Something to talk about

By Sheila

Press conference

Friday Afternoon Early September

 

"CJ!, CJ!, CJ!" erupted every time she finished answering a question.  CJ scanned the audience for someone who hadnít spoken yet, preferably someone from a major news organization.

"Okay, Danny youíre up.  This is the last question folks."

"CJ, how does the president feel about his new gun control package being deadlocked in committee a mere three months after two of his senior staff were gunned down in front of him?"

CJ took a small breath.  It was still impossible for her to talk about this without seeing it all happening in front of her.  She had been paralyzed for the briefest of moments when the shooting started with no way to tell which direction was safety.  Sam had seen her standing there and left his spot crouching behind a limousine.  He had dived on her so hard.  She hit the pavement, Sam on top of her.  In front of her, she saw Leo a few feet in front of her, laying still, a pool of blood spreading around him.  She remembered screaming and trying to reach out to Leo.  But Sam didnít move.  She yelled at him and tried to push him off, but got no response.  Then she noticed the blood on her hands and clothing as she was trying to push Sam off.  And then suddenly she understood why he wasnít moving.

*********************

Toby was watching the press conference from his office, pacing back and forth.  He was mumbling to himself and occasionally gesturing to the TV when Josh came in.

"Do you see this?"  Toby pointed.  "She was almost finished in there.  Four days without the press coming up and she leaves Kincannon for last.  Mr. Sound bite himself. What the hell kind of sense does that make?  The next four days will be the answer to this question."

"She is going to be fine, Toby.  Watch her, she is considering this one carefully.  She is not going to rush into anything."

"Youíd think that they would have the decency to leave her alone about this."

"Shh Toby, listen to her."

 

******************

 

CJ hoped that her brief pause was imperceptible to the ever vigilant press corps.

"Well, Danny, the president is, of course, disappointed that Congress has not gotten together behind this with its full support.  However, the president is not worried.  The creativity with which some members of congress interpret the fourth amendment is not new.  The president understands the right to bear arms.  He also understands that automatic weapons have no sporting purpose, are not suitable for personal protection, and are not necessary for protection against home invasion.  The president will wait out the rhetoric on this issue. The fact that he was a witness to an armed assault on his senior staff has only served to strengthen his resolve on this issue."

 "Does the fact that the president has a personal agenda on this issue take away from the credibility of a bill written as strongly as this gun control bill is?"

 "No, Danny it does not.  Most of the bills on the floor involving crime have been developed by or backed by persons with personal involvement in the solution to that crime.  You could ask if the architects of Meganís law were unreasonable in their agenda that sex offenders get registered because it was advocated for by the family of the murdered child.  You can bet that family certainly had a personal agenda."

"Okay, that does it.  The president is off to Camp David until Monday. Have a good labor day weekend.  And we will see you back here, same time, same place on Tuesday."

She hoped that nobody noticed that her hands were shaking as she left the podium.  She forced a smile and waved at reporters as they gathered up their notebooks.  She dropped her notes with Carol and quickly headed to her office, hoping to get there before the tears started running down her face.

 

***************

 

 "She did good, Toby." Josh said turning away from the TV screen. "She turned the focus on the issue of a stalemate onto congress and she showed that the president was a human being."

 "Yeah, she did good." Toby agreed distractedly.

Toby was standing right outside his door at this point not really listening to Josh at all.  If he stood exactly right and leaned a little, he was able to spy into Samís office at such an angle where he could go somewhat unnoticed.  He did this a lot these days.  He tried to be nonchalant about it so Ginger and Bonnie tended to keep their smiles to themselves.  Who knew Toby could be such a mother hen.

Sam had only been back for three weeks now.  He was still doing daily physical therapy for his right arm and shoulder.  The doctor had told Toby that Sam should ease back in slowly.  He had said Sam should not do any writing or typing if it was painful.  Patience was the key.  And Toby knew that if Sam disliked being patient and careful half as much as he thought Sam did, this was not going to be a smooth recovery.  "There it is," Toby thought as he spied on his young friend typing on his laptop.  The grimace.  Toby knew that Sam was way past a point of comfort. Yet there he was, typing away.

