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Karaoke Night

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“Let’s get this straight: I’m right and you spend a full day wearing a ‘Josh is the numbers god’ t-shirt.  And you’re right, and I…”
“Karaoke night at the dive-iest bar we can find in Marysville, Ohio. Just you and the mic, while we watch with our cameras rolling.”
Josh smirked at Lou.  “It ain’t happening.  I’ll send the t-shirt to the printer in 10 minutes so that it’s ready for your humiliation tomorrow night.”

----

Josh stared at the sheet in Otto’s hand incredulously before turning to face the grinning group in front of him.  Desperately trying to conceal his disbelief, he threw his Hail Mary pass: “Okay, every last one of you has work tonight.  Piles of work. I want a county-by-county four-year voting history and analysis from every state we have left to hit before Election Day in my hand by 8am tomorrow.” He watched the faces in front of him, waiting for the mutiny, and was surprised when grins broke out instead.  “What?  Does this look like my joking face?!”

“No, but this is my joking face,” came the voice from behind him.

Josh watched his pass fly straight into the hands of the other team’s defensive end.  “Congressman, with all due respect, you don’t get to…” Josh implored.

Matt Santos grinned even more widely.  “Oh yes, yes I do, Josh.  Group, tonight, 8pm.  Lou, make sure everyone knows where we’re going.”

“We, Congressman?”

“Oh yes.  I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” Santos grabbed a camera from a staffer and waved it gleefully in Josh’s face.  Josh groaned and buried his face in his hands.

From his self-made cave, he heard the snickering crowd disburse.  Sighing deeply, he shook his head to clear it and found Donna standing in front of him with a sunny smile.  “And when WAS the last time you did karaoke, Josh?  Relive your college glory days for a few minutes and relax!”

He gritted his teeth.  “Never.  I’ve never done karaoke, and I was happily thinking I’d get through life without ever having to do karaoke.”

Donna’s sunny smile turned to a look of horror.  “Never?  Josh, you’ve seriously never sung karaoke before?  How did I not know about you? What did you do for fun as an undergrad?”

“Donna, I didn’t go to college in Wisconsin.  I went to an Ivy League school.”  He started walking, and she followed, looking like she was going to object.  “Our idea of fun was studying like crazy, punctuated by getting blackout drunk to forget how much we wanted to get out of there and start living our real lives.”

“Well, then I’m extra glad you’re going to get to have this experience tonight.  Maybe it’ll make that Ivy League stick up your ass soften up just a bit.”  Donna stalked off and Josh watched her go before checking his watch.  Four more hours until he entered the eighth circle of hell.  Or the ninth, he supposed, depending on how you looked at it.

---

Josh was ready to see if he could grab one of the security detail to perform a hit on the next person to try to follow him around.  He’d been trying to sneak off for the past hour, but one person after another had approached him with the most inane questions.  Why weren’t they all trying to start their evening off a little early?  What was with this workaholic thing they seemed to have tonight?  Whichever new intern--Frank? Floyd? Fernando?--was in his face finally walked away, scribbling furiously on his pad, and Josh finally spotted his opportunity. He slipped open the door to the stairwell, hoping to sneak up to, well, anywhere, really, as long as no one would expect to find him there.  And found Donna sitting on the first landing with her eyebrows raised.

“Where you headed, Josh?”  She rose gracefully and crossed toward where he stood until she was about a foot away, where she stood and folded her arms.

He prevaricated.  “I was just…  I…”  Under her direct gaze, he lost his train of thought.

“You weren’t by chance trying to sneak away so that we couldn’t find you in time for karaoke, were you?”  

He could swear her eyes could see the thoughts in his brain.  “Ah, well…”

She stepped closer, and then closer, and he could see himself reflected in her eyes.  Leaning forward, she spoke into his ear, sending a charge through his skin.  “You always keep your word, Joshua Lyman.  And you support your team.  And you understand that morale is an important part of our game right now.  You’re the coach, you’re the manager, and sometimes the manager takes one for the team because he knows that the team will feel even more loyalty to him after he’s shown his human side.”  

