Characters in this story are copyrighted by Aaron Sorkin, Stephen J. Cannell, Frank Lupo and associates. No infringement is intended in any part by the author. I'm just taking them for a twisted ride.
Two Wrongs May Be RightLate at night, The West Wing.
"Mr. President are you in or are you folding?" Toby persisted, lazily blowing smoke rings from his cigar. Redolent with cigar smoke, Leo McGarry's office had yet again been commandeered for the poker game.
"You haven't answered my question yet," President Bartlet replied, not even looking at his cards.
His staff groaned. This latest trivia question had stumped them all and the President loved every minute of it.
Ron Butterfield stepped into Leo's office. Uneasily, he eyed the poker game in progress and edged around to the President, touching him lightly on the shoulder. The light-hearted chatter died as every eye present focused on the folded piece of paper the Secret Service agent handed him.
"Can't this wait?" joked the President, grimacing as duty called once again. He flipped open the paper. As he read, the laughing light vanished from his eye. He leapt to his feet, the chair clattering to the floor behind him.
"Mr. President?" ventured Leo, his trusted friend and Chief of Staff.
President Bartlet's white face gradually pulsed into crimson. "Those bastards have my daughter!" He stormed from the room into the Oval Office, practically dragging the secret service agent along with him. "I want to know everything. How in hell did you lose my daughter?"
Leo leapt after him, Josh following him in a heartbeat. The other senior staff members sat for a moment more, their game forgotten as the shock of the President's announcement washed over them. As one, they rose to follow their President.
"That's not good enough!" raged Bartlet. "You get her back here to me now." He shrugged off Leo's calming hand. He sank back against the desk, as Ron Butterfield explained the investigation. The data washed over him: airports had been closed, all secret service and FBI agents had been activated, overseas agencies had been alerted and all vehicles heading out of D.C. were being searched.
Bartlet covered his face with his hands. "Abby-"
"She's been notified, sir." The agent replied. "She's on her way from New Hampshire."
Fitzwallace, the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff entered without preamble. "Mr. President," he began, "I just heard. We have our military on standby."
"Military?" Bartlet stared, dazed, at Fitzwallace.
"Yes, Mr. President." Fitzwallace cleared his throat, uncomfortable. "White House policy is no negotiations. Whoever has taken her, will pay, however."
"By God, they will!" Bartlet replied, lurching forward from his desk. His anger vanished, replaced by misery. "But I want her back, Fitz. Is that too much to ask?"
Silence settled in the Oval Office. Nobody was willing to meet anybody's eyes. CJ cleared her throat. "Mr. President, the story will be breaking soon. We have to be ready for the press."
Bartlet raised his head, his eyes bright with unholy fire. "I'll make a statement, demanding her release." Around him, his advisors shook their heads. He glared at them. v "Don't worry, Mr. President," Toby intervened, speaking softly. "We'll take care of it." He ushered CJ and Sam from the room.
Two Weeks Later.
CJ sat at her desk, her head in her hands. She looked up as Toby entered. She didn't dare look hopeful. "Any news?"
Toby shook his head and slumped onto her couch. "Nothing."
CJ massaged her temples. "I don't know how much more of this the President can stand. I don't know how much more I can stand."
"I know," Toby quietly replied.
"How can they not find anything?" railed a frustrated CJ.
"I don't know." Toby's voice dropped so low, it could hardly be heard.
CJ picked up the phone and began to dial. "I'm not waiting any more."
"What are you doing?"
CJ hung up the phone and rose, reaching for her coat. "I'm going for a walk. I can't make that call here."
Toby followed. "What call?"
CJ ignored him. "Carol, I'm going out for a little while."
"But CJ--" began Carol.
CJ waved her off as she left the office. "I know, I know. I'll be back in plenty of time for it."
"What call?" Toby persisted.
CJ shook her head and kept walking fast.
Toby quickened his step. "CJ..."
"Toby, never mind. I was crazy to think of it. I just need to clear my head, ok?"
Toby didn't believe it for a moment but he stopped, letting her go. He rubbed at his forehead, staring after her, before turning back to his work. The West Wing hadn't been the same since Zoey's kidnapping.
Leo surveyed his staff. Each of them showed the stresses of working for a President under great strain. Even he found it difficult to come into work. "All right, I guess that covers it. Anything else?"
Nobody volunteered anything, so Leo dismissed them. The senior staffers filed out. CJ waited for them to leave. Toby lingered in the doorway, curious.
CJ cleared her throat. "Actually Leo, I'd like to take a couple of days off."
Leo raised a sandy eyebrow. "This is not a good time to--"
"It never is," CJ replied, ignoring Toby's measuring gaze. Why couldn't he look as surprised as everyone else? "Part of it is over the weekend, so it'll be quiet. As long as Josh doesn't do any of the briefings, you'll be fine. And you can always ruin my vacation by calling me on my cell phone."
"You haven't taken a day off since the shooting." Leo nodded. "I guess we can survive without you for a few days, but the moment we find Zoey, I want you back here. Got that?"
"Going far?" asked Toby.
"You wanted something, Toby?" Leo asked.
Toby shook his head and pursued CJ, as her long strides bore her away. "Where are you going?"
"Back to my office!" she called over her shoulder.
CJ paused and looked over her shoulder at him. "Since when have you been interested in what I do with my time off?"
"You never have time off," Toby pointed out. "Where are you going?"
CJ took a deep breath. "L.A.," she replied, continuing to walk.
Toby narrowed his eyes. "You're not thinking of leaving here, are you?"
"What?" CJ's stunned response was enough answer for Toby. "No... there are just people I have to see."
"People." CJ glanced at her watch. "Lunch on the Mall," she said. "I'll tell you everything then. But Toby," CJ halted and pinned him with a serious look, "you must promise not to say a word to anybody."
The water sparkled in the early afternoon sun. Toby put aside his sandwich. "Spill."
"There are certain people in L.A. I know of," began CJ, "who would love the opportunity to redeem themselves in the government's eyes." CJ paused and added as an afterthought, "Although, they're innocent."
"And you think these people can help find Zoey?"
CJ leveled her gaze at Toby. "I think it's as good a chance as any."
Toby regarded her, scratching his beard. He came to a decision. "I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not! I have to meet them alone, if I break my word, they'll never trust me."
Toby just looked at her.
Los Angeles, One day later.
CJ drove along Sepulveda Boulevard. She sighed and turned to her companion. "Toby, the silent treatment is killing me. What do you want to know?"
"Who are these people we're going to meet?"
"Assuming we meet them, seeing you've decided to tag along, against their request," CJ almost growled. "About ten years ago, during the Gulf War, a crack commando unit escaped from maximum security. They are here in Los Angeles, acting as soldiers of fortune."
"And you expect these people-"
"They're innocent, Toby," CJ interrupted. "I know one of them." She took a deep breath and let it out. The presence of the Director of Communications wasn't helping any with the tension building within her. "If anyone can help us, they can."
