-sequel to Perimo
Note: You'll quickly find that the timeline has been set approximately three years after the finish of Perimo, two years before the end of Bartlet's second term. Hope this is easily understandable and that some are still interested in a plot not unlike the one set up in the previous series. Again, thank you for reading and feedback would be marvelous; yes, you have to read Perimo first to understand much of this one!
Note #2: You'll also see that, particularly with the Prologue, I made an effort to, if nothing else, convey the intimacy of both the time in their lives and living situation. That was my ultimate goal, so if it's a little too sappy without any smut, I apologize... perhaps that can come later?
Disclaimer: They aren't mine.
Spoilers: Uhmmm just a few little things, nothing really heavy yet.
Rating: Probably a light R, for sex and language
I think I have to say this one is for Jessica, who brainstormed with me on the plot and gave me so many ideas, that I have to say this plotline is at least half hers (I bow in your general direction, oh creative one!); and for Claudie, who beta read over half of Perimo, gave me ideas, critiqued, and was the most faithful feedback-er a girl could ask for (You are an angel, I swear!). Thanks very much, both of you!
Discordia - (Latin) adj., at variance; n., disagreement, mutiny.
He slowed his breathing deliberately, taking in shaky breaths as he placed a soft kiss on her shoulder, moving slowly down her frame and placing an equally warm kiss just below her navel. His hands came to rest below his face, upon the soft swell of her stomach, communicating to their child with each caress and murmur as he fell into sleep.
CJ smiled, sliding her hand down to cover his, the other cradling his head against her breast. The silver chain at her neck was cool against the warmth of her skin, and her eyes remained on it as she drifted into her own thoughts.
The celebration of Hanukkah had passed, and Christmas was fast approaching. Toby had proposed to her almost a year before, but by October her fingers were swollen, and it was almost painful to remove the ring, and so, he'd given her the chain and fastened it around her neck with a kiss and caress in a moment not unlike the one she was savoring.
When asked by Abbey or Josh, both of whom felt as if they should defend her honor and nag them to marry immediately, for a definite date, she would smile to herself and quote the number of years and days left in Bartlet's Administration. The day before, CJ'd laughed and said, "Two years, twenty-nine days".
Her hand stroked Toby's beard as she thought, in moments like the one she was experiencing, that she'd begun to count the minutes. Yet, as she felt his hand beneath hers and the now-familiar heaviness in her belly, weddings, marriage, and legal documents seemed of little importance. For, she smiled, they had made the greatest commitment of all, and the resulting hormones combined with the approaching holidays, had turned her into a rather sappy human being. Tears burned almost gratefully at her eyes as he nuzzled closer to her breast, and she again stroked his beard as his eyes slid open.
And again, CJ knew, that in moments of beauty and timelessness, like the one that soon approached as he slid inside her, she held the world in her arms.
Hours later, day broke in brilliant shards of darkness and light awash in color, and it was Toby who woke with a dream in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder, their child covered protectively by her hand and cushioned against his side. He awoke her with a kiss as he slid from the bed, whispering: "Wake up, Claudia Jean. We have to be at the Wing in an hour and a half, and that mandatory celebration of Bartlet's is tonight."
CJ groaned and rolled into her pillow, wondering all the while why the President had suddenly decided to celebrate Christmas and demand they all be in attendance before departing for home.
"CJ, you have to wake up," Toby called, standing in the frame of the bathroom door, and she smiled as her eyes roved over him, gloriously naked. He disappeared with an almost-seductive smile, "If you hurry, I'll wash your back," he promised, and as quickly as she could, CJ stood and walked into the bathroom, hands poised over her stomach.
And there he stood, checking the temperature of the shower, as he waited for her. Toby stood to his full height, almost matching hers, as he watched her approach and marveled to himself that she looked something like a Goddess, perhaps Aphrodite before the birth of Aeneas, full breasts and round stomach, and she caught the look in his eye as he offered her his hand, helping her into the tub. Smiling, CJ turned her back to him and he slid his arms around her, and she laughingly thanked both God and Santa Claus, wondering just how she'd gotten so lucky.
The old adage "All good things must come to an end" bounced at the corner of her mind, but she pushed it away, refusing its entrance, soap gliding over her shoulders and thoughts of Christmas with the family of her very own making filling her thoughts.
The day had been filled with technicalities, little things that demanded completion: press briefings whose messages contained wishes for a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, prepping each deputy or assistant to take over, calling in others from the temp pool, and of course, the Staff Christmas Party.
The others had filed into the Residence, arms laden with gifts, smiles hesitantly
brought forth by the explosion of Christmas spirit that met their senses in the form of
Christmas lights and gingerbread. Toby and CJ wandered in a few moments late, flush-faced
and smiling, her laughing at his attempt to carry all of the presents himself,
eliminating, in his mind, any undue stress for her. They'd been caught beneath the
mistletoe, and smilingly complied to the superstition, lips crushing lips, tongues
intertwined, eyes smiling whilst their lips could not.
Abbey and the President exchanged amused glances as CJ scolded Toby for dropping the bag of presents so thoughtlessly. "You're sure they're not married already?" Jed had whispered, warm breath against his wife's ear, and she laughed, patting his still strong hands with her own. Before either could greet the last arrivals properly, CJ deposited herself carefully on the floor after finding no available seats, and Toby dropped behind her, his legs sliding along hers as he pulled her back against him.
Sam and Josh chuckled, exchanging looks as Donna and Ginger 'aww-ed' at their bosses, then wrinkling their noses and gazing at them as if they'd caught their parents kissing. "Eww..."
The atmosphere of quiet observance that had descended was shattered then, and the room fell to laughter.
Before Bartlet could begin by offering hors d'oeuvres or reciting verbatim The Christmas Story, Sam and Josh again exchanged little-boy grins and conspiratorial winks, moving quickly to the floor before CJ and Toby. Both looked at them warily as Sam handed her a gift bag, grinning expectantly.
"Open it!" his squeal reminded Abbey and Jed of the girls on Christmases long past, hand-made gifts in hand-made bags, given with reverence to mother and father, who would love anything regardless.
"Okay..." CJ chuckled, eyebrows arched, her eyes sliding around the room for a clue as to what she was getting herself into, yet receiving none. Toby's hands slid to her hips as she lifted a small white ventilated box from the bag, popping the top loose and peeking inside. "Oh..." she sighed, laughing softly to herself as Toby peeked over her shoulder with a barely concealed shriek.
"Uh... Josh, that... that's a rat!" Toby informed him, much to his and Sam's mutual amusement, all the while pointing at the furry brown and white creature, beady eyes focusing in on him. CJ curled her fingers before it, and after sniffing her, the small animal climbed into her hand and she lifted it to her eye level.
"It's a hamster, Toby!" Sam laughed, bouncing much like Josh always had.
"He's adorable," CJ smiled at them, her shoulders shaking with the effort required to contain her laughter.
Slowly, she placed the hamster back into the bar and slid the top shut, letting her laughter spill through, even as Toby shrank back, still muttering, "It's a rat. I hate rats!" which, in turn, caused the rest of the room to let their laughter through as well.
"We bought cages, here, you've got to see this!" Sam grinned, tugging over two large boxes and another small one. "We thought, me and Josh I mean, that you need a pet. Every kid deserves a pet!" he smiled, eyes dropping to CJ's stomach as Toby's hand moved over it, stroking his child even as she shifted within her mother.
"And we thought you might get bored at home when you're on leave," Josh shrugged, "We were going to buy you a kitten, but Doctor Bartlet said too many diseases were contracted from cat litter; toxi-something-or-other."
Toby's eyes found the First Lady, narrowing to glare at her, his hand moving in a circular motion as CJ relaxed against him, leaning her head backward against his shoulder. "Gee, thanks," he complained, before turning his attention back to his fiancée, who watched in quasi-morbid-fascination as Sam and Josh excitedly assembled the two cages, connecting them with tubes pulled from the smaller boxes.
Around the room, others exchanged tokens of friendship or affection, Leo smiling as he handed Margaret a box containing a silk scarf he'd seen her admire from a magazine, Donna grinning to herself as she lifted a two-toned necklace from a jewelry box Josh had handed her as she sat beside them, still pretended to assemble the hamster cages, fiddling with the water bottle as he waited for her reaction. She placed a kiss upon his cheek, and he, unsuccessfully, tried to hide his answering smile as he turned his attention to Donna, and Sam placed the hamster, still in the box, inside the larger of the two cages.
"You can let him loose when you're home, and there's a wheel here that you should stick on the side, he'll run on it. For, you know, exercise," he quickly explained, disappearing in search of Mallory, a wrapped box in hand.
CJ grinned back at Toby, his hands sliding to cross over her stomach as she leaned fully against him, his lips kissing the top of her head, not leaving when they should have departed. Smiling, Toby inhaled her shampoo, smelling rose hips and chamomile, and let out a breath as he removed one hand, fishing into his bag with the other. Taking her hand in his, he dropped a small velvet case in her grasp. His hand found its way back to her stomach and he waited as she turned to peer at him curiously, then looked back at the box, lifting the lid slowly.
Tears soon filled her eyes, spilling over onto her eyelashes as she blinked furiously, lifting a filigree chain from the box, an intricately designed locket at the center. Fingers sliding over the delicate necklace, she slid her fingernail into the locket, popping it open, and her face broke into a smile as she saw a tiny picture of herself and Toby just inside the locket, the other side blank.
"Read the inscription," he whispered gruffly into her ear, hoping beyond hope that she'd like his words, fearing they sounded far less elegant than any State speech he'd written.
Her words were soft, eyes clouded with tears, as she bit her lip then read, "To my
love - for giving me family," then her eyes slid to the empty spot, and read the
placeholder, "Rachel Ziegler..." as her tears spilled over.
Toby twisted around to face her when he heard a soft sob escape, and he lifted his fingers wordlessly wipe the tears from her face, and a soft smile lit his face as she whispered, "I love it, Toby. It's... beautiful, so very beautiful." And he laid a soft kiss upon her brow, cuddling her closer into his arms as both ignored the activity around the room, other lovers and husbands and wives far too concerned with their own to look their way.
But, had they given them a second glance as the President and First Lady did, they would have seen Toby's hands again stroking her stomach as he cradled her against his chest. One of her hands rested against his chest, the other against the top of her stomach, a beautiful necklace draped over the neckline of her dress, as tears dried on her cheeks. His lips moved in what could only be described as a lull-a-bye not meant to cause sleep, and hers curled into a contented smile, her fingers winding into the fabric of his shirt.
CJ groaned and shifted in Toby's embrace, frowning. "What's wrong?"
"Every fifteen minutes," she huffed, moving to push herself up, "it's time for a bathroom break!" Toby chuckled, eyes alight with a strange mixture of wonder and amusement, and stood, offering her both of his hands.
Moments later, CJ was on her way, and Toby slid his hands in his pockets, watching as she disappeared around the corner.
"Toby," the President called, pulling him back from his thoughts. The Communications Director attempted to pull on his most professional expression, and turned to face the President and First Lady. "How are you doing?"
Toby raised his eyebrows, slightly startled by the question, "Uhm, fine?"
"No soon-to-be-a-daddy jitters?" The President asked, exchanging an amused look with Abbey.
Toby's eyes softened, and he smiled, feeling a familiar hand on his shoulder, the scent of chamomile and rose hips lingering in the air as she approached. He turned to look at CJ, the word "no" passing his lips. The three turned to gaze at their Press Secretary, her hand again molded against her stomach, the curve skimming fabric drawn closer to her body. Toby's eyes narrowed slightly as his eyes ran over her face, taking in her tinted pallor. "How do you feel?" he asked, and his hand inconspicuously gravitated toward hers, fingers unclasped but grazing.
"Hungry?" she chuckled, suggesting without much encouragement that he find her food and a seat.
Toby nodded, "Something dry?" and headed for the appetizers when he had her approval.
The President stood and stepped to her side, then guided her to his seat. "You don't look well, Claudia Jean," he spoke, glancing at Abbey as CJ lowered herself into the chair.
"I'm fine," she assured them, waving her hands through the air, "Just hungry and tired, of course," CJ chuckled, "I'm always hungry and tired and... queasy."
"And horny?" Abbey supplied, mischief dancing in her eyes, causing her husband to burst into laughter and CJ to blush. Abbey grinned, congratulating herself on her ability to liven up a party. "Well, as I recall," she slid her eyes suggestively to Bartlet, "Pregnant sex is the best in quality and quantity, next to make-up sex, that is. Has something to with hormones, and the way they," she indicated the men, "look at you. All proud of their accomplishment and full of more desire than they ever have been before."
Toby approached and coughed, hearing the end of the conversation. The President removed the plate and glass from his grip, handing both to CJ. "Let's... go," he sighed, and Toby nodded, sending a single longing look in CJ's direction before they departed.
"Well?" Abbey laughed devilishly, an eyebrow raised as CJ contemplated her answer.
"Toby loves me," she began carefully, her words strong, "it took me a long time to understand that, to believe it. And I love him. And," CJ paused, smiling as she got to the topic Abbey had focused in on, "he's been so reverent, since we found out, so gentle and loving and beautiful. And the sex is... wonderful, it's like, I don't know, nothing I've experienced before or since quite compares."
Abbey chuckled, "I understand that," a wistful expression upon her face, "Yes, that man loves you very much. He worships you, Claudia Jean Cregg, you and that baby. You're wearing his ring," she tapped the silver chain she'd worn for three months and would wear for nearly two more, "and his heart," Abbey indicated the locket she'd advised him about so kindly, "Now when are you going to accept his name?"
