Smoke and Mirrors Part 3
By The Bondi Gargoyle
Disclaimers in Part One

"Josh, I know you don't feel like it right now, but I am on your side, that never changes"
"We'll talk about you and me later"
"Yeah okay" Donna said quietly and let herself out of the office

Josh stood in the middle of the room, restless and troubled. He couldn't remember ever having felt quite so alone. Every other crisis he had faced, his father, his near firing, the shooting and it's aftermath there had been people crowding forward to help him, to back him up and comfort him. He felt their absence sharply and found himself wondering how much had been his own doing. How hard would it have been to go into CJ's office and tell her he was worried about Sam? Why hadn't he tossed the ball into Toby's court just to see what the Communications Director came up with? And what in the world was he doing accusing Donna of anything? He looked at the door to where she sat; now uncharacteristically closed. He knew she was still out there, still working in spite of it all.
He slowly crossed the room and opened the door. She did not look at him though her typing stopped as though waiting to hear what he was going to say.
"You should go home" he told her. He realized that sounded like he was still trying to get rid of her and added, "It's late"
"We've worked later" she commented, her fingers resuming their movements over the keys.
"Yeah"
He wanted apologize, but he didn't know where to start. Everything that came to mind sounded weak when compared to the extent of his trespass.
"Well I'm going to go," he said finally. "Don't stay too long."
"Goodnight."
"Yeah goodnight"
He went back into the main office and shut the door, realizing she had not looked at him once.

