SPOILERS: The Fall's Gonna Kill You

DISCLAIMER: They're not ours. <sigh>

SUMMARY: Compatriots and conversation.

 

 

Janissaries
Jo March & Ryo Sen


Not surprisingly, they ended up at Josh's place.

Or perhaps it was surprising for the rest to return
seeking comfort to this place, this sparsely
furnished, largely ignored, high-priced condominium in
Georgetown. Of course, during The Recovery--and they
all thought of it that way, though they'd never admit
it--each of them spent enough time at Josh's condo on
one pretext or another for the starkness to become
familiar. And oddly comforting.

Also, the building had a hell of a front stoop.

So when it came down to it, where better to spend
their last Saturday night? At least their last
peaceful Saturday night? Considering the subject
matter that was bound to arise as soon as the alcohol
hit their respective bloodstreams, they couldn't be
anywhere in public. And getting soundly drunk in the
White House was generally frowned upon--outside the
yearly blitz of holiday parties, of course.

And so they ended up at Josh's place.

At first, their intention was merely to mope together,
to commiserate over a beer or two. Possibly less,
because Josh was worried about the amount of beer
consumed. Or, rather, the amount of beer that would
be left unconsumed and in its proper spot on the
bottom shelf.

"Donna rations the beer," he explained as he dug in
his refrigerator, examining the meager contents
critically. He really needed to keep some actual food
in the house for when he had company over. Or for the
rare occasions that he was actually at home and hungry
at the same time.

Sam, who had arrived bearing Sam Adams, scrunched up
his face. "She rations it?"

Josh sighed into the depths of his Kenmore. "Don't
ask."

"What aren't we asking about?" asked CJ, as she, too,
handed over a six-pack. Pete's Wicked Ale. Just
because it sounded dark and moody. Kind of like she
felt.

"Donna," Sam explained with a grin. "Apparently, she
rations Josh's beer."

Her curiosity piqued, CJ turned to Josh. "And when,
exactly, is Donna here to ration your beer?"

"She's not," Josh answered defensively over the
refrigerator's impatient hum. "She just--when she's
here, she counts beers."

Sam nodded in mock understanding. "And why does she
do this?"

Josh busied himself with the beer, pushing aside half
a loaf of bread and some apple juice to make room.
"She started during, you know... When she was helping
out."

"Oh," Sam said, stupidly. He gave CJ a desperate
look, but she merely shrugged and watched Josh's back.

Josh emerged from the fridge, handing CJ a cold beer
from his original collection. "Where's Toby?"

"Fast Fong's," Sam answered.

Josh nodded.

The three fell into an odd silence. An uncomfortable
silence, as they stared everywhere but at each other.
Josh picked at the label on his beer bottle, Sam
pulled fastidiously at a thread in his dark blue
henley, and CJ, arms crossed, examined her toes for
chips in the dark red polish.

Finally, Josh cleared his throat and dipped his chin
towards the door. "You guys wanna--"

"The stoop?" Sam interrupted gratefully. "Sounds
good."

CJ, comfortable in jeans and a loose, v-neck top,
kicked off her sandals and followed them out into the
night, barefoot. She hissed a little at the cool
concrete, then settled on one side of the stairs,
stretching her long legs out across one step.

Sam, ever the gentleman, waited for her to situate
herself, then slipped down two stairs and sat. He
rested his arms on his jean-clad thighs and stared
absently out into the night. "Full moon," he
commented.

CJ snorted, "Fitting, eh?"

Josh stood paternally at the top, shivering a bit in
the crisp spring air, then dropped down on the step
above CJ. This, too, had been their tacitly agreed
upon arrangement during The Recovery. Josh was
closest to the door, because at first, it took such
effort for him to lift himself up from his awkward
position on the stairs that Donna insisted he be near
the top of the steps. CJ, who hovered almost as much
as Donna early on, a little below him and to his left,
turned sideways to keep an eye on him. Toby just past
CJ, spending most of his time staring blankly across
the street, lending an air of quietude and the
occasional bit of smoke from his cigar to his
compatriots. Sam, even with Toby, but closer to the
middle of the staircase and sitting almost backwards
on the step so as not to be rude to anyone. And Donna
just one step down from Josh to his left.

