LauraS, thanks sooo much again. Can't say that enough. And, Kerry and Robyn... See... It's up!! Start climbing the cliff again. *g* Apparently, I should put a warning...? I've been told half of the rest of the story is veeery sad. Just so you'll know. Onward...
For disclaimer and notes, please see part one.
Previously, on the West Wing: Crys sends the last of the found CIA agents on to China in the last Company car while she and Rose brace for bombing raids. Crys calls Rob Conrad in the midst of the bombing and talks with Conrad, Bartlet, and the Senior Staff in the West Wing when the line goes dead.
Crystal dropped the phone as the entire building shook from the force of the explosion. Dust and debris filled the air. "Teddy! Rose! Now!" she yelled, opening the door that led to the basement. The three quickly descended the stairs. "Where are they, Ted?"
"Got me," he said, coughing. "I didn't find 'em."
"Is this gonna hold?" Rose asked, looking around at their makeshift bomb shelter.
"You really wanna know my opinion?" retorted Crystal. "That last one was too close for comfort."
"What does Conrad say?" asked Teddy.
"To get out," Crystal said. "What's the city look like?"
"A ghost town," Teddy said. "There's nobody out there right now. All the Pakistani troops that were there are gone while we get razed."
"We can't get out while they're bombing either," Crystal said. "We're going to have to wait for them to stop and they send the troops back in. Of course then we probably won't be able to make it three feet outside this building without being spotted and kept as prisoners of war."
"Well, that's a cheerful thought," Teddy said sarcastically.
"Hey, buddy, you signed on with the CIA. What did you think you'd be doing?" asked Crystal.
"I can tell you this, ma'am, I sure as hell didn't *ever* bargain on being stuck in a basement in India while the Pakistanis decide to eradicate anything and everything above ground."
"You knew this was a hot zone," Crystal yelled. "You want a safe job in the Company, you sit behind a desk the rest of your career and see how you like it."
"Oh, right. Like you?" asked Teddy.
"If we make it out of here alive, Teddy, you're going up on report!"
"Bombing has taken out electricity in Amritsar, India" Toby reported. "Fitzwallace says he can't tell for certain if the building the CIA was operating out of was hit directly or not."
"And just why not?" demanded Josh.
"Too much smoke and rubble. Pakistani planes are still grazing the city. As soon as things calm down-" began Toby.
"Calm down? *Calm* down?" asked Josh. "She could be dead." Sam stood quickly, crossed to Josh, and then guided him out of the Oval Office without saying a word. Toby followed cautiously.
"She wouldn't want this," Sam said as soon as they were in the corridor. Josh looked at him strangely.
"Crys. She wouldn't want us to get overly agitated at this."
"You Seaborns are the *worst* people to be around whenever there's a possibility of death. Your calmness is *really* annoying."
"She liked being a CIA agent. If she died, she died doing what she thought was right." Josh looked at him incredulously.
"It isn't 'right' to be in the center of a war, Sam. It's *far* from right."
"Not to her," Sam said. He started back for the Oval and noticed Toby. He closed his eyes briefly and sighed before going back inside.
"The best thing we can do is wait," Conrad said. "Crystal will find a way to contact us again."
"If she doesn't?" asked Bartlet.
"She's been a good agent for thirteen years now," said Sam. "She always finds her way back."
"I want to be kept up to date on this," Bartlet told Conrad. The CIA director nodded.
A loud half-hour of explosions finally came to an end. Crystal and Rose exchanged glances after ten silent minutes. "You think it's over yet, ma'am?" Crystal shrugged and stood, looking at the ceiling.
"God, those poor kids," Teddy said. Crystal looked at him sharply.
"I'm not ruling anything out and neither should you."
"If they aren't dead or mortally wounded, you can bet that they've been captured."
"Keep your voice down or we'll be MIA, too," said Crystal.
"Oh, c'mon," Teddy said. "Like they-" She shushed him quickly. "Ma'am, this-" A stern look finally silenced him. After a moment, he heard what Crystal had heard: movement in the building above them. Crystal motioned Rose and Teddy into the shadows of the basement.
"Find a way out," she ordered in a whisper. Crystal kept her eyes trained on the ceiling as the two junior agents looked for an exit.
"No dice," Teddy mouthed. Crystal pulled her CIA sidearm and checked the clip, causing Teddy to do the same.
"Don't shoot unless it is *absolutely* necessary," Crystal warned. "Rose, you remember your self-defense training?" She nodded. "Good. Subdue *quitetly*." Teddy and Rose followed Crystal up the stairs to the main level. Crystal opened the door a fraction of an inch to look out. As she had suspected, four Pakistani soldiers were rifling through the remains of the CIA office. She holstered her weapon and stealthily crept out. She strolled casually behind one of the officers, covered his mouth, and stole his weapon easily. Dragging his flailing body back into the shadows, she promptly hit him in the back of the head with his own weapon, rendering him unconscious. She looked to Teddy and Rose, who were still standing in the door, and nodded. Each started for one of the remaining soldiers.
