TITLE: Through This Dark Night
AUTHOR: Morgan email@example.com
SUMMARY: In the aftermath of the shooting, will CJ and Toby make it through the night?
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.
Through This Dark Night - part 3
Just a few weeks ago CJ had experienced something in the way of a revelation. She had arrived at work as usual; spoken briefly with both Leo and the President and returned to her office - and then it had hit her. This was beginning to feel normal; something she would never have imagined possible. She could remember how awed President Elect Bartlet's staff had all been when they began walking around the West Wing - they'd all played it cool of course; trying not to actually look, well star struck. But they'd all felt it, been a little hypnotised by the symbolism amd history of their workplace.
That wasn't gone; it was just that she had realised that she was becoming accoustomed to it. It had given her pause, but then she had gone on with her day, there were too many other things to think about.
Now she realised she should have taken just a little longer to think about how she felt, because any sense of normalcy she'd experienced was destroyed irrevocably as she and Toby stumbled into the communications area.
Silence swept along in their wake; people stopped what they were doing to simply watch them, the first people to return from the incident. They were instantly the focus of all the questions no one quite had the courage to ask. Looking around her CJ saw shock, fear, she realised that people had been crying and she had to blink back her own tears for a moment. And she saw the spaces, the empty offices of the people who hadn't returned yet, who might not return.
Toby was immediately deep in conversation with Mandy and CJ watched their interaction carefully, relieved to see Mandy talking back a little, making her points with some of her normal force - they were going to need Mandy if they were going to get through this; they were going to need everyone.
The silence was unnerving and uncharacteristic, she was used to the rapid fire of conversation, of remarks being thrown back and forth, of two or more discussions taking place at the same time, interspersed with someone's dry wit - Toby's. She couldn't stand this quiet, it was funereal, she wasn't going to stand here and wait for bad news. Raising her voice she said,
'All right, its been a terrible night. We're all upset, but we have a job for the next few hours, we have to tell the American people that the President is safe and unharmed and that we are still in control. I know its hard to focus right now and anyone who doesn't think they can do that has my permission to leave.'
No one moved and she took that as an agreement that everyone in the room was in for the long haul, no matter what it took.
Toby had seldom been more aware of CJs ability to persuade a room full of people of the inherent validity of what she was saying. She'd practically asked a room full of frightened, desperately worried people to spend half the night here working, rather than worrying about their friends and colleagues; and they'd agreed.
'We need the clearest possible picture of what happened tonight,' he said, not looking around him, not wanting to see pain in the faces of people he worked with every day. 'We need to know the numbers of casualties, which hosptials the injured have been taken to and we need the emergency number concerned relatives can contact. We must have that information in twenty minutes, which is when CJ will be briefing the press. It is going to be a very difficult night for all of us, and we are appreciative of your support.'
There was a moment of silence and then the buzz of conversation began again; lower, more subdued than usual, but people were talking, allocating tasks, reaching for their phones. 'Mandy?'
'We'll get the information before the briefing Toby.'
'Thank you,' CJ thought he sounded tired, but then she supposed that was hardly surprising. 'Bonnie,' he stopped his assistant, 'two minutes with the President?'
'I'll talk to Mrs Landringham.'
'Is the First Lady here?' CJ asked, realising that she had no idea who would have contacted Abbey Bartlet and broken the terrible news to her, she hoped it hadn't been a stranger.
'She's in the residence now, I believe she arrived a few minutes ago.'
'Good.' She looked around and saw her own assistant. 'Carole?'
'The press will be in the press room in twenty minutes CJ. Is there anything else you need?'
'Some painkillers?' Carole nodded and then said quietly,
'CJ - there's some blood on your forehead, you should wash it off before the briefing.'
'Thank you,' she looked around her, feeling suddenly dizzy. She knew it was the blood from where she had hit her head as she'd fallen to avoid the bullets, but when she closed her eyes it was the blood of her closest friends, staining her hands, her clothing.
'CJ, why don't we wait in here?' A hand touched her back, guiding her into his office. Toby, right there, as he'd promised to be, pulling out a chair so she could sit down. 'I'll be right back, all right?' He returned a moment later, holding a damp cloth. She expected him to hand it to her but instead he leaned over, took her face in one hand and with other very gently wiped the dried blood away.
Her mind stopped working, it shut down entirely, all she could hear was the sound of their breathing, curiously in sync.
'It looks as though you took quite a tumble,' he told her, 'its stopped bleeding, but there's a bump.'
'Your hands are shaking,' she said, an observation she would never have made had she been in her right mind.
'Yes,' it was as though the air had been squeezed out of her lungs, his hands stopped moving on her face. 'CJ,' he breathed and then the knock at the door startled them both.
'Toby, the President can see you now.'
To Be Continued