"Well?" the President prodded, halting next to Charlie, who was watching Zoey
present Leo with his Christmas gift. "How is she really?" His paternal side
shone through as the three men turned to CJ and Abbey.
Something within Toby's eyes sparked as he watched them converse, Abbey saying something that caused CJ's face to flush a deep crimson. His gaze drifted downward, and the blush sank from her cheeks to her neck to the tops of her breasts revealed by the low neckline, and his eyes moved to again capture hers.
"She's... wonderful," he paused, smiling again, "She's tired all the time now. I come home from work and she's asleep on the couch with her reading glasses still perched on her nose, briefs spilling onto the carpet, most days." Toby's expression was wistful, as he drifted backward to the same scene he was describing.
"And the baby?" Jed asked, grinning with Toby as Charlie just shook his head, unable to grasp the spirit of fatherly pride that permeated their corner of the room.
"It's a girl," Toby grinned again, long-forgotten happiness in his words. "We've decided to name her Rachel, after my mother. It was CJ's idea," he chuckled, "she claims that any woman strong enough to deal with Toby Ziegler as a child had to be as feisty as she already feels our daughter is."
Jed laughed, the sound full-bodied and as much like Santa Claus as Charlie thought he ever would. "That's our CJ!" A few moments passed and Jed's eyes turned to his wife, lost in memories of years and Christmases past. "I remember the first time I felt each of the girls, when they'd just begun kicking Abbey. I think she was worried I'd become permanently attached for all the time I spent reading to each of them, whether it was from a college text book, poetry, or a political brief. It's very important, you know, reading to them."
"And music," Toby added, "and talking, touching."
Jed nodded, pausing, "CJ's a beautiful woman, Toby, intelligent, gentle, and very witty. You've done well, making her so happy," he smiled, patting Toby's shoulder, "and safe." Before the conversation could continue, the President's thoughts turned to three years before and the traumas she'd struggled with, that they'd all fought with her. For months after a madman had driven her into the Potomac on a suicide mission reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, she'd cringed before climbing into her own car, gripped the seats near-painfully when Toby drove, and refused to get into a car with anyone else. When they'd driven for a campaign speech just outside of Washington, Josh had ridden along, and though CJ loved him as dearly as any of her brothers, she had felt tears in her eyes as she fought against a panic attack. Eventually the ride culminated to CJ's insistence that Toby pull over in a rural area, where she exited the car, fighting the urge to vomit.
Bartlet jerked his thoughts back to the present, and noticed the slight darkening of his eyes, realizing that Toby had been there to. For all that they'd seen and heard of those months after that early winter day, Toby had been the only one to see it all. He was the only one that knew she still dreamed of reeds that whispered "Romeo and Juliet" and heard a voice as ancient and evil as any of Satan's angels scream: "If I can't have you, no one can!" Though the dreams were few and far between, it was Toby who woke with her and held her as she trembled, and it was he that had wiped away tears and slept with the bedroom light on for weeks.
"So, son," Jed grinned easily, and Toby raised an eyebrow, focusing on his words, while Charlie laughed, "when are you going to do the right thing by her and your daughter? I imagine Rachel would like her parents to be married."
Toby shook his head and chuckled, "Actually, I don't think Rachel cares about that right now. It's CJ's decision sir, and she wants to wait until the end of the Administration, when there's nothing left as an obstacle, when it's just us. But for the record, we've decided on January 23rd 2006, so that Josh can get drunk at the Inaugural Ball and won't be hungover at the wedding." The three men laughed with gusto, and CJ's eyes flitted back up to Toby as his fell to hers, laughter brimming at his lips. She smiled at him, cocking her head sideways, and he could almost feel the warmth of her lips from across the room as she too began to laugh at the First Lady's expression of amused disgust.
He'd always wondered how she did that, made him laugh and smile and cry just by the expression on her face. The words never seemed to come to him, yet when his eyes again reached hers, he could see in her smile and her laughter and her tears that love was only the beginning.
She woke with a cry caught in her throat, hair fanned out against the pillow, her body curled into as much of a ball as she could manage, spooned against her fiancé.
"Toby!" CJ growled, cursing beneath her breath, "Toby, wake up!" her voiced raised an octave, and she rolled onto her back and reached beside her to slap his arm.
"What?" he yelped, catapulting into a seated position, his head turning to her, eyes and voice frantic. "What's wrong? Bad dream, again?"
"Help," she croaked, waving her hand toward the sheets, "Leg cramp, it hurts," CJ whimpered. In mere moments, Toby scooted toward the foot of the bed and had taken her calf into his hand, massaging away the tension as tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. Finally, she let her arms fall back to the bed and her eyelids fluttered as she watched him, exhaustion playing across her features. "I'm sorry, Toby," CJ whispered.
"It's okay," he whispered back, and leaned down to place a kiss against her ankle, "don't cry. Go back to sleep, it's early yet," his voice was soothing, "Go back to sleep, Claudia Jean."
Toby watched as her eyes fell shut, and her leg slipped from his hands, then he leaned back against the headboard, cradling her in his arms, and decided Christmas Eve would have to wait for a few more hours.
It invaded his sleep, the sound of squeaks and muffled creaking seemingly slipping from one room to another. "CJ?" Toby sighed, groggy, as he felt her hand close around his shoulder, molding her body against his back. Slowly, his mind cleared, fog dancing at the edge of consciousness, ebbing as the tides.
"Mmmm..." she moaned, nuzzling her face against the back of his neck, her
legs tucked into his, the swell of her stomach pressed against him.
Toby shivered, even as she moved closer, and then sighed, feeling himself respond to her movements. Silently, he shook himself, and again whispered, "CJ?"
CJ breathed deeply, smiling as she inhaled his scent, then let her breath out slowly, warmth tickling the hair on the back of his neck. Her eyes slid open lazily, falling on the clock that proclaimed 4:12 in perhaps the brightest lettering she'd ever seen. Again, she closed her eyes against it, and finally replied, "Yes, Toby?"
"I've lived here for two years, correct?" he felt her nod, "Yeah. Well, I've never heard anything like that, well, racket." Toby's hand slid beside him as he rolled to his back, and began a slow track down her torso, memorizing flesh with his fingertips.
"Hmmm," she purred in response, then giggled, "It's the hamster, Toby. They're nocturnal animals. I'm guessing he's on the wheel," CJ paused, "Perhaps he's lonely?"
"Don't even think about it!" Toby growled, propping up on one elbow as he faced her, hand dipping down to trace along the elastic of her underwear.
"Oh, of course not," she smiled, taking his hand in hers and bringing it to her lips, "We have it good, don't we, Toby?"
He said nothing, only smiled, letting his hand trace circles over her middle, the abode of his still sleeping child, the sounds of hamster activity fading into the background as he returned CJ's gaze, slowly moving to hover over her, tongues and lips teasing each other.
"You're tired," Toby whispered as she sighed, and he placed a kiss upon her forehead before pulling her to cuddle closer still. "Go to sleep, angel. I'll wake you after the sun rises."
Her breathing evened out as she gave in to the beckoning darkness, and the hamster moved to bury himself beneath his cedar chips, fighting to ignore the coming dawn.
The door stood open, captured in CJ's hands, and she grinned when she identified her visitors.
"Stockings, CJ?" Toby called from the living area, then walked to the hall. He matched her expression, whispering, "Merry Christmas, Claudia Jean," into her hair, a hand resting on her shoulder.
CJ looked at him, astonishment in her gaze, as she stepped from behind the door to envelope the oldest of her visitors in her embrace. "Daddy!" she whispered, smiling at the remaining two men over her father's shoulders. "Thank you."
"Never thought I'd leave Napa for all this snow, did you sweetheart?" His voice was strong and full despite his advanced age.
She laughed, pulling back, and answered, "No, I suppose I didn't!"
"Thank your Toby. We're his Christmas present to you," he pointed at his daughter's lover, and she smiled at him again.
"Beanpole, are you gonna let us in or not?" her youngest brother asked, balancing several gifts on one arm, the other hand at his hip.
Indignantly, CJ sighed, "I'm hardly a beanpole anymore, Matthew," as she stepped away from the door, indicating her midsection.
All three men moved further into the room, and CJ's father grinned at his sons as she moved closer to Toby, kissing his cheek. "You give me so much," she whispered into his ear, refusing to let tears prick at her eyes. "And these hormones are going to kill me."
Toby chuckled and slipped his arm around her back as CJ's family, her men, exchanged conspiratorial glances.
"Look at my daughter," the elder Cregg laughed, smacking his hands together, "And I thought I'd never be a grandfather!" His words held a certain amount of sincerity even as he laughed, something Toby identified as a familial trait. "You should be sitting, sweetheart."
"I'm not a child, Daddy, nor am I an invalid," she rolled her eyes, fighting the twitching of her lips.
"He knows," her previously silent brother spoke. "But it's easier for us to talk to our little niece or nephew if you're seated, not to mention the opening of presents..."
"You should relax, CJ," Toby concurred, "especially with the leg cramps you've been having lately."
"That's normal, Toby," she sighed, but she winked and led the way to the living room. "You know, while you four conspire and wait for Josh and Donna, I'm going to take that shower I missed while oversleeping." Her hand came to rest self-consciously against the fabric of her robe.
Matthew smiled as he and William sat, "Okay," he answered, then began spreading presents around him, an interrogative gleam in his eyes as his gaze fixed on Toby.
"You look beautiful, sweetheart," her father added, and she squeezed Toby's hands before departing for the bedroom.
She'd seen the look in her brothers' eyes, the one that used to scare away the neighborhood boys, but would only make Toby chuckle uncomfortably; the one that belied her brothers' occupations as police officer and reporter. Throwing off her robe, she turned on the shower and adjusted the spray, moving to the dresser and answering the bedroom phone as it rang.
A hand fell to her stomach as she felt her daughter shift. "Hello?" she sighed into it, but received no answer. "Hello? Hello?" Finally, she dropped the phone back into the cradle, annoyed, and returned to the bathroom, clearing her mind.
And another hand gripped a different phone across the city, never tearing it from his ear.
"How's our baby, Claudia?" he began to say, before realizing that no one was there. "You hung up on me," he hissed, dropping the phone back to the base. "You won't keep me away from my daughter."
"Move over, old man," CJ chuckled, pushing Toby's legs aside as she fell against his side on the couch.
"You gotta stop doing things like that CJ, or I swear I'm going to have a broken rib or two as a result," Toby grinned, his words sanctimonious and humor-filled at the same time, causing the other men in the room to grin and his CJ to swat at him with a dangerous look in her eye.
"It's your own fault," she reminded him, then started as the phone rang again. "Dammit."
"What? The phone?" William asked, his lips quirking upward in a grin. "Work interrupts your romantic interludes frequently, I take it?"
Toby grinned and CJ snorted, "This is hardly an interlude, big brother," and her hand closed over the phone as she lifted it from the cradle. "Hello?" she turned away from Toby, who was grinning at her in a manner she found altogether too suspicious, and the tiniest bit arousing. He watched with a grin as her face flushed and then turned to look at her brothers and father, who sat across from them, grinning at their 'little Claudia' and her antics.
"She's cute when she's flustered," Matthew laughed, then leaned forward, hands clasped on his knees as he spoke quietly to Toby. "She's doing okay, right, man?"
Toby sighed and smiled, shaking his head at the familiar mannerism. No wonder CJ had always had a soft spot for Josh, for Toby had a feeling that not only did the younger man worry like the Deputy Chief of Staff, that he played and worked just like him as well. "CJ's doing fine, wonderful even. Last year..." he paused, his voice trailing off, "She's gonna be okay, it's taken me a while to realize that."
Even as he spoke, he could hear CJ sigh into the receiver, "Hello?" and again she received no answer. Her father watched as she rolled her eyes, then raised an eyebrow as she echoed the words again. "Hello? Anyone there?" After another pause, she hung the phone up, stood to her feet, shook her head similarly to her brother, and walked into the kitchen, an odd look plastered upon her face and a hand at the small of her back.
It was a strange feeling - one she'd tried to deny again - but it sort of crept up her spine and made the hairs stand on the back of her neck, as if a slimy creature were moving over her skin at a snail's pace, frightening her slowly, raising her to awareness that nothing she could do could knock the gremlin away. Shaking herself, CJ turned to the refrigerator, removed the jam, then located peanut butter, and began making herself a sandwich. She turned away from the plate before her and held the knife underneath the stream of water flowing from the tap, her eyes and mind getting lost in an undercurrent she'd barely managed to pull herself from months before. And, CJ sighed, she could feel it again. The guilt of letting a man die as she listened to his screams, the fear as he murmured words of a twisted sort of devotion, the cries that echoed Shakespeare and stalker alike. And then came the water, weighing against her clothes as blood seeped from beneath her bindings. A gasp against water that fought to control, the begging for a breath of air, and a sharp cry that echoed through her brain, "Oh God. Oh Toby." CJ shuddered, lost in her own memories, as the Potomac closed around her again, drawing her deeper as she wriggled against death and its tentacles, then throwing her forth against the shore as if it were rejecting her for her lack of taste. Wet and tired and hungry and lost, Toby had found her there, rescued her, and loved her more than she felt she dared to ask for, to deserve. And the water streamed still over the dull blade of the caseknife, splitting the stream as if it were the Tigris and Euphrates, and her reflection rippled against the sterling silver as Toby entered the kitchen.
