"Angry"
Category: General, Series
Rating: PG
Spoilers: "18th & Potomac," "Two Cathedrals" promo – the rest is pure baseless speculation, I swear on a stack of Bibles.
Disclaimers: Not mine, Sorkin's. I'm just borrowing them, and matchbox twenty's wonderful, insightful music. Please don't sue, this is done out of love.
Summary: Bartlet's press conference leaves everyone reeling.
(Mad Season #2)

Timeline: The day following "Bed of Lies."

*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*
So scream you, out from behind the bitter ache
Heavy on the memory you need most
You still want love, ugly, smooth & delicate
But not without affection – no, not at all...
*~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~*

The pressroom is full to capacity. C.J. is doing the best she can to keep the wolves at bay. "Katie, I said we'll have the information for you by the end of the day." Her tone is fatigued, and her eyes bear the strain of days spent in the basement. Sagittarius is the byword.

The wolves don't listen, however. "Are you sure, C.J.? Maybe you haven't been informed?" Katie, though well-intentioned, can't say any more. Anything else would not be taken as 'C.J., it's not your fault.' It would be, C.J., you've missed some of the most important news in the past months; C.J., you've had less than ten hours' sleep in the last ninety. Nothing could be said because the only thing she will hear is: C.J., you're slipping.

Josh watches her from the side of the pressroom, with Toby. He notices that while she is trembling slightly, this is the first time in a long time that he is not. This has not been easy for him either. He can't remember much about the day that the truth came out. He remembers opening his mouth to ask a question of the President. Then the rest is a blur. Toby says he blacked out, but Josh doubts this somehow. PTSD is a memory now; a fleeting thing. He hasn't felt better in years. Or has he?

Toby keeps an omnipotent eye on them both. He has had his chance to rage, and now he is contained. There is still emotion; one would have to be callous to not feel it. Still, the staff needs a strong hand and he has been thrust into that role. No one else is fit to take it. And though he'd never admit it he worries about the other members of the staff. C.J., who for all her bravado is still staggering. Sam, whose color hasn't returned fully since that terrible night in the basement. And Josh...

Suddenly the back door is opened quietly. "Toby, can you and Josh come in here?" Charlie is quiet, face suffused with pain.

Silently the men creep out. In the hallway Sam is already waiting. His hands are involuntarily clenched, shaking with nervousness as he paces back and forth. In the space of weeks he has aged. "Guys," he says thickly, "we gotta rewrite the speech."

"What!" Toby is stunned. "Why?"

"Because." Sam can't look at either of them. "The First Lady won't be here."

"What!" Now it's Josh's turn. "Why? What happened?"

"I don't know." Sam's tone is irritable and afraid at the same time. "Charlie just told me that the First Lady left and the President would be doing this press conference alone."

"Holy shit." Josh raises an arm to massage the back of his neck.

"Yes." Toby, as usual, is phlegmatic. "How much time do we have?"

Sam checks his watch and holds one hand on the other arm to still the shaking. "About ten minutes."

To his credit Toby makes immediately for his computer. "Shit," he says, looking over his notes. Okay, Sam, I need you to run to the Oval."

"Why?"

Toby's voice catches as he speaks; even he is not immune. "Because the file on the M.S. is in Mrs. Landingham's computer."

The three men are silent until Toby feels the absurd need to explain. "After... the other night... Charlie finished the research and sent it to Mrs. Landingham instead of you, Josh, by mistake."

Josh is far away. "Landingham. Lyman."

Sam nods. "I understand." Without more words he turns and makes the long walk to the Oval Office.

The halls are alive; the furor at the press room has spilled over into the hallways. People walk on eggshells and are afraid. Sam is filled with anger. Why does it have to be this way?

Hesitantly Sam opens Mrs. Landingham's door. The office has been closed since the accident. Everything is just as she left it. The papers are in the neat piles she always had. And of course, the cookie jar. It's all Sam can do not to break up right there. With quiet strength he turns on the computer and searches for the file. But all of a sudden he hears a quiet noise behind him.

Sam frowns. What the hell? No one's supposed to be here.

Out of nowhere a soft voice speaks. "You know, Sam, I miss being able to just walk around and surprise people."

The younger man is on his feet in an instant. "Mr. President."

Bartlet waves a hand; a tired, weary hand. "Don't stand on formality right now, Sam. I'm not."

"Yes.... Okay." Sam swallows. "Sir... how are you?"

The President chuckles, but it's a hard, brittle sound. "You know, that's the first time anyone besides Abbey has asked me that to my face since all this began."

Sam understands. "I'm sorry, sir."

"I know." Bartlet stares with a sad smile at his secretary's desk. "So am I." There is a long pause in the room, until he speaks again. "You know, I asked her to come back here when she had her car."

What can be said? "Yes sir."

But as another silence exists an idea jumps into Sam's head. "Sir..." he says hesitantly. "If I can ask..."

"Go ahead, Sam." Bartlet laughs that painful laugh again. "The questions will just keep coming."

"All right." Sam must phrase this delicately. "Mr. President... how have you felt through all of this? Not physically," he elaborated, "but mentally? Are you angry? Hurt? Scared?"

Bartlet reflects for a moment. He will answer; it is an honest question. Finally he takes the simple yet true route. "Sam, the closest I've ever felt to this was when Josh was shot." The younger man says nothing, and the elder continues to speak. "I've been through quite a lot in my life. But this..." He trails off. "This is bad." <<Especially,>> he thinks to himself, <<without Abbey.>> "But, to answer your question, I'm frightened. Very frightened." The President pauses. "I used to be angry. But I'm not angry anymore."

