Author's note/disclaimer: Elements of this story were derived from MyklarCure's story "JLAint: A Year in the Life" and were used with permission. If you haven't read his stories, A) you should, and B) it will help understand a backstory I may not totally review. JLA characters are the property of DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time Warner. West Wing characters are the property of Warner Brothers Television, also a subsidiary of Time Warner. Good to know it's only one company I'm ripping off here.
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These Hallowed Halls
by Nathan Perry
"Heroes," said the man at the podium, "wear many uniforms." A phalanx of cameras and microphones all trained their electronic eyes and ears on the two men. "The janitor who works two jobs so his children can go to college." They were flanked by two American flags. "The fireman who runs into a burning building to bring others out of the flames." On a blue curtain hung behind them was the Seal of the President of the United States. "The soldier who fights so that his family can be free; so that his neighbors and their families can be free."
Behind the ranks of reporters stood a crowd of hundreds gathered to witness the presentation. A mixture of natives, tourists and the polyglot cross-section of the nation that moved to the capital for a variety of reasons had braved the winter cold and made their way to the National Mall. Prominently visible above and behind the blue backdrop was the great white spire of the Washington Monument. The speaker was dressed in a dark grey suit with a red tie, his graying hair combed straight back. He was a good eight or nine inches shorter than the man next to him.
"But this uniform," the speaker continued, indicating the taller man next to him. "This uniform is synonymous with heroism. This uniform represents the very ideal of man striving to help man. Striving to help mankind for no reason other than a personal sense of duty." The speaker gripped the podium and leaned forward, his practiced oratory rising to a crescendo. "This uniform makes us all look up in the sky and yearn to reach just a little higher!" A burst of cheers and applause could be heard from the audience, but the President just raised his voice and continued.
He turned to face the man in the red and blue costume and spoke directly to him, "For your dedication to your fellow man, your selfless pursuit of justice, and the heroic actions which inspire all of us to strive for greatness, it is with the thanks of a grateful President…a grateful nation…and a grateful man, that I present to you this nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom." The cheers from the crowd were thunderous as President Josiah Bartlet took the small mahogany box with the enameled golden medal off of the podium and handed it to Superman.
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"Nice one," Josh said as he walked out of his office into the hall.
"Yeah it was," came Sam's reply. On his way to Leo's office, he'd stopped at the TV tuned to CNN overlooking Donna's cubicle to watch the brief speech before resuming, "Wasn't me, though." They passed through the Communications office where they were joined by Toby Ziegler.
"Nice speech," Josh offered.
Toby glanced behind him towards Josh and Sam, eyebrow arched in surprise. "Zoe was on that plane. You think he asked me to write his gratitude for him?"
Josh looked to Sam and said, "Ok, I'm gonna shut up now."
As the three of them filed past Margaret's desk into Leo's office, C.J. was already waiting inside.
"You weren't at the thing?" Sam asked her.
"Why would I be? He wasn't going to be taking any questions, and even if Superman did need spin, he'd have to hire his own press secretary. My briefing's not until the press gets back."
Sam blinked, "I'm not saying you were needed there. I'm saying…" he paused as C.J. scowled at him. "You didn't want to meet him?"
"Of course I want to meet him. I'm saying that unless you want me asking for his autograph in front of about eighteen thousand cameras, I didn't need to be there."
"If we could get on with this?" Leo asked from behind his desk. "First, where are we in the numbers?"
Josh answered, "Gallup has us at fifty-five, up from fifty-three."
"That's it? What about internals?"
"Joey said to hold off on that until after today's speech. All most people knew when that poll was in the field was that something bad almost happened. She said the bump would come after everyone saw a picture of the two of them shaking hands."
Sam glanced at the TV, where Superman was speaking. "What about his?"
"What about his what?" Toby asked.
"His numbers." Josh and Toby both stared silently at Sam. "What?" he asked.
"No one's going to waste money putting that poll in the field," Josh stated. "The only people who don't approve of Superman are Lex Luthor and that guy with the radio show in Denver who claims there's a Kryptonian invasion fleet orbiting Saturn, and it's a tossup who more people are listening to right now."
"Is there a risk of a backlash here?" C.J. asked. "Because it could look like we're taking advantage of the situation."
