Title: Not Everything's Black and White
Notes: This is not your usual The West Wing fic. This would never happen in an episode. Suffice it to say, I know this story is based on a very improbable premise, but that's why it's fiction. Hope you enjoy it!
Feedback: Feedback, constructive criticism are more than welcome. Also, this is my first The West Wing fic. Let me know how I did?
Leo had listened to the charges, his outrage growing with each word. Afterward, the room was silent for a long moment.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Leo almost shouted. "You're insane."
Tom ignored him. He looked down at Jed with contempt. "I've been chosen to carry out your sentence," he said with malicious pleasure. "The method has been decided. A quick death would be too good for you and so your sentence will be carried out over the next three days. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
Jed looked up at him. His blue eyes were intense, steely and full of righteous passion. "You call yourself patriots. This country was founded on certain principles. Principles of freedom and equality." His gaze moved over each man. "And not just for Christians or white people or men. Those were the ideals. Yes, I'll admit it took time. They made mistakes. They gave some more freedom than others, and some none at all. But things changed. They're still changing. I thank God for that."
The room was silent for a moment. Then Tom snorted derisively. "He can still make pretty speeches even without his writers," he said. "Who knew?" His fist shot out and connected with Jed's temple, knocking the President to the floor. "Speech time's over, Bartlet."
Another man lifted Jed back to his knees and held his shoulder as Tom hit him again. And again. The others were solemn, as though they were watching a grave ceremony. The only sounds were the crack of fist on flesh and Leo's shouts. Leo's heart almost broke when he saw how hard the President was trying to keep silent.
Leo cursed, threatened and finally pleaded for them to stop. It was as if he weren't even in the room. He gripped the bars tighter as he watched as his best friend began to slump in his tormentors' grasp.
Jed's stubborn silence seemed to only make Tom angrier. The blows fell heavier, blood ran from the President's mouth and nose, and from a cut on his cheek to leave bright red spots on his white shirt.
Finally, after an eternity, Tom stopped. He entwined his fingers in Jed's hair and yanked his head back.
"You make me sick," he ground out from between clenched teeth. Jed's eyes rolled back in his head, he was barely conscious. "You act so high and mighty, Mr. President, but you let a filthy nigger fuck your daughter." He shoved him away roughly and stared at him for a moment. The President didn't even flinch as he hit the floor, nor did he move after. "That's enough for now. Put him in with the other one. We've got things to do before morning."
"Good morning." Steve held out his badge to the Secret Service agent at the door. "I'm here to see CJ Cregg."
Before the agent could question him, a woman's voice interrupted. "Steve!"
The tall blond woman rushed toward him, smiling. But he could see that it didn't quite reach her eyes. "It's okay," CJ said to the agent. "He's with me."
She grabbed Steve's hand and pulled him into the room. "I saw your name on the report," she said.
"Yeah, I heard your briefing."
"Ron says you're going to be helping out. Is that why you're here?"
Steve put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her to a stop. She turned to face him fully, her eyes surprised. He studied those eyes he had looked into so many times before. They were red and tired looking.
"No. I came to see you. How are you? Really."
She stared at him for a long moment. "I- Busy. Really busy. We- nobody knows quite what to do. I mean, when the President was shot at Rosslyn, we at least knew where he was. But this‚¶ Vice President Hoynes flew back to the White House. He doesn't want us there, he has his own staff. But I still handle the press, and I'd rather do that here. I want to be here when they find him. I *need* to be."
Steve took her hand. "I know. Listen, I know you're busy. This is hell. I doubt you're even going to go back to your hotel to sleep, I know you. But, I'm here for you, okay? Remember that."
She finally smiled, a real smile. "You always were. God, when I was working for that studio, you'd listen to me bitch about it for hours. I hated Hollywood people so much."
"You did your fair share of listening too." He paused. "I've missed you, CJ"
"Me too." She glanced away, then back as if his blue eyes drew her gaze against her will. "So, you married with six kids now?" She asked with forced lightness.
He responded with a chuckle. "Six kids? In three years, huh? I'd have to be pretty busy, for that." He shook his head. "No. and not married, either."
