"morning smiles
like the face of a newborn child
innocent unknowing
winter's end
promises of a long lost friend
speaks to me of comfort
but I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to lose
here in this lonely place..."

She stood in her father's hospital room, and stared out the windows at the darkened hall.

It was a pretty depressing view, but there were no outside windows. The Secret Service was really insistent about that, no matter how much her father complained. Personally, she was with the agents all the way -- maybe they couldn't see out, but no one could see in... or do anything else.

Besides, it wasn't like outside was such a good place to be.

"Sweetie?" Her mother rose from the chair beside her father's bed; he was asleep again, which he was supposed to be. They could go home tomorrow, as long as her mother was there to keep an eye on him. There was going to be a lot of fighting about that.

She felt her mother's palm smooth her hair and leaned against the touch. "It's past midnight," her mother said quietly. "You should go home."

"Can't," she shrugged. "New Hampshire's too far away, and they don't want me in the dorms for a while yet. They're 'reworking my security arrangements' or something."

"I meant the Residence."

"I know." She turned and looked at her mother, tried to smile. "I just... I don't want to."

Her mother's brow furrowed. "If this is about what happened a few nights ago--"

"Mom, it's okay," she rushed to break her off. "I'm not going to freak out when I leave again, I promise."

"--Because, you know, there's nothing to be ashamed of," her mother continued persistently. "After what you went through, if you weren't a little shaken up..."

She'd heard this speech before, and screaming into Charlie's shoulder and not being able to stop for ten minutes was still more than 'shaken up'. It was more like 'losing it'. "It's okay, Mom. I just... I'd rather be here with you and Dad, okay? It's kind of... creepy over there when I'm alone."

"Alone?" Her mother raised her eyebrows. "With all of the 1,000 or so people who work there?"

She shrugged again, embarrassed. "It's not the same as you and Dad."

"Oh." Her mother's arm came around her shoulders and she leaned her head forward, breathing in the mix of perfume and disinfectant. It should have been disturbing, but that was how her mother had always smelled, for her entire life. Doctors were like that.

"You could ask Charlie to come over," her mother suggested after a moment.

"Mom!" She made her eyes very big, her voice shocked.

Her mother gave her a mock glare in return. "*Just* for the evening. So you won't be alone."

She shrugged one more time. "No, it's okay. He's, um... He's got to stay with his sister."


It was a 'mom' sound, filling the space and waiting for the rest of the story. She sighed. "He's kind of... freaking out. Over the whole shooting thing."

"He can join the club."

She tried to laugh, but it got strangled somewhere in her stomach. "Yeah. But he's.... I think he feels guilty. Like it was our... *his* fault."

"I can see where he might think that," her mother agreed softly, and her heart sank. "But, you know... he's wrong."

"Is he?" That was a 'daughter' sound, wanting reassurance that the monsters under the bed weren't going to come crawling out. That Charlie *was* wrong.

"Yes, he is." Her mother's other arm came up and around, smoothing her hair again before completing the embrace. Nobody's hug was like her mother's -- strong and steady, even when someone had just shot at them with real guns, and her father was bleeding two rooms away. "It's nobody's fault but the boys who held the guns, and the adults who taught them to hate."

She buried her face in her mother's shoulder. "But it happened 'cause we were dating. And we knew people were mad. So, if we'd stopped...."

Her mother sighed, tightening the hug. "If you'd stopped, they would have won. And then they would have found someone else to hate, and tried to hurt them. People without Secret Service agents to protect them."

"I wish..." It was terrible, selfish. But it was true. "I wish they *had* found someone else."

She waited for her mother to pull away; instead, she was pulled closer. "I know, sweetie. I know."

They stood there for a long time, until she started to feel self-conscious. Her mother let her go with a squeeze and a smile, and moved back over to check on her father. She watched from the windows as her mother's hand brushed briefly over her father's forehead, touched his shoulder to make sure that he was still there.



"I'm going to go--" she gestured vaguely towards the hall, "--for a few minutes."

Her mother studied her, then smiled and came back to kiss her forehead, resting her cheek there for a second. "Just let your agents know. And tell them if you want to go home. To the Residence, I mean."


She didn't have to tell her agents; they fell in step a few feet behind her as she moved down the long corridor. Gina was still at the White House, trying to figure out everything that had happened, but these two were okay. At least, they walked quietly, so she could pretend they weren't there if she wanted to.

She wanted to.

The door to the room near her father's -- the only other occupied room on the floor -- was partly open, with only one small light on. She could hear the beeps and hums of the machines, but no voices. She hadn't been inside yet, hadn't seen him since.... She hesitated, then slipped past.