"CJ, this could be illegal."
CJ raised an eyebrow and tilted her head to look at him. "So? Toby, if Zoey isn't found soon, we may not have a President to serve at the pleasure of. I'm willing to take a little risk to have equilibrium restored. Aren't you?"
Reluctantly, Toby nodded.
She made a couple of turns, guiding their rental car down an alleyway before pulling into a covered garage.
An old woman lifted her head from scrounging in a garbage can, and waddled over. Her plastic bag of cans banged against her faded flower print dress. "You can't park there!" she trilled.
CJ rolled down the window. "Look, we're just waiting for someone. We'll be gone in a minute."
The old woman bent over and peered into the car. The distinct scent of cigars wafted into the cabin. "Well, well, well." The old woman's voice deepened. "The instructions said, come alone." He turned and began to walk away.
"He insisted on coming," CJ called after him. She got out of the car. "Wait! He won't say a word. He didn't think it was safe for me to come by myself."
The disguised man paused, and fiddled with something in his ear. He straightened up and about-faced. "H.M. says we should give you a chance. You being his sister and all."
"Sister?" murmured Toby.
CJ whirled and pointed her finger. "Not a word!"
A black van with a red stripe pulled up alongside the disguised man, its side door sliding open.
"Get in," the disguised man ordered, popping a fresh cigar in his mouth.
Toby hurried to catch up, sliding into a seat as the door slammed closed behind him. In front, the disguised man pulled off his curly wig, revealing silver hair.
"Sister!" exclaimed a thin man in a baseball cap, hugging CJ tightly.
Toby thought she looked a little awkward as she extricated herself, giving the man a shy kiss on the cheek.
CJ turned to Toby, ignoring the thin man's possessive arm. "This is H.M. Murdock." She poked the thin man in the chest and he giggled. "My brother."
"That's right!" The thin man's grin had a touch of insanity to it.
"Oh brother!" From behind them, a handsome man with blond hair rolled his eyes.
"But--" began Toby, confused.
"Later," warned CJ.
"Brother is right, Face Man," boasted H.M. "And don't you forget it."
The man in front twisted in his seat to face them. "Let's save the introductions until we decide whether we should take on this case." He winked at CJ's glare. He turned his attention to the muscular African-American next to him, dripping with gold jewelry. "B.A., let's move."
The soldiers of fortune hustled CJ and Toby into the motel room. As they entered, their hosts fanned out, automatically checking the windows and other rooms before settling themselves in the small living area.
"So--" The stocky silver-haired man sat on the arm of the lounge. "Suppose you tell me what you need the Colonel's help for."
CJ exchanged an uneasy glance with Toby. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod. 'You've gone this far,' he seemed to say. CJ cleared her throat. "You know the President's daughter is missing..."
The silver-haired man nodded. The handsome blond man bolted upright from his relaxed position on the sofa. "Hey, wait a minute! I've seen you somewhere before!"
"Very good, Face." The silver-haired man took the cigar out of his mouth long enough to say. "I didn't know you watched CSPAN."
"You know who I am." CJ wasn't asking a question.
"This lady's from the gov'ment?" B.A. prepared his automatic gun for firing.
Both CJ and Toby paled, remembering the last time they heard gunshots.
"Sit down, B.A.!" the silver-haired man commanded. B.A. obeyed, grumbling. He smiled at CJ. "You want us to find Zoey Bartlet." CJ nodded. "You want us to do what the secret service, the FBI and no doubt the entire military force and every police officer in this country has been unable to do."
CJ met his gaze evenly. "That's right."
A grin split the silver haired man's face as he stuck out his gloved hand. CJ found herself shaking it. "The name's Smith, Colonel John Hannibal Smith, and you've got a deal." He winked again, his blue eyes sparkling. "You can call me Hannibal."
"You know H.M. already." Swiftly, he introduced the other members of the team. "B.A. Baracus, the best mechanic in the world, and Templeton 'Face' Peck." He smirked. "Keep an eye on him, he's the ladies man."
Peck didn't even try to protest, turning on a 500-watt smile in CJ's direction. She grinned goofily back, noticing Toby's dark-eyed glare.
"As it happens," continued the Colonel, "we've already been making enquiries. We may have something for you very soon."
CJ beamed at him. "That's great."
The light went from the Colonel's eyes. "Now we discuss terms."
"Oh, I don't believe it," Toby muttered under his breath.
It didn't go unheard. "Listen, buster," Face spoke up, a fresh, unlit cigar in his hand poked in Toby's direction. "You don't understand: we're wanted men!" Even in mid-rant, the charmer couldn't resist a smile in CJ's direction. "We need some guarantees, some--"
"It's ok, Face." Hannibal held up his hand for silence. "Allow me. The deal is this: each of us gets a pardon."
"Done," CJ replied promptly.
"CJ..." warned Toby.
"What?" CJ burst out. "You think the President won't actually want to thank the men that rescued his daughter?" She turned to Hannibal. "The deal is as good as done. I can call the President and--" She broke off with a frown as Hannibal again held up his hand for silence. "Well?"
"You can't call the President," Hannibal informed her. "He cannot break the law, and you'd be asking him to commit conspiracy to conceal a felon. No, I trust you can pull this off."
CJ nodded, feeling a small glow of satisfaction. How long had she worked for respect from her co-workers? Colonel Smith seemed to have no problem with her capabilities. "My card," she said, fishing it out of her purse. "Use the cell phone number, or call us at the hotel."
B.A. dropped them off at their hotel and sped away.
"Well," said Toby, dusting off his jacket. "I certainly hope you can pull this off."
"Toby," CJ sighed.
"What? You think it's all right for you to break laws, consorting with criminals, on the off-chance they'll find Zoey?" Toby ranted as they entered the hotel and crossed the lobby. "What makes you think they'll hand her over? And explain another thing to me: how on earth can H.G. Murdock be your brother? He's not a Cregg."
"It's H.M.," CJ replied absently, shooting a curious glance over at the check-in desk. "And he's not my brother, not really. He just thinks he is."
"And you let him get away with that?" Toby squawked.
CJ returned her attention to Toby. "He was my brother's best friend. My brother who died from friendly fire in the Gulf." Toby actually quailed from her stony look. "If H.M. wants to be my brother, that's--" She paused in mid-stride, looking over at the check-in desk again.
"That's what?" Toby turned, still walking.
CJ changed direction and strode over to the check-in desk where a woman with long blonde hair was being thoroughly kissed. "Joshua Lyman!" she exclaimed. "What do you think you're doing?"
Josh broke off the kiss with Donnatella Moss. "What does it look like?" he asked with an impish grin. Donna, dazed, didn't even try to respond, staring at her boss with astonished, dewy eyes.
"What are you doing here in L.A.?" CJ demanded.
"It's the weekend. We're taking a little break."
"In L.A.?" CJ's voice dripped with disbelief.