Driving home, Josh found that Donna's words were echoing in his head. He stopped at a light and drummed his fingers on the wheel. Accepting that he had no other choice, he turned the car and headed for Arlington.
"Sorry for coming so late" Josh apologized as Leo let him in
"It's okay, I wanted to talk to you about something anyway. Come through to the den."
"Jenny asleep already?" Josh asked following Leo back through the town house.
"Jenny went back to New York this morning."
"Did she have a meeting or something?"
"No, Josh I mean she went back."
"Oh. How come?"
"Because I asked her to." They had reached Leo's study and taken seats in the large leather armchairs.
"Why?" Josh persisted
"How is this your business?" Leo snapped
"I'm sorry, it's not"
Leo sighed, "It felt too much like being married again."
"That bad?"
"No, that good. But I'm not married anymore. Jenny wouldn't have even thought about coming back to me if it hadn't been for the heart attack"
"And it's not just providence? The one good thing to come out of a bad situation?"
Leo shook his head "My heart attack doesn't change any of the old problems between Jenny and I. And we certainly weren't dealing with them now. It wasn't the rebuilding of a foundation it was history and shock and pity. It was a better goodbye but it was still good bye."
"Even with Toby and I taking on more of your work load?"
"Work was a symptom, Josh, not the disease"
"And I guess if you weren't dealing with it now, you weren't going to deal with it once you came back to work"
"That's what I need to talk to you about."
Josh narrowed his eyes suspiciously but remained silent.
"You did a good job with Cuba, Josh"
"Smoke and mirrors"
"You gave him a solution. That's your job and you did it well."
"Thanks, but I assure you everyone has already forgotten about Cuba"
"Sam?"
"Yeah, that's why I wanted to talk to you."
"I figured and we'll talk about it in minute. Let's stick to the topic at hand."
"Which is what?"
"I'm thinking about not coming back on Monday"
"You want some more time to recover? I thought your last check up put you back in good health"
"It's not about more time. I'm thinking about not coming back at all. I'm thinking about retiring"
"To do what?"
"To be retired, Josh, that's not the point."
"Why do you want to retire?"
"Look, I should have resigned when the truth about my pills came out. I am a liability to the administration. Then. Still"
Josh shook his head. "No."
"Yes"
"The President doesn't think so."
"The President was scared. He didn't want to be alone without counsel, he knows now that he can trust you. It's time for me to go."
"How can you say that?"
"I've always been grooming you for this. Since the day I showed up in Hoynes' office to lure you away."
"Yeah well I'm only half-groomed, the entire undercoat is a mass of brambles and knots."
"You're not an Old English Sheepdog, Josh. This is the easiest transition we're going to get."
"We don't need a transition."
"I think it's time for me to walk away or at least step back."
"I'm not buying this Leo, not for one minute. You have given everything you have to this job. You gave up your marriage; you've subjected yourself to public humiliation. I don't believe you're ready to walk away while you're standing on the five-yard line. It's not you"
"I serve the President, Josh, in the best way I know how. And right now the best way is to hand over the reins to you."
Josh got up from his chair and walked over to the French doors. He looked out at the dark garden, tracing the moldings with one finger, weighing his words.
"I know you're scared, Leo"
Leo started to argue but Josh cut him off, plowing on.
"I know you're scared because I've been there. I was there a few months ago when you had your attack and I had to take over. I was there after the shooting when I couldn't get my head together. I've been there before and so have you. But I thought we had a deal."
"A deal?"
"I thought we got each other through it. 'As long as I got a job, you got a job'?"
"That was different Josh, you were sick, you needed my help."
"And I don't now?"
"Not as much as you think"
"You've never been a coward, Leo"
"Careful" the other man growled
" I've never seen you do anything that's motivated by fear, caution yes, fear no."
"Josh I'm warning you"
"Why start now? You don't want out Leo, you're just scared about what coming back is going to mean"
"You are this close to getting tossed out of here on your butt."
"Leo," Josh was gaining steam "You're not going to have a relapse, you're not going to get re-addicted. You didn't the first time around, you won't now. You know why? 'Cause that building is full of people who love you and care about you and will do anything in their power to help you and you can't just walk away from them. We need you as much as you need us"
"You talk about fear, Josh. I think you're just scared to go it alone. You're ready. Trust me"
"God, I'm so not" Josh dropped his head down linking his fingers behind his neck "Leo I've never had to talk the President into doing something he really doesn't want to do."
"You do that all the time"
"With you as a buffer, not on my own. I haven't seen him through a sit room crisis, through something like Colombia. If I ever saw myself becoming the White House Chief of Staff it would be when Sam was president not Josiah Bartlet, not that I'm likely to be Sam's first choice after this week. Leo, I'm in the deep water here, and it's rising fast. Don't walk away. I'll do whatever it takes to make it easier on you but don't walk away."
Leo got up from his chair and stood behind Josh "Is this all stemming from the thing with Sam? 'Cause up until this week, all I've heard from every corner, including you, is how well you're doing."
"I'm a politician, I lie well."
"It's not in the best interests of my spies to lie."
"Sure it is. Everyone wanted you to relax and get better."
"I'm just fine and my spies aren't lying when they tell me you're doing a good job."
"Yeah I'm doing a great job. I'm this close to firing my best friend for saying something we all agree with. CJ's barely speaking to me. Toby definitely isn't. And Donna..."
"Donna would follow you to the middle of the Amazon and back"
"Not if I told her to get lost."
Leo put his hand on Josh's shoulder "Especially then."
Josh turned to look at him "She called you, didn't she?"
"Like I said my spies have no reason to lie. Josh, the fact that you're having problems with Rory Cronin doesn't mean you're a bad Chief of Staff, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary has problems with Rory Cronin and he's been in Congress since you were five."
"The fact that I'm self-destructing doesn't exactly speak to my abilities."
"Hate to tell you this but you're mortal too."
"I know that"
"And as such you have a few Achilles heels."
"Which ones are we talking about today?"
" The people you care about it. Today it's Sam, yesterday it was me, tomorrow CJ or Donna."
"Leo..."
"Josh, you're a brilliant negotiator, a brilliant politician but when faced with my problems you almost got yourself charged with perjury. You asked a call girl for blackmail material which she fortunately didn't give you since you undoubtedly would have broken a few more laws in using it and you would have used it. None of it was exactly your finest work."
"No."
"But in the end I think your weaknesses makes you a better Chief of Staff"
"I'd love to know how you figure that"
"Because they are also your greatest strengths. If you didn't care about people you wouldn't have been brought into this administration. Toby shapes the message, Sam writes it, CJ delivers it. But you Josh, you're here because to you the message is ultimately not about numbers, it's not abstract policies, it's about people. You have a great ability to see that. Just like your dad did."
"Yeah I understand people just fine when they're on the far side of a legislative initiative. It's up close that I have trouble."
Leo patted his shoulder "Some days more than others. Come sit down again. Let's talk about Sam."
"I don't think we've finished talking about you"
"For the time being we have," Leo said firmly but without ire.
"Okay Leo, so what do I do about Cronin?"
"I told you already." Leo smiled and sat back down.
Josh reviewed the conversation as he followed suit
"When?"
"Senate Judiciary? Ranking Democrat?"
"Dugan has something on Cronin?" Josh sat forward in his seat
"Nope but he'd like to."
"How does that help me?"
"Dugan's office is next to Cronin's isn't it?"
"Yeah"
"So tomorrow you meet Dugan for lunch, in the Senate Dining Room. Make sure Cronin sees you either upstairs or while you're eating. Look at him a few times while you're talking to Dugan."
"What am I talking to Dugan about?"
"Doesn't matter, the Army-Navy game for all I care. The thing about Cronin is he likes to keep his enemies separate. Dugan's been threatening to investigate him for years, now it's going to look like the White House is getting behind just such an investigation."
"We wouldn't investigate one of our own."
"It won't change the balance of power and politically speaking a little housekeeping could be advantageous."
"I can't believe he's going to buy it, especially since we don't have anything on him."
"There's one more part. You call him and leave a message with exactly two sentences. 'We look after our own.' and 'Leo McGarry wishes him a happy birthday'"
"Happy birthday?"
Leo smiled to himself, "I'll explain later. Then you courier over Sam's apology and wait for the call. You'll get the votes you need for the Radley bill"
"Am I blackmailing Rory Cronin?"
"No you're reminding him of something"
"Leo?"
"Trust me."

