Title: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Author: Gabrielle Aurelius
Note: this story is basically a sister piece to "A Father's Love"; it's a different spin to it. Oh! and the last section is supposed to be in italics, except I don't know how to make italics work in email...so use your imagination ;)
I'd also like to say a special !Thanks! to Marie-Claire for giving me a bit of confidence to post this up *grin*
Summary: At the Newseum, Josh thinks he sees his sister, Joanie
Spoilers: Character death & spoilers for "ITSOTGM I" &"TCATW"; language warning
Feedback'd be nice :)
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
by Gabrielle Aurelius
CJ Cregg wandered amidst a sea of frantic people. Everywhere she looked, someone was either crying or wandering with a shocked, half-vacant expression on their face- and, in the back of her mind, she suspected she looked just like them.
CJ tried to shake off the numb feeling. She smoothed her hair distractedly as she continued to walk through the crowd. Next to her, a man held his sobbing wife; she watched them for awhile as if they were part of a dream. She wished she had someone to hold her.
A quiet moan steered her unconsciously towards a small staircase. She took each step slowly, as if climbing a steep hill to the tempo of gentle sobbing.
She reached the top of the staircase and glanced around.
What she saw strangled the breath in her throat.
"Josh..." CJ snapped instantly out of her stupor and kneeled next to her friend. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Josh?"
Tears were running down his face. His left hand was holding his side; blood stained his blue shirt.
Sam ran up behind her. "Hey, CJ, did you see-" He stopped abruptly in horror. "God, Josh!!!" Sam began to tremble violently.
"Sam," CJ said.
The deputy director of communications continued to stare down at Josh.
"Sam!" CJ shook her friend hard.
"What?" he cried, looking at her with tearing eyes. "I mean- can't you see- Josh?"
"Sam," CJ said, speaking in a steady tone. She prevented Sam from leaping to Josh's side. "You need to go get a doctor, okay? Josh isn't going to make it if we don't get him a medic. Understand? That's your job right now- find Josh a doctor, and get back here as quickly as you can."
Sam nodded, his eyes wide and tearing. "Okay. Yeah. I got it." With a last look at Josh, Sam took off sprinting, shoving people out of his way as he ran.
CJ turned back to Josh.
"Joanie, did you come...for me?" he was gasping, trying to take CJ's hand.
CJ jerked away for an instant, startled by the intensity and pain in Josh's eyes. Then she shook herself and leaned towards him. The way he was staring at her- like she was a ghost, or an angel- unnerved her.
"Joanie, look," Josh's fingers gripped her hand weakly. "I'm sorry...I want you to know..."
CJ bit back a sob. From shock and loss of blood, Josh was hallucinating. He thought she was his sister. CJ debated with herself for a second before smiling at Josh, trying to hide her tears. She stroked his cheek and whispered, "I'm here, Josh. I never left you."
The smile that crossed his face would break an angel's heart, CJ thought.
"Are you here...to take me home?" he whispered in a strained voice.
CJ almost lost it. Josh was talking about dying. She unsuccessfully tried to stifle a sob. "Josh, you're going to be alright. It's not your time yet."
"I can feel...you," he said, his eyes following her hands. "Why?"
"Because I'm here to watch over you," she said with a confidence she didn't really feel. "That's what big sisters do."
"Joanie," Josh said with sudden fervor. "I'm sorry...you know...all these years..." His body was wracked with sobs. "For leaving you..." He gagged and a thin line of blood ran from his mouth.
CJ did all she could to stop herself from screaming with panic. Where were the fucking medics?!
Josh started to slide towards the floor. CJ caught him and lowered him gently into her arms.
His eyes were opening and closing as if he couldn't see anything. "I just ran...all this time...I survived and..." Josh mumbled deliriously.
CJ wrapped him in her arms as well as she could without hurting him. "I'm here, Josh. I'm not going anywhere."
"Joanie..." Josh's voice came out in a sigh.
"It wasn't your fault, Josh. You were a little boy. I'm glad you ran out of the house- I couldn't have taken it if you'd died with me, Josh. I've been watching you all these years; watching you grow, and love, and learn... Because of you, I found the peace I was looking for." CJ continued to soothe Josh with her words, her fingers gently running through his hair. Josh clung to her like a little boy, one arm around her waist, and the other over the gunshot wound in his chest.
"You...came for me," Josh whispered, looking up into CJ's tear-streaked face. "We're going home?"
Tears fell from CJ's eyes. She didn't want him to keep worrying about dying; she could see fear haunting his expression. Smiling down at him as best she could, CJ nodded. "I'm here to take you home. You won't have to go alone, Josh."
He choked out a weak laugh. "You always...took care of me...I never told you how much...I loved you...how I worshipped...you..." The line of blood trailing from his mouth grew slightly wider.
CJ bent closer to him and kissed him tenderly on the cheek. "I know, Josh. You don't have to tell me that. That's what big sisters are for."
Slowly, the fear melted from his face. He smiled at CJ. "I love you," he said painfully, each word causing him to breathe harder.
"I love you, too, Joshua."
"Say...our prayer," he gasped. His hand tightened convulsively in CJ's.
CJ's mind whirled. Prayer? What prayer???
"Now I lay me down..." Josh gasped, as if trying to say it with her. But his strength failed him and he had to stop, his body wracked painfully with coughs.
CJ quickly took the lead. She cradled Josh in her arms and said gently into his ear, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep..."
Josh was breathing harder and his eyes kept fluttering shut. He valiantly fought to stay conscious, desperately needing to hear his sister's words.