Toby caught up with them. "Is there anybody back in D.C. running the White House?"
Josh gave Toby an "of course" look. "It should've worked," he complained.
"What should have worked?" CJ reluctantly allowed herself to be derailed.
"It works in the movies," Josh explained. "You know, where the hero is in danger of being spotted, he grabs the beautiful girl--"
"Why thank you, Josh." Donna beamed.
"-- and he kisses her and the bad guys walk right past."
"So we're the bad guys now?" Toby's soft voice had a dangerous edge.
"No, no!" exclaimed Josh, raising his hands in surrender. "Of course not."
CJ sighed, folding her arms. "So what are you doing here?"
"Checking in." Josh's cheeky grin was unmovable.
CJ turned her basilisk gaze to Donna. She blushed. "You remember how you told Carol not to tell anyone where you were staying unless you never came back?" CJ nodded, knowing what was coming. "She got worried and confided to me. Josh overheard and thought it best he come along as--" her blush deepened "--the man."
"What am I?" muttered Toby, although nobody appeared to be paying attention. "Chopped liver?"
"And Carol?" CJ whirled about without waiting for an answer. "Let's go upstairs, shall we?" She strode away, rightly assuming the others would follow.
"Carol's still in D.C. For some reason, she didn't want to come." Donna's forehead creased in puzzlement.
"I wonder why?" CJ's dripping sarcasm slid off like water off a duck's back.
They crammed into the elevator, thanks to Josh and Donna's luggage. Toby eyed it, remembering the sole suit bag he had brought with him. "Just the weekend?" He raised an eyebrow at Josh.
"Most of it is Donna's," was Josh's best defense.
Donna swatted him. "Josh Lyman, of all the things to say!"
The elevator door opened. "Whoever they belong to," CJ said as they stepped out, "you won't be needing them." She opened the door to her hotel room with one easy swipe of her keycard. "Because you're going straight back."
"Not likely." Josh walked by her and sat in the room's sole armchair. He hooked a leg over his knee, all jocularity gone. "What's going on, CJ?"
"You don't need to know." CJ closed the door with a bang.
"Nice room," muttered Donna, keeping herself out of the line of fire.
"You think I don't need to know why the Press Secretary and the Director of Communications have gone off to L.A. for the weekend?" A smirk crossed his face briefly. "Unless it's personal."
"My room is across the hall." Toby's quiet voice and folded arms earned him an apologetic shrug from Josh.
"Let's get this straight." CJ leaned forward, blocking Josh's view of Toby, getting into his face. "It's very personal and I really don't appreciate you coming to my rescue. I can handle this myself."
Leo McGarry knew he should never delay when the President hollered for him, particularly in that decibel range. He stuck his head around the door connecting the Oval Office with his. "Yes, Mr. President?" Of course, the President had been hollering more often these past two weeks -- but it was better than his dark, brooding moments. Leo couldn't blame the President: he'd be going crazy if it was his daughter too.
Hell, Zoey nearly was his daughter.
Bartlet fixed his Chief of Staff with an icy glare. "What," he asked, "are three of my senior staffers doing in California?" He sighed loudly at Leo's blank, confused expression. "Leo..."
"What?" Leo shrugged. "How do I know? CJ is taking some time off this weekend." Since Zoey's kidnapping, Leo had spent his weekends at the White House: not that he had a wife to go home to, but his friend needed him.
The President ticked off his fingers: "CJ, Toby and Josh Lyman. All in L.A." He closed his hands into a fist and pounded it into his palm. "Why?"
"Toby and Josh?" An icy trickle slipped down Leo's back. "It's the weekend, Mr. President..." he began lamely.
"Weekend-schmeekend. What are they up to?"
He dodged the question. "How do you know they're in L.A.?"
"I am the President, Leo. I am supposed to know these things."
"Forgive me for saying, Mr. President. But if you know where they are, why don't you know why they are there?" Leo's wolfish grin was worse than a smirk.
Bartlet was having none of it. "This is no joking matter, Leo..."
Leo shrugged again, banishing his smile. "Put a tail on them, then, if you're so concerned."
Slumping against the rim of his desk, Bartlet shrugged. "I'd rather use the resources to find my daughter than chase after people who are supposed to be HERE working for ME!" His voice ended in a bellow.
"Yes, Mr. President. I'll call them and order them back." Leo headed back to his office. "CJ too?"
"She's on vacation, you said?" The President considered. "She used to work out there and CJ hasn't stopped since the shooting. She needs a vacation." He wiped a hand over his eyes. "I need a vacation."
"Yes, Mr. President. We all do," Leo replied crisply and not without some sympathy. "I'll get them back."
"Isn't she just the sweetest thing?" chirped H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock from his cross-legged position on the kitchen counter. "Makes a brother's heart swell to see a sibling rise so high."
"She certainly is tall," remarked Face, grinning at Hannibal. The latter was deep in thought, cigar smoke wreathed about his head. His head tilted back against the high headrest of the easy chair.
"She's not your sister, fool!" B.A. growled from his guard post by the door. "And I'm sick of you talkin' about her. You should be thinkin' of how to rescue the President's daughter, crazy man."
Murdock literally growled back at B.A. and cowered back at the sound of the African-American's bass snarling and golden claws.
Hannibal pulled the wet end of his cigar from his mouth. "Now, we know that Zoey's boyfriend was targeted because of his skin color. Stands to reason that she would be targeted by the same people."
"But she wasn't shot at, Hannibal," Face reminded his superior.
"I realize that, Face," Hannibal replied, continuing even as Face opened his mouth to make another point, "and I also realize that the racist groups in this country are also already under tight observation by the President's men. But she's alive, somewhere, and that's not standard operating procedure for these types of people."
Silence fell in the room. "Well, what do you suggest then, Colonel?" Face braved the still air. "We've been keeping our eyes open since this happened."
"You know," drawled Murdock, "there was a guy in the hospital with me who was racist." He glanced over at B.A. "You wouldn't have liked him." B.A. growled back.
"I didn't know you could get locked up for being racist these days," reflected Face. "Seems a bit of a shame that isn't the case."
Murdock puffed up, outraged. "You think we want those maniacs in there with us?"
"What was he doing in there?" Hannibal asked quietly.
Murdock shrugged. "He didn't look like one of those skin heads either. An older sort..."
"Thank God for your moments of lucidity." Hannibal nodded. "It's a start." He pointed his cigar at Murdock and Face. "Murdock, you're going to have to go back in--"
"Aww, Colonel..." Murdock pouted. "But my sister's in town!"
Hannibal ignored him. "And you, Face, are going to help him get all he needs to know out of this racist guy. Meantime, B.A. and I will do a little nosing around and see what we can come up with."
"We've been nosing around for the last week," Face complained. "What makes you think you're going to turn up anything now?"
"Nothing. But we have bait," Hannibal glanced aside at B.A., who flexed his biceps, "and we'll see what bites."