Josh did exactly as he was instructed. Two hours after the courier was dispatched he received a phone call from Rory Cronin.
" Lyman, I've looked over Seaborn's apology. Given that it didn't get widespread press, I'm willing to let it go, this time. We've all had a bit too much to drink and said things we didn't mean."
"We appreciate that, Senator"
"Do another count on the Radley bill, I think you'll find you have the votes."
"I'm glad to hear that, it's an important bill. It'll do a lot for your constituents."
"Well this is what I've been saying all along. I don't know why my colleagues have been opposing it but I've straightened one or two of them out. You owe me though, Lyman, remember that."
"Of course, Senator" Josh replied consciously unclenching his jaw.
Josh hung up the phone, stared at it for a few minutes, then got up and went into the Oval Office.
"What's up, Josh?" Jed Bartlet looked up at him
"I've just gotten off the phone with Cronin"
"And?"
"He's willing to accept Sam's apology."
"At what price?"
"None. Well apparently we owe him but we'll deal with that when and if it comes up. The important thing is, he's letting Richards and the others off the leash with regards to Radley"
"Really? Well this is good news Josh. Well done, how did you pull it off?"
"I don't think I did."
"Then who-?"
"Leo. But I can't quite figure out how."
"But it's fixed?"
"It's fixed"
"That's fine"
"Sam's off the hook?"
Bartlet nodded "You might tell him to start finding out women's professions earlier in the game though."
"We've had that discussion several times since this started."
"Good" The President turned back to his work. Realizing that Josh was still standing in front of him, he glanced back up "Is there something else?"
"Mr. President, I need you to demand my resignation."
"Excuse me?"
"I need you to demand my resignation."
"Why? What have you done?"
"What haven't I done?"
"True but we've never fired you yet."
"Leo's not going to leave you without a Chief of Staff, he wouldn't do that to you."
"And you would?"
"I'd prefer not to but I'd really appreciate it if you'd fire me. Though maybe at the last minute you could show some mercy and let me work as the Deputy Chief of Staff instead."
Jed Bartlet smiled "He's trying to get out of it gracefully, isn't he?"
Josh nodded
"Fine, Josh, as of eight am Monday morning you can consider yourself fired."
The President picked up his pen
Josh coughed discreetly
"Now what?"
"Sir, you've just rendered me unemployed"
"And?"
"Sir." Josh said realizing he sounded particularly pitiful.
"Relax I'm just 'joshing' you. Do people say that to you much?"
"They stopped 'round about the fourth grade," Josh observed dryly.
The President raised an eyebrow
"And boy have I missed it," the younger man forced himself to smile
"Okay. Go back to work. As of Monday stick the word 'deputy' back in front of your title and move back to the other end of the building. I'll call McGarry and tell him if he's not here by eight thirty I'm sending the Air Force Rangers and Abbey after him. One of those two ought to scare him, heaven knows they scare me"
"Yes Sir, thank you"
"You're welcome."
"Josh," Bartlet stopped him just as he was about to step out the door
"Sir."
"I'll...well don't go too far away, okay?"
"I serve at the pleasure of the President, Sir, nothings changed"
"Good"

