On the Road to the Real Thing - 6

***

"It's Joshua Lyman, sir. Should I let him in?"

I sigh, keeping my eyes on the nurse as she removes the IV. She smiles at me. "Has someone got a visitor?"

Like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I smile back at her. I even show my teeth. I'd rather have her talking at me than Josh Lyman. Just can't have a bad day without Josh Lyman.

Better to get it over with, though.

I glance at the needle-mark. There'll be a bruise there soon. "Yeah, let him in."

"Yes, sir."

He opens the door and gestures. There's the sound of shoes shuffling on the floor, and I can hear Joshua enter.

"Mr. Vice-President."

I look up in surprise. Mr. Vice-President? Why, that's downright respectful.

Something's up.

"Josh."

"How are you, sir?"

He's not wearing a jacket, and his tie is loose.

Sir.

I don't like this.

(Concentrate!)

I open my mouth to respond. "I'm-"

"Well, the Vice-President is feeling quite tired and understandably so. You really shouldn't stay too long," the nurse answers for me.

She tosses the used needle into the trash.

I watch Josh's eyes widen.

She gently fixes a bandage over my arm. "After all, someone has had a very busy morning and needs his rest."

Her mouth parts in a smile.

I smile back, wider this time. "Thank you so much. You've been a godsend."

She blushes and starts for the door, glancing over her shoulder at me. I keep smiling.

Every vote counts. I learned that in '97.

She walks past Josh. "Fifteen minutes. No more than that," she tells him, her voice is pitched low.

It was a good lesson to learn.

Josh makes a non-committal noise, staring as her plump bottom waddles out to the hallway.

Nathan closes the door, but Josh keeps his eyes on her, watching her progress through the window. His hands are in his pockets.

I let out a loud sigh, trying to get his attention.

He turns around, stepping clumsily away from the bed. He surveys the room. "It's nice in here. A little small, but it's okay."

"It's fine."

He peers at the black screen of the television. "I had a bigger room at GW," he says. "Bigger television, too."

How very special for you, Josh. "I'm sure you did."

He bends down, inspecting an electrical socket in the wall. "This'll do, though."

I watch him, and I swallow once or twice. My tongue still feels thick from the morphine, and my mouth tastes bad.

(Concentrate!)

I scratch around the bandage absently, my eyes following Josh as he walks around the room. "Leo McGarry was already here."

"Yeah. " He turns back to me and nods. His voice is light. "Yeah. You know, you'll need another phone line in here. I'll order that, get that in here for you. Are you gonna want anything else?"

"No." I don't like this. He wasn't this solicitous when he worked for me.

"'Cause I could get anything you need, you know. Chairs, computer, whatever."

"Why are you here?" The words slip out of my mouth, sounding a little slurred.

His eyebrows go up, making his face looked tight. He shrugs a few times, his shoulders out-of-sync with one another. "You're the Vice-President of the United States, and you were just in a bus crash. I just thought I'd stop by and see how you're-"

"You want to sit down?" I motion toward the chair in the corner.

His hands come out of his pockets and he pulls it over, letting it scrape against the linoleum. "Thank you, sir."

He starts to sit, then hesitates and stands back up. He moves to lean against the back of the chair, one hand smoothing his tie, his fingers pulling at the edges.

"I've been sitting all morning. On the plane, then the car, then here," he says in a rush. He takes a deep breath, clears his throat. "Anyway, how are you-"

"When did you all get here?"

He's still smoothing the tie, patting it down. "'Bout two hours ago." His hand leaves the tie and moves up to rub at his face. Red streaks appear on his cheeks and near his eyes. "So, how are-"

"I'll be fine."

"Good, good." He looks around the room for a moment before turning back to me and taking another deep breath. "The President will be calling in about an hour or so."

He pauses and points a finger at the cast on my leg. "I could have him call later, if you're not up for-"

"What's he want?"

Jed Bartlet. Just what I need to make my day complete. He probably wants to tell me some long story about one of his many experiences with bus accidents.

Just what I need.

Josh exhales loudly, and his eyebrows go up again. "He wants to thank you."

"Nothing to thank me for," I tell him. I feel irritable.

