Title: Fraternity

Author: Marguerite <Marguerite@o...>

Rating: PG (mild language)

Classification: Post-ep, Toby POV

Spoilers: "What Kind of Day Has it Been" and "ITSOTG"

Keywords: No romance. Other than that, you're on your own.

Distribution: I prefer linking, but if you'd like to archive,
then just let me know and we'll work it out.
http://dreamwater.org/marguerite/fraternity.html

This is part of the series that includes "Written" and
"Percussion," but it will stand alone without those two
stories.

Summary: You're closer to Josh and Sam, and even Leo, in
some incomprehensible way, than to David, and regret has a
stench all its own.

For Rose, who wanted to read it, for Ellen, who thought I
should write it, for jordan, who had to listen to me whine
for the last two weeks about it, and for Anna, who makes me
try new things.

Fraternity

Your father used to wrap you both up, his boys, one on each
side of him to guard you against the chilly Brooklyn winds.
He smelled of cigars, even on the Sabbath when smoking was
forbidden, because it was part of the fabric - warp and woof
and tobacco. In shul you'd be sheltered under the rough
linen of his prayer shawl. On the street he'd see his sons
running up to him and he'd open his coat to make a cocoon
for you and David, his boys, his boys.

Then came the day you chanted your Torah portion and the
congregation shouted "Mazel tov!" and there was only room
for one under your father's tallis because you had your own.

You still have it. You finger its fringes, long gone from
white to ivory to a creamy beige. It's been years since you
wore this, so many years since you stood under the rickety
chuppah with Andrea and promised not to let your marriage be
as unstable as the rented bower. You haven't had much use
for it since.

The Reform tradition, which you've found more comfortable
than the Orthodoxy of your youth, doesn't include the
tallis. It's not forbidden, just not required, so it has
spent a lot of time in a drawer with other relics of your
youth. You wouldn't leave for the hospital until you found
it, and you aren't sure why. Perhaps because you usually say
a prayer when David's going up in the shuttle, when he's
sitting down on top of a huge bomb the day after promising
to be home in time for Leah's fiftieth birthday party. But
four days ago it slipped your mind, and your brother went up
alone. And look what almost happened.

Sam sits two chairs over in the hospital waiting room,
watching you with those keen eyes. He looks at your fingers
as they comb through the tangles in the fringes, as they
smooth over a spot where sweet red wine spilled. It's on the
left side, the same side as Josh's bullet wound, and the in
your mind the sugary fragrance of Mogen David mixes with the
recent, acrid odors of gunpowder and arterial blood.

It's been four days and a hundred hand washings, and you can
still smell it.

"It's not your fault," Sam says for the millionth time and
it's hard to resist the urge to throw a magazine at him.

"If by 'not your fault' you mean 'you didn't pull the
trigger,' then yeah, it's not my fault." It comes out with a
darker edge than normal, but what the hell is normal about
your lives right now?

"No, I mean about the shuttle."

"I don't work for NASA, Sam. It's not like I can make a
speech and have the situation go away."

"Okay. You should go see him, though." It's not like Sam to
give up so easily, but that's another symptom of his
exhaustion. His is not the usual no-sleep-for-forty-hours
look, it's more like he's taken a long walk to the gates of
Hell and can't remember how to get back.

"David's fine," you tell him. "I talked to my sister this
morning and she..."

"Sister?" Sam sits up straight. "Toby, you've got..."

"You should've been a reporter, I swear to God." You roll
your eyes at him. "Of the Mighty Clan Ziegler, there are
four. Leah, Esther, me, and David, in that order."

"Very Biblical."

"Yeah. Anyway, I phoned Leah last night and she'd gotten to
talk to David for a few minutes. I wanted to know how he
was, she wanted to know how he was, he wanted to know how I
was. And we are all together."

Sam doesn't catch the reference. You sigh and look up at the
clock. The waiting room is empty except for the two of you.
You're here way, way after visiting hours because the
President and his entourage got to go first and it's the
only way you can sneak in to see Josh. "What's taking so
long?"

