by Allison

Disclaimers: None of these characters belong to me, but to Aaron, who knows a lot more about them than I ever will.
Rating: PG for some violence, sort of
Spoilers: ITSOTG definitely, also 17 People
Author's Notes: This is just something that was running through my head during Mass this morning that wouldn't go away until I wrote it. It's a stand-alone.

When it happened, an almost-elderly woman flattened herself against the wall, trying to see into her boss's office. Crowds of men in black flew past her.

Three men in conference, two middle-aged, one young, half dove half pulled each other to the floor and buried their heads in the carpet, praying.

A man asleep on a couch jumped, startled, and rolled onto the floor. A woman in an outer office heard the popping sounds followed by the thump and dropped to her knees, making her way to his door and almost screaming his name.

A woman cried out in alarm as glass shattered over her head. The pounding on her door after the noise stopped matched the pounding of her heart.

A fast-acting former soldier spun himself away from the window, simultaneously wrapping his arms around his assistant and bending her over the desk, covering her with his body and cupping his hand over her head, fingers tangled in her hair.

A couple, or a non-couple, striding through the halls had just parted, just gone around corners out of each other's line of sight. She froze in horror; he slammed up against a wall until he heard her calling him.

Two women chatting beside a photocopier froze, widened eyes meeting. The younger woman paled and almost fainted; the taller had to catch her, and then hold her back.

A man sitting alone at a desk snapped to attention, veins icy with fear, and couldn't move.

The man had apparently decided to make a scene. He had no real intention of hurting anyone, at least not that the Secret Service could determine. He probably really didn't know that a bullet fired from a weapon of that caliber could in fact reach all the way across the lawn. It didn't seem to surprise him when the agents took him down with a shot in the arm and the shoulder, but it did surprise him to hear that three of his bullets had struck the White House. Two of them were embedded in the external structure. He was surprised, but too far gone in his own insanity to be really concerned, that one of them had gone through a window into an office.

When the horrific popping sounds finally stopped, the President's secretary ran from her hiding place beside a filing cabinet and threw open the doors of the Oval Office. A horde of agents were gathered around the large windows, and a crowd of them were lifting the President, his aide, and the Secretary of Agriculture off the floor. Mrs. Landingham didn't move from her spot by the doorway until she saw that all three men had been checked out and were unharmed. The Secretary sank into a chair, too stunned to react. The President looked about to get seriously angry, if only he could remember where he was or what he was doing. Charlie reached for a chair back, and what Mrs. Landingham heard him mutter was, "It's too much." That was all she needed to hear before crossing to the young aide and putting an arm around his shoulders, asking gently, "Are you all right, sweetie?" It was her tone that finally brought the frightened tears. Their boss looked at them both for a moment before turning away and shouting, "What the hell was that?"

Toby's office door had been closed while he napped, and his younger assistant was already moving toward it on her knees while the gunshots were still echoing. The sound of his name caught his ears and he immediately replied, "Ginger? Are you all right?" She forced the door open and slipped inside, tentatively rising to a crouch when the noise stopped. She leaned over him as he sat up and ran her hands over his head, his shoulders, until he stopped her with a curt, "Cut it out, I'm fine." When he looked up and really saw the horrified statement on her pale face, he instantly apologized and, just as he had done before, murmured, "Ginger, come here." He pulled her down onto the floor with him for a too-brief moment, clinging to her as she clung to him, and then released her saying, "Stay there. I'm calling Leo."

C.J. had already been pulled to the ground and knocked semi-unconscious the last time a window had shattered over her head. She now would never have to ask Sam what it sounded like, to hear a bullet miss you by a matter of feet. Her scream blended, to her ears, with the sounds from the lawn outside, and when she stopped she heard her name and insistent pounding. Carol. The door flew open and her assistant ran to her side, her face white as a sheet against her dark hair and jacket, stepping through glass to run fingers through her boss's hair and make sure only the window had been damaged. Carol's eyes turned then and followed the trajectory of the bullet to where it had embedded itself in the wall, over the doorway. C.J. couldn't put her hands down but obsessively covered the back of her head, begging her assistant to tell her what had happened. When they decided it must be safe the two women went to the window and watched the agents carry a wounded man away from the street. C.J. clutched the hem of Carol's jacket and realized with some surprise that she wanted Sam. She had come to associate him with safety.

