viewer. On one side there are pictures from the President's first Bartlet for America campaign; on the facing page there are pictures from the Santos campaign. They've been carefully chosen to suggest similarities: Jed Bartlet addressing a small crowd in front of the courthouse in Manchester; Matt Santos in the same place, doing the same thing. Bartlet working the crowd at an event in Iowa, with cows and a silo in the background; Matt doing much the same thing. There's a picture of Jed with Abbey and his three daughters; one of Matt and Helen and Peter and Miranda. Matt can't help smiling at that one, even though he's been doing his best to keep his children out of the camera lens as much as possible.
And there are several pictures of the candidates' campaign staffs: Jed Bartlet's Leo McGarry, C.J. Cregg, Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn, Josh Lyman; Matt's Ned and Ronna and Josh. Matt glances at these briefly, and is about to pass the magazine back to Helen when something about the pictures strikes him, and he takes another look. He's still studying them a few minutes later when Helen touches his hand. "Is something the matter, Matt?" she asks, sounding puzzled. "No, no," he says, pushing the magazine away and smiling at her, but he isn't really telling the truth.
When he'd first looked at the shots of Bartlet's staff, there was one face he hadn't recognized right away. It was one that should have been thoroughly familiar to him, one that should have stood out at once as the common link between the two campaigns—the face of the man who was the reason why the New York Times Magazine had run an article comparing Bartlet's campaign to Matt Santos's in the first place. But Matt had had to look twice to recognize Josh Lyman in the older shots.
It isn't a matter of receding hairlines or lines on the face, he thinks; it's something more fundamental than that. In one of the pictures Josh has his arm draped around Leo McGarry's shoulders; in another, he's got C.J. pulled into a side-by-side hug; in a third, his feet are all mixed up with C.J.'s and Sam Seaborn's and Toby Ziegler's on a table covered with papers and cardboard Chinese take-out cartons. And in all of them, Josh is smiling. Not the tight, sarcastic little curling-up of the corners of his mouth that Matt is used to, but a huge, happy, infectious grin—the kind of grin that makes you want to grin back, even when it's just a photograph of a grin you're looking at. I've never seen him smile like that, Matt thinks, never. And he can't help wondering why.
When Matt goes downstairs, Josh is waiting for him in the lobby with Ned and Ronna. They're standing close enough together to hear each other speak without raising their voices, but not close enough to touch, even accidentally. It's the way they always stand together; Matt has never thought of it as stiff or formal before, but he does now. He says something funny to them and Ned and Ronna laugh. Josh smiles, the corners of his mouth turning up just a little, his lips barely open, his face tight.
When Matt finally gets to bed that night, Helen is already asleep, their two children nestled beside her. Matt beams down at them, as he always does. Then, unaccountably, he finds his thoughts turning back to the pictures he looked at that morning. He's still troubled by those images of a Josh he doesn't know. A friendly man, he thinks; a friendly man among friends. There must have been a time when the Bartlet gang didn't know each other, of course, but by the time those pictures had been taken they were a team, a family, even. Matt wonders why Josh and his staff haven't meshed like that, whether it's just because Josh has been the outsider coming in to a little group who already understood each other well, or whether it's something more than that, and whether there's something he should be doing about it. He wonders how much contact Josh still has with his old friends at the White House, and whether he misses them.
Looking at Helen and Peter and Miranda again, he's suddenly struck by the thought that Josh must be desperately lonely. But then he laughs at himself for the solipsism; not everyone wants what you want, Matt, he reminds himself, not everyone needs the same thing. Some people are perfectly happy on their own. He crawls into bed and Miranda snuggles against him; Helen stirs a little and Peter wiggles into her. Matt reaches over his daughter's head to touch his son's shoulder, his wife's hair. He closes his eyes and drifts off to sleep, refusing to let himself dwell any more on those eight-year-old images of a friendly man laughing with his friends.
Matt's a good sleeper. He rarely dreams, or at least, he rarely remembers his dreams. When he does, they're usually good ones, involving Helen, his children, or some version of one of the happy memories he still has from a childhood that most of the people he knows wouldn't expect to have produced happy memories. The poverty, the struggles, his time in the Marines—they don't bother him at night, or, really, any other time. It's not that he's unfeeling, but his mind doesn't work that way; he knows he did the best he could then, that he's doing the best he can now, and he's comfortable in his own skin. His particular demons are ones that rarely get the better of him. He thinks everyone sleeps the way he does.
But he isn't having a good dream now. People are banging on things and shouting, running around, and there's a shrill noise hammering in his head. It's just a dream, he thinks, and wakes up. His alarm is going off. He reaches over groggily to turn it off, but can't find it. He fumbles around for a minute, then turns on the light and looks around, blinking. The alarm is still going off, but he still can't see the clock. And someone is still banging and shouting his name. It isn't Helen, who moans and turns over next to him. Suddenly fully alert, Matt pushes himself out of bed, crosses the room in three long strides, and throws the door open. Josh is on the other side, his hand raised to slam against the door again. "That's the fire alarm, Matt," Josh yells at him. "Get out now."