Josh starts to pull at the tie again. "You, uh...you saved Sam's life."

Nathan told me what happened, but my head's still feeling scrambled. I wave my hand a little. "Automatic. I'm sure I didn't mean anything by it."

He stares at me for a beat.

I shift against the pillows. My back aches. "A joke, Josh. Little tense in here," I say. I tap my head. "Blame it on the concussion."

"Yeah."

"You're acting...nice toward me. I'm not sure I like it."

He blinks. "I'm sure I don't mean anything by it."

"I would hope not." There's a glass of water next to the bed, and I lift it towards me, take a sip. "Is he still in surgery or what? No one's been down here to tell me, so..."

I watch Josh's Adam's apple bob up and down. He clears his throat, making a dry, breathy sound. "Yeah, they're, uh...." He scratches at his neck, makes it red. "Actually, I don't know what they're doing. They had some doctor come to talk with us, but most of it just went over my head."

I take another swallow. "Over your head, huh? Must have been quite a climb."

He laughs, short and strained. "We should put you on the comedy circuit, John. I bet we'd pick up a lot of votes that way."

"Couldn't hurt."

There's silence, and I look out the window. The ground is wet outside.

"He's...he's a good friend of mine."

His voice is subdued, quiet.

"I know."

He looks up. "How do you know?"

"Just do, I guess."

He nods, then stands up, walking to the window. "He didn't want to come out here. With you."

"I know."

He turns his head, glancing at me.

I shrug, put the water back on the table. "Just a feeling."

"I thought it was a good idea, though. And I still do. You know, I think that he could really contribute to the-"

It was a bad idea. It was a bad idea to do a drop-in, it was a bad idea to send him out, and it was a bad idea to try to handle me like this.

But I'll save that for another day. "Doesn't matter what you thought now."

"Yeah," he agrees after a moment. He crosses his arms in front of his chest. He straightens, adjusts his tie. Time for business. "Yeah. Anyway, I'm going to call the Autoworkers' Union and cancel your appearance for tomorrow."

"I don't think that's-"

"We all agree that it's a good idea."

We.

He means Leo and himself, maybe Ziegler, too.

Of course.

I shake my head. Hell, they can be right this once. My leg hurts, my head hurts, and I'm too tired to argue with Joshua.

He turns back to me, inhaling. "What happened this morning?" His hands are on his hips. "I should know. I should know, so there's no confusion with the press."

I lean back against the pillows. "There was a captain from the state troopers in here a little while ago. I already told him what I know."

Josh nods, his head jerking up and down. "Yeah, well, I'd like you to tell me, too. I really should know. I really..." His foot begins tapping on the floor. "I should know. I mean, CJ Cregg's got to have all the information, and Toby'll have to draft something, and-"

"I don't remember much at all."

"Whatever you know."

I stare at him. His hair is pushed back, and I can see the lines on his forehead. "My bus crashed. My bus driver died. My Chief of Staff's got some broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. My secretary has a broken ankle and a big bruise on her face. A bunch of other people have scrapes all over. I've got a torn-up leg. Sam Seaborn's in surgery, and all I remember is a loud noise, and then, Nathan here nagging at me to get on a gurney and shut up. That's all I know, Joshua."

He looks washed-out against the white walls of the room. "Nothing else, sir?"

He's doing it again.

Sir.

Really throws off my concentration.

I shrug. "That's it, Joshua. Really."

I'm not telling him any more than that. He doesn't need to know. CJ Cregg is getting plenty of information from the reporters on the press bus and the state troopers and investigators. Toby Ziegler will think of something to say without my input.

And Joshua really doesn't need to know that it was dark in the bus, that it was cold outside, and that my hands were wet with his friend's blood.

"Josh."

He lets out a breath and looks at me.

I settle against the pillows some more. "You're an annoying fellow, and I'm tired. Why don't you work on the plans to remodel my hospital room and let me get a little rest?"

He stares at me, one hand moving to his hip before slipping off to hang at his side again.

Nathan clears his throat, and Josh jerks his head around to glance at him.

He sighs loudly. "Fine," he acquiesces. He turns to look at me, one hand coming up to point at me. "The President's calling in an hour. Try to remember that."

