Graphic by Ryo Sen


SOLECISM
By Ryo Sen and Marguerite

SPOILERS: Inauguration: Over There
SUMMARY: "Let me get this straight: You want the Communications Director, the
President's body man, a reporter for the Washington Post, and a DNC speechwriter
to tag along to your assistant's apartment so that we can play bad cop while you
simultaneously yell at her for taking the credit for her not-Italianex-boyfriend's quote
and play the good cop?"


***


Will's predominant emotion as he looked around the extravagantly bedecked
ballroom was relief. Considering the fact that his three-week contract expired
at midnight, he thought he should feel depressed. Or sad. Or at least
melancholy. After all, his time at the White House was up. He would no longer
be writing with the terrifyingly inspirational Toby Ziegler, no longer be in a
position to influence national policy, no longer be woken in the middle of the
night by more noise than he'd heard since the last Bastille Day he spent in
France.

Maybe that last one was a positive change, but his premise still stood -- he
should feel despondent, dammit.

But the best he could manage -- besides the urge to imbibe now that the nausea
had subsided -- was relief. It was one thing, after all, to rail against a
policy that allowed Americans to sit idly by while people all over the world
were being slaughtered or starved or enslaved. It was quite another, Will had
learned rather quickly, to be the person at whose feet blame could be laid when
the President commits to the largest foreign policy shift since the Marshall
Plan.

It was rather intimidating to have the entire Department of State on your
enemies list.

And so Will was, as he had been all day, vacillating between pure glee that the
United States was finally going to put its money where its arrogant mouth was,
and blind terror that an American solder would die in Kundu and Will would go to
his grave feeling responsible. Given the choice, Will preferred the former
feeling, and was heading to the bar to speed along the next bout of lightheaded
happiness when Charlie tapped him on the shoulder in greeting.

"See, what I don't understand is what she sees in him," Charlie declared without
preamble, frowning in the direction of the President's table. Will tried to
follow his gaze, but between the champagne, the light flashing off the disco
ball, and the madding crowd, he couldn't see who'd captured Charlie's attention.

With an unconcerned shrug, Will scanned the throng, absently observing the
masses in their finery. The women were very glittery. "What I don't
understand," Will countered, squinting a little as the sequins on a nearby dress
caught the light, "is who thought a disco ball was a good idea."

"He's pompous," Charlie continued. "And French. Which might actually be the
same thing."

Will stepped hastily aside to avoid a couple heading unsteadily to the bar,
holding his own glass to his chest to avoid a spill. "That woman's jewels
probably cost more than my cousin's chalet in Switzerland."

Charlie blinked. "You have a cousin who owns a chalet in Switzerland?"

Surprised that Charlie had actually responded to something he'd said, Will
nodded. "Yes."

"People really own Swiss chalets?"

"Yes."

Charlie tilted his head to the side. "I always thought that was just something
people said. Like 'the French are incredibly pompous.'"

Amused, Will asked, "People say the French are incredibly pompous?"

"I'm really not sure," Charlie admitted, his gaze seeming to home in on the
object of his obsession once again. Hard as Will tried, he couldn't discern
which well-dressed young lady had captured Charlie's attention, though Will
figured the sudden attack of jealousy had more than a little to do with the four
glasses of champagne Charlie had already emptied.

Amazingly, Charlie's voice betrayed not even the slightest trace of slurred
sibilants. "But if they don't say that already, they should really start."

Will sipped the last of his drink, watching an exuberant couple execute
complicated dance moves atop the Inaugural seal on the floor. "My point," he
continued after a while, "is that, considering the attendees to this Ball
include the President, the First Lady, more than half of the top Administration
officials, and a sizeable helping of literati, perhaps the disco ball was a
blown call."

"I think he's kind of effeminate," Charlie decided. He widened his stance a
little, placing his hands on his hips.

Will gave up on getting Charlie past his fixation. "I'm going to get another
drink. Do you need anything?"

"Not unless you can hook me up with a member of some royal family who'll agree
to make me a Duke."

"You know, I probably could rustle you up a royal," Will answered. "But I doubt
they'd get here in time."

"Yeah," Charlie sighed.

Will chose the closest bar, waiting patiently while a blonde in all black and a
copper-clad redhead swore to the bartenders that, yes, they really did need
another round and, no, AA wasn't in their future. When they stepped aside, Will
nodded to the bartenders. "Just some champagne, please."

