Never Die Youngby Gigi K.
I swear I didn't want to write this, but my muse seems to have recently become addicted to James Taylor and even though she has 3 trilogies mapped out based on series of songs, she would leave this one alone. So I wrote it - it's her fault, not mine.
Is it possible for the mood of a nation to influence the weather? If at no other moment in time, it had to be true this week -- today.
The nation has shed its tears for two days straight, but it wouldn't rain today. The nation has no more tears to shed. For now, only shock and disbelief remain. The air is still and cold, the sun hides behind the gray clouds. We'll cry again later. I'll cry again later.
I feel my wife squeeze my hand and I move closer to her as we walk, wrapping my arm around her waist. I need the contact with her; I need the assurance that she is there, my one touchstone with reality.
I'm haunted by that song; their final song. I close my eyes and let my wife guide me as we walk down Constitution Avenue, as the song envelopes my mind.
The lyrics fade, being drowned by the echo of voices and conversations long past. I am back where I saw them for the first time - together.
The Kennedy Center.
I am mingling with some of Washington's most powerful, when I see her. She is standing in the Grand Foyer talking to CJ Cregg. She's beautiful. Her blonde hair falls down her back, her red dress fitting in all the right places. I realize I miss her. She has wit about her; she could always make me smile. I walk toward her, to say hello and apologize for being a jerk the last time I spoke to her. Then he appears, and my heart sinks in my chest. His hand drifts casually down to rest on her lower back like it belongs there. I see the way she moves closer to him, the way she lights up and smiles when she looks at him.
I 'm angry, hurt. He's an arrogant jackass. She'll remember that soon enough and the infatuation will be over. She'll come back then, to us, where she belongs.
I watch him lead her away, and the memory fades and I am back in the cortege on Constitution Avenue, approaching the Rotunda.
My eyes focus on the tall, young man with dark hair that leads us, even as he follows them. My eyes settle on the two flag covered caskets that move slowly atop caissons flanked on either side by rider-less horses.
I feel the tears that burn my eyes and I don't understand.
I don't understand how this happened. We were safe; we should have been safe.
He shouldn't have had that gun.
The citizen's right to own a gun. Over how many lunches was it debated? Sam, Josh and Toby for gun control. Ainsley and myself against further gun control laws.
But he shouldn't have had that gun.
How could he have had that gun, a high-powered semi-automatic machine gun, and owned legally?
I feel the bitter taste of bile in my throat and push away the thoughts, the memories.
Don't think. Keep walking. Climb the stairs of the Rotunda; just keep walking. Keep following. Look straight ahead, head held high.
I see the young man's -- Jed's -- head turn as he glances down at his little sister and there is something in the motion and I hear that song as I fall back through my memories again.
The song fades, the Rotunda blurs.
I walk through the door of the pub with Harriet and I see them standing together, their backs to us.
She looks up at him, saying something I can't hear and he glances down at her and I see it. He loves her. He loves her totally and completely. Unconditionally.
I've heard the rumors, I've even spoken to Ainsley, but I never believed it until now.
Seeing the way he looks at her, the way he touches her, I know that I was wrong. They aren't 'too sweet' and they are strong enough to survive this town as a couple, as republican and democrat together.
She sees us then and smiles. We weave our way toward them. She comes to meet us and Sam is right behind her.
She hugs Harriet first, and then me. I hear her whisper a thank you in my ear and I know she understands that this - admitting I could be wrong - is hard for me.
She introduces us to Sam and their friends and I am surprised at how welcome I feel among them, these people I have spent so much time disliking on principle. Sam is going out of his way to keep me included in the conversation. They all are, for both Harriet and me.
I get up to get the next round from the bar, and while I wait, I watch the dynamic that flows between them. I can see the way they feed off each other, the verbal baits and switches, the tag teaming.
I see Sam say something and Harriet replies. Whatever she says sends Ainsley and Josh into uncontrollable laughter. Donna grabs Harriet's arm and lifts it in the air and as I come back to the table I hear her say, 'And the winner is.' Harriet smiles at me as I take my seat again.
Ainsley regains control and moves to sit in Sam's lap. She pretends to comfort him as he pretends to have a bruised ego, but I can see his smile even though he tries to hide it. Then Toby makes a crack and it starts all over again.
They are laughing and smiling. And so am I.
It's a beginning. I wrap my arms around Harriet's shoulder and feel her arm slip around my waist.
I feel her arm holding onto me, the noise of the laughter fades and I find myself on the steps of the Rotunda.
I see President and Mrs. Bartlett are waiting for us. His expression never changes, yet I know tears fall hard from his eyes. I see both of their chests rise as they inhale deeply, fighting for control.
