Word count: 3,400
Summary: Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman meets with newly-elected Congressman Nathan Petrelli to discuss a mutual and imminent PR problem. (Mah timelinez: let me schmoosh u them.)
A/N: This is unbelievably talky; I guess that's The West Wing for you. Thanks to visiblemarket for the prompt, and to mystery_sock for providing background reading :)
Congressman Petrelli and his aide were waiting for Josh in the Roosevelt Room.
Nathan Petrelli stood up to shake hands. He was a little shorter than Josh remembered, but had the same firm handshake. Soft handshakes didn't get you very far in Washington. "Thanks for coming in, Congressman."
"Please, call me Nathan." Petrelli flashed him that brilliant, shark-like grin, the one that'd seen him polling at 79% among women voters in New York's 14th District.
Josh turned to the aide, a skinny and slightly apologetic looking man in his late twenties. "Would you mind leaving us? My assistant can— Donna!"
Donna pushed open the glass door and leaned in.
"Donna, could you—" Josh gestured, and she nodded, opening the door wider; Petrelli's aide stepped out into the corridor.
Josh sat down. "Did you want some coffee, Congressman? Donna, would you, uh, get us some coffee?"
Petrelli smiled. "Just water, thanks."
"A glass of water for the Congressman. And I'd like some coffee, please, Donna. That isn't, you know, cold."
Donna gave him a look, smiled at Congressman Petrelli, and left.
Nathan Petrelli looked Josh square in the eye. "So, what can I do for you, Josh?"
Josh ran a hand through his hair. "Listen— Congressman, you know why we asked you here?"
"You wanted to discuss my role in the House Armed Services Committee."
"Actually, I do, but that's not why I called you in." Josh sat back in his chair and regarded Petrelli carefully. "It's about your brother."
"Peter?" Petrelli's voice was politely incredulous.
"Yeah. Look, Congressman—"
"—Call me Nathan."
"Okay," Josh said, amused. "So, the thing is, we know about your brother."
Nathan frowned. "Know about him? I'm sorry, I don't—?" The shark expression was back again, though.
Josh sat forward, hands clasped over the table. "Congressman, I know this is going to sound a little crazy, but I need you to be completely honest with me. Does your brother have, you know, special abilities?"
"Does he have—? Excuse me—?"
Nathan's expression, while perfectly balanced, became fractionally more strained.
"Danny Concannon has video footage that some kid shot ... I don't know, on home video or something. It shows your brother flying." Before Josh had even said it, he knew it was probably, no, make that definitely, the most ridiculous conversation ever to have taken place in this room, if you didn't count that time with Sam and the whole thing with the stuffed octopus. So, yeah, it was kinda preposterous, except that, not that far from where they were sitting right now, there was a girl who could fuse objects together like they were superglued. And there was a file on Josh's desk that made the girl and Peter Petrelli sound, well, pretty lame. "So— I'm gonna ask you again, Congressman: does your brother have special powers?"
Nathan laughed; a contagious, dismissive laugh that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Okay— this is a hazing, right? For the new guy from New York?"
Josh grinned, more amused by the game they were playing than by the sheer ridiculousness of the conversation. "It's really not."
At that moment, Donna's head appeared 'round the door. "I'm sorry, Josh, could I—?"
"Yeah. Congressman, will you excuse me for a moment?"
"No problem," said Nathan, evenly.
In the corridor, Donna handed Josh a stack of papers. "I'm sorry, but he said you have to sign these now."
"Okay." Josh thumbed through the top file. "Wait, there are how many copies of this?"
"What could they possibly—? You know, never mind; just ... give me the pen, okay?"
"He's cute." Donna nodded to where Nathan sat with a stoic but slightly glazed expression.
Josh paused, pen in hand. "Donna, if I had the slightest bit of interest in your love-life — which I don't, by the way — then Congressman Petrelli is absolutely the last person I would recommend that you become obsessed with." He signed the final paper and handed them all back to her.
"I'm not obsessed, Josh. I'm just saying." Donna peered through the glass. "He looks nice. Guys should wear pink more often."
"He has an Italian name."
"Fine." She turned to leave, but stopped for long enough to throw over her shoulder "Sam's looking for you."
"Okay." And Josh stepped back into the room. "Sorry about that."
Nathan smiled briefly. "Don't worry about it." As Josh sat down again, he noted that Nathan looked a little tired. Which kinda went along with the job description, but still. A handsome, family man with a healthy majority like Congressman Petrelli's shouldn't look quite so haunted.