"Yeah, I know. It'd have made national news if you had, I guess."
"Not really." CJ tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
"CJ!" A man's shout came from behind her.
"Yeah, I'm coming!" She shouted back. "I'm sorry. I've got to do a thing."
"Okay. I just wanted to let you know‚¶ If you need anything‚¶"
She smiled and kissed his cheek. "Thanks. I'll call you, I promise."
"Okay. I'm going to go talk to Agent Butterfield while I'm here."
"Keep your shirt on, Toby!"
Steve stifled a laugh. "You'd better go."
"Yeah." She smiled, just a little. "Thanks for coming. It means a lot to me."
He watched her walk away, then turned and headed back out the door.
Sam glared at his empty coffee cup. He needed to stay working, but he needed the caffeine more. He hadn't yet been to sleep when the news about the President had turned their temporary offices upside-down. Add that onto a nineteen-hour day, and he was a little cranky without high doses of caffeine. Intravenously, if he could get it.
He levered himself out of his chair with a sigh. The work could wait. It was mostly to keep him busy anyway. Being the President's speechwriter, he didn't have much of his own work to do under the circumstances. But it kept him from going crazy with worry. Over the past three years Jed Bartlet had become like a second father to him. Certainly a better one than his own father, who, he had recently learned, had been cheating on his mother for the last two decades. Sam was still trying to sort out his feelings about that one.
And Leo. Leo was the one who protected them, watched over them and guided them all through the murky waters of professional politics. This whole thing was like an unending nightmare. And he had the horrible feeling that it was going to get worse.
The coffee in the lobby was hot and fresh, due to the simple fact that the staff was going through it far too quickly to allow it to cool. He filled his cup gratefully and slowly walked back to his makeshift office. He missed his real office. He missed the White House and Leo's stern mentoring and the President's lectures on the history of eggplant. He smiled. Or whatever inane bit of trivia the President felt like quizzing them on any given day.
He wandered back into his office. In the center of his desk, lying neatly atop his portable computer, was a small package. Curious, he picked it up and examined the front. It was addressed: Josh Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff. It had no return address.
"Josh?" He called. No one answered. A second look at the package revealed it had already been opened, probably by Josh who must have left it there for him. He tipped it and videotape slid out. He raised his eyebrows.
He'd had a VCR and television brought in last night, continually tuned to CNN. Now he slid the tape in and grabbed the remote, starting the tape.
He slumped in his chair, picking up his coffee cup. As the image on the screen changed from Andrea Thompson to a featureless, concrete room, it's two visible occupants drawing the eye and attention; the cup fell from nerveless fingers.
"Oh, God." Sam froze, his gaze riveted to the screen. "Oh my God."
The first muffled sound of pain jolted him out of his shock. He leapt out of his chair and stopped the tape, frantically stabbing the eject button.
"Kathy!" He shouted. "Kathy!"
His secretary appeared in the doorway. "What-"
He held up the tape. "Where did this come from?" He was distantly aware that he was still shouting. "Who brought this?"
"Some delivery guy. A messenger. He was looking for Josh, but Josh was in a meeting with‚¶" She trailed off as she finally took in the stricken expression on his face. "Sam?"
"Some delivery guy." Sam repeated grimly. He strode over to her with sudden quickness and grabbed her wrist. "Come with me."
Ignoring her questions and the looks from the other staffers around them, he practically dragged her down the hall to the office the Secret Service was using as their command post.
"Tell them everything," he said, without preamble. He turned to the Special Agent In-Charge. "Ron?"
Agent Butterfield nodded. He turned to a tall blond man in casual clothes and gestured for him to accompany them. They followed Sam back out into the hall as the younger man headed back toward his office.
"What's this about?"
"The President." Sam didn't elaborate and Ron didn't press. "Who's this?"
"Detective Steve Sloan, LAPD." Steve spoke up.
Sam nodded. They paused briefly by Toby's office where the Communications Director was speaking in hushed tones with CJ. "Toby, CJ," he said. Nothing more. His tone of voice spoke volumes. Toby stood and they followed.