I can see Jed Bartlett clearly as we draw near the landing. I see his mask fall away, shattered, as the Honor Guard carries the caskets past him. Abigail Bartlett stands, unshakable, beside him, holding so fast and tight to her husband's hand that both their hands are white with the strain.
I'm close enough to see the pain flare in Jed Bartlett's eyes when they connect to his namesake's.
"Stay strong, son. We're right here. We're all here."
I hear that voice, Jed Bartlett's voice, and suddenly I'm holding my breath, my jaw locked against the pain. I bite my tongue to stop the tears. Breathe. Breathe. Hold it together.
I hold back a pace, allow the Bartletts to join the procession. The Honor Guard position the caskets and we file behind them. I take my place at the end of the aisle, beside her parents.
Donna sits in front of me, beside Josh, where she's always belonged. Josh is flanking the children on one side, Toby on the other. I can see little Abbey's shoulders shaking even as Josh holds her and I know she's crying silently. Jed's shoulders tighten and shake slightly and I know he's fighting to keep it together -- for his family, for his country. He inherited his sense of duty from both his parents.
Their parents would be proud of them. I am. They've stood tall and strong -- even little Abbey, only ten years old.
One by one, they rise to the pulpit, speaking of them, saying good-bye. First, The Senate Majority Leader speaks, then the Minority Leader; then the Chief Justice and the Speaker of the House. I don't hear them. Later, when I read the words, I will cry. For now, I simply don't hear them.
I see Donna's blonde head tip forward slightly. I see Josh's shoulder move as his arm slips around her shoulders.
I glance at Harriet and my sight blurs. I am so tired of holding back these tears. She whispers to me but it's the song I hear again.
The song they danced to. James Taylor. Never Die Young.
I'm there again. I can see it all. Hear it, taste it all as it flashes before.
President Seaborne's approval rating is at an all time high. The people trust him, their Democrat President who counts his Republican wife as a top advisor.
We'd announced our bid for re-election and everyone, the President's family, friends and staff, was there to kick off the campaign.
Josh Lyman, the Vice President and his wife, Donna are debating with Toby Ziegler, the Director of Communications and CJ Cregg, Press Secretary in one corner, hovering by the buffet. The Bartlett's, including ZoŽ and Ellie, and Leo McGarry sit in the center of the room, talking with Congressman Charlie Young. Sam, Ainsley and their son sit with them.
I hear the younger children, Abbey Seaborne, the Lyman girls, the Bartlett's grandchildren, and my son, David, playing in a room down the hall. Their laughter is so easy and free.
I see Harriet, Zoe Bartlett -- Deputy Communications Director, and my daughter cross the threshold, dragging my Deputy behind them and smile. She, my new deputy, is still adjusting to the atmosphere, the openness and the bipartisan cooperation. She's a Democrat trying to figure out how to disagree with her Republican boss, in front of the Democrat President.
They come over to me and I, Bruce Carrington, President Seaborne's Chief of Staff, wonder how I got this lucky. To be here, in this room, with these people.
I see Jed Seaborne move over to the stereo system and flip through a bunch of CDs. The music starts to play and I see Sam rise, holding his hand out to his wife.
"Dance with me?"
She smiles and nods, walking into his arms.
And the music plays, the words speak. The younger Jed chose well. It suits them. They're so in love with each other, so a part of each other. It could hurt to watch, it used to hurt. But not anymore. They're good people. It was Ainsley that showed me that despite their political affiliation, these are good people. People who listen, not just hear. People to respect and admire; people with heart and conviction.
And I became one of them -- not a Democrat -- just one of them.
I am proud to serve at the pleasure of this President.
He spins her around, pulling her closer. She's laughing and he joins her. I smile. They shine and you can't help but be happy with them. They hold each other so close.
The world shatters.
I hear the glass explode. The music stops.
I feel myself being thrown down, falling back against the stereo system. I see agents dressed in black flying toward them even as they fall. Their eyes never leave each other. She never leaves his arms.
The ricochet seems endless. Time slows. I feel a bullet whiz by me and I think of Harriet, while I watch it all play out before me. I want to close my eyes, but I can't.
It hits him first, through the back of the neck. It goes straight through, impacting on her temple.
The bullets stop. Quiet falls.
The CD player resumes where it stopped. All I hear is the last stanzas of the song . All I see is Sam and Ainsley, crumpled on the ground, bodily covered by multiple agents -- and blood. Too much blood.
She never left his arms.
They never had a chance.
I see the agents rise and Ellie Bartlett pushes past them. She checks pulses and she doesn't need to speak for us to know. She rocks back on her heels, crying and I try to NOT understand what that means. She's a neurologist and she's not trying to save them.
