So, here's my thing. I was reading a story on the fan fic index (its called Tourniquet and it's very good, go read it if you haven't yet) and I got inspired, and then I read Where There's Smoke a few hours ago and got more inspired. This is my contribution. Its possible I'm not in the best of moods tonight.

TITLE: Collateral Damage 

AUTHOR: Morgan morgan@camelot72.screaming.net 

SUMMARY: In the hours after the shooting CJ faces some cold, hard facts. 

DISCLAIMER: The West Wing belongs to NBC et al. I'm not quite sure why I'm doing this, I just am - but its for entertainment purposes only - no disrespect is intended.

Collateral Damage

 

I've always had this stupid, competitive streak. I suppose I shouldn't criticise it really, considering where its got me. I used to think being Press Secretary to the President was a pretty good thing to be, somewhere near the top of the heap. But right now, sitting in a hospital corridor with a cup of cold coffee and my friend's blood on my hands, it doesn't seem that important.

But I can remember when it mattered. I can remember how it felt to never quite be satisfied with what I had achieved, to always want a little more, to always have to be just that small amount better than everyone else at whatever it was I was doing. Chasing impossible dreams, never standing still because there was this something that pushed me onwards. I don't even know what this elusive thing was that I was pursuing - call it success, call it a sense of achievement, call it whatever you like.

I thought I'd found what I was searching for, at last I didn't have the sense that there was something more that I could be doing. Finally I was in the place I wanted to be - and if I was lonely, if I sometimes got scared about losing it all - well then, that went with the territory. That was the cost.

But its irrelevant, it doesn't matter in the slightest, because tonight I learnt the hardest lesson of all. Tonight I learnt that all the intelligence, all the hopes and dreams, all the impassioned words and all the success in the world can do nothing to stop a bullet rip into the flesh of the man standing next to you, tossing his life aside like a child's discarded toy.

That's not all I learnt tonight. You could say I've been on a voyage of self discovery in the last two hours, or you could say I've had my Universe turned upside down and I no longer know how I fit into it, or care whether I do.

I've learnt that I can still pray to a God I might not believe in when it seems that nothing else can save the lives of people I care about. I'm still making deals with him or her - let Sam wake up and I'll do this, let Toby live and I'll do that... just let them make it and I'll be different, I'll be anything, if they just open their eyes and speak to me. Right now the silence is deafening - no one's listening.

I've learnt that I can stand up and give a briefing to a stunned but still functional press corps while two of my closest friends fight for their lives. Now there's something to put on my resume. Of course not everyone might think that such a skill is marketable, how many jobs are there for people who can do business as usual in the midst of disaser anyway?

I've learnt that fate has a macabre sense of humour. Did I really tell Danny that I was sleeping fine tonight? I hear myself saying those words over and over and I try not to believe that someone heard me and decided to prove me wrong. I try not to believe that my arrogance bought the heavens down upon us and in my more lucid moments I know that I'm being fanciful, that I have more than a small dose of hubris if I think that I have such power. But I'm the only one sitting here - the people I would turn to when I was in trouble are in no condition to shake me out of this mood.

It was the President who told me I was crying - after the briefing, of course, he found me sitting in my office and apparently there were tears streaming down my face. I didn't know, I had no idea, I lost the capacity to feel the moment the first shot ripped through the night. I don't know if I'll ever get it back and maybe it would be better if I never did.

'CJ?' I look up at a sound that might just have been my name and I see Josh standing before me, with Donna. She's holding his hand as though she might never let go of it and I understand the emotion far better than she can ever know. He has one arm in a sling, a bullet caught his arm I heard, but his eyes are the most wounded part of him and I don't know what to say.

'I'm sorry, I should have come back with you, I shouldn't have let you handle the aftermath alone.' I can't answer that, I'm in no condition to deal with his guilt. It wasn't our decision to make, Leo and I had bumps and bruises, everyone else was bleeding. We had to go back, we had to do our jobs for the sake of the people who might have given their lives doing theirs. Leo's still at the White House now - locked down in an interminable round of meetings. He's watching the President as though he thinks he might break, I don't understand why, but I could tell him he's wasting his time, we're all broken.

'Josh, not now.' I think Donna might be my saviour. She touches his face with her hands and makes him look at her, 'this can wait, can't it?'

'Yes.' He rests his forehead against hers and for a moment I am so jealous I actually contemplate murder. To my ravaged emotions the fact that this tragedy has given them the chance they were so close to wasting is more than I can bear to contemplate. I can't help thinking that I'm not going to get that chance myself, that a kid with a gun might just have taken it away from me this evening. I can't help thinking that if the President hadn't asked Toby to walk with him he might not have been in the line of fire.

There's another one of those learning points - I've learnt that I can be angry at the President. When he found me crying, when he tried to comfort me, all I could think about was seeing Toby beside him - knowing that he might not have been so badly hurt if he hadn't been so close. For a moment I hated him, for a moment I wanted to heap all my anger, all my pain on the shoulders of the man at who's pleasure we serve. But when I looked into his eyes I knew that there was no point, because there was nothing that I could add to what he was suffering already. So instead I cried in his arms like a baby, letting him hold me and listening to the prayer he whispered for those fighting for their lives, and for those of us who love them.

I used to pride myself on my control, I used to think that I was good at keeping my feelings to myself - but at the moment I've lost the knack - and Donna looks away from Josh, gazes into my eyes and sees a truth I've only just recognised myself.

'Oh God, CJ.' She steps away from Josh and is by my side in a rapid movement, 'Oh God, I didn't know.'

'Neither did I.' Funny isn't it? You pride yourself on being smart, on being well informed, you even think you have attained a fair degree of self awareness - but you fail to notice that someone has got under your skin and into your blood, until you're watching a paramedic put the wreckage of his body into the back of an ambulance. I wonder why no one is laughing.

'You have to tell him.'

'Donna, I don't even know if he's still breathing.'

'You have to tell him.' I can see that life has suddenly become extremely simple for Donna, and her look over her shoulder at Josh only confirms my analysis. She's checking he's still within sight, checking that he is all right. In time, perhaps they'll loose that need to know where the other is, but right now its an essential connection, I can see that they both gain strength from it.

'Its not the same,' I say weakly, feeling myself flagging in the face of her intensity. I look to Josh for some support but he's wearing an expression I don't quite recognise and I realise that he's only now seeing what Donna identified in a split second.

'I'll talk to the Doctors,' he says with a determination I'm too weary to confront, 'make sure you see him. CJ - Toby is far too stubborn to die, he wouldn't leave you.'

I want to believe him, just as I want to believe that we still have the power to make things better for the country and its people. But I'm not as innocent as I was yesterday.

The End

 

 

 

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