Sam nods, processing, except for the last sentence. "Sir, how can you not be angry?" The last vestiges of his innate romanticism are buried within that passionate query. "These men want your presidency. Your *life.*"

Bartlet smiles, for real this time. "Sam, think about it. This is like a schoolyard fight."

"How so, sir?"

"Being angry only gives the bully what he wants." Bartlet's tone is patient, and he faces the man looking a bit like a human Yoda. "If you get mad it saps your strength and your will. So much of you is focused on being pissed that you can't focus on getting over it, whatever "it" is."

Before Sam can answer Bartlet changes tacks. "Speaking of getting over it," he says, "does Toby have the speech?"

"I don't think so, sir." Sam is recalled with a jolt to his mission. C.J. and Toby must be going nuclear right about now.

Bartlet, oddly enough, seems relaxed. "The hell with it." He starts moving out of the evocative room and down the hall. "Screw the speech," he calls over his shoulder to Sam, who has to run to keep up.

The impact of his words hit Sam in mid-stride. "No speech?!" he blurts, voice cracking. "Sir, the last –"

Bartlet cuts him off with a gesture. "Sam, of all the times in the world I need to speak from the heart, now is the time." With no further discussion, the President strides purposefully down the hall.

Heart sinking, Sam goes back to the Communications office. Almost meekly he speaks to a by now annoyed Toby and Josh. "He's ad-libbing it."

"What!" Predictably, Toby explodes. "Is he crazy? Does he know the level of shit he's getting himself into?"

Sam explains. "Toby, he told me that of all the times he needed to speak from the heart, this was one of them."

Josh surprises them both by siding with Sam. "Toby, I hate to say it, but... maybe he's right."

Toby is apoplectic only for a moment. Then he shrugs his shoulders in utter defeat. "What the hell," he mumbles. "We can never stop him anyway."

"Yeah." Josh sighs. "At this point we're so screwed anyway I don't think it'd make a damn bit of difference."

The three men sigh and make their way down the hall. The pressroom is even more crowded as C.J. introduces the President. She steps down to join her spin boys. "Did you do the speech?"

"He's not using it." Toby sounds noncommittal, though he's wound tighter than a tourniquet.

C.J.'s eyes go wide and she is about to say something more. But then the President starts to speak.

"Today I discovered something very important," the President begins. "I discovered that my secretary, Dolores Landingham, was right."

Toby sighs. Under his breath he mumbles a prayer to whatever God that somehow they will get out of this.

"Mrs. Landingham used to tell me not to get angry when things didn't go my way." Bartlet's smile is beatific and sad, defying anyone through its innocence to cross him. "For example, after the Colombia fiasco. I was so angry. Disgusted. And more than a little frightened."

C.J. is closing her eyes as if to ward this off, she can't possibly count the number of public relations problems she now has.

"One of the things I hate most about this office is that its occupants aren't allowed to be human." Bartlet continues. "They're not allowed to be frightened or angry. Anyone who is gets the name 'hothead,' or 'scaredy cat.'"

"Did he just say 'scaredy-cat?'" C.J. whispers to Josh.

" 'Fraid so."

"Oh, boy."

Bartlet is still speaking. "Well, even though my very capable press secretary, C.J. Cregg, will be about to kill me after this, I have to say that you are all wrong." There is an actual gasp that ripples through the press room; could the President be crazy enough to insult the electorate? "You heard me. You are all wrong. Presidents have emotions. If you prick us, do we not bleed?"

Josh stares with unashamed respect at the podium. This man, whatever one can say, has guts.

But the tone of the speech changes abruptly. All of the senior staff can see it. Bartlet goes from the defensive to the offensive with that one sentence.

"The test of a real good President," Bartlet adds, "is knowing when those emotions will serve a purpose. You can't be scared while you're ordering soldiers into a foreign country. But you *can* be scared afterwards when you're talking with your wife.

"Or you can't be angry when your secretary..." Bartlet's voice catches imperceptibly, only enough for those who know him to hear. He clears his throat. "When your secretary is hit by a drunk driver and you're in the midst of negotiating a complex Congressional procedure." His voice is quiet, walking that fine line between reproach and betrayal. "You have to know when to open and when to close.

"And in that vein, I will be open. I will admit my mistakes. I did not disclose that I have multiple sclerosis. I apologise, to my constituents and the American people. I thought it was a private matter.

"But I strongly urge you, the American people, to not disown me." Bartlet's voice is full of passion, and C.J. finds herself smiling and nodding. He's winning them.

"Read up on M.S.," Bartlet says, shrugging his shoulders. "It is not fatal. There is a chance that it will never develop beyond its primary form. Mental and/or physical problems may never happen. But I understand you may not take that assertion at face value." His smile is the very soul of irony.

"In conclusion..." Bartlet steps away from the podium. "Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa." His gaze drops to the floor. "I have discussed this with my capable staff, and my wife the First Lady. And with their considered opinions, I will say this concerning re-election."

Toby nudges C.J., who in turn nudges Josh and Sam. This is the moment of truth. And it is a blockbuster.

"I have made mistakes. I have done things that did not work out. But in the interest of the good of this country, I firmly believe that I, Josiah Bartlet, can govern. And will govern."

C.J.'s gasp is heard through the press room. "Did he –" The question is left unasked.

Bartlet answers it anyway. "Yes. He did." He faces the mob of reporters. "Ladies and gentlemen, I officially announce my candidacy for re-election."

With that, he steps off the podium, leaving a grinning C.J. to deal with the shouted questions. Sam and Josh are clapping each other on the back, and even Toby smiles.

No one notices the figure in the back of the room. Abbey Bartlet nods once, as if to cement a deal. Then she leaves the room with shouts and questions still ringing in her ears.

 

 

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