"CJ?" he whispered, catching the look on her face, the sound of running water washing over both he and her father as they stood in the doorway. And then, Toby stepped forward, and in moments stood directly behind her, and moved to place his hand against her shoulder. Almost touching her, he drew his hand back, his voice rough with worry and a need to reassure and protect her against an enemy he did not know.
Again, his hand moved forward of its own accord, as if a separate entity, and his mother's long forgotten words echoed around the far reaches of his mind. "Better the devil you do, than the devil you don't." It was moments like this, he reasoned, that the words held meaning, though he'd rather they didn't. Easier to fight the devil you know than the devil you don't, and Toby's hand hovered over the cotton material of her sweater as he sighed, knowing from the expression of fear and troublesome intent on her face as she stared at the flow of the water, that the devil, the demon, she was fighting was one he'd met far too many times before, one he still wasn't sure how to fight. "Rather the devil you do, than the devil you don't," he'd always been told, but, Toby wondered, what if the devil you do know, is the same as the devil you don't?
And finally, as if he'd stood there for hours when it had only been minutes, his hand came to rest upon her shoulder and she jumped, her limbs jerking, and the caseknife fell into the sink, splattering against the thin layer of water. Her hands came to rest against the basin's edge, realizing it was Toby, her fiancé, her lover, her savior, behind her, and not a monster that she'd worried wasn't quite hidden away in her closet. CJ sighed, the closet door just didn't seem to close.
Toby reached around her and pushed the lever downward, turning off the water, then manually turned her toward him, her eyes meeting his, a shared trouble passing between them.
"That phone call..." her voice was strained, and her father could barely hear it as he moved to stand at the bar, still hearing his sons arguing lightly in the living room. "He's not dead, Toby."
"True evil never dies?" she questioned, laughing without mirth, "He's not dead, Toby, and I don't mean figuratively. He was on the phone. I can feel... I can feel it, I'm not crazy and I'm not... it was him, Toby."
His eyes searched hers, finding truth and fear and concern as their hands conjoined over the swell of her stomach, the child moving beneath them, and they promised each other, eyes never leaving the other's, mouths never opening, that the child would be safe.
They'd dragged the river for days, first as rescue then as recovery, as police and diver team procedure mandated. And then, with Presidential power and fear of the monsters beneath the bed and in the closet reigned, they extended the search another 72 hours, and another after that. And the car was removed, driver's side seatbelt slashed at the side, hunting knife carving a pattern into the passenger seat, stabbed into the leather as if it were nothing. A car and a knife and a never-broken-spirit left behind, Bowman's body was never found though the river had been dragged for weeks, and Toby knew then that a watery grave did not suit him, for he was not there.
"I believe you," he whispered, and came to rest his forehead against hers, taming the wildness of her eyes with his words as worry almost consumed him. "Oh God help us, I believe you."
Her father stood fixated, the abandoned sandwich inches away from where his hand came to rest as he pondered over what he should do or say, not understanding the procedures or the problems or exactly what had happened... before. He wanted to say, "It's going to be okay, Claudia Jean, I'll protect you, sweetheart," or "No one's going to hurt my little girl, ever again," but instead, he just sighed, and moved behind Toby, clapping a hand on his shoulder and squeezing CJ's arm so lightly she barely felt it, "Tell me what I can do, sweetheart," he whispered, "Tell me what Daddy can do."
And then, as Toby reached for the phone and the President and the protection that came with it and him, and her father's arms came around her, the tears welled in her eyes and she began to cry. "Not again, please," she wept, "not again."
Minutes later, Toby lowered the phone after a quiet conversation with Leo, and turned to CJ and her father, whose arms were still around her.
CJ's fingers rubbed at the tear stains on her face. She shook her head, her face
flushed with embarrassment, and she pulled away.
"I talked to Leo," he said, his words slow and cautious as he allowed his eyes to work upward and meet hers, "he thinks we should wait, until he identifies himself... does something, before we bring in Ron and the President."
"Makes sense," CJ replied, looking away and clearing her throat.
Toby nodded and his soon-to-be-father-in-law looked on curiously, watching the Jewish
man shuffle his feet.
"Do you believe me, Toby?" Her words were whispered.
"How could I not?" he responded just as softly, "I know you."
Again, she nodded, "So, we wait?"
"Yes," he agreed.
"And what if he does something? I don't want my daughter hurt!" the elder Cregg asked, pacing the length of the room as CJ gravitated toward Toby.
"He won't," she whispered with quiet conviction, "He only came for me because we gave him reason."
"And opportunity. We won't do that this time, we won't," Toby added, voice gruff but eyes emotional.
Crinkling her brow, CJ sighed breathily and Toby urged her to sit. Slowly, the odd little procession made its way back into the living area, and Toby and CJ sat on the loveseat, leaving her father to stand near them, hands clasped, a frown upon his lined face.
"This will be big," she whispered, cocking her head and glancing at Toby, he mouthed a 'yes' and she added, "Bigger than both of us." This time, Toby looked at her with a confused expression. "He's not after me this time," CJ mumbled, "he's after us. He'll destroy you, Toby. He's... crazy," she shuddered, "crazy."
"No," he shook his head vehemently, "he won't destroy me and I won't let him hurt you again." A hand moved upward to touch her face, "We're going to be fine because we have to be. There's no other option, Claudia Jean."
Matthew and William exchanged concerned glances from their places at the opposite ends of the sofa. "CJ... what's going on?" William began, before seeing his father's urgent signal to not interfere.
With a quiet mutter, Toby dropped his hand from her face and turned to the two men. "We think he's back."
"He who?" William countered.
"Back?" Matthew interrupted, standing quickly, "What do you mean he's 'back'?"
"It's been almost three years," CJ replied, "but I know you haven't forgotten. They dragged the river for weeks..." Toby watched as her eyes clouded and she virtually slipped into briefing mode. "I could be wrong, I hope I'm wrong," her voice lowered, "But I'm not."
Toby's hand crept across the fabric of the loveseat and slid over hers.
"Let's try to enjoy Christmas, boys," she added, and barely caught the misty-looking glance her brothers and father exchanged. "I don't want to worry anymore than necessary. Stay here," the Press Secretary squeezed her fiancé's hand. "I have a few gifts left to wrap." And she slipped from the room, her step more world-weary than he'd seen in a while, perhaps since Rosslyn and the blood, or maybe Manchester, or possibly never, and he stared down the hallway even after she disappeared into their bedroom.
"Toby," Matthew started, "I'd ask how she is, but I can already tell," he paused for a moment and moved to sit in the recliner. "Take care of her, man."
The Communications Director chuckled, "CJ doesn't like being 'taken care of'."
"She's always been independent," William laughed.
"Stubborn, short-tempered," Matthew added, beginning to grin despite the thoughts running through his mind.
"Beautiful," Toby whispered, looking down at his hands.
"Yes," the older man smiled, "Thankfully she doesn't get her looks from me."
"She'll be fine," William gave in, "but I still don't like this." He turned to look at Matthew, who was staring at a plastic cage and the wire wheel that sat inside. "Matt?"
"I don't like it either," Toby muttered, recalling many times CJ'd done things he hadn't approved of, including turning in her resignation, playing scapegoat, turning herself over to a deranged criminal. Shaking his head, he couldn't help but grin: after all, that was his CJ. But just as his CJ was independent and terribly stubborn, she was very much in love with him and their child. No, he thought, she'd do nothing to endanger them, no matter what the cost.
"Uh, Toby?" William stood up, "is that, uhm, is that a rat?"
CJ stood in the doorway and chuckled, watching as Toby began to laugh. "It's a hamster, William," he spoke with a sort of cocky tone to his voice, one they'd all heard before.
"Yeah, Toby. It's a hamster," CJ replied, barely holding back a snort at his come-hither grin.
"Oh my God, Toby, I just wanted to go drop this little harmless bag of trash into the outside disposal unit... thing. I'm not going to hurt myself, strain anything, or be kidnapped in the hallway, Toby. I don't need a guard dog!" CJ finally exploded. She'd remained calm and quiet for two days, glaring at him from the corner of her eye as he hovered. He'd walked her to the bathroom that morning, put her to bed the night before, and refused to let her roam from his sights - even to speak in confidence with her brothers or tell her father goodnight. "This is ridiculous! You're driving me crazy. I'm not going to break!"
William and Matthew looked upward and gave a collective groan, as CJ glared at Toby as if he were some sort of poisonous dart frog - green, red, and slimy. Their father chuckled, recalling his Claudia's childhood audacity and her now hormonally driven and shortened temper.
Toby sighed to himself and frowned, preparing to list all of the reasons that she shouldn't be left alone, the possibilities, fears, and useless but incessant worrying. He opened his mouth to begin his lecture, but made the mistake of catching her eyes and saw the undeniable tempest brewing there, just waiting to spew forth. He watched warily as she calmly set the small paper-filled trash bag at her feet, righted herself, and crossed her arms, preparing for battle.
Okay, Toby thought, maybe not allowing her to pick up wrapping paper by herself was going a little far, or maybe it was closing the windows and blinds in the bathroom before she went to relieve herself that did it. Pregnant women, Toby had learned, had to go frequently, and God help the idiot who stood in their way.
"CJ," Toby mumbled, bowing his head in an almost defeated gesture, "I think I might have overreacted."
"Might?" she questioned calmly, her slipper-clad foot beginning to tap
ominously against the hardwood floor.
"Okay, yeah, I did overreact," he held up a hand, halting the speech he knew was coming. "I just, you know, worry," his voice lowered to a whisper only she could hear, "I love you, CJ."
The four men, three unsure what had it caused it, watched as she wavered, rolled her eyes, and let a faint smile cross her lips. Her hands dropped and CJ took one of his in her own, placing it flat against her belly as Rachel again made her presence known.
"She doesn't like it when you annoy me, Toby, and that," she indicated the kicking, "continuous and sometimes painful jolting makes me cranky and tired."
He nodded, eyes wide and innocent-looking as his hands roamed around in gradually
growing concentric circles. "She's calming down."
"Yes," CJ smiled faintly, "she knows her Daddy is begging for forgiveness."
"Begging?" his eyebrows arched upward, matching his quirky grin.
"Yes, begging," she flirted, "feel free to continue," CJ stretched upward on her toes, "I'm not complaining.
"I'm aware of that, CJ, but your Dad's watching, and uhm, you know," he paused, face flushing a light shade of red.
"Aww... I'm sorry, Toby, I didn't mean to embarrass you," she placed a chaste kiss on his cheek, and pulled at the hem of her sweater so that it fell evenly at mid-thigh.
Toby shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans looking very much the guilty schoolboy as his flush faded beneath his beard.
"Hey..." he muttered, "I have an idea."
CJ turned and arched her left eyebrow, hands placed on her hips as she watched him expectantly, tongue tracing her lips. "Go on."
"Dinner, we'll go out to dinner. Maybe you'll feel better if we get out of the house for a while," he smiled winningly and was unprepared for the annoyed swat that came his way. "What?" Toby asked, defensively.
"It would make me feel better if you'd stop," she began, voice raising, but sighed and shook her head, "never mind." CJ threw up her hands, then relaxed, pausing to stare at him for another moment. "Dinner sounds nice."
"William, Matthew, Mr. Cregg? What time would be...?" Toby began as she turned, walking slowly back to the bedroom with a hand on the small of her back.
"Whenever's fine," William smiled, and was promptly elbowed by his father.
"Are you sure you don't want to have her to yourself? I know we're imposing."
"No, no you're not imposing, and please, join us. I..." Toby ran a hand through his remaining hair, "want her to be happy, safe."
William chuckled, "Watching her like a hawk will only piss her off," he
reminded with a devilish glint in his eye.
"I know, I know. I worry."
"Seven?" the oldest interrupted, intent on breaking up the kangaroo-court-style argument before it had begun. The tiniest of smiles crossed his face as he remembered how obnoxious he'd been when his wife was pregnant - with their daughter especially. Funny, he thought, it didn't seem like forty years ago, and his face displayed a wistful expression as he thought of his long-gone wife and evenings spent in Napa, playing with his children in grass that he'd let grown too tall.
"Seven," Toby confirmed, then departed for the kitchen to fetch the beer Matthew had asked for, and William stood to his feet.
"I'm going to tell CJ, you know how women are, she'll need a few hours," he grinned, then snuck down the hall, reminded of days past when he'd done much the same - only to pounce with a childlike abandon and tickle her mercilessly, only stopping when she'd cried 'Uncle' until her throat hurt. Of course, he recalled, she'd outgrown him easily and the tables were eventually turned.
"My best friend" he thought to himself, before cracking open her bedroom door. "Beanpole?" When he received no response, he pushed the door open, panic insanely flooding him, and he grinned when he saw her.
The Middle Cregg lay in the middle of the bed she shared with her fiancé, curled on her side and facing the door, fast asleep with a rather pleased sort of expression on her face. The covers lay at her feet and her hair had fallen over her closed eyes, so he stepped forward and swept the strawberry blond locks from her eyes and pulled the blanket up to her chin. Fleetingly, he allowed his hand to rest over hers, then leaned down and kissed her forehead.
"You'll always be my big sister, my beanpole, even when you're married to that guy in the kitchen and have Rachel's siblings in mind and on the way. Always, Claudie-girl."
He smiled and left the room, calling down the hall once he'd fastened the door, "Better make it eight, guys."
He stood outside the apartment building, smiling up at the window, holding two pebble sized rocks in his hands. "Dinner, hmm? I know a few good restaurants," he chuckled to himself, but said nothing as he tossed the rocks at the window he knew corresponded to the bedroom his little family was peacefully sleeping in. "It won't be long now, Claudia, I will see you at dinner... and it will play like a fairy tale."
