TITLE: One By One They Fall
AUTHOR: Charlotte Unsworth
RATING: PG
CATEGORY: Season One finale resolution, Angst
SPOILERS: Takes place after the season one finale
SUMMARY: The aftermath
DISTRIBUTION Just let me know.
DISCLAIMER: I wish.
FEEDBACK: Love it or hate it, either way please tell me at CMUnsworth@aol.com


One by one they fall.

Such a tiny object, a bullet. A few millimetres
across, maybe a centimetre long. Hold one in your
hand and it seems to weigh barely more than a few
small coins. But unleash ten bullets and the
destruction they can cause is complete.

He sees them fall.

In the moments after the first scream he feels
everything slow down. He can't remember why he was
late out of the building, why the other staff were in
front of him. When he did come outside it was to be
greeted with utter chaos. People were running,
terrified, and it took him moments to understand and
connect the fleeing crowds with the sounds
he heard echoing from the buildings around him.

He sees the Secret Service scrambling for their
protectees but never knows if they reach their
targets. Staring through the bars, the metal is so
cold it stings his hands but he grips it so hard his
knuckles are white.

He sees them fall.

Unable to move he scans the crowds, desperately
searching for his colleagues, his friends. His
President. He sees Sam fall into CJ, and Toby and Leo
lying on the ground and he wants to scream for
somebody to help them, wants to go and help them
himself but he can't move.

In just minutes the area is transformed. The cheering
crowds are gone, banners lie abandoned behind the
ropeline. Some people will never leave Rosslyn and
even if they can the memory will stay with them. They
are all changed by that night. Others are helped into
cars, ambulances, the cavalcade. A few stand shocked
and surveying the scene. There is weeping, and sirens
screaming to and from the newseum. Josh doesn't hear
any of them. He sees the events in slow motion and in
utter silence, as though watching on a muted television
from a distance. He wonders that he can see this
destruction with such detachment.

Then he looks down.

He sees a red stain spreading quickly across his
shirt and notes with faint surprise that he is
sitting now, leaning against the railings.

He wonders if anyone saw him fall.

::-------------::

She stayed at work to watch the speech in her boss's
office. She knows that when he returns he will have
work to do, and that he will need her there. And so
she stayed. Besides, she enjoys the exultation they
all share at moments such as this and would not
wish to miss being a part of it when they get back.

It is a good speech, she thinks as she listens. Sam
and Toby have done fine work once more and the
President is his most comfortable at this kind of
meeting. She hears him mention Charlie and smiles to
think of how proud the young man must be right now.
She remembers his frustration over not feeling
comfortable telling the President his opinion and how
she often feels the same. At least her boss does
listen to her opinion, she thinks wryly, even if he
does mask it with jokes and sarcasm.

The senior staff are glimpsed fleetingly, standing at
the back of the crowd when the camera swings across
the hall. She takes pleasure in seeing each one and
there is a small thrill in being involved with people
like this, even if nobody else knows it but her.

She can imagine the jubilation of the staff leaving
the hall to enthusiastic cheering. They have been
rejuvenated recently and the speech is further proof
of their newfound optimism. The commentator following
the speech says the same; there is something more in
the Bartlet administration than there was just a few
weeks ago. The programme moves on, to a discussion of
the President's political agenda for the coming
months and she presses the mute button.

She turns to the desk and the folder she was planning
to read during the speech in preparation for Josh's
return. Instead, as she had suspected, she became
caught up in the speech and will have time to do
no more than quickly skim through the information.
She secretly prefers his office to her own desk
and decides to stay there to work until they
get back.

Flashing on the screen beside her catches her eye and
she looks back.

For a moment she thinks she has accidentally changed
the channel and has stumbled on some police movie or
drama. Then she sees the newseum and realises that
the flashing lights must be accompanied by screaming
sirens, and that the people running are not acting
but are escaping in terror. In an effort to control
her panic she reaches for the remote and turns up the
volume.

"...unconfirmed how many shots have been fired..."
she waits no longer, doesn't stop to hear about the
tragedy she felt coming the instant she saw the red
and blue emanating from the screen. Something deep
inside screams that she cannot hear this from a
television set, she just can't, and there is only one
place the senior staff will be heading now.