Watching Josh struggle broke CJ's heart. She stroked his hair and continued to whisper, her voice trembling with every word. "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take," she finished, tears streaming down her face. "Amen."
Josh's eyes rolled back into his head.
"Josh?" CJ screamed. "Oh my God- Josh?" She sobbed as she drew him closer.
Josh stirred in her arms, his eyes struggling to open. For a moment, his gaze wavered. Something in his eyes changed, then held. "My...Claudia-Jean..." he whispered, and smiled a final, painful time. Then, the mist passed over his expression again, and his hand slid out of hers.
"JOSH!!!" CJ cried. She checked desperately for a pulse, her fingers shaking. She could find nothing. She pressed her ear to his chest, straining to hear a heartbeat- anything, any sign that he was still alive. She heard nothing.
Behind her, three medics came rushing up the stairs, hauling their equipment with them. A distraught Sam was two paces behind.
"M'am, you're going to have to step aside," one medic ordered CJ, trying to pry her away from Josh.
"Go to hell!" she screamed. "You didn't come in time, any of you!!!" She sobbed and held Josh closer.
One medic stepped close enough to take Josh's pulse and examine him, attempting to ignore the agitated woman next to him. After a moment, he turned to his colleagues. They joined him and pried CJ away from Josh.
"Get your hands off her!" Sam yelled, instantly at CJ's side.
The medics worked on Josh, one performing CPR, while another took his pulse. CJ couldn't look at their efforts to bring Josh back; she turned away and hid her face in Sam's shoulder. Sam, however, stared in a near-catatonic state at his best friend's lifeless body and at the medics trying to revive him. After several minutes passed without success, the medics brought a stretcher up the stairs. They intended to take Josh to GW to have a doctor pronounce his time of death.
Sam, however, leapt up and shoved them aside. A look of raw horror and disbelief was plastered across his face.
"Sir," one of the medics said, his hands out, attempting to calm Sam down.
"Leave," Sam grated.
"But procedure, Sir-"
"Fuck procedure!" Sam yelled. At the startled faces of the medics, Sam seemed to remember himself. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. He buried his face in his hands and drew in a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry." He wiped his tears away with the backs of his hands; more fell in their places. "Thank you for trying to help," he said in a subdued voice.
The three medics walked a respectful distance away to wait until they would be needed to carry Josh to the ambulance. Sam turned back to CJ.
CJ, meanwhile, had stood up slowly, then gone back to where she had been sitting not ten minutes ago. She gathered Josh into her arms again and began rocking back and forth. After a moment of silence, Sam knelt beside her and helped her bear Josh's weight. Sam then drew CJ into his arms, Josh supported between them, an eerie part of their embrace.
"This isn't happening," Sam said in a shaky voice. "Not to him."
"He thought I was Joanie," CJ cried, her tears falling on Josh's shirt. "He kept asking if I was here to take him home..." she trailed off, sobbing.
Gathering his strength for CJ, Sam forced her to look at him. "CJ." When she finally turned to him, her eyes red and tearing, Sam looked her straight in the eyes. "CJ, you were here for him when he needed you most. Because of you, he didn't have to die alone."
CJ stared back at him blankly for a second, still shaking. Then, Sam's words gradually sunk in. She nodded once, jerkily, and then looked down at Josh's pale face.
"Thanks, Sam," she said softly. She ran her hands through Josh's hair one last time. "Bye, my Joshua," she whispered as she stooped to kiss him on the forehead. "Sleep well."
Then, tears falling freely from both their faces, Sam and Claudia-Jean lifted Josh onto the stretcher and carried him towards the waiting ambulance.
Surrounded in white light, a little boy watched two people carry a man on a stretcher into an ambulance. The pain on their faces made him want to cry.
He watched the man with the sad eyes help the woman up into the ambulance. Together, they sat beside the stretcher, gazing at their friend.
The little boy wanted to go to them and comfort them, but he knew that wasn't his place.
The man suddenly turned his face aside with a loud sob. The woman instantly drew him into her arms, holding him tightly, his face buried in her hair. Together, they held each other and cried.
The little boy knew that they would be alright someday; their friendship would support them.
He watched them until the doors were pushed shut and the solemn ambulance pulled away, wailing into the night.
He stood with a sigh. He was still vaguely confused. He didn't have many memories of who he was, or where he had been up until this moment; they were all a mass of faces and voices, tangled up together. Once every few minutes, though, he would stagger with the sudden knowledge of some part of his past life. He knew it would all eventually come back to him.
A giggle echoed from somewhere behind him. The little boy turned, surprised.
A girl, maybe three years older than he, was standing there staring at him.
The boy stared back; he knew her somehow. She was as young and pretty as he remembered. A flood of memories streamed into his mind.
"Joshua," she said with a sigh, putting her hand on her hip, "I've been waiting for you." She grinned down at him.
"Joanie?" he asked, his voice below a whisper.
"Yes, silly," she laughed. "C'mon!" She grabbed his hand and began running, pulling him along with her.
"Where are we going?" Josh asked, running with her, his heart exulting- finally, after so many years, he was with her again. His sister was alive- they were both alive- and he was with her. He laughed aloud and squeezed her hand. Thirty-five years of guilt lifted from his heart.
"Home," she answered, smiling at him as they ran. "Dad and I have been waiting a long time for you."
"I've been waiting all my life," Josh said with a bright smile.
"Oh yeah?" she said, rising to the challenge, "I've been waiting all your life, too."
Hand in hand, the two children ran deeper into the sunlight, their laughter pealing over heaven.