"Oh," CJ sighed, a contented grin working across her face as she stretched upward, easing forward in her seat, "That was good."
"Last time we went for food, Claudia Jean, you refused to eat steak. I thought you hated it," William remarked, grinned almost stupidly.
She shrugged and chuckled, "So did I."
"Some women crave peanut butter and pickles, CJ wants meat," Toby put in, lifting his glass. "Still hungry?"
The Press Secretary shook her head. "Nah. Hey, at least we know Rachel's not a vegetarian."
Matthew snorted, "Or a picky eater. Ow!" he cried, reaching down and rubbing his shin before turning to look at CJ, who was grinning rather smugly. "Claudia..." he whined.
Toby laughed out loud before he could restrain himself, eyes twinkling with mirth. "You sound like Josh Lyman."
"My favorite little brother," CJ shot Matthew a glare.
"Oh, now that was low, Beanpole!" his glare fell short of hurt, instead making him appear somewhat miffed.
"Be nice to your brother, Claudia Jean."
Toby grinned at the Creggs, mind conjuring an image of pizza dinners spent with laughter, teasing, and sibling rivalry. He could only imagine a tiny CJ, then corrected himself - CJ was never tiny, never short... shorter, perhaps - with sun-lightened red hair tied back in pigtails, pummeling her brother as she shrieked with tickle-induced laughter. That, he sighed, was an image he'd never forget, and a photograph he'd love to have.
Moments later, CJ and Toby exchanged stares as their pagers beeped in unison. CJ pulled the annoying device to eye level and groaned. "911."
"Must be big," Toby sighed.
"Isn't it always?"
"Your office or mine?" Toby asked, his hand sneaking protectively across her back.
"How about both?" CJ groaned inwardly, her earlier annoyance in regards to being treated very much like the invalid she wasn't resurfacing. "Toby," she added, watching as he opened his mouth and steeled himself. Whether he had planned to gape and follow as if it were all a grand game of Simon Says or to argue as he usually did, she didn't wait to find out. Stepping slightly away, CJ "The Press Secretary" Cregg continued. "This is the White House, there are between one and three hundred Secret Service agents working here and in the surrounding area at all times, and several armed marines on or near the premises," she paused, punctuating her point with a finger in his chest. "The White House, Toby."
"Yeah," he ran a hand over his face, gazing toward an unknown something off to the side.
"We need to see Leo, find out what the 911 is for anyway. Come on, Ziegler."
Sighing, Toby nodded, watching her back for a moment and wondering if she'd ever take his name. Independent, Toby huffed to himself, yes, his CJ was independent.
"Slow down then, Cregg," he chuckled out loud, hurrying to catch up. "We don't all have long legs."
"Isn't that a shame?" she raised an eyebrow, and soon they stood in the Chief of Staff's outer-sanctum.
"Hey Margaret, where's Leo?"
"Leo? He's not here, CJ. It's the day after Christmas," she paused and stood upright from her bent position, gift and purse in hand. "I was just getting something..." she trailed off nervously, and Toby's raised eyebrows soon matched CJ's. "What are you, uhm...?"
"We both got paged, why..." Toby looked at Margaret, whose face was flushed with embarrassment and he finally realized whose gift she was preparing to deliver. "Go on home, Margaret, Merry Christmas."
In seconds, the flapping of her trenchcoat signaled her exit. She'd paused at the door with a hurried "Are you sure?" and CJ reflexively urged her on.
"Well," she said a moment later, turning to look at Toby who'd stood,
unmoving, behind her. "Your office or mine?"
"Yours is cleaner, larger, cooler..." he suggested, eyebrows raised, though he had to force himself not to comment on her repetition of his earlier phrase. Pregnant women, he summarized mentally, had strange moods, strange cravings, even odder habits, and short tempers. Angering one of them was not recommended.
And so, he followed her quasi-obediently until she stopped at her office door with a frustrated moan.
"Wait for me in here," she pushed open her office door with one hand, obviously in one of her more commanding moods, while the other supported the bottom of her stomach. "Bathroom."
"Why don't you let me walk you?" he began, observing her obvious and rather sudden discomfort.
"Call one of the deputies and find out what's going on. For a problem of 911 status, this place is awfully quiet." Turning fully, she glared at him. "There's a phone, stay here."
Toby rolled his eyes and chuckled, sitting back in her executive chair before picking up the phone receiver and beginning his assigned task. If nothing else, she'd taught him to be patient.
CJ groaned again, a hand now pressed against her lower back as she shuffled by the
Press Room door. Seeing it was open, she raised her brows and sighed, poking her head
through the door, observing the quietly seated Press Corps and smelling the tension in the
air. She stepped further into the room, eyes flicking either way in search of Simon or
another deputy. Walking into their line of sight, CJ watched quizzically as Danny, while
others stared, paled, or did nothing, leapt to his feet, "CJ, go..." he began
but didn't finish as she jumped, the door slamming shut behind her shortly before two
hands clamped over her shoulders.
She closed her eyes, feeling the color drain from her face and leaving her pallor an ashen gray shade, and quietly wished she'd let Toby escort her and that she'd actually made it there.
CJ squeezed her eyes shut quietly, unable to hold back a cry of agony as he squeezed the sore muscles of her back and shoulders. He leaned in closer, sour breath permeating her shield, and spoke, "We've been waiting for you, Claudia."
Somewhere in the corner of her mind, she began to pray more reverently than she had in a while, remembering Rosslyn and her cries of 'not Josh... please not Josh'. Only this time, her cries caused her stomach to roll and her muscles to tighten in tension and fear, 'not my baby, not my baby, please help me protect my baby'.
Snapping her eyes open as recognition set in, she struggled to step forward and away from his tight grip. "Don't move, Claudia!" he commanded, voice loud and intrusive, and causing her, Katie, and various others that she could not see or identify to wince. "I'm doing what's best for you - don't you see that? What's best!" He pulled her backward against him, and the force of the impact seemed to shake him from his emotion-induced stupor. Again, he shoved her forward, seeming to forget the child he'd dreamt of possessing and where she lay inside her mother. "I've waited for years," he whispered, "and planned for days, we could've been alone, but you just had to push me... so these paparazzi," he spoke the word with distaste, "had to be here. I knew you'd come for them Claudia, when you wouldn't even come for me." He loosened his grip on her arm, stepped backward, and pressed a blunt object at her spine. "Go to the podium, call for them."
She didn't move, instead standing with drawn, troubled face and clenched fists, praying to wake from a nightmare she feared to be of her own making. With the muzzle of the gun pressed into her back, cold metal causing her to shiver, CJ turned inward and thought of her family, the source of her strength, her Toby. "Oh God, Toby's gonna be so upset," she couldn't help but think to herself, "and to think, I was angry because he was guarding me. Stupid, Claudia Jean, really stupid." Her emotions finally snapped into action along with her rational mind.
She curved a hand under her stomach, pulling the button-up shirt tight against her body, seemingly for support. The gesture made several of the reporters grimace at the accentuating of her shape. Scott sighed from his seat, features hardening. He didn't know her as well as some of the others, but he knew she had to be frightened, probably terrified, and feeling awfully vulnerable. Hell, he pondered, she was vulnerable. She looked more like a scared child, waking from a nightmare and trying not to call for her mother, and then he looked again, and it seemed that she transformed before his eyes, turning from a scared child, to a frightened mother, to the Press Secretary he'd always seen before. His head snapped up as his mind clenched around that thought - CJ Cregg was vulnerable - and suddenly he felt afraid.
Danny had eased over to sit by Katie, who had dropped her still-recording microcassette player and notebook upon his entrance, and he laid a hand on her arm in an effort to receive comfort as well as to give it. He could hear his grandfather's wise but long-ignored words - "Where there's a will, there's a way, Daniel" - echoing around his mind, and realized getting out alive wasn't much of a viable option until they better understood the situation. He straightened and looked forward, catching the eye of the Press Corps' leader, who had just arrived at the lectern and was gripping both sides as if to hold herself up.
Their assailant had strayed to the other side of the room, pressing against the top of
the pouch at his side as if to ensure himself it was still there. The man appeared to be
lost in his own world, and Danny decided to, at the very least, share his idea.
Communicating his thoughts with a series of barely detectable but urgent hand gestures, he
watched her nod, open her mouth, and glance at the man from the corner of her eye. At his
side was strapped a box, rather unassuming but still appearing somewhat ominous, and a gun
she identified as something similar in style but much smaller than an UZI - one the guards
sometimes carried - was slung over a better-than-standard-issue Kevlar vest. He stood
quietly then, gazing at her, or perhaps leering, and for a moment she was torn between
speaking and hiding. But, CJ thought, these were her reporters, her Press Corps, her
colleagues - her friends. She turned widened eyes back to them, smiled as reassuringly as
she could, and promised herself to protect them - after all, it was she he'd come for.
Unfortunately, CJ realized, her efforts were in vain, for her smile looked to be more of a
grimace, her eyes had clouded with tears she would not shed, and she could not promise
them it would be 'okay'. It wasn't that simple anymore.
Clearing her throat, CJ noticed the lack of cameras and laughter, then prepared to speak in her patented, calming tone. She looked downward to ensure her footing before stepping slightly sideways, then prepared to turn her gaze back to the Press Corps.
But then, she saw the blood.
AN: Jessica told me to put this warning on Part 8, but I sort of forgot and sort of
just decided it would be more appropriate here as you'd have a taste of where this might
be going. If you're sensitive to material in relation/similar to the events that occurred
on September 11th and suicide bombers/hijackers, this might bother you a little bit. There
are a few mentions of violence and things like that in this part and the ones that follow,
so, you know, you've been warned.
Now let's all say, "thank you, Jessica" ;-) Thank you, Jessica!
~If you see dark skies in my sad eyes,
it just means that I can't find no cover;
These ghosts that haunt me
They take me when they want me -
And some days are better than... others~
It had been four years, she thought; four years and things like this still happened - innocent bloodshed, misunderstandings, hatemongers, and obsessions - things that covered her hands and face with fresh blood that still felt warm - things she still felt responsible for.
It fell into a pool beneath his sternum - which was fairly suspended above the ground
as he'd fallen unceremoniously against the chair closest to his post - the blood, and it
ran out in sticky rivers reaching toward her, beckoning her forward, slave to master. She
was fixated, imagining the expression on his face as he was shot without warning -
stripped of weapon and honor - and the life continued to drain from him.
Four years ago, that had been Josh, been them, and the red had fallen on stone steps and filtered through her fingers, glass had shattered above her head as she lay in the snow, behind where her heart had been, and she was too frightened to be thankful to be alive. And she was standing there again, not in Rosslyn, unfamiliar territory where men were shooting because of racial beliefs and a tradition of hate, but in her Press Room, where ghosts weren't allowed and she was revered as their friend if nothing else. And she was too frightened to be thankful to be alive, even as she pulled herself together and put on a face they all knew well.
Josh wasn't the only one with PTSD.
CJ glanced with one eye toward her captor and the other fixated at the back of the room, white knuckles no longer clutching the lectern as she eased to the side, preparing to descend from the 'stage'.
"Don't move!" The roar came from feet away, but the warmth and the sourness still reached her, even though she did not turn but halted in her tracks.
One hand lay against her back, the other her belly, and she, once again becoming the Press Secretary, argued, "This is kidnapping, holding people hostage, a few counts of assault, attempted murder. Add in the charges that were never filed years ago because of..." her voice trailed off slowly before picking up again, "and you've got a problem. But you haven't killed anyone yet, that's a life sentence," she added, then repeated to herself, "You haven't killed anyone yet." Then she moved forward, toward the beckoning blood, and lowered herself to her knees, hands searching out the wound that had punctured his chest, just above and left of his sternum, and she levered the young man's head into what was left of her lap, pressing her hands into the wound. She could see the rising and falling that signified his breath, which seemed slightly labored but strong, and couldn't help but sigh in relief.
Behind her, the intruder she'd known as Bowman - who had interfered in, hated, destroyed, and nearly ended her life - grunted with anger, tightening his grip on the muzzle of the gun. He couldn't tell her no, he couldn't stop her, that's what his Claudia always did - what she wanted. But he'd have her soon, and he'd rein her in and teach her to be the things she didn't understand she had to be. He could feel the tension drain from his body as he watched the reporters and the lone camera, some frightened and all angry, turn from where CJ sat with the young Marine to where he stood, plastique prepared at his side and machine gun at the ready against his chest.
Yes, he would make her his and he would make her right, and then they'd take their daughter far from him - the man who'd taken both away - and live like they always do in the Fairy Tales, only this one would be so much better, because it would be real and it would be of his own making. Neil Bowman smiled even as he thought of how this child would replace Tommy, be all that Tommy wasn't - strong and confident and good - and then he thought of all the children they would have after this one, and things would be the way they should've been long before. Happily Ever After.
It would end soon, CJ resolved, and he would live, because she wasn't sure if she could live with herself if someone else's blood was on her hands, if another died because she'd failed. Fleetingly, CJ thought of the times when she'd been strong and capable, and she couldn't help but wonder where that woman had gone, and if there was any strength left for her to use as his blood seeped through her fingers and onto her blazer. He had to live, because she wasn't sure she could live with herself if he didn't.
