TITLE: Variations: Out to Pasture
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
EMAIL: thwarted1066@yahoo.com
URL: http://geocities.com/thwarted1066/index.html
CATEGORIES: CJ/Leo; Josh/Sam, now fairly AU
RATING: PG
ARCHIVE: Anywhere and everywhere. Just let me know where to find it.
DISCLAIMER: Not being Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, or NBC, I don't own any of these characters or make any money from writing about them.
SUMMARY: "I'm just checking in here, but we still think this is weird, right?"
NOTES: 1) Well, then. Betcha didn't expect ever to hear from this series again, didja? And yet, here I am, back again. Here's the recap, for anyone who needs it: CJ and Leo's daughter, Nora, was born the day before the election. A few weeks
later, Sam and Josh's son, Sebastian, all but fell in their laps when his mother, Sam's cousin Angela, proved how unprepared she was to raise a child. And then it just so happened that Mallory up and moved to New Guinea to teach for five years. Now it's January, 2007, and our gang is headed out of the White House in a few short weeks. How sad.
2) Beth did the beta thing with her usual flair. Thank you much; I tip my hat to you.
3) This series has gone AU since I declard canon no longer to be my boyfriend, broke off the engagement, and wrote the story in such a way that there is no departure o'Sam. Just so's you know. I admit, this wasn't originally intended to be a birthday-fic for Gail. But, hey, it *is* her birthday, and you can never have too many fics on your birthday. So, happy birthday, Gail!

Variations: Out to Pasture by Julian Lee

*~*~*

JANUARY, 2007

Sam stared out his office window, a three-ring binder clenched in his hands. Most days, he couldn't convince himself that they were finally leaving this office, this building, this...life. Wrapping his mind around not being here anymore was proving difficult.

God. He had to snap out of this. It was getting really annoying.

*Thwap.*

Now there was a sound he wouldn't miss at all. Sam turned to see what was up Toby's ass today, but this time Toby wasn't his assailant. He smiled. "Hey, CJ."

"Come play HORSE with us." She tossed the ball in the air twice.

He held out the binder. "I'm packing."

CJ looked into the cardboard box on the desk. It was empty except for a pencil cup. "You're staring out the window, pretending to pack. Come play."

Sam waved around the office. "I has all this stuff—"

"Josh says he can beat you."

Sam put the binder in the cardboard box and slipped past CJ into the bullpen. "Oh, Josh, what's this I hear about you beating me at HORSE?"

"I'm gonna own your ass!" Josh said.

Sam smiled placidly. "You already do. But beat me at this game? Seriously?"

Josh blushed and looked at Charlie and Leo, who were fighting losing battles against hysterical laughter. Josh was better than Sam at any number of things; this just didn't happen to be one of them, and he knew it. "Um. I've been practicing?"

Ignoring Josh, Sam asked, "What are the scores?" He started rolling up his sleeves, and CJ wondered if bringing him into the game was such a good idea for their egos.

She pointed around the room. "Charlie and I each have H; Leo has H-O; and Josh has H-O-R."

Sam considered this. "I take it Josh's whore is higher class than Leo's ho."

Leo and Josh's eyes widened, and CJ coughed violently. "You would be the expert on that, Sam," Charlie said.

"One more time, Charlie: Laurie was a call girl," Sam said calmly. There was a trashcan on the floor in front of Ginger's desk. "Is that our target?"

"What kind of amateurs do you take us for?" CJ pointed to a 'World's Greatest Aunt" coffee cup on the desk. "*That* is our target." She flipped the ball to Sam. He smiled and raised his arm, but a sudden commotion from Toby's office held him back.

"Do *not* hit me with that." Toby burst into the bullpen. "It's mine. You can't hit me with it."

"Sure he can," Josh said. "He's got really good aim."

"Is it done, Toby?" Leo asked.

"It is done." Toby waved a tiny slip of yellow paper. "We're going to Phoenix. Robin's got it all worked out."

"Congratulations, Toby," said Charlie. "You guys gonna win?"

"Not a chance in hell." He smiled. "What? You wouldn't want me to continue this, this winning streak, would you?" A progressive, reform-minded candidate was challenging the incumbent Arizona governor, a regressive, status-quo-minded moron, and the challenger had contacted Toby and Robin to come run her campaign. They were screwed, Toby said, but they were sure as hell going to have fun trying. He shrugged. "But I guess, if anyone’s got any chance of getting her elected, it's Robin."

"And you," CJ said quietly.

"And as soon as Charlie's done with law school, we'll be running *his* campaign. That'll be better." Toby smiled at Charlie. He looked around at the players. "You're playing HORSE with Sam?"

