Sam looked at the legal pad on his knee. They needed a statement about Toby's death. The silence from the White House was going on too long. They had to respond to the speculations and they had to do it soon. The press had been fairly respectful, but now that the funeral was over, the vultures would descend, wanting to know the details. The spectre of juicy scandal was looming over them.

He scribbled idly on the page, hoping for inspiration. This was the sort of thing Toby himself could do with one eye shut. He could say nothing of substance so beautifully that the reader was fooled into thinking that their question had been answered.

He could not write that Toby had killed himself because had been suffering from a mental illness. Andrea was right about that one; there was still an enormous stigma to that. But if he couldn't tell the truth, what could he say?

He wrote for a moment or two, without really knowing where he was going with it. After a paragraph or two, the words came faster and his pen flew across the page. It was as if Toby's spirit or something had entered into his pen, as if Toby's favoured way of writing had somehow evoked Toby's talent.

He wrote on and on, heedless of the odd looks he was starting to get from Margaret. This was going to need heavy editing, but it was a start.

-----------------

Josh was sitting with his head in his hands, still reeling from shock. Donna sat beside him, rubbing soothing circles on his back.

Josh felt stupid. He had been so busy trying to find a reason for Toby's death so he wouldn't have to think about suicide. If Toby had taken his own life, it was only a matter of time before he thought seriously about that way out himself.

He never told Donna about how often he thought about that. The fear and confusion had abated a great deal since Christmas, but it still woke him up at night, bathed in sweat and trembling.

Toby was a fixture in his life and his death had taken away one of the foundations of his healing. If Toby, of all people, could do the unthinkable, it wasn't so unthinkable, was it?

He had always seen Toby as unshakable, someone who could walk unscathed through the political minefields they both played in. Knowing that Toby expected him to pick up and move on, as Toby had always done in his long and not always successful career, helped him do so. The shooting was the first time Josh had not been in control of his own destiny and it scared him. Watching Toby, who had lived through failure and pain, helped him believe that survival and, eventually, success, was not only possible, but inevitable.

And there was another feeling that was starting to surface. His friend - a rather prickly and sometimes unlikable friend - was dead.

Josh cried out softly. Toby was dead. For the first time in this awful, nightmarish week, it hit him. Toby was dead.

He felt Donna's arms around him, her ready tears falling in time with his, as he cried for his friend.

-----------------

Andrea looked over at CJ, who was trying to read. She hadn't turned a page in nearly ten minutes, so she wasn't actually reading. She ached for CJ. She knew, long before the letter, probably long before Toby did, that he loved her. She was pretty sure that CJ felt the same way.

Toby had been far too wary to bring up the topic with her, but she knew. She had hoped and prayed for the day when Toby would shuffle his feet, look everywhere but at her, and admit that he was sort of, maybe, perhaps, kind of seeing CJ. She couldn't quite let go of Toby until she knew that he was all right.

God, she hadn't even dated anyone until he was firmly and safely ensconced in the position of Communications Director. She couldn't. She couldn't give her heart to anyone else until she could rest easily about the man she loved.

She had hoped that with the medication and with the knowledge that he was valued and successful, that he would try to rebuild his life, a life with someone like CJ at his side. She wasn't jealous of CJ; she had had her good times with Toby, along with the bad. She had too many memories of heartache to go back to him. She had too many good memories not to wish the very best for him.

She had kept his secret for so long. She almost resented having to reveal it; that part of him, that trust he had given her, was hers. It belonged to her, not to them. Good or ill, that part of him was hers and she was damned if she'd let the ignorant, uncaring, gossiping, scandal seeking press have that part of him, too. Let them wonder. They had no right to dishonour his memory by experts making reports about what he could have and should have done. They didn't know. They didn't live with it, day in and day out.

Let them wonder. The people he cared about knew he was a good man. That was enough. The rest of the world could go to hell in a handcart.

------------------

"I have to tell them," Bartlet said, as soon as Leo shut the door behind him. Leo masked his surprise. Jed had been resisting telling anyone else about the MS, despite Babish's insistence that he had to.

"When?"

"As soon as possible," Bartlet replied, raking his hand through his hair. "I can't let this situation go on."

"Why?" Leo asked quietly.

"For the sake of the people out there wandering around in a daze because they didn't know," Bartlet replied. "I won't let the MS destroy anyone else."

"Jed..." Leo reached out a hand. Bartlet gave a half smile. Leo never called him Jed anymore; he had to be pretty shaken to drop the protocol he had insisted on for the last three years.

"Leo, what we said last Friday triggered this whole tragedy," Bartlet said quietly, holding up a hand to forestall Leo's automatic protest. "Toby got this dropped on him like a ton of bricks. And he was right in every damn thing he said. We - I - betrayed the American people. I betrayed those good people out there. I need to make it right. I need to tell them."

"Are you sure that now is a good time?"

"No. I'm not sure there is a good time." Bartlet sighed.

"You sure you're not acting out of guilt?"

"Abbey thinks this is part of my hair shirt wearing Catholic guilt."

"Is it?"

"And the truth shall set you free, Leo," Bartlet quoted. "The truth is the only way to go. I am the way and the Truth. Is it guilt that urges me to follow the lessons of the faith that is the very essence of my life?"

"Are you prepared for the results?"

"Impeachment, hearings, relentless pressure from the press and accusations of treason?"

"Giving the men and women out there another burden to bear," Leo countered. "They are pretty fragile right now."

"I know."

"You feel responsible for Toby's death, don't you?"

"Don't you?"

"You want them to accuse you," Leo said sharply. "You want absolution and you can't have that until someone accuses you. You want to confess and be forgiven."

"No."

"If you want to confess, go to a priest," Leo continued relentlessly. "I won't let you do that to my people."

"Your people? Those people out there serve at the pleasure of the President. Last time I checked, you weren't the President of the United States."

"I brought them in. I got Josh. He brought Sam. I got Toby - against your objections I might add - and he brought CJ. Those are my people, Jed. And I won't let you do this to them to assuage your guilt."

"And I won't let you handle them this way," Bartlet shot back. "How long will it take Josh to find what Toby found? And come to us and ask? Will you decide we have to tell him at the last minute, with our backs to the wall, like we did with Toby? No, Leo. No more lies."

"Nobody lied."

"How often have I used that excuse? Nobody lied. No, nobody did. And nobody told the truth, either. We tell them, Leo. When we get back to Washington, we do it. We tell them and we make sure that they can talk to each other about it."

"Will that make a difference?"

"When I found out, all those years ago, I would not have made it without Abbey to talk to," Bartlet said, after a long moment. "You talked to me, Leo. You talked to Abbey and to Fitz. Who did Toby have to talk to?"

Part 9

 

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