TITLE: "The Flood" (7/8)
See notes on part one.
* * *
From the hallway, Josh heard laughter. It was an unexpected sound, considering what kind of day it had been. He stopped short as he tried to figure out where it was coming from, causing Donna to run smack into the back of him.
She walked around Josh, pretending she hadn't been following him.
"You're like a puppy, you know that?" he called after her.
Donna replied without turning around. "Everyone loves puppies."
Josh listened again and followed the sound of laughter down the hall and into C.J.'s office. He found her door open and raised his arm to knock when she saw him.
"Josh!" C.J. was laughing so hard, she could barely speak.
"Hey. What's -- what's funny?"
"Did you--" C.J. tried to regain her composure. "Did you know that the Vice President is sleeping with a man?"
At this, she burst out laughing again, this time pounding her fist on her desk as she did.
"C.J.? I did know that."
She took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. "Did you know that the photograph on the cover of every single newspaper in America, the photograph that the Bartlet administration will be remembered for, was taken by a deranged, unemployed, greasy-haired skeeve?"
Josh stepped out of the doorway and into her office. "How do you know he's a greasy-haired skeeve?"
"You're missing the point, Josh!" She leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on her desk. "You're missing the irony! Christy Cable, the greasy-haired skeeve, got the most powerful man in the world out of bed before sunrise."
She stifled a giggle. "Yeah?"
"You're wearing a skirt."
Josh cleared his throat. "So...I see London, I see France."
Her face crumpled and she quickly took her legs off the desk. "You saw my underwear."
"No, C.J., it's okay." Josh walked over to her desk. "They were...pretty."
"You saw my underwear!" she wailed. Twirling her chair around, she stood up and began walking the floor in mad circles. "You saw my underwear, Margaret can't make a decent cup of coffee and I hate these stupid shoes" -- she kicked them across the room -- "I only slept for half an hour last night, my hair is frizzy because of the rain, I haven't taken a shower since Friday, and I made a forty-year-old policeman cry!"
She stopped short and burst into tears, half-sobbing and half-laughing, and gasping for air. "Should I get her a paper bag or something?" Donna offered from the doorway.
"Go get a glass of water, would you?" She hurried off. Josh held C.J. by the upper arms and looked into her eyes with increasing worry. "Claudia Jean? Calm down."
"It's just...." She couldn't finish.
"I know. It's bad. But you're kind of scaring me here, so would you mind maybe stopping to breathe?"
"It's bizarro world!" C.J. managed to choke out. "I keep waiting to wake up."
"It's going to be all right," Josh assured her. "You're going to be fine. You're going to sit down and relax, and you're going to get yourself together, and then you're going to do your briefing and bring the house down." She started to compose herself, and he continued in a steady voice. "You are. You're going to be fine, C.J., 'cause you're platinum, and platinum--"
"--Shines in the dark," she finished for him, catching her breath.
"Yeah." Josh beamed. "I've given that pep talk before, huh?"
She returned the smile. "You didn't call me a rock star this time."
She let him guide to the couch. "I'm just so damn tired."
"I know. Look, why don't you lie down for a little while?"
"I can't!" She jumped to her feet, then wavered and sat back down. "I shouldn't stand up that fast."
Sam passed by the doorway and looked in. "What's going on?"
"C.J. freaked out," Josh told him.
"I did not," C.J. insisted. "Well, a little."
"She completely freaked out. Full-throttle."
Sam looked at her with concern. "Do you need anything?"
"I need to get back to work. That's all."
"You should lie down," Sam advised.
Josh nodded. "That's what I'm saying."
"Two against one." Sam said.
C.J. stretched. "I should--"
"Stop it," Josh instructed her. "Take a break. I'll come get you in an hour."
Sam and Josh started to leave as Donna came in and handed her a glass of water. "Half an hour," C.J. protested.
"No dice," Josh called back over his shoulder.
C.J. wiped her face with one hand and settled into the couch. She glanced around the room, dissatisfied. "Donna? Do me a favor?"
She stopped in the doorway. "Sure."
She waved a hand towards her desk. "Take Gail -- take the goldfish. Flush it. Or take it home with you, or set it loose in the canal, or something. Just -- could you please get it out of my office?"
Donna looked at her for a few seconds, then nodded. She crossed the room and picked up the goldfish bowl gingerly. "No problem."
"Thanks," C.J. said wearily, and closed her eyes. Balancing carefully, Donna carried the bowl away, as the fish inside circled in confusion.
* * *
"For Christ's sake, Leo!"