Donna does not hear the rest of the report. She is
already leaving the office. The folder lies open on
the desk, the light is on and the door open but she
does not care.

She wonders with a growing sense of dread who it was
that fell.

::-------------::

He thinks the sirens are fading now, though the red
and blue light regularly swings over him. Someone
finds him, a man he thinks he should know but can't
remember. The man is angry, shouting that he has been
looking for Josh, he was worried. Josh holds up a
hand in greeting, the hand that has been pressed
against his shirt. The man's face changes to fear
and he turns, running away from Josh and shouting
something indistinct.

He wants to ask the man to stay, but can't speak.

He looks at his hand and sees the reason for the
man's fear. It is covered in blood. Staring at it, it
does not look real. He has seen blood on television,
in films, but it did not look like this. Somehow that
seems more real to him now than this surreal and
eerily lit world.

The man returns, bringing with him two others who
kneel beside him. He knows his name, he does, and
fights to bring the memory to the surface.

He saw his friends fall.

"Sam."

The man kneels too, and there is pressure on his
sodden hand.

"He's alright, he'll be fine."

So this man is not Sam. Who else could he be? Another
name floats to the surface of his mind.

"Toby."

"Don't worry about them, Josh. They're going to be
okay."

Not Toby either. As the man leans to hear the
paramedic's murmur his name comes to Josh.

"Leo." There is a small glimmer of triumph as relief
shows on the man's face. He is Leo. He is conscious
of moving, somehow, being carried maybe although the
movement seems too fluid, too easy. "Leo." A shade of
memory floats just beyond his reach. A mistake,
something he should not have done. That made this
man striding beside him, tightly clasping his hand,
look at Josh with disappointment in his eyes. "I'm
sorry."

"Josh, don't try to speak. It's fine." He tries to
tell him it's not, but can't get the words out in
more than a whisper.

"Sorry. Shouldn't have - said that to Hoynes."

He feels himself lifted up, and the pressure on his
hand is gone. A mask comes down on his face; he
fights to pull it off but can't resist the hands that
press it back.

"Stay," he murmurs, but there is no reply.

Behind him the ambulance doors close as it screams
away into the night. It leaves behind a man, one man
who resisted the orders of the Secret Service and of
the doctors and police who flooded the once crowded
square. To stay with him. Now, with Josh carried away
from him, he acquiesces to their demands and allows
himself to be guided away.

::-------------::

She sees secret service agents, stepping in front of
her to block her path. Absently staring over their
shoulder she pulls out her White House ID badge. They
look at it, then each other.

"Sorry. Restricted access." Her gaze snaps back to
them.

"I have to go in." One shakes his head. She sees a
glimmer of sympathy but it is not enough.

"It's okay," comes a voice behind them

Then she sees him. His face tells her that something
terrible has happened and she has a childish urge to
run. Maybe if she hides then it will all go away. She
won't have to face losing her friends.

But Sam comes up to her, guides her into the waiting
room.

"I saw the news report," she tells him softly, not
wanting him to tell her the story.

He sinks into the soft cushions of the seats, burying
his face in his hands and she dreads hearing what he
will say. When he looks up at her after what seems
like forever, there are tears streaming down his
face.

"Josh is in surgery now."

Slowly, she sits beside him. She places her arms
around him and holds him as he leans his head against
her and cries.

She stares across the empty room.

::-------------::

Things need doing. He knows that, as he has always
known what to do and how to do it. But in times of
trouble he has always turned to his work to provide
solace. Instead, he is walking anxiously up and down
these hospital corridors waiting for news.

He needs to be here.

He had returned to the White House, met with the
President and the Secret Service. All the time
thinking: Josh. His distraction must have been
evident, the president drew him to one side and told
him to go to the hospital.

He needs to be here.

He saw Sam in the waiting room, consoled by Donna. It
was not the racking sobs he heard coming from his
usually unflappable Deputy Communications Director
that threw him. It was the blank face of his deputy's
assistant. She looked as though she had given up.

He can't help but think that maybe he has too.

Because every time a doctor comes out of the OR, or a
nurse hurries down the hallway he is afraid to meet
their eyes for fear that they have come to tell him
that it simply was not possible to save this man.