Only Donna wasn't there because she didn't know.

Another silence grew, as they thought about everyone
else who didn't know. And everyone who would soon
know. And what that would mean.

"Fast Fong's," Toby announced, grumbling, "is a
gathering place for idiots." He deposited the
fragrant sack of food on the stair above CJ's legs,
just to the right of Josh. Then he picked his way
carefully through the forest of limbs and entered the
condo, dropping his coat onto a convenient chair and
procuring a beer.

When he rejoined the group on the stairs, he settled
two stairs below CJ in his customary place. Sam
handed him some beef and snow peas, then found a
container of garlic shrimp for himself. Josh
confiscated the garlic chicken, and CJ grabbed the
sweet and sour pork. The large container of rice
ended up in between CJ's ankles--which earned Sam a
very dirty look--so they could all reach it.

Toby, watching CJ inhale her food, raised an eyebrow.
"Good?"

"Why is it," CJ paused to swallow, "that men feel free
to comment on women eating heartily? Do I look
overweight to you? Does it look like I should be
eating *less* food?"

Josh rolled his eyes. "CJ--"

"And even if I *were* overweight, what gives you the
right to make those kinds of faces because I'm
enjoying my food? Women aren't supposed to eat, is
that it? We're just supposed to nibble on salad and
try not to take up too much space?"

Josh fought a grin, glancing back and forth between
Toby and CJ.

"I was merely making sure your food was to your
liking," Toby answered quietly. He took a swig of
beer. "Sam, how's the beef?"

Sam gave his superior a startled look. "Um, fine?"

Lips pursed, CJ considered Toby for a moment, then
shrugged. "I'm just saying, I like my food."

Toby didn't even look up from his fried rice. "Good."

Sam stared at the two combatants, confused. "You
know--"

"So," Josh interrupted, "what'd you kids do today?"

Sam swung his perplexed gaze up to Josh, CJ snorted
and took another bite of pork, and Toby didn't deign
to answer.

"Small talk?" Sam asked. "You're making small talk?"

"No," Josh managed around a mouthful of garlic
chicken. "I'm asking what you did today. It's our,
you know..."

"Last Saturday before it all goes to hell?" CJ
offered.

"That's it," Sam decreed, dropping his cardboard
container onto the stair with a decisive thunk. "We
need more beer."

"I'm, like, a third of the way through this one," CJ
noted, smiling.

"Me too," Josh pointed out.

Sam nodded, rising. "Drink faster."

Toby watched his deputy disappear into the house, then
tucked back into his food. The beer bottle at his
elbow was conspicuously empty. Moments later, Sam
emerged from the condo, two beer bottles in each hand.
He distributed them as he threaded his way through
the small crowd, then settled back down on his step.

By tacit agreement, Josh, CJ, and Sam drained the last
of their first beers and started on the second. The
rest of the meal passed in silence, each of them lost
in their thoughts. Dark thoughts.

Finally, Josh tossed his near-empty carton aside and
asked, "Seventeen people?"

CJ and Sam turned baffled looks his way.

"I was number seventeen, yes," Toby confirmed.
"Counting the president."

"You really weren't," Sam replied. "Charlie knew."

Toby gave a careless shrug, still working on his snow
peas. "All right then. I was number eighteen."

"Don't worry about it, Toby," CJ said. She leaned
down to pat the top of his head. "You still made the
top twenty."

"Give me the list again," Josh frowned. "From the
top."

"The president," Toby began, ticking off the people
with a chopstick. "The First Lady. The three
daughters."

"That's five," CJ noted.

"The six doctors."

Sam lifted a hand. "Does that count the one at GW the
night--"

"No, Sam."

"Okay," CJ said, "the First Family and six doctors.
"That's eleven."

Josh broke his silence. "Does anyone know whether the
Surgeon General was one of the six?"

"No, Josh," CJ answered, her tone exaggeratedly
patient, "we don't. Why?"

"Because, CJ, if she knew, it plays badly. It looks
as though she was appointed Surgeon General to shut
her up."

"Thank you for that ray of sunshine," CJ muttered.

