Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own the characters from The West Wing.
Warning: Character Death(s)!
A/N: I'm a Santos fan and I hated to do this to him, but the "what if" scenario had been kicking around in my head long enough that I decided to write a fic about it. Also, I know the initial premise is partially similar to Jayne Leigh's excellent stories: Two Administrations, Two Families and A Whole New Story, but the rest of the fic should be quite a bit different.
Also, I'm not a constitutional lawyer, or any kind of lawyer for that matter. I did as much research as I could, but the bottom line is that this story still simply represents a guess as to what might happen in a situation like this. Hopefully the United States will never have occasion to find out whether or not I was right.
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified. ~~Twentieth Amendment to the US Constitution, Section 3.
"Thank you. Thank you all so much." Josh half-listened as President-Elect Santos acknowledged the thunderous applause from the crowd, as he walked onto the stage for an inauguration eve concert and rally at the Carter Barron Amphitheater. Several well-known musical acts had already performed, but while they had certainly been well-received, it was the speech by the young, charismatic president-in-waiting that people had waited in line for hours to see. The crowd was at capacity, and people who couldn't get tickets were gathered outside the venue trying to get a glimpse of the President-Elect, or at least hear the address. The temperature was well below freezing, but no one seemed to care. Josh was standing along the right side of the amphitheater, about 30 yards from the stage, answering emails on his BlackBerry and confirming last-minute plans for the upcoming big day.
"Tomorrow at noon, this country will have a new President. I will do my best to fill President Bartlet's very large shoes and continue to lead this nation forward. But I can't do it alone. I will need all of you. I will need you to participate in your democracy, advocate for the issues you care about, and let me know about it when you think I'm making a mistake. If the voice of the people is to be heard, you all have to speak."
He's good, Josh thought appreciatively, paying attention even as he continued to fiddle with his BlackBerry. Otto had done an excellent job with the speech. Josh felt a twinge of guilt for having strung Otto along for as long as he had before telling him he would be getting a job on the speechwriting staff in the Santos administration.
For one second, Josh thought he must have imagined the sound of gunshots that suddenly pierced the air. He hadn't had a flashback to Rosslyn in years, but there had been music playing a few minutes ago, so he supposed anything was possible. But a look around him, at the terrified reactions of the people in the crowd and the frantic scrambling of Secret Service agents, soon confirmed to him that this was very real.
Oh God. Oh God. Josh stuffed his BlackBerry in his pocket and ran toward the stage, desperately scanning the scene in front of him for any sign of the President-Elect. He's okay, he tried to reassure himself. He has to be. The agents would have gotten him down in time. It was a painfully slow process making his way through the panicked crowd, with some people running in the opposite direction, others trying to take cover under their chairs, and many doing as he was and approaching the stage to see what had happened. Josh had finally reached the stage and was about to head up the stairs when he was stopped by a Secret Service agent.
"Just where do you think you're going?"
"I'm Josh Lyman. I'm President-Elect Santos' incoming Chief of Staff. Tell me what happened."
The agent hesitated for a moment. He must be new; Josh didn't recognize him, and he was familiar with most of the agents on the President-Elect's detail. "I'm not sure I'm allowed to-"
Josh was about to play the "I have the diplomatic rank of a three-star general" card when Ron Butterfield walked up to them, his face ashen. Josh felt his stomach clench in fear.
"Ron. What happened?"
Ron approached him and spoke quietly. "The President-Elect has been shot twice in the chest."
Josh went numb. This wasn't happening. "Is he…" He couldn't bring himself to finish the question. He wasn't sure he wanted to hear the answer.
Ron hesitated a moment. "They're doing everything they can for him."
Everything they can for him. Josh's mind raced. That sounded dire. On the other hand, at least it meant he was alive. "Can I see him?"
"I think a familiar face could only do him good. Come on." Agent Butterfield put a hand on Josh's shoulder and quickly led him to the backstage area where the President-Elect was already on a gurney, being tended to by paramedics.
"Mr. Pres…Sir…" Josh was suddenly at a loss for how to address his boss at a time like this.
"Call me Matt," came the feeble voice from the gurney.
For once, Josh didn't argue with that instruction. He stood as close as he could to him without interfering with the medical team. He felt nauseated, and he knew it wasn't just the sight of the blood and the paramedics working. "Matt. You're going to be fine."
Matt didn't seem to hear him. "Miranda…Peter…I won't…get to…see them…"
"Yes, you will. Matt, listen to me, you're going to have the best doctors in the world taking care of you. I mean, these guys are miracle workers, believe me, I know from experience. You're going to get through this."
"Helen…" he moaned brokenly.
