Fandom: The West Wing
Prompt: 82) I really don't think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don't mind the failure but I can't imagine that I'd forgive myself if I didn't try. -- Nikki Giovanni (born June 7, 1943), African-American author and poet.
Summary: Amy Gardner's the one who first puts the idea out there
Author's Notes: I did my best with the presidential election system (with huge amounts of help from my friends list) but errors may remain, for which I apologise.
Life Less Ordinary
Amy Gardner's the one who first puts the idea out there, when they're finished with the meeting part of the morning and having coffee in the tiny café at the bottom of CJ's building.
"I ran into Josh the other day," Amy says, holding her mug in both hands. "He's still looking for his next presidential hopeful."
"Price isn't running again?" CJ asks, surprised, since he only lost the last presidential election by a small margin. She misses this, sometimes, the insider gossip that she had first for years.
"No," Amy says, grinning knowingly. CJ gestures for her to go on, but she just shakes her head, sips her coffee. "Josh isn't too pleased."
"I'm sure," CJ agrees.
"You could run," Amy says, like she's asking CJ to pass the sugar.
"I have a job already," CJ points out. "And I've been out of politics for the better part of a decade." She thinks Amy's joking.
"Not really that far out," Amy counters. "You have meetings on the Hill at least once a week. And you were President Bartlet's Chief of Staff at the end. You've got that legacy, not to mention all the goodwill with the press."
"You're serious?" CJ asks, still not sure.
Amy shrugs. "Why not? You don't think it's time we had a female president? You wouldn't want to be the country's first female president?"
CJ laughs. "Never change," she says.
Amy just looks at her, the way CJ's seen her look at people when she knows what she wants and knows she's going to get it.
"I had the strangest conversation with Amy Gardner today," CJ tells Danny that evening, when Sally's in bed and the two of them are sharing the last of a bottle of red wine on the couch.
"How's Donna?" Danny asks, predictably.
"She's good. Amy says she's thinking of moving on, maybe get back into campaigning."
"Hmm," Danny says, then, "Strangest conversation?"
"She said I could make a bid for the Democratic nomination next year."
"Nomination for what?" Danny asks, looking at her over his glasses.
CJ rolls her eyes. "You've been out of White House reporting for too long," she tells him. "For the presidency."
"But, see, you said strange conversation, you made me think, I don't know, Democratic mascot," Danny says. "Not something sensible like president."
CJ searches his face for any hint of mockery. It's not there. "Don't you start as well," she says, reaching out to top up their wine glasses.
Kate Harper's next, leaning back in CJ's visitor chair with her feet on CJ's desk. "So Will tells me the DNC doesn't have a strong candidate for the primaries yet."
"He tells me that you're dating an army colonel," CJ counters. She'd definitely rather hear about Kate's love life, full of drama as it's been since she and Will broke up.
Kate shrugs. "Dating's probably over-stating it," she says. "She's only been back in the US for a couple of weeks, it's more..."
"Stress relief?" CJ suggests, grinning.
"Stress relief," Kate agrees. "And we're done with that, so back to the presidential candidacy."
"I didn't know you were interested."
"I could say the same thing," Kate counters.
"I'm not. It seems to have escaped everyone's notice, but I actually have a job. A good job that I like, doing good work."
"Sure, because it's not like you'd get to do anything important as president."
"I'm not going to be president!" CJ says firmly.
"Not with that kind of negative attitude," Kate agrees, smiling.
The phone call from Abbey, CJ suspects, is not entirely a coincidence, even if they do spend the first twenty minutes talking about their collective daughters and, in Abbey's case, grand-children.
"I'm guessing Amy Gardner's been in touch with you," CJ says eventually.
"Not quite," Abbey says, the smile in her voice. "Though I'm sure Amy was involved somewhere." She hesitates, then says, "Are you thinking about it?"
"No," CJ says. It's only partly a lie – she's not thinking about it, exactly, she's more... not not-thinking about it.
"CJ," Abbey says, low and amused.
"I've never even held an elected office," she says.
"That's not true," Abbey says, laughing. "You were chair of the Parent-Teacher Association at Sally's school."
"Vote for me, three hundred parents did," CJ says.
"Needs work," Abbey says firmly. "But I'm sure there are people who could help with that."
"Abbey," CJ says, not sure if she's annoyed or amused. Maybe both.
"I'll give my official support to your campaign," Abbey says seriously. "I'm sure Jed would have said the same."
And that, maybe, is what tips her over from not not-thinking about it, to maybe thinking about it, a little.