The waiting room was almost empty -- completely empty never happened, between agents, and medical personnel, and the senior staff, who were doing everything but moving their desks and their beds into the hospital. Her mother tried to bully everyone out every once in a while, but in a couple of hours, they always trickled back.

Still, there was only one person sitting there right then, typing on a laptop with complete concentration. She bit her lip, then went inside anyway. Choosing a chair on the opposite side of the room, beside the big windows, she curled into it, her legs pulled up against her chest, and her chin resting on her knees. It wasn't really comfortable, but it was... safe.

Not that she was really sure what 'safe' meant anymore. But she'd known once, and it had felt almost like this.

The tapping of the keys was quick and certain, with a steady, comforting rhythm. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the cool glass and concentrated on the sound, letting it replace her thoughts, her feelings, herself....

She must have drifted off; the typing had stopped and someone was kneeling next to her, touching her shoulder. She opened her eyes reluctantly.

"Hi, Toby." His eyes were even more tired than usual, and the bags under them were heavier. She'd never seen him when he didn't look worried, but now he looked.... haggard. Stressed to the limit.

"You know," he said awkwardly, running a hand over his shiny head, "I'm pretty sure there are places around here that you can sleep. More comfortable places, I mean, like maybe the Residence?"

"I know," she nodded. She hadn't even told her mother about the sick panic in her stomach at the thought of going outside. There was no way she was going to tell Toby Ziegler. "I just... I guess I'm used to being here."

He blinked once, then twice. "That's a hell of a thing to get used to."

"Look who's talking," she said in return, with a pointed glance across the room at his computer. She was surprised by own daring; Toby was the one she didn't know very well, the cranky one who didn't do girl talk, like CJ and Margaret, or joke around like Sam and.... She jerked away from the thought, looking back at Toby.

He'd followed her eyes, and was staring at the chair he'd been sitting in for most of three days. "You have a point." He inclined his head, like he was acknowledging that point, then shifted his weight back. "If you're... all right...?"

"Yeah." She attempted a smile and he nodded, getting up with undisguised relief. Toby didn't "do the people thing", she'd heard Leo tell Charlie once. She thought he did okay.

He went back across the room to his computer, and she waited for the typing to start again. A few minutes later, when it still hadn't, she risked a glance. He was staring at the small screen, but either he was reading something really awful, or he wasn't seeing it at all. One of his hands was clenched around the arm of his chair, his knuckles white.


She could have imagined his flinch; when he looked up, his face was calm and focused and unreadable again. "Yes?"

She bit her lip, not sure what she wanted to ask. What finally came out was, "Were you scared?"

He blinked and tilted his head; something went through his eyes that she couldn't name, and didn't want to. "I'm reasonably sure I looked almost as terrified as I was," he said finally, "so I think I would have to answer yes."

She shook her head. "Not then. Not when they...." She still couldn't say the words 'when they shot at us' or 'when they tried to kill you because of me and Charlie.' Toby waited more-or-less patiently while she groped for substitutes. "I meant after. When you left the hospital, and went outside. Were you afraid?"

He looked at her for another long minute, then picked up the cup on the table next to him and took a sip; he made a face, so it was probably pretty old. He put it back down, very carefully, then met her eyes with the same deliberate control. "Yes. I was very afraid."

"But you did it."

"Yes. I did."

No assurances or advice, just those three words. In a weird way, it was... comforting. "Okay."

He watched her, as if waiting for something else, then turned back to his laptop when it didn't come. This time, he started typing again. She went back to staring out the window at the dim hospital corridor.

Doctors came by outside, speaking in hushed voices. She heard her father's name, then another one, and fought the tears back. Again. But they beat her this time, rising up and spilling over, running down her cheeks in a hot, silent stream.

Across the room, the typing faltered, then stopped again.

Leo also said that you could trust Toby to "call it like he sees it."

"Does everyone hate us?" She'd carried the question around for three days, locked deep in her stomach, and it burst out before she could stop it. She buried her face in her knees, waiting for the answer.

It seemed to take a long time for it to come. Then Toby sighed and she heard the hollow 'thunk' of his laptop hitting something as he set it aside. "I'm... going to assume 'us' means you and Charlie?" he asked finally, his voice still very quiet and controlled.

She nodded without lifting her head.

"Okay. You're going to have to be a little more specific with 'everyone'."

She sniffed, scrubbed at her cheek with the heel of her hand. "Everyone. Everyone who... that we almost got killed."