He figured he damn well deserved a few more glasses of champagne. According to
Toby, anyway, the foreign policy shift was entirely Will's fault. As much as
Will would have liked to take credit for the change, it had been the President's
old El Salvador speech that got the ball rolling, and ultimately it had been the
President's decision. Still, during his more optimistic moments, Will liked to
think the new foreign policy doctrine wouldn't have happened without his
influence. He was the catalyst. He was almost a midwife of sorts for the new
foreign policy doctrine.

And he had clearly had too much champagne. If Toby had heard that metaphor,
he'd have locked Will in a room with a copy of Strunk & White. Odd how quickly
Will had gotten past his distrust and, yes, fear of Toby. Of all of them,
really. Although Will sometimes found Toby and the others difficult to
understand, he really would miss the exhilaration of working with such talented
and unrepentant policy wonks.

Fortuitously, Josh materialized at Will's elbow, bouncing a little and looking
much less angry than he had earlier. "Hey," Josh greeted cheerfully.

Will, who had heard a story about Josh, a bachelor party, and a pair of bright
yellow waders, instinctively checked to see if Josh was holding a drink. "Hey,
Josh. Great party."

"Wait 'til you see those Rust-Belters."

"Huh?"

"The Rust Belt Ball." Josh took another sip of what Will figured was either
brandy or iced tea sans ice. Considering Josh's peppy mood, Will was going to
guess brandy.

Will raised his eyebrows. "So the Rust-Belters are real party animals?"

"No."

"Okay."

"So," Josh said, fixing Will with an intent look. "How's your level of
frustration now?"

Perturbed, Will asked, "What?"

"Your level of frustration. You were, you know..." Josh frowned, looking up at
the ceiling as if it contained a thesaurus.

"Pissed off?" Will suggested sardonically, deftly placing his empty flute on
the tray of a passing waiter.

Josh grinned, and Will decided he was definitely much more cheerful than he'd
been an hour ago. Perhaps Josh had taken the same route as Charlie and loaded
up on the alcohol. "Well, I was going to go with irritated, but you did shatter
a window."

Will held up his hands defensively. "Hey, I was assured that window was
shatterproof. Perhaps I just have a better arm than Toby."

"Believe me," said a new, unfamiliar voice. "You do not want to let Toby hear
you say that."

Will turned a quizzical look the newcomer's way. The redheaded man offered his
hand and a vaguely leonine grin. "Danny Concannon."

"Ah."

Danny's grin widened. "So you read the piece," he surmised, cutting his eyes
towards Josh with a self-satisfied expression.

Josh merely rolled his eyes and took another sip. Will generally kept members
of the press at arm's length, but there was a comfortable rapport between Josh
and Danny that put him at ease. Relatively.

Will nodded. "CJ had a copy, yes."

"That she highlighted and posted somewhere with a threatening note about giving
damaging quotes to any member of the press?" Danny guessed, laughter in his
tone.

"Well," Will said. "Yes, actually." CJ, it seemed, liked her highlighters.
Will would kind of miss receiving copies of Wall Street Journal articles with
angry lines from colored pens and the occasional highlighted passage of
Republican drivel, next to which would be scrawled "Response?"

"Nice speech, by the way," Danny remarked as he snagged two glasses of champagne
from a passing waiter. He kept one for himself and handed the other to Will,
who nodded his thanks.

"You couldn't grab me a glass?" Josh protested, gesturing with the half-finished
drink in his hand.

Danny swallowed quickly. "No."

"Why not?"

"You've had two already," Danny explained. "And Donna made me promise."

Will frowned, puzzled. As much as the White House staffers' inability to
remember his name bothered him, he had trouble attaching names to faces he'd
seen only a couple of times. And considering the sheer number of White House
staffers and their marked dislike for him, he usually stayed in his temporary
office and avoided most everyone but Toby. The name Donna sounded familiar,
though he couldn't quite picture who she was. "Donna who?"

"Donnatella," Josh answered promptly. He swirled the last little bit of liquid
around in his glass, then knocked it back.

"Donna Tella?" Will repeated.

Laughing, Danny corrected him. "No. Donna Moss. Her full name is Donnatella."

"And she's...?" Will asked.

"My assistant," Josh answered.

"Oh." Will brightened. "The tall, leggy blonde?"

Will could've sworn that Danny snickered as he half-turned away and stared
intently up at the brass section on the dais.

"The tall, leggy blonde?" Josh repeated, his voice rising in volume and pitch.

