Author: mdime PM
A late night, a brooding Toby, an examination of faults. (ten days post-Rosslyn)Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Drama - Words: 2,298 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 9 - Published: 11-12-02 - id: 1065164
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Chaos Theory
Rating: PG-13 (for two moderately bad words, and the subject matter)
Category: drama, angst
Spoilers: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, The Midterms
Summary: A late night, a brooding Toby, an examination of faults. (ten days post-Rosslyn)
Archive: ask (it can be found at http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/mdime02/)
Disclaimer: I can place no claim upon them, alas.
Author's Note: I've never tried writing anything in second person, nor have I written from Toby's POV; I wanted a challenge, this is what happened. Forgive me for its faults. I realize that *everyone* has done post-shooting angsty stuff, but there's a reason for it – it's such a rich subject. I couldn't help it, it just came out...
Another Note: This story was originally written and given its title long before the season 4 premiere (20 Hours in America), so I was highly amused when Sam launched into his explanation of chaos theory…I guess Sorkin and I shared a brainwave for a moment.
It's late, absurdly so, but you can't bring yourself to get up and go home. Leaning back in the chair, you rub your hands over your face, trying in vain to clear your mind. You can't get the image of this afternoon out of your head. The rest of the day, it distracted you – not that anyone noticed. They would have, normally, but the word normal seems foreign and no one said a word.
You feel ashamed, almost. Ashamed and angry and guilty and aching. It was too much, and you didn't know how to handle it, so you ran away. He hadn't seen you, and that thought filled you with a grateful relief that barely served to cover your guilt. He had nowhere to run to. He couldn't even if he did. Several minutes of aimless walking later, you found yourself back outside his room. He was alone now. This time you went in, seeing almost no trace of the struggle that had taken place so recently. He didn't mention it, and neither did you, because this was his existence.
It was only on your way back to the office that you gave it a second thought, and then it was all you could think about. The look of intensity, of concentration and exhausting effort – and then the pain. You knew that the first few days he had been on some good drugs, and now the doctors were increasing the wait time, lowering the dosages, cutting back, eliminating. You also knew that the physical therapist was working with Josh now, and he was no longer confined to his bed.
You think of the first time you saw him out of bed, sitting in a chair by the window, a pillow resting in his lap. He looked tired, but good, so much better than the last time you saw him, though it still seemed unnatural for him to be so calm, not arguing or pacing or hurrying through the halls of the west wing. Josh was movement, Josh was energy. But he was less pale, and his eyes at least were animated, and you felt for the first time a slight sigh of relief as you accepted that he would live. You still know that, of course, but you're finding out just how hard living can be.
Because today you saw what it takes for him to get to that chair. The physical therapist was there, at times coaxing and encouraging Josh, at times reprimanding him, bullying him. You stopped in the open doorway, not wanting to interrupt, and while you meant to leave you found, at first, that you couldn't turn away. Getting fully off the bed took three minutes or so, Josh biting his lower lip as he clutched a pillow tightly to his chest. Each step was an effort, both the movement itself and Josh's seemingly-feeble attempts to correct the hitch in his step as his right leg dragged and the therapist barked, dissatisfied. He made it across the room and paused, taking in a few ragged breaths before turning to walk back. You could see the sweat glistening on his forehead, you could see his attempts to minimize the rise and fall of his chest by pulling the pillow closer, you could see the exhaustion which lined his face, you could see him fighting the pain, attempting desperately to please the therapist.
You watched him with a strange fascination, silently correcting his movements, silently encouraging his progress. Then suddenly he stopped, gasping for air as he wrapped his arms further around himself, crushing the pillow against his chest, eyes almost desperate, tears streaking down his face – and then he coughed. It seemed possible that he would shatter. You backed away, horrified, suddenly sick to your stomach and seeing a different scene before you, seeing Rosslyn, seeing Josh dying right before your eyes.
And so you fled.
When you came back he was sitting in bed, watching CNN. You leaned against the doorframe, watching him, listening to his breathing adjust, seeing him relax. It was as if nothing was wrong – and you realized belatedly that nothing was: Josh had been shot in the chest, the bullet nicked his pulmonary artery, surgery lasted fourteen hours. It was his tenth day at GW, and he wouldn't be back to work for months. He noticed you and smiled, calling you inside. You talked with him. You left.
On the way back, you realized what you had said. Josh had been shot in the chest. The bullet nicked his pulmonary artery. Surgery lasted fourteen hours. And you accepted that. You watched him struggle to cross a room, you watched as the pain grew so intense he cried – and then it got worse. And you accepted that. None of you had seen his dressings being changed and none of you had seen his scars, except on the second day, when Josh was still drugged up and the First Lady and the Surgeon General went to see him...and when they left you could see the tears glistening in Abigail Bartlet's eyes. And you accepted that. Charlie would hang around, hungry for information but never actually going in to see Josh except when he slept. And you accepted that.