Two weeks later, she's sitting on Sam's porch, leaning her back against the wooden railing, listening to the party going on inside, with a glass of wine in her hand. It's dark out, but the windows cast enough light to pick up the tilt of Amy's head, the angle of Donna's neck as she leans her head on Amy's knee, sitting at her feet. They look good together, always have.
"Hypothetically," CJ says, turning her glass and watching the wine roll with the motion. "If I was to put my name forward, who would I get for a running mate?"
"You don't need a vice-presidential candidate until after you get the nomination," Donna points out, like CJ wasn't doing this when Donna was still in college.
"She knows that, sweetie," Amy says patiently, running her fingers over Donna's hair. It's too dark, but CJ thinks she can still see Donna flush.
"We'd need time to court whoever we wanted, though," she says. "Assuming we wanted the option of choosing the person we wanted, instead of having to choose from the other candidates."
Amy nudges Donna's thigh with the toe of her boot, and Donna says, "I might have someone in mind. No courting necessary"
Nancy McNally was elected to Congress in the first round of mid-terms after Santos became president, and has been there for the decade since. CJ hasn't seen her in eight of those ten years, but she hasn't changed a bit, from her hair to her shoes.
"CJ," she says warmly, standing up from the table in back of the little Italian restaurant that Amy booked, and shaking CJ's hand.
"Congresswoman McNally," CJ says.
Nancy smiles, waves that away. "Nancy, if we're going to be working together."
"Are we?" CJ asks, taking her seat and pouring herself a glass of water. She was expecting Amy, or Donna, but Nancy doesn't seem to be waiting for anyone.
"I'd like to think so," Nancy says. "I understand that this wouldn't be official until the convention, but I've been looking for something bigger than Congress for a while. I'd be happy to throw my hat in your ring."
"You understand that there's no guarantee we wouldn't end up having to choose someone else?" CJ asks. Not that she'd want to, but she understands all about compromises in the name of getting things done.
"I understand the way politics works, yes," Nancy says dryly. "I'd like to be a part of this, however far it can take me."
"Thank you," CJ says. "For the vote of confidence as well."
"I'm sure it won't be the only one you get," Nancy says.
"She's right," says a voice behind CJ's shoulder. She twists, and finds herself face to face with Liz Bartlet – back to Bartlet now, after Doug had one too many affairs with one too many nannies. "I want to sign on as your campaign manager, if you'll have me."
Three days later, CJ's standing in the open door of her den when Danny comes up behind her, puts his arms around her waist. "What you thinking?" he asks.
CJ looks at the room: the papers spread across tables, the half dozen empty coffee mugs, Donna and Liz with their heads bent close together, Nancy listening seriously to something Amy is talking about with great passion and a lot of hand-waving, Mandy in the corner with her cell tucked between her shoulder and her cheek. "I'm thinking that I don't remember saying yes," she says.
Danny kisses her cheek. "Looks like they heard you anyway."
That night, CJ goes up to Sally's room after Sally's in bed, and taps lightly on the door.
"Have you come to tuck me in?" Sally asks. She's already in bed, covers pulled up to her chin, CJ's old, battered copy of The Wizard of Earthsea propped on her bent knees.
"Yes," CJ says, going over to sit on the edge of her bed.
"I'm eight, Mom, I'm too old to be tucked in," Sally protests, but she wriggles a little closer to CJ anyway.
"You're never too old to be tucked in," CJ tells her. "And I wanted to talk to you."
"Is this the talk about sex?" Sally asks, wrinkling her nose. "Or, no, wait, is it the one about loving whoever you love? Because I already got that one from Dad, like I needed it when Aunty Donna's always round here with Aunty Amy."
"It's not the sex talk," CJ promises. "Or the sexuality one." She hasn't actually thought this far ahead, so she just plunges straight in. "It's the 'your mother's thinking of running for president' one."
"I think it's cool," Sally says. "I'm going to tell everyone at school to vote for you. Well, to tell their parents to vote for you."
"Thank you," CJ says, honestly touched. "I wanted to check in with you on it, before it goes too far. Even if I don't win the nomination, it's going to mean some big changes. I won't be here as much for a while, and there are going to be reporters around a lot more."
"If you do win, does that mean I get to live in the White House with you?" Sally asks.
"Among a great number of other things, yes," CJ says, and decides maybe Danny was right, maybe the only way for Sally to understand is for her to experience it.