Leaning back slightly, Will nodded. "Come to think of it, where is she?"

Josh's expression darkened. "Not here."

Ah, Will thought. The source of Josh's earlier displeasure was his absent
assistant and, presumably, her role in the PR flap. The details of the incident
remained fuzzy, since Will had spent the better part of the past 48 hours
crafting language that conveyed every nuance of the new foreign policy doctrine.
He'd caught comments from the punditocracy on trips through the bullpen, and
he'd read half of an op-ed piece while downing a ham and cheese sandwich in the
middle of the night. But besides that, all Will knew was that Donna's damaging
quote had caused CJ quite a headache in the pressroom. She and Toby had engaged
in a spirited conversation about it in Toby's office, and those walls weren't
really as thick as one might think.

Danny nodded solemnly. "Donna's at her apartment in a gown waiting for, you
know, a ball to show up."

Will slowly shook his head. "Are you aware that the whole lot of you talk very
strangely?"

"Yes," Danny answered cheerily. "But you'll catch on. Just try using seven
words when two would suffice."

Will wondered if the way Josh's hand waved in the air at about shoulder-level
was due to Josh's alcohol intake or his indignation. "Donna's really not that
tall," Josh insisted.

"Josh." Danny shot his friend an exasperated look.

"She's not," Josh insisted stubbornly. "She's shorter than I am."

"She's really not coming?"

Toby's voice came from directly behind Will, who startled, then turned to look
at his temporary boss. Former boss. "Hi," he said, rather too loudly.

Toby gave Will a very strange look. "Hello."

"I can't convince her," Josh lamented.

Will leaned closer to Danny. "Why does Josh care if his assistant comes to this
thing?"

Danny stared at him with a distinctly pitying expression. "You've got some
catching up to do."

"Not really," Will answered with a shrug, trying not to let any trace of his
melancholy shadow his words. "I won't be around much longer."

Toby cleared his throat and looked vaguely uncomfortable. It was disconcerting,
Will thought. He'd seen Toby discouraged, infuriated, and almost everywhere in
between, but uncomfortable? This was new. Will tried to catch Toby's eye, but
the older man seemed to be avoiding his gaze.

"Well, okay, this is the perfect sendoff," Josh decided. "Toby, where's
Charlie?" Josh glanced around, but was apparently distracted from his search
for Charlie by one of the ever-present waiters. With a jaunty shrug, Josh took
a glass of champagne and turned back to the others.

"Why?" Toby asked.

Josh blinked. "Why what?"

"Charlie," Will explained to Josh, "is mooning over some woman."

"Still?" Danny asked.

Toby blew a stream of cigar smoke into the air. "Yes, and he can't seem to moon
in silence like a real man."

Will felt as if he were watching a good game of badminton, his attention moving
back and forth between Toby and Danny. Though in all fairness, trying to keep up
with the rapid-fire shorthand between just the two of them was exponentially
easier than some of the West Wing meetings he'd attended. Danny glanced over
and took pity on him. "Charlie used to date Zoey."

"Whose assistant is she?" Will asked, squinting, trying to bring a face into
mental focus.

Josh barked out a laugh. "She's not an assistant, she's a daughter.
Specifically, the President's youngest daughter."

"Ah," Will said, looking over towards the Bartlet table. "Which one's Zoey?"

"The one with the incredibly handsome French boyfriend," Toby answered.

"I bet his pants don't have thirteen buttons," groused Josh.

Will frowned. "And why are we--"

"Don't go there," Toby sighed.

Danny nodded in agreement. "There are some things -- you just don't want to get
a piece of."

"Yes," Will decided. "Good point. I probably don't want to know whose pants
have thirteen buttons."

Josh muttered. "I'm gonna go get her."

Toby turned a concerned look Josh's way. "How many of those, exactly, have you
had?"

"Not nearly enough."

"So," Danny summarized with a knowing smile, "too many."

"That's not fair."

"He's a lightweight. Put him in a cab." Toby punctuated his words with a
healthy swig of his own drink.

"Toby!" Josh protested. "I am not a lightweight."

"You once taped a letter to your forehead," Danny pointed out.

"I won a Fulbright Scholarship!"

Will discovered that shaking his head this much made him feel as if something
were going to come loose. "You taped an acceptance letter--"

"Please, Will, don't get Josh started on his academic record." Toby gestured
with his cigar.

"Seven-sixty verbal, baby," Josh crowed. "You know -- Wait," Josh stopped, a
pensive look on his face. "A cab. Good idea, Toby. Let's go."