Toby fingered the papers at the edge of her desk, briefing books, notes, phone messages, things she'd thrown haphazardly to the side to be viewed or taken care of 'later', but not yet discarded even though most were out of date. Sometimes, he knew, she took a little long in the bathroom, but it had been nearly twenty minutes and he was getting slightly antsy. But, the rational part of his brain that understood CJ's mood swings and didn't like the prospect of bunking with CJ's brother on the pull-out-sofa rationalized, she'd kill him if he went after her in the bathroom and subsequently embarrassing her in front of whatever staff was actually on duty the day after Christmas. After all, Josh was due in approximately ten more minutes, then if she wasn't back and he actually arrived on time, Toby decided to send Josh instead, let him get yelled at, and he could still sleep in his own bed.
Still worried but valiantly putting up an effort not to let it show, he let his fingers drum against the edge of the desk, staring at the wall before him and wishing he knew where his rubber balls had gone. CJ'd taken them at some point, having gotten unbearably frustrated with the bouncing and thumping that seemed to keep her permanently annoyed and equally pained by headaches. Of course, it might've also had something to do with the fact that one had strayed from its intended target and hit her arm rather sharply. She'd been pretty pissed, and Toby grimaced even thinking about it. "Pretty pissed" was an understatement.
Still staring at the wall, his pager went off and CJ's phone rang in unison and he opted to answer the phone as there was no one else to do it. Carol had taken an extended holiday leave, and CJ had called for someone from the temp pool, but apparently they hadn't arrived yet... or something.
"Toby Ziegler," he grunted into the phone, lifting his pager up and shutting off the offending noise. Days like these he wished he had a normal job, with normal hours, and could take a week off to spend with his expectant wife, probably the last vacation they'd ever take alone. Not that he was complaining.
"Jesus, Toby, turn on CNN. Why the hell did you let CJ go in there?!" Josh barked into the phone, "I'm on my way in, I just got out of the goddamn car, but there're reports all over the radio and television."
"What?" Toby growled, but quickly turned on the television which was invariably tuned to CNN.
On the screen was a female anchor, and beside her was a full screen view of CJ, his CJ, sitting on the floor with an injured man at her side, her hands pressing against his wound to staunch the flow of blood. Around her, reporters sat unmoving and obviously frightened, as the anchor narrated, "Apparently the assailant, assumed to be Thomas Bowman - who suffers from schizophrenia and a related obsessive psychological disease - was hired to work as a temporary secretary for Claudia Jean "CJ" Cregg, the White House Press Secretary, under an assumed name. He had called a Press Conference and was preparing to page Miss Cregg when she apparently noticed a commotion in the West Wing's Press Room and entered of her own volition, only to be strong-armed into remaining there against her will along with the other reporters. The assailant is armed with some sort of unidentified plastique, and a military issue rifle he took from a guard he injured with an older model revolver. Ms. Cregg is apparently attempting to keep the unnamed Marine in good condition, though she herself isn't looking particularly well. Approximately three years ago, Thomas Bowman - then living under his father's name, Neil Bowman - kidnapped CJ Cregg after stalking her for a short period of time, and attempted to drown both her and himself by driving the car off an incline near the Potomac River bridge. He was assumed dead although a body was never found an extensive recovery mission. Claudia Jean Cregg is engaged to White House Communications Director Toby Ziegler, with whom she is expecting a child, rumored to be a girl, in February..." The voice drifted off as the Press Room came into full view, the anchor no longer on the screen, and the phone had slid down against Toby's lapel as he gaped openmouthed at the television.
"Oh God," he gulped back air, "Oh God, this is my fault, oh God, oh God, oh God," he whispered, his voice gradually growing in volume, "I should've gone with her, oh God," he barely registered Josh's presence at the doorway.
"Call Leo, we need him and Sam here, the President's on his way down, so's Abbey," Josh informed him softly, concern painted across his features. He dared not think of the things that could happen, or where blame should lay, as Toby did. His mind had already headed toward the worst.
"I've got to get in there," he whispered, but Josh's hand clamped down on his shoulder as he attempted to rise, and he shook his head and held down the flash button on the phone.
"No, Toby, you've got to stay out here and help us get her and the rest of them out. When CJ's satisfied that the guard's okay, she'll start negotiating, you know how she is, she's getting her thoughts and her plans together. We need you to be on the other end, helping her get them and herself out of there safely. Make those calls, Toby. We'll be here to get her out. She'll be okay, she's CJ."
"She's pregnant, Josh," his voice was an anguished whisper, even as he watched Josh dial Leo's number, learned by heart since Day One of the administration. "I've got to get in there."
"No, Toby. You've got to make those calls. You're not thinking clearly. Sit," he pushed Toby back into the seat, "Just sit. CJ doesn't need to be worrying about you too, dammit. Just sit and call, and I'm going to go check the entrance to the Room, see if it's barred or blocked off. Then I'm going to come back here and tell you, and Leo and Sam and the President will meet us here, and then, and only then, will we decide whether or not anyone goes barrelling in there. We have military and guards and armed... people, Agents and the like, that are trained to assassinate this guy and people like him, they can shoot him through the ceiling or... something, but you gotta sit right now, and talk to the man," he added, then walked to the door, shutting it behind him, watching as Toby finally came back to himself and began to speak to Leo as he answered the phone.
A few moments later, the call was finished and Leo had vowed to call Sam and arrive shortly, told him not to panic and to stay calm. And all the Communications Director could do was put down his head and sob, "Oh God, oh God. I'm gonna get you out of there, CJ, I'm gonna get you out of there. Oh God."
"He's bleeding out, CJ, there's nothing you can do," a whispered voice reached her ears. She heard the cracking of his knees as he crouched behind her. "He's as good as dead."
She whipped her head around to face with Will. "No. No, I won't let him die." She removed her hands long enough to shuck loose her blazer, balling it in her fists, and press uselessly against the flow of blood.
"CJ..." he began, a hand coming to rest just above her wrist.
"No! No one else is going to die for me!" she shrugged off his hands and leaned forward.
Will sighed, knowing that without medical training, that there was little they could do. But he'd seen single-minded CJ before, and knew it would be useless to argue. He stepped over to the other side of the fallen Marine, easing his folded jacket and notebook beneath the man's head. He pushed CJ slightly backward so that the boy wasn't leaning on her, then laid his hands over hers, adding to the life-sustaining pressure.
"Don't touch her!" a hoarse voice called over the heads of the other reporters and the two crouched on the floor looked upward, seeing the gun aimed at them. Will leaned backward, took a deep breath, and waited.
"Stop," CJ whispered, then shouted, "Stop it! This man is dying. He's bleeding... needs a doctor!"
Bowman shrugged, refusing to lower the gun, but not sure how to respond.
"Let him leave, okay? Just let him go, them too, they've nothing to do with this!" she was growing frustrated, color flushing her cheeks.
Her words seemed to draw him back to himself, and he growled, "It's not that simple, Claudia."
"Yes, it is," she argued. "You wanted me, you've got me. A regular captive audience, for Christ's sake. He's going to die, don't you see that? He's going to die with his blood on my hands," her voice had lowered and taken an almost pleading tone, "I don't want him to die," she cried, "Please let him go."
"You're testing my patience, Claudia!" The gun had long since been lowered to his side, but his jaw had clenched in anger.
"And you're testing mine!" Her voice was a near shriek and her nails bit into her palms.
Katie and Danny both winced at her tone and her words, unsure where it all was heading. Will reached upward and wound his fingers around her wrists, leaving smudged marks where his fingertips wiped away the blood that had stained her hands. Reflexively, she moved downward, sitting on her knees at the Marine's feet.
And Bowman begin to laugh.
It was an eerie sound, sort of hollow and almost cackled, and CJ fleetingly wondered if he was having what Leo had called a psychotic episode - she'd never forget that conversation - but then she remembered the river and drowning, and knew that his actions were for the benefit of his audience.
Will glanced worriedly toward the front of the room, where the fervent man paced just inside the line of the camera, then glanced back at CJ, who looked markedly pale and just as resolute. His words were hushed, "CJ Cregg, you need to quit playing hero and let us handle this guy. He'll kill you, you know that - you've got that baby to worry about." His fingers had risen to hover above her swollen stomach, her form blocking Bowman's view of his moving lips and fingertips.
"Well, I don't see any of them helping, they're all fighting to stay calm!" she hissed back, determinedly ignoring the placement of his hand. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that if she allowed her mind to stray, if she let herself think of child and life, she would die there - she'd be unable to fight. Paralyzed not by bullets, but by fear.
"Maybe that's the best thing for now," Will suggested, turning to look at their captor, who had unsteadily begun to calm, intermittent chuckles erupting through his carefully lain façade.
"She's got spunk!" he announced to the crowd, "I've always liked spunk..." Then he grinned with what could have been a charming expression, positioned himself behind the lectern, and leaned against it. "What to do, what to do..." he pondered aloud, knowing that if he let them out, no one would dare enter for the ones that that would remain - then he'd have her to himself and she'd leave with him and everything would be resolved. It was that simple, she just didn't know it yet.
CJ shook her head when she turned back to Will. "I won't let him win. I won't." And she moved away from his hands and stood on shaky legs. Her back to the camera, she directed her words to the front of the room, "Let them go, and we'll talk. Let them go, and it'll be just you and me, and we can figure this out," CJ cringed, "together." After a pause, she added, "Please?"
Neil Bowman leaned backward, rocking on the balls of his feet and standing to his full height, seemingly pondering her bargain.
Finally, he nodded and CJ didn't know whether to sigh with relief or dread. He nodded, and they had been released.
"She's calm, she's very... CJ," Josh commented.
"She's got a plan," Leo rationalized.
"Get them out of there no matter what the cost?" Abbey interrupted, rather
annoyed, as she entered the Sit. Room. "I don't care, I'm here and I'm staying,"
she held up a hand and glared angrily at Leo, who'd begun to argue over her presence.
He nodded and took his seat again.
"Something has to be done and quickly," Abbey added, glancing with concern at the opposite end of the table where Toby, visibly angry, was brooding.
"Before he kills her, you mean?" Toby's voice was low and forcefully controlled, but beneath his beard, a rage induced flush was spreading.
For a moment, the silence held. "No. Before the stress causes her to go into
pre-term labor," Abbey thought, but chose to say nothing, placating the anger instead
of encouraging it.
"She still has nightmares about Rosslyn... the shooting. Sometimes she," Toby's voice cracked, broke, and he turned away to continue, "Sometimes, she still wakes up screaming, for you," he gestured absently to Josh. "And then, sometimes she still dreams of it... almost drowning in the River, but it's rare, and when she wakes up from those, she doesn't scream or cry, she just shakes it off, I guess, moves a little closer, pretends to go back to sleep. Rosslyn... she dreams about it the most, and those are the nightmares that frighten her." Josh appeared crestfallen, a little worried, and quite guilty. Abbey's eyes were distinctly watery, the President appeared concerned, thoughtful, and Leo seemed just as worried, perhaps even a little afraid. The rest watched him, concerned and frightened and just as guilty as Josh felt.
"Toby..." Bartlet began, struggling to find the words to express what they all felt.
"No, no I'm just saying, this is like Rosslyn, like the... River," he
never said 'after that psycho drove them into the Potomac and tried to drown her, but she
got away and we can only hope he drowned, though we never found his body'; Toby always
referred to it as 'the River' or 'the almost drowning', depending on whose presence he was
in. The Communications Director tended to lose all coherent thoughts and be overtaken by
anger and an overwhelming sense of thankfulness when he thought of those days, what could
have happened, what did. She was still there, and for him, that was all that mattered.
"It's not... just her, it's them, she's going to protect them, that's how CJ is.
This... thing..." he motioned with his hands, "it'll kill her before
she'll let it kill them. And the baby... God, I... I don't know what to do, how
to... help her." Toby's voice held the concern and the fear he didn't know how to
show, and tears fought to well in his eyes. "I can't lose her, either of them,"
he whispered, but no one heard him, for they were all too caught up in the emotions his
words evoked, the memories they couldn't quite shake.
He stood with a force that toppled his chair before fleeing from the room, unable to look at them, to sit or stand in their presence, their hopelessness.
Josh stood to his feet, as did Abbey - who looked at him with an understanding born of experience and motherhood, and nodded to him - and a silent agreement passed between them. They, followed by several Secret Service Agents, followed him out the door, to the hallway outside CJ's Press Room - CJ's Press Room - and began to sit, a candleless vigil.
Just moments later, Ron entered the Situation Room, flanked by two senior agents, and moved toward the President. "Sir, we've rerouted the CNN camera to the televisions in the Sit. Room, the Press Room, and the emergency setup where the First Lady and Mr. Ziegler are waiting."
"Why reroute the cameras to the Press Room televisions?" Sam questioned,
unsure how to regain control of his voice.
"He's doing this in a public place," Bartlet replied after a moment or two of deliberation, "He obviously wants publicity. We can't have this... on live television, we need control right now. We can't censure it, obviously, but we don't have to let the nation see it live," he paused, then returned to his earlier train of thought, "He wants publicity, so if he turns on the television, he needs to think he's getting it. This... he won't know that they've been rerouted. We need to keep him... placated, give CJ a chance to do her thing. I have faith..."
"The front exits are sealed and we've cancelled all of today's activities involving any of the senior and supporting staff members," Ron concluded, and waited momentarily for the President's dismissal. Seconds later, he exited the room, leaving behind the two agents, and the conversation began again.
"You're calling this a crash?" Leo asked with furrowed brow.
Bartlet nodded, then turned back to the agents left behind. "The snipers are ready to move into position, sir, we're to pass along the command as soon as it's issued."