 "You shouldnít spy on people." Josh said coming up behind Toby.  Toby gave him a quick glare and continued with his surveillance.

 "I am going to kill him, Josh.  He promised me that Kathy would do the typing if there was any pain."

 "Yeah, well killing him has been tried recently so letís focus on another way to get him to behave."

Toby winced a little inside.  Being sensitive was never his strong suit. Still he should know better than to make a crack about killing Sam.  Toby didnít have to close his eyes to remember everything in full detail.  For him, it was mostly the sounds.  He had been trampled by the secret service men getting the president into the limo.  So, bruised and rumpled, he had stayed down, seeing nothing.  He heard the gunfire and the orders being shouted between the agents.  And then he heard the screaming.  CJ screaming.  There was no question about that.  Someone had shot CJ.  This was clear.  He tried to get up and an agent grabbed the back of his coat.  Josh was yelling at him somewhere in the background.  Later he heard that two agents had to restrain Josh for some time after pulling him off the fence he was trying to scale to get to the rest of the staff. 

Toby had shed the coat leaving the agent with nothing in his hands but a good cotton/polyester blend.  He stayed close to the ground not knowing where to go.  CJís screams continued.  But the shooting had stopped.  Now the shouts of secret service became louder.  Civilians were cautioned to stay down.  Some agents were ordered to hold their positions.  Others were told to survey the area. CJís screams came again.  Toby couldnít wait any longer.  He got up in full view to find her and saw her among bodies on the other side of the car.  There was blood everywhere.  He ignored the shouts to stay down and quickly rounded the car.  He grabbed CJ and pulled her to him against the car.  She was sobbing. He was searching her body for wounds when he realized that the two bodies at his feet were Leo and Sam.

"Letís go in and tell him to knock it off."  Said Josh interrupting Tobyís reverie. Besides itís almost time for us to get to the helopad for our fun-filled adventure weekend at Camp David."

Toby winced.  This time noticeably.

 "You are not getting out of this.  There is no way and no how, my friend.  And you will enjoy yourself or you will at least pretend.  I will sew a smile on your face if I have to."

Sam appeared at his door.  He still looked like his poster boy self albeit a much paler version.  Josh and Toby noticed the sweat beading at the top of Samís brow.

 "You wouldnít be lurking outside my office again now, would you Toby?" Sam asked grinning at his boss.

 "You are going to wear yourself out, Sam, and you are going to get sick.  And then I am going to have to call your mother on the phone.  And while I do not mind speaking to your mother, she is after all a lovely and gracious woman, I do not want to have to tell her more bad news about her son."

"He gives me the same speech about thirty seven times a day."  Sam said to Josh.  "Itís like my mom lost her hair, grew a beard, and moved in next door to my office."

 "Okay, well knock off.  Get your gear. You are done for the day.  The only other job we have today is to stuff ourselves and the crabby, bald Jewish guy here into a helicopter," Josh grinned at Toby hoping that a little teasing would lighten his mood.

Toby glared at both of them.  Sometimes all he had left was his supposed look of evil.  And even then, it seemed as if more and more people these days were immune to its powers.

"Toby, the president wants to see you for a moment before you go to the helopad," called Bonnie leaning away from her desk.

"Hey, donít worry there, big guy.  Weíll bring your stuff," Josh called after him.

 "Plus the fifty three pounds of briefing memos with which you plan to relax," Sam added with a grin.

Toby didnít even bother with a parting shot.  He didnít a lot these days.  Twenty hour days, seven days a week tended to leave a person lacking in the witty comeback department.  He just sighed and headed off in the direction of the oval office.

Josh turned to Sam as Toby was rounding the corner.

 "Behave."

"What?í said Sam gesturing with his hands.

 "He has been through a lot this summer."

"We have all been through a lot this summer, Josh."