Josh sought out Sam who was in Toby's office.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Come in" Toby called.
As Josh stepped in, both men stiffened slightly.
"I just wanted to let you know, Sam, I'd like the speech for Kentucky on my desk by this afternoon."
"Why?"
"So I can look over it this weekend, so that you can do rewrites before we're actually on the plane to Kentucky. It's a short flight"
"Am I going to Kentucky?"
"Why have you got plans that day?" Josh demanded
"Plans to go to Kentucky."
"That's what I thought."
"It's over?" Sam visibly relaxed.
"Cronin accepted your apology and you're forbidden to talk to any woman I haven't vetted"
"Well Mal'll like that arrangement."
"Yeah, I thought she would"
"Josh, thanks."
"Hey, when I dragged you out of the Gage Whitney board room it was for the long haul, you're not getting out of here that easily"
They smiled at each other with the strength of years of friendship and Sam gave a slight dip of his head, for once at a loss for words. Josh nodded in acknowledgment and headed back to his office.
He heard footsteps following him but didn't stop 'til Toby said his name.
"What?" Josh turned around
"I wanted to say... I mean...Josh I was..."
"Why would you think that I would just abandon him? I brought Sam here and yeah okay now he works for you but that doesn't mean you've cornered the market on caring about him. And for that matter where the hell were you, Toby? What you figured if you left it all to me, you wouldn't have to take any responsibility if Sam actually got fired?
"I...I guess I..."
"Yeah I guess you did."
Josh turned and stalked off down the corridor

He was surprised to find Leo in his office.
"You know what McGarry, I don't think I've ever seen you in here without a suit and tie. Even on Saturdays."
Leo glared at him "So he doesn't want Sam's resignation but he wants yours?"
Josh shrugged.
"Do you ever listen to me?"
"On occasion. I listened about Cronin. Which leads me to again ask: did I just blackmail a Senator?"
"No, but you rattled his cage."
"How?"
"When Cronin first ran for the Senate, lo these many years ago, he lied about his age. He was only twenty-eight."
"So he was two years too young to be a Senator, decades ago. It's not exactly a blood curdling scandal."
"No but it might be enough to start an investigation. The first domino."
"Oh come on"
"Do you know who he defeated?"
"No"
"An incumbent who had been in for many years. After the defeat the family moved to Ohio, some ties to tires I think, and four years later the losing senator's son won a seat in the House"
"Angus Dugan?"
"Angus Dugan Jr." Leo corrected, "Who would love to have just one domino."
"How do you know about Cronin's birthday?"
"Cronin and I used to be drinking buddies. He invited me to his parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary. The thing is, if Rory was the age he told everyone he was, he should have been fifty-one. I asked him about it and he came clean." Leo grinned.
Josh stared in amazement
"You have more of these, don't you?"
"Don't you?"
Josh nodded
"I was about to impart to you this untapped gold mine but since you've forced me out of early retirement, you'll get them on a need to know basis"
"What were you going to do in retirement, take up golf? I saved you from immeasurable boredom"
"Yeah right. I'll see you Monday, and get all this junk off my desk"
Josh watched him leave, still not quite convinced.