Matt's already back in the room, scooping his son out of bed, helping Helen gather up their daughter. He can hear Josh banging on the next door, shouting Ronna's name. By the time they're in the hall, she's stumbling out of her room, and Josh is waking Ned up. Up and down the hall doors are opening everywhere, spilling out startled-looking people in various stages of undress. There's no smell of smoke, just the incessant sound of the alarm buzzing, anxious voices asking what's going on, and, somewhere, a frightened child crying. "What's happening?" Ronna asks, sounding upset. "Fire," Josh says from behind them. "Everyone keep moving; just get out." Ned comes up behind Ronna and takes her arm, moving her towards the fire exit. Helen is just ahead of them, a whimpering Miranda held tightly to her chest. Peter squirms in Matt's arms, and Matt holds him a little closer, walking quickly behind his wife and friends down the stairs and out into the shockingly cold night air.
The lawn outside is crowded with people, shivering and stamping their feet. Matt urges his group to a spot a safe distance from the building, though there's still no sign of actual fire, and glances them over to make sure everyone's all right. It's only then that he realizes his campaign manager isn't there.
He shoves Peter into Ned's arms and turns back towards the building, moving quickly, scanning the crowd to see where Josh could be. He doesn't see him. He does a circuit of the lawn, shouting Josh's name, starting to worry. He's just moving towards the doors to go in after him when he sees him coming out.
"Josh!" he yells. "I thought you were behind us." "Yeah, sorry," Josh mumbles, looking around. "What the hell were you doing?" Matt demands, his voice angrier than he really means it to sound; Josh has scared him. "Just—checking," Josh says. Matt realizes that the man's face is pale and beaded with sweat, even though it's a cold night. "Checking what?" "Just—checking that everyone's out," Josh says quietly, sounding embarrassed. He isn't looking at Matt—he's scanning the crowd, just as Matt had earlier. "You'd already got all our staff," Matt says, more gently. "You woke us all up." "Yeah," Josh says, not really paying attention. He's still looking tense, and scanning the crowd. Then, suddenly, something catches his eye, and his face relaxes. Matt glances over to see what he's looking at. A group of people from the Russell campaign, Will Bailey and his staff. How odd. Of course Josh would have worked with Bailey for a while at the White House, but from things Josh has said, Matt really hasn't gotten the impression they were friends. How very odd.
The firetrucks arrive, their sirens screaming. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes pass before the firemen give the all clear—a false alarm. There's a lot of annoyed muttering from the hotel's guests as they file back to their rooms, but a palpable sense of relief, too.
Everyone's tired the next morning, but Josh seems the most tired. He looks worse than Matt's ever seen him—dark shadows under his eyes, his face pale and drawn. He snaps at Ronna, is sarcastic and edgy with Ned. He's like that the next morning, too. And the one after that. And the one after that.
"Josh! Josh, are you in bed yet? I had another idea about the health plan I wanted to run by you before tomorrow."
"I'll be there in a sec, Congressman. I'm just getting out of the shower."
Matt waits, drumming his fingers on the doorframe. A few moments later the door opens, and a very damp Josh nods him into the room.
"I'll get some clothes," he says, sounding apologetic. He's wearing boxers.
"Don't bother," Matt tells him, hoping the surprise he's feeling isn't registering in his face or his voice. "I'm sorry to come back again so late. I just had one more thought about funding the health plan I wanted to check with you; it'll only take a minute."
What the hell, he's wondering; he's had heart surgery, at his age?
"Shoot," Josh says, picking his trousers up off the floor and sliding them on. Matt starts explaining his idea, but he's still a bit bemused at the idea that his forty-five-year-old campaign manager has had open chest surgery. What happened? he wonders. Clogged arteries? A heart attack? Then Josh turns to find a shirt, and Matt sees the small puckered scar on his left side. Bullet wound. He blinks, and actually shakes his head a little to clear it. Josh wasn't in the service, was he? And then he remembers. Of course. Of course. How could he have forgotten?
He keeps talking about the health plan, but part of his mind is somewhere else. He hasn't really forgotten, of course, not really, but he never actually remembers, either; it's not what he thinks about when he thinks about Josh. He remembers now. He remembers Helen standing in the door of his study, telling him they'd interrupted the Antiques Road Show to say that someone had shot at the President and people had been hurt. He remembers the scattered news reports, the shock on C.J. Cregg's face at the press briefing, the manhunt, the updates through the long night while the country waited to see whether the White House Deputy Chief of Staff would live or die.
And he remembers all the times this man has held his umbrella, keeping the candidate ("Hi-I'm-Matt-Santos-I'm-Running-For-President") dry and presentable while getting soaked himself in the cold New England winter rain. It's been a few years, of course, and Josh seems to be perfectly healthy now, but the thought of it makes Matt suddenly quite uncomfortable.
In the service, he'd have had a medal for that, he thinks. Your wounds are supposed to buy you some honor, some respect.
But Josh hadn't been in the service. At least, not military service. Just politics. Just public service. And it flits through Matt's mind, just briefly, to wonder what else that's cost him.