 "You donít notice how tired he looks.  You have missed a lot, Sam.  Most of the summer he has lived in his office, sleeping on his couch, if he sleeps at all."

Thinking for a moment about how much to tell Sam, Josh sighed heavily and continued.

"He has put together the strongest, most researched, and the most unwinnable gun control bill in the history of the United States.  He has compromised on nothing, Sam.  In the House, they call him Don Quixote.  They actually ask for Don Quixote when they call here.  But he was determined that Congress was going to do the right thing even if it meant he would have to destroy himself in the process."

"Right now, this very minute, the president is telling Toby that the bill is dead.  He is telling him to put it away.  In two weeks, we can revisit it with a compromise package.  This one will pass and it will still be stronger than anything in law currently, but it wonít be the comprehensive gun control package that Toby envisioned.  I donít know how he is going to handle this."

"Wow.  I am that out of the loop," Sam gave him a shocked look.

"Yep.  So you are going to behave so that Toby doesnít have one more thing to worry about.  And you are going to take your pills."

 "I donít like them."

"So"

With that, Josh turned and strode out of the room leaving Sam in his doorway.  He leaned against the doorframe and winced when his shoulder met wood.  He closed his eyes for a moment before summoning the ever present Kathy.

"Kathy, could you find someone to carry my bags and Tobyís to the helopad?  And my pills.  If you can find them, can you make sure that they get into my bag?"

"Good for you, Sam," Kathy smiled at her young boss.

 

The Oval Office

 

Josiah Bartlett looked up as his chief of staff, Leo McGarry, entered his office.  He leaned heavily on a cane, walking slowly, with a distinctly annoyed look on his face.  The president could see his assistant, Margaret, hovering right outside the door near Mrs. Landinghamís desk.  It was hard work stifling the grin that threatened his face as Leo approached his desk.  It was just so good to see Leo back in the office again even though it meant seeing his friend struggle with the painful recovery of a shattered hip.  Despite the pain he must be feeling at this moment, Bartlett knew that Leoís cloudy face expression was about something quite different.

"Is Margaret still driving you nuts?"

"Oh, Jed, she follows me everywhere.  She wants to do everything for me.  I told you about yesterday, didnít I, when she literally chased Fitzwallace out of my office when he stayed longer than 20 minutes."

"Yes, you did," said the President letting his grin emerge fully. "But I want to picture this one again.  She actually walked in on your meeting with arms folded and told Fitz that he was tiring you and that he would have to be rescheduled for later in the week."

"Yup.  Fitz took one look at her steely glare and hightailed back to the Pentagon. I swear to God. And there is a new one today.  Now she wants me to take afternoon naps. She actually suggested that we fit my office with a hospital bed."

"And your response to that one?"

"I fired herÖ. Twice.  She ignored me."

"Good girl.  She deserves combat pay.  I am going to tell Landingham to give her a bump in salary this very day."

"You will be merely encouraging her to further violate my rights as a human being."

Toby entered quietly in that moment saving Bartlett from further conversation about the ongoing "Life with Margaret" saga.  The mood instantly changed.  Toby brought with him a weariness that settled in the room around him. Bartlett dreaded having this conversation with him.  They had all wanted this bill to pass for very personal reasons.  But Toby had been given the lead on this.  It had been the presidentís way of directing the pain and rage he had seen on his communication directorís face that first night.  Toby had all but worked himself into a coma on this issue.  To right the wrongs of guns in America had become a singular obsession for him.  But it had to end.  The wave of opportunity had crested and the time for heroics was over.  Now it was time to think smart and to figure out the best way to salvage the spirit of this legislation.

Toby had mumbled some greetings and sat on the couch across from Leo.  These days, Toby often had to look away for a moment when he was in a room with Leo. Sometimes he could still see the blood pooling around Leoís body.