Donna finds them office space for campaign HQ, finds volunteers to come answer the phones and give out flyers and file, finds a guy who'll print badges and gets the heat turned on and the walls repainted so they're not taupe.
"This isn't your job as well, is it?" CJ asks, when Donna takes a break from directing volunteers, clipboard in hand, pen tucked behind her ear.
"No," Donna says. "God, no, press secretary is more than enough to keep me busy. This is just temporary. We've got someone coming in."
"Anyone I know?" CJ asks.
"Maybe," Donna says, smiling.
Margaret turns up the next day, Jo-Jo at her side.
"Hey, kiddo," CJ says.
Jo-Jo gives her a hug, and her head comes up to CJ's shoulder. "Nearly as tall as you," she says, grinning.
"I'll have to stand on a box by the time you're sixteen," CJ agrees. "Hi Margaret. Can I get you a coffee?"
Margaret gives her the Margaret equivalent of a disapproving frown. "You're the candidate. You don't make coffee. Give me five minutes to find my desk." She looks around, catches the eye of a volunteer who looks barely old enough to be in college. "Coffee for three, please, and tea for one. Congresswoman McNally," she adds. The volunteer looks confused, until CJ turns around, mostly to hide her smile – she wonders if the girl knows who she is.
"Good to have you with us, Margaret," Nancy says.
"I can see you're going to need me," Margaret says, but the corners of her lips are twitching, and CJ knows she's pleased.
By the time they're seriously starting to run, Mandy's gone from being an occasional consultant to being a full-time member of the campaign team, specializing in opposition research – the other Democrats and the Republican potentials, Liz has taken overall charge, with Amy as her strategy lead and Donna as her communication lead, which Donna insists on calling press secretary. Kate Harper's taken a leave of absence from her job to join them, with the official title of military liaison and unofficial title of general assistant to Nancy, and Joey Lucas has signed on to run their polling. Margaret is running their campaign HQ and managing their volunteers, and Carol's her deputy.
The only paid man on the campaign team is their bus driver.
"You don't think this is going to look weird?" CJ asks, looking around the conference table.
"We'll just tell people you chose the best candidates for the jobs," Donna says, flicking her hair off her face and smiling.
"That's what all-male teams have been saying for years," Amy says, agreeing.
"Don't worry about it," Liz adds.
That turns out to be wishful thinking. From almost the moment they make the official announcement that CJ's running and start the lead up to Iowa, the first question at every press conference, every interview, every rope line, is some variation on, "Entirely female campaign team, what's that all about?" Frequently a much less complimentary variation.
CJ answers politely, every single time, smiling so they won't be able to tell she's gritting her teeth. She and Donna start carrying a notebook with them, in which they write all the answers they wish she could give:
It's difficult – we keep getting the chains to the sink tangled up.
I'm sorry, I can't answer that, the mass of estrogen has dissolved my brain.
It's great, until we all get our periods at the same time.
And CJ's personal favorite: I'll answer that when you tell me what answers Johnson, Fiddler, and Green gave when you asked them what it's like to have an entirely male campaign team.
Because she doesn't want to be out before she's even really in, she doesn't say any of them.
"Save them for when you're President," Liz says, flicking through the book.
"At least you'll know when you're starting to do well," Amy says, then, when CJ just looks at her blankly, "They'll start asking if you plan to choose a man for vice-president."
A couple of weeks before the Iowa caucus, CJ wakes up to an empty bed. She's only been asleep for twenty-five minutes, but her mind's whirring, and she knows she won't get back to sleep.
She checks on Sally, asleep on the couch where she insisted grown-up visitors slept on arrival at CJ's hotel room for a weekend visit, palms her key card, and goes looking for her errant husband.
She finds him in the hotel lounge, cup of coffee steaming next to his open laptop, his fingers flying over the keys.
"What're you doing?" CJ asks, leaning over his shoulder.
"I thought you were asleep," Danny says, looking up.
"Not so much," CJ says. "Is this your article for the Post?"
Danny shakes his head. "Notes for my book."
"You're writing a book?" CJ asks, trying not to sound too surprised. He's always telling her that he's going to, but she's given up expecting it to happen after the better part of a decade.
"I'm thinking of calling it "Confessions of the First-First Gentleman," Danny says.
"No," CJ says immediately.
"I thought it was a good title," Danny says, offended.
"Not no to the title," CJ says. "No to the book."
"Why not? I wouldn't write anything personal without asking you first."