CJ frowned. "Why not?"

Toby shrugged and headed towards the Oval Office. "Just, he's insanely good at this game. He'll kick your asses. I'm going to tell the President about Arizona."

Sam flicked his wrist and landed the ball easily in the cup.

CJ went to retrieve it. "Isn't it, like, midnight in Arizona?" She tossed Leo the ball.

Leo glanced at the time zone clocks on the wall. He was sure there had been a point in his life where he would've known what time it was in Arizona without consulting a clock, but when you're White House Chief of Staff, some things became less important to hold onto. "Yeah. Why?"

"I'm just wondering what kind of people are up at midnight in Phoenix who Robin would be 'working it out' with."

Josh shrugged. "The same kind of people who are up at two in the morning in D.C."

"Good point." CJ glared at Leo. "Are you playing this game or not, McGarry?"

"This is what I have to look forward to once we're out of here." Grinning, Leo threw the ball, which wobbled precariously on the rim of the cup for a second before falling in. "Years and years of nothing but that calm, beautiful, soothing voice."

"Charlie," CJ said sweetly, "will you please get that ball and throw it at my husband's head?"

*~*~*

"All right, Leo," CJ said, tossing him the ball again, "You *have* to make this shot. Miss it, and you're out of the game. You're playing for Cregg-McGarry family honor here."

"We're doing fine, CJ," he said. "You only have two letters, and Josh is out."

"Yeah, but Sam doesn't have a single letter yet."

"Hello?" Charlie waved his hand. "You may have forgotten that I'm still over here, but I only have one letter, and I plan to take you *all* down."

CJ blinked. "He does make an excellent point."

"Yeah," Sam agreed.

That was when they heard the voice. "...used to be Counsel's offices until Seaborn and Ziegler claimed Manifest Destiny. We should see about getting it oh."

There they stood, five in the bullpen, three just outside, and Sam could've sworn he heard a lonely harmonica playing.

Not surprisingly, Leo was the first to recover. He pushed himself away from Bonnie's desk and crossed the bullpen. "Good morning, Mr Vice-President."

Hoynes nodded to Leo, less certainly towards the others. "Good morning, Leo. I...I'm sorry; I hadn't realized anyone would be here."

"We never go home, sir," CJ said, the tint of bitterness around the edges of her voice so faint Sam thought he might've imagined it.

"Yes. Well. I know all about that."

"You will soon enough, sir," Sam said quietly. Josh shot him a look he didn't have time to read, and he kept on staring down the Vice-President. The President-elect. Whatever. Sam knew he was overprotective of President Bartlet, but it was hard not to be with Hoynes standing, in all his asshole glory, in the middle of a place that Sam had come to think of as home.

Hoynes returned his unblinking gaze for a few seconds longer, then he looked away and laughed uncertainly. "Yes, Sam; I'm sure I will." He shivered in the chill of barely-hidden hostility. "Well. I was just here to..."

"Check out the new digs, sir?" Josh asked.

He nodded gratefully. "Something like that, yes."

Josh held out his hands. "If you have any questions, we have been here for eight years. Manifest Destiny, and all."

"Josh," Leo hissed, but Josh didn't seem to hear as he added his glare to CJ's and Sam's.

"I think we should be leaving now," Hoynes said, though he held his ground. "We've got enough to start with." He turned to his aides. "Let's go."

The three turned in unison, like some crazed bureaucratic drill team, and left the bullpen. CJ leaned against the desk and folded her arms across her dove-gray blazer, shivering.

"CJ? You all right?" Leo was at her side in less time than it took to tell about it. Sam smiled at the image it presented. Leo McGarry: from zero to CJ in 2.5 seconds.

"Vultures."

He rubbed her arm. "We did the same thing."

"But he sneaking in in the middle of the night when he thinks no one will be around—"

"If you were John Hoynes, would you want to face any of us right now?"

CJ jumped off the desk and rounded on Leo, her voice loud and sharp in the early morning silence. "If I were John Hoynes, I wouldn't want to face *myself* right now."

"CJ—" Josh was trying to get Leo out of the fire but ended up right down there with him as CJ whirled to face him.

"He sold us out, Josh. He went in front of the entire goddamned country and campaigned on the platform that he'd never liked us."

Against his better judgment, Leo took a step towards her. "It wasn't as bad as—"

"Just — you know what, Leo? You're right. It wasn't that bad; it was worse. You have no idea what I went through in that briefing room every day, trying to spin the fact that our own Vice President was trying to win an election by saying how terrible we are." The pain of the memory added a hysterical tinge to her voice. "How terrible the President is."