He shivered as her lips came within a whisper of his temple.  Without thinking, he grabbed her hands and spun her so that her back was against the wall now, before leaning his head into her and whispering as she had.  “And what will I get from you for showing my human side?”  Letting go of conscious thought, he allowed himself to nuzzle her neck gently.  “You have my” nuzzle “loyalty...” Another nuzzle, “...And you, more than anyone” nuzzle “...Know that I’m human.”  He pressed his lips behind her ear.  “What do you…” He found her earlobe and nipped gently, “...Need from me…” He flicked the tip of his tongue over the delicate curves of her ear and revelled in her shudder, “...That tonight will give you?”  And with that, all reason left him, and he took her lips.

Josh knew instantly why he’d never allowed himself this pleasure before.  He was Adam, and this was his Garden of Eden, and he’d just tasted the forbidden fruit, and now he had the knowledge of both good and evil, and he wanted… more.  All thoughts of the campaign, of polls, of karaoke, of propriety fled him and he wrapped his arms around her, needing her as close as he could get her.  She met him where he was and gave back, vising her fingers into his collar with one hand and plundering his lower back where his shirt met his belt with the other.  The kiss wasn’t enough, wasn’t possibly enough, and he ran his hand down her side before cupping the side of her breast.  She moaned and arched into his hand, her elbow knocking his cell from his belt and onto the floor, where the back shattered and flung the battery out and over to the door.

The spell was broken, and they held each other for a moment, breathing heavily.  Josh gritted his teeth and pulled away.  As he opened his mouth to speak, she put her hand out, one finger on his lips.  “Don’t,” she spoke in a quiet and determined voice, “Say that this was a mistake.”

His ears were roaring, his blood was singing, and he wanted nothing more than to dive back into her and begin to make up for lost time and the missed opportunities of the past eight years.  But he was Josh Lyman, and she worked for him.  So he bent and hastily retrieved the pieces of his phone.  “Guess this one’s toast.  Um, tell everyone I’ll be there at 8.  I’m going to, uh, talk to tech about a replacement phone.”  He scuttled up the stairs, but stopped at the first landing and looked back to see Donna looking at him steadily, her hurt written on her face.

---

Josh got to the bar a bit before 8 and was beset by staffers well through the second course of their liquid dinner.  They shuffled him over to Lou, who smirked as she pressed a drink into his hand, before giving him a light shove.  “Over there is the DJ with the set list.  Go pick something.  You’re first tonight, and we’re allllll waiting for the show to start.”

He looked at the glass in his hand.  It was suspiciously dark.  “What the heck is this, Lou?”

She showed her teeth.  “Rum and Coke.  Heavy on the rum, so don’t expect the Coke to mask the taste of this bottom shelf special.  Chug up, Pavarotti, because we’re ready for you.”

Glancing at the glass, he took a look at the room and spotted Donna.  The minute their eyes locked he could see the hurt in hers before she leaned back in to talk to the 12 year old--Felix? Fabio?  Josh tipped his head back and poured the contents of the glass down his throat--holy crap, he’d bet antifreeze tasted better--and hoped it would bring him wisdom, and, he admitted to himself, maybe some courage as well.  Lou laughed at his expression before giving him another shove.  “Go get your music before I start telling the group to call for an encore.”

Josh stumbled through the crowd, trying to ignore the effect the caustic booze was having on his gut, and managed to push his way to the DJ.  “I need a song!” he yelled over the din.  

The DJ smiled, showing silver-capped teeth.  “Are you the opening act I was told to expect?  They tipped me extra to make sure that the mic was turned up extra just for you.”

That was a small blow, but the alcohol was already cushioning it.  “Let’s see your list!”  The DJ pushed it over, and Josh scanned, picking the first song whose title he recognized, he thought, as something that Donna had been listening to the other night while she’d sat writing yet another memo on media buys in some forgotten market and he’d sat trying to forget the way he felt when he heard her familiar humming.  “I’ll take this one.”

Wordlessly, the DJ handed him the mic and pointed toward the small stage.  This was it.  He was really having to do this.  He slunk toward the stairs, hoping he could get up and down before anyone noticed, and froze when a loud clanging sounded.  Looking up, he saw Fabrizio? Fraser? Fiyero? standing on a table, hitting a large soup pot with a ladle.  The room went instantly silent, and Lou sprang up onto the table next to him.  “Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary persons!  Tonight we bring to you, by special request, the world debut of a performer whose talents are so singular that they’ve never before been seen on a stage!  The one, the only, the musical sensation, Josh Lyman!”  The room exploded in whoops and hollers before going silent.