Matt is eating breakfast with Ronna and Ned and Josh in a booth in yet another hotel restaurant. He's in the middle of a heated discussion about strategy when Josh's phone rings. Josh flips it open, says his name. His face changes. He gets up from the booth and walks away. Matt and the others watch him, surprised, but go on talking to each other.
When fifteen minutes pass and Josh still hasn't come back, Matt gets up and goes to look for him. He finds him just outside the restaurant, in the little alcove that has the restrooms off it. He's leaning against the wall, staring at the phone in his hand. Matt has the feeling he's been staring at it for quite a while.
"Josh?" Matt says quietly. Josh looks up slowly. His face is shuttered; Matt can't read anything from it at all.
"I'm going to have to go to Florida," Josh says flatly. "Today. I'll get a flight back as early tomorrow as I can."
"What's happened?" Matt asks gently.
"My mother's died." There's no inflection, no change of expression.
"Josh, I'm so sorry." Matt means it, and his voice shows it. He drops an arm around Josh's shoulders, but feels them tense against the gesture, so he slides it off again. "What happened?"
"A heart attack. They said it was—quick."
"I'm so sorry," Matt says again, feeling the inadequacy of the words. His own mother is very much alive, a feisty, indomitable matriarch who still cooks the best carnitas and enchiladas in Texas, and tells Matt what he should be eating, wearing, and saying in Congress. He always feels about ten years old when he talks to her, and he can't imagine life without her.
"Thanks." Josh quirks the corner of his mouth up, acknowledging both Matt's effort and the awkwardness of the moment. Nothing else in his face moves.
"Ronna will book your ticket while you're packing," Matt says. "I'll tell her to get the first flight out she can."
"Thanks," Josh says again, still in that flat tone. "Will you ask her to get me an early flight back tomorrow morning?"
"You'll need more time than that," Matt says, looking at him strangely.
"No. Jewish funeral—over by sunset. Her rabbi's already arranging it."
"But—you'll need time with your family," Matt protests. He's never sat shiva, but he knows funerals. He has five brothers and sisters, seven aunts and uncles on his mother's side, eight on his father's, and about a hundred cousins, second cousins, and other relatives close enough to demand his presence on such occasions. Or that's what it feels like, sometimes. And that's just his family; Helen has almost as many on her side.
Josh looks at him, his face still closed. "There isn't any family," he says. "Just me."
Matt watches Josh as he crosses the lobby to the elevator, wishing he knew his campaign manager better, wishing he knew the right thing to say or do that would reach through the man's defenses and give him some measure of the comfort he must, surely, be needing. But Matt doesn't have a clue what comfort would be for Josh. So he goes back to the restaurant, where Ronna and Ned are waiting for him at the table, tells them what's happened, asks Ronna to book Josh's flights. She's as shocked as Matt is by the short time Josh expects to need, but she goes off to start calling airlines. Josh has given Matt his credit card. She'll take that and the ticket information round to his room when she's booked the flight.
Matt uses his own card to pay for their meal and talks a little longer with Ned. They both use the men's room, and are standing in the door to the lobby, still talking, when Josh steps out of the elevator, his backpack over his shoulder, heading towards the doors. Matt sees him and is about to call out to him but stops, arrested by the odd little drama unfolding in front of him. A woman—strikingly pretty, tall and slim, with long, blonde hair—turns away from the check-in desk towards the elevator just as Josh is walking out of it, and bumps into him. She says something Matt can't hear—probably "I'm sorry," or "Excuse me"—and looks up to see who she's walked into. She stops instantly; so does Josh. They're standing facing each other, their profiles to Matt; she flushes, and so—to Matt's surprise—does Josh.
Matt knows he's seen the woman before, but can't think where, and he's so startled by Josh's reaction that he keeps watching, oblivious to the fact that Ned has stopped talking and is looking at him questioningly. The woman says something; Josh answers briefly—Matt recognizes the word his mouth shapes, "Florida." She tips her head to one side and says something else, her eyebrows arched, her smile looking very bright and very artificial—and Matt realizes where he's seen her before; she's someone with the Russell campaign, and is probably wondering why Josh would be starting to work Florida at this particular point in the game.
He sees Josh swallow, hard, drop his eyes and turn away without saying anything else. The woman turns away too. Then, suddenly, she spins back and puts a hand on Josh's arm, looks him in the face, and asks something, her own face instantly serious and questioning. Josh bites his lip and nods, quickly, says something brief, and the woman throws her arms around him.
For a moment Josh looks stunned, then his arms fold themselves around her and he pulls her to him in a desperate hug. Matt catches a glimpse of his face before he buries it in her shoulder: it's twisted with emotion, raw and painful to see. Ned clears his throat, and Matt suddenly realizes that he's staring and looks away. The two of them move quietly towards the elevators. Josh doesn't see them. The elevator comes; Matt and Ned step in and turn to face the closing doors. Josh still has his face buried in the woman's shoulder. His hands on her back are white with the effort of holding her so hard. Her cheek is pressed against his hair. Her mascara is running in blue-black streaks with the tears down her face, but in her mouth and eyes Matt can see, mixed with grief, tenderness and a hint of something he might almost have called joy.