Further to Fly
Spoilers: Let's say the first three seasons, just to be safe.
Disclaimer: The characters and concepts used within belong to Aaron Sorkin; I'm just borrowing for non-profit purposes.
There may come a time
When you'll be tired
Tired as a dream that wants to die
And further to fly
Further to fly
- Further to Fly, Paul Simon
"Good morning Toby, good morning Sam, good morning CJ. Josh." Leo gave his deputy a look.
"I sense I'm being singled out," Josh observed to the room at large.
"Eight o'clock, Josh?"
Josh nodded. "Yeah. See, I thought I was on time, but it turned out my watch was right."
"Well, I can see how that would be confusing for you," said Leo dryly.
"It's been wrong for like, three years now?" he explained. "So I know what time it's supposed to be. Except that Donna set it right when I left it on my desk. So I was aiming to arrive here at the wrong time, and it turned out to be the right time, so I didn't get here." He blinked for a moment. "Possibly."
"You couldn't have, I don't know, changed it yourself sometime over those three years?" CJ suggested.
"But that would have wasted valuable seconds of government time," Josh pointed out.
"Imagine that," said Leo sarcastically. He turned to CJ. "You got the word on the Tavestock investigation?"
She nodded. "Completely cleared of all wrong-doing, which we will be telling the press in this morning's briefing. Also probably spitting mad that we didn't come out in support - which we will not be."
"We can't afford the association," Josh said quickly. "Even if he was cleared, there's still suspicion hanging over him. We can't have the president dragged into Congressman Tavestock's financial dealings."
"Agreed." Leo nodded. "CJ?"
"The White House has every faith in the competence of the investigating team," she replied promptly. "If they found nothing..."
"No reason to suspect there's anything to be found," completely Toby.
"Tavestock's not gonna like that," spoke up Sam for the first time. He was slumped down in his chair, wearing the stressed frown that had been his perpetual expression ever since the too-brief jubilation of re-election.
"Tavestock can bite me," said Josh cheerfully.
"Want me to keep attention focused on the dinner party?" CJ asked.
"Good idea," agreed Leo. "Zoey and the First Lady'll both be in attendance, and God knows a little positive attention couldn't hurt." The others nodded emphatically. Getting Bartlet elected to his second term had been a scrape even tighter than the first, and they hadn't been awarded half the honeymoon period before it was back to being under attack from all sides. Political victories had been thin on the ground, and everyone was painfully aware of their popularity waning.
Leo looked to the two speechwriters. "How's that dinner speech going?"
"It's done," said Sam, at the same time as Toby spoke.
"We're making some adjustments."
Sam straightened up and gave him a disbelieving look. "I thought this was the final draft?"
"I want to make a few changes," Toby insisted. Leo gave them both a look.
"The president's gotta read this thing Thursday, guys."
"It'll be done," said Toby shortly.
"It's already done," countered Sam.
"Whatever." Leo frowned. "I'm hearing some whispers on Friday's vote on the Healthcare Bill. I gotta say, I'm not optimistic."
"It'll go through, Leo," Josh insisted.
"I don't like it." Leo grimaced. "We're haemorrhaging support on all sides on this one, I don't see us getting those votes back."
"I can get 'em," Josh said firmly. Leo shrugged.
"The whip should be getting back to me later today, I'll see what we can rescue. We need this bill, and we need it bad, but I don't think it's gonna happen."
"It's a good bill, Leo," Josh emphasised, frustrated.
"And if we were running it by the Department of Common Sense, that might mean something," Leo shot back. "Unfortunately, we're trying to get it through the United States Congress, so let's not hold our breath, okay?"
"We need this victory, Leo," CJ reminded him.
"You think I don't know that?" he scowled. "The Republicans are scenting blood in the water, and they're coming after us with everything they've got. I want everybody's nose to the grindstone while we've still got a government to rescue. We lose our support this far in, the rest of our second term's so much fairy dust."
They all exchanged troubled glances. So much for any hope that things were going to be easier after re-election.
CJ stepped up to the podium with a practised stride. "Good morning, folks, how's it going? As I'm sure you're aware, the investigation into Congressman Alan Tavestock's financial affairs came to a conclusion yesterday. They found no evidence of any wrong-doing, and the Congressman has been cleared of any suspicion of fraud."
Predictably, the floor exploded with voices. "CJ! CJ!"
"What's the White House's opinion on the investigators' findings?"
Sometimes, CJ could shake her head over the things the press pool asked her. Were they desperately hoping for her to slip up, or did they honestly believe she would answer with anything other than the obvious party line?
"The White House has every confidence in the competence of the investigating team, Chris. If they found no evidence of wrong-doing, we have no reason to suspect there was anything to be found."
A party line which conspicuously failed to endorse the out-of-favour Congressman.