"The President and First Lady wanted to talk to him, then
Leo's supposed to take Donna home."

"Good luck to Leo. He's gonna have to pry her out of there
with a crowbar."

"A big crowbar," Sam agrees as he leans his head against the
wall and stretches his long arms. "Mandy ever call?"

"Nope. Margaret said she faxed her letter of resignation the
night of the shooting. Rumor has it she just got in her car
and drove back to New York."

He's full of righteous indignation. "She never even asked
about him, Toby."

"She's a bitch, Sam. And now she's a bitch in some other zip
code and she's no longer our problem."

"Well, damn. I mean, because we don't have enough problems
to keep ourselves busy these days."

"Ah, sarcasm. You are learning, Grasshopper."

"Shut up." Sam curls up into himself and his breathing
deepens a little. David could always do that, grab a catnap
in the most unlikely places. He'd keel over in the car like
a defective Weeble and his head would land in your lap or
Esther's. David's hair was black, like Sam's, with that same
resistance to order.

You curse the mercilessly slow advance of the second hand
until one of the Secret Service guys comes in. "We're ready
for you, Mr. Ziegler."

"Thanks. Look, don't wake Sam up - but when he does wake up,
send him down." The agent agrees at once. Power for the
powerless, you think as you brace yourself for what you're
about to encounter.

You haven't seen him since the first night and to your eyes,
he doesn't look significantly better. His skin is clammy,
with a yellowish tinge you hope is a reflection of the
fluorescent lights. Someone's shaved him and combed his
hair, but already there's stubble on his lip and
sweat-soaked curls are hugging his neck.

What bothers you most is how inanimate he is. The Josh you
know is pure energy, a barely-contained form of nature, an
element all his own. You've seen him twisting in his sleep
on Air Force One; even slumber's powerful grip is not enough
to hold him still. It's wrong for him to lie so quietly.

It's wrong that you ignored the Secret Service and ordered
the canopy down. You didn't pull the trigger, but you gave
them a clean shot.

You didn't break David's arm when he was four, but you
didn't stop him from climbing that damn tree, either.

You sit down in one of the two chairs. It's still warm from
Donna's vigil. You put your palm on Josh's forehead, which
is cool and slightly damp. "Josh, it's me," you whisper, not
knowing if you should wish for him to sleep through your
visit or for him to wake up and stop the dangerous pounding
of your guilt-infused blood.

Josh mumbles something unintelligible but his eyes don't
open. You stay at his side, watching the slow rise and fall
of his chest. The tallis is on your lap and you hold on to
it as you try to remember the appropriate prayers.

You watch him in his uneasy sleep for nearly an hour, almost
dozing off as you breathe in time with him, as your heart
slows down to his drugged pulse rate. A contraption off to
the side of the bed catches your eye. It's a sort of box
connected to a tube and it is counting down time,
twenty-something minutes, but you can't read it clearly from
where you're sitting. When you flick your gaze back to Josh
he's stirring at last, moaning softly.

"Josh?"

His eyes are black, the pupils vast. "Hey...Toby..."

"I know you were expecting Donna. I'm probably a bit of a
shock."

"Yeah." He struggles toward alertness. "What happened to
her?"

You find yourself using the same hushed tones as Josh.
"She's fine," you murmur, "just tired, and Leo took her home
to get some sleep. C.J. drove your mom to the hotel."

"She's been amazing...needs to rest..." He moans again, his
eyes shutting hard against whatever pain is tearing at him.

"Should I call the nurse?" you ask.

He shakes his head. "Gotta wait."

Now you realize what the box is - it's the morphine or
whatever they're giving him for the pain and it's on a
timer. Damn, there's almost twenty minutes left. You try to
distract him. "Hey, were you awake when the President was
here to see you?"

"Yeah. He named...all the arteries..." Josh tries to smile
but the pain is overtaking him.

"We should bribe the doctors, get them to anesthetize him
again. Maybe for a week." You laugh and you see Josh trying
to laugh but he puts his hands on his chest in a spasm of
pure agony. "I'm sorry. No jokes, Josh. I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He struggles to catch a good breath.