Toby, blinking. "What do you mean by 'let's'? You can't possibly think--"

"Seriously, 760 verbal," Josh interrupted excitedly, looking for somewhere to
stash his empty champagne glass. "I can get her to come out and go to the ball."

"Uh-oh," Danny muttered, eyes wide.

"No kidding," Toby answered. "This can't end well."

"No, no," Danny insisted, lowering his voice. Will followed his gaze and
clamped his mouth shut. CJ Cregg, dressed in scarlet and heading their way.
"Incoming."

Puzzled, Josh said, "Incoming? Danny, what are you -- CJ! Hi! I've been
looking for you!"

CJ stopped next to Josh and leveled a disbelieving stare. "What's wrong with
you?"

"Nothing," Josh answered too quickly.

"Josh," CJ said, putting quite a bit of menace into the one syllable as she
leaned closer to her colleague and narrowed her eyes. Will took an unconscious
step back, remembering the way she'd nearly mowed him down in the West Wing
hallways just before Christmas. "You've had too much to drink and now you've
come up with some idiotic idea that will land you on the front page of the
Washington Post, haven't you?"

"Donna didn't give Danny's researcher that quote," Josh blurted out. "It wasn't
Donna."

CJ glanced over at Toby, who looked about as surprised as she did. "Excuse me?"

"Donna didn't--"

"Donna called me," CJ interrupted, crossing her arms. "Donna called me and said
she'd talked to--" CJ stopped suddenly, her eyes narrowing. "Damn. She
covered for him?"

"Yes," Josh answered.

"She covered for him?" Toby repeated, nearly shouting as he looked to Danny for
confirmation. A few nearby partygoers glanced over in irritation until they
realized who it was doing the yelling. "What the hell was she--?"

Danny shrugged. "Look, I don't know who the source was--"

"Show them the article," Josh insisted, poking Danny's arm.

"I've seen it," CJ snapped. "I practically have it memorized after that round
robin in the pressroom. The budget cut thing, right?" Josh nodded and CJ
glanced around as if expecting Donna to appear. "Damn, I should've caught that.
I'm gonna kill her."

"Oh, I've got that covered," Josh answered.

Damn the crowd anyway, Will thought as a gaggle of bejeweled women prevented him
from edging further away from CJ's annoyed gaze. Even directed at others, the
sheer force of her irritation was intimidating.

"Excuse me?" CJ demanded.

"Hey, CJ," Danny said, stepping closer and drawing the press secretary's
attention. "Is the First Lady's latest candidate wearing a kilt by any chance?"

CJ's eyes grew very, very wide. "What?"

"I saw the First Lady earlier," Danny explained with a very large, very
satisfied grin, "ushering a kilted man your way, and I figured--"

"He's a urologist of Scottish descent, if you can believe it," CJ confessed with
a sigh. It was almost comical the way CJ bent her stately frame to try to hide
her scarlet-clad body behind the others. She lowered her voice to a
conspiratorial undertone. "Is he around here?"

Toby rolled his eyes and gestured with his cigar. "CJ, just tell the man you're
not interested."

"It's the kilt, isn't it?" Danny asked smugly.

"I wouldn't get all high and mighty, there, considering you paraded around the
White House in, what, a pair of red pajamas?" CJ retorted.

Wondering why Danny had been wearing pajamas in the White House and how he'd
missed it, Will glanced at the others for explanation, but Toby was hiding a
chuckle behind his drink, and Josh was obsessively checking his cellphone.
Charlie wandered back over, but his attention was split between the Bartlet
table and the half-empty glass of champagne clutched in his hand.

"Hey, I'm of Scottish descent, too," Danny replied, "but you don't see me baring
my shapely calves around--"

"Shapely calves?" CJ snorted.

"Oh, that guy." Josh lifted his chin in the direction of the approaching
wannabe Highlander. "Did you ask him if he was wearing anything under the
kilt?"

"Commando, baby, the only way to go," Charlie opined.

The others stared at Charlie in wordless fascination.

Shaking off Charlie's odd outburst, CJ surreptitiously glanced around. "He's
headed for me?" she asked in dismay, gliding forward to wedge herself between
Josh and Danny. "Where?"

"CJ, you really think you can hide?" Toby demanded in an exasperated tone.
"You're twenty-seven feet tall and you're wearing a dress so eye-catching it
rivals the disco ball."