It had been one of the first things he had seen when he was holding CJ against the car.  She was struggled against him. "Help them", she cried over and over without pause.  It took a minute for him to realize that the blood on her came from the men at her feet. "I will", he hissed urgently into her ear, " But I want you to crawl under this car until the secret service come for you."  She got quiet in that instant.  "Itís too late for that."  She said hoarsely. "Let me help Sam here.  You should go to Leo."  In that moment, her eyes held the only clarity that existed for him in this craziness.  He let her drop to Samís side and he stumbled over to Leo.

As he was trying to locate the hole in Leoís side, things began to happen quickly.  Agents appeared in front of them still pointing guns, but standing in plain view of the building across the street. Then there were agents speaking to him, telling him that the battle was over and the suspects were subdued. Paramedics gently moved him out of the way.  He searched for CJ and Sam.  He found Sam buried under the equipment and uniforms of emergency service workers.  Again someone gently moved him back until he was against the limo.  A hand reached up for his and he found CJ sitting on the ground feverishly watching the machinations of emergency medicine. 

" Hey Toby, are you with us?  I thought we lost you there for a minute," said the President to his distracted Communications Director.

"Iím sorry, Mr. President.  What can I do for you this afternoon?"

"Toby, weíre going to put it away for now.  Weíve gone as far as weíre going to go with this thing," the President said, looking at him sternly.

"Sir, I believe that you have a point." Toby was nodding his head slowly. "But what I have been thinking is that we run at them with one more set of hearings."

"Who could we possibly put out there at this point?" Leo entered the conversation.  "We have covered this issue from all angles.  Whatís been left unsaid?"

"Iíve been thinking that we put together a panel of our best witnesses to date, weíll revisit our strongest arguments.  Weíll hammer away at them one more time.  We can couple the hearings with one more media blitz.  I still think that we can get a little more play out at least two of the bigger newsmagazines andÖÖ

Pres. Bartlett interrupted Toby.

"No, Toby, weíre done.  Weíre done right now."

"This thing is dead in the water, Toby."  Leo added.  "You must know that.  Hell, I canít believe that you got as far as you did."

"Thatís it? Itís over?" Toby cried, throwing his arms in the air.

"No, Toby, thatís not it." said the President quietly. "We are going to let them play around in committee for a little while.  Not long, but long enough for mid-term elections to be a consideration."

"Toby, you have to know that your work this summer was not in vain.  You have almost single handedly added 10 polling points in favor of stronger gun control measures.  And we are going to use that."

"What we are going to do is this.  Weíre going to dust this off in about six weeks about a month before the elections.  And then we are going to ask some pointed questions to some of our favorite legislators.  And we are going to make sure that their constituents are around to hear both the questions and the answers.  And then we are going to sit down with these guys and we are going to end up with most of what we want."

"Weíre going to settle."  Toby said, struggling to stay calm. "On something this important, we are going to settle."

"We are not settling." Countered Leo with some irritation.  "We will be farther ahead on this issue than ever before in this country when this is over.  I donít know what they call it where youíre from, but it smells a lot like a victory to me."

"Itís not.  It canít be.  Too many things will be left behind.  I know thatís what will happen.  Iíll beÖweíll be failing so many people who have been destroyed by guns."

"Toby, a lot of these guys want to walk with us." Added the President.  "But they canít.  The NRA owns people, Toby.  This is not just about changing minds.  The bottom line for these guys is November.  We donít have money.  The only thing we can hit them with is votes."

"If we keep hammering away at this now, the people will have turned away from this by the time November rolls around.  They will be burned out and they wonít care anymore.  We donít want that.  I know you understand what I am saying.  Hell, you taught me most of this stuff."

Tobyí head became too heavy for his neck.  He wanted to look the president in the eye and tell him that he was thinking this very thing, that he understood the vagaries of politics and the importance of playing the game, but he couldnít. It would have all been lies.  This had been a crusade.  He had carried forth a banner of right and justice.  Any perspective he had on the reality of guns and politics had left him months ago.  It was too much for him to do anything but nod wearily for the president.

"Toby, I want to tell you a lot of things you donít want to hear right now." Said the President softly.  "So I think I will spare you that discomfort.  You should know that you have fought like a warrior, my friend."

