Posted by Glynnis
Disclaimer: I own nothing and intend no copyright infringement.
Setting: A few hours after the events at the Newseum... Josh POV.
Where There's Smoke...
There are moments that burn their way into you indelibly.
This is not a new idea to me. When I was a boy and they told me that Joanie didn't survive the fire… that I'd left her there to die… I first knew this. But agonizing pain is an oddly transient thing. While the concept of it does stay with you vividly, your willingness to fully embrace it comes and goes.
Odd things will cause it to spark to the forefront, like suddenly being given a card and being told that if the apocalypse comes you will be taken to safety and all of the people you love most will not. Like being unable to sit through a movie in which people die in flames, but not being able to tell anyone why... Like seeing people you love gunned down in the street. Like surveying the aftermath of an assassination attempt and hearing someone say, "Harvard wasn't touched! Harvard is intact!"
Oh? Is that so? Why do I want to laugh and cry and scream whenever I remember them saying that? Intact? Untouched?
And now. Now that Leo's fighting for his life and I'm Acting Chief of Staff I find myself unable to live up to the title, unable to ACT. I possess knowledge that is going to devastate my President and his family. I know what caused those bigoted maniacs to do what they did.
I can't bear the thought of seeing Zoey's innocence die.
When Mandy told me I made a most un Leo-like noise. She reached out to me and I jerked my arm from her as though burned, muttering curses as I turned and stalked away. Her oddly detached concern only enraged me. Everyone else backed away. I know I should be projecting an aura of calm like Leo would if he were here. My failure only ticks me off more.
"Do I smell smoke?" I ask. Staff people begin to sniff the air, trying in vain to smell something other than fear.
I am afraid. A coward actually. I'm coward enough to be grateful that someone else will have to further embitter the fine young man I hired. Surely someone will tell Charlie before I'm able to get to the hospital and have to do it. Won't they? Isn't it enough that I have to destroy the beautiful innocence of a brash young woman who doesn't see race? I can't move. I can't bear the thought of telling them. This is exactly the kind of thing that Leo was… is… yes, IS… so good at. He is their lifelong friend. He is a second father to that extraordinary innocence. I don't want to do this.
Mrs. Landingham is beginning to look at me as though she fears for my sanity. Smart lady, Mrs. Landingham. God, how I wish Leo were here. God, how I wish… someone else… were here. I walk back out into the hallway. I need another moment before I can make myself do this. I need… I don't know what I need or what will or possibly could make this pain bearable. I just don't know.
I hate them. My anger burns nearly out of control, threatening to smother me. I really do hate them. I just want to go down to the courthouse and I want to take those guns and do to them what they did to Leo… what they did to CJ… what they did to Charlie… what they did to Toby.
Harvard is intact, my ass! I press my forehead against the wall and struggle to calm my breathing. I see Zoey's eyes flash through my mind. I see blood. I see flames. I see the flash of guns going off. I see the anguish in Danny Concannon's eyes as he watched them drive CJ away in the ambulance.
I could swear I smell smoke…
"Josh?" Donna whispers as she comes up behind me. I whirl at the sound of her voice. She's visibly shaking, still wearing her coat and carrying her purse as though seeing me was her first object in coming here. I realize that it was and I'm more grateful to see her than I should be.
She gasps, a choked sound, as I throw my arms around her and pull her tight against me. Donna. Here for me. The lifeline I need. I didn't know before, but I know now. My mind whirls as I remember thousands of conversations and thousands of times I've been able to rely on her. I feel the tears start down my face as I hold her, cooling the anger and fear. And then she's holding me, too. It's a taste of heaven right here in the middle of the hell this evening has been.
She murmurs, "Oh, Josh! When I heard… I'm so glad you weren't shot. Are you okay? What can I do? Anything! Just tell me. Oh, Josh."
I pull back and impulsively kiss her lips. I know as I kiss her that she can tell what I've realized. I can also tell that her feelings go beyond friendship, too. I savor the moment over the line of propriety, knowing I'll have to face my feelings for her when all of this is over. When I pull back after a long moment she looks stunned, but she pulls me close again and strokes my head and back, saying "It's okay, Josh. You'll be okay."