Josh glanced around, craning his neck to look up. "There's a disco ball at this
-- Hey, there's a disco ball!"

"Thank you, Josh," Toby muttered, groaning as Josh momentarily lost his balance,
flailing his arms in the air until CJ yanked him back upright with one hand.

Danny placed his free hand on CJ's back. "I'd be happy to volunteer my
services, CJ. You know, talk to him, Scotsman to Scotsman--"

"Oh, put a sock in it, Danny," CJ interrupted, rolling her eyes. "Josh, I know
you're planning something incredibly stupid--"

"I am not!" Josh yelped.

"--but keep in mind that I'll kill you if you do it. This is a PR problem, and
I'll deal with Donna tomorrow. If I had time, I'd deal with you tonight, but
there's a urologist in a skirt headed this way, so I'll see you later."

Will watched in awe as CJ slipped effortlessly through the crowd, shaking hands
and trading smiles, but never once stopping until she was out of sight. "She's
really something," he said.

"Yeah," Danny and Toby agreed in unison. They exchanged an uncomfortable glance
that Will couldn't quite fathom, then Toby turned on Josh. "He gives that quote
to a reporter--"

"Researcher," Danny corrected automatically.

"--and she covers for him?"

Will raised his free hand. "Uh... who's 'he?'"

"Jack Reese," Josh answered, not taking his eyes off of Toby. "Believe me, I'm
having this conversation with her in about fifteen minutes."

"Okay," Will said, more to himself than to the others, who weren't listening to
him anyway. "But I don't know who Jack Reese is."

His curiosity was evidently not a concern to his companions, who skipped
directly to another point in the conversation without bothering to provide
directions to the unintiated.

"You're going to yell at Donna right now," Toby surmised with a pained sigh.

"I am, indeed. For I am Josh, Doer of Stuff. Possessor of 760 Verbal."

"God, Toby, why haven't you stolen this man for your writing staff?" asked
Danny.

Toby managed to glare at both Danny and Josh at once, a trick Will suspected
he'd mastered during his tenure at the White House. "You can't really just enjoy
the balls and do this later?"

"No, and I need reinforcements," Josh answered.

With a nod, Danny chimed in, "Right. We're the bad cops."

"We?" Toby demanded, eyebrows raised in eloquent disbelief.

"Yeah," Will repeated. "We? I barely know Dana and--"

"Her name's Donna," Josh corrected.

"Okay," Will amended amiably, "I barely know Donna, and I have no idea who Jack
Reese is, so really--"

"Donna's boyfriend," Danny supplied.

"Ex-boyfriend," Josh corrected with a venomous look. "Jack Reese lives in Italy
now."

Will rubbed his forehead for a moment, but the dull headache didn't seem to be
going anywhere. "Okay, you realize the story's getting more confusing instead
of less, right?"

"I think where I went wrong," Charlie said, adding yet another subject to the
already confusing conversation, "is that I let Zoey go to France."

Almost grinning, Toby repeated, "Let Zoey?"

"Yeah," Charlie said. "There are perfectly good exchange programs in places
like Finland."

Toby nodded seriously. "Where Zoey would've met a Nordic god and brought him
home instead."

Charlie glowered at Toby. "You're really not helping matters."

"I wasn't trying to."

"So I have four bad cops," Josh interjected with an expectant look. "Let's go."

Will asked the obvious question. "Where are we going?"

"To talk to Donna," Josh answered, looking at Will as if he couldn't believe
anyone could be quite that clueless.

"Right," Will nodded slowly. "To talk to her about covering for her
ex-boyfriend who lives in Italy about a quote given to a researcher that ended
up in your story."

Danny patted Will's shoulder. "Exactly."

"And I fit into this scenario... where?"

"Well, he didn't live in Italy when he gave the researcher the quote," Josh
said, ignoring Will's perfectly valid question.

Shaking his head almost involuntarily, Will asked, "Didn't the story run
yesterday?"

"Yes," Danny said.

"So the day before yesterday, when the researcher called Donna's Italian
ex-boyfriend--"

"He's not Italian, he just lives in Italy," Charlie interjected. "Italy," he
repeated thoughtfully. "Zoey could've gone to -- No. Then she'd have met some
Italian artist."

Toby hid an amused smile behind his glass of bourbon.

"Since when?" Will demanded, frustrated. "Yesterday?"

Grinning, Josh slapped Will on the back. "You got it."

A little mournfully, Will said, "I really don't."