"Things will be better in this country because of your work, Toby," Leo added.

Toby managed to get out of the Presidentís office with his sense of decorum left in tact.  There had been no opportunity to broach the idea that he stay behind this weekend.  The President was not going to let him slip out of this no matter what excuse he could dream up. Besides he knew that the President and Leo would want him there so that they could try to "cheer him up".  Toby figured that a weekend doing make-overs with a bunch of Mary Kay ladies would hold as much interest as this particular trip did for him just now.  Toby decided that this was probably going to be the worst weekend of his life.  And then he remembered that he had already experienced the worst weekend of his life a mere three months ago. Life is pretty rough he thought, when the two worst weekends of a manís life all happen in one summer.

 

CJís Office

 

CJ checked her face one more time.  She looked tired, for sure, but the red eyes and nose had almost disappeared.  "This will have to do," she sighed, gathering up her weekend bag.  The knock at her office door made her jump a little.

 "How you doing there, slugger?" Danny asked cautiously.

CJ tried to show an impassive face that hid the current state of her nerves.

"You donít need to pound on my door just to announce your arrival." She said, unable to resist some irritation.

"Okay."

CJ made a grimace and lowered her head.

"Iím tired, Danny.  It shows.  Youíre not doing anything wrong.  Itís me.  Iím sorry."

"I asked a pretty tough question out there, CJ.  I just want to make sure that you were okay."

"Itís your job to do that.  You shouldnít even have to ask."

"I know itís my job.  But I donít enjoy hurting you. I want you to know that."

"You are sweet, Danny.  I appreciate it."

"Yeah, Iím a sweet guy.  And you did  good out there especially when you consider the lousy hand that Olí Don Quixote keeps dealing you every week."

"Donít call him that." CJ said sharply.  "Itís not funny, itís not cute, and it shows none of the respect you should have for a man that has works as hard as he does."

"I agree with you.  And for your information, Toby has my respect.  He is a brilliant man and he is a man of integrity.  Which is why it has been so hard to watch him lose sight the big picture this summer.  And then to have to watch you get dragged into a position of explaining his utopian gun control plan to the world at every press briefing."

"Itís a good plan, Danny.  Tell me it isnít."

"It is a good plan, CJ.  But itís not a realistic plan.  When you know that the world doesnít play nice, you donít put together a bill so laden with one agenda that half of Congress has to do a series of ideological gymnastics just to get on board.  This bill has too much of what makes sense to you, and I, and anyone else that understands that guns kill too many people.  It needs compromise."

"And you canít go out there acting like the NRA is some kind of after-school program.  It is a large and powerful organization and it has clout.  Toby seems to forget that or maybe he just thinks that it is enough that he is on the side of Good.  You know, truth and justice will prevail and all of that."

"Are you finished, Danny?"

"Yup."

"Iíll never get over how this city operates.  Toby has almost killed himself trying to make a difference, and not just any difference, the kind of difference that will be really meaningful for the people in this country.  That counts for nothing in this town.  The only thing that matters is politics.  If you are a politician, you are respected.  If you are a human being, youíre a fool."

            "When the shooting happened, he saw a political opening.  He knew that public opinion would be in his corner and he went for it.  That was a smart move, CJ.  But he didnít have enough to get all the way through, nobody would have.  Still he doesnít recognize it.  He has been on his back for the last four weeks and he is either too blind or too stubborn to say Ďuncle.í

            "Right now, CJ, I would suspect that the President is having a somewhat similar conversation with Toby.  By next week, I would guess that you will be moving onto to new business in your briefings."

            "The President is too committed to this, Danny.  He would never do that."

            "Okay, well then you tell me why Josh has been holed up in the Oval Office with the President and Leo all day.  No Toby anywhere.  Josh comes out and kicks a chair and then Toby gets summoned.  So what do you think is going on?"

            CJ dropped into her couch.  She closed her eyes and started to massage her temples.  After a minute, Danny wondered if she had forgotten that he was in the room.