At that, his eyes widened and he shook his head emphatically. "No, no, it's not come to that yet. We need to resolve this as peacefully as possible."
"Sir, one man's already down," Josh interrupted, waving his hand toward the television, "Toby's right, CJ is capable, but this is too much."
"It's always too much," the older man broke in. "She's got, or is presently gaining, control of the situation," this time he gestured to the screen and Leo hit the 'volume' button in response. "Give her a chance."
"We are giving her a chance!" Sam argued, "But she's hardly trained in hostage negotiation - sir." He took a deep breath, anger painting his face a shade nearly as dark as Toby's had been. "We've got to get her - them - out of there. Forget politics!" He had risen during his tirade, and the other men watched him with a mixture of astonishment and understanding.
"This isn't about politics," Jed replied, his voice strained. "What if
someone's hit by a stray bullet? What if he's angered by their presence - the snipers -
and decides to blow the Press Room up? What if it makes CJ lose all of the ground she's
gaining, makes her lose faith in herself? What if this makes her lose that baby, or
herself?" he paused to let his words sink in, "He wouldn't take plastique in
there without being willing to use it. Let CJ talk him down if she can - communication is
her forte, and the lives she's bargaining for are theirs, her own."
"He's crazy," Josh sighed to himself, "You'll have to send them eventually. This won't end without intervention."
Jed let out a long breath, allowing it to hiss between his teeth, television having been forgotten, and placed his head in his hands. "I know, I know."
Seconds later, Leo drew in a sharp breath, gaze riveted to the screen. "My God," his whisper drew their attention, "she's done it. He's letting them go."
The men, some having stood to their feet, watched wide-eyed as 23 of the 26 people exited the Press Room, Bowman's indicating which three would remain. "You, you... and you," his finger lingered in her direction, "have a seat. I held up my end of the bargain, Claudia," he paused. "Now it's your turn."
Press Room Corridor
Toby inhaled sharply, and Abbey's eyes flicked upward, landing upon the door as it cracked open slowly. Her hand involuntarily gripped his shoulder, and he winced at her strength as her nails bit into his flesh. The doors slid open the rest of the way and the Press Corps began filing out, one at a time, their steps first filled with trepidation - as if they were waiting to face their executioner - then eagerness, as they realized that they were truly safe. And then the door was again sealed shut, and the two stood as they had before, Abbey's hand digging into his shoulder, his gaze fixed on the television. The first nineteen meandered toward the two agents that were motioning toward them, and they never broke their single file line. All nodded in respect to the First Lady, then gazed with pity, worry, confusion, at Toby. Still, they had not moved.
Finally, the last in line passed them by, then halted, glanced ahead, and turned to face the First Lady and Toby. Lowering to their knees, the men lowered the one they carried between them to the ground before her, and the single woman looked up at Toby without pity but with concern, and then watched as Abbey finally released her hold on the Communications Director, knelt to the floor, and began assessing the Marine's condition.
"She's doing well, Toby. CJ knows what she's doing, you have to believe that. You have to," Katie whispered, locking his eyes with her own.
He nodded, frowned, and wondered if he should ask if she was sugarcoating it for him. She'd been in there with them, she knew the atmosphere, knew how they felt. And he had to understand, had to know, that CJ really was okay, not as shattered as he felt he was.
"She's really okay," Katie affirmed, understanding the expression, and his face began to turn a light shade of pink before he knelt beside Abbey.
Curtly, she informed him, "It's not good."
Toby nodded, then glanced upward at the other two men. "Paramedics can't get in, we have people with medical training on staff, they're heading down here shortly."
"We'll stay until then," Katie informed the rest, and Abbey nodded absently as she removed CJ's bloodied jacket, unthinkingly laying it between her and Toby.
His eyes strayed, fingers poised over the garment, an expression of loss and fear overtaking his countenance. "CJ..." he almost whispered, but shook himself, closed his hand into a fist, then turned back to watch Abbey's ministrations, forcibly reminding himself that it wasn't his CJ's blood that had been spilled.
"Dammit," she hissed, having ripped the fabric of his uniform away from the wound, "must've nicked the aorta, he'd be dead already if it had severed it." The three men and one woman watched with an almost morbid fascination as she probed the wound, wiped at the blood, then lifted smeared fingers to his neck, the pounding of feet growing closer - help.
Katie turned away, moving to the television, and pressed her finger into the volume button. The 'trained professionals', she had deemed them, had arrived, and the blood was causing her stomach to churn, thinking of what could have been, what still might be, and her own children sitting at home with Daddy, waiting for Mommy's return. Not for the first time, she was eternally grateful that they were still so young as to hate the news channels.
Katie watched as Bowman again moved into the line of the video camera, grinning scornfully at Will, Danny, and CJ, who stood protected between them. Behind her, she heard Abbey inform the man and woman that had arrived that the Marine's pulse was weak, thready, that his breathing wasn't good. She blocked it out, and focused in on the television, and soon, another reporter stood beside her, and Toby turned his face again to the scene.
"So concerned for the welfare of your fellow men... and women," he shook his head, "But you've made such a big mistake, Claudia, such a big mistake," his eyes narrowed with a sadistic sort of glee, "Think about it, Willie, Danny, Claudia... Willie, hmm, I like that." CJ withheld a shudder at the playful, familiar tone his voice had taken on, and she felt Danny press his hand against her back to steady her. This time, he laughed aloud, "Okay Claudia, have a seat, you too, boys, and the games will begin." He whirled in a circle, stopped, and watched them, waiting for them to move.
And yet they didn't.
"Always so concerned..." Bowman chuckled, lifted the gun, cocked it, then lowered it again, "I have a surprise for you, but I don't think you're gonna like it," he informed them. "Think about it, guys," his tone was mocking, condescending, "how do you think I really got in here? Computers can only do so many things, Claudia. I had to have... assistance. The inside kind."
Silence descended in the Press Room, and Will and Danny collectively wracked their brains, looking for an answer to the riddle, trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle.
"Oh, my God." It was whispered, full of an emotion the men couldn't identify. The camera did not pan away as it did at Rosslyn, and her face was tired, angry, morose. "My God." Her legs seemed to give way beneath her, and Danny threw his arm back around her, his strength needed to hold her up until she could steady herself. "He..." she looked up at Bowman with an expression of childlike hurt, "The Marine. The Marine," she repeated, "he helped you? He let you in... he... helped you!" Her voice had risen to an almost unbearable crescendo.
Will met the other reporter's eyes over CJ's head, and they seemed to agree without speaking that it was time to follow Bowman's rules, time to sit before they fell. Anger boiled within both men, and as they sat, Will was poised to ask, "What do you really want?" but was not given the chance to finish.
Clapping his hand against the handle of the gun, Bowman laughed, "Bravo! Bravo, Claudia, bravo! You've done an excellent job, thus far. Your Marine, the one whose blood you're soaked in, the Marine whose life you bargained for - is now free and clear - he's out of the Press Room, and you're still here. What do you think about that, children?" His eyes were dark, full of laughter and glee, "Why, how do you like that!"
"Oh, shit," Katie whispered, her eyes gravitating toward CJ's pale, anxious face. "Oh, shit."
Abbey's hands had stilled above the wound, leaving it gaping and open. "Stop it," Toby commanded, "stop it!"
Her eyes moved to meet his, "Stop what, Toby? I took the Hippocratic Oath."
"She's going to die in there, Abbey," Toby's voice broke, formalities forgotten.
"Don't think like that," she ordered, turning back to the man, eyes searching his lifeless face, hands again pressed against the wound.
"I have to, Abbey, I have to think like that. That's my... that's CJ, and Rachel, in there, I have to think like that, like this. That goddamn... she could die in there Abbey, because this sonofabitch helped that psychotic bastard get into the Press Room! Goddammit!" His voice continued to rise, and Katie attempted to put a hand on his arm, but he shook it off, "Goddammit!"
"I took the Hippocratic Oath," she wanted to say, "I took that oath and said I would save lives, no matter whose life it happened to be, no matter what they'd done, whether they had the right insurance or enough money, no matter what. Politics, blame, ruins that, you can't... you can't say "I'll always try" because sometimes trying doesn't work, sometimes trying doesn't save lives and sometimes people do things like this, sometimes people pull shit like this, and you don't want to try. But I took an oath and... and I'm breaking it, I'm not trying, I'm not doing my best. First do no harm... Oh God," her eyes were almost blurred, "I've treated rapists and kidnappers and murderers and soldiers who've committed war crimes, I've treated the rape victims, the children who've been kidnapped, the men and women who've died by poisoning and stabbing and shooting, I've seen so many things, unthinkable, unbelievable things, and I shouldn't be questioning myself or my faith or the Oath I took almost 30 years ago, but I am, and I can't do this." Hesitantly, she removed her hands from the wound, allowing one to hover over Toby's, the other to press into the pulse point on the man's neck a little too long, horrified by the blood flowing from the uncovered wound.
Toby's face was a deep red, flushed with rage, and he caught her eyes with his as her face turned to him, fingers still pressed into his neck. "Goddammit, goddammit, goddammit," she almost said, but repeated it in her brain instead. "What am I doing?" Toby said nothing, but saw the pain and the emotions in her eyes, and it seemed to deflate him, and his shoulders fell, and the tears filled his eyes as he moved quickly away, turning to the television.
"I took the Hippocratic Oath, Toby," Abbey finally said, her face still not turning away from him, though his back was now to her.
"So weak, so thready," she thought, then shook her head. "Nothing we can do," she informed the other two, quietly, finally turning to them. "He's gone."
One of the medics reached forward almost out of reflex, fingers moving toward his neck. "I've been practicing medicine for thirty years," she informed him, and caught his stare with her own. His hands hovered in midair, and then he nodded, moved away, and left with the woman who had accompanied him.
She turned to Toby again, looking at the spot of blood that was now smearing the television screen, making the path his finger had taken. CJ was seated elsewhere, and he no longer caressed the screen as he would her face, for he had decided that he would touch her soon enough, because he'd get her out there himself if he had to, he would not let her bleed there, either of them. "That's my family," he thought, "And I'll do what I have to do."
Abbey stood to her feet, walked over to Toby, and ignored his flinch as she placed a hand on his shoulder. "I took the Hippocratic Oath, Toby," she whispered, and Katie took one last look before turning from the room, sensing that her presence was no longer expected. "I took the goddamn oath, Toby," she repeated, then lifted a hand to his face and forced him to turn from the screen to look her in the eye. "First do no harm," she recited, her gaze piercing his with an emotion he wasn't sure he could understand. It wasn't quite guilt, and it wasn't quite peace.
"He's dead?" Toby whispered, voice ragged, eyes still welled with tears - not for the Marine but for his fiancé and his child.
Abbey turned away and looked at the Marine, the man she'd left lying bleeding on the floor, and then glanced back at Toby with a determined expression. "Yes."
"I took the Hippocratic Oath," she wanted to cry, "and I broke it."
"Damn rodent," Matthew muttered beneath his breath, then glanced across the table at his father and brother. "Don't touch my cards," he ordered, and they rolled their eyes simultaneously as he stood up and headed toward the living area where the hamster cage sat. As soon as he was around the corner, father and son exchanged conspiratorial grins and both reached for his poker cards, lying face down on the table. "I said don't touch my cards!" Matthew called from the living room, where he stood looking at the hamster, ho was spinning his wheel contentedly.
"How..." William started to ask, shaking his head, and his father called over him, informing his youngest son that they would certainly never cheat.
"Right," he muttered in response, then glanced at the full water bottle in the corner near the wheel. "Ah-ha." With a conniving sort of grin, he lifted the water bottle, angled it just as he wanted it, then squeezed the top as hard as he could. The liquid squirted the wheel, narrowly missing the hamster, who dove off and cowered in the cedar chips inches away.
"What are you doing, son?" his father called from the kitchen.
"Shutting up this rat!"
"Be careful, Claudia Jean's rather fond of it, I think," William informed him, fidgeting restlessly in his seat. He could barely contain the desire to look at his brother's cards. Of course, he'd win without looking, he rationalized, then kicked at the table leg again.
"I'm not killing it, just... silencing it," he replied, returning to the kitchen and taking his seat.
"What did you do, Matt?"
"Oh, nothing. Just scared him a little, that's all," he replied, a grin stretching across his face.
And then, it began again, louder than before and with a more defined creak. "Jesus Christ," the younger man groaned, laying his cards face down again before banging his head on the table. "That thing..."
"Fold," his father muttered.
"Ante up, little brother," William grinned, and Matthew reached upward, tossing in a chip without looking. A few moments later, voice that could barely be heard above the squeaking of the hamster's wheel, he finished, "Okay, I call. What've you got?"
With his forehead still pressed into the table, he flipped his cards over, "I'm going to kill that vermin." Looking upward, he grinned, "Royal flush."
"Ah, man," William sighed, watching Matthew collect the chips.
Standing to his feet, the youngest sighed, "Play the next one without me, I'm going to go turn on the television or something, got to drown out that... thing." He turned the corner to enter the living room, then poked his head back in as his father began to shuffle, "Should've looked at my cards," he grinned.
The two other men exchanged amused expressions, and the cards were quickly dealt again.