"We'll explain on the way," Danny said.

"On the way where?" Charlie asked.

"Oh." Will brightened at the opportunity to explain to someone else and turned
to Charlie. "We're going to Donna's."

"Okay," Charlie agreed. Apparently unable to let the Zoey problem out of his
teeth, he added, "Rio de Janeiro is a perfectly good destination."

Danny shook his head. "Charlie, Charlie, Charlie -- Latin lovers."

"Damn."

"Let me get this straight," Will said, attempting to stop Josh's efforts to usher
them toward the coat check. "You want the Communications Director, the
President's body man, a reporter for the Washington Post, and a DNC speechwriter
to tag along to your assistant's apartment so that we can play bad cop while you
simultaneously yell at her for taking the credit for her not-Italian
ex-boyfriend's quote and play the good cop?"

Josh blinked. "Yes. Exactly. Except that we're going to yell at her and then
bring her back with us so she doesn't miss the balls." With that, Josh
sauntered off in the direction of the coat check, an amused Danny at his heels.
Toby finished off the contents of his glass in one long gulp, then slammed the
glass down on a nearby table.

Charlie fixed a sympathetic look on Will. "You really, really do not want to
miss this."

Will shrugged his acquiescence and followed Charlie's lead, letting Toby bring
up the rear. "He's going to take a cab to get his assistant to come to the
ball? This isn't a joke?"

"It is actually kind of funny," Charlie tossed over his shoulder.

"Funny strange, maybe," Will muttered, snagging a champagne flute from a
passing waiter and downing the contents.

Toby took the opportunity to slip past Will. "You really do want to catch up on
a few of the more interesting moments around here."

Charlie nodded his agreement. "It's like my love for Zoey."

"How is it like your love for Zoey, exactly?" Toby asked. "And how do you
propose to win her back from a moneyed, titled French fop?"

"Easy," Charlie answered defiantly. "I'll win her back with my charm."

Chuckling, Toby handed his ticket to the coat check attendant. "Yeah, that
sounds like a good plan. Members of the French royalty are never charming."

"Also with my rugged good looks," Charlie continued, digging his own ticket out.

"He's French and royal and better looking than the majority of the women I work
with," Toby countered. "His only weakness is gonna be his lack of intestinal
fortitude."

Will gave Toby an odd look as he accepted his coat and tipped the attendant.
"Intestinal fortitude?"

"Yeah," Charlie agreed, tapping his ticket against the palm of his hand for a
moment. "The French aren't really known for their courage. We did have to save
their asses back in the forties."

"Wasn't that clever of us, considering that none of us was even alive?" Toby
observed drolly, but Charlie was on a roll.

"I'm tougher than Jean Paul any day," Charlie decided, tucking the ticket back
in his pocket.

Will and Toby exchanged amused looks as Charlie started towards the door where
Josh and Danny were waiting. "You're going to win her back by turning into a
Popsicle?" Will asked.

"I'm tough," Charlie answered, his tone dismissive. "I can handle a little cold
weather."

"It's 10 degrees out," Will told Toby, who nodded with what Will would almost
describe as a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, if Toby were the kind of person
to have any sort of twinkle in his eyes.

Josh pushed the door open, hunching his shoulders against the cold, and
practically tumbled down the stairs to the sidewalk in his haste to flag down a
cab. Toby paused on the top step to tamp out his cigar, while Danny, Charlie,
and Will joined Josh at the curb. Charlie shoved his hands in his pants pockets
and shifted his weight from foot to foot.

"Cold?" Will asked, wishing he'd remembered to bring a hat.

"Nah," Charlie answered. "I'm fine."

"I'm cold, and I'm wearing a jacket," Will pointed out, but Charlie merely upped
the frequency of his weight-shifting and turned his back to the brisk wind.

"Taxi!" Josh yelled, hopping a small snowbank into the street to flag it down.
The cab obligingly pulled to a stop, skidding a little. Josh yanked open the
passenger side door. "Let's go."

Danny opened the door to the backseat and paused, while Charlie all but dove
into the front seat.

Toby shook his head in amusement, while Will just watched in disbelief. "We're
really doing this?"

"Apparently," Toby answered dryly.

Josh raised his voice, "Just get in the damn car, wouldya?"

Toby rolled his eyes and slid into the cab. Josh started to follow suit, then
paused and looked back at Will. "Are you coming or what?"