Leo didn't straighten up until well after the echoing of the gunshots had stopped, and his fingers moving in her hair were the only thing that assured Margaret he was alive. When he stood he pulled her off the desk, asking right away, over and over, if she was hurt. Her hand went to the throbbing in her abdomen where he had pushed her against the desk, and seeing it he replaced her rubbing hand with his own for half a second. His other hand never left the back of her head but his thumb stroked her cheek. After looking intensely into her eyes he hugged her to him hard, then released her and said, "I'm going to look for him." She didn't need to be told who he meant. The phone rang as he left and she swallowed her fear and concern and grabbed it. "Leo McGarry . . . Toby? We're fine. He went to check . . ."

Sam stayed flattened against the wall in the bullpen until the bullets stopped, and then he heard her cry out his name. A sinking feeling in his chest kept him paralyzed in that position until she came tearing around the corner and stopped dead at the sight of him. "You're okay," she stated, her eyes wide and her whole body visibly shaking.

"Yes," he managed to reply.

"Didn't you hear me calling you?"

He managed to nod. "I thought you needed me - I thought you were hurt and I -" He couldn't finish his sentence, couldn't express the uselessness and the inaction that had seized him when he thought it was happening again, only this time he wasn't in the right place to save her.

"I think," she said very slowly, not moving a muscle except for the tremors that made her unsteady on her feet, "I've just taken a whole new view on gun control."

He almost laughed, and then he made himself step away from the wall because she was about to fall, and he got to her before she did. And because they were terrified, because she couldn't hold herself up anymore, because he couldn't stand that this should happen to them twice, because the whole situation was unthinkable, it didn't matter that they had never done this before. She kept saying, "Oh my God," over and over, as he crushed her to him and held on as tightly as he could. And Bonnie ran past, taking inventory of the people in the bullpens, and skidded to a stop to ask, "Sam? Ainsley? You both all right?" He nodded for both of them, and Ainsley closed her eyes and took deep breaths to calm herself. "I'm sorry," she whispered, suddenly embarrassed at clinging to Sam of all people like that, and he only tightened his grip on her and said, "It's okay, I have you." He needed to know what had happened, but to leave her - "Bonnie!" he yelled. "As soon as you have any news . . ." She nodded as she ran off.

Donna hadn't said a word until she'd almost fallen into Bonnie's arms, and then she whispered, "This can't be happening." She grabbed desperately onto the other woman, trying to pull herself to her feet. The shots had only just stopped echoing and Bonnie didn't want to let her go running around the West Wing if it might not be safe yet. She managed to corner Donna for a while against the copier, while Donna fought her - something she would never have done if not in a panic - and insisted that she had to go and find Josh. When Bonnie heard Toby shouting for her she released Donna and ran to get her boss, bursting into his office and taking his instructions even as she pulled Ginger off the floor and hugged her for a moment reassuringly.

As soon as Bonnie let her go Donna went flying through the bullpen to Josh's office. His door had been open and he sat unmoving at his desk, staring clear across the bullpen to the other end of the hallway. "C.J.," he said almost inaudibly. "A bullet came through C.J.'s office." This startled Donna out of her concern for him and she whirled around to see the broken glass in the open office across the hall, and Carol and C.J. watching at the window. "They're okay," she reported, turning back to him. He hadn't moved. "Josh?" she said tremulously. The tears evident in her voice broke the spell and he said in less of a monotone, "I thought it was me. I thought I was having a flashback."

"You weren't," Donna told him, fighting to keep from crying. "There was someone - I don't know, I think outside." Had she been thinking clearly she would have realized that of course no one would ever have made it inside the White House with a gun. She took a deep breath and said again, "Josh?"

"The President?" he asked.

"I heard Bonnie shouting that he was fine," she replied. "She kind of ran past me a couple times. I think Toby called Leo."

"Should I be . . . ?" He was beginning to sound dazed again, and that worried her. He had had enough setbacks already, fate couldn't be this cruel . . .

"No, you're fine here," she replied, rubbing furiously at her eyes. "Everyone will be worried about you."