"We are taking advantage of the situation," Toby interjected.
Josh shrugged. "Everyone in Washington who got anywhere near Leon McKinley is running for cover. The Majority Leader's been getting hit from all sides. The RNC's talking about finding someone else to run for his seat. No one's going to say 'no' to this. The worst they might try is to say 'He's only doing it because of his daughter.'"
"And if they say that?" Toby pressed.
Sam chimed in, "We say that we think every American son and daughter deserves the same. You know that's technically illegal?" he pointed at the television screen where Superman was waving as he took off into the sky. "Anyone who flies over Washington and doesn't file a flight plan or isn't operating a U.S. military aircraft is committing a felony."
"Is that any one or any aircraft?" C.J. asked.
"The point is, the law makes sense," Sam argued. "Now no one's going to shoot down Superman-"
"Not that we could if we wanted to," Toby noted, eyes climbing skyward.
"-But we know he is on our side. They all are. It's not a black and white world, but these are the good guys. Let's say so, with the full voice and authority of the law of the land."
Leo's door opened and Margaret poked her head in. "He's back," she said, and Leo stood up, walking through the door that separated his office from the Oval one next door.
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"He's back," Wally said as the hum of the teleporter grew into a whine. After several moments, the column of coruscating energy solidified into the Man of Steel, who proceeded to walk out of the tube towards them.
"Well, don't be shy," Kyle said, "Let us all see."
Clark shrugged, smiled sheepishly and opened the box. Inside, on a blue velvet cushion lay a five-pointed golden star with white enamel, a red enamel pentagon behind it, and a blue enamel disc with thirteen golden stars in the middle of the larger star. The medal was attached to a golden ring, the metal worked into the shape of five American Eagles stretching their wings between the points of the star, and was attached to a white-bordered blue ribbon.
"How come he didn't pin it on you?" Eel asked.
"It'd break the pin," Wally joked.
Clark answered, "It's tradition. Medals only get pinned on military or paramilitary uniforms."
"You sure about that?" Kyle asked. "I thought I saw Luthor pin badges on boy scouts."
"A boy scout uniform is paramilitary," Bruce noted from his position in front of the monitors.
"That is a boy scout's uniform," Eel said, a single extended digit pointing at the 'S' shield, eliciting a few chuckles and a pair of rolled eyes hidden behind a mask. He glanced towards Diana and Arthur and asked, "How come your countries never gave any of us medals?"
"Oh I'm sorry Eel," Arthur answered dryly, "Why don't you swim by some time and I'll award you the order of the Holy Mackerel?"
"You know he says things like that and then gets testy over the fish jokes," Wally muttered to Kyle.
"Salmon should tell him to stop," Kyle answered.
"Please don't," Wally begged. "Dick used to subject Garth to every one of his two thousand three hundred and seventy-eight fish puns. And I had to listen to all of them!"
"Themiscyra doesn't award decorations such as medals," Diana noted. "It's assumed that if you did some deed worth of noting, people will remember without need for such visual aids. Still, it was nice of the President to express his gratitude so publicly. It's the kind of PR we could have used before."
Bruce grunted as he typed away at the keyboard in front of him. "It's called a 'photo op'. It's the kind of PR the President couldn't afford when their polling data on us told them he couldn't."
"Don't be so cynical, Bruce," Diana replied. "Clark just saved the man's daughter."
"And he was properly grateful," Bruce noted flatly, "in front of hundreds of people, every television camera in Washington and with the Presidential Seal and the Washington Monument in the background. What could I possibly read into that?" He saved the file he was working on, closed it and stood up. Wordlessly, he made his way over to the teleportation tube, pressed a few buttons on the side, and stepped into the tube shortly before disappearing.
"Captain Personality has left the building," Plastic Man announced.
"I should go too," Clark said, "the press briefing's going to happen soon."
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"The press briefing's going to happen soon," C.J. said. Leo had gone into the Oval Office, but the rest of senior staff was still in the Chief of Staff's. "If we're going to do this, now might be a good time. Strike when the iron's hot."
"No," Toby said.
"I know you're against this, but I don't think it's your call," Sam said.