Rose, in pursuit of her target, tripped over a fallen computer tower. The stunned guards turned to her and ordered her to stop. Teddy immediately opened fire as Crystal knocked out the guard she was after. Teddy successfully shot both the soldiers.
"You call that quiet?" Crystal hissed as she raced to see the two wounded. One had been killed instantly. The other was not long for the world. She sighed heavily, shaking her head. "Get the other two uniforms," she said. "We're going to borrow their jeep and get the hell out." Rose and Teddy started for the two comatose guards as Crystal unbuttoned the jacket of the dead soldier.
"What about the intel?" Rose asked as she quickly slipped on the uniform. Crystal shook her head.
"Forget it. We've got to leave it. Somebody will be by soon thanks to the gunshots." She glanced up to see both the agents in the drab uniforms. "Move them outside."
"Ma'am?" asked Rose.
"Take them outside now," Crystal said, nodding to the three living soldiers, "and away from here. A block south would be perfect."
"Why?" asked Teddy.
"Just do it!" Crystal barked. The two quickly did as they were told as Crystal changed into the blood-soaked clothes of the deceased soldier. While Rose and Teddy took care of the soldiers, Crystal set about making a crude bomb out of some leftover C-4.
"What are you doing?" Teddy asked as he and Rose reentered the building, having completed their task.
"What does it look like?" Crystal asked. "Get their jeep outside ready to go. Hot-wire it if necessary." She set the makeshift timer she fashioned out of her wristwatch. "We've got ten minutes," she said, noticing the two had yet to move. "It's time to rock it."
Josh had not moved from his office in hours. Donna kept him up to date on what was happening in the Situation Room with Conrad. No matter how hard he tried to focus on his work, he kept thinking of Crystal. The last word she had said before the explosion was his name. She was going to tell him something. "Josh?" He looked up to see Leo standing in front of his desk.
"Go home, Josh."
"I can't go home."
"Why not? There's nothing here you need to be doing."
"What about Crystal?"
"If we hear news, we'll call you."
"Hopefully on the way to his car."
"What the hell was she doing in India?"
"Go home, Josh. I mean it."
"I'm no better off at home than I am here."
"It'll be easier on the rest of us."
"Josh, all you're doing is moping around and driving Rob Conrad crazy." Leo saw Josh's incoming response and continued before he could say anything. "I'll give you the man deserves some of it. Somebody had to go."
"Not her, though!"
"Yes her." Both Leo and Josh looked at the open door to see Conrad.
"Why?" asked Josh.
"I knew she could handle it."
"You-you knew? It's-People are dying by the hundreds over there. You knowingly sent her into a *war zone*!"
"And I'd do it again," Conrad fired back. "Rycher did it for ten years before me and Director Adams before him. We do it all the time, Josh. We do what has to be done."
"None of this has to happen!" said Josh. "Countries don't have to fight. People don't have to die like that."
"We have no confirmation that she's dead," Conrad said.
"And we don't know if she's still alive!"
"If it's any consolation," said Conrad, "my wife agrees with you that none of this should happen. She hates it, too."
"That's no consolation! I want her back!"
"We all do, Josh," said Leo.
"We're doing all we can to monitor Amritsar," Conrad said. "Most of the dust has settled and the looting has started. If Crystal's still there, we'll see her."
"What are the chances of finding her after four hours of silence?"
"It's hard to tell," Conrad said slowly, glancing at Leo.
"Ballpark it for me." Conrad shrugged slightly. "Fifty-fifty? Seventy-thirty? Slim to none?" Conrad checked his watch.
"Honestly?" Josh nodded. "Right now, I'd say we've got a chance in one hundred of hearing from her maybe," Conrad said.
"Plus or minus three point five percentage points, right?" asked Josh. "I almost have a better chance of being killed by a firearm than of seeing Crystal again. Hell, I've been shot at twice. Someone or a group of people have tried to kill me *twice*."
"You guys deal with statistics, not me."
"How long are those numbers going to hold out? How long is it until I have a better chance of winning the lottery while driving a purple Mercedes Benz than seeing the woman I love again?"
"Josh," Leo said warningly. It fell on deaf ears.
"You bastard! I didn't get to tell her goodbye! I didn't even know she was gone until I get a call from her assistant after she's already on the goddamn airplane headed for her *death*. What was she doing over there anyway?" Conrad closed the door.
"CIA security had been breached. I needed a reliable agent to rebuild the regional outpost."
"And you picked Crystal?" Conrad nodded. "Why?"