You want to help him, but he shakes his head when you try to
adjust his pillow. His hand clutches the sheets and his
fingers are white. Did they give him blood? It doesn't look
as if he has enough in his body.

Finally Josh is able to breathe again, although it's shallow
and fast as he watches the countdown. "Your brother's
shuttle landed, right?"

Your brother is in this bed, you think, and asleep in the
waiting room, and in a car being fatherly to a scared young
woman. You're closer to Josh and Sam, and even Leo, in some
incomprehensible way, than to David, and regret has a stench
all its own. "He's fine, thanks for asking."

"Go see him. You never know...when..." Josh's words are
interrupted by a short coughing fit that leaves him in
breathless tears.

"Oh, God. Oh, God." Panic. You can't do this. There's
kleenex in a box on the bedside table and you grab a
handful, enough to mop up a coffee spill, and you put it in
his trembling hand but he's too debilitated even for this
simple task. Your own hands shake as you wipe away the tears
and the sweat, and you know you're going to lose it any
second.

And he has twelve minutes to go before he can get any
relief.

Every sarcastic remark you ever made to him, every cutting
word, every dig, comes back up into your memory like bile
and you wish your brain could vomit them out like food
poisoning. Word poisoning. You stare down at Josh and you
must look guilty as hell because he gives you a wan smile.

"Toby, it's okay."

Your head feels like it's going to fall off when you nod at
him. You put your hand over his and just rest it there, like
you did for David when the doctors had just set his arm and
he needed your touch. "Sam's coming in any minute."

"He's all right?"

"Yeah, he's all right. He saved C.J., did anyone tell you
that? He pushed her down and out of the way."

"Good. That's...good."

But no one saved Josh. He was just far enough behind, back
by the gates, out of the way of security and in the way of
maniacs who were just as happy to take out a Jew as a black
man. Unthinkable, yet it's all you can think about.

Sam knocks on his way into the room. "Hey, you're awake," he
says to Josh. He looks marginally better than he had in the
waiting room and you envy him his nap.

"Can't sleep. Toby's cracking jokes."

"He's a maniac, Josh." Sam pulls up the other chair and sits
on the opposite side of the bed. The pair of you look like
parents hovering over a sick child.

Sam's tousled comeliness is incongruous in this place and
you almost resent him until you look, really look, into his
eyes and see not the azure but the anguish. He's peering
down at Josh as if trying to read fine print without his
glasses. "You need something?"

"He has to wait until it's time for the next...thing." You
don't know what to call a self-administered injection of
narcotics, so you settle for the unofficial code word.

Sam blinks a couple of times then nods as he understands
what you're talking about. He scoots closer to the bed. Josh
gives him a weak smile, a ghostly parody of the mocking
Lyman grin. "Don't look at me...like that."

"Like what?" Sam opens his eyes innocently but it only calls
attention to the pooling tears.

"Like that." Josh swallows and presses his lips together in
a tight seal against whatever noise he wants to make. A tear
falls from Sam's eye to Josh's forehead, a baptism, and Sam
smooths it away with his thumb. So tender, such a good man,
such a good brother is Sam.

There's no small talk as Josh struggles to hold the pain at
bay. It's almost unbearable to watch him burying his cheek
in the sweat-dampened pillow. "How long?" he asks.

"Three minutes, Josh. You're gonna be okay, you're gonna be
fine." You sound so inane, a man whose words have gotten him
through everything but this. You're on the side without the
IV lines so you clasp his hand in yours like a Roman
centurion. His grip is feeble. You tighten your own fingers
around his wrist and hold on because he cannot.

Sam stands up, slides his hand under Josh's head, and
watches the seconds tick past. "Almost there. Just breathe,
Josh."

"Sam, I'm not in labor," Josh grouses, with a flicker of a
real smile this time. He scrabbles around on the bed for the
button, watching as the numbers go to two digits, then one.
He pushes the button and winces. "Ahh, God, it burns..."

