ON THE ROAD TO THE REAL THING - 2

"Leo McGarry is here to see you."

I look up at Janeane, surprised. "Leo McGarry is here?"

She stands still in front of the door. "Yeah." Her expression is pensive. "He doesn't have an appointment, I could tell him-"

"No," I shake my head, "let him in." Whatever it is, it's important enough for him to come to me.

Janeane gives me a succinct nod. She turns around and opens the door, walking through it to the small area that doubles as her office and a lobby. I stand behind my desk, sparing a brief glance toward the window. It's almost dark now, and it's still raining.

"Mr. McGarry, the Vice-President will see you now."

I'm almost done with my work, and it's been a good day so far. But I'll wager that my good day's about to go south.

Leo McGarry. I'll probably have to go to the gym after this. So I can hit something - hit something hard - before I go home.

Damn. Concentrate, Johnny. Concentrate. Don't let him make you kneel.

I can hear a soft sound – he's getting off the couch in the outer office – and then he's standing in the doorway. "Mr. Vice-President."

"Leo." I smile and gesture to the arm-chair. "Come on in. Take a load off."

He enters. His shined shoes tread silently on the carpet.

Janeane gives me a discreet look. I nod at her, and she shuts the door quietly. I sit down. My hands are in position: they hang casually over the arms of the chair.

I'm still smiling.

(Concentrate!)

McGarry leans back, watching the rain splatter against the window.

I guess I'll make the first move. "What can I do for you, Leo?"

He crosses his legs and looks at me. "We need a favor."

Sweet. They need a favor. "What?"

He looks up and quirks a smile at me. "You sound suspicious."

Damn straight I am. "Maybe I am." Stay cool. "What do you want?"

He sighs and gives me a sour look. "You've got that little trip to Michigan coming up-"

"I leave the day after tomorrow."

"...and I see that you've got a speech in Detroit."

"Labor speech. They're expecting over forty thousand people."

"Yeah." He nods, and his head moves up and down in a slow, weighted fashion. "We need you to work a few things into that speech."

Forget it, buddy. The speech is already done - I helped to finish it myself. "Like what?"

"Now you sound really suspicious." He smiles again, as if he's enjoying a joke at my expense, and continues before I can interrupt him. "Some environmental issues."

Wait a minute. "You expect me to go in front of forty thousand auto workers and tell them to start hugging trees?" That should go over well. Right over my dead body, it'll go.

He seems to consider this for a moment, looking a little distracted. "Yeah, well, we need to even things up a bit."

Oh, I see. "This because of that idiotic drop-in at the GDC?" Don't look at me like that, Leo. I'm not some dumb little puppet you can pat on the head. Arrogant – that's what they all are. "Really messed up Bartlet going into the State of the Union, didn't it?"

"The President is asking for your help, John."

Emphasis on "President." As usual. "Maybe the President should think before he speaks, Leo. Maybe then he wouldn't need my help."

McGarry's eyes are dark and inky in the dim light. "This is your job, John. Do it."

I take a breath. Calm down. Stay cool. Concentrate. "Leo, you're asking me to do to the auto workers exactly what the President did to the environmentalists. How's that gonna work? How's that a smart move?"

"It's what we need done right now. We've got some pressure that needs to be relieved."

Well, now that's an understatement, if I ever heard one. "Some 'pressure that needs to be relieved?' That's what you make of Seth Gillette?"

He glances briefly at the window before turning those eyes back on me.

I hate his eyes. "I am not his puppet."

His mouth crinkles, almost smiling. "No, you're not his puppet, John. But you serve the President, and you will continue to serve him-"

"He screwed up. Why do I have to go out on my knees and beg for him?"

"That's what a good Vice-President does."

Oh, screw this. Forget cool. I hate this man, and I hate his boss. "Each and every single one of you is so goddamned arrogant, Leo." He doesn't seem surprised; I hate that, too. "You get up in front of some of your most loyal supporters, and you very neatly kick 'em in the behind-"

"The drop-in was necessary; we can't be intimidated by our enemies, and we certainly can't be intimidated by our friends."

His voice is getting louder. So is mine. I lean forward. "Well, Leo, now isn't exactly the right time to go flogging every group, every lobby that you think contains some amount of moral corruption! No one in this administration," I gesture between the two of us, "is so goddamned perfect, after all."

The eyes are inkier; he doesn't like that. Good. "And, in case all that self-righteousness has made you forget, you all are up for re-election soon."

"You all?" His voice lowers, and one of his eyebrows inches up. "*You all?*"

I smile. I can feel my lips curl around my teeth. "Aren't you?"