The rum roared in his ears, and Josh gave up.  He was doing this, and he was The Man, and he was going to be awesome.  Bounding up the stairs, he landed himself center stage and struck a pose he thought he might have seen in an old photo of Elvis.  “Thank you very much.”  He waved his hand to brush away the snickers that came from the tables around him.  “DJ?  Get me started.”

He squinted towards the lyrics on the screen and tried to remember the rhythms of the song as the opening notes filled the air.  And… now.  

When life leaves you high and dry
I'll be at your door tonight if you need help, if you need help

Donna had forgotten about his rich tenor, had forgotten the way it made her feel.  It was a surprise, really, that someone who got squeaky the way Josh could get, whose speaking voice spanned all registers as his emotions shifted, could sing with the depth his singing voice contained.  Apparently it had surprised others as well, as the snickers died into murmurs.  

I'll shut down the city lights,
I'll lie, cheat, I'll beg and bribe to make you well, to make you well
When enemies are at your door I'll carry you away from more
If you need help, if you need help

His face lifted from the screen and his eyes met hers.

Your hope dangling by a string
I’ll share in your suffering to make you well, to make you well

With a flash of memory, she saw him holding her hand as she lay on the table in the operating room of the hospital in Germany.

Give me reasons to believe,
That you would do the same for me
And I would do it for you, for you
Baby I'm not moving on
I love you long after you're gone
For you, for you
You would never sleep alone
I love you long after you're gone
And long after you're gone, gone, gone

She couldn’t breathe.  The room had narrowed to the distance spanned by their locked gazes, and the only sound was his voice.

When you fall like a statue
I'm gon' be there to catch you
Put you on your feet, you on your feet

He had, hadn't he, after the Cliff fiasco.

And if your well is empty
Not a thing will prevent me
Tell me what you need, what do you need
I surrender honestly
You've always done the same for me

He remembered her face as she explained what she'd done to help decorate his apartment for… Amy.

So I would do it for you, for you
Baby I'm not moving on 
I love you long after you're gone 
For you, for you
You would never sleep alone
I love you long after you're gone
And long after you're gone, gone, gone

He held her gaze steadily, willing every word he sang into her heart.

You're my back bone, you're my cornerstone
You're my crutch when my legs stop moving
You're my headstart, you're my rugged heart
You're the pokes that I've always needed
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum my heart never stops beating
For you, for you
Baby I'm not moving on
I love you long after you're gone
For you, for you
You would never sleep alone
I love you long after you're gone
For you, for you
Baby I'm not moving on
I love you long after you're gone

Each word hit her with the same intensity of the kiss they’d shared earlier, and left her just as breathless.

For you, for you
You would never sleep alone
I love you long, long after you're gone
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum baby don't stop beating
Like a drum my heart never stops beating for you

His heart was in his eyes and his words, and he poured every bit of it into the last lines, holding her captive.

And long after you're gone, gone, gone
I love you long after you're gone gone gone

Josh set the mic on the speaker with a thud before the final chord had died away, and as the room erupted into cheers and applause, jumped off the stage, pulled to her as a magnet.  Donna met him halfway, and the friendly heckling from the crowd turned into a collective intake of breath as the two bodies collided and lips met.  The moment stretched for an eternity in which the only noise was the clatter from the kitchen.  And then the whooping and hollering began, and the sudden return to noise caused the kiss to break.  Still, they looked into each other’s eyes before resting their heads so that their foreheads touched, faces wreathed in transcendent smiles.  A couple of tandem breaths, a mutual resettling of shoulders, and both heads looked up at the crowd, the smiles now with a definite sheepish look to them.  Someone in the back wolf-whistled, and laughter broke out, along with definite jeers that sounded suspiciously like, “it’s about damned time, you two!”

Josh leaned his head back into hers and murmured something into her ear.  She nodded, and the pair moved through the crowd, holding hands and offering smiles to those that spoke to them, but not stopping.  The final sound of karaoke night was the door shutting behind them as they walked out into the dusk.

At his table, Fred grinned, embarrassed, as Matt Santos came up, snapped his fingers, and accepted the five dollar bill Fred pressed into his palm.  “Your candidate has vast knowledge about all sorts of things, young man, and don’t you forget it.” Santos turned and walked away, whistling under his breath.  Whatever happened in November, however this long strange trip ended, it was going to end in the win column solely based on the events of tonight.