The Roosevelt room was empty and Leo carefully opened one of the glass doors and stepped inside. As he pulled out a chair, he took a deep breath and the smell of the place; the feel of the place filled his lungs. In his head he heard the voice of his physician
"I can't keep you from going back but there's only so much stress your body can take, you've lived a hard life."
"What're you saying Doc?"
"That if you keep living under this much stress a second heart attack is likely and I don't know if you'll recover from another"
Leo glanced out the doors at the flow of people. Donna and Bonnie were standing together deep in conversation. Donna was rolling her eyes and Bonnie was laughing. Sam was calling out to somebody Leo couldn't see, walking backward as he did. Ed and Larry were arguing good-naturedly. Watching them all, he understood something. This was where he belonged; this was his time, this was his place. There were some things doctors didn't know. If he walked away from all this, what would he have? An ex-wife who still appeared in times of great strife out of remembrance for what once was; a grown daughter who lived her own life and tried to have breakfast with him once a month; colleagues from the old days still re-hashing past glories; AA meetings. Life was meant to be lived and this was how he lived his life, if that meant he died six months or six years earlier than he would otherwise, so be it. This was his life, this job, and these people.
"Hi Leo."
He looked up to see CJ standing in the doorway
"Hey CJ"
"I didn't want to disturb you, I just wanted to say hello"
"You're not disturbing me"
"We've missed you" CJ told him "Not that Josh hasn't done a great job but we've missed you."
"That's good to hear."
"You're coming back Monday?"
"That's right"
"Well we'll see you then."
"Yes you will"
CJ smiled and headed back to work. Leo nodded and pulled himself up out of the chair. Stepping back out into the hallway, he turned around. Josh was standing a few feet away watching him carefully.
"Don't you have something better to do?" Leo demanded
"Probably" Josh replied unrepentant
"I'll see you Monday" Leo told him again, this time actually meaning it.
"Good" Josh declared, this time believing it.