"Donna!" He called to the blond assistant. "Find Josh right away. Get him over to my office. Doesn't matter what he's doing, get him here now."
Donna nodded and hurried off.
They waited in uncomfortable silence. Steve and CJ exchanged glances and he moved to stand near her. Without seeming to mean to, the back of his hand brushed hers. She looked at him gratefully.
Donna worked quickly. Josh arrived mere minutes later and each looked at Sam expectantly.
Without a word, he slipped the tape back into the VCR and started it.
Startled exclamations then stunned silence were the only reactions. Outwardly, Ron didn't react at all, except for perhaps a change in his eyes. If possible, they became even colder and more resolute.
They watched in horror as their President, their *friend*, was viciously beaten before their eyes. When the tape ended with Jed Bartlet lying unconscious and bleeding on the floor, Sam looked around the room at his friends.
Josh looked like he was having trouble catching his breath. His face had paled alarmingly. Sam moved to his side, offering silent support.
CJ had her hand over her mouth and her eyes were bright with unshed tears. Steve moved closer to her, dropping all pretense of formality and putting his arm around her shoulders. Toby stood alone, staring blankly down at the floor, his shoulders slumped. His hands shook visibly.
"I'll take the tape to have it examined." Ron's even voice broke the stunned silence. He stood. He took the tape and abruptly strode out of the room.
Donna appeared in the doorway, her eyes wide and frightened. "Josh! Turn on CNN!"
"Don't you knock?" Josh snapped, adrenaline still running high. .
"Josh! It's the President!"
The four exchanged horrified looks. Josh lunged for the remote and quickly changed the connection back to cable TV and CNN.
The horror each of them were feeling was magnified as they saw the same footage they had just seen being aired on worldwide news. The news anchor was reporting in a shaken voice that they had just received a videotape from an anonymous source.
The stunned silence in Sam's office was echoed outside its door.
Sam looked up, his expression dismayed. "Mrs. Bartlet," he breathed. The First Lady was in her hotel room, awaiting news. He prayed she wasn't watching television.
Josh met his eyes. "Oh, God."
Abby slipped her arm out from beneath her youngest daughter's head, trying not to wake her as she rose from the couch. Zoey had finally fallen asleep after the two of them had talked and cried until they were emotionally spent. It had been Spring Break for Zoey, and she had left Georgetown University to join her parents for this trip.
"Mom?" Her voice cracked.
"Shh, baby. Go back to sleep."
Zoey sat up and ran a hand through her hair. "No, it's okay. What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just wanted to go get a drink of water.
"Okay." She reached for the blanket that had slid to the floor. When she looked up, she automatically glanced at the television, hoping for more news. The sound was turned down low, but she heard her father's name.
"Mom," she called. "They're talking about Daddy." She reached for the remote and turned up the volume.
The shot cut away from the news anchor and to the videotaped scene in the concrete room.
"Oh, God." Zoey's hands gripped the blanket tightly. "That can't be real."
Abby's hand flew to her mouth, stifling a cry. "Jed."
Leo leaned back against the wall and gently lifted Jed's head into his lap.
"Sir? Mr. President?" He paused, studying the still, battered face. "Jed?" His voice lowered to a shaky whisper as he brushed the President's damp hair off his forehead. "Come on, old friend. Wake up. God, this is so wrong. This should never have happened. Not here."
"Then where?" Jed asked in a groggy voice, his eyes still closed. "'Cause I really can't think of a good place."
"Mr. President! Are you all ri-" He broke off. "Never mind. That was a stupid question. Just try to lie still."
"Yeah." He slowly opened his eyes. "It wasn't a horrible nightmare caused by eating to many crab puffs at the reception, huh?"
Jed sighed. "Are you all right?
"Leo, I think it's okay for you to call me Jed, under the circumstances."
"No sir. I think, under these circumstances, you need to be reminded who you are."
Another sigh. "Yeah. I just..."
"So‚¶ What's next?"
"What do we do now? Obviously we can't just sit here and wait for them to come back to use me as a punching bag again. I have to tell you, Leo, that I won't be filing this under Things I Really Want To Experience Twice. We've got to do something."