"She'll be waiting for you at the hospital."
Matt turned his face slightly so that his eyes met Josh's. "Josh, thank you. For everything," he whispered, speaking clearly becoming a tremendous effort. "Been…a hell of a ride."
Josh's knees nearly gave out at those words. "No. Matt, no. You can't give up. You have to fight."
"I'm losing his pulse!"
"Starting chest compressions…"
Josh shut his eyes in anguish as the paramedics sprang into action. Ron placed a hand on his arm and led him out of the curtained-off area where Matt was being treated.
"Ron…" Josh whispered, tears in his eyes.
"His injuries are very severe, Josh. I think you need to prepare yourself for the worst."
"No." He refused to even think it. "They'll save him. They have to. That's the President-Elect of the United States they have in there!" Josh's voice rose in panic.
"You don't think they know that, Josh?"
"How the hell did this happen?" Josh found himself turning on Ron in anger. Even in his frantic state, he felt a pang of guilt for doing so, but it wasn't enough to stop him. "How does someone get a gun past you guys into the crowd, hold it up, aim it, and pull the trigger twice? Your one job is to keep him safe, and you blew it! Rosslyn, Zoey, and now this...I gotta tell you, I'm starting to think Secret Service protection just ain't all it's cracked up to be."
If Ron had any emotional reaction to Josh's outburst, his face didn't reveal it. "There will be a thorough investigation as to what happened. You should know that we apprehended the shooter almost immediately after the incident. Our gut instinct so far is that he probably didn't act alone, so we're looking for accomplices."
"You have the shooter?" That news got Josh's attention. "Who is he? I mean…why…?"
"We don't know that yet. He's being questioned as we speak."
Josh ran his fingers through his hair. "Ron, look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…I know this wasn't your fault."
He shook his head. "Josh, believe me, every question you just asked will be looked into thoroughly when we investigate this. You're absolutely right. The fact that our protectee has two bullets in his chest means that we dropped the ball somewhere. We're going to find out where."
The two men stood in silence for awhile. Josh wasn't sure how long they'd been waiting when one of the paramedics approached them.
"I'm sorry," the young man whispered, shock evident on his face. "We did everything we could. The bullets did too much damage. He never really had a chance." Just to make sure there was no room for misinterpretation, he concluded: "President-Elect Matthew Santos was pronounced dead about thirty seconds ago."
"It all still seems so bizarre," Helen Santos commented to Donna as they sat together in a living room at the Blair House. Officially, they were finalizing plans for their first days in the East Wing. But unofficially, they were getting to know each other and enjoying a little bit of 'girl time'. Donna already felt that in addition to being her boss, Helen Santos could end up becoming one of her closest friends. "This time tomorrow, my husband will be President of the United States and I'll be the First Lady. If someone had told me a year and a half ago that one day I'd be saying those words, do you know how hard I would have laughed?"
"I can imagine."
"When Matt first told me Josh had asked him to run, I did laugh," Helen remembered. "I suppose it sounded rude. I didn't mean it that way. It's just – it was so far from anything I'd ever even considered. I mean, even him being a United States Congressman seemed a little surreal. But President? My Matt? The guy who can't even consistently remember to put the toilet seat down?"
"The toilet seat, huh?" Donna smiled. "I have a feeling I'm going to be learning all kinds of juicy tidbits about the leader of the free world in this job."
They were interrupted by two Secret Service agents bursting through the door.
"This building is in lockdown. Mrs. Santos, stay away from the windows," one agent announced as the other quickly closed the drapes.
"What's going on?" Helen asked.
"This is one of the things you'll have to get used to once you're living in the White House," Donna told her, unconcerned. "It happens all the time over there. Some genius pledging a fraternity jumps the fence, or sometimes someone with mental health issues..." her voice trailed off when she saw the looks on the agents' faces. "What?"
There was a tense silence. "Due to an increased threat level, we've been instructed to lock down the building and secure Mrs. Santos and the children," one of them hedged.
"What happened?" Helen asked.
The agents glanced at each other nervously. A second later, they were talking in hushed voices in their earpieces. Whatever the agents heard, it clearly shook them.
"What's going on? Tell us." Donna demanded in alarm. Whatever had happened, it was clearly far from trivial.
"Is Matt okay?" Helen wasn't quite sure what had prompted her to ask that, but the looks on the agents' faces when she did made her blood run cold.
One of the agents drew a deep breath. "President-Elect Santos was shot twice in the chest at the rally this evening."
"Oh God," Helen gasped. Donna got up from her seat and rushed to Helen's side, wrapping both arms around her. "Is he going to be okay? Where are they taking him? I have to go to the hospital. You can't make me stay here." She got up and headed toward the door, only making it a few steps before she was stopped by the agents.