"All right," Nathan straightened in his seat and gave Josh a sceptical look. "Suppose I play along. What is it, exactly, that Peter is accused of?"
"Woah— Easy there, Congressman. We're not accusing him of anything."
"But you think he can fly." Josh had to give Nathan credit for his deadpan expression.
"Actually, we know he can fly." The conversation at this point was freakin' absurd, but that didn't stop Josh noticing the involuntary muscle-twitch next to Nathan's left eye. "See, we have people who pay attention to this stuff, and we got them to follow your brother for a few days. And it turns out that he can, uh, he can actually fly."
The sentence hung there for a few seconds, during which Josh became dimly aware of the sounds of everyday business in the corridors and rooms outside. Nathan's face was unreadable.
The silence was broken abruptly by Nathan pushing his chair back, a gutteral screech of wood against wood. He got to his feet. "Respectfully, Josh, are you out of your freakin' mind?"
"Congressman, if you'll just—"
Nathan leaned forward across the table. So ... not that short, Josh thought, with the only part of his brain that wasn't trying to figure out how to stop this meeting from going to hell in a handcart.
"Enough," said Nathan, in a tone that would have stopped traffic.
Josh had a brief glimpse of what it would have been like to work for this guy, instead of Hoynes. Petrelli 2008, the less rational part of his brain insinuated.
Yeah, 'cause that was gonna happen.
He shook his head. "Uh, Congressman—"
"—Look, I don't know whose idea of a joke this is, but Peter is— He's special, okay?" Nathan swallowed and looked down at his hands. "He's a special kid, and there've been ... circumstances. I'm sure you heard about his ... " Nathan paused "... suicide attempt."
Josh held up his hands. Placatory. "Congressman, I wouldn't dream of—"
"Leave Peter the hell alone," said Nathan, perhaps rather more loudly than he'd meant to, then sat down, frowning at Josh.
Who gave a wry smile. "Believe me, Congressman, I'd like nothing better." He was back in familiar territory, now. "No offense to your brother—
"None taken," muttered Nathan, dryly.
"—but I don't give a damn what members of your family can or can't do."
"But the fact is, Congressman, the press isn't gonna see it that way, and neither are the American people."
The expression on Nathan's face told Josh exactly what he thought about the former, and perhaps rather too much about his opinion of the latter.
Josh became aware of a figure loitering outside. "Could you just— Would you excuse me again for a minute?"
Nathan nodded and sighed. "Sure."
Sam was waiting for him in the corridor. "That's him?"
"Yeah. You were looking for me?"
Sam's gaze was still on Congressman Petrelli, his form distorted slightly by the glass panels in the door. "It's nothing."
"No, seriously, what was it?"
Sam looked back at Josh. "It doesn't matter."
"It's fine. Doesn't matter" Sam was eating a donut; it made Josh hungry just looking at it.
"Uh, okay." Josh rubbed his neck. "Sam?"
"If this thing— When it ... you know. Someone needs to look out for Donna."
"I'm on it." Sam took another bite of the donut.
"I'm just saying, we gotta do something." He looked, again, at the donut. "Where'd you get that?"
"Cathy brought in a box." Sam gestured with the donut. "You want one?"
"No, I'm— Look, the guy in there—"
"Congressman Petrelli," Sam supplied helpfully.
"Yeah. This guy— his brother can do— I don't even know what he can do. I don't really know what any of them can do. Neither does the President and neither does the American public. Who, by the way, are gonna totally freak out."
Sam blinked. "Well, that's just too bad for them, since the people who drafted the Constitution neglected to exclude those with special abilities."
Josh rubbed absently at his chin. "Yeah, I, uh, I don't think that's really going to matter to Bill O'Reilly. I'm thinking ... McCarthy, y'know? This is the kind of thing that you really don't want— I mean, it could bring down the administration."
Sam considered this for a moment. "Actually, this is just the kind of thing that would bring down an administration," he said, nodding.
Josh gave him a long-suffering look. "You know, it's actually kind of hard to believe you're on our side."
"I'm on your side," said Sam, unruffled. "It's the guys on the other side you don't want on your side."
"Yeah." Josh glanced back into the room where Nathan was still sitting, motionless; focused inward. "Listen, I gotta get back in there."
"I mean it, okay? Someone needs to look out for Donna."
Sam nodded. "We'll take care of it."