CJ put down the phone receiver. "I don't know how Leo knew." Her eyes shot daggers at Josh. "But you are all on the next plane home. President's orders," she added, as Toby began to protest. "You too, Toby. None of you are to say anything about this. Agreed?"
They all nodded.
Donna pouted. "Josh, can we at least go walk down Hollywood Boulevard?"
"Sure thing." Josh rose, put his arm around his assistant and walked to the door. "Just be careful, CJ." The door closed behind them.
Toby remained where he was, pacing by the window. He glanced sidelong at CJ's folded arms. "I don't like this, CJ."
"I know you don't, but you've met them now. They'll be doing all the work." Her frown faded as Toby strode towards her.
He rested a hand on her arm. "Just be careful, OK."
CJ smiled with relief. "I will. Have a safe flight."
Toby cracked a rare grin. "With Tweedledum and Tweedledee for company? Right."
CJ managed a wan smile, her folded arms hugging herself as Toby closed the door behind him. She was alone.
The VA Mental Institute's soothing aqua walls had little effect on its inhabitants. Templeton Peck trailed Murdock as he boldly flung open the doors of the VAMI.
"I'm back!" exclaimed Murdock, his arms spread wide. "And I'm black!"
"Uhh, excuse me?" Face wasn't quite sure he'd heard him correctly.
Murdock faced his buddy, his eyes rounded. "I'm black, brother! Don't you be dissin' me now, y'hear, fool?"
"Oh boy," muttered Face. "B.A. isn't going to like this!" He plastered a smile on his face, smoothed the lapels of his long white lab coat. Grabbing Murdock's arm, he hustled him to the front desk.
"Another one got away, nurse," Face sighed, tut-tutting. "I caught him just outside. I hope I'm not going to have to report this."
The nurse grew pale. "Please don't!"
"Well," allowed Face, after a moment of thought, "you seem nice." He gave her his smarmiest smile. "So why don't we let it slide for right now."
At the nurse's nod, he strong-armed Murdock by her. "Ow! Ow!" shrieked Murdock. "You're hurting me, mon!"
Face frowned. "So you're Jamaican now?" He released Murdock, who dusted off his sleeves and flicked back imaginary dreadlocks. "Which way?"
"Follow me." Murdock headed off in a rolling, lurching walk, as if he had been at sea for years. Face could only think this was supposed to be some sort of "cool" walk. Shaking his head and offering strained smiles to the medical staff he passed, he followed.
Murdock eventually came to a halt. "Here," he said. "Room 316." He flung open the door. "Hey!" he exclaimed. "That's not him." He turned a lost, puzzled look to Face. "He was here last month!"
Face peeked over Murdock's shoulder to see a thin black man sitting on the edge of the bed, staring out into space. "I certainly hope not." He nudged Murdock. "Come on, let's see what we can find out."
They backtracked to the nearest nurses' station. "Hi there." Face beamed at the nurse. "Do you recall the man who was in Room 316 last month?"
The nurse harrumphed. "I sure do! He busted out of here about three weeks ago." She caught sight of Murdock hovering behind Face. "Hey... you look familiar..."
"Of course he looks familiar," blustered Face. "He's that guy's brother!"
Face's smile grew wider. "That's right. Could we see his box of personal effects? It may give us a clue on how to find him."
"Good luck." The nurse shrugged. "It's in the back room. Help yourself."
Face and Murdock sidled past the nurse, the crazed pilot looking like he was about to bolt. Wall-to-wall metal shelving filled the back room, laden with boxes of varying sizes.
"Here we go!" exclaimed Face. He pulled down the box, marked #316. "Let's take a look, shall we?"
Murdock hovered over him as Face pulled off the lid. "Clothing," Face did inventory as he pulled out various items. "Hat. A-ha! A wallet! This could have something..."
Murdock slowly lifted a pea-green corduroy jacket from the discarded pile of Wilkins' clothing. "Nice..." he crooned, pulling it on and smoothing away the creases. Face glanced up briefly and shook his head, returning to the box's contents.
Finally, Face flung everything back into the box. "Nothing!" he sighed, disgusted.
"What about this?" Murdock held up a piece of crumpled paper.
Face snatched it out of his hand. "Where did you get this?"
Murdock looked down his nose at Face. "From his pocket, of course," he declared in an upper-crust English accent.
Face smoothed it out and held it up to Murdock to see. A swastika hovered above what was clearly an address. "Shall we see if it's still current?" he asked, grinning.
CJ tried to relax. For some reason, pacing the length of her hotel room, back and forth, didn't seem to be helping. As she brushed her bangs off her face for the umpteenth time, CJ decided it had been far more restful to watch Toby do all the legwork.
She glanced over at the bed, where a Georgette Heyer paperback lay discarded. Not even the great lady's wit could keep her occupied. Here she was in Los Angeles, out of the loop and on her own. With no word from The A-Team.
The phone rang, jangling her nerves. She snatched up the receiver. "Hello?"
"There's a diner around the corner from your hotel on 7th. Be there in ten minutes." The line went dead.
CJ collected her purse and headed for the elevator. Had they something already?
CJ ordered coffee from the waitress and looked across to the entrance. The setting sun turned the L.A. smog into a dull red haze. She had chosen a table well back from the door, but with a good view of it. Ten minutes, they said. Where were they?
The diner door swung open and Hannibal entered, clad in a casual, light-gray coat and dark pants. He caught sight of CJ and headed over to the booth. "Mind if I sit there?" he asked, pointing at CJ's seat. "I like to keep my eye on the exits."
Nodding, CJ slid around. "Where's everyone else?"
"We're waiting to hear back from Face." Hannibal steepled his fingers. "B.A. dropped me off and he'll be back soon once Murdock's finished his research."
"We think we know who has Ms. Bartlet. Murdock's digging up some more details on the group on the internet, while Face scouts out some addresses."
Hannibal beamed. "We're professionals, Ms. Cregg. A little risk is part of the game. Besides," Hannibal resumed after giving the waitress his order. "Both B.A. and Murdock would be a liability in this case."
"Because B.A.'s black." CJ understood that much. "But H.M.?"
Hannibal tapped at his temple with a gloved finger.
The waitress delivered Hannibal's coffee.
"I have to say," said Hannibal casually, "that I admired your work after the assassination attempt." CJ focused on the steaming cup of coffee before her, refusing to acknowledge the compliment. "I mean it. You had been fired upon, had a seriously wounded colleague and President and you got through it all with dignified calm."
CJ's thin smile was more of a grimace. "I was in shock. I couldn't even remember what happened."
"That doesn't matter." Hannibal leant back. "You could have collapsed in a jibbering heap, you could have allowed somebody else to do it." He grinned. "And when you let fly with that piece on gun crime..." He winked. "Not that I agree with you on the gun control issue."