"You started writing it without asking me first," CJ says, lowering her voice when she sees the waiter look over. After a moment, she sits down as well, tries to look like she'd not gearing up for a shouted argument in the middle of the lounge at three in the morning. "It would be a best-seller, if you wrote it."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Yes," CJ says. She sighs. "If I get elected, your's would be the first book about this campaign, about my presidency. Except that it wouldn't be about me, it would be about you, and our lives together."
"I think you underestimate my ability to do a good job," Danny says, mildly offended this time.
"I think you'd do a great job," CJ says. "That would be the problem."
Danny just looks at her, and she thinks, He doesn't get it. He'll never get it.
CJ stands up in front of women's groups, at schools, at meetings of town leaders and meetings of towns people, and she repeats her message until she can recite it in her sleep, her's and Nancy's. She talks about foreign policy and healthcare, abortion and gay adoption, renewable energy, transport, building roads in Africa.
More than half of the questions she gets, every situation, are about women's issues, but the percentage is dropping, slowly.
"That's good, right?" she says to the campaign team. It feels good – like she's not just the semi-joke candidate with the all-female team, like she's being taken seriously – and it helps, because hearing other people take her seriously makes her feel serious. Like this is something that's really happening; like she's in it as more than just the token female candidate.
Amy tips her head to the side. "Yes," she says slowly. "But don't let them take you too far away from women's issues all the time. Part of your draw is that you're a powerful woman who could be the first woman to be the most powerful woman in the world."
"Could you possibly have gotten the word woman into that sentence any more?" Kate teases.
Amy sticks her tongue out. "You won't win by trying to be like the boys," she says earnestly. "I know it's tempting, but trust me."
"She's right," Liz puts in from the corner of the hotel room, where she's hanging up her phone. "If we lose, we'll lose on our terms."
"Optimistic," Kate says dryly.
CJ grins though. "I like it. Win or lose on our terms."
"I'll drink to that," Amy says, raising her half-empty mug of cold coffee.
They come second in Iowa, out of five candidates, and third in New Hampshire a week later.
"Good to know things are getting better," CJ says when they announce.
"At least we're not fifth," Nancy says cheerfully. "I've got a good feeling about Michigan."
They come in second there, and Fiddler drops out of the race, citing family responsibilities.
"I remember those," Liz says, and no-one says anything else about it.
Four days later, they scrape a win in Nevada, and then again in South Carolina, and Johnson withdraws as well.
"I don't get it," Donna says, sitting next to Joey and staring at page after page of results print-outs.
Joey signs, and Kenny says, "He should have stayed in. He could have won the nomination."
"Do we care, as long as he's out?" Kate asks.
"We are if he knows something we don't," CJ says.
Joey waves in her direction and nods: What she said.
"How are our numbers looking?" Liz asks.
Joey holds up three fingers, then hesitantly drops them down to two.
"Even after South Carolina?" Liz asks. Joey nods, and CJ schools her face carefully out of the disappointment she's feeling. "Okay," Liz says, clapping her hands together as she stands. "Florida in three days, let's strategize."
The night before Super Tuesday, Joey's numbers put them likely to come in second across the board, and Mandy says, if they do, Anderson will likely pull out, leaving it a two person race.
CJ and Nancy sit in back of their campaign bus in the early hours, drinking lukewarm coffee because it's the only place where there isn't someone else.
"Do you think we can win this?" CJ asks.
Nancy pulls the last of the pins out of her hair. "Mandy thinks we still have a good chance at the convention."
"We haven't had a close convention since Santos was running," CJ says. "We must be due."
"That's the spirit," Nancy says.
They drink their coffee in silence for a while. CJ feels like the world is far away, glass sharp, and she can't remember the last time she slept.
"Of course, that's going to depend on how tomorrow goes," Nancy says eventually.
"Of course," CJ agrees. Danny's bringing Sally up for the end – CJ hasn't seen her in over a week. "You think Mandy's right and we're in with a chance?"
Nancy's quiet for a long time. "I think that right now, future congresswomen and senators, military leaders and maybe even presidents, are starting to think about it because their parents have gone out and voted for a woman to be their candidate for President."
"I'm not the first woman to run in the primaries," CJ says.
"First woman to run with an all-woman campaign team and a semi-confirmed female vice-president," Nancy says. "That matters more than you think."
CJ thinks about Sally again. "Probably not that much more," she says.
"Probably not," Nancy echoes softly. She stands up. "Time for bed. Big day tomorrow."
CJ holds out her mug until Nancy clinks her's against it. "Here's to the Cregg-McNally presidency."
"I'll drink to that," Nancy says.