"What bothers you about it, CJ? The fact that he campaigned with that message, or the fact that he won with it?"

Slowly, Leo, Charlie, Sam, and Josh turned towards Toby. He and CJ had always had a strange relationship, but it wasn't like him to throw himself in front of an oncoming bulldozer like this. Sam sighed, suspecting that he would have to be the one to tell Robin McCall that Toby was dead.

Instead, CJ's shoulders sagged, and she swayed a bit in the middle of the bullpen, her back to Toby. "You you're going away, Toby. You don't get to say anything."

Toby took a hesitant step towards her. He looked over at Leo, who shrugged helplessly and gestured him on. "We're all going away, CJ."

CJ's head fell forward heavily. "I know," she whispered.

Josh slid a tentative arm around her shoulders. "It won't be all bad, CJ. You're going to take the Berkeley comm. department by storm. Sam and I will only be half a state away, and even Arizona's not that far."

"Charlie's staying here." CJ sniffled, glaring petulantly.

"I know. Charlie's a traitor."

Charlie laughed.

"But who knows what he'll do once he's graduated from GW. Maybe Zoey will haul him to California so she can conquer Hollywood. In the meantime, you have us, and Leo's going to be" He looked over at the chief of staff. "What are you going to be doing again, Leo?"

Leo smiled and extracted a slightly calmer CJ from under Josh's arm. "I'll be puttering."

"And Leo's going be I'm sorry; did you say *puttering*?" Josh blinked at Leo in confusion.

"The new house has a shed in the back," Leo said, almost dreamily, as he steered CJ back to Bonnie's desk. "I'm going to put in a couple of windows and turn it into a workshop, where I will putter. I am going to build things out of wood."

Sam twisted his cufflink in the buttonhole. "I do you know *how* to build things out of wood, Leo?" he asked. Toby, knowing he wanted nothing to do with this conversation, slipped into his office.

Leo favored Sam with a brief glare. "I'm going to learn. And then I'm going to teach Nora."

"God help us," Josh groaned, sinking into Donna's chair and spinning himself slowly. "Two McGarrys running around wielding band saws."

"You can't 'wield' a band saw, Josh," Leo said. "And I can't imagine that teaching Nora how to use a saw and a drill will be any worse than anything you plan to teach Sebastian."

"Hey, now." Josh dragged his feet across the floor to stop the chair. "Sam and I are raising a wholesome American boy. He will learn how to throw a baseball and grill a mean brat and—"

"And possibly count cards," Charlie interjected softly.

Josh's face turned progressively redder as Leo, Charlie, CJ, and finally Sam succumbed to another fit of laughter. "I'm sorry, Mir," Sam said, putting his hand on Josh's shoulder, "but it's kind of true."

"It's a long walk to Sacramento, Seaborn," he muttered.

"Which reminds me," said Leo, "I hear Russ Nuenkirk offered you a job, too, Sam."

Sam took his hand off Josh's shoulder. "Yeah," he said brusquely.

Leo's eyebrow went up. "I take it you're not accepting the offer."

"Sam and I don't exactly see eye to eye on Governor Nuenkirk," Josh said.

Sam snorted.

Leo frowned. "Is that going to...cause a problem?"

Slightly offended, Josh sat up straighter in the chair. "Leo. Sam and I are professionals."

"Of course you are," Leo agreed. "But you're going to be the man's chief of staff, Josh, and if you come home every night to someone who doesn't approve of him, eventually it might cause conflicts either in your work or your relationship."

"I can keep my opinions to myself." Sam didn't seem bothered.

"Good." Leo nodded.

"Morning, everybody!"

Well, *that* voice was far too chipper for two in the morning. They turned to confront it. "Donna!" Josh exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I had a feeling you would be here, so I figured I might as well come in, too; deal with the crises I didn’t get to yesterday before today's crises started getting dumped on me. Get out of my chair." Donna threw her long black coat over the back of the chair as Josh vacated it. She seemed overdressed somehow, as though she'd just come from the opera, though there was nothing different about her navy suit than what she wore to the office any other day of the week.

"We missed you at the caucus reception, Donna," CJ said.

"Yeah, sorry." Donna sounded cosmically unrepentant. "But yesterday was our two-year anniversary, and John gets these scary ideas sometimes..." She flashed the love-struck smile that they had been finding so annoying for nearly two years. Blinking back into focus, her eyes fixed on the coffee mug on Ginger’s desk. "Has Sam won yet?"

CJ shook her head, her hair waving softly to the sides. "Has *everyone* in this administration lost to Sam at HORSE except me?"