His breathing evens out and his face relaxes. You expel a
long, shuddering breath and hear that Sam is doing the same.
"Are you okay?" you ask as his fingers release your wrist.

"Yeah. Sorry 'bout that." His voice is soft now, the words
not punctuated by gasps. "It's actually better tonight. Last
night was kinda rough."

You and Sam exchange a quick glance. Rougher than this? And
Donna's been here through it all. It had literally taken the
President's order to get her to leave Josh's side. God bless
her, she's stronger than the two of you put together.

"I'm sorry," Sam whispers, his hand stroking the wet hair at
Josh's nape. He helps you turn the pillow over to the dry,
cool side and Josh settles back in with a grateful sigh.

"Thanks." His eyes are clearer now but the lids are heavy.
"It puts me to sleep. Sorry."

"That's okay, we're good," you assure him. "We want to talk
about you behind your back, anyway."

Josh's attempt at a smirk is a failure. He gives you a
drowsy boy's smile. "Great...I must be doing better..."

You and Sam watch him close his eyes and it's so different
from that night, when you were the one cradling his head and
death, not sleep, was beckoning.

Sam carefully moves his hand and sits back down, looking
over your shoulder at the guards out in the hall. "There's
somebody out there, Toby."

"The hell?" You get up and when you turn around you see
David's concerned, haggard profile in the window. "It's my
brother."

"Really?" Sam Seaborn, one of the most powerful men in the
nation, twists around in his chair to gawk at an astronaut.
You have to hide your smile. "He doesn't look much like
you."

"He has all his hair, rat bastard," you grumble, but you
have always thought that David is a handsome man and for
some absurd reason you're as proud of that as you are of his
accomplishments. "I'm gonna..."

"Yeah." Sam's attention is refocused on Josh, so you're safe
to get up and see your brother.

He spots you through the window and gives you a grin. You go
into the hallway and the two of you shake hands, almost like
strangers. "David, what are you doing here?"

"I made Esther track you down."

"No, I mean why aren't you at NASA being debriefed or
decaffeinated or whatever they do when you come home from
one of these?"

David laughs. "Ever since the news came on that night I've
been so obnoxious that they released me early."

"Ah. The Ziegler Method."

"Exactly." David looks at you, his expression neutral to
mask his concern. "How're you holding up, Toby?"

"I've been better." It's a non-answer, one of many you've
given him in your adult years as the fraternal thread frayed
to its last strand. "I wasn't hurt, David. You knew that
from the news, and from talking to the girls. You didn't
need to come all the way out here."

"Well, you didn't need to come out to NASA but Leah said you
had a ticket all ready before...this happened." He gives you
his lopsided grin. "Why don't I buy you a drink, and we'll
catch up?"

You remember what the President said, and Sam. See your
brother. Josh's implied warning. Before it's too late.

"I'm gonna make sure Sam's ready to stay the night, then
I'll come along. Hang on." When you get back inside the ICU
you find that Sam's already asleep, his head pillowed on his
arms, inches from Josh's shoulder. Sam shivers a little in
the overchilled air. You take off your jacket and put it
over him, patting his back softly.

Then you see your tallis lying at the side of the bed. Josh
will know what this means. He'll understand that it's a
blessing you can't say aloud because you're a man of words
but not that kind of words. Carefully, reverently, you
thread one end through the space below Josh's neck so that
the folds lie across both shoulders. The words of the Shema
come out of your mouth, softly, and you smooth down his hair
before you leave the room.

David's eyes are soft as he pulls you into a bear hug. He
smells like wool and airplane food and the breeze of an
unseasonably cool evening.

"You're a good brother, Toby," he says, and you realize what
he must have suffered when the first vague reports of a
shooting came in. "A very good brother. I just wanted you to
know that."

You cast a glance back at the ICU, where Sam and Josh are
both asleep. Safe. Protected. Warm. It's what men do for
their brothers. What David is offering to you, now. You put
an arm around his shoulders as you head for the door.

There will be drinks, and memories, and cigar smoke, and if
that unseasonably cool evening air touches you, then maybe
your brother will wrap you up in his coat.

END

 

 

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