"I don't mean no we don't do this, although I am against it, I mean no, we don't announce this right now. I want numbers first. And before we ask this publicly, I want to make sure they're actually going to say yes. If we are going to do this, and I don't think that should be a given just yet, let's move quietly."
"The President should have asked him at the award presentation," Sam suggested.
"Yes," Toby answered, "because when I say 'let's move quietly,' I mean let's ask him in front of the entire White House Press Corps."
"I may know how we can get them here quietly…" C.J. offered.
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"How's it looking in there?" Bartlet asked as he hung his jacket on the stand behind the desk.
"Sam's for it," Leo answered. "Josh likes the politics. C.J.'s worried about a backlash." After a pause, he said, "Toby's against it."
"What's his deal?"
Leo frowned. "I don't know. He doesn't like it, but he's not raising specific objections."
"Toby?" Bartlet asked. Leo nodded. "Toby Ziegler?"
"Yeah, I don't know..." Leo said, shrugging.
"You know what we need to do?"
"We need to ask them first?"
"We need to ask them first."
"Good idea, Mr. President," Leo said dryly.
"Look, I think getting them on board's a good idea, but I can understand why they might be a little worried. I haven't forgotten the mistakes of the Luthor Administration, but I can't speak for the next guy. Look, get the staff in here so we can finish and C.J. can go brief."
Leo walked back into his office and waved for the others to follow.
After they entered, Toby began, "Sir, I want to see numbers first, but before we do anything on this front, we need to ask them. They may not even want our seal of approval."
"Everyone's just full of good ideas today," Leo muttered.
"We have two aliens," Toby continued, "someone who reports to an alien authority, a reigning foreign monarch, the heir to another foreign monarchy and an urban legend. These people have never needed the law on their side before, who says they want it now?"
"Urban legend?" Sam asked Josh. "He doesn't believe-"
"He's from Brooklyn," Josh noted. Sam's eyes crept skyward.
"Roll your eyes all you want," Toby said, "the guy is real, and I'd bet we have intel that confirms it." He glanced in Leo's direction for confirmation.
Leo said, "NSA and Checkmate won't commit either way. No proof, but they're not willing to dismiss it either. The FBI has no official position, although regional directors from the Gotham office have gone on record."
"For or against?" Josh asked.
Josh chuckled. "Doesn't really support the argument that law enforcement doesn't need help solving crimes."
"You seriously think the police department of a city with eight million people living in it keeps a giant Bat-shaped spotlight on the roof of its headquarters without being pretty sure the man is real?" Toby asked.
Sam noted, "Studies have shown that Gotham City's crime rate does go down when the signal is visible, regardless of whether or not there were any appearances or incidents attributed to the mythical Batman."
Toby sighed and massaged his scalp. After a moment of silence, he said, "The Batman exists, his existence and methods violate every iota of both the letter and the spirit of due process, and we want to give him a pat on the back and legitimize his illegal activities. He's not an urban legend, he's a civil rights violation with a cape! All of them are."
Toby began to pace back and forth. It was Sam who broke the silence, "So what would you do, arrest them?"
"Aren't they breaking the law?"
"Yes," Sam answered, "but they're a huge positive for society. The answer is to change the law. States have Good Samaritan laws for just this reason. Someone trying to help shouldn't be punished for it."
"Fine. Make your case for that. But just for that. We don't need to be giving these people badges and immunity from prosecution."
"Okay," the President interjected, "we're not going to settle this here. Is there anything else to go over before the briefing?"
"The Assistant Secretary for Foreign Commerce wants to revise the minimum standards for Fair Trade labeling on coffee," Sam said.
"Yeah," C.J. answered, "not gonna get asked about that."
"The Lincoln carrier group is going to be moving out of Pearl Harbor for the week," Josh added.
"Maneuvers?" asked C.J.
"No, they just needed to clean the docks."
"Ok, we're done here," Leo said.
As the staff began to leave, Bartlet asked, "You've got your meeting?"
"In five minutes," Leo answered.
"You sure you don't want to bring him in here? I have two whole minutes of free time coming up."
"Absolutely not. I know he was a big contributor, but his reputation…he doesn't need to be in the Oval Office during working hours."