Charlie and Mrs. Landingham exchanged a look as the leader of the free world pushed into his office with the force and fury of an express train. "I mean, mother of God. Why the hell didn't you call me when this happened?"
Leo followed in his wake. "What would you have done? Run around, yelled at everybody, and put your fist through a wall?"
"You're damn right I would!" Bartlet stormed over to the desk.
"You can do that now," Leo pointed out. "It'll make the same amount of difference."
Jed circled his desk with short, angry strides. "You should have woken me up."
"Everybody's pulling their weight around here," Leo assured him. "Trust me, you wouldn't feel any better if you'd been up three hours ago."
"I sure as hell wouldn't feel any worse!" Jed stalked over to the armchair. "Sam and Toby?"
"They're putting the finishing touches on a statement. C.J.'s doing a full briefing at noon, and Josh is meeting with Ron Butterfield, and then he's going to talk to Hoynes' wife."
Jed sat down. "You talked to him already?"
"I figured. I meant the other guy."
"His name's Tim Bayliss." Leo paused. "He's pretty wretched, but he's not going to the press. He won't be a problem."
"He's already a problem," Jed pointed out. "A ridiculous, very serious problem."
Jed rapped his knuckles on the arm of the chair in restless anger. "I want Hoynes in here. Now."
Leo looked at him suspiciously. "Are you going to hit him?"
"Of course not!"
"Because if I think you're going to hit him, I really shouldn't leave you alone with--"
"I'm not going to hit him, Leo."
Leo headed toward the door. "Might still hit that wall, though," Jed muttered.
"I'm not crazy about the paint anyway," Leo shot back as he left.
Minutes later, Charlie silently motioned the Vice President into the Oval Office, tactfully closing the door behind him.
"Sit down, John," the President ordered.
"Yes, sir." Hoynes obeyed and took a place on the couch.
"I like to think I'm a reasonable man," Jed said in a menacing voice. "If you've got any kind of explanation for your behavior, make it now."
Hoynes bowed his head and said nothing.
"No? Well, I have to say, I'm impressed." Jed leaned forward and glared at him intensely. "You managed, with one mindless action, to decimate your career, devastate this administration, and provide the material to keep the press as happy as pigs in shit for the next several months."
"I--" John began.
Bartlet cut him off, shouting, "What the hell were you -- you've been asked this several times by now, I'm sure I'm not the first -- but what were you *doing*?! Where exactly did your mind go, that you could forget yourself so completely?"
"It was stupid," John agreed.
"On a monumental scale."
"And you're absolutely right to be angry."
"Well, thanks for your permission," Jed snapped. "Of course what you did was stupid, but I'm not sure you're quite aware how stupid. Your family, your career -- you screwed yourself over. And I don't give a damn about that!" Jed lowered his voice to a growl. "The damage you've done to your office and mine may never be repaired. I have a staff -- they're good people, John. They're committed and smart and strong, and right now each one of them is devoting his or her day to covering your ass. I can't even put into words how pissed off they are at you, and that's nothing compared to me."
Hoynes shrank back on the couch, looking lost. "You're right."
"You could have told me," Jed added, irritably.
John snorted. "With all due respect, sir, we've never been friends."
The President looked at him. "Still."
John made eye contact with him for a moment. "Yeah."
"Tell me now," Jed said, the wrath ebbing from his posture and voice.
He took a while to gather his thoughts before he spoke. "Ruth slapped me when I told her."
"I imagine she did."
"I met her in college, you know, in law school. It was my first year, and even then, I knew. I knew where I was going with my life, I mean. There were people who didn't believe me, but I knew." He paused and saw that the President was listening intently. "I knew what I could become; I just had to choose to make it happen. Obviously, I chose Ruth. And this." John sighed. "You know, Illinois was the first time I ever lost an election. I still think I could've beaten you."
Jed paid no attention to this last statement. Instead, he leaned forward and studied John's face. "Do you love him?"
"This man. You risked a lot to be with him; I assume you didn't take that lightly. Do you love him?"
John considered this for a long time, then looked down at the floor and shook his head miserably. "No. No. But -- I could have. I cared."
"Makes it harder," Jed said.
Bartlet stood up, and Hoynes followed suit. "You understand, don't you, that this means I can't guarantee you the ticket next time around?" Hoynes looked sick, but nodded. Bartlet nodded along, thoughtfully. "Okay. Go back to your office. I'm sure I'll talk to you later."
"I'm sorry things had to happen this way," John said, and started out.
"So am I."
Jed looked out the window for a moment as Hoynes walked away. "Charlie?" The young man took a few steps into the office and waited. "Get Security on the phone for me. I need to set something up."
* * *
TO BE CONTINUED