CJ blinked, opened her mouth to argue and shut it again. Her personal preferences had to be put aside, if it meant Zoey's return. She folded her hands about her cup, her eyes serious. "There's one other thing that I didn't want to mention with Toby around."
"I want to be there." Hannibal leant back and gave a slight shake of his head. "I have to be there."
"That's not part of the deal, Ms. Cregg."
"Call me CJ." She leant forward, her forefinger pounding the table as she made her point. "Zoey has to be scared out of her wits right now. God knows I would be, in her place. And to have a bunch of strangers, not in uniform, come and snatch her out of there, is going to be even more terrifying. I would be a familiar face--she'd know right away she's safe."
"I can't allow you to--"
"Look, Colonel," CJ's voice dipped low, dangerously low. The calm voice of reason that sent interns running faster than her yells seemed to have little effect on Hannibal. He blinked, but gave no other sign of being cowed.
"No, you look." In turn, he leant closer, lacking a cigar to make his point. "You're a civilian and this job is no place for a civilian. You would be a liability if we were to take you in there with us..."
"I understand that, but I want to be there. I'll sit in your van and wait."
The two of them stared each other down over steaming cups of coffee. Hannibal leant back. "Deal. But if the situation's too dangerous for you, you will let me make that decision, OK?"
CJ shrugged and nodded. "Sure." She lowered her eyes and took a restorative sip of coffee. She smiled. "Now that we have that out of the way. Why did you call me here?"
"I figured you'd be going crazy, not knowing what was going on. I know you know people here in L.A., but somehow I figured you weren't in the mood for visiting right now."
CJ raised her cup in a silent toast. "You're very perceptive, Colonel."
"Call me Hannibal."
The two fell silent. "Want some dinner?" Hannibal offered at last.
CJ's head tilted slightly, her golden brown hair falling free. "Sure."
They ordered some unexciting diner fare, with the obligatory fries. CJ was relieved to see that Hannibal's black gloves actually came off. He removed them as the steaming food arrived.
"Murdock hasn't stopped singing your praises," Hannibal said finally, once the edge had been taken off his hunger. "It sounds like he's missed you."
"I used to work out here," CJ acknowledged. "And I kinda miss the goofy guy myself."
"We take good care of him, CJ."
"Uh huh." CJ swallowed a mouthful of fries. "He never mentioned you guys at all, you know. Not until the day I left." She smiled, staring off into space. "I think it was meant as some kind of safety blanket." She swirled a fry in the ketchup. "You knew my brother, didn't you."
The softness of her query took Hannibal by surprise. "I did. A good man."
CJ raised an eyebrow. "That's the usual military-speak, Col--Hannibal. What I want to know is what the hell happened out there." She gnawed at the corner of her mouth, annoyed at revealing her bitterness.
"CJ, friendly fire is never pretty."
"I know." CJ ducked her head.
Hannibal covered her hand with his. CJ stilled. "He was a good kid, CJ. Eager to serve, a strong sense of duty. But nobody could have prevented it. It was one of those crazy mix-ups."
"Murdock was devastated."
So were you, thought Hannibal. "It took us all by surprise." He sighed. "Dammit all, CJ, I know these platitudes aren't helping one iota, but they're all I've got. I liked him. He had great potential..."
CJ moved her hand, so that her thumb ran soothingly over the back of his palm. "It's all right," she murmured, sounding dangerously close to tears. She sniffed and tossed back her hair with a flick of her head, painting on a false smile. "Do you think the boys are going to make it in time for dessert?"
Hannibal returned her smile. "Guaranteed." He slipped his hand free of hers and resumed eating.
True to their prediction, B.A. and Murdock showed up as CJ and Hannibal were reviewing the dessert menus. "Just in time!" CJ greeted them, as Murdock slid around the booth to sit by her. B.A. took a cautious seat on the end. "We were discussing dessert."
"Key lime pie for me!" Murdock piped up, snagging one of CJ's cooling fries. They ordered, Murdock dithering between his original choice and CJ's hot fudge sundae, until CJ promised to share.
"Heard from Face?" Hannibal asked, once the waitress had gone.
"One last address to check," B.A. replied, glancing, uncertain, over his shoulder. "Said he'd be by once he'd done." He caught CJ's glance at Murdock. "That crazy man should've been with him."
"Now, don't blame me." CJ noticed the shift in Murdock's accent and struggled to place it. "I can't help it if I'm black."
CJ bit back a grin. "But, H.M.," she protested. "We're siblings!"
"Sis," he said, hooking an arm about her shoulders. "I hate to tell you this, but you're adopted!"
"Adopted!" CJ feigned surprise. "Does that mean we're no longer brother and sister?"
This remark gained her a crushing hug. "Aw, sis. We'll always be siblings in spirit." The two of them hooked pinkie fingers and shook on it.
Hannibal cleared his throat. "Captain Murdock, report."
Murdock straightened, his fingers tapping on the table as if he were typing at a keyboard. "Well, Colonel baby-" he seemed unaware of the smile exchanged between CJ and Hannibal. B.A. grimaced. His voice transformed into that of an English professor. "This is an unusual group we've stumbled across. They prefer to act in a nonviolent manner, hence the reason they have not been targeted by the feds." He shook his head at this folly. "They're white supremacists, but their policy is that non-believers can be converted. This is done through gentle education and not so gentle brainwashing. They use many of the tricks the cultists use."
"So they're not armed?" Hannibal pulled out a cigar and stuck it in his mouth, unlit.
"Nothing online seems to suggest it. They don't have weapon permits either but then," H.M. flashed a goofy grin. "Neither do we."
"This would not be the time to bring up my views on gun control, would it," CJ wryly remarked.
Dessert arrived as CJ suffered dirty looks from the team. She looked away from the withering glares and saw Face enter the diner. She waved him over.
He leant against the back of the booth by Hannibal. "Well, I don't know if I should be sitting in mixed company," he drawled, disgust on his face.
"You found 'em?" Hannibal looked up at him.
Peck took the hint and pulled up a chair. "Indeed I did. Enough to make your skin crawl."
"Is Zoey there?" CJ asked hopefully.
Face shook his head. "Well, she could be, but they aren't exactly letting her appear to just anybody." He turned to Hannibal. "I'm going back tonight to get inducted. I'll find out for sure then."
The conversation turned to plan-making as Face described the house. It was set way out of town in an isolated spot, surrounded by trees. Murdock was assigned digging out the plans. Face would contact them as soon as he was able.
Dinner over, the team were itching to move. "I'll walk Ms. Cregg back to her hotel," Hannibal announced. "I have my cell phone." He patted his pocket. "Let me know if anything comes up."
"Really, that's not necessary," CJ assured him.
"It would be my pleasure." The colonel's gentle smile had a touch of steel in it. Raising an eyebrow, CJ shrugged.
"Uhh, Hannibal..." began Face and was silenced by his commander's narrowed eyes.
"I'll see you later."