"Mrs. Santos," one of the agents looked her in the eye.
"No-" all the color drained from her face.
"Mrs. Santos, your husband was pronounced dead within minutes of the shooting. I'm very sorry."
Helen lost the ability to stand. She managed to stumble toward the sofa before collapsing onto it. Donna sat down beside her again and held her, herself reeling with shock and horror. And then another awful thought pushed through. Josh had been at the rally.
"Is there…anyone else hurt?" She managed to get out.
"Not as far as we know."
Somehow, Donna didn't find that comforting. After he'd been shot at Rosslyn, Josh had slumped unnoticed against a wall for too many precious minutes before Toby had found him. People had assumed he'd gotten into one of the cars and was safe, and he'd nearly died.
"Josh Lyman?" she choked back tears, still trying to wrap her mind around the news of the President-Elect's death even as she desperately needed to know that Josh was alright. Physically, at least.
"We have no reports of any other injuries at this time. That's all I know for sure."
Donna closed her eyes. She continued to hold Helen, who hadn't said a word since the agent had broken the news. She leaned against Donna, shaking, her eyes wet with tears that had yet to fall.
Josh stared at the paramedic in horror, unable to speak. He leaned against a supporting beam to steady himself.
"I'm sorry," the paramedic mumbled before returning to the area where Matt Santos had been treated. Josh and Ron each stared straight ahead for a long moment, absorbing the news.
"Mrs. Santos…someone has to tell…" Josh finally managed to stammer.
"Her agents are telling her. Blair House was put into lockdown as a precaution, as was the White House and the Capitol Building. We just can't be sure if this was an isolated incident or part of a larger attack, and we're not taking any chances."
"His family in Houston…his parents…"
"If you don't want them to hear about it on the news, you should probably make sure they're notified immediately."
As if to emphasize the point, a group of reporters who had just been allowed access to the backstage area by the Secret Service rushed toward him. He knew that news of the shooting would have hit the airwaves instantly; in fact, he suddenly realized, it had undoubtedly been captured live by all the cable networks carrying the President-Elect's speech. But he couldn't let them report that Matt had died, not until he was sure his relatives had been notified.
"Josh, we've just been told that the President-Elect has been pronounced dead," a reporter spoke softly but firmly. "Do you want to comment before we break the news?"
"Please, all of you," he turned to the press pool. "Hold off a few minutes until we can make sure his family is notified."
"How long is that going to take?" another reporter demanded.
"I said a few minutes."
"Josh, this is an event of huge significance to the nation. You can't expect us to sit on it."
"For the love of God, aren't any of you human beings? Can't you give me five minutes so I can make sure his mother doesn't find out about this on the news?"
"Three minutes. And if it breaks anywhere before then, we all run it."
"Fine." Josh got his phone out of his pocket. He was pretty sure Donna was with Mrs. Santos. He dialed her cell phone number.
"Josh! Oh God, I'm so glad to hear your voice." He felt tears form in his eyes at her words.
"Donna, I hate to even – someone needs to call the President-Elect's family in Houston. It's going to be on the news in literally a couple minutes, and I don't want-"
"We know," she said softly. "Mrs. Santos is on the phone now with his mother."
Josh took a breath. "How is she? Mrs. Santos?"
"How are you?" Donna asked.
Donna knew that was a lie. "Josh-"
"Donna, listen, I can't talk now. I have to – I'll call you later, okay?"
She sighed. "Okay."
He hung up the phone and walked toward the waiting press pool. "Okay. Thanks for waiting, guys."
"Would you like to make a statement, Josh?" There was a note of kindness in the reporter's voice.
Would he like to? Not hardly. But he supposed it was probably expected of him. He turned toward the cameras and spoke into the outstretched microphones, struggling to maintain his composure as he mumbled something about the awfulness of the situation and asked all Americans to keep the Santos family in their prayers.
"Josh!" A reporter called out.
"No questions." He started to walk away.
"Josh, there's currently no President-Elect and no Vice President-Elect, and President Bartlet's term is over at noon tomorrow. Would you say this qualifies as a constitutional crisis?"
It was the question that had been festering in the back of his mind since the shooting. He'd been desperately trying to think back to his Constitutional Law classes at Yale. If Santos had already been sworn in, it would be clear; the Speaker of the House would replace him. But if he remembered right, the rules weren't quite so simple in the case of a President-Elect's death. It had never happened before, he knew that much. A President-Elect had never died before taking office, let alone without a Vice President-Elect in place.
Josh ignored the reporter's question and continued to walk away.