            "Danny," she said, eyes still closed.  "Do you think that Toby is the only one who has worked hard on this bill?  Do you think that he is the only one who cares?"

            "No," he replied softly.  "I know that you worked hard. It was a heroic effort by all of you.  I guess I am tough on Toby right now because I know that he is smarter than this.  And I resent that he seems willing to drag all of you down with him, especially you, CJ."

            "I got tell you, Danny.  I was a pretty willing participant on this.  And, tomorrow, if he asks me to do this all over again, I would, in a minute."

            "I guess that could be loyalty, CJ."

            "What the hell does that mean, Danny?"

            "I donít know."  He sighed and started for the door.

            "Do you want me to call when I get back?"

            "What for?"  He said wearily.

            "We could get together and have dinner.  Maybe Monday night."  She said hopefully.

            "Okay, weíll have dinner.  Then youíll stare off in the distance from to time.  Youíll maybe ask me how my food is more times than I can count.  Iíll see if you are interested in returning to my apartment and youíll try to act interested."

            "God, Danny!"

            "Your heartís not in this, CJ."

            "I want to be with you. You know that."

            "I can remember a time when you wanted me.  I have fond memories of goldfish and  kisses in the stairwell.  After the assassination attempt, I really thought we might be getting somewhere.  You sitting on my doorstep at midnight, the week after the attempt, waiting for me to come home.  I felt like a lucky man that night.  You chose me.  You came to me for comfort."

            "Danny."

            "CJ, I know that the passion in a relationship subsides after awhile, but Iím not sure that it is supposed to happen after the first couple of nights together."

            "It has been such a tough summer.  You have to give me time, Danny."

            "CJ, I get the distinct feeling that you want this to work because you think that this is the right thing for you to do."

            "I donít even know what that means."

            "CJ, I donít feel anything from you.  Thatís the bottom line.  Youíre distracted. You are somewhere else.  Itís like youíre fighting with something and I am not sure that you even know what it is."

            "Oh, Danny."

            "Donít call me, CJ.  Find out whatís happening to you.  Then maybe we can be friends.  We do that very well."

Camp David- Friday night

            Josh tried to pretend that a weekend at Camp David was nothing special.  So when he walked around the cavernous living room of the main lodge, he tried to act casual and indifferent to his surroundings.  But he was having a very hard time stifling the urge to start asking questions.  Was this room they used to entertain the Soviet Premier in 66í?  Was that the fireplace the Israelis and Egyptians sat around hammering out the Peace Accord of 76í?  What presidents had the oversized leather couches held?

He knew that he was being a little ridiculous.  After all, he worked in the White House every day and if he was looking for history, that would be where to find it.  He certainly had been in awe when he had started there, but Camp David seemed different, more mysterious.  Presidents rarely invited their staffs here for relaxation.  This was for presidents only and, on occasion, for high-level conferences.  Some very important issues had been discussed among world leaders within these walls.  Josh was honored that his President would choose to bring his staff to this sanctuary with him.  He just wasnít going to say it out loud to anyone except maybe the President.

Josh turned to survey the rather bedraggled group settled among the couches, baggage littering the floor around them.   The president had gone off with the military staff to personally see to their accommodations.  Of the group remaining, Sam seemed to be the only one showing any signs of life. From his couch, he was busy studying the walls around the room, no doubt asking himself some of the same questions about this lodge that Josh was.  Josh chuckled to himself a little watching Sam.  Sam was such a good and honest man.  After their conversation earlier, Sam had found someone to carry his bags.  He also made a point of taking his pills in front of Toby, undoubtedly in an effort to ease his mind about Samís recovery.  Toby, of course, was too sullen to even acknowledge Samís presence. Josh didnít know what to do about his complicated friend.  He hoped that a weekend away from Washington would bring a little peace and clarity into Tobyís life.

 Another one to worry about was CJ.  She sat in front of the fire staring intently at the flames. She had looked pretty upset getting into the helicopter and had rebuffed all attempts at conversation.  But then she had been pretty distant all summer.  The only thing that she had showed any passion for had been the gun control bill.