They left the diner together, the group splitting up to go their separate ways. Murdock muttered something to Hannibal, which made him laugh. He climbed into the van, crying: "We black brothers should ride together!"
"Shut up, foo'" The door slammed shut. Face wandered off in the opposite direction.
Hannibal extended the crook of his arm. "Shall we?"
CJ slipped her arm through his, realizing for the first time they were the same height. "So tell me, was your warning that Face was the ladies' man made to throw me off the scent?"
Hannibal grinned. "If I didn't say that, Face would be offended."
They strolled along the sidewalk, enjoying the cool evening air. "Does it ever bother you," CJ asked suddenly, "that you're always on the run?"
"With any luck, that will soon be over." Hannibal paused. "I'll miss it though: the adrenalin rush, the planning, the close escapes. It sure as hell beats a desk job."
"Oh, I don't know." CJ chuckled. "My desk job can get pretty hairy at times. What will you do once you have your pardon?"
"If we rescue the President's daughter." Hannibal shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it." CJ gave him a long, hard look and waited him out. "All right, the usual things: a home, a wife." He scratched his head. "I think I'm too old for kids. A job that has some excitement to it. I don't think I want to go back to the Army. The pardon won't matter there."
They reached the hotel. "Well, here we are," CJ said brightly, slipping free of Hannibal's arm. "Do you want to come up and make sure my hotel room is safe?"
Hannibal's grin reminded her of a Cheshire cat. "I think that would be wise." CJ moved towards the front door. A touch to her arm held her back. "But I think we should go in the back way."
Puzzlement creased CJ's face for a moment before she nodded. They entered the parking structure, taking a side door into the hotel and a service elevator up to CJ's floor.
CJ noticed Hannibal's pleasant smile fade into a constricted grimace, his eyes darting as they walked along the corridor to her room. "Nervous?" She hadn't expected to see this career soldier to be so antsy.
His grin returned, his white eyebrows lifting. "In more ways than one."
CJ felt her own nerves coil, although her hand was steady as she opened her door. She stepped in first, Hannibal quickly closing the door behind her. A chill stole over her as Hannibal checked the room, poking his head into the en suite bathroom.
He turned and saw her standing there watching him. "Sorry, it's a habit." He pulled out a cigar. "I don't suppose this is one of those non-smoking rooms?"
CJ shrugged. "I don't think so." He settled himself on the couch and lit up his cigar, sighing with satisfaction. "Umm, want coffee or anything?"
"How about some wine?" Hannibal suggested.
CJ checked the bar fridge and produced a small bottle with a flourish. She poured the contents into two glasses and handed one to Hannibal.
He patted the cushion next to him. "Come and sit down." She did so, turning slightly so she could face him. "Tell me, CJ, why did you choose the A-Team?"
"Are you having doubts you can do this?" CJ challenged in return.
"No." Hannibal blew a smoke ring. "My concern is why you think we can do anything. It seems to me you've come to us with high expectations."
"You'll do what you can," CJ responded quietly. "I'm not asking for any more than that." She shrugged. "Zoey could be in Kentucky for all we know."
Hannibal nodded. "But--"
"But Los Angeles didn't seem too likely either, and that in itself makes it likely." CJ shrugged. "If she's not here..."
"We'll go back to the source, D.C., and look for her there," Hannibal reassured. "But why us? Why did you risk coming to us?"
CJ shrugged. "I serve at the pleasure of the President." A wry smile twisted her lips. "And believe me, he isn't particularly pleasant right now." She shrugged again and sipped at her wine. "You and your men were an untapped resource and Murdock did say if I ever needed you..." She sighed. "Murdock respects and admires you, Hannibal, and whatever you might say about him, he knows people."
"Indeed he does." Hannibal leant forward and stubbed out his cigar. "Indeed he does." He shifted to face her, resting his elbow on the back of the couch. He drank from his glass, savoring the taste of the red wine. "I'm a little rusty at this but: I like you, CJ: you're talented, beautiful, caring..." He trailed off, sighing. "Am I a fool for saying that I was actually jealous of you and my captain horsing around at dinner tonight?"
CJ smiled. "I am going to be straight with you, Colonel." Hannibal straightened, hearing his title. "I am brilliant at pushing people away. I'll drive your Corvette into a pond, tell you your movies suck, and scoop you on a story without blinking an eye."
Hannibal relaxed slightly smiling. "CJ, if it helps, I know my movies suck."
"You're in the movies?" CJ asked, startled. "How could you and not--" She shook her head, as Hannibal opened his mouth, willing to answer. "The fact is, Colonel John Hannibal Smith, you're an attractive man. I haven't seen you in action yet, but I've heard about it."
She glanced down at her hands. "Anyway, I just wanted you to know."
"Thanks." Hannibal finished his wine, as if for courage. "Because I have to tell you: I don't own a Corvette, I don't write stories and my movies do suck." His eyelid shivered in a wink. "I play a monster lizard. Nobody ever sees my face." He put down his glass. "On the other hand, I'd never be around when you need me, I'm frequently in danger and I might be captured any day now, which would result in my execution."
"So?" CJ challenged. "I work all hours at the White House, am always on call and the only time I can call my own is the hour between 5am and 6am. This is the first vacation I've taken in years."
Hannibal shook his head slowly. "You always have to win, don't you."
CJ grinned. "Not always, but it helps."
"So do I." He took the almost empty glass from her unresisting hands. Hannibal slid forward and kissed her lightly. He pulled back, his pale blue eyes sparkling. "Well?"
"I won't always obey you," CJ breathed.
Hannibal chuckled. "I've noticed."
He kissed her again and CJ leant into him, feeling his warm arms slip around her. Their kiss deepened, growing in passion.
Finally, CJ pulled away slightly, cupping his cheek in her hand. "You know, we could keep necking here like kids..."
"Or we could go to bed," Hannibal finished and they shared a conspiratorial smile. He rose, pulling her up to him. They clung together, their hands exploring where their mouths could not yet go.
CJ awoke to the shrill sound of her cell phone. She raised her head from the pillow and reached for her watch. Nine in the morning? She had never slept so late in her life! The warm light filtering in through the drawn curtains confirmed that her watch hadn't stopped. She reached for her cell phone and punched a button. "Hello?" she growled.
The cell phone kept ringing. She rolled over and nudged Hannibal, who awoke with a start. "It's your phone." CJ swung out of bed and headed for the bathroom, picking up items of clothing on the way.
When she returned, wearing jeans and a fresh t-shirt, she found Hannibal dressing. "It's going down," he announced.
"Already?" CJ paused in the brushing of her hair.
"They'll be here in a few minutes." Hannibal, seated at the end of the bed, pulled on a boot. She sat beside him, pulling on a pair of runners. He rested a hand on her shoulder. "About last night," he began.
She smiled wanly. "No promises."
He nodded, his expression shuttered. "Let's go."
The van door slid open. "What is she doing here?" protested Face.
