Somehow, the three senior staff members found themselves congregating in Toby's office. It was time to go home, but they needed to talk.

"Wow." Josh blew out a breath.

"Amen." Sam nodded. He had one of Toby's rubber balls in his hand and he threw it idly at the wall. It bounced back and he had to scramble to catch it. He bounced it a second time.

"I see why Toby used to do this. It's really very soothing," he said, bouncing a third time and, again, scrambling to catch it.

"Except that Toby was about a thousand times better at it," Josh said.

"That's true of on so many levels," Sam replied evenly, although there was something in his voice that made Josh wince.

"I don't know what to feel," CJ said suddenly. "I don't think I have any more emotions left."

"We need to plan," Josh began.

"We need to strategize," CJ added.

"We need Toby." Sam threw the ball with all his strength at the wall and the other two watched it bounce across the room.

"I know." CJ's voice made both men stop and look at her.

"Oh, God, CJ. I didn't know," Sam said softly, getting up and putting his arm around her.

"Know what?" Josh whispered to Sam.

"I don't know how to deal with this, Sam," CJ said, her head bowed. "I really don't. It's like my whole world fell apart. How could he do this to me?"

"You loved him." Josh looked at her in amazement.

"Yeah. I did." CJ nodded. "And he left me. How in hell could he do this to me?"

"He didn't," Josh countered. His voice was very quiet, very unlike his usual tone. "He didn't do anything to anybody but himself. At that moment, there wasn't anyone in his world but himself."

"Josh?" Sam turned to look at Josh. Josh was sitting on the couch, looking at CJ with serious, trouble eyes.

"I've been there, CJ. I've been in that state where there is nothing real outside the pain. It hurts too damn much to even know that there is anything or anyone else outside it," Josh said. "Toby wrote you a letter. He wrote Andrea a letter. He made sure neither you nor Ginger would be the ones to find him. He tried to reach outside as best he could. He didn't do this to hurt you. It happened anyway."

"Josh...?" Sam whispered, pale.

"He didn't do this to frighten me," Josh continued, this time to himself. "That happened, but it wasn't the intent."

"Josh, please tell me that you're not..." Sam couldn't finish the sentence.

"No. I'm not going there." Josh shook his head. "But I have been in that space a couple of time since Rosslyn. And I didn't have some biochemical imbalance urging me on."

Sam got up and paced for a moment, stopping at the diploma on the wall. It was Toby's law school degree, the Latin phrases reassuringly familiar. Magna Cum Laude. With Highest Honours.

"Andy said," he began haltingly, "that working was Toby's way of dealing with his problems. It distracted him. Despite everything, he did this. A law degree, with highest honours. I worked my ass off and I didn't get highest honours."

"Yeah, he was a smart man," CJ snapped. "Your point?"

"We have a lot of work ahead of us," Sam said, in the same tone. "What the President said... We can't let him fight this fight alone. We can do this."

"He lied to us," CJ said flatly.

"That wasn't his intent." Josh looked up.

"We need to make sure that the public knows that," Sam replied. "His intent was to change the country for the better."

"And not let Multiple Sclerosis stop him from doing it," Josh added.

"It's too much," CJ warned.

"Yes."

"It's too big to handle," CJ added. "We can't do this on our own."

"We can do this together," Josh said fervently.

"What if we can't?"

"Then we fail." Josh shrugged. "That doesn't scare me as much as it used to."

"I have a quote for all of you, if you'll forgive the interruption," Leo said, from the doorway. "Toby said to me that it wasn't the fights we lost that bothered him. It was the ones we didn't suit up for. Are we prepared to suit up for this one?"

"No, but we'll do it anyway." Josh nodded. "CJ?"

"I'm going to be directly in the line of fire," she said slowly. "I guess my suit needs to be flame proof."

"Atta girl," Leo encouraged, heartened by the exasperated look she gave him. "Sam?"

"You asked me to take over this office." Sam rose and faced Leo. "I'm willing to try, if you'll give me the chance."

"And if I do, what's the first step?"

"Clear off my desk and find someone else to take it. Any suggestions?"

-------------------

"Well?" The President looked up at Leo.

"They're in. We have good people here."

"Yes, we do."

"Mind you, we're going to have some rough times," Leo added. "Right now, they're all feeling noble and self sacrificing." Bartlet winced.

"There's been enough sacrifices."

"Yes, there have. Let's not let it go to waste," Leo nodded. "Sam is going to be overwhelmed. Toby trained him well, but he's not the operator Toby was. Josh is pretty shaken by all of this. CJ's angry and scared. All of them are grieving."

"So the entire senior staff is going to fight the biggest fight of their political careers and aren't really in any shape to win."

"Yeah."

"For a President who may be losing his mind as we speak."

"Yeah."

