Life But Not Quite As We Know It
by Katrina McDonnell


The sun's too bright and he stumbles to the window to pull the curtains. His toe collides with an object on the return trip and he loses his balance, falling onto the bed.

Suzanne appears in the doorway as he finishes swearing. "What happened?" she asks in that resigned voice he's getting really sick of.

"I kicked my--" He sits up and looks at his attacker. A suitcase. "Did I forget a trip?"

She hasn't moved. "I'm going to my sister's."

He searches his memory, but it's like sifting through mud. "I don't remember-"

"That's the point, John. You don't remember anything and I'm sick of living like this."

"This crap again?" He pushes himself to his feet, feels at less of a disadvantage, even as he grabs the dresser for support.

"Yes. This crap again." She takes a hesitant step towards him. "What happened to the man who wanted to be a US Senator? I'm scared you aren't even going to be here in six months."

"There's nothing wrong with me." Nothing that a glass of scotch wouldn't fix.

"You might believe that, but I don't. And I'm not going to be a martyr like your mother." He hears the tears before they appear.

He reaches his hand out. "Don't cry, Sweetheart. Please don't. I won't drink if you don't want me to."

"That's what you said last month." She shakes her head. "That's what your father said every time your mother grew a backbone."

"I'm not my father!" He immediately regrets the roar and grasps his head, trying to keep it attached.

Her voice is strong through the tears. "Then prove it, John. Because I'm not coming back until you do." She touches his cheek and picks up the suitcase. "I love you." She walks out.

If he moves now he can stop her before she reaches the front door. His feet somehow carry him out of the bedroom and down the hallway. But they make a sharp right into the living room and halt in front of the bar. He pours himself a shot and then a glass.

Four months later the coroner relies on dental records when his estranged wife is unable to identify him.



He's known for weeks the nomination was slipping out of his reach. But when that reality's being shoved in your face...and you're being offered the consolation prize before the final fight has even started...

"Senator?" Leo McGarry sits opposite him.

"Why isn't he asking?"

"He will."

At least Leo isn't insulting his intelligence by giving voice to the rest of the sentence. Bartlet will ask only when it's official. Who knows, they might find someone better. John performs a quick roll call in his head...but no other Democrat has a chance of delivering the South.

He glances over at Josh, who has been uncharacteristically quiet. Torn between an old friend and his aspirations for his employer?

"It's too early."

Leo sits forward. "With all due respect, Senator, you've seen the same polls we have. Governor Bartlet is going to be the Democratic nominee. We're offering you--"

"Cut the bullshit, Leo." John stands and walks to the window. "You only want me for what you think I can deliver. Otherwise you wouldn't risk exposing yourself to the stench of oil."

"That's how it works."

At last some honesty. But he's already made his decision. "No."


He slowly turns; Josh is staring at him in utter confusion. And Leo's eyebrows have nearly lifted off his head. "I'm not interested."

Leo recovers. "We'll talk about it during the Convention."

"Don't bother. I've made my decision. I'm running for the nomination and if I don't get it, I'll wait another term." He doesn't need to see him to know Josh is having a fit. He glances at his watch. "I've got a committee meeting to get to, so if there's nothing else?"

Josh waits until they're alone. "What the hell--they were offering you the Vice Presidency!"

"Really? I must have missed that detail."


He lowers himself into his chair. "Bartlet may win the nomination, but there's no way in hell he's going to win the election." He taps his fingers on the desktop. "And we'll pick the party up, dust them off, and get ready for the next one."



He taps his fingertips on the desk.

This isn't how this was supposed to happen. He was supposed to win. He was supposed to be here on his own merits.

Not because...not this...never this way.

He grabs the top folder from the pile in the middle of the desk and walks back to the chair between the couches. His staff are trying to hide their curiosity...but how does he tell them that John Hoynes - the professional political operative - can't sit in that chair, behind that desk. He didn't earn either.

How does he ask for a new chair and a new desk? Maybe a new Oval Office, too? While he's at it, a new Presidential seal. He can't look down at the carpet.

The clock is too loud but he keeps his eyes on the folder. He doesn't want to know the time. Doesn't want to know how soon he'll have to leave for the second funeral in a week.

The first was small and solemn, people still too much in shock to comprehend what had happened, or imagine what was still to come. He'd been able to pay his respects in private, to say goodbye without the weight of office crushing him.

But today is different. Today isn't only about mourning the previous occupant of this office. Today he has to be what his country needs and he can't even sit in that seat behind that desk.

A knock on the door.

"Come in." He doesn't look up.

"Mr. President. Your car's ready."

And he wishes that he'd never left Texas, never hired Josh Lyman, never met Josiah Bartlet, never heard of Rosslyn.

Achieving his dream was never supposed to feel like this.



The approach...

Lead into it slowly. So, CJ came to my office today. Apparently there's a leak from my office to the Post. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that?

Confrontation. How many ways have you been screwing me exactly?

John rises from the bed and begins to pace, wearing more holes in the hotel room carpet.

Fucking a journalist had always been a monumentally stupid idea, but he'd told himself that they had the same amount to lose. He'd thought that they shared some kind of integrity.

He snorts and shakes his head. A politician believing in integrity. Alert the press!

But none of it makes sense. He never brings his work here, and this is the only place. And they don't talk politics. There's rarely any words extending beyond giving directions and muffled exclamations.

John glances at his watch. He should be here by now.

The bar fridge creeps into his field of vision and whispers his name...

"Mr. Vice President."

John nods to the agent and turns back to the fridge.

"Did I get the day wrong? I thought it was Wednesday."

Mind over dick.

Turning to his...guest, he notices jacket, tie, and suspenders already on the floor. "Something's come up."

"Hey." A slight grin as eyes drop.

"Not that." Though it's well on its way. He shrugs off his own jacket as Danny reaches for his belt. "But it can wait."



He can't stop tracking the numbers even though they don't have any direct effect on him. He's served his allotted time, but he wants to know his retirement is in good hands.

New Hampshire - was there ever any doubt?

"What about Texas?"

He looks up at Josh's question. His Chief of Staff is sitting on the other side of the desk, phone to his ear and scribbling madly. John tries to keep his breathing steady as he waits for some indication of his home state's intentions.

"You sure?" Josh meets his eyes and grins.

Another tick and the states are mounting.

More phone calls, more numbers, more ticks.

"How's Florida?"

Josh checks his information. "Line ball. But if they take California the game's over."

He takes a sip of beer. "How long?"


Half an hour and he feels comfortable enough to make the final call.

"Get him on the phone." He allows Josh a couple of minutes with his old friend before speaking himself. "Hello, Leo. Could I please speak to him?"

"Hello, Mr. President." Vice President Bartlet's joy and relief is clear in his voice.

"Mr. President-elect." He smiles at Josh. "Congratulations, Jed. I knew you could do it. How's Abbey and the team taking it?"

A cheer explodes through the phone line. "That answer your question?"

He leans back in his chair, placing his feet up on the desk. "Doesn't sound like you're having enough fun there."

He's happy to turn the keys over to this good man.


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