"Ah." She snuck a peek and saw him lean forward in his chair . He rubbed both of his hands over his head, then down his face, smoothing his beard. "You couldn't ask Leo this? The First Lady? *Sam*?"

She wanted to smile at the plaintive 'why me?' in his voice, but the knots in her stomach were too tight. "They'd lie to me, to 'protect' me. You won't."

He sighed and stroked his beard again, his face very serious. "I can't speak for 'everyone'," he said carefully, "but I, personally, do not hate you. Either of you. And I can state with a reasonable degree of certainty that your father and Leo don't hate you, either."

He looked at her like he could read her mind, all the tangled thoughts and fears. "It was not your fault. There is no reason in the world for *anyone* to hate you, or Charlie."

Toby's 'anyone' covered a lot more territory than her 'everyone'; it included all the people she knew and all the people who only knew of her. "But they do," she whispered.

He shook his head, slowly but definitely. "What they hate has nothing to do with you, or Charlie Young, or Josh Lyman." She flinched when Toby said his name and saw him register it, saw his hand tighten again with some emotion of his own. "It's not even about the President or the White House. What they hate is about them -- their ignorance and their fear. It's only about you if you let their fear control your life."

"I hate them," she said fiercely, tears still flowing slowly down her cheeks. "And I *am* afraid." Afraid of their hatred, afraid of her own, afraid of the world she didn't understand anymore, didn't *want* to understand....

"Yes." Toby's answer was simple, but when she met his eyes, she found her own exhausted, helpless anger reflected there.

They looked at each other across the room for a long, silent moment, then Toby turned away. "Everyone's afraid," he said, his lips quirking in something that could have been a smile, except for the bitterness. "Trust me. We just have more practice hiding it."

She matched his almost-smile with one of her own. It felt... strange. "Got any tips for a beginner?"

"Keep your head high, keep your back straight, and keep moving forward." He leaned back in his chair, folded his hands over his stomach and closed his eyes. "Watch your father at a press conference sometime; you'll get the idea."


She didn't have the heart to make him talk anymore; it seemed like it was kind of a major effort for him. She uncurled her legs from the chair instead, wincing as her muscles protested, and stood up. "I'm gonna go... hit the vending machines. Do you, um, want anything? More coffee?"

He shook his head without opening his eyes; she mouthed another silent 'okay' in his direction and walked towards the door.

And stopped halfway through, one hand on the threshold, confusing the Secret Service agents who had already started to reach for their radios. 'Bookbag is... not moving.'


He didn't move, but she thought she heard a muffled groan. "Yes?"

"Does Josh hate me?"

She saw Toby take a deep breath, then another one. "I think you should ask him that," he answered at last, still without opening his eyes. "I understand his room is just down the hall."

She bit her lip, and let the door to the waiting room swung quietly shut behind her.

The vending machines were one hall over, on the other side of the lobby; she took a few steps, then confused her agents even more by turning around and going back the other way.

She hovered outside his room for a long time, listening to the quiet rhythm of the machines. She knew he'd been off the respirator for three days, she knew he'd been cleared for visitors for two. She knew the doctors said he was going to recover, eventually.

She edged a little closer, just enough to see past the door. Donna, his deeply cool assistant, was curled up in the chair next to the hospital bed, asleep. There were circles under her eyes, like everyone else's, and her hand was resting on the bed, right next to his arm. She followed that up--

-- and found him awake, and looking back at her. He smiled -- she almost started crying again, because it was nothing like the usual Josh smile -- and made a shushing motion, leaning his head towards Donna. Then he opened his other hand, and gestured her into the room. After a second, she took a few hesitant steps forward.

"Aren't...." Her voice cracked; she tried again in a whisper. "Aren't you supposed to be asleep?"

"What they don't know won't hurt 'em," he smirked, his voice as quiet as hers, but much groggier. "Just don't wake Donna up, or she'll tell them to give me more drugs."

She took a few more steps in. "You look..."

"Like death on a Triscuit?" he finished when she stopped, groping for words. "You should talk."

"I wasn't going to..." She stopped, blinked. "I look that bad?"

Another smile, this one closer to full Josh-ness. "You look good. Where've you been? The rest of the White House has been stumbling around in here for days, keeping me awake and not telling me stuff I want to know."

She gestured uncomfortably. "I was... My dad.... We were...."

That seemed to make sense to him, probably because of the drugs. "Okay," he said, his eyes drifting mostly closed.

She immediately started to back out the door. "I should go. You should... You should sleep."

He shook his head and forced his eyes back open, opening his hand again. "'S'okay. C'mere." She hesitated and he rolled his eyes. "Bullet wounds aren't contagious and I'm bored. Stay."