And finally, there was Leo.  Perched uncomfortably on the edge of a couch, Josh knew that he lived with constant pain from his hip.  He looked so tired.  It was difficult enough to be the Chief of Staff without having the added pressure of a painful recovery.  Josh wondered how he did it every day.  For him, Leo was the definition of a hero.  

"Okay gang, we are going to have rooms ready for you all in just a few minutes," said the President as he entered, clapping his hands together, trying to drag some energy into the room.  "We are going to have so much fun this weekend."

Josh and Sam were the only ones who were able to summon anything resembling an enthusiastic look.

"How about some cards, tonight?  Maybe some poker or how about bridge?  I havenít played that in years."

"Sir, I think that I had better head off to bed.  Itís been a long week." Leo grimaced as he tried to rise from the couch.  Josh leaped across the room to offer a hand.  Leo accepted gratefully. 

"But hang onto your money because tomorrow I am going to be ready to take you all to the cleaners. "  He added trying to sound cheerful.  As he got upright, he brushed Josh away.

"Well, Iíll be looking forward to that, my friend," said the President reaching out to squeeze Leoís shoulder as he passed him.  The President couldnít resist a backward glance at Leo as he slowly ascended the stairs.  Josh could see the pain in the Presidentís face as he watched Leo disappear around a corner.  The President turned to the rest of the staff.

"Okay, I think we all know that he has a reason to be a tired guy.  So whatís wrong with the rest of you." Demanded their Commander-in-Chief.

"Iíll play." Said Sam helpfully.

"Are you sure that you shouldnít be heading off to bed yourself, Sam?  Youíre not exactly one hundred percent yet."

"You wonít be using cards that are hard to lift or anything?"

The President grinned at Sam.

"Iím in," added Josh.

"Iím pretty sure that I am not going to be good company tonight." Toby said quietly.

"Toby, I wish you could put this behind you for awhile, at least for this weekend." Asked the President gently.  "I am going to need your energy in a few weeks when we resurrect this thing."

"Toby, I am sure that we are going to come out with a good compromise.  Iíd like to send out some feelers about it next week, if thatís okay." Added Sam sympathetically.

"So, was I the only one not told that we were putting this away?  Itís getting to be quite a pattern, you know." CJ said sarcastically still looking at the fire.

            "Sorry, CJ.  My bad." Said Josh.

            "Oh, donít worry about it, Josh.  The press managed to fill me in on what was going on."

            "Kincannon?"  Toby said suspiciously.

            "Yeah, why do you want to know?"

            "Oh, no reason, CJ.  Itís just that he seems to always have the scoop.  Kinda got wonder how a guy like that gets so many exclusives, donít ya."

            "Trying to imply something there, Toby." Said CJ pointedly.

            "Did you really have to leave him for last today?  I mean, is this something that the two of you have worked out?  Where he gets the best positioning at the press briefing in exchange forÖwhat?"

            "Did you really just ask me what I think you did?"  Said CJ rising from her chair.

            "No, I didnít."  Toby said closing his eyes.  "Iím sorry.  I am not myself."

            "Oh, Toby, you sound just like yourself."  CJís said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

            CJ stood in front on Toby with arms folded.  Toby looked up at her.  Neither one of them turned to look at the President as he spoke. 

            "Okay, thatís enough.  It seems like Leo had the right idea.  Letís get some rest and weíll get together again at breakfast."   The President turned and went up the stairs.

            "Itís no mystery to me why you are alone, Toby.  Any woman her right mind would leave you." She said bitterly to him.  The President stopped at the top of the stairs. Josh heard a sharp intake of breath come from Sam.  Toby blinked once, but never looked away from CJ.  CJís face reddened as she realized the power what she had said. She grabbed her bag and started out of the room.

"CJ, wait."

            "Please Mr. President, I need to be alone." CJ pleaded not turning to face anyone.

            "Will you be okay?"

            She nodded briefly and then rushed past him up the stairs.

