TITLE: "Forever Hold Your Peace" (1/2)
AUTHOR: Marie-Claude Danis
EMAIL: mc@verticalcrawl.com
SITE: http://verticalcrawl.com/fic
DISTRIB: My site, list archives. Or just ask.
FEEDBACK: Delicious.
SPOILERS: Mentions events up to and including "Two Cathedrals".
RATING: PG
PAIRING: J/D, S/D.
SUMMARY: It's Sam and Donna's wedding - Josh isn't feeling well.
NOTE: Huge thanks to Loren for editing this!

* * *


I pull at the roll of paper angrily, sitting on the toilet tank with my dress shoes propped up on the seat.

I lean against the cold tiles of the wall behind me and close my eyes, trying to squeeze the tears away instead of using the wad of tissue bunched up in my hands. Someone comes in to use one of the urinals, and leaves without washing up. Idly, I wonder if it's someone from the kitchen staff.

I'm about to go back to feeling sorry for myself when I hear the click of high heels across the marble floor of the men's room. I frown. The quick footsteps stop in front of my door.

"Joshua."

My eyes shoot wide open. "CJ??"

"Yeah."

I look at what I can see of her shoes. "You are aware that this is the men's room, right?" I try a snort, but it comes out stuffy and pathetic. Distractedly I run the back of my hand under my nose and sniff. Very attractive.

"Cut the crap. You've been in here for over an hour."

"Two."

"Two?"

"I've been in here for over two hours." I check my watch. Yup.

"What's going on, Josh."

She knows exactly what's going on. I'm not about to give her the satisfaction of voicing my whacked neurosis at her again.

"Go away, Claudia Jean."

I hear the door of the stall next to me swing open. Her voice comes to me closer, and crystal-clear. Her tone is much softer now, and more serious. I shiver.

"You can't hide in the men's room forever, you know."

I look at the spotless floor. "I don't know. Seems like a pretty good strategy right about now."

"He's your best friend."

"And she's my assistant. I've heard the story, CJ."

She doesn't say anything for a little while, and I notice I've stopped weeping like an idiot in the short time she's been here. Of course that realisation only makes more tears spring to my eyes. I'm a mess.

"You did good today," she tries softly.

I nod. She can't see me. I sniffle and nod again, looking down at my hands. I throw the unused tissue in the toilet.

"You thought you couldn't go through it. But you did. You were the picture of the perfect best man."

"I was, wasn't I."

"Yes. And you were there for Sam, and you were there for Donna, and you did good, and that's all that matters. It'll get easier, Josh."

You'd think so. Right now it doesn't seem very likely. But I don't want to deal with that right away. "Do you want to get married, CJ?"

She pauses, and I hear the plastic lid hit the porcelain as she sits down next to me, separated by the metal partition. There's a ruffle of taffeta. "Yeah, I suppose. Maybe."

I tug at my bowtie until it hangs loosely around my neck, and undo the first button of my shirt. It's hot in here - my tuxedo jacket has long been hug on the door hook and my sleeves are rolled up. I really don't want to go back in there, and I'm making sure I look as unpresentable as humanly possible.

"Josh?"

I haven't said anything in a while. She worries. I feel like teasing her, because that's what I do. "Nice dress, by the way."

"Can it, Joshua."

"I thought Donna liked you."

"So did I."

"The seafoam really brings out your... um..."

She gets up amidst yet more swishing of extravagant material. "Don't even say it. I can do terrible things to you, pal."

I laugh quietly to myself, rubbing at my face wearily. "Going back?"

"I'm in the men's room, Josh."

"Yeah."

"Wanna make people talk and walk out with me?"

"I love your taste for atrocity."

She hesitates. I can almost hear her concern.

"I'll be right out, CJ."

"This week, right?" She has that voice she uses when she's worried: small and questioning, almost pleading.

"Yes. Tonight, even. Go."

"Okay," she relents, but I can tell she's still concerned.

Once the washroom is silent again I get up, shaking the nervous kinks out of my shoulders. I run my hands up my neck and over my face, hoping to erase a bit of my discomfiture. I breathe out deeply. Gotta face the world. More to the point, gotta face a whole goddamn wedding reception. To be honest, I'd rather get shot in the gut again than go through this, but it's been pointed out to me that I don't actually have a choice.

With a falsely confident sigh, I grab my jacket from the hook and swing the door open - only to be met with a close-up of Josiah Bartlet's most penetrating stare.

I let out what has to be a rather undignified yelp and slam the door shut again, my heart racing. Jesus!

"JOSH LYMAN."

Uh oh.

"Y-Yes sir?" I wince, my back against the door.

"Would you come out of there, you idiot?"

I gulp and stand straight, cracking the door open to look at a displeased Leader of the Free World. "Evening, sir. Enjoying yourself?" I try sheepishly.

"You're a cretin, Josh," he points out, stepping away slightly to let me out.

I step out of the stall, avoiding his gaze, and go to the sinks to chance a peek at myself in the mirror. Eek.

He stands behind me, and he's pretty hard to avoid like that. He meets my eyes in our reflection. And damn can this man scowl.

"Nice ceremony, wasn't it sir?" Lame.

"Yes, yes it was. I particularly liked the part where the best man pulled the disappearing act before the rice even hit the pavement."

My shoulders slump. I feel the kinks coming back. I squeeze my eyes shut again and crack my neck stiffly. "I..." I what? I'm sorry? Yeah, I feel pretty sorry for myself. Bring it on.

His voice softens and he steps closer, speaking over my shoulder with his hands on his hips. "Look, Josh. We all understand how hard for you this is." He ignores my snort. "Hell, I expected you to jump on Sam during the ceremony." He pauses. "Or break down like a little girl," he finishes with a hint of a smirk.

Oh yeah. My reputation is definitely getting a beating today. My macho exterior is not getting out of this whole.

"But you did good." Why does everyone keep telling me that? "And you can keep doing that for a few more hours. After tonight, you can go home and sulk and sniffle all you want. You're allowed. But right now, you have to get out there and be Josh. Be Josh to Sam, and be Josh to Donna. And, you know, might as well be Josh for the rest of us too while you're at it. Alright?"

I look up at him, considering all this. "Okay."

He gives me a broad smile and pats my arm encouragingly. "Alright." He starts to leave.

I narrow my eyes at him. "Sir?"

"Yeah?" He stops and turns to me, hands in his pockets.

"What you just said. Just now."

"Yeah?"

"That was a whole lot of nothing."

He grins even wider. "Yeah."

When I'm left alone again, I have to laugh. It's a terrible sound coming out of me right now, but I'll take it.

By some miracle I manage to pull myself together again, bowtie and all. I look okay, I decide, despite the sunken and slightly reddened eyes. He's right. I can do this. It's just a few more hours. Maybe I can drink myself into a stupor meanwhile. It's good.

"Josh?"

Nah, it's bad.



TBC