Title: Withdrawal (950 words)
Genre: West Wing
Disclaimer: All power and glory goes to Sorkin and Wells and NBC and a bunch of other people who aren’t me.
Summary: What happens after you’ve left the corridors of power? You have to learn to let go.
A/N: For celli, who knows why. Many thanks to my betas, azriona and casapazzo. All remaining mistakes are mine.
After your loss in the California 47th, there were days that went by when you just slept. Some of the exhaustion was caused by the campaign trail: the endless handshaking, the fundraising phone calls, the fake smile for 20 straight hours as you adjusted to the constant public spotlight instead of life in the background.
But a lot of the sleep you got was catch-up for all the years serving President Bartlet. Sixteen hour workdays were standard in the West Wing, 18 hours nothing to complain about. The weekends weren’t your own and you were fine with it. You worked in the nerve center of the most influential building in the heart of the most powerful nation on earth—where else would you possibly want to be?
And yet you’re still in California. You watch the State of the Union at home on your television and try to pick out the parts of the speech that Toby wrote. You talk to Josh on the phone, hear him gush about the preliminary polling numbers over the roar of the celebration going on behind him, and ache to go back to work.
You watch CJ announce the new federal budget and think of how crazy Josh must be driving Donna as he handicaps the reactions of every staffer in every office on the Hill to this year’s numbers. Budget day is a lot like the first day of school for government geeks, and you can almost see the grin on his face as he prepares the opening salvo of the annual fight with Congress.
And still you stay in California, setting up a small consulting firm like every other person in history who used to work for the White House. You try not to feel too homesick for life in the West Wing. The chats with Josh, when you can get him on the phone, are still a pleasure, but as the months pass you notice a shift in what you talk about.
It’s more about the old times: campaign war stories and the early days in the West Wing. He doesn’t bounce ideas about upcoming legislation off you any more, and doesn’t mention the bizarre trivia the President talks about that day, or what set Leo off in a recent staff meeting. Different names come up in conversation now, staffers you don’t know, jokes you don’t understand. There’s a new shorthand that’s too complicated to explain, crises you’ve watched happen on CNN and didn’t live through. You might have been a part of the original in-crowd, but now you are practically a historical figure—a part of the first Bartlet Administration—so far removed from a world where the Vice President resigned and Zoey Bartlet was kidnapped that it seems you had worked at the White House in a different century altogether.
You adjust to your new life, using your years of speechwriting to energize the Democratic voters in the 47th, each one of whom is convinced that they are the only member of the party in the district. You gradually remember that it’s a rare person outside of the Beltway who is entertained by stories about how you and Josh went up to the Hill to pressure the Labor-H Approps Senate chair to remove his anonymous hold by threatening to line-item all of his state’s pork. You start to realize that most people would only have understood half of the words in that sentence, and would probably have come away with a vague feeling you were talking about agriculture.
Six months go by before you finally admit to yourself that you don’t really need to read the Post, the Times, the Trib, the other Times, and the Journal cover to cover every day now. You cancel your subscriptions to Congress Daily and Roll Call. You still miss the gossip in the Hotline, but stop pretending that you actually enjoyed reading the endless agency reports that piled up on your desk.
It takes eight months before you recognize the blankly polite look on your secretary’s face means you’ve started talking in Washingtonian rather than, well, English. You try to stop stockpiling interesting phrases you hear and useful statistics you read for speeches that you’re no longer writing. You refrain from throwing your coffee mug at the Sunday morning talk shows every weekend, but still feel like you can’t really be held accountable for what comes out of your mouth when you flip past Fox News.
Another year goes by before you stop looking up every time you hear CJ’s voice on the television. You still scan the background of presidential photo-ops for Leo, Josh and Toby, but the pain of not being there is almost gone. Your consultation work, while not quite at the frenetic pace of Washington, is still politics, and important. You begin thinking about making another run for the House.
And you don’t stop chatting up people in the grocery store about the latest news story, and trying to get them to get invested in their government. You smile every time someone mentions the Bartlet Administration in your hearing. After all, for years you walked some historic corridors, even if you never got around to learning what exactly was so important about the Roosevelt Room. Your words shaped debate that had long-lasting effects on domestic policy. You served at the pleasure of the President.
You caught up on sleep later.
Sarah McLachlan - Angel