Josh walked back into his old bullpen with a triumphant air. It was good to be once more in familiar territory. There was just one thing missing, Donna wasn't at her desk yet. The grin faded from Josh's face. He still hadn't apologized to her. She had disappeared Friday night with the other assistants, some girls' night out thing, and he'd decided not to cut into her weekend since they'd worked on almost all of them that Leo had been gone. He just hoped he hadn't done something irreparable.
He tapped the bouquet of flowers he'd bought her on the way to work against his leg, eyeing her desk as though he could make her appear by simply willing it.
"Sorry I'm late, the Metro's possessed by Satan," Donna announced from behind him "I had to walk from Dupont Circle."
Josh whirled around
"What?" asked Donna taking in his look of surprise
"Nothing" he answered quickly, not about to admit that for a minute he'd credited himself with conjuring her from thin air "Here. Peace offering" he turned the flowers to hide the more bruised blossoms
"Why Josh, it's not even February. Or April"
"Very funny. Don't you think you should put them in water before they die?"
"Oh if they survived the beating you just gave them, I'd say they're a hearty breed." She took them and headed for the vase she kept on her desk.
Josh headed into his office expecting to unpack the box he'd put his things into on Friday but they were all back in their usual places.
"Donna?" he called.
"Be right there."
"Were you in this weekend?"
"I thought you'd want your desk back to normal, so I came in yesterday."
"That wasn't necessary."
"I thought it was. Here" she handed him a mug
"I thought I didn't get coffee anymore" Josh accepted it.
"Peace offering."
Josh closed the door and set down the coffee.
"I'm sorry I was a jerk."
"Wasn't the first time, I doubt it'll be the last," she said gently
"Yeah but I was really out of line this time."
"You were."
"And I suspect I hurt your feelings."
She nodded, ducking his gaze
Josh lifted her chin "Then for pete's sake, you don't need to come in on the weekend to make me comfortable and you don't need to make me coffee."
"And you don't need to keep score."
Josh looked confused
"Josh I'm on your side, even when I don't agree with you, even when no-one else is, I 'm on your side. And I know the pieces aren't all back in place yet with Toby and CJ. If having your grandfather's picture and your Yale diploma back on the wall and hot cup of coffee in your favorite FBI mug on your desk help make your day a little easier I'm going to do it. And it's got nothing to do with whether you were a jerk last Thursday or whether you brought me flowers today."
"Thank you"
"That said. If you ever speak to me again like you did on Thursday, I'll break that diploma over your head and you won't enjoy where I pour the coffee."
Josh grinned "Phew, I thought you were canvassing for sainthood for a minute there."
"Not quite. And the flowers are very nice."
"I really am sorry. One of these days I'll learn to stop taking these things out on you"
"Well they say you always hurt the ones you love" she teased reaching for the door then she stopped realizing what she'd said. She turned back around. Josh was smiling into his coffee cup.
"It's true," he said. "I mean it's true that that's what they say."
"Right."
Josh put the cup down. "Donna, if I had to pick one person to help me take on the world, if I only got one, it would be you."
He watched her eyes get slightly misty.
"If I told you not to get emotional would it do any good?" he asked with an exasperated grin that was mostly for show.
"If you didn't want me to get emotional, you wouldn't say things like that."
"Well I think you deserve to hear them, regardless of the consequences."
"Thank you" she leaned over and kissed his cheek.
"Friends again?" he whispered
"Yes"
"Good"
They were interrupted by a knock on the door.
Donna glanced at it and then back at him.
"It's probably the lynch mob," he muttered.
"Josh..."
"Oh let them in."
Donna opened the door and CJ, Toby and Sam filed in.
Josh crossed his arms and ankles and regarded them with forced casualness "What can I do for you?"
"You could let us apologize" CJ said quietly "for forgetting."
"For forgetting what?" Josh asked
"That we were supposed to be helping you do your job 'til Leo got back not hindering you."
"I didn't need-"
Josh trailed off as Donna nudged him with her elbow.
"Go on" he said instead
"Maybe you didn't need our help" CJ continued "But you certainly deserved a little more understanding. You were never the bad guy and we acted like you were and we're sorry."
"It's like we voted you hall monitor," Sam put in, "and then got mad because you started giving out detentions."
"Well it's entirely likely that I got a bit caught up in handling everything by myself" Josh allowed "Maybe if I'd admitted I needed your help on this a little earlier, hell, if I'd admitted it to you guys at all, we could have saved some of the shouting."
"Anyway," Toby said, "We brought you a little souvenir of your term as Chief of Staff. Of the good part."
From behind their backs Toby and Sam pulled a full sized Canadian flag
"Ta-da! We stole it from the Canadian embassy," Sam announced.
"What?" Josh demanded, his face falling "Sam, how many times do I have to save your butt in one month?"
"He's kidding," CJ declared, shooting Sam a look that suggested he damn well better be kidding.
"We bought it at a flag shop on Saturday" Toby clarified
"Didn't you like the other story better though?" asked Sam
"Oh yeah, right." Josh smiled at them as Sam and CJ ceremoniously draped the flag around him.
"What the hell are you wearing?" Leo walked in "And when did we stop having morning staff meetings?"
"We still have them," Josh protested, "just a little later. They're at eight instead of seven thirty."
"Whose dumb-ass idea was that?" Leo demanded
"The President's," answered Sam smugly.
Leo regarded each of them sternly "Well that ends today!"
Then he couldn't help himself; he broke into a grin. Looking at Josh he said: "Come on Dudley Do-Right, round up your people. We've got work to do." He headed for the door, Josh in tow.
Josh glanced back at the others
"Don't worry," Toby assured him "We're right behind you."

 

 

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