I shrug and lean my head back on the pillows. "Of course, Joshua." I close my eyes, and I can hear him leave the room, his steps loud and heavy. I listen to the door shut behind him.

He doesn't need to know.

***

"Seaborn's here." Carl looks like he just sucked on a fish.

I take off my glasses and gesture for him to let Seaborn into the suite. "Seaborn."

"Mr. Vice-President. How are you, sir?"

He's wearing a dark suit and a white shirt. Very clean-cut.

He wouldn't last a day where I come from.

I nod at him and sit down on the couch. "I'm fine. Take a load off, Seaborn."

He sits across from me, a portfolio tucked under his arm.

I pour a glass of orange juice for myself. "Want any?"

He shakes his head, looking fixedly at the pitcher. "No, sir."

"Sure?"

"Yes, sir."

I shrug and take a sip. It'd be better be with vodka, but hey – wouldn't everything?

(Concentrate!)

I put the juice down on the table between us. "Enjoy the flight?"

"It was fine, sir."

"Good." I stretch out my arms against the back of the couch. He's sitting on the edge of his chair, his back straight and his expression blank as he glances around the room.

(Concentrate!)

I tap my fingers on the leather. "Leo McGarry tell you what you're supposed to do?"

He blinks, snaps his head to look directly at me. "Yes, of course he did."

Of course. Of course he did. They probably laughed about it during their Senior Staff meeting. Of course, of course.

Arrogant little prick.

I gesture at Carl, and he steps forward, papers in hand. "Well, I guess you'll be wanting a copy of the speech, then. So you can-"

"I have an advance copy of the speech."

Carl freezes in place, one hand extended and the speech drooping toward the floor. I smile tightly. "You already have a copy?"

Seaborn opens his portfolio, pulling out an expensive-looking pen and flipping though several sheets of paper. "Yes, sir. 'For all Americans, for all people, we must ensure the future-'"

"I know what I wrote, Seaborn." I feel my jaw aching. Carl steps back, the speech disappearing behind his back.

Seaborn looks up. "You wrote this?"

I stay still. "I helped to draft it. And I-"

"It's very good, sir. I especially like the third section, where-"

"Where're you putting the drop-in?" Don't try to butter me up now, Seaborn.

He glances up at me over the top of his glasses. "The drop-in?"

I roll my eyes. "You wake up dumb today, Seaborn? The drop-in. Remember, Leo McGarry sent you over here to do for this speech what you did for the GDC-"

"I didn't do the-" He stops abruptly, his gaze shifting downward to his lap. One hand moves to adjust his glasses. He takes a breath and clears his throat before looking back up. "I didn't do the drop-in yet. I... I've read the speech, but I hadn't really thought about how to-"

"Shouldn't be too hard, Seaborn. Just a little drop-in. I'm sure if you handle it the same as you handled the GDC, then this'll be just as successful." I lean forward and pick up my juice, take a sip. "Oh, right. The GDC speech was a disaster, a bomb, a mistake, a debacle, a-"

"I'm aware that the GDC event didn't go as well as it could have. I'll make sure that doesn't happen here. Sir."

His voice is even, but the tone is sharper now. His eyes meet mine.

Ah, still smarts, doesn't it?

Good.

I smile and raise my glass of orange juice at him. "I'm glad to hear that, Seaborn."

He doesn't respond, and I give him a pointed look.

He licks his lips and nods. "Yes, sir."

I take another sip. The juice is too sweet, and it almost makes my tongue curl. "I think the drop-in's a bad idea, Seaborn. I think it's foolish, and I think it's mean-spirited. You do what you got to do, but I don't want to piss off fifty thousand autoworkers, okay? I don't want to lose their money, and I don't want to lose their support."

He nods once more, his lips pressing together. "Yes, sir."

I watch him for a long moment, feel my breathing even out. "Nothing comes out of my mouth that I don't approve first."

"Of course not, sir."

I take a large swallow of juice and look at Carl. He gazes back at me, his lips pursed. I shift my eyes back to Seaborn. He's staring at the papers in his portfolio. "Have it done by tomorrow afternoon."

He starts to nod, but pauses. He's not quite looking at me. "Yes, sir."