"And we're going to win, aren't we?"

"Yeah. With odds like that, how can we lose?"

---------------------

Saturday...

"Get out." Ginger glared at Sam.

"Pardon?"

"Get out. You don't belong here." She folded her arms. Sam looked at her in bewilderment. He had just put his briefcase beside Toby's - his - desk and she had immediately stalked in, with fire in her eyes.

"I'm taking over Toby's position."

"Get out of his office."

"Ginger, it isn't his anymore," Sam said gently.

"I don't care. I want you out."

"What the hell? Ginger, you're not being reasonable..."

"Look behind you, Sam. What do you see on that wall?"

"Toby's diplomas."

"Right. This office has his diplomas on the wall. This office has his effects in his desk. This office has his name on the doorplate. I think all the evidence points to this being his office, not yours. So get out."

"Um, Ginger... You don't have any right to tell me that."

"So fire me. I'm out of a job anyway."

"No. No, you need to stay here. I mean, you're job is safe." Sam stuttered, unable to stand up to the stubborn resistance.

"Get out of this office," Ginger repeated. "It's Saturday. You don't have to be here now."

Sam tried to think of a way out of this situation. He liked Ginger. He wanted to keep her on as assistant to the new deputy. Whoever the new Deputy Director of Communications was going to be, he or she was going to need Ginger to pull everything together. If she felt it was a demotion, he'd take her as his own assistant. He respected her. But he could not let her give him orders, not right at the beginning.

The impasse lasted until CJ came to the door, with her coat still on.

"Sam? Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Excuse me. I'll be right back," he told Ginger.

"Sam, leave her alone," CJ said quietly to him.

"CJ, I can't..."

"Leave it until Monday morning." CJ shook her head.

"Look, I love Ginger all to pieces, but I can't let her give me orders."

"You can let her say goodbye," CJ said softly. "She's been so busy helping other people, she hasn't had time to grieve. She gave him three years of her life, Sam. You can give her this."

Sam looked back into the office. Ginger was taking down Toby's diplomas, carefully placing them on the sofa. He could see her shoulders shaking and he knew she was crying.

CJ went past him and into the office. He followed her to the door.

"Ginger, may I help?" CJ asked softly. Ginger didn't answer, but CJ took off her coat and started to sort through the books of the shelf.

Sam watched in wonder as each of the women around the office slowly joined them, packing up the contents of the office. He swallowed a lump in his throat, feeling as if he was intruding on a sacred ritual.

--------------------

"... I decided to keep my illness private. At the time, I felt that, as an American citizen, I had the right to privacy about my personal life. I still believe that. However, in the two and a half years I have been in this office, I realised that I also have an obligation to the American people to do whatever it takes to ensure that they can exercise their right to an informed choice. I have had to balance by firm belief in privacy of the individual with the firm belief that the people need to have as much information as possible, no matter how inconsequential it may be, in order to make intelligent decisions.

"I have fought with myself on this issue for a long time. I do not believe that a chronic condition is any detriment to my ability to serve the American people and I trust in our system of checks and balances to protect the country from chaos should the state of my health ever affect my performance as President.

"However, recent events have altered the way I've been looking at the issue. A valued and competent employee and a dear friend died recently, under circumstances that have been difficult to accept. As his employer, I was angry that there was no warning or indication that there were problems in his life. As his friend, I grieve that I could not reach out a helping hand. I felt betrayed, on a personal and professional level.

"I know now that I cannot let my friends grieve as I have this past week because I am too damned stubborn to let them know that some day, I may need their help.

"And I cannot let my employers, the American people, feel as angry and betrayed as I felt that day. I know now that I have an obligation to disclose my illness. Many of you may feel anger, and betrayal. I understand that, but I do not believe that I was wrong to uphold my right to privacy, nor in my trust in our Constitution to resolve any problems, should that ever become necessary.

"And I do not believe I am wrong to trust in the American people to educate themselves on this issue and to understand my desire to protect my privacy and my family's privacy. I trust the American people to make informed choices. I don't think that trust is misplaced."

"It's a beautiful speech," Sam said, breaking the silence in the Oval Office.

"Don't worry, Sam. I'm not going to write all my speeches from now on." Bartlet shot a look at Sam over his glasses. "But this one had to come from the heart."

"It, uh, could use a little polish, though," Sam added.

"That's why I'm giving it to you," Bartlet replied. "What about the rest of you? Any problems?"

The others shook their heads and they filed out. Leo stayed behind.

"I was up all weekend writing that," Bartlet said quietly, as the room cleared. "It's the kind of thing Toby could have written in half an hour."

"I think he would have seen some merit in it," Leo allowed.

"When you told me that I had to tell Toby, all I could think of was, now it begins." Bartlet said. "I just wish beginnings weren't preceded by endings."

END

 

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