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"…and the Lincoln carrier group is going to be out of Pearl Harbor for approximately one week so that dockside maintenance can be performed," C.J. concluded. "I know you'll all want to make sure that goes above the fold. Danny?"
"C.J., should we be reading anything into the fact that the medal was awarded outside the White House?"
"Yes Danny," the Press Secretary said deadpan, "we were going to have it in the Oval Office but the Secret Service was afraid he'd sneeze and blow out the walls."
"C.J…." the bearded reporter began.
"The catastrophe he prevented may have saved thousands of lives, never mind how many more lives would have been adversely affected by the economic fallout of a disaster of this magnitude smack dab in the middle of Gotham City. The whole country has a reason to thank Superman, and judging by the turnout, a lot of them wanted to do so in person. Steve."
"Can you comment on the rumor that the Majority Leader is being told not to run for re-election by the RNC?"
"I wouldn't comment on that even if it weren't a rumor. Linda?"
"Has the President given any thought to bringing Superman on in an official capacity?"
"Well, he could have my job."
"It's not something that's come up." She looked to the fourth seat from the right in the third row. Norman, the reporter from the Daily Planet, was who she was going to call on next, but in his seat was a spectacled man with dark hair. "The President thinks Superman's doing a fine job as things stand." She glanced down at her notes, confirming what she'd already guessed when she saw him listed as 'C. Kent' "Mister Kent, welcome to our tea party. You got your helmet and vest when you signed in?" There was laughter, but it was nervous laughter. None of them had forgotten that this was the man then-President Luthor had tried to silence permanently.
Clark smiled genially, "Thank you Miss Cregg."
After waiting for a moment, she said, "You can ask a question now," eliciting a few chuckles from the other reporters.
"Oops. Sorry. Uh, ok," Clark said, rearranging his notes, "Now, as I understand it, the Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a U.S. citizen not serving in the military."
"Yes," C.J. said curiously, "That was the question?"
"No. My question is, how does the President know that Superman is, in fact, a U.S. citizen?"
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'Grandstanding…' Bruce thought, grimacing as he watched the TV that had been tuned to C-SPAN. That's all it was, Bruce felt. Clark hadn't been able to get in the door during the Luthor Administration, and Luthor's V.P. hadn't been inclined to take questions from him after he assumed office either. The media was merciless on that score, but in practical terms the new President had been the lamest of lame ducks. He didn't even run when what would have been Luthor's first term was up.
And now that he was back in the White House… Bruce supposed Clark could just be overcompensating, making sure in his own mind that he treated this President as fairly as any other. The sound was off, but even if Bruce couldn't read lips, the Press Secretary's body language would have been a dead giveaway. Bruce sighed inwardly and looked away. Toning down the playboy act was one thing, but watching C-SPAN was pushing it.
"Mr. McGarry can see you now," the red-haired secretary said.
Bruce smiled at her and said, "Thank you, Madeline," and headed into Leo McGarry's office. She smiled back and didn't point out that he'd gotten her name wrong. When he walked in, Leo was starting at one of the four TV screens in his office, massaging the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Bruce glanced at the monitor and asked, "Something wrong?"
Leo shook his hand and said, "Just a silly question we don't happen to have an answer for. Usual knucklehead stuff." He offered a hand which Bruce shook firmly. "Please, sit down." When Bruce sat, Leo said, "You okay?"
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Why wouldn't I be?"
It was Leo's turn to look surprised. "The tower?"
"Oh," Bruce said, "I was in Waikiki when it happened. I didn't even hear about it until after the plane was on the ground. Told everyone who wanted to they could go home for the day." Shaking his head, he added, "It would have been a horrible tragedy." Bruce paused and said, "Do you think the President could put me in touch with Superman? I don't imagine he's much for monetary rewards, but I'm sure there's some charity he might know of that could use a few million dollars."
"I'll see what we can do," Leo offered. "Look, the reason I asked you here is that you're going to start seeing editorials and columns in the business pages questioning the parts and materials contracts Wayne Enterprises has with the Justice League."
Bruce frowned, "Questioning what, exactly? I had those things looked at left and right by the boys in legal. I've been assured they're ironclad."
"It's not the legality that's going to come into question. It's the connections. You were a contributor when we were polling in single digits. Now, we're in office and you've got a big contract that wasn't up for public bid."