            "Sir, Iíll make sure that she gets settled in okay."  Josh offered as he went after her.

            "Toby?"

            "I deserved it."  He said shaking his head slowly. "I do this to people.  I gotta keep them at armís length, you know.  It just seems to be who I am."

            "You gonna be okay."

            "Yeah."

            "See you, tomorrow."

            "Yeah."

            "As far as disasters go, this weekend is starting to give the Titanic a run for its money."  The President joked to a silent response.

            Then he hesitated for a second as if to add something more, but thought better of it and climbed the stairs. Sam had sat quietly through this entire exchange.  He hated to see Toby and CJ fight like this.  He had so much regard for both of them.  Especially Toby.  He knew that Toby promoted an image of a difficult and cynical man.  But the truth was far more complicated than that.  Toby was a private man who didnít share much of himself.  Very few people knew that Toby was the kind of man who wouldnít let a forgotten, homeless veteran die an unhonored death.  Or that he spent three of his Sunday afternoons at the office helping Bonnieís son prepare an essay for a private school.  He only showed people what he wanted them to see.  And the funny thing was that the people who did know him somehow felt compelled to help him keep his secrets.

Sam didnít quite know what to do for Toby so he thought he would just sit here quietly and be a companion in silence.

            "So I noticed earlier that youíre taking your pills again."  Sam jumped a little when Toby spoke.

            "Yeah."

            "So I guess you decided to give your mother some peace after all."

"I did it for both of my mothers."  Sam answered quietly.

            And while Toby couldnít quite manage a smile, he was able to give him a grateful look.

            "Well Sam, letís get you to bed now."

            Toby got up and started to gather up both his and Samís baggage.  Looking upward, Sam mouthed a quick prayer asking that his friend be allowed some peace and comfort this weekend and then he followed him.

 

***********

 

            CJ sat up straight in her bed breathing heavily.  It took her a minute to calm herself. Around her the room was still dark.  The heavy drapes were drawn against the windows.  "Maybe."  She thought.  She groped the nightstand for her watch and glasses.  Holding up the watch, she saw 2:07 am.  "Itís not morning." She thought despairingly.  She laid against the headboard, her glasses still perched on her nose.  The nightmares still came almost every night.  Sometimes if it was close enough to the morning, she could get up for the day.  This was not close enough.  She knew better than to try and live her life on three or four hours of sleep.

            The nightmares came in different forms.  Sometimes it was about the blood being everywhere.  Sometimes it was about her friends dying all around her.  Sometimes it was about the press briefing the night of the shooting.  In her nightmare, reporters would ask her questions.  Only she didnít understand any of them and so she just stood there with blood on her pants trying to reason through the many voices shouting at her.

            None of her nightmares were that far from the reality of that night.  Josh had found her and Toby huddled together watching the emergency personnel.  Josh was all energy and anger looking for an outlet.  He tried to get at Sam through the paramedics and was pushed back.  He started off toward the secret service for a report on the assailants when Toby grabbed his coat.  "Stop it," he hissed at him.  "Youíre going to have to be the adult here tonight.  CJ and I can barely see straight right now."

            Josh stepped back, startled.  He shook his head and blinked for a minute.  "We need to be with the President.  Thatís where we belong," his gut screamed.  He herded CJ and Toby into a waiting car ignoring their protests.  "We canít help Sam and Leo right now," he yelled at them.  "Let these people do their jobs.  We belong with the President."  He was yelling at their driver to get him an open phone line as the car sped off toward the White House.

            She fought her memories as she struggled to go back to sleep.  She resigned herself to a fitful night. Fighting with Toby certainly hadnít helped any.  The look on his face when she had dropped that final shot had settled in her stomach.  She wanted to hurt him.  She had been feeling this most of the summer.  But she felt no satisfaction from it.  There was something about Toby that pulled at her constantly.  She would defend him to Danny one minute and then try to hurt him the next.  She resented it but couldnít seem to resist.  She knew that her feelings for him were complicated.  She just had no idea what they were.

 

End Part 1

 

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