"The president's brother," Toby continued.

"Twelve," Sam said.

"Hoynes," Toby continued. "Fitzwallace."

"Fourteen."

"Leo."

"Fifteen."

"The anesthesiologist at GW."

"Sixteen."

"Charlie."

"Seventeen."

"The four of us."

"Twenty-one."

"Oliver Babish."

"Twenty-two."

"Joey Lucas," Josh added.

"Twenty-three."

They passed a curious glance around, waiting for more
additions to the list. None were forthcoming.
Disembodied, canned sitcom laughter floated out into
the night, fracturing the sudden quiet.

"And we're supposed to believe that none of these
people told anyone else?" CJ asked.

Sam nodded. "Zoey obviously said something to
Charlie."

"And a damn good thing she did," Josh replied.
"Suppose the Republicans had gotten their hands on
that health form before we did?"

"Makes you wonder," Sam said.

"About a lot of things," CJ completed his sentence.
"First, what other documents are out there that we
haven't found yet?"

"Second," Sam said, "who else has talked? And to
whom?"

"The doctors can't talk--confidentiality and all
that," Josh answered.

Toby stared morosely into his beer. "A noble idea,"
he replied. "In theory."

"In theory?" Josh leaned back onto his elbows,
stretching his legs down over CJ's and crossing his
ankles.

CJ glared at him, rescued the remnants of the rice,
then pulled her legs up to her chest and wound her
arms around them. "You really don't think these
doctors ever share stories with, you know, their
husbands or wives?"

Josh shook his head. "No."

"After a long, hard day monitoring the president--the
*president*, Josh--during emergency surgery after an
assassination attempt," CJ argued, "you really think
that GW doctor wasn't bursting to tell somebody? You
don't think he felt betrayed by this revelation like
we did?"

"Right," Sam nodded, "so he goes home, swears his wife
to secrecy, and tells her the story."

"I don't see--" Josh began, shaking his head.

"So now it's six months later," CJ interrupted, "and
his wife is fed up with his hours, and filing for
divorce. You really think she feels a lot of loyalty
to this jackass who slept with some pert little intern
after she helped put him through medical school?"

Josh gave CJ a strange look. "Uh, CJ?"

"Solidarity to the sisterhood, Josh."

"And the ex-wife," Sam continued, "she just happens to
be a Republican. And it's a company town, right? So
she probably knows a politician or two."

"You can't swing a dead cat in this town without
hitting a politician with a grudge," Josh intoned. CJ
glanced up at him with a strange look. He shrugged.
"It's an expression."

"It's a stupid expression," CJ commented. "Also
cruel--a dead cat?"

"Not to mention imprecise," Sam added. "I mean, are
you hitting the politician with the dead cat, or are
you hitting the politician with the grudge? And how
would you hit somebody with a grudge? A grudge--"

"Can we please?" Toby sighed, rubbing a hand over his
face.

CJ gnawed her lip for a moment. "What about the six
other doctors who've known for eight years? He was
the Governor of New Hampshire when he was diagnosed;
who knows who *they've* told."

"Yeah," Sam nodded. "'Hey, honey, guess what I did
today!'"

"'What, dear?'" CJ answered, batting her eyelashes.

"'I gave the Governor a CAT scan.'"

"'Oooh, honey! Really? Why? Is he sick?'"

"'As a matter of fact--'"

"For the love of God," Toby interrupted. "Can you two
stop doing Evening at the Improv?"

CJ glared at him for a moment. "You honestly think
Liz hasn't told her husband?" CJ asked. "Annie's a
bright kid. You think she hasn't picked up on what
her parents, her aunts and her grandparents are
concerned about?"

"No one's talking," Josh pointed out. "Look how long
they were able to keep it from us."

"Mrs. Landingham," CJ said. "Does anyone seriously
believe that woman's been working for the president
all these years, and she hasn't figured it out?"

"There's no reason to assume she has," Toby said.

CJ looked at Josh. "How long could you keep something
like that from Donna?"

"Five minutes tops," he admitted with a rueful grin.

"I rest my case," CJ said.

"Yeah," Sam said, "but those two cases aren't exactly
analogous."