"You have something more to say, Seaborn?"

He shakes his head. "No, sir. I'll try to have it finished by then."

I watch him close the portfolio and stand up, waiting to be dismissed. "You sound doubtful of your abilities there, Seaborn."

His gaze flickers up to meet mine. "No, sir. I'm not, sir."

Of course not. Of course not.

Arrogant.

I stand. I'm not much taller than him, but it's enough. He has to look up at me. "Listen, Seaborn, I don't know what kind of crap you're used to pulling with Toby Ziegler, and I don't care what Leo McGarry told you to do out here, but if you piss on my parade during this tour, I will make sure that your political life becomes very uncomfortable."

His eyes meet mine. "I can assure you, sir-"

"You can go now."

He opens his mouth to say something, but Carl clears his throat loudly and holds open the door.

Seaborn takes a deep breath. "Thank you, sir."

I sit back down, settling into the cushions. "You've got until tomorrow to write that drop-in without making me sound like an ass, Seaborn."

"Yes, sir."

With a short nod at me, he heads out the door, the portfolio tucked under his arm again.

If he messes this up, I'm going to run him into the ground.

***

"I'm Gwen Tremaine, and this is a Channel Seven Special Report..."

"...when Vice-President John Hoynes' bus skidded on an ice-y road and flipped over. The Vice-President's bus was then broad-sided by a bus carrying several members of the press contingent that regularly follows the Vice-President. That bus, the press bus, was subsequently rear-ended by several other personnel and equipment vans, causing a major pile-up.

"We've got Henry Ulich from the Sacramento Daily News on the line now. Henry was on the press bus, and he witnessed the accident. Henry, can you tell us what it was like out there?"

"Well, Gwen, it was awful. There was a terrible sound as the Vice-President's bus skidded off the road and crashed. We could all see it, but it happened so fast that there was just no way that our bus could avoid hitting it. And then we got hit by the vehicle behind us, and it was bad, just really bad."

"What happened then, Henry?"

"We were all thrown out of our seats...I mean, it was really a miracle that none of us were hurt. We all got out of our bus and tried to help, but the Vice-President's bus was wrecked. We saw people crawling out, and we helped them out onto the road. Some of them were hurt pretty badly, and we just did our best to help them."

"And how was the Vice-President? Where was he?"

***

Brody's face is red. "It'll take them at least twenty minutes to reach us, sir. It's been snowing a few miles east of here, and they're having some trouble on the roads."

I take in a breath. I can feel the cold travel down my throat. "Did you mention that we're having some trouble of our own?"

He knows enough not to answer.

I let out a sigh and look around. Empty highway to the right and left and smoke rising from the bus in front of me. Just behind me are a busload of reporters milling around, some useless police escorts, my staff, and one badly injured member of the President's Senior Staff.

I close my eyes.

"Sir?" Nathan touches me on the shoulder. "Sir, we need you back here."

I nod at him. "Yeah."

Nathan helps me to stand. He and Brody walk beside me, both with their arms around my waist as I hobble back to the makeshift beds in the center of the road.

Carl is there, lying flat on his back, his face pale. Janeane is there, too. She's got one arm up over her face, covering her eyes. Her other arm is at her side, hugging her purse next to her body.

I nod at Carl, and he lifts a hand at me, one thumb sticking up.

"How you two doing, Carl?"

There are lines around his mouth, but he meets my eyes and gives me a tight-lipped grin. "Doin' peachy, Mr. Vice-President."

"Good."

Brody helps me around Carl, maneuvers me so I can sit down on the ground. I look to my right, and Thomson glances up at me. He shakes his head.

I nod at him and turn my view downward. "How you doing, Seaborn?"

He takes a raspy breath, and I try not to flinch. "F-f-fine...sir."

I lean forward, try to get more comfortable on the asphalt. "You're a crap-ass liar, Seaborn."

"I'm a...a hi-high-ly r-r-espec-ted at-t-tor-ney, s-s-ir, and th-the Wh-wh-white House D-dep-uty..."

I made everyone who wasn't hurt – mostly the reporters - give up their coats and jackets. He's as warm as we can make him. I watch the coats tremble from his shivering.

"..c-c-cations...I lie...all th-the t-t-time."