"What do you suggest?"
"Okay, I'm going to ignore the sarcasm, there. How many are there, do you think?"
"I saw eleven."
"Okay." He was silent for a moment. "Nothing's coming to mind. Nothing that's not incredibly stupid and wouldn't be doomed to failure, that is."
"You've been giving this a lot of thought, haven't you?"
"You were unconscious for a while."
Jed looked up at Leo. "How are you doing, really?"
"Better than you."
"I don't mean physically. I was thinking of your tour in Vietnam."
Leo swallowed but didn't answer.
"Don't." His voice was sharper than he'd intended. "I- I'm okay. Just... don't, okay?"
They sat in silence for another few minutes.
"I was in that POW camp for almost six months."
Jed gazed at him with sympathetic eyes. "You were shot down."
"But you were rescued."
"Somedays I didn't think that was ever going to happen."
"It did, Leo. It did."
Leo took the bit of cloth he'd torn from his sleeve and dabbed at the cut on the President's cheek. "Is your vision blurry?"
"Are you lying?"
"You've got to stop talking to my wife."
Jed closed his eyes. "Yes."
"Probably a concussion."
"Are you having any trouble breathing?"
"Are you having any trouble breathing?"
"Not really. Just hurts."
"All right." Leo gently brushed his hands over Jed's hair in slow rhythmic motions. The President slowly relaxed in his friend's arms as the pain and fatigue overtook him. "All right," Leo repeated.
Steve threw the phone back into its cradle. "Dammit!" He shouted.
His partner looked up from her own desk. "Steve?"
"No one knows anything. I've talked to everyone I can think of. Anyone who might have heard something."
He wiped his hand over his face. "I hope so." He pushed his chair back and stood. "I'm going to go try to find some of the people I couldn't reach by phone. If anyone calls, give them my cell number, okay?"
"Sure. You want company?"
He shook his head. "No, thanks. I'll call you." He strode out of the bullpen, heading for the elevators. Cheryl watched him for a moment before returning to her own work.
Steve slammed the truck door and pounded his fist on the steering wheel. If he heard the words "I don't know," out of one more of his snitches, he thought he might shoot him, just out of frustration. He took a deep breath and started the truck.
Disheartened by so many dead ends, and unsure of where to go next, the vehicle seemed to make its own way back to Community General.
Mark looked up from his desk, startled. "Steve!" He scrutinized his son. "Have you slept?"
"Since when?" Steve asked dryly. He slumped into a chair.
"That's what I thought." He paused. "Have you seen the news lately?"
"President Bartlet? Yeah." He stared down at his hands and made a conscious effort to unclench his fists. He took a deep breath. "Dad, I'm not getting anywhere on this. It's like they disappeared from the face of the earth."
Mark took off his glasses and rubbed tired eyes. "No leads, then."
Steve shook his head. "None."
"It's not like you're the only one, Steve. Every law enforcement agency is working on this."
"The Secret Service must be going crazy by now."
"Are any of the agents conscious yet?"
"Not yet. Two are in ICU, one is back in surgery. Complications."
Steve nodded wearily. They both sat in silence for a long moment.
"I went to see CJ Cregg this morning."
Mark brightened. "Really?" His smile quickly faded. "How's she holding up?"
He sighed. "You know CJ. She puts on a good front, but I know this is hitting her hard. She likes and respects the President a lot."
Mark nodded. "So do we all. But she knows him a lot better than we do."
"Yeah. From the emails she's sent over the last few years, it sounds like they're pretty close."
"I was sorry to see her leave LA. I know she couldn't pass up the opportunity she had, but... She's a nice girl."
Steve smiled a little. "Yes she is."
"Are you planning to see her again?"
"I-" His cell phone rang. He held up a hand. "Hang on." He flipped open the phone before it finished the second ring. "Sloan." He listened for a moment. "Okay. Yeah. Thanks." He snapped the phone shut as he stood. "Dad, I gotta go. See you later?"
"Okay. Be careful, Son." He shook his head. Steve was already out the door.