Disclaimer: I own nothing belonging to The West Wing; it all belongs to NBC, Aaron Sorkin, et al. I write these stories purely for enjoyment; no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: What happened in Norway is shocking and awful. When I first read the story around noon that day, it was indeed from Reuters, and the news channels did indeed not have the story for another few hours. As the events unfolded, I imagined this conversation between Sam (now Potus) and C. J. My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the dead, especially all of the poor children on Utoya Isalnd. As always, my profound thanks to lcf328, who in this case pointed out a key flaw toward the end of the story, and who is always so encouraging about my writing.
"Norway, Sam? Norway, really?"
Sam sighed, adjusting the phone on his shoulder, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "C. J. –"
"Norway. Because when I think of high-stakes, politically polarizing governments, Norway immediately comes to mind."
"How did you hear?" Sam asked quietly. He had just been through the security briefing less than an hour ago, and C. J. was out in California with Danny. While her press contacts were still impeccable, he didn't think she would have heard about it quite this quickly.
"Reuters has it; they just put the story out ten minutes ago," C. J. responded. "I haven't seen a single thing on any of the networks or cable news, not even a banner headline. They're not going to have stories for another two or three hours; the wire services are the only ones who have enough correspondents anymore to break this story."
Sam nodded, then realized that C. J. couldn't see him. "Budget cuts," he said, a trifle grimly.
"This is one instance where technology cannot make up for actual on-the-ground reporting," C.J. answered dryly.
There was a beat of silence before C. J. asked the question. "How bad is it?"
"Worse than they're reporting, yet," Sam said hollowly, his voice thick. "The Norwegian Prime Minister wasn't in the building, thank goodness. I've already spoken to him. But three-quarters of the glass in the building is blown out, there are seven people dead, more missing, and some significant structural damage. That's just the government offices; they don't know how many of the children are dead yet."
Sam recognized his mistake when mute blankness greeted him on the other end of the phone.
"They haven't reported that at all, have they?" he said regretfully, apology coloring his voice. "Well, that's something of a relief for now, I suppose, although they'll have it soon."
"Children?" C. J. repeated slowly, and Sam could hear the disbelief, the anger, and even the grief bubbling under that one word.
He tried to break it to her gently. He had been sorely tempted to throw something during the briefing; it was terrible to feel so helpless.
"After the bomb went off, a gunman dressed as a police officer entered a summer camp run by the Norwegian Labour Party," he said softly. "He systematically rounded up the campers and began shooting them. Some of them tried to get away by running or jumping into the water, but he shot at the ones trying to escape, as well. It took police an hour and a half to get there. He had time."
"Why?" C. J. asked, and the horror in her voice made Sam's shoulders tighten.
"The camp is on an island. It's secluded, and part of the roadway was blocked or being worked on. They're still trying to piece together why the response was so delayed," Sam replied wearily.
"Dear God," C. J. whispered. "And they don't know how many . . . ?"
"At least sixty," Sam said bitterly. "Maybe more. This guy was smart enough to deduce that the best way to take out his anger against the party in power was by killing its future leaders."
"They're children, Sam. Children. What kind of monster kills children?" C. J. said indignantly, her voice cracking.
"I know," Sam agreed painfully.
"Do you know what the worst irony is in all this?" he said after a moment. "Norway had concentrated their intelligence resources on outside threats, on international threats. They had received warnings of attacks due to their involvement in Afghanistan and Libya, and they placed their resources there. They knew that there were extremists in their own political parties, but the numbers are small. No one imagined that something like this could happen, could be put in motion by one of their own citizens. This Norwegian shooter was angry about a lot of things, including immigration to Norway and what he saw as the dilution of Norway's national heritage."
"It sounds a little too familiar, doesn't it?" C. J. said tiredly. "We have our own homegrown extremists, and since September 11th we've been spending a lot of money keeping tabs on international terrorist organizations."
"We're going to refocus on domestic groups," Sam said, and C. J. heard the bit of steel in his voice that told her he was going to demand it. "I don't want another international attack on our hands, and I know that we need to keep some of our manpower there, but I would feel better if we knew that this guy didn't have contacts or accomplices in the U. S."
"Like members of West Virginia White Pride?" C. J. said harshly.
Sam's heart clenched. Anger had won out in C. J., at least for the moment; it ran like lava through that brief, sharp statement.
"Yes," he answered, equally terse. "There are other groups out there, too; I want updates of their activities." His anger had died out after the briefing; he felt more like weeping. The man in the office next to his had almost died because of white supremacists equally as extreme as Anders Breveik. Also like Breveik, they had been pointing their guns at children. Charlie and Zoe had been college students and not middle and high school students, but the intent had been the same. He would not let it happen again.
"Sam, tell me that we're going to help," C. J. pleaded. "Tell me that we're going to do something."
"The Prime Minister knows that whatever he needs from us, he may have it," Sam reassured her. "I don't know what he will ask for, but he was grateful for the offer. There's a lot of grieving people and they all need help. If nothing else, our intelligence people are at his disposal, should he so choose."
"I don't understand," C. J. murmured brokenly. "They were just children."
"I don't understand either," Sam admitted with another sigh. "It's senseless."
"We're going to go to the National Cathedral in a few minutes," Sam added after a moment. "We wanted to light a candle for the victims."
"Light one for me, too," C. J. answered, and now Sam could hear the tears that had been absent before.
"I will," he promised, his own eyes burning. "We love you, C. J. Hug Danny and the kids for us both, would you? Make Danny give you a hug for us," he finished with a half-smile.
"We love you too," C. J. responded, managing a chuckle. "Tell Josh . . ."
She trailed off, not quite knowing what to say, how to express all she felt to the Chief of Staff who was like a brother to her.
"I will," Sam said sympathetically. "He's all right, C. J. Angry, but all right."
"Thank heaven for small mercies," C. J. said feelingly, and Sam knew they were both thinking of one cold winter's night when Josh had come far, far too close to slipping away from them. "We'll talk soon, Spanky. I'm still your first call."
Sam rolled his eyes in annoyance at the nickname, but his voice was warm. "Of course you are."
He set the headset on the receiver and leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. He was exhausted, in just about every way, and there were a lot of hours left in the day.
He heard the click of a door, and knew that Josh had come in.
"Is she okay?" Josh asked worriedly. "You were on the phone a long time."
"She's shocked, angry, and hurting," Sam said, opening his blue eyes to look up at Josh's brown ones. "She's worried about you. This brings up a lot of bad memories."
"Yeah," Josh sighed, rubbing his face in weariness. He came around the massive Resolute desk (which Sam had chosen because it had been FDR's) to squeeze his best friend's shoulder. "We'll help, Sam. Norway will have to grieve, and we're going to have a lot of work to do in order to find out how connected Breveik was, but in the end, we will have some answers."
"I know," Sam said, letting his eyes fall shut again. "But answers don't bring back the dead, Josh."
"No, they don't," Josh agreed solemnly. "But we can still make sure that Norway has a future."
A knock on the door to the outer office announced the arrival of their motorcade, and Gina Toscano entered the room.
"Mr. President, we're ready to go," she announced.
Reaching up, Sam briefly clasped Josh's hand where it lay and felt reassuring pressure before he stood.
The two of them followed Gina, determined to light small candles in the darkness.