He opens his mouth and closes it.

Oh, no decision yet? I bet I know what that feels like, Leo. You have my full sympathy. You bastard.

He stares at me.

(Concentrate!)

Don't kneel.

I stare back.

He leans back in his seat. "Jumping ship isn't as easy as it looks right now, John. And Seth Gillette won't play second-string to you. I don't know what you've got planned, but let me assure you, I won't let it happen."

He stands up. "You're on our team, whether you like it or not. No trades, no forfeits, unless we say so." Straightens his jacket and smiles. "And, in case all that bitterness has made you forget: no matter what happens, your face is in front of the voters, too. You serve the President."

Emphasis on "you." Not as usual.

I'm still staring.

He moves towards the door. "Someone will be by with those changes. Have a good trip."

He opens the door and leaves.

I look out the window. It's dark now, and I was right - my day did not end well.

I hate him.

There are some files on my desk that I'll take home tonight. I'll read them after I go to the gym, after I have dinner with Marcia, after I'm too tired to think about this.

My raincoat is hanging near the door, and I grab it before heading out.

I hate them all.

***

One.

Two.

Three.

Oh, for crying out loud. What is it now? "Will someone please get the phone?"

"I've got it, sir." Janeane reaches behind me to the desk. Her hand grasps the receiver and pulls it up. "Office of the Vice-President. Yes. Excuse me? When did that –"

"Mr. Vice-President?"

I look up. Carl. "Yeah." I nod at him, and he steps through the doorway. He's holding my briefcase, and he has my winter coat slung over one arm. It's navy blue, and the collar is too high.

He strides toward me and holds out the coat. "Here."

I turn around and fit my arms into the sleeves. "The collar's too high."

"It makes you look regal."

I turn around and snicker. "Regal?"

Carl shrugs and snickers back at me. "Gives you broader shoulders."

Broader shoulders? "My shoulders are already –"

"Sir?" Janeane steps to my side. "Leo McGarry's office is on the phone. They want me to tell you that there's been an addition made to the passenger list for the tour."

I adjust the collar. Probably McInerny from the Interior. "Who?"

"Sam Seaborn."

Oh, no. No. "Sam Seaborn? Sam *Seaborn*?"

I hear Carl huff out a disgusted sigh behind me. Janeane nods at me. "Yes, sir." Her hair bounces up and down.

I turn to face Carl. "You know why he's coming along –"

"McGarry's just trying to mess with your head –"

"That little runt is coming along to rewrite my goddamned speech, a speech that –"

" – and you can't let him do that to you –"

" – I worked on! Am I honestly expected –"

" – if you react like this, he's only gonna enjoy that much more, and –"

" – to put up with this kind of horse-shit? Who the hell does he think –"

" – you're gonna need to just suck it up and take it like –"

" – he is? For that matter, who the hell does he think I am? Some stupid, insignificant –"

" – the next President of the United States."

I open my mouth to continue, but the fight is already seeping out of my chest. I take a deep breath, blow it out slowly. "Damn collar's too high."

Carl nods; there are splotches of red on his face. He hands me the briefcase. "You look good."

I shrug, trying to readjust the weight of the coat over my shoulders. It doesn't work. "He did the GDC speech."

"I know, sir." Carl stands beside me.

The briefcase is heavy, and I grip the handle hard. "He wrote that crap about eco-terrorism."

"Yes, he did."

"The end of that speech was the lowest, dumbest, most condescending piece of shit I've heard come out of Bartlet's face in a long time."

I think I see the corner of Carl's mouth quirk. Up or down, it's too fast to tell. "Yes, sir. It was."

The door is a few steps in front of me, and I start walking toward it. One step before I hit it, the door opens. I walk through and nod at Nathan.

He nods at me in response, and I can barely hear his murmured "sir." Our strides match, but he is one step behind me and to the left.

Carl is on my right, and behind me, I can feel Janeane's heels pierce through the thick carpeting, quick and light.

"I don't like this."

***

It's dark, and it's quiet. The tapping stopped a long time ago, and I can't see that soft blue light anymore.

Probably sleeping now. I wonder if he feels better, now that he's –

Doesn't matter. None of my business. Got a big day today, and I shouldn't be thinking about this, shouldn't even be awake, and I shouldn't be thinking about this of all things. I'm too tired to try.

But why would he want to –

Doesn't matter. Not my problem. Of course, of course. Couldn't care less what Seaborn decides to do, is planning to do, is doing, and why should I even –

Whoa!

Hey!

What the hell?!

Stop the goddamned –

"SIR!"

Part 3

 

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