Hannibal climbed into the front seat. "She's coming with us."
"She's what?" yelled B.A., turning in his driver's seat. "Are you crazy?"
"Yeah, that's my job," piped up H.M.
"Relax, guys, she's staying in the van." Hannibal grinned, turning to face the rear compartment. "OK Face, so what's the story?" v Rapidly Face filled them in. His conman charm had quickly won the white supremacist group over and once inducted, he was shown their prize. "It's Zoey all right," he ended. "I recognized her straight off." He grimaced. "From what I said in front of her though, I don't think she'll like me much."
"Don't worry, she'll get over it." Hannibal lit up a cigar, grinning. "What's the layout like?"
CJ sat in the van's driver's seat. They had driven far out of the Los Angeles metropolis. She looked up the long driveway, which curved out of sight. CJ could barely make out the form of a house through the scrub oaks.
She glanced at her watch for the umpteenth time. How long could they be? According to the plan, Face would get them in the front door. With B.A. acting as back-up out of sight, they would get Zoey and get out. Simple.
When Hannibal had finished relaying his plan, Face had seen the concerned look on her face. "Don't worry," he had reassured her. "None of Hannibal's plans ever turn out the way they're supposed to."
"I resent that," Hannibal had said. "Everyone knows that a plan is only good until you start it."
In the van, CJ glanced at her watch again.
Gun shots. CJ froze. Had it all gone wrong? Should she have insisted they take the information to the FBI?
Murdock came bounding into view. "Start the van!" he hollered. He dashed across the road and slid open the van door. "They're coming!" He grabbed two handfuls of semi-automatic weapons.
CJ turned the key in the ignition, watching Murdock race back into danger. She wanted to call him back, ask him to stay with her, but she knew he would not, and besides, it would shame her to ask.
After a few moments, the team appeared, coming straight down the hill through the brush a step at a time, firing back at the unseen enemy. With her heart in her mouth, CJ recognized Zoey, Hannibal's arm protectively about her.
Hannibal's head turned, barking an order, and their retreat quickened for they were in the open now. B.A. and Murdock were on the flanks, covering Face and Hannibal. They skidded on the graveled driveway, their feet sending up puffs of dirt.
CJ left the van idling and got out, waiting by the open van door. She hugged herself, her foot tapping. "Come on," she whispered, willing them back, willing the gunfire to cease.
A figure in brown appeared at the top of the driveway. A bullet hit him and he stumbled back, spread-eagled in surprise.
They were more than halfway down the driveway now. CJ could not tear away her gaze from Hannibal and Zoey and their slow progress.
Hannibal slipped and went down, Zoey stumbling out of the way. He struggled to rise and CJ saw bright red blossom on his pale grey jacket. Without thinking, CJ sprinted across the road and up the drive.
"Zoey!" she yelled. The young woman glanced around, startled, and then flew into CJ's arms. Face stood in front of them, yelling at them to get to the van. He fired off random shots into the trees in front of them, bending over to help Hannibal to his feet.
CJ's arm stretched out to Hannibal. Their eyes met for an instant, his eyes sparking with pain and anger. She yielded to Zoey's tugging. They ran back to the van, CJ ushering Zoey in front of her, leaving the men to cover them.
Something stung CJ's calf and she stumbled for a moment. They reached the van. CJ pushed Zoey inside. "Get in the back," she ordered, climbing through to the driver's seat.
In minutes, the others had also reached the van. B.A. stood guard while Murdock helped Face pull Hannibal into the van. CJ revved the engine, waiting for the word to go.
B.A. flung open the front door. "Go!" he yelled, climbing in as the side door slammed shut.
CJ's foot hit the accelerator, pain shooting up her leg as the wheels squealed in protest.
They were away. CJ kept the pedal down, relying on her D.C. driving technique to get them around the corners.
"There's nobody following us." B.A. couldn't stand watching his van being abused any more. "Pull over and let me drive!"
CJ obeyed with alacrity, climbing into the back. Murdock moved to the front, patting his 'sister' on the shoulder as he passed. Hannibal leant heavily against Face, clutching at his wounded shoulder.
The van zoomed off, B.A. comfortably at the controls.
Wild-eyed, Zoey clung to the headrest of the backseat. "Who are these people?"
"Later, Zoey." Hearing her voice tremble, CJ pressed a hand over her mouth. She couldn't tear her eyes from Hannibal and his wound. "Is he all right?"
Hannibal's eyes opened a crack, wincing from the pain of the jolting van. "I told you to stay in the van."
"He'll be fine," Face assured her. "Zoey, there's a first aid kit in the back there somewhere. Could you find it for me, sweetheart?"
'Sweetheart?' Zoey mouthed at CJ, but did his bidding.
CJ took the kit from her. "He needs to get to a hospital." She pulled out a wad of bandages. She lifted Hannibal's hand and pressed the linen over it, holding it there.
"There's someone we know," Face said. "We'll take him there."
Hannibal shifted himself up a little higher, ignoring CJ's mutterings to keep still. They exchanged brief glares. "B.A.," he called, his voice hoarse. "I want you to stop at the first police station you find."
"We're not going to turn ourselves in?" Face protested.
Hannibal shook his head, gasping from pain. "No, but we're letting the ladies off."
"But Hannibal--" CJ began to protest.
His cold blue eyes leveled with hers. "No 'but's, Ms. Cregg. You'll do as I tell you, for once. Your first duty is to your President and that means getting his daughter into a secure location a-sap."
"Yes, sir," CJ replied, glaring back at him. "I'd salute but my hands are otherwise occupied with saving your life."
Hannibal closed his eyes, effectively dismissing her.
They reached the outskirts of Los Angeles, having bypassed a number of small communities. B.A. guided the van to the curb. "Here we are."
Face slid the sliding door open.
CJ looked down at the blood welling through Hannibal's compress in dismay. She couldn't let go.
"I'll take care of it." Face solved her predicament and replaced her hand with his against Hannibal's wound.
CJ and Zoey clambered over them and out of the van. CJ put her arm around Zoey's shoulders and they hurried up the few steps to the station house door.
"Hey!" Murdock yelled, his arm hanging out the window. "You're bleeding!"
CJ didn't turn, waving him off. "Let's get you inside," she said, when Zoey dared to pause.
She pulled open the door and guided Zoey in front of her. All seemed quiet in the station house as she went up to the front counter. CJ pulled out her i.d. and slapped it down on the counter. "I want you to get me a secure room and call the FBI."
The desk sergeant didn't even look at her identification. "Who do you think you are?"
"I am the press secretary of the White House." CJ's diamond-hard voice could have cut steel. "And this is the President's daughter."
The desk sergeant stared at Zoey and then down, finally, at the plastic card on the counter. "Right away, Ms. Cregg."
The station house erupted into action. The captain personally took charge, guiding them back to an interview room.
"I need to make a call," CJ demanded.
