Warnings/spoilers/etc: see pt 1

Eleanor Cregg = mine. Everyone else = Sorkin's.

Sam drummed his fingers idly on his desktop as he waited for Josh and Eleanor to appear. He would relish getting this responsibility off his own head, that was for certain. Then he could try and spend more time with his obviously drained fiancée.

She'd nearly broken his heart the night before. He'd come home and sat down, only to have C.J. tell him that they needed to talk. She'd tried to keep her temper under control, but everything had just piled on top of everything, and she'd wound up nearly crying. What else could he do but hold her and tell her they'd work things out?

And they would. He'd help with the wedding stuff. Now if he had the faintest idea where to start...

Sam was interrupted by a stout rap on his door. Without waiting for an answer, Eleanor walked in followed by Josh. Who was expounding vigorously his view of the matter, as Eleanor did her best to ignore him and not explode, in that order. "Eleanor, you just don't get it, do you? Fenton's compromised as it is, because the great system we have gives the lie to –"

Sam spoke up before anything could get further out of hand. "Josh, shut up. All right you guys. Here's my plan."

Grudgingly Josh turned and faced Sam, while Eleanor listened attentively. On second glance, Sam reversed his position. She looked a little *too* attentive. It was that sort of over-focused look one gives when one wants to make the impression they're paying attention, when their mind is actually somewhere far away.

Sam cleared his throat. "Okay, you guys. Let me start from the beginning."

"Good place to start," Josh jibed. He was a bit out of countenance at Sam telling him to shut up. That didn't happen often.

Sam ignored him. "Eleanor, you want to try and put the screws to Senator Abramson. You think he only responds to his own language, and with all the indiscretions he's committed he shouldn't be in office anyway. Correct?"

The half-second hesitation before her response was enough to set Sam's radar beeping. However, he put it aside. "... Correct."

"And Josh, you want to drop Fenton as a nominee, because you think the bad publicity will make everything moot, and if the Senator cries foul it could make the president look really, really bad."

"Right." Josh folded his arms in a defensive posture, curious to see what Sam had come up with.

"Well, here's my idea – tell me if it makes sense." Sam paused for dramatic effect. "Bribery."

"What!" Josh leapt from his seat.

"Give Senator Abramson the seat on the commission in exchange for keeping quiet."

"Are you nuts?" Josh exclaimed.

"For once I agree with him." The fire was in Eleanor's voice. "That's really foolish, Sam. Abramson will turn every vote into a fight. He'd be the only ultra-conservative on the panel."

"Not when there's six Democrats to balance him." Sam spoke with definite satisfaction. "I talked to Leo earlier. Every nomination but this last one has been confirmed. Right now the commission stands at six Democrats, two Republicans."

"Wow." Eleanor's eyebrows raised.

"Maybe it's not completely insane after all." Josh's eyebrows followed.
Sam smiled. "So it'll work?"

There was silence for a moment, then Eleanor jumped in. "No, it won't."

"It won't?"

"No, Sam, I'm sorry." Eleanor shook her head. "I just can't countenance bribing that blackmailer with a seat on one of the President's prize commissions."

Sam stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh! Forgot one thing." He rummaged through his papers and came up with a familiar looking file.

Josh couldn't keep the grin off his face as the implication registered. "That's an FBI file, Sam."

"Exactly." Sam felt his voice fill with satisfaction. "I talked to my contact at Justice, and he said there's sufficient evidence for an investigation."

"That's wonderful." Eleanor's tone held nothing but admiration. "So I see your game," she said, tone turning sneaky. "Give him what he wants, and *then* stick him."

Josh shook his head. "I gotta hand it to you. That's really good."

"So it'll work?" Sam grinned.

"Yeah, it's good."

"I think it's fine."

"Let's get to Leo's office." Sam stood. "Josh, will you call C.J. and get her over there?"

Instead of complying Josh winked shamelessly at his friend. "Trouble at home?"

"Shut up."

"Okay." Josh made the call as Sam and Eleanor walked to Leo's office.

As soon as the two were alone, Sam pounced. "Eleanor, you weren't working last night, were you?"

Eleanor was like her daughter – a good liar, but the blushes always gave her away. "What do you mean, Sam?"