Matthew flipped on the television, always tuned to CNN, and was immediately drawn to his sister's image on the screen Turning up the volume, he froze as he caught the breaking news report. "...Thomas Bowman - who suffers from schizophrenia and a related obsessive psychological disease - was hired to work as a temporary secretary for Claudia Jean "CJ" Cregg, the White House Press Secretary, under an assumed name. He had called a Press Conference and was preparing to page Ms. Cregg when she apparently noticed a commotion in the West Wing's Press Room and entered of her own volition, only to be strong-armed into remaining there against her will along with the other reporters. The assailant is armed with some sort of unidentified plastique, and a military issue rifle he took from a guard he injured with an older model revolver. Ms. Cregg has apparently negotiated the release of 22 of the 24 Press Corps reporters as well as the injured Marine. She and two unidentified males are still reportedly behind held inside the White House Press Room..." the video feed switched to the old footage taken almost half an hour before, her narration continuing. "The White House is under lockdown, no one is allowed to enter or leave, and all Capitol Hill meetings involving members of White House staff, as well as any tours or social events taking place in the building have been cancelled." The woman paused for a moment as images of CJ ministering to the injured Marine flashed on the screen. "We've just received unconfirmed reports that the Marine shot in the Press Room has died. I repeat, we have just received unconfirmed reports that the Marine, who has yet to be identified, has died outside the Press Room..."
"Oh, holy shit," Matthew hissed, finally breaking from his frozen position, turning on his heel and running into the kitchen. "Dad! William! Dad!"
The two men looked up at the panic-stricken tone in the younger voice, "Shit Dad, that freak, that goddamn lunatic, he's got CJ!"
"What?" the elder Cregg stood, his chair screeching on the tile floor.
"In the Press Room, CJ and the Press Corps, they're being held hostage. Or were, there are three of them left inside with him, she negotiated the release of the rest of them. The guard... the guard died, she was trying to save him and..."
Quickly the three men moved to the living room, and the brothers sat silently on the couch, their father standing behind them with a stricken expression on his face. "I'm calling Toby," he whispered a moment later, "and then I'm going down there."
"You can't, Dad, it's under lockdown, they won't let you in... they won't let any of us in," Matthew informed him.
"They sure as hell will let me in! We're family! I'm her father!"
"Dad - " William began, but let his words trail off as the video became full-screen.
"That's my baby girl!" he cried, then reached for the phone. "That's my baby girl and I'll get in there if I have to drive my way through!" Moments later, he dropped the phone into the cradle. "Where's Claudia Jean's address book? I need Toby's cell phone number."
Press Room Corridor
The President, Leo, and Ron had gravitated toward Abbey, who sat on a table that had been pulled into the hallway, watching the men confer. Toby soon arrived, holding his cellular phone in one hand, running the other over his beard.
"Toby..." Bartlet began, "I want to give you some advanced notice as to what is being planned..."
The Jewish man seemed not to have heard him, a bewildered expression on his face. "I can't get in touch with her family... they're going to be worried," he whispered, staring down at his phone, "Line's busy."
"Call the operator?" Abbey suggested, her voice soft, understanding, her emotions still running wild. She'd done many things in her life, seen many things, but none seemed to have affected her so quickly, so gravely, as this.
Toby ignored her words, ignored the hand that hovered over his shoulder once again, the comfort she was offering. He shook his head, "I..." but his voice broke, and he turned away from them, his entire body shuddering with the force he was exerting in his attempt to control the urge to throw something, break something, scream, cry, barge into the Press Room on his own.
"Ron and Nancy think it would be best," the President began, his voice strained with the attempt to sound soothing when he felt anything but, "if we go ahead and have the sharpshooters fall into position."
The Communications Director clenched his jaw, closed his eyes, and nodded.
"There are risks, Toby," Leo began, ignoring Ron's urgent head-shaking. "But it's all we can do. We can't send someone in there, and he's not going to let her go on his own."
"Send me in?" he whispered, nearly begging. "Send me in there?"
"No, Toby," the President shook his head, then moved away from the others and turned to face Toby, who was fighting back tears of fear and anger, frustration and weariness. "If you go in there, he'll kill you, and that would kill CJ."
"She might be able to get away..." he pled, then shook his head, his gaze settling on the floor. "I know..." he cut off the older man, "I know it wouldn't work. I just feel so useless, sir, I should be in there... with her. She shouldn't have to face this, not alone, not like... this."
"Maybe it's what she needs, Toby," Abbey broke in, then shook her head at his outraged expression. "Maybe she needs to face the past, her mistakes, her fears, maybe this needs to be settled once and for all, so she can concentrate on her family. You, the baby... Her own worries about... inadequacies, nightmares..."
Silence descended on the room, the television now muted.
Toby's voice was almost sarcastic, "So, what does Ron think?"
"The plastique... we're unsure the strength or type, should a sharpshooter take a shot, the impact could cause an explosion. The West Wing will be evacuated..."
"No," Toby interrupted, "No. You could kill her."
"If we wait until he's away from the podium, where he'd fall against the ground, there wouldn't be much of an impact if we aim for the upper region of the body, he'd fall in the other direction, perhaps roll slightly, but that wouldn't be enough to detonate the plastique."
"I won't leave her," he whispered, and Abbey glanced at her husband, silently begging him to do something, say something, fix it.
Jed sighed, running a hand through his own hair, then began to speak, only to be cut off by the ringing of a cell phone. Still gripping it in his fist, Toby looked at the phone blankly, and after several more rings, he finally came to himself and answered the call. After listening for several seconds, Toby sighed.
"Mr. Cregg, they're doing what they can," the anguish in his voice was unmistakable to those standing near him, but the older man didn't register it until much later.
"And what are they doing?"
"Sharpshooters," he replied wearily. "Sharpshooters are moving into position." He turned to look at the President, who then nodded to Ron, who took up his radio and began to dictate orders. "They'll take him out fairly quickly."
"No," CJ's father argued, "I don't think that's a good idea. Can't..."
"Sir, the President..."
"Let me talk to your President, then!" he argued, voice full of carefully controlled anger. His sons exchanged worried expressions from their positions on the couch.
"Uh, Dad..." William began, preparing to stand and take the phone.
"Sit down, son," he commanded, his voice reminiscent of the no-nonsense Sergeant he'd once been. William obeyed quickly, and the men again looked at each other with more emotion than they'd expressed in years. "Well?" he spoke into the phone.
Toby nodded, forgetting that his soon-to-be-father-in-law couldn't see him, then offered the phone to the Commander-in-Chief. "It's CJ's father, sir."
The President shifted his weight from one leg to the other, then sighed, taking the phone in his hand. "Mr. Cregg?"
"Listen to me... sir," he began, "I fought in Korea, I stayed in the military after that for quite a while, I learned many things, and I've seen explosions, and I've disarmed bombs, and I've seen the best military sharpshooters, snipers or what-have-you, make mistakes, misfire, kill innocent people. I was there, sir, and I don't want my daughter to have to live through that. I don't want her shot, I don't want her hurt, I don't want your people to make a mistake, and God knows that's possible, even if you are the President of the United States."
Bartlet listened quietly, not commenting on the other man's words at first. He mulled them over in his brain, then sighed. "We all make mistakes, even CJ," he reminded him.
"Yes, yes, we all make mistakes. And I know my daughter made a mistake bringing this man into her life. But as I understand it, it was problems with your administration and people within your administration that caused her to take such action in the first place. You want to place sharpshooters around the building and chance my daughter being blown up by a weapon that misfires, or a man whose aim is less than perfect, one bullet hits that... bomb, plastique, my son tells me, and she'll be dead. Or what if she moves when one of your men fires? What if she's shot by accident? My daughter is seven months pregnant with my first grandchild, my only grandchild, and I'm fairly certain that the father of that child is just as worried and angry as I am. What if one of your people makes a mistake, too, Mr. President? What if Claudia Jean was your daughter?"
Silence reigned between the two men. He was right, Jed knew any mistakes made would cost lives, but few options were left. Some risks were a little too frightening. The President bowed his head, phone still at his ear, and began to speak quietly. "Mr. Cregg, you have my utmost respect. You raised a daughter who not only efficiently runs all of the Press Briefings, but suggests policy changes, yells at the President when he's wrong," his face twisted into a sort of ironic smile, "loves her father and brothers dearly, takes care of Toby Ziegler - which is no small task in itself, keeps the rest of the staff in line, and is preparing to raise a family for the first time in her life at age forty-four. And she does it well, balances it. I can only hope my daughters will have done as well as she has when they're closer to her age." The man paused, then began again, "And in every way that counts, I love her as if she were my daughter... sir. I would rather..."
At CJ's apartment, her father bowed his head, tears threatening to spill past closed eyelids. "You're a father too," he sighed, "I know, I apologize for my..."
"You brought things into perspective. Thank you, Mr. Cregg." Without covering the phone, Bartlet motioned to Ron, "Clear shot only, Ron. Only if CJ's out of the way, and there's no chance of misfiring. The man that makes a mistake with this will be crucified by the American public, not to mention CJ's family. Clear shot, kill only, order. Understand?"
Ron nodded his head jerkily, then turned back to his radio, relaying the commands.
The President hit the 'end' button on the phone, then turned to Abbey, who was listening with a somber expression on her face. "Jed..."
"I know, Abbey, I know," he replied, closing his eyes as he slid his arms around her, leaving Toby to lean back against the table, swallowing the fear that threatened to conquer him.
"He won't win," Leo vowed, standing beside Toby, his voice earnest. "We won't let him."
"CJ won't let him," Toby said, voice adamant as his body seemed to be flooded with a sense of peace that had been robbed stolen from him several days before. "God," Toby bent slightly, leaning forward, moving his lips in long-forgotten prayer.
"It'll be over soon," the Chief-of-Staff added, then stopped himself before he finished his sentence. "It'll be over soon... one way or another."
Outside the Press Room
"I'm not leaving," Toby informed the President, who had issued the order that all present in the West Wing should evacuate to the East Wing immediately. "I won't leave her, she's never deserted me, I'm not going to desert her."
Bartlet eyed him warily, nodding all the while. "I never expected you to," he informed him, then nodded to Abbey.
"I can't, Jed, someone may need medical attention," she argued.
"The bullpen," she suggested, "I could wait in the bullpen, it's far enough away... and nothing's going to explode, this is just a precautionary measure, Jed."
"Abbey..." he began again, but sighed, "Yeah, okay, bullpen. Ron, we'll be in the bullpen. Toby, are you...?"
"I'm staying," he left no room for argument, turning away from them and glowering at the door to the Press Room.
They stood there, staring at his back, hurting and tired and frightened, but knew that the comfort they offered wasn't enough anymore, that Toby would only be placated, only be solaced, when he had her in his arms.
"What do we do, Jed?" Abbey whispered moments later as they made their way across the Wing.
She'd aged in the course of two hours, Jed mused, but then, they all had, if not in physical features then in emotions. He was certain that he'd earned himself a few more grey hairs. "Wait," he responded, and slid his arm around her as Sam and Josh joined them.
They did not speak, did not nod or gesture, but stood close, seeking comfort they didn't know how to give or receive. The televisions above them now were among those with the rerouted live feed, and they seemed to collectively settle their gazes on the screens, trapped in the scene that was playing out in front of them.
Press Room Corridor
"CJ..." Toby whispered to himself, sitting on the floor against a table leg. "Come back to me." He swallowed each sob as it rose within him, something CJ would hate. She was always encouraging him to explain how he felt, not bottle things up, and he had to admit that within the last three years, he'd done more talking, more showing than he had before. He was more content than he'd been in years.
She had this way about her that made him want to believe everything she said, made him want to give her the happy endings she'd loved as a child. This thing she possessed was more than an ease of spirit, it was a childlike innocence, a naivete he'd seen before he loved her, a beauty of mind, a kindness of heart.
This... thing, this passion, this personality, was what he hoped their daughter would be gifted enough to possess. Personally, Toby hoped she was a little CJ, beautiful and intelligent and kind, with her personality and her spirit, but a better appetite. It always had worried him, the way she ate, never enough, too picky - when she remembered to eat at all. He'd been after her especially for the last several months, encouraging her to eat everything that looked good, and in turn she would yell at him for attempting to make her gain more weight than the pregnancy necessitated. Of course, the yelling was good-natured and almost humorous, as she would always put her hands on her hips and growl at him. It never succeeded in warding him off, only making him laugh. And for him, that was enough.
He'd never loved her more, he knew, than he had of late. In the morning, before she'd wake up, he'd watch her, push strawberry-blond locks out of her face, touch her hand, her stomach, her heart. He loved to listen to her heartbeat, sleep with his head on her chest, hands caressing their child or memorizing her suddenly full breasts. It was strange what this had done to them, the prospect of having a child. Granted, she was a little more emotional, a little more worried than she'd been before, and he was always anxious, trying to make her eat more than she wanted, sleep more than she intended. They'd slowed down more than he'd have expected, their lives had become more lazy, their mornings later, the nights longer. He touched her more, especially in public, it was just some sort of attraction he couldn't quite explain. Abbey had warned CJ of it more than once, that he'd become more possessive, more loving than usual, that he'd hover too much and that all she'd want to do was make love to him. The warnings had been fair, but not enough, and he threw his head back as he wondered momentarily if they'd have more days, mornings, evenings, like the ones he was missing.
It was moments similar to these that he just wanted to hold her, to sleep with his head over her heart, just listening to its beat.
Funny, he thought, what you think of when you're terrified.
The three men watched anxiously as CJ shook off Will's arm, then pushed against Danny's leg as she fought to rise from her chair, hand laying protectively over her stomach, comforting the child who was sleeping within.
"She loves that baby," William commented.
"Of course she does," Matthew responded, fidgeting in his seat. "I hope
this works out for them."