"Yeah." Josh put a hand up against the door of the Roosevelt Room. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"Okay." Josh pushed open the door and went in. "I'm sorry, Congressman. It's just— It's one of those days, you know?"
Nathan smiled politely as Josh took a seat again. "No problem."
"So, look, Congressman ... we can chase each other around the table on this all morning if that's what you want." He gave Nathan a slightly reckless grin. "I gotta tell you, it's actually more fun than most of the other things I have to do today."
Nathan gave him a wry half-smile.
Josh sat forward. "But seriously— Congressman, if this gets out - which, by the way, it will - if this gets out and we don't control it, don't handle the story, then it's not gonna work out well for you ... for any of us. The GOP on its best day couldn't think up something to screw with the Presidency that's as good as this."
He fixed Nathan with his best and most sincere expression. "Don't screw around with me, Congressman. We don't have the luxury of denial right now."
Josh breathed out. Okay. He knew, because he'd asked around, that Nathan could be slippery, but Josh was pretty sure that the Congressman's political ambitions outweighed nearly all other considerations.
It was quiet in the room for a minute, Nathan's expression a little too vengeful for comfort.
Then Nathan sighed, his face sagging into something faintly melancholy.
Got you, Josh thought, though the realisation wasn't really all that satisfying.
"Okay," Nathan said carefully. "Suppose Peter can ... fly."
Josh grinned. "See, now you're getting it."
Nathan didn't look amused. "Does the press know?" The mask already back up; nothing to indicate that it might have slipped for a moment.
This guy could go far, Josh thought. Too bad. He sat back in his seat. "Nah. I mean, Danny has this thing, but he's not gonna— Not yet. But this is gonna be huge, Congressman. I mean, it's not exactly just your brother."
Nathan gave him a tight smile.
"We're, uh, thinking about putting a poll in the field. You know, rights and stuff. The President's asked me to draft some legislation ..."
Nathan fixed Josh with a firm stare. A lawyer's stare. "My brother already has rights, Josh, unless you're telling me that the Constitution no longer applies to people who ... " He trailed off.
Josh smiled apologetically. "I'm not going to argue with you, Congressman, and neither is the President; but a lot of people are gonna feel differently."
Again, the smile failed to reach Nathan's eyes, and his jaw set grimly. "Yeah."
Josh propped his elbows on the table and rested his chin in his hands. "Can I ask you— Are you aware that there's reportedly a genetic component?"
Nathan's face was a study in careful composure. "Yes."
"I mean, nobody's really— It's still kind of early to say, but you know, genetics ... the President's putting together an advisory committee."
Nathan gave him an acid smile. "Why don't we just cut the crap, Josh. Are you asking me if I'm one of them?"
"Actually, I'm really not. It's none of my business, and I advise you never to answer that question. But Congress is gonna want to tear the place apart when this thing gets out. There are gonna be a lot of questions."
Nathan regarded him shrewdly. "You think this is going to turn into a witch-hunt."
Josh spread his hands. "Due respect, Congressman, this is going to make witch-hunters look like a bunch of untalented amateurs. Which, actually, they kinda were, but that's really not the point." He sighed. "Look, the President likes you, but this ... we're still figuring it out."
"You're saying the White House can't come out in support of this thing—" Josh had to admire Nathan's level of detachment "—until you know which way the wind is blowing?"
"I'm saying we're looking into it."
"Why do it?" Nathan was scrutinising him.
Josh shook his head. "I'm sorry, what—?"
"Why call me in? This thing is gonna explode in the press, I'm going down anyway. So why bother?"
"As a courtesy." He could get to like Nathan; Josh was pretty sick of Congressional Representatives who couldn't talk straight if their lives depended on it.
Nathan sat forward, his palms against the smooth dark wood of the table. "If this thing is even half as common as I've heard ... you're going to be issuing a lot of invitations."
Josh shrugged. "We get a bulk discount." He tilted his head and looked straight at Nathan. "The President wants to know if you'll do a press-conference."
"You'll have any support you need from us—"
"But nothing visible," Nathan interjected dryly, recovering himself.
"Right, but that's—"
"You want me to be a test balloon," Nathan said carefully.
"You know that's career suicide, right?" The strain was evident on Nathan's face, and Josh felt a twinge of empathy. Yeah, I get it. You just got here and now it feels like we're sending you home.
He sighed. "Look, I'm not denying it's a gamble - this thing is gonna get tough, let's be clear on that. But Congressman, this might be your best chance to get the jump on the press, set the agenda. Also," and Josh grinned at Nathan, conspiratorially, "the President thinks you'll make an excellent figurehead for his new Council on Special Abilities."