You halted just outside the White House, and you couldn't accept any of it anymore.
Which brings you back to now, sitting in your office and not knowing who you are. Everything has changed, and you know you haven't caught up yet. Maybe no one has. Maybe you never will.
You learned long ago that you shouldn't feel sorry for yourself, and by and large you succeed. You didn't before, and you certainly can't feel sorry for yourself now, not after you saw Josh today. You're not sure how you feel, because it is like being both empty and full at the same time. The emptiness is an ache, and undefinable, but the fullness is anger.
You probably shouldn't be angry, either. Josh wasn't angry. But maybe, maybe when the physical pain subsides, he will be. At Charlie? At you?
No, you already know the answer to that. You won't even try to explain Josh Lyman, because you have no idea how to do that. But you can say this: he was given a card to save his life, and when he realized what it meant he gave it back.
You know that he would lay down his life for any one of you, and you don't want to remember that he almost did. Instead you realize that you're spoiling for a fight, ready to take down those bastards who would have killed Charlie in front of your eyes – who would have killed Josh when he tried to stop them.
He did stop them, in a way, but you see the cost of it in his pain, and in Charlie's guilt, and the phantom blood which still marks you and your failures.
You ordered the canopy down. It doesn't matter that the President wanted it. It doesn't matter that it could have just as easily been Josh. Because it was you. It was your memo. And the knowledge that it was the act of madmen who would have found another way is small comfort when you've watched the President – himself shot – stand vigil with Leo over Josh's bedside.
You look at them and see two men who almost lost their son, and you look at yourself, and see six minutes without a thought to where Josh was. Six minutes before you remembered him, remembered that you hadn't seen him. Six minutes before you found him leaning against the concrete and you wanted to yell at him for disappearing before you realized that he was. For six minutes, he struggled to hold the blood in. For six minutes, he was alone. Completely alone.
You know now, as you didn't then, that he'll live. You know that, and you want to admonish him for scaring you – all of you – like that. And then you remember the way he looked up at you as he lost consciousness. You remember the way Sam's head whipped around as you called for help. You remember having to tell Donna that Josh had been shot. You remember...all of it.
It replays in your head, and you don't know how to stop it from happening again. Part of you doesn't want to. Part of you needs to be reminded of what happens when you screw up. The blood on your hands is literal, and the look in Sam's eyes when he left the observation area scared you to death, and you've never in all your years of knowing her seen that particular mix of fear and pain and anger in CJ.
Someone had attacked you. Some narrow minded, poorly educated, vengeful bigoted punks had looked at your family and said no. No, it's not right. No, you aren't fit to choose who you love. No, you can't live.
They could have succeeded, and while you curse them for their stupidity you are also grateful for it. They used the wrong guns, and they were down in 9.2 seconds. It doesn't feel as it they're dead, though, it feels as if you are. You never realized just what Josh meant. You never realized, for that matter, just what any of them meant.
If he were removed from the equation, you probably would have kept your perfect record of election losses. It sounds silly to pin a national election to one man – one man who wasn't even the candidate – but you know with a certainty that the Bartlet for America campaign had truly been a sum of its parts, a balance of one another's strengths, weaknesses, and unwavering devotion, and that the loss of any one of them might have meant the loss of the White House. Because, as you remind yourself from time to time, you were never meant to have won. By any account, it should have been Hoynes. It would have been.
It wasn't, though. It was Josiah Bartlet. Leo knew what he was doing, convincing him to run, and you were right to bring CJ, and Josh was right to bring Sam. Donna brought herself, and while you're still not entirely sure how she managed that you know that she was right, too. Mrs. Landingham and Margaret and Bonnie and Ginger and Charlie, the junior staffers, the other assistants – they were all a team, your team, and some of them were your brothers and sisters. They drove you crazy, of course, and you returned the favor, but they were your family. And you almost lost them.
You don't ever want that to happen again.
You can't do anything to stop it. You might even make things worse.
You sigh heavily, look down at your hands. Your power was in words that others spoke, and while the pen might be mightier than the sword it couldn't do a damn thing against a gun. Not the way things were now. Not with the jokes they dressed up and called gun laws. Not with the children who could learn nothing but hate and a pride in their destruction. Not with a Communications Director so lost you can't concentrate long enough to allow logic to overcome emotion.
But what else can you do?
You won the White House. You wrote a memo to Treasury about security procedures. Josh hired Charlie. Zoey asked Charlie out. A town hall meeting was scheduled. Josh was a little behind as you left. Shots rang out.
Children joined West Virginia White Pride. They learned hate. They learned violence. They found out that the President's daughter was dating a black man. They found their opportunity. They took it. They died for a cause they thought right, and they will never know just how wrong they were.
You can't make sense of this chaos. Everything connects, but there are no answers to how and why or exactly where it does so. It won't stop unless something changes, and nothing ever does.
You bow your head, burying your face in hands that you don't think will ever be clean of their blood, and cry.