"I needed a reliable agent. She had ordered some of the agents there to begin with after President Bartlet gave the go-ahead. She had a fairly good idea of what was going on over there. She could get the needed authorization from the President the quickest, too, because she was already here. And *that*, Josh, I believe you helped set up."
"You're trying to blame me?" asked Josh.
"I'm stating the obvious."
"That's enough, Josh," Leo said. "Don't you have other things you could be doing, Rob?" Conrad nodded, staring at Josh.
"Think about it, Josh," Conrad said before leaving.
"I understand your frustration, Josh, but it's counterproductive. That's why you've got to go home. If anything critical happens, we'll contact you."
"Come on, Rose," Crystal said. The young tech struggled with the wiring on the jeep while Crystal watched the seconds tick away on the watch she had borrowed from Teddy. "We don't have a lot of time here."
"I'm working on it, ma'am," she said through clenched teeth. Teddy pointed down the street.
"We've got company." Crystal glanced up to see that more Pakistani troops headed their direction.
"Speed it up, Rose," she said warily.
"Come on you dumb machine," Rose muttered before the engine finally sputtered to life.
"Where are we going, ma'am?" Teddy asked, climbing into the driver's seat.
"Hold on," Crystal said, watching the troops. Teddy glanced at her.
"Hold on? You were just telling Rose, here, to speed up."
"Don't go yet, Teddy."
"You're gonna get us killed in a crossfire!" They had two minutes before the building would explode. Crystal ignored him as she glanced back and forth between the troops and the watch. The radio crackled to life.
"What's going on? We heard gunshots."
"Ma'am?" asked Teddy.
"Not yet," Crystal said.
"Are you listening?" asked the radio.
"You want me to answer them?" Teddy asked. Crystal shook her head, watching as the troops got out of their jeep in front of the CIA headquarters and slowly started walking towards them. "Can we go now?" Crystal eyed him coolly for a moment.
"I'll tell you when to go," she said. With her attention back on the soldiers, she tried to figure their timing. "Get ready," she said. Teddy revved the engine. When they were down to forty-five seconds, Crystal said, "Now!" Teddy floored it, sending dust flying. Crystal watched as the troops scrambled back to their jeep. About the time they reached the car, the building blew.
"That was cutting it close," Rose said, coughing through the dust cloud.
"We can't have 'em following us," Crystal said. "As for this being a close one? Honey, you ain't seen nothin' yet."
"Where to, ladies?" Teddy asked. Rose looked to Crystal.
"China, driver, and step on it."
Josh thumbed through his mail, mostly bills and junk mail, as he entered his apartment. One letter caught his eye: airmail from Germany. He dropped the rest of his mail instantly and ripped open the envelope with trembling hands. He could hardly believe his eyes when he recognized Crystal's handwriting.
I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. I knew that if I did, I'd never make it to the airport on time though the thought of you mad at me, sitting in your office, breaks my heart. I can't tell you how terribly sorry I am. I promise you that I'll be home soon and that I'll make it up to you if you let me. Please let me, Josh.
I know you have a thousand questions on your mind. Where am I? What's going on? Probably the most important one: why? I know writing you this letter will probably answer a few but raise even more. I also know that if I didn't tell you anything that you'd go out of your mind or try to harm Robby Conrad in some way. Yes, Josh, I'm on a mission for the CIA. The postmark says Germany but let me assure you I'm no longer in Berlin. I can't tell you where I am when you'd like to know so badly and for that, too, I apologize. Technically, I'm breaking the rules by sending you this letter but I couldn't let you suffer with not knowing. You may like partial knowledge even less but I had to write, Josh, for my own peace of mind. If anything should happen, not that it would-get those thoughts out of your head-I wanted to tell you how much I love you. You may not even believe that right now. If you don't, I understand but please-this wasn't my intention. This mission came up so fast I wasn't expecting it. If it hadn't been an emergency situation, I never would have left. It's ironic looking back at our anniversary dinner and how right my fortune cookie was.
I miss you. I've only been gone a couple hours and a few thousand miles but I can't get over the feeling that I should be with you right now. I don't know if it's my guilt or if there's something dreadfully wrong with you and I should be back in D.C. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me.
I don't have much free time left and I have to write another letter. Please don't mention this letter to anyone except Sam, who will be getting the other letter. I can't wait until I get home, to see your face again, to be in your arms. That is, if you're not still upset with me. I just. I love you, Josh.
While reading the letter, an eerie feeling consumed him. It was like Crystal was speaking to him from the grave. She had doubted his feelings for her and had died alone and sad in the middle of India. He fell onto his couch, numb. He wanted, more than anything, to marry her and the last thing she thought was that he did not love her. The letter fell to his lap as he tried to remember how to breathe or if he wanted to at all. With Crystal dead, he didn't see much point to it. He had already become dependent upon her without realizing it. He had always assumed that came after getting married, not before.