Nathan's face worked rapidly through several interesting expressions.
Josh continued. "I saw your campaign speeches, man. I thought they were good. You're young, healthy, easy on the eye ... and you poll pretty damn well. In fact, Congressman, you're exactly what we need right now."
Nathan snorted dismissively. "C'mon, you don't need to blow smoke up my ass."
"Honestly, I'm not. If we just wanted some kind of sacrificial ... "Josh scratched his head " ... sacrifice, to throw to the wolves, we'd toss them a ... a bunny rabbit, or something."
There was a tap on the glass; Donna was waiting for him again.
Josh stood. "Look, we wanna get behind this thing and we wanna do it now. I think you're our guy. Just ... just wait here for a minute, okay?"
Outside, Donna was chewing her nails. "I'm starting to feel like a hostage-taker, Josh."
"What— The aide?"
"Yes, the aide. Michael. He's nice, Josh, it's just— I think he wants to escape. He keeps looking at the door."
"Well ..." Josh exhaled. "... keep him occupied."
Donna folded her arms. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I don't know, show him one of your picture-books or something."
"Yeah, I don't think we'll be in there much longer. Listen, Donna— You know, right, that we're gonna do everything we can for you? I mean, this thing is gonna be— you know we're gonna look out for you, right?"
Donna paused a minute and looked at him, face sombre but composed. "I know."
He stared at her. "You're not worried? 'Cause ... "
"Yes, Josh, I'm worried. But what am I supposed to do?" Donna shrugged. "I work here."
He looked down at the floor. "You're a good girl."
"I could use a pay rise," she said, hopefully.
"Shut up." He tried not to smile. "I'm going back in."
"Okay. Did Sam find you yet?"
"Yeah." Josh went back into the room.
Nathan waited until Josh had sat down before he spoke. "So what's in it for me?"
Josh stared. "You're kidding me."
Nathan didn't look like he was kidding. "I'm serious. I could just step down, cite ill-health ... disappear. Why do I need to put my family in the spotlight? You're asking me to take a big risk."
Josh smiled. "Congressman— I'm saying that if we handle this carefully, you might not have to step down at all."
Nathan gave him a dubious look. "You really think that's a possibility?"
Josh shrugged. "Sure. I mean— I don't know if you've noticed, but we're actually sorta' running the country right now." He looked sideways at Nathan. "Plus, you know, there'll be perks."
Nathan looked at him.
"I'm saying— could we ... borrow your brother for the Fourth of July fly-past?" It came out a little high-pitched and hysterical, and hung there between them for a moment, while Josh kicked himself.
Nathan gave him a glare that Josh found rather feral. "This is my career we're talking about."
"I'm sorry, Congressman. But you gotta admit, the whole thing's kinda crazy."
"Yeah, well." Nathan frowned, shrugging dismissively. "Crazy or not."
"So look—" Josh tried to get it together. "We gotta say something. There's you, Donna, this guy in Minnesota who can—"
Nathan's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Donna ... your assistant?"
"Yeah. Did I—?" Josh blinked. "Anyway, we gotta get something out there before this turns into ... you know." He glanced at Nathan. "Toby's about one draft away from exploding right now. "
Josh waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing. I'm just— You know, it's gonna get ugly. You should, uh, talk to your family."
Nathan nodded slowly. "Yeah."
Josh stood, and Nathan did the same. "Congressman, I want to thank you for coming in today ... if there's anything I can do. I mean anything. Really." And he meant it.
Nathan smiled, a lot less shark-like than earlier. "Thank you."
Josh let Donna show Nathan out, and went back to his office.
There, he slouched in his chair, feeling more than a little despondent. Nathan was a good guy, and it sucked that there was an even chance his political career wouldn't survive. It was hard enough to hang onto the good guys without stuff like this.
There was a knock at the door. Sam stood there.
Josh looked up and blinked. "Hi."
"So, I was going to talk to you about the thing?"
Josh blinked. "What thing?"
Sam shut the door behind him and stood there for a moment looking slightly sheepish. "So, it turns out—"
Listening to Sam, Josh sighed. They were gonna need an ark.
A/N: Eh, I don't think my Nathan characterisation in this is all that. He's hard to do, y'know? And it's not from his POV, which doesn't help. Meh. Anyway, thanks for reading :) It's my first ever West Wing fic, but I hope it won't be the last.