Josh furrowed his brow. "What?"

Sam looked over at Toby. "Come on--Josh and Donna,
and the President and Mrs. Landingham? Totally
different dynamic at work. Just because Josh is--"

"Sam," Toby sighed. "I see your point, but now is not
really the time."

"Just because Josh is *what*?" Josh interjected.

"No kidding," CJ seconded. "And I wasn't saying the
relationships are, you know, similar," she paused,
shuddering a bit. "God, what a scary thought."

"Hey," Josh said, "I still don't know what you're
talking about." He wondered for a moment if he should
slow down his beer intake. Then he decided that
decision was far too taxing to contemplate and took
another swig.

Sam, Toby, and CJ exchanged looks; then CJ cleared her
throat and said, "Nothing. Just that Mrs. Landingham
may not have said anything, but she knows."

"But that's the point," Josh protested. "She hasn't
said anything. None of us have said anything."

"Except Zoey," Sam pointed out.

"To her boyfriend. Who is also the President's body
man. Perfectly understandable." Josh was on his
second beer--the Donna inside his head was already
threatening to cut off his supply--and he was feeling
very big brotherish and protective.

"Of course it's understandable," CJ said. "I totally
get it. When I heard, I wanted to call my parents and
tell them so I could cry on their shoulders." She
looked around at her male co-workers, all of whom were
snickering with amusement at the thought of CJ resting
her six-foot frame on her elderly--and much more
petite--mother's frame. "Oh, what? You big macho men
didn't have people you wanted to run to for comfort?"

Josh looked down at the empty space where Donna
usually sat. "Maybe comfort is the wrong word. Maybe
warn is better. Maybe there are people we'd like to
tell to get the hell out of Dodge while they still
can."

"Don't do it," Toby said. Then he finished off the
rest of his second beer. He grabbed the bag of
half-empty food cartons, plus a handful of bottles,
and headed inside.

"That would look extraordinarily bad," Sam agreed.

"Why?" Josh asked. He was having trouble focusing on
the conversation. The Donna inside his head had
stopped fretting about his beer intake and had started
admonishing him for hiding things from her.

"Anyone who was around during the campaign is going to
be subpoenaed," Sam explained. "If she has to testify
that you told her to leave--"

"It looks like Donna knew something damaging and you
were trying to hide it," CJ concluded.

Toby returned, bearing beer.

"I wouldn't--" Distracted, Josh accepted the third
beer without comment, placing it beside him on the
stairs.

"And your explanation would be what--that you just
wanted to protect her?" CJ continued, nodding her
thanks to Toby. "That opens up a whole new can of
worms."

"Thanks," Sam took the bottle gratefully,
concentrating on the twist off top instead of the
conversation going on around him.

"What are you talking about?" Josh demanded.

Toby hunkered down and looked at his beer bottle as
though it were his only intelligent conversation
partner. "We should just tell the two idiots so they
don't get blindsided in front of a grand jury," he
muttered.

"Oh, right," CJ snorted. "Cause the rest of us have
nothing that will look bad in front of a grand jury."
And then she took a long pull of her beer.

"My life is above reproach," Toby told her, then
followed her lead.

"Only because it's so damn dull," CJ countered. "And
you think Henry Shallick can't turn your marriage--"

"Former marriage."

"To a member of the House into a conflict of interest?
And you," she said, pointing at Sam with her beer
bottle, "With your predilection for call girls--"

"Predilection?" Sam exclaimed in protest. "One
friendship does not constitute a predilection."

"Anybody ever smoke a joint in college?" CJ asked.
"Get a speeding ticket? Been drunk in New Orleans on
a presidential campaign?"

"None of that has anything to do with the President's
health," Toby pointed out.

"That doesn't matter," Sam answered, his tone
bordering on morose. "If it gets to the stage with
grand juries and impeachment hearings, the Republicans
will just gather every bit of gossip and innuendo they
can find."

"And then they'll hold press conferences," CJ
continued. "They'll yell loudly, and they'll try to
cover us with as much mud as possible, and they'll
hope that people forget that this is all about a good
man making one stupid mistake and a seventeen-year-old
girl handing a busy woman one too many forms to sign."