"They should be worried about C.J.," he responded blankly. Suddenly he lifted his head and looked her full in the face, and then lifted his arms. With a little cry she rushed around the desk. Neither of them was thinking, about the open door, about calling Leo, about the people running around the Wing. When she bent down to touch him he pulled her onto his lap, leaving her little means of escape even if she'd had the inclination. As with Sam and Ainsley, it didn't matter that they had never done this before - unlike Sam and Ainsley, the awkwardness came not from animosity/attraction but from deep feeling too long hidden. He slipped a hand under her knees and drew her legs up over his so that he could cradle her fully against his chest. The bullets had gradually faded from his brain and all he heard now was the sound of her soft whimpering, the evidence of her fear for him, and the eerie echo of her words from the week before - "I wouldn't stop for red lights." He knew then, but he really knew now - what she had managed to hide, he supposed, when he was recovering, what she couldn't hide in her first shock. After the first frozen moments of clinging they began to move like desperate people. They never kissed. He never looked her in the eye, her head never lifted from his shoulder, they never touched each other in a way or a place that might have been sexual, but their hands roamed frantically over shoulders, backs, hair, the side of her face, the back of his neck, her legs, his chest, trying to pull closer than it was possible to be. When the frenzy calmed he closed his eyes and let his chin rest on her shoulder, feeling her tears dampen his shirt and her sobs shake her narrow body.

In the doorway a dark figure paused, silent and unnoticed. Leo had heard the preliminary report from the agents and shaken his head at the idiocy and the carelessness and at the same time the complete lack of malice that characterized the "attack" that wasn't really an attack. He'd even found enough of his sense of humor to smile as he passed Sam and Ainsley, no longer embracing in the middle of the hall but standing close together with his arm around her waist. His real concern, after swallowing the panic that rose in his throat when he saw C.J.'s window, was for Josh. He knew the possibility of physical injury was nil considering the location of his deputy's office, but he knew perhaps better than anyone - except Donna - what the potential for emotional damage might be. Watching them now, watching Donna's tears and Josh clinging to her in a way he probably never had dreamt of before, Leo turned slowly away. He knew a private moment when he saw one.

Steve Bishop, 32, of Dayton, Ohio was kept in custody until such time as he was arraigned, pled insanity, and was admitted to a mental institution for observation. Newspapers went crazy with the story of the "second Bartlet assassination attempt." Only the Washington Post ran an editorial, under Danny Concannon's byline, that really got it right. It began, "Last summer a group of extremists nearly killed President Josiah Bartlet and Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman because they wanted to rid the earth of a young interracial couple. Yesterday an insane man was so desperate for attention that he took his father's high-caliber weapon and opened fire on the lawn of the White House. Neither of these people intended to kill the President. Steve Bishop didn't comprehend the possibility that he might hurt anyone at all. Last summer President Bartlet and Joshua Lyman were saved by a team of surgeons. This time Press Secretary C.J. Cregg was saved only by the fact that she was sitting down. If the White House isn't safe from people who don't understand or care about the consequences of their actions, none of us are. And anyone who says we don't need stricter gun laws should come and spend a day in this place where running the country means risking your life."

When that article ran in the paper C.J. had to close her office door so that she could cry in private beneath the boarded-up window. Toby mulled over it for a long time before carefully tearing it out and tucking it into a drawer. Ainsley read it six times before going upstairs, face flushed with shyness, to Sam's office. When she dropped the paper on his desk and said with a steadier voice than she'd thought she could muster, "Tell me again about the waiting-period amendment," Sam reached across the desk and took her hand. He explained, in a less arrogant tone than he usually employed with Ainsley, what the amendment said that was different from its Republican-opposed predecessors, and while he talked he traced circles on her palm with his thumb and watched her blush. If asked he'd say he couldn't stand her, but he'd dreamt of her that night and felt her arms around him.

Josh's hands made the paper shake, and Donna finally came to read over his shoulder and hold it steady. She leaned one hand on him for balance, and other than that they didn't touch. But he'd dreamt of her and not the bullets flying, and she'd tossed and turned all night missing his hands on her, and in some ways it was only a matter of time before it didn't take a shooting.

Leo watched them all and murmured his boss's question, and Danny's -- if we're not safe here, then where?

The End.

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