"CJ and Toby?" William questioned, turning again to his brother. Matthew nodded, and he continued, "It will. CJ never gives up, never. And that's why she's going to be okay, because she won't give up and she won't give in, and she loves that baby with all that she has. Just wait, she's going to be walking out of there any minute now."
Their father's red-rimmed eyes turned on them, and he sighed, "She's not my baby anymore, you know."
"Don't tell her that," Matthew commented, a smile crossing his face.
"She plans to be your baby for a long time, or so she always said when we were
little. Remember?" he chuckled, "She got so upset when we got that dog and
you," he gestured to William, "wanted to name her 'Baby' for some ungodly
reason. Dad," he chortled, "Dad picked her up and said something about her
looking like a baby, and CJ started bawling, saying she was the baby... Daddy's only
baby. Mom had a field day with that one."
"I remember," their father smiled, "I remember."
"Well, Dad, your baby's having her own baby, now," William sighed, kicking
his feet up on the coffee table. "Uncle William..." he added, "sounds
"Not as good as Uncle Matthew," the other grinned, but was elbowed by his
"Neither one's as good as Grandpa," he smiled, lost in years gone by. He'd
been doing that a lot lately, remembering the past and all that had been.
He sighed and looked at his boys, then turned back to the television.
"Do you really want to kill me?" her voice was hushed, eyes wide with the innocence Toby loved, hands resting open against her stomach, emphasizing her pregnancy.
Idly, Will thought she'd have made a wonderful actress. The two men stood behind her, several feet away from him. Danny whispered lowly, "Stay away from the windows, CJ." She thought nothing of it, but decided to listen anyway, knowing Danny usually had a reason for his argument.
"Do you really want to kill this baby?" she questioned, hands moving in circular motions to calm the obviously upset child.
Bowman watched her intently, looking for motive, for a plan, but saw nothing, only sincerity and an almost pleasing amount of fear. After a moment, he met her eyes, and whispered, "No."
"Then, why?" CJ replied, taking a deep breath, fighting to control her voice. "Why all of this? The... bomb, the gun? The Marine? Why?"
"So you'd see me, Claudia, just so you'd see me. You never... you never looked at me, not really, you saw someone that was convenient or some... some crazy idiot that just... didn't know when to stop or know what love was. But I do! I do love you, Tommy loves you too. Don't you see that?" he babbled.
"I know that," she assured him, wincing within. "But a man may have died here tonight, and we don't even know his name. And I've never intentionally tried to hurt you or... Tommy, none of us have. But you held us all here, against our will."
"I just had to get your attention, Claudia - I let them go, didn't I?"
"Yes, but why did you have to... take them in the first place? Why hold a gun on us if you don't want to hurt me? Us?" Her hands stilled over her abdomen, and she moved one to her lower back, rubbing at the knotted muscles.
"His name was Ian, the guard. He wanted to hurt you, all of you. He thought it would make you see what you were doing. Militant groups, or something. Of course, it helped that he was paid. Money makes men do many things," he muttered, mind never straying far from his subjects. "Now you know his name, and you know why I had to do it. I had to protect you, Claudia, you and the baby." His head jerked backward, and CJ lifted an eyebrow.
"Curiouser and curiouser," she thought. "This isn't protecting," she said firmly, "this is hurting." His brow furrowed at her words, "I'm in pain right now, my back and my legs and... just everything. Don't you know that stress like this is harmful to the baby you're supposedly trying to protect?" she questioned, keeping her tone even.
"You should sit, CJ," Will began, but she waved him off, her gaze never wavering from the man behind the lectern.
"How do I know that you're really trying to protect me... her?" She was fishing, she knew, but she had to do something, maintain some control, convince him to drop his weapons and let them be. Let them walk away.
Glancing at her with a somewhat hurt expression, CJ realized that she was no longer talking to the man but the child, and she knew she was doing the right thing. She allowed herself to smile slightly, "Please?" She saw his hands stray to his belt, and in moments the plastique was laying on the ground, and he got down on his knees and slid it carefully beneath a chair and from his reach.
"I don't want to hurt you," he replied, wide-eyed, unsure exactly what was happening. He squinted at the two men behind her, "Nobody."
"I know you don't..." CJ opted to take a chance on the names, "Tommy." A smile brightened his face, and she knew she'd succeeded. "Why don't you come down here, and put that gun away, okay? They're very dangerous, and I know you don't want to accidentally hurt us, do you?"
He shook his head vehemently.
Will and Danny inched forward, coming to stand just behind her on each side. "What the hell is this?" Will hissed into her ear.
"Multiple personalities," she whispered back, "I've met this one before, he's just a boy. A little child. Innocent. As long as we don't frighten him or push him, according to Leo, the least threatening of the personalities will remain in place."
"Do I really want to know how Leo knows this?" Danny whispered back,
attempting to inject a sort of humor that he knew would make her smile.
Almost shyly, Tommy lifted the strap of the gun from around his neck, then looked up at her with his head cocked sideways, "It's big," his voice held a sort of frightened awe.
"I know, Tommy, but it's best if we don't play with things like that, at least not when we're inside or around people, you know what I mean?"
The man nodded his head, looking very much the child he must've once been. He turned the gun away from him, and clutched the handle, beginning to lower it to the floor.
In that instant, shots tore through the room, shattering windows and splintering the wooden lectern. The occupants of the room stared in awe at the scene before them. The Press Room door was flung open, and Toby stood there, wild-eyed and frightened.
"CJ..." his voice was strained as he watched her, unsure what to do. "CJ?"
The blood splattered across her dress, and it slid down Bowman's face. Somehow, it didn't seem quite as red, quite as human, as the blood at Rosslyn or the blood of the Marine. Danny and Will froze and Toby rushed to her side as CJ sank to her knees beside her now-lifeless tormentor.
"No..." she whispered, "Oh no."
"CJ..." Danny tried, "are you hurt? CJ?"
But she did not answer, eyes fixed before her as Toby reached her side, assessing her condition slowly. Her hands were spread before her, pressing into the floor, and anguished tears began to slide down her face.
"He was giving me the gun," she whispered, "he wasn't going to shoot, he was giving me the gun! It was over, Toby, it was over and he was giving up. No one else had to die."
A flood of Secret Service Agents stormed through the door, weapons drawn, and Will and Danny stood to their feet, moving back from CJ and the dead man before her, watching as Toby slid his arms around her.
She reached upward, clutching the lapel of his shirt, "Don't you see? It'll never be over..." she cried, "Oh God, oh God..." She banged her hands against his shoulders, "He was giving me the gun! He was giving me the gun."
"Hi," he finally said, his face serious but full of admiration. His eyes traveled the distance between their faces, and he pulled his leg underneath him.
"Hi," she whispered, leaning her head backward, arms never shifting. After a moment, she opened her eyes and smiled at him, then looked downward, gaze settling on the child in her arms.
Her mouth moved rhythmically, her tiny hand balled into a fist just above her mother's breast. CJ lifted a finger to stroke her cheek, then her light brown hair. She'd joked the day before, when she'd first endeavored to feed her daughter, that they should have named her Hoover. Toby had, of course, winced at her words, unable to comprehend the feelings - both physical and emotional.
He had seen her after meetings that ran all day, State Dinners that lasted well into the night, crises that kept her - them - awake for days, but he'd never seen her appear so tired.
Tentatively, Toby reached a hand toward them, finally resting it on the back of Rachel's head. He ran his fingertips over the fine strands of hair - cornsilk, Abbey had called it - then CJ took his hand and rested it just above Rachel's lips, allowing him to feel her body's reaction to the child's hunger.
He marveled at it - his eyes meeting hers - and murmured, "Does it hurt?"
"No," her voice was low, "it feels sort of..." she grappled for the words, "different, beautiful in a way. They say it's a connection," she shirted the newborn, lifting her to her shoulder, and smiled as Toby continued to touch her. "It is, you know, a connection." After a moment, she added, "She's beautiful."
Toby finally removed his hand and began to button her blouse almost reverently. "So are you," his voice was quiet in an attempt not to disturb his daughter.
He'd never seen her so tired, or so content.
"We're going to protect her Toby, no matter what," she told him, and he nodded, slipping closer, sliding his fingers along his daughter's tiny palm, closed around several strands of CJ's hair. "No matter what," she repeated.
"I promise, CJ," he replied, moving away from his seat as the doorbell chimed. He kissed the top of her head and they exchanged shy grins as the baby emitted a quiet burp.
They'd had this conversation before.
CJ still harbored so much more guilt than she could tell even him of, so many more fears than she'd known in the days before Christmas, the times before 'the River', the years before Rosslyn. The nightmares were more frequent, but she woke from them less, somehow managing to sleep through them, move past, dream on.
Sometimes she looked at the cardboard box in the back of the closet. She didn't need to open it to remember a bloodied dress and jacket from the Press Room, a thermal blanket from 'the River,' a broken necklace from Rosslyn. It, the box, had been shoved to the back of the closet, and she no longer paused to stare at it when she should have been choosing her clothes for the day, but somehow, she couldn't bring herself to throw it away, because it was as much a part of her as the child she had just delivered.
Sometimes she looked at her daughter, so helpless, so trusting, so innocent and carefree. She wondered if she could keep the promises she'd made, wondered if she could keep Rachel safe. She still examined the walls for pinholes, still checked the phones for bugs. She knew she'd always pull the curtains tightly shut, and she wished she could so easily block this evil from her daughter's life.
And sometimes she looked at him - her best friend, her lover, the father of her daughter - and she seemed older, years older, for her eyes lacked a light they'd once always possessed. It was then that he was reminded of her dreams, the nightmares she refused to speak about most nights, the nightmares of dripping blood and smeared hands, dying men and things that she could've done - things she could have prevented - and things that could never be. She had promised herself long before she'd known what would happen on the day after Christmas that she'd protect her family, her Toby, her child, and herself. Yet, she felt she had failed, and two men had died because of what she deemed to be her shortcomings, and those were the nightmares Toby felt claimed her most often. But then, he knew, she'd say something, or smile, or just blink, and that tiny spark was back and burning brightly beneath the green of her eyes, and she was back, and everything was okay again - though an air of unease often remained.
Will and Danny had arrived at the hospital shortly after CJ's father and brothers had given their blessings. Toby had hung back, watching CJ sleep and Rachel fuss, kicking chubby legs into the air.
He'd watched through tired eyes with understanding as CJ's father hugged each of the men, and her brothers shook their hands. "Thank you for helping her," Matthew had said in his almost-childlike way, and both men had replied humbly, refusing to take credit for they felt they'd done nothing, only acting as a buffer zone, questioning her ideas, making her more firm in her beliefs that she was doing the right thing. She had saved them, all of them, and they felt they should be the ones thanking her, but she was sleeping and instead, both men exchanged glances and smiled at the baby, one touching her foot, the other her hand, as she smiled with mouth open wide at her father.
And then, Toby had swallowed so much of his pride and stubbornness, and had whispered his thankfulness to both men before they exited, grinning with googly-eyes at the infant. With a certain kind of peace, Toby had caught Danny's eyes, nodded, and watched the reporter's sad smile reemerge. Sometimes, Danny wished it could have been him with her, but he knew that something like that, so precious and pure, couldn't be shared between anyone but those that were predestined for the other. They had reached an understanding.
By the time CJ had awoke, visiting hours had past and her family had returned to the apartment to complete preparations in the nursery, assemble the crib in their bedroom, and call friends and family to ready the Welcome Home party the new little family didn't expect. She had watched Toby as he held their daughter, pacing in front of the window as she fussed quietly, tapping his tie with her foot, nuzzling her face against his rolled up sleeves in the crook of his elbow. And it was moments like those that she remembered the good things and pushed the bad away, smiled when the rest of the world couldn't see her, and fell in love with him all over again.
And Toby opened the door, allowing two secret service agents to enter, sweep the premises, and return to the door in a matter of seconds to lead the President and First Lady into the small Georgetown home, followed by their friends - their family - and a suspicious looking box in Sam's hands. He nearly ran to the couch, peering over CJ's shoulder at the baby, then laid the box on the table beside them, and requested he be allowed to hold his goddaughter. Josh waited eagerly at the other end of the couch, and soon Sam was holding the little girl so that both could coo over her, catching her wide eyed expression and her attention. Soon Bartlet commanded the child be brought to him, and he and Abbey settled back into the recliner with Rachel, and she watched with a distinctly wistful expression as he peppered her forehead with kisses and lulled her into sleep.
It was in these moments, the ones that Abbey spent looking at CJ or Toby, and especially Rachel, that the guilt didn't seem so heavy, such a burden. No one had spoken on the subject, as few had suspicions as to her medical training and inclinations, but that didn't make it easier to handle. She'd allowed a man's life to slip away, even though she was fairly certain it was too late to be saved, because of her beliefs, whether political, familial, or otherwise, and that was something she'd sworn never to do. But in moments like these, when she could touch the silken skin of the child she'd done it for, smile at the mother - the friend - she'd momentarily feared would die, the guilt wasn't as important, and she remembered her purpose. And then, she didn't feel like a 'bad doctor', she felt like Abbey Bartlet again.
Finally, CJ and Toby wound their arms around each other in their tiny corner of the couch, the box settled between them as she began to pull the tabs away and open it.
"For Rachel," Josh grinned up at Donna, and Sam chuckled to himself as CJ laughed again. "Valentine's Day present, you see. No one should be alone."
CJ lifted the plastic container from the box and looked at Toby, who looked quite disgusted. With a laugh she thought she'd forgotten, the Press Secretary grinned at the crowd gathered in her living room - her family - and amended Josh's statement. "Not even hamsters."
And she smiled.