Her words hung there for a long moment. CJ untucked
her legs and turned a bit, stretching them down
diagonally past Josh's. Josh absently grinned at her,
then polished off his second beer. Sam mulled over
the implications, and Toby merely stared at the crack
in the sidewalk below.

"Still," Sam said, "the good news is that none of us
knew about this beforehand. We weren't knowingly
hiding anything from the American public."

"Weren't we?" CJ asked. She closed her eyes for a
second, as though she were fighting off a headache.
"Did any one of us see something during the campaign
that struck us as odd, something we chose not to
question at the time?"

No one spoke for several minutes. Finally Sam, in a
relieved tone, said, "No one answered yes."

"No one answered no either," Josh replied.

"So," Toby shifted a little, his gaze still trained on
the sidewalk, "that means it's started already."

"What's started?" Sam asked.

"The not trusting each other. The fear that if, say,
you saw something and told me, I'd pass it on to the
wrong party in order to save myself."

"From there," Josh continued quietly, "we go to
choosing sides."

"Factions," CJ agreed. "Worrying about who'll be
loyal and who'll sell us out."

"None of us would sell the others out," Sam protested.
He leaned towards CJ, unconsciously willing her to
agree with him.

"And Jed Bartlet cannot tell a lie," Toby countered,
draining the rest of his beer. He carefully placed
the glass bottle next to its compatriots, in a crooked
line across the stair below him.

"Someone's going to take the fall," Josh said.
"That's the way these things have worked
historically."

Toby nodded. "Look at Nixon."

"Okay, now, that's just ridiculous," Sam protested.
"President Bartlet may have made a mistake, but you
can't compare him to Richard Nixon."

"Do you think Nixon's senior staff thought they'd done
anything evil?" Toby asked, wanting another beer, but
lacking the energy to retrieve it from inside. "Don't
you think they thought all their actions were
completely justified?"

"But that's the point," Sam answered. "They broke the
law. Even if they thought there was good reason, they
knowingly broke the law. We didn't have a clue."

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," CJ intoned in a
frighteningly accurate parody of Oliver Babish, "my
clients are innocent. They're stupid, but they're not
criminals."

Everyone fell silent again. Josh sat up, freeing the
steps for CJ's long legs, and struggled with the twist
top to his third beer. With a faint smile to thank
him for the legroom, she grabbed the bottle, freed the
cap, and handed it back. Sam watched the interplay
with interest, wondering how it was possible that they
could turn on each other. Discounting the possibility
entirely, even as the doubt slithered its way into his
consciousness.

"So which one of us will it be?" Toby asked, turning
for the first time to sit sideways on the stair. He
glanced at each of them in turn. "Who's the fall
guy?"

"If we use the Nixon analogy," Josh mused, "CJ's safe.
All the president's *men,* you know?"

"That's a relief," CJ muttered. "I knew one of these
days sexism was going to work in my favor."

"Actually," Sam said, "I'd put my money on CJ taking
the fall." The other three turned and looked at him
in astonishment. Sam shrugged. "She's the public
face of the administration. She talks to the press
every day. Somewhere in all those briefings, someone
must have asked you the question, CJ."

"Believe me when I tell you that I'm spending tomorrow
reviewing every tape I have of those briefings," CJ
replied.

"Which question?" Josh asked.

"The president's health," Sam answered. "Someone must
have asked about the president's health, and CJ must
have made a blanket statement about the president
being in excellent health."

CJ nodded. "Sadly, I really don't even have to review
the tapes."

"Me," Toby said, "I'm putting my money on Josh."

"Thanks a lot," Josh mumbled.

"It's either you or Leo," Toby said. "It fits the
stereotype. We might even be able to spin it."

"Spin what?" Josh asked.

"The shady political operative running the show from
behind the scenes. Bartlet's a figurehead; you and
Leo are the guys with the real power. You knowingly
took a sick man, and you turned him into a viable
candidate. It's a plausible story."

"It is not!" Josh yelped.

"I could sell it," Toby shrugged, pulling out a cigar.

"Oliver North," Sam added, nodding. "Iran-Contra.
Josh fits the profile."