I nod, my eyes straying down the wide strip of road. There are gray clouds in the near distance.

"So."

"Y-yes...s-s-sir?"

I blow out a breath and watch it disappear in front of my face. Reminds me of the good old days. When I used to smoke.

"So," I repeat.

I should ask him about his hobbies, about his family, his friends. Something to keep him awake and talking.

My head hurts, though, and I'm having a little trouble deciding what to say.

(Concentrate!)

I need to concentrate. "You ever been married, Seaborn?"

His head moves slightly, his eyes flickering up toward my face. "N-no...s-s-ir."

"Oh." I nod. "Damn shame. It's good."

"Y-y-es...s-s-ir."

Never been married. Can't ask him about a wife, then. That's better for me, I suppose; if I think about Marcia right now, I won't be able to concentrate.

(Concentrate!)

I blink a few times and lean forward, let my voice drop down to a whisper. "You lay anyone real hot lately?"

He stares at me for a moment, and I wonder if he'll answer me. Probably not. He'll probably tattle on me to Joshua Lyman, and then he'll tell Ziegler, and someone will tell one of those secretaries, and then it'll be all over the West Wing. Vice-President Hoynes is a horndog...

"...M-mall-lor-ry...O'-o-B-Bri-en...s-s-ir."

He's watching me, like I'm supposed to know who...

No.

No way in hell. "Leo McGarry's daughter?"

He nods, his head moving only a little within Thomson's careful grasp. There's blood on Thomson's fingers, but it's dry now, no more than red streaks matching those on the collar of Seaborn's shirt.

Leo McGarry's daughter.

Well, hot damn.

I grin. "Good for you, Seaborn. You two got a...thing?" I can't believe I never heard about this. I would have thought Leo McGarry would be shooting bullets out his ass before he let a politician date his daughter.

Seaborn keeps his head turned toward me, but his eyes move just to the side. "N-n-not...r-r-really...s-s-sir."

"Oh." Interesting.

"D-d-dat-ing...s-s-ome-one el-el-se."

"You are?" He starts to shake his head. "She is?"

"Y-yes...s-s-sir."

Who would have thought? "You're screwing another man's girl?"

If he had any blood to spare, I'm sure Seaborn would be blushing about now.

I sigh. "Guess it's not always that simple, huh?"

He swallows, his breath catching. "N-n-no...s-s-sir."

I look down at the ground, pick at my shoe.

"S-she...uh...th-thinks th-that...uh...I sp-spend t-t-too...t-t-too m-much t-time on w-w-work..." He's working hard now, trying to speak.

I nod. "It's a big job. That's what you're there for."

He starts to shake his head, and Thomson gently stops the movement. Seaborn takes few quick breaths, his eyes squinting at the sky. "H-hap-happened wh-when I...wh-when I w-w-was in l-l-law t-too..."

I wave a hand. "You've got an important job, and you're committed to it. Nothing wrong with that. People count on you to do your job well. That takes time. A lot of time."

His eyes shift back to meet mine. He gives a quick nod, pressing back into the rolled-up jacket beneath his head.

The coats are shaking harder. I lay my hand on top, trying to still the movement. "How's the job going?"

His shoulders lift slightly before dropping back down. "...s'okay..."

"You don't sound too enthused. I bet Josh-"

He makes a sharp movement, one hand slipping out from beneath the covers. "J-Josh d-d-oesn't...h-he nev-n-never-"

He stops, out of breath.

"Hey now....hey..." I'm not sure what else to say. I tuck his hand back under the mound of coats.

Thomson flashes me a look at me. His face drawn, guarded.

I adjust one of the coats, pull it up a little higher. "We don't have to talk about work."

He doesn't answer, but squeezes his eyes shut.

No wife, no girlfriend, and problems at work.

I take a breath and open my mouth. Sports, hobbies... Other things to talk about. I need to concentrate on that.

(Concentrate!)

I exhale. My breath comes out in a silent white cloud.

His eyes are still shut tight as he tries to catch his breath. It's uneven and halting. I turn my head and catch Brody's eye. My lips move silently as I tell him what to do.

Call again.

Tell them to move faster.

Part 7

 

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