Donna shrugged and picked up a stack of file folders. "I'll be back."

As she disappeared down the hall, Charlie leaned conspiratorially towards the others. "I'm just checking in here, but we still think this is weird, right? We haven't changed our stance and decided it makes perfect sense that Donna is dating Ambassador Marbury?"

CJ ran her tongue across her lower lip and regarded Donna's empty chair. "Well, it *does* make sense, in a strange, John Marbury sort of way. But, yeah, in general, it's still insane."

"Right." Charlie nodded. "Just wanted to make sure."

There were any number of stranger things. It was stranger, for instance, that Zoey had dumped her French aristocrat and reconciled with Charlie. Stranger that Josh's new position as Governor Nuenkirk's chief of staff was an excuse that they were really moving to California to be closer to those morons Sam couldn't help being related to. Stranger that Toby was going back to campaigning, and that Leo was getting out of politics to 'putter.'

Far, far stranger that in two weeks, all of this would end.

"What are you people doing here?"

Everyone popped up as President Bartlet came into the bullpen. "Good morning, sir," Leo said.

"Don't all of you have children?" He glared at Charlie. "Not you."

"Our children are sleeping," Josh said.

"Not if they're anything like their parents." He glanced at the pink ball sitting in the coffee mug. "How much is Sam winning by?"

Sam chuckled. "Quite a lot, sir."

"What are *you* doing here, Mr President?" asked Leo.

Bartlet tapped his fingers against the top of Ginger's desk. "Toby came in; told me about Arizona. It's a wonderful thing. They're going to lose horridly, but it's a wonderful thing. I thought of something that might help him a little, and I thought I'd stop by his office and mention it."

Josh nodded. "I'm sure he'll appreciate that, sir."

"He'd better. I don't dish out advice like cough drops."

Josh looked over at Sam, who shook his head. Disagreeing with the President was not a game either of them felt like playing at the moment.

CJ took a hesitant step forward. "Mr. President? Something just happened out here—"

"CJ—" Leo shook his head.

"No, Leo," she said firmly. "I'll have my say."

"It's not worth it, CJ," Leo insisted.

"Hoynes?" asked Bartlet.

She sighed. "Yes, sir."

Bartlet crossed to CJ's side, leaning against the desk. "I won't deny, I wish he hadn't done what he did. But he's going to be the President. The voters chose him, and no matter what he did during the campaign, he's a thousand times better than Ritchie. And for as long as we remain in this office, we will show him respect."

"Why?" CJ snapped. "He didn't show us any."

Bartlet smiled gently at her. "Well, we're bigger than ten men."

She chuckled. "Yes, sir. I guess we are."

"Well, I'm going to talk to Toby, and then I should go back to the Residence and pretend to sleep. Abbey gets upset if I don't at least put in an appearance in bed." He pushed away from the desk. "All of you go home. Be there when your kids wake up."

"We will, sir," Leo promised.

Bartlet looked around the bullpen. "Is Donna still on her date with Ambassador Marbury?"

"Just got back," said Josh.

The President shook his head. "It's insane." He walked towards the Residence, still shaking his head.

Leo took his friend's place beside CJ at the desk. "It's all insane."

"Does anyone else feel like ice cream?"

They turned to look at Charlie. "It's 2:30 in the morning," Sam said.

"Yeah."

"And you want ice cream."

"Yeah. I'm depressed," he said. "Tonight's making me depressed. Ice cream makes me feel better."

Leo laughed. "I think some *sleep* would make you feel better. I know it'd do wonders for me." He stepped away from the desk and held his hand out to CJ. "Besides, the President gave us an order."

Charlie shrugged. "He gave *you* an order. Since I have no children to be home for, I'm as free as the breeze."

CJ patted his shoulder as she and Leo walked past. "Even the breeze takes a nap once in a while, Chuckles. Go home."

"Donna!" Josh called as he and Sam gathered their things. "We're leaving."

She waved absently from the end of the hallway. "Night, then. See you in four hours."

"Aren't you going?" Sam asked.

She came up and leaned against the bullpen, her eyes dancing. "I couldn't *think* of sleeping now."

Josh shook his head and slung his backpack over his shoulder. "Okay, you're scaring me. Sam?"

Sam nodded. "Let's go."

When Leo and CJ pulled out of their parking space, Josh and Sam were still tossing books, papers, and toys into the back seat of their car. CJ laughed and honked at them, and they half-waved as a stuffed bee hit the back windshield. She estimated they'd be in the parking lot for at least five more minutes.

Still, for the first time in who knew how long, they were going to do it. They were all going to be home when their children woke up.

FIN

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