"I'm a scary right-wing military guy?"

"No, you're the colorful guy with the blonde
secretary."

"Assistant," CJ replied automatically.

"Donna has nothing to do with this," Josh said. "And
what's-her-name--"

"Fawn Hall," CJ said.

"Yeah. She had nothing to do with Iran-Contra. She
just answered the phones and took care of North's
schedule. But she got trashed in the press." Josh
looked mildly nauseous at the thought, and CJ strongly
considered confiscating his beer. Then she decided it
wasn't worth the fight.

Toby shrugged and repeated, "I could sell it."

Josh's eyes narrowed and he stared down at Toby. "You
could, couldn't you?"

Toby nodded absently, concentrating more closely on
blowing the perfect smoke ring.

"You just create your own version of reality and sell
it to the country lock, stock, and teardrop," Josh
continued.

"You mean barrel?" Sam asked.

"Huh?"

"The phrase I believe you're looking for right now is
'lock, stock, and barrel.'"

Josh ignored him. "You guys are the spin doctors,
after all."

CJ glanced up at Josh, catching on. "Yeah," she
gestured at Sam and Toby, "the two of you both."

Sam looked over at CJ, eyes wide. "What about us?"

"You could be the fall guys," Josh answered. "The
communications department orchestrated a campaign of
misinformation, duping their own press secretary by
keeping her out of the loop and--"

"Which is not, you know, unprecedented," CJ pointed
out.

Josh nodded. "Right. Hell, we can play it so you
puppetmasters are sexist too. Poor CJ hit her head on
a really shady glass ceiling when she took this job;
she was an innocent bystander in all this, her only
fault her credulity."

"Please," Toby snorted. "The press knows CJ."

"What's that supposed to mean?" CJ demanded with a
menacing glower.

Toby ignored her, his gaze still locked on Josh. "Who
in that press room would believe that CJ Cregg
wouldn't kick the shit out of anyone who knowingly
lied to her? And who would believe that Sam, for one,
would risk the consequences of lying to her?"

Josh frowned, considering the point. "True."

"Hey!" CJ protested. Then she flashed a small grin.
"You guys are really that scared of me?"

Sam nodded quickly, Josh rolled his eyes, and Toby
said, "No."

CJ's grin widened. "Excellent."

Waving an impatient hand in the air, Josh said, "My
point is, you two could just as easily be the fall
guys."

"Why both of us?" Sam asked, miffed.

"Because, Robin," Toby answered on a stream of smoke,
"we go down, we go down together."

Sam frowned. "That's not very sportsmanlike, Toby."

Toby shrugged. "We're a team. Besides, no one person
could pull this off."

It was CJ who found the courage to say it. "I'm not
sure the whole lot of us can pull this next part off,"
she said, her tone weary.

Another silence, heavier, even than the ones that came
before. Sam ran one finger over the neck of his beer
bottle, Josh dropped his face into his hands, CJ
gnawed her lip, and Toby sighed.

No one said anything for several long moments.

Then CJ shivered, although the air was not chilly.
Josh tilted his head towards the door. "You guys want
to--"

"Call it a night?" Sam asked, almost fearfully. Too
many things were up in the air, too many stark
possibilities had been dragged out into the murky
light of the full moon.

Josh offered an echo of his familiar smirk. "I was
going to say 'head inside for more beer,' but if you
guys want to go--"

"More beer," CJ interrupted, unfolding herself from
her step, then leaning down to collect several empty
bottles.

Toby pulled himself up, tossed the butt of his cigar
over the railing, and ignored Sam's pointed sigh.
"Beer," he concurred.

Josh hung back as CJ started past him, reaching down
to squeeze his shoulder as she went. Sam, next, gave
Josh that familiar grin, and if it was lacking a bit
of its normal luster, well, at least he'd made the
effort. Toby met Josh's gaze with a brisk nod, and
then brushed past.

Josh considered this for a long moment, considered the
complexities of their relationships, and the cruelties
of their reality. And if these small, wordless
gestures weren't a promise, at least they were a
start.

And then Josh followed his compatriots inside.

THE END

 

 

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