With a strange little laugh, Will shrugged and stepped forward. Danny held the
door open wider, forcing Will to sit in the middle. "Yeah, I guess I am."

"Good," Josh said, and slid in next to Charlie. "Let's go!"

"This is nice," Charlie slurred as Josh gave the driver Donna's address. "This
is like Cinderella."

"Is this a taxi or a pumpkin?" Danny inquired, reaching over the seat to poke
Charlie on his shoulder.

"If one of you mentions a fairy godmother, then as God is my witness--"

"Listen," the cabbie said, "I'm not sure which streets are still blocked off
from the parade, so is it okay if I take another way there?"

"Sure," Josh said amiably. "All roads lead to Donnatella."

"Are we in a Bob Hope movie?" Toby asked, putting a cigar in his mouth and
leaving it there, unlit. "The Road to Donnatella?"

"Which of us is Dorothy Lamour?" Will inquired dryly.

"You're not putting my ass in a sarong," declared Charlie. "Well, unless Zoey
asked me to."

"Is this a theme for the evening?" Josh whined. "Men in skirts? 'Cause if it
is --"

Toby cut Josh off. "Will, how did you do on the SAT?"

He couldn't quite process the question. "I'm sorry?"

"The SAT test. What'd you get?"

Will looked at Toby, whose face was unreadable, then over at Josh, who was
half-turned around in his seat with a smirk plastered across his face. "I'm
sorry, but I'm not sure I remember. It was, you know, twenty years ago."

"Not for me," Charlie chimed in. "I'm a young man in his prime, in the full
flower of his manhood."

"Josh, here," Danny said, jerking a thumb in Josh's direction, "is the proud
owner of a 760 verbal, as you may have heard."

"That's very good," Will said, hoping against hope that the conversation would
end there.

No such luck. "So. How'd you do?" Toby asked, which alarmed Will because he
suspected that Toby already knew the answer.

"I may have, you know, missed one. It was a long time ago."

"One?" Josh asked, twisting around to gape at Will. In doing so, his elbow
connected with the back of Charlie's head. "Sorry, Charlie," he said, then
started to chuckle. "Hey, that was funny. 'Sorry, Charlie.'"

"Yeah, I've never heard that one," Charlie said, turning around to give Josh a
slightly glazed dirty look. "You missed one on the SAT, Will?"

"Well, more like none."

"You aced the SAT?" Josh asked, his voice reedy and plaintive. "Back in the
days when you couldn't use calculators and stuff?"

Will threw his hands up in exasperation. "Honestly, you guys still remember and
talk about things like this? You're running a country, and you're trading SAT
scores?"

"The President made a 1590," Charlie said. "You kicked Presidential ass, there,
my friend."

"I'll be sure to bring it up next time I talk to him," Danny said. Was he
gloating?

"Is this one of those things I should catch up on?"

"Absolutely. He was first in his class at Notre Dame and I was second in mine,
but I scored higher on the SAT, so--"

"God. I'm sorry. Stop talking, please."

"Okey-doke." Danny settled back in the seat, his face turned toward the window.
"Are we there yet?"

"What are you, seven?" Toby grumbled. "We're nearly there. And that makes me
ask, Josh -- suppose we do get her to come with us? How will she ride in this
already-at-capacity cab?"

"At capacity?" Will repeated sardonically. Beside him, Danny snorted in
amusement.

"Sorry," Danny said, his hands in the air.

"No problem."

Danny smiled at him. "See? You're catching on. Repetition of a key phrase for
emphasis."

"You do it, too!" Will exclaimed.

"Well, they're a bad influence on me."

Charlie cut in. "Are you saying we're repetitious?"

"Repetitious?" chimed Will and Danny together, then, as one, they added, "Yes."
Will was beginning to feel as if he were getting the hang of this.

"I have a plan," was Josh's non-sequitur.

"What?" Will asked. Charlie, Danny, and Toby seemed to be tensing up, as if
they'd had previous, unhappy experiences with Josh's strategies.

"I have a good plan," Josh said, louder.

"Why," Toby asked mildly, "do I doubt that?"

Josh seemed to ignore him. "See, I'm the good cop--"

"What is your obsession with good cop/bad cop?" Toby inquired.

"It's you. You're a good bad cop," Josh insisted.

"Josh has a point," Danny put in.

"On his head!" Toby bellowed.

"Anyway, the object of this exercise, good cop/bad cop aside, is to fit another
person in this cab?" Will asked.

At that, the driver turned around and fixed them all with a steely glare.