Look for an old pro in the crowd, someone seasoned enough to not expect a real answer to the inevitable follow-up question.
"Does the president have any comment on Congressman Tavestock's vindication?"
Yes, because what the president really wants to do when his popularity's at an all-time low is stand up in front of the American public and announce that Tavestock's rotten to the core, but too smart for us to catch.
"The president doesn't do Alan Tavestock's accounts for him, Derrick, so I'm not entirely sure what you're expecting him to bring to the table here. Although I'm sure if you asked nicely, he'd be willing to go over the numbers with you and explain it all in detail."
A rumble of amusement through the pressroom. Most of them had come face to face with the president's geekish love of all things connected to such thrilling fields as economics, finances and accountancy.
"So the president believes Congressman Tavestock is innocent of all the charges brought against him?" Erica, calling from the back.
"The president reads the same reports you do, Erica. If the investigating team found no evidence-" The rest of the repeated line was buried in exasperated groans.
Oh, come on, guys, what do you expect?
Moving on. "Just a reminder that Congressman Lewis's Healthcare Bill goes to the floor for a vote on Friday morning. The main focus of the bill is to improve the standard and availability of affordable healthcare for children and for families in tight financial situations, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas-"
"CJ! Is it true that the bill's facing stiff opposition in the house?"
Well, that was predictable.
"I think we can all agree that any rational, compassionate human being would find the terms of the bill more than reasonable. However, we're running it through Congress, so who knows?" CJ gave an exaggerated shrug, and quickly shifted topics again.
"Now, I can reveal that there's been a change to the guest list for Thursday's dinner party; Zoey Bartlet has been able to clear a gap in her very busy study schedule to attend."
That news drew a few genuine smiles from the crowd. The president's bright, perky youngest daughter had been a familiar figure during the administration's early years, but had been seen less and less frequently about the White House as she settled into the rhythms of college life and grew more independent.
From here on in, it was plain sailing; questions about dresses and main courses and seating arrangements. They might be an insult to her intelligence, but at least they were harmless, and in these days of near constant setbacks, CJ had learned to love nothing quite so much as a harmless question.
"The First Lady will also be returning for the party, and she and the president will be greeting the delegation at seven o'clock..."
"Ah, Leo." The president smiled amiably at his old friend's arrival. Then the expression curled into more of a smirk. "So - I hear Alan Tavestock is an upstanding example of humanity?"
"So I'm told," Leo agreed dryly.
"We're not making any comment?"
"We're letting his sterling record speak for itself."
"Oh, he'll love that," the president observed.
Leo grimaced. "The only good thing about the whole Tavestock affair is that it's taking the focus off Friday's Healthcare Bill."
"That bad," he nodded.
The president sighed, and looked up at him sharply. "Any chance of a last minute rescue?"
Leo shook his head. "Josh is gonna twist some arms, but from where I'm standing, it looks like the fat lady's doing her vocal exercises."
"How many votes?"
"We'll have a nosecount later in the day, but I'm thinking we're down at least nine or ten, and I don't see us getting them back."
"People don't support a bill which does nothing but improve our country's standard of care for its children and the rural poor?" he asked, with a bitter twist to his mouth.
"Not when it's hunting season on the Bartlet administration, they don't."
"I won the election, Leo," the president insisted, with a near-childish pout of frustration. "The people voted me back in."
"The people have short memories, and they don't care about anything but the bills we pass."
"I'm trying to pass bills! It's Congress that frustrates them."
"Congress frustrates everybody. It's their main purpose in life."
His old friend gave him a baleful look. "Is it too late to push for a dictatorship?"
Leo gave an eloquent grin and changed the subject. "CJ's letting the press know Zoey'll be here for the thing on Thursday."
Predictably, the mention of his youngest daughter brightened the president's mood and brought a twinkle to his eye. "My baby girl's finishing college," he said, in tones of barely restrained amazement.
"Time flies when you're having fun," said Leo sardonically.
The president glared at him accusingly. "That was a moving moment of fatherly wonder you just trampled on, there."
"Sorry. I'm sure there'll be others."
"Yes, but you've spoiled them for me now. I'll never be able to savour another one in peace."
"I guess the weight of that knowledge is a pain I'll have to live with, sir."
Leo grinned and withdrew. For a moment his old friend's smile helped Jed's own to linger, but it soon faded.
Yes, time was flying, and all too quickly. He wasn't the young man he'd been when his eldest daughter had started college, or even the ageing but relatively robust governor who'd seen Ellie off to medical school. No, his age was ever-increasing, and these past few weeks it seemed to be all attacking him at once. Aches and pains and twinges and the terrible, crippling, ever-present fatigue.
Here he was, in his second term of government, and what had he accomplished? All too little, it felt sometimes, and the weight of his responsibility seemed to grow heavier by the day.