He remembers Josh. As a child, and although as he was
growing up Leo had drifted away from his father and
saw less of the family, he was sent pictures. His
father had been so proud at his graduation and called
Leo after not talking for nearly a year to tell him:
his son was going to Harvard. He remembered convincing
him to leave Hoynes, to come work for Bartlet. He'd
known that as soon as Josh heard him speak he would be
convinced. He was a good man, and desperate for
someone in politics who was the genuine article. He
had tried to conceal his excitement when he called
Leo to accept his offer, but Leo heard it anyway
and smiled. As he remembers he tries to push the
images from his mind, seeing them as signs of
defeat.

He does not want to see Josh in the past.

At the same time he is silently terrified that the
past is all he has. That this young, brilliant man
who has so much potential and has become like a
son, is fighting for his life and cannot win.

::-------------::

He hates losing patients.

It is a sign of his vulnerability, of his
powerlessness against the god or higher power
that millions of people put their faith in
every day. One of the reasons he became a
surgeon was to challenge that ultimate
authority, to prove that good people did not
have to die in some random way simply because
"God decided it was their time."

He hates losing patients.

And he vows that this man will not be one of them.
While those around him whisper that he is a victim of
the shooting that evening, that he works at the White
House, all he thinks is that he will not allow God to
win this one.

The man lying on the table, so pale that he seems to
have left his lifeblood at Rosslyn, is doing his best to
prove him wrong. Three times he has been forced to
stop and resuscitate him, continuing past the point
those working beside him would have done.

But each time he has come back, and the doctor allows
himself to believe that this man can be saved.

He refuses to lose this patient.

::-------------::

She leaves Sam in the waiting room, sleeping
restlessly. She envies him that momentary
peacefulness where he will not be constantly waiting
for the news to come, waiting for somebody to tell
him that he can breath again.

She can't breathe.

Since she saw the report she has been holding her
breath and waiting, at the same time praying to a god
she has long since stopped believing in to help her.

Leo walks down the corridor towards her and she
stops. He draws her to the side of the hallway and
speaks in a low voice. Over the pounding of her heart
she can barely hear what he has to say. She realises
that he is waiting for some kind of response, and
gives the only one she is capable of.

"Okay."

"Donna..." She knows he wants something more from her
but she simply can't find the energy.

She needs to breathe.

"I have to go."

She turns to walk away from him, knowing he is
staring and debating whether to follow her or not.
She waits for the sound of footsteps behind her but
they do not come.

She leaves. And sitting alone in her car in the
parking lot, she is able to breathe.

::-------------::

The West Wing is at its most subdued, yet under the
surface of calm there is an air of hysteria
threatening to break loose.

The music is out of place.

Music is only heard at state dinners, at official
functions. On evenings of celebration when the staff
are all too animated to think about going home and
want to stay with the people they have worked with to
achieve victory.

It shouldn't be there now.

But drifting through the halls is music, touching
everybody and increasing the tension. Sam sees
nervous glances in his direction as he heads
cautiously towards the source of the music. CJ meets
him outside Josh's office. She looks tired, he
thinks. She has been the only one not to go to the
hospital, the one to hold the press at bay and keep
the nation informed while the rest of the senior
staff were falling apart. He marvels at her strength
and worries that nobody will be there when she
breaks.

But the music is too loud to talk. He heard it near
the Oval Office and followed it down here. To Josh's
office. He looks at CJ, seeing in her face permission
to open the door.

The chair faces away from the desk out of the window.
Silently he closes the door behind him and reaches
for the stereo. The silence is somehow more
oppressive than the deafening music. Her voice takes
him by surprise.

"I saw it in here." Moving to the window he sees
Donna sitting upright in Josh's chair. Irrationally,
part of him rails at her invasion of his friend's
office, at her sitting in his chair and listening to
his music. But then he sees the strain in her face
that he did not see when he was consumed with his own
grief.

She has not cried.

He knows it as instinctively as he knows that the
reason she is here is because, like him, she cannot
face being at the hospital and waiting, powerless.
And he knows she will not cry because she is afraid
that once she begins she will not be able to stop.
That she will not cry until the waiting is over.

So he puts the music back on, softer this time. He
sits on the desk and takes her hand.

They stare out of the window together, waiting for
him to come back to them.

::-----------::

 

 

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