I hear Donna's cries and Josh screaming for Sam as his detail hustles him out of the room. Jed and Abbey Bartlett are quietly escorted out behind them.
I stand there alone, save for Ellie and the president's personal detail. The agents have removed everyone else to safety. I watch as the medical personnel arrive, I see Ellie block their path and speak to them. She is daring them to defy her and I know it's too late.
"Sir." One of the detail address me. "We have the shooter. Agents took him down. He was using . . ." I can't grasp the words. The agent named the weapon and I know that it's a machine gun. I don't think this can be real.
I see the medical team separating Sam and Ainsley, placing them on the stretchers and covering them with white blankets. And I know it's too late.
And it's wrong. They shouldn't be separated. Ever. I feel my knees buckling, and the gentle grasp of the agent who steadies me. "Sir?"
I look at him and everything blurs. I hear him call to me again.
"Sir? Mr. Carrington?"
The music ends.
I hear the agent at my shoulder ask if I am okay. I find myself outside the Rotunda beside a limousine. A fleet of vehicles stretches in both directions, prepared to take the cortege slowly down Constitution Avenue, on its way back to the White House. The rest of the children will join us there.
Carefully, I slip inside next to my wife. We reach the White House, the children join us and we continue on. I see the soldiers that line the route come to attention and present arms, and I wonder if they, if any of those who line the streets or watch on television truly know what has been lost or do they see only The Fallen President and his First Lady?
The procession follows the horse drawn caisson slowly toward the National Cathedral. I look at my daughter. She's fourteen years old, but as the tears pool in her eyes, I see instead the ten-year old who cried the first time she saw the sham ads that slammed her "Uncle Sam." I see the five year old so excited to be on a sailboat. And I see the 13 year old who, in no uncertain terms, told her then boyfriend exactly what she thought of him and where he could "shove it" after he made derogatory comments about her "Aunt Ainsley."
The cars stop and we climb out.
I pause once more, looking over at the caskets as they are carried into the Cathedral. It seems wrong. Just wrong. There shouldn't be one. There shouldn't be two. They shouldn't be separated. Ever.
But they aren't really. They are together. I knew the moment the agents rose from above them. It was confirmed the moment Ellie leaned away from their fallen shells. They crossed that final threshold together.
I walk down from the aisle and take my seat, and somehow the service comes and goes.
Then, the drive to Arlington and the graveside service. Then folding of the flags, one presented to each of the Seaborne children, the 21-gun salute and finally Taps.
Eventually, those gathered peal away. First, the general bulk of those gathered, the dignitaries and government officials. Then West Wing Support Staff file away, taking many of the children with them back to the White House. Sam and Ainsley's parents, family and family friends leave, taking the rest of the children with them.
And its just us now - Josh, Donna, Toby, CJ, Zoe, Harriet, the Bartletts and Jed Seaborne - standing before the flag-covered caskets.
I can't seem to leave this place. It would be over then, final - as if staying would make it any less so. But I still can't let it go, let them go.
I touch each reverently one last time, trying to find a way to saying good-bye. Taking a deep breath to fight the burning knot that is rising inside my throat.
"You shouldn't be dead. I don't understand why," my voice breaks and I fight to continue, "why this happened. But at least I know you died where you belonged -- among friends, in each other's arms. You died laughing. You died dancing. That last moment, seeing you both so happy, dancing together. I will remember that." My voice falters and I feel Harriet squeezing my hand. "I will remember watching you and thinking how fortunate I was to be part of that, part of your family and part of your administration."
I stop. I know what I need to say, but it's too final. It's final and I'm not sure I am strong enough. I feel Harriet's arm slip around my waist. I feel her lean against me, her body shaking against mine with her own sobs.
I kneel down and kiss the side of Ainsley's casket. "Thank you, my friend." I rise then and walk to Sam's Casket. I place both hands on top and try to force my heart to accept that the friends I loved, that were so full of life are truly gone. Softly, I say, "I am proud to have served at the pleasure of the President, at the pleasure of the man I grew to admire, at the pleasure of my friend -- Sam Seaborne. Rest well, my friend."
I pause, trying to see through my tears, trying to find my voice beneath the pain. I hear the song again, and this time, I recite,
"We were ring-around-the-rosy children
Synchronized with the rising moon
And we who couldn't bear to believe they might make it
You could see them on the street on a Saturday night
We couldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole
Oh, hold them up, hold them up
I guess it had to happen someday soon
Oh, yes, other hearts were broken
My eyes lock with Josh's as I step away from the caskets and move back toward Harriet. He comes towards me, placing his hand on my shoulder. I see the tears in his eyes and the red tracks on his face. I look to the others and see the same.
We face the graves together, then move away as one.
One dream runs dry. Another replaces it.
The President is dead. Long live the President.