"Hi. How're you doing?" Will asked with what he hoped was a jaunty wave. The
cab driver shook his head and turned on the radio, flooding the car with
country-western music. Why, Will thought idly, were all country songs about
somebody's baby leaving, drunken debauchery, pickup trucks, or, you know, all of
the above?

Toby merely raised his voice. "Seriously, there's no room for a sixth person.
There's no room for a fifth person."

"Actually, there are six people in the cab already," Will pointed out. Off of
Toby's venomous look, he shrugged defensively. "I'm just saying, you forgot the
driver."

The driver eyed Will suspiciously in the rearview mirror. "Where is it you guys
work, again?"

"The Republican National Committee," Toby answered without a moment's
hesitation.

Danny turned his face to the window, putting one gloved hand to his mouth to
hide his smile. Will covered with a cough, while in the front seat, Charlie
just started to laugh. Will couldn't see exactly what happened, but Charlie's
sudden yelp suggested a sharp rap on the head from Josh.

"Sorry," Charlie mumbled. "I was thinking of a thing."

"Zoey's lover," Josh suggested, earning himself a glare from Charlie.

The driver nodded his head as if their strange reactions confirmed his
suspicions. "So I picked you up at the Inaugural Ball because...?"

Will ducked his head in anticipation. Beside him, Toby folded his hands
carefully together and answered, "We're at the Opposition Ball."

Leaning closer to Danny, Will whispered, "They have such a thing?"

Laughter threatened to overtake Danny's thin whisper when he answered, "Sure,
why not."

"Yeah," the cabbie said with a derisive shake of his head. "I'll look for that
on the news tonight."

Despite the grin he couldn't seem to suppress, Danny managed to sound almost
authoritative when he said, "Well, given how damn liberal the media are these
days, I doubt the Opposition Ball will get much coverage."

Toby bit down so hard on his unlit cigar that he snapped it in half, at which
point Will lost the battle. He buried his face in his hands and laughed until
his sides hurt.

Josh, it seemed, was too focused on directing the cab driver onto Donna's
street, which thankfully distracted the cab driver from his demonstrably insane
passengers. Will held his breath for a moment until he'd brought his amusement
back under control.

Beside him, Danny smirked and leaned forward to tap Josh's shoulder. "If you do
manage to convince Donna to come back with us, tell her she can sit on my lap."

Josh twisted in the seat, but couldn't turn enough to face Danny, who was
directly behind him. "Not in a million years," he pledged to Will instead.

Will nodded solemnly, then exchanged amused looks with Toby when Josh went back
to pointing out Donna's building.

Tilting his head to the side, Charlie offered, "She can sit on my lap, then."

Toby brushed the last of the cigar remnants from his jacket. "Aren't you saving
yourself for Zoey?"

"Yeah, but I'm flexible."

Will snickered at the poisonous glare Josh turned on Charlie.

Danny poked Josh again. "So, what's she wearing?"

"Shut up, wouldya?" Josh yelled.

"What am I again?" Toby asked. "The good cop, right?"

"Bad cop!" Josh leaned across Charlie to point at Donna's brownstone for the
cabbie's benefit. "It's that one right there."

The cab eased to a stop, and Josh seemed torn between one last lecture on who
was playing which role and leaping out of the cab.

"Would you go?" Charlie grumbled impatiently.

"'kay," Josh said, scrabbling for the door handle. "Let's do this."

"Yeah," Toby muttered. "This is going to end well." He paused before getting
out of the cab to warn Josh: "You put your hands on that woman anywhere
normally covered by clothing, and so help me God, Josh, I'll remove your lungs
with the nearest blunt instrument."

Josh ignored him, preparing to marshal the troops for battle, but Will grinned
at Toby. "Wow."

"What?"

"Your impression of C.J. is. . . quite astonishing."

"Get out now," Toby growled.

As Will slid out of the cab to join the insanity, it occurred to him that he was
starting to feel like a part of the group. He was beginning to understand their
complex verbal shorthand and their labyrinthine interpersonal relationships --
just when his time with them was over.

But he'd save the melancholia for tomorrow. Tonight, he'd just enjoy the ride.




THE END

Authors' Note: solecism - 1. a nonstandard usage or grammatical construction;
2. a violation of etiquette; 3. an impropriety, mistake, or incongruity.

Feedback would be welcome at:
ryo@fanficwithfootnotes.com
and/or
Marguerite@operamail.com.


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