"Come on," Sam scoffed. His voice turned teasing. "I'm going to be family; you can tell me. You're too out of it this morning to have been working last night."

He was surprised when she answered right away. "Leo and I had a working dinner."

*Yeah, working on what?* Sam thought. Out loud he said, "Why am I not surprised?"

"Shut up, Sam." Eleanor looked at the floor. "I feel bad about misleading Claudia Jean. But I can tell she needs time to get used to it. And time is what I don't have. I'm leaving for Seattle in five weeks."

She spoke as though her mind was made up. "Did you... have a good time?" Sam asked, thinking to be delicate.

Eleanor burst out laughing. "Sam, you're such a prude for your age!" She laughed even harder seeing him turn scarlet. Thinking to have a little fun with him, she lowered her voice. "I'll bet you're just teasing me, though. Because according to Claudia Jean you're a little hellion in bed."

Sam turned as pink as she'd ever seen anyone. "Eleanor!"

"I'm just teasing." She turned her voice back to normal. "Not that it's any of your business, but Leo saw me back to the building. And all he did was kiss me on the cheek as I left."

Sam was about to respond when Eleanor pulled him into Leo's office. Margaret ushered the two in.

"What's going on, Sam?" Leo asked, with a quick smile for Eleanor. "You guys come to a decision?"

"Yeah, Leo, I think we've got it." Sam briefly outlined his plan.

Leo kept his face non-committal, but his words were everything. "I like it, Sam. It's evil."

"Thank you."

"Is C.J. on her way?"


Leo lowered his voice, though he couldn't imagine why. "Sam... maybe you can tell C.J. about last night?"

Sam blinked. "You want me to tell her that you two went out last night?"

"Well... yeah."


"Excuse me?"

"No, sir." Sam said firmly. "I think that's more properly Eleanor's province."

Eleanor sighed. "It's what I'd hoped to avoid, but you're exactly right, Sam."

"Okay." Sam felt relieved. "So that's all? You'll keep me informed?"

"Yeah, sure." Leo answered. "Get outta here, you two. Eleanor, go find C.J."

"All right." She smiled at him as she left.

Eleanor walked down to C.J.'s office without missing a beat. It was only outside the door that she found herself hesitating. *This is ridiculous,* she thought. *She'll be reasonable.* She knocked on the door and walked in.

"Hi, Mom, what's up?" C.J. regarded her mother calmly. It would be interesting to see if she fessed up. Talking with Donna that morning had certainly been illuminating.

Eleanor took a deep breath and spoke. "I wasn't working late last night. I went to dinner with Leo."

Without skipping a beat, C.J. replied. "I know."


"Donna told me."

"Who told her?"


Eleanor muttered under her breath. "Claudia Jean, I really am sorry," she said, turning penitent. "I didn't mean to mislead you. But from what I could see you needed some time to deal with this. And time is a luxury I don't have."

"I know." C.J. sighed. "How could you tell it freaked me out?"

"I'm your mother." Eleanor hazarded a small smile. "It's kind of obvious."

"Well, whatever. I just didn't like the thought, I guess."

"I can't blame you." Eleanor crossed the room and sat on C.J.'s couch. "I know it would freak me out if my mother was dating my boss."

"Yeah." C.J. paused. "Just... let me get used to it, Mom. I'm not telling you what to do. God knows I could never do it."

"Damn right." But Eleanor's heart wasn't in the teasing. "I'll give you time, Claudia Jean."

"Thank you." It wasn't completely ok. But at least for C.J., it was on its way. So she could afford to turn to her mother and ask, "So, was it fun?"

Eleanor giggled like a middle-schooler. Part of it was the relief at having all of this in the open. But before she answered, she had to say one more thing. "Before I tell you, Claudia Jean, let me just assure you that I'm going to help you more with the wedding things. I've been neglecting that area."

"Thanks." C.J. didn't let on how overjoyed she was. With Eleanor's help, the chaos that was her wedding would fall into order, and do it quickly. All she said was, "Sam and I could use the help."

"Okay." The roguish look came back onto Eleanor's face. "It was a lot of fun last night."


"Definitely." For a moment they weren't the Press Secretary and political consultant. They were just mother and daughter, gossiping about a night out. And it felt good.

Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown - 13



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