"You didn't have anything to do with that. It wasn't put up for public bid because there were only a half-dozen companies that had the technical knowledge, and of those, at the time only two had the production and transportation capacity they required, and the other was LexCorp."
"Exactly," Leo said sardonically, "Where do you think this is coming from?"
Bruce frowned. The Chief of Staff was intimating that Luthor was the source of the allegations. Superman, Oracle and himself had all been keeping their ears open for any sign of activity from the former President and CEO since his resignation from office and the ignominious downfall of the giant corporation he once ran, but they hadn't heard a peep. Lex had taken up residence at one of his estates outside of Metropolis, and appeared to be taking very little in the way of meetings, calls or solicitations. Of course the U.S. Government might have had their own reason for watching him, and while they might not have had the unusual talents available to the Justice League, they had far more resources that could be put into play. "I don't understand. If they can't touch the contract themselves, what are they trying to do?" He asked this, but it was obvious what Lex was trying to do, start a PR war. Which wouldn't do much by itself, but then this was only the opening move. The only question was whether this was aimed at WE or the League.
"There's an outside chance he's going to try to make a play for what's left of LexCorp that you haven't bought," Leo answered, "but the real goal seems to be to embarrass us."
Bruce's frown deepened. Typical. Luthor didn't play the PR game because he cared how many people approved of him. It just made it easier to get what he wanted. Trust these politicians to see the game as being played solely on their level. "And you're going to ask me to terminate the contract."
"We can't ask you to do that…" Leo said, sighing and adding, "Only, yeah…we're asking you to do that."
"You know, of course, that even if the League were willing to hire LexCorp, and between Luthor himself and his replacement, who happened to be the daughter of an international terrorist, that's quite an 'if', they no longer have the capacity to produce all the League would require."
Bruce stood and said, "Then I'm sorry Mr. McGarry, but I have to say no. Even ignoring the disservice I'd be doing my company, I can't in good conscience not continue to supply them with equipment they need to do their jobs."
Leo nodded once, then again and said, "Alright." He stood as well and said, "Come on then," leading him towards the side door of his office. In response to Bruce's raised eyebrow, he said, "You wanted the President to put you in touch with Superman, right? That wasn't quid pro quo, Bruce. We'll get him for you."
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"Come in and have a seat, Mister Kent." C.J. said, leading the tall reporter into her office.
"Isn't it usually the Senior White House correspondent that gets these follow-ups?" Clark asked as he sat down.
C.J. sat behind her desk and answered, "It is, yes, but that's because most of these guys have stopped trying to play 'Stump C.J.' Today, you're our winner."
"If you don't mind my saying, this is a pretty strange beat," Clark noted.
"Well you asked a pretty strange question."
"It was a fair question."
"It was absolutely not a fair question. No, we don't have Superman's birth certificate or driver's license on record. He wasn't born here and he's got other ways of getting around. This is Superman! Truth, Justice and the American Way. We don't care if he votes or pays his taxes. I would bet you any amount of money that he does, and since you've interviewed him, I don't think you'd take that bet either."
"I'm not really much for gambling-"
"The only reason to ask that question is either to embarrass Superman or to embarrass us, but you know what? We're not embarrassed." She stood up, placed her palms on her desk and leaned forward, saying, "We gave the Medal of Freedom to Superman, who may or may not be a U.S. citizen. And if he's not? We don't care. He's an American hero whether he's an American or not, and you can print all of that." She sat back down and said, "If you've got follow-ups, you can ask them now."
"I think that answered the question pretty well, Miss Cregg. Thank you." He jotted down some notes on a pad of paper while C.J. stared across the desk at him.
After a moment, C.J. asked, "Your paper, specifically you and your wife, seem to get the lion's share of quotes from him."
The jotting of notes halted. Adjusting his glasses, Clark said mildly, "Was there a follow-up to that, Miss Cregg?"
"Yes, but it's off the record."
Clark nodded and put the notepad away, "Go ahead."
"Would you be able to get a message to him that the President would like a word with him? Without all the cameras and press around? If so, you can have a fifteen minute exclusive with the President."
Tapping the base of his pen against his chin, Clark said, "I think I just might be able to…"