"I'll bring in a phone." The captain indicated a phone jack in the wall. He leant out of the door and barked an order and in moments the telephone was installed. The captain got her an outside line and handed her the phone.
A familiar, chirpy voice answered her call. "Margaret, I need to talk to Leo." McGarry's assistant protested. "I don't care if he's in with the President, I need to talk to him now."
"What's up, kid?" Leo's cheerful voice came down the line.
CJ sank against the captain's desk with relief. "Leo, I've got her. Zoey's safe. Tell the president."
Leo squawked in her ear.
"There's too much to go into, Leo," CJ sighed, feeling drained.
The captain tapped her on the shoulder. "Uhh, Ms. Cregg," he murmured. "You're dripping blood on my floor."
"CJ!" Leo hollered.
"You heard?" CJ never ceased to be amazed at Leo's fine sense of hearing. "It's just a scratch."
"Just get back home as fast as you can and that's an order."
"Yes, sir. Uhh, Zoey's right here, Leo. I think she might like to talk to her dad." CJ listened to his reply and handed the receiver to Zoey.
"Daddy?" Zoey sobbed.
CJ stepped back to give her space. "Sorry about the mess," she apologized to the captain.
"I'll get the first aid kit." The captain excused himself.
Zoey hung up and flew into CJ's arms, crying. "Shh," CJ soothed, stroking the girl's dark red hair. "It's all over now, Zoey. We're going home."
Washington, D.C. Two weeks later.
The dewdrops sparkled from the early morning sun. CJ stood behind a podium in the Rose Garden. She looked out at the small group gathered there. To her right, stood many of the White House's senior staffers. On white folding chairs in front of her sat various dignitaries, including the police captain from Los Angeles. At the back stood the press corp, with television cameras.
Her attention was for the front row. There, with their two friends, two men sat who laid claim to her heart: H.M. Murdock and Hannibal Smith. All four were in their dress uniform. Although the colonel's arm hung in a snowy-white sling, he had somehow managed to light a cigar and puffed on it contentedly.
CJ couldn't quite meet his eyes. "Good morning, everyone." She smiled at the crowd, her heart full. "Please rise and welcome the President of the United States." She stepped back, applauding.
The guests rose, applauding along with the staffers, as the President came out of the White House, striding across to the podium with confidence. Behind him trailed his wife and daughter.
"I want to thank you all for attending," the President began. "As you know, this past month has been particularly harrowing for me and my family." He smiled at his wife and Zoey. "Two weeks ago, one of my staffers took an unusual initiative that should have had her fired." He tried to glare at CJ but ended up smiling. "As a result, four men risked their lives and their freedom in order to rescue my daughter from the hands of white supremacists. They stand here before you now." He gestured to the A-team.
"Three of these men have been among this country's most wanted for a military action that occurred during the Gulf conflict. Over a week and a half ago I pardoned them, not just out of gratitude for saving my daughter -- although believe me, I am and will always be extremely grateful to these men for what they have done -- but because it turns out they were innocent of these crimes."
"Today, I thank them from the bottom of my heart, as a President and as a father. Although shots were fired and one of them was wounded, this was no military conflict. It is my great honour to award all four of these men the Soldier's Medal, for their acts of bravery and heroism in rescuing my daughter, and for helping many others in their years on the run." He waved them forward.
As a group, the four members of the A-team stepped forward. Murdock whisked Hannibal's cigar from his mouth and stomped it out in the grass.
At President Bartlet's side, stood a young military aide holding an open cherry-wood box. He followed the President down the line of men, each bending their head forward to receive their medal. Somehow, they had convinced B.A. not to wear his gold necklaces and he fingered the medal in awe.
The President stepped back and the people applauded, flashes popping from the paparazzi. He held up his arms for silence. "There is one more award I have to give," he said. The crowd murmured in surprise.
"As I said at the beginning, one of my staffers contacted these men and sent them in search of my daughter. That staffer went above and beyond the call of duty, and in shepherding my daughter to safety came under fire herself."
"That's because she didn't follow orders," Hannibal growled under his breath.
Bartlet dashed a glance at the scowling colonel. He turned to his collected staffers, where CJ blushed and shook her head in dismay. "Claudia Jean Cregg, would you please step forward?"
"Mr. President," CJ protested but with one quelling look from him, gave up the fight. She moved forward with grace.
"Not only does she come under constant verbal fire from our esteemed press corps--" The press chuckled with good humour. "But this is the second time this year she has confronted a violent situation with poise and competence." The President smiled at CJ. "It's my great honour and privilege to be able to award Claudia Jean Cregg the highest civilian honour at my command: the Medal of Freedom."
The staffers erupted into a roar of approbation as CJ inclined her head to accept the medal from President Bartlet. Unsmiling, CJ shook his hand and found herself drawn into a bear hug.
"Thank you," the President whispered in her ear.
Their embrace seemed to be the cue that broke up the event's formality. President Bartlet released CJ and she found herself crushed in the arms of Murdock.
"You did it, sis!" Murdock crowed. He released her and mock-glared at her hands on hips. "Although I want to know why I didn't get pardoned from the VA?"
CJ smiled gently. "You want to leave there?"
Murdock grinned. "Nah, I feel safe there," he admitted. "Although, if the guys aren't going to be chased or shot at any more..."
"It's worth checking out," CJ agreed. She moved on to congratulate Face and B.A. CJ didn't really focus on them, looking beyond them to the colonel, who talked quietly with the President.
She stepped towards them, her vision filled with Hannibal. He still looked angry, but the ice in his pale blue eyes had gone, replaced by something heated. President Bartlet took one look at the two of them and excused himself.
"Congratulations." Hannibal managed a slight smile. "The President was just telling me you don't normally disobey orders."
"Only once," CJ allowed, "and that was for Zoey's sake too."
"And his." Hannibal patted his pockets with his good hand, searching. "How's your leg?"
"Fine. It was just a scratch."
"I haven't heard from you, except through Murdock." Hannibal's unusually quiet voice held no hint of complaint.
"H.M. kept me updated about you," CJ quietly replied. About them, the guests dispersed, some lingering to chat. The two ignored them. "Since I left the van, I haven't really had a moment to myself." She took a deep breath, seeing Hannibal's features harden, and relented. "OK, that isn't entirely true. I didn't think you'd want to hear from me."
Hannibal reached out, touching her sleeve. "I don't hold grudges, Claudia Jean."
"John, I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Forgiven." Hannibal stepped closer, his good arm going about her waist, drawing her against him. "I missed you."
"Me too," CJ breathed before their mouths fused into a searing, endless kiss.
A few feet away, Josh interrupted Toby in his grudging congratulations to the other members of the A-team. Josh whistled low. "Would you look at that?"
Toby glanced across the lawn. "What? She's just congratulating him."
"Like that?" Josh's wide grin matched Murdock's.
Murdock glanced at his watch. "Two minutes and counting." He winked. "They haven't come up for air yet."