And that is everything I needed.
I whisper back, "Secret Service says I wasn't touched and am intact. What more could a guy ask for?"
She pushes a curl back on my forehead and looks at me with a grim smile. "What more, indeed…"
I sigh, my breathing more regular now. With a self-conscious glance at Mrs. Landingham I step back from Donna and say, "Thank you." I mutely promise her that we'll talk about our feelings soon. She understands me.
She smiles and says, "You're welcome. Thanks for not getting shot."
I quirk a small grin in spite of myself. Her gentle strength shines through to me. I breathe in deeply and exhale loudly.
She wipes the tears off my cheek, smoothes my shirt and says, "Are you ready now?"
I bite my lip and say, "I am." I nod. I lock gazes with her once more, feeling her will her strength to me.
She nods back and again places her cooling hand gently against my face. "I'll be right here, waiting for you."
I look at her gratefully and turn away from her and walk back to the door of the Oval Office. I enter the room and see all eyes turn to me. Mrs. Bartlett evaluates my appearance sharply, all business and protectiveness as she holds her daughter to her. The President leans against his desk, his shoulders hunched in anxiety of whatever is to come. Zoey looks up at me, tears running down her face.
I close my eyes for a second. I speak slowly as I look the President directly in the eye. "They… have arrested one of the gunmen, the one Agent Toscano spotted in the crowd, and they have taken his statement. He is a skinhead and attempted to assassinate you because you allowed your daughter to date a person of another race."
I hear Zoey's gasp and unwillingly look at her. Abbey clutches her daughter closer to her, though that did not seem possible a moment ago. I hear the President growl, beginning to feel the rage wash over him. But my eyes stay locked with Zoey's. "They're unbelievably stupid people, aren't they?" I choke out.
She nods as more tears flow. Yet she begins to take the guilt on herself. I see it filling her eyes. She chokes out, "Oh, God. They were after US." I want to scream and stop the guilt from burning her.
The President flinches at her words. Her mother protests. She repeats herself again and again.
And then I break free of my panic. I kneel before Zoey and almost yell, "So? What does that mean? If they were after me because I'm a Jew would that make it my fault instead of theirs?" I know I sound more harsh than I should, but I can't really control the anger, not anymore. Zoey blanches.
The President says, "Josh! What the hell…" I stand.
Zoey interrupts, "Daddy…" He moves toward us and she stands. "He's right."
The President breathes in and out loudly and echoes her, "You're right, Josh." I nod in reply while I look at Zoey.
She blinks her eyes rapidly and sways on her feet, but her strength is enough to keep innocence alight in her eyes and in her soul. I feel some of the tension drain from me.
I whisper to her, "Even before they acted, they were lost in ignorance and hate. Hold your head up high and show them. Show them the strength of love, of innocence that refuses to die."
Zoey's tears stop as Abbey's begin.
I blink back my own tears, turn back to the President and say, "Sam is writing your statement for tomorrow morning, sir. He'll have it on your desk within the hour."
The President nods. He moves to his wife and daughter. He says, "Tell Sam to expect me to revise it, Josh. I have some things I need to say about all of this."
I smile slightly and nod, "He expects that, sir."
The President nods in acknowledgement.
I try to think of what Leo would say next. "Sir. You should get some rest. You'll be notified the moment we have word on their progress." I try to sound positive and encouraging.
He only nods. "Maybe later, Josh. Maybe later. Thank you."
I nod my head at them and say, "Thank you, sir… ma'am… Zoey." Her eyes meet mine and I unabashedly admire the innocence that is still there… not untouched, but not burned away.
As I step out of the office a maintenance man approaches, "Did someone report smelling smoke here?"
Donna steps toward me from Mrs. Landingham's desk and I take her hand in mine, kiss it briefly and release it. I reply, "No. No smoke. I don't smell it… Do you?" Donna shakes her head and looks at me oddly as we walk back to my office.
I yell back to the maintenance man, "But I could really use a chair for my office!" Out of the corner of my eye I see Donna smile. I smile back.
Pain can burn into you indelibly, but a smile can quench your soul.