Picturing her last moments on Earth, he started to cry. She was going to tell them something when a bomb, probably made with parts Ibn Nassar Shadid had sold to the Pakistanis, killed her, demolishing the building she was seeking refuge in. He could see her, standing, yelling into a phone, when the support beams started falling. He could hear the glass break and feel the heat and sudden claustrophobia. He tried to convince himself that her death was quick and relatively painless. No matter how hard he tried, he failed miserably. An old conversation with Crystal came back to haunt him. He vaguely remembered when she told him military action was inevitable during Bartlet's administration, that troops would be deployed, and that he would have to justify it in his own head. Right now, he could not. He could not justify it knowing that he was part of what sent Crystal to her maker. Shaking his head, he knew he should have been the one asking Crystal for forgiveness, not the other way around.
He vacantly got to his feet and wandered to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator door, he pulled out a beer bottle. He pushed the door closed before rummaging around for his bottle opener. As the cap popped off, he sat on the kitchen counter before taking an annoyed swig. Life wasn't fair. On top of that, it would never be the same again. Crystal had become an important piece of his life, one that was sorely missed.
His thoughts landed briefly on Sam, wondering if he had gotten Crystal's letter and how he was holding up. He could not bring himself to pick up the phone to find out. He was feeling too sorry for himself to do anything of the kind. Instead, he finished his beer and grabbed another one before starting back for his living room. The evening news would be on soon. He draped his necktie over the arm of the couch as he slumped on it again and picked up a remote control. Aiming it at his TV set, he pressed the power button. Rather than the box waking up so the talking heads could tell him the state of affairs in the world, his CD player came to life. He had grabbed the wrong remote.
"Hear my voice/Where you are/Take a train/Steal a car/Hop a freight/Grab a star/Come back to me."
It had been months since he had used the CD player. In fact, the last time he had used it, Crystal had been with him. They wound up dancing, or at least trying to, on New Year's Eve. Crystal had convinced him to skip the gala at the White House, opting for a quieter party for two. The light and upbeat swing melody mesmerized him, pulling him off the couch and to his feet. The lyrics said exactly what he would have said to Crystal if she could hear him at that very moment.
"This is where/You should be."
He had tried so hard to keep her in Washington, to keep her close to him. Everything he tried had backfired. She was gone. She was gone permanently. He nearly collapsed. His world had been violently ripped out from under him.
"From the hills/From the shore/Ride the wind to my door/Turn highways to dust/Break the law if you must/Move the world only just/Come back to me."
She had been so happy at New Year's, trying to teach him how to swing dance. She had to give up because she was laughing so hard at him. He tried to remember her expression and the way her whole face seemed to brighten at his feeble attempts to learn that she had thought had been so adorable. He found that, even if he closed his eyes and drifted away in the music, he could not even see her smile or her eyes. He could feel her, he remembered her presence, but no matter how hard he tried to focus on her face, he could not.
"Have you gone to the moon/Or the corner saloon/And to rack and ruin/Mademoiselle/Where in hell/Can you be?"
He crossed to his desk and quickly opened the top drawer, retrieving several envelopes of developed photographs and dumping them on the desktop. He sniffled and started looking at the photos. Most of them were from various White House functions, candid shots backstage at presidential appearances. Charlie had gotten a hold of his camera at one point on a late-night Air Force One trip resulting in some of his favorite pictures of Crystal and him. Charlie snapped half a dozen photographs just after a brief patch of turbulence, where Crystal had wound up falling backwards and onto his lap. Her expression was one of delightful surprise. He grabbed all six in the series and flipped through them quickly, resulting in a jerky replay of the scene. It was hard to believe she was gone, watching the brief romantic episode on Air Force One. "Any way that you can," he said. "Come back to me."
Angry tears fell from his eyes as he relived his life with Crystal through pictures. Her smiles tormented him, the way her face seemed to light up when they were together. Conrad's words echoed in his ears. He *had* been the one to suggest Crystal's advisory position and he had done it for his own selfish reasons. All that had gotten her was a year away from travel, what she loved to do. One of his best friends in the world, Sam, would probably never talk to him again. He had gotten Crystal killed. He never should have gone to work that fateful day. He should have stayed away from the Smithsonian.
In one quick movement, he cleared all the pictures off his desk, causing a shower of memories to fall to the floor. He no longer saw any point in living. He took the engagement ring out of his pocket and looked at the sparkling diamond. The thought of seeing it on Crystal's hand only made him feel worse. Whatever thoughts he had about settling down had gone up in the smoke of a war halfway across the world. He snapped the box closed and put it back in his pocket. For some reason, he could not bring himself to throw it across the room or put in the bottom of a desk drawer where it could be forgotten. Instead, he would carry it as a reminder of his selfishness and narcissistic ways. Even in her death, Crystal could offer him one last lesson.