She took a breath, then tiptoed past Donna to his side. He seemed to expect her to take his hand, so she did. It was warm and alive and he actually squeezed back, and for the first time, she really believed what the doctors said.

Which was enough to set off the slow flow of tears again. He squeezed her hand tighter, shaking it a little and frowning. "Hey. No more crying. Donna cried, and CJ cried, and I swear Sam got misty-eyed on me. These machines could, you know, rust or something if you guys aren't careful, and then I'm screwed."

He was so awful she had to smile, swiping at her cheeks with her free hand. "I'm sorry, I won't cry. I'm just... I'm really happy that you're here." He lifted his eyebrows and gave the machines a significant look, and she winced. "I mean that you're, you know....."

He grinned. "Yeah, I know. Me, too." Then he thought about that with a visible effort, and clarified, "I mean, I'm glad you're here." Some more thought. "Well, obviously, I'm glad I'm here, but...."

She surprised herself by giggling, and the knots in her stomach slowly started to unravel. "It's okay, Josh. I get the idea."

"Good." He settled back with a satisfied expression. A really looped expression.

"You're on serious drugs."

"Yes, I am," he agreed proudly and more than a little loudly. "But you will note that I am still coherent. So much for my 'delicate system'."

She laughed again when he made a triumphant face towards the completely oblivious Donna, and impulsively leaned down to kiss his cheek. "Your not-delicate system is totally trashed," she informed him. "Go to sleep."

"You sound just like your mom," he complained, but obediently closed his eyes, which was a pretty good sign of how badly he was hurt. "You gonna come back?"

"Do you want me to?" The question came out very young and sounding nothing at all like her mother.

Josh snorted, winced as the movement pulled at his chest, and grinned painfully, all without opening his eyes. "...Yeah. Bring Charlie, he's been ducking me, too."

She smiled. "Okay."

"...Hey," he mumbled before she could leave, already half-asleep.

"Yeah?" She leaned over close enough to hear him.

"...Wasn't your fault."

She almost broke her promise about not crying, but pressed her lips together and squeezed her eyes shut, her hand tightening on his.

"I know, Josh. Go to sleep."

She waited until his breathing steadied and deepened, still hitching on each inhalation, before she reluctantly let his hand go and moved away. On the other side of the bed, Donna lifted her head and she realized the other woman had been awake the whole time. They studied each other, then Donna smiled and rolled her eyes at Josh, whispering, "Delicate system."

She nodded and grinned in conspiratorial agreement.

Her mother looked up from her book when she crept back into her father's room. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah." She gestured towards the front of the hospital. "I'm, um.... I'm gonna go back to the Residence now." Her mother looked surprised, and relieved, before she hid them both. "You should go, too, you know. You've been here forever."

Her mother smiled. "I'll go home with your dad tomorrow. I promise."


"Want me to ride with you?"

She thought about it, then shook her head. "No. I'll be okay. I'm, um... I'm gonna call Charlie when I get there. Josh wants me to bring him by for a visit."

Her mother's expression didn't really change, but that 'mom knows everything' look had snuck back. "You talked to Josh?"

"Yeah." She smiled again, surprised that it seemed to be getting easier. "He's gonna be okay."

She kissed her mother's cheek and hugged her, then brushed another kiss across her father's forehead. "See you in the morning."

Her agents followed her obediently to the elevator and out towards the front entrance, sending quiet commands back and forth over the radios. 'Bookbag is returning to the Residence. Car out front, have the motorcade ready. Bookbag is leaving the elevator. Bookbag is at the entrance.'

She stopped at the front door, looked out at the spot-lit driveway and at the dark car waiting for her, dark-clad men and woman hovering anxiously. One careful step outside -- and the panic was there, waiting. Her eyes jerked up, compulsively searching the buildings around her for the people, for the gun. There was nowhere safe outside, nowhere to hide as the bullets rained down on her, on her family, on her friends....

'It's only about you if you let their fear control your life.'

Toby's voice was quiet and controlled. Her mother's arms were strong and steady. Josh's hand was warm and alive.

Taking a long, deep breath, Zoey Bartlet raised her head high, straightened her back, and started moving forward.

"peace in the struggle
to find peace
comfort on the way
to comfort
and if I shed a tear I won't cage it
I won't fear love
and if I feel a rage I won't deny it
I won't fear love..."



We got to see a little of Charlie dealing with the aftermath of the shooting, but nothing from Zoey, who had to have been just as traumatized, and as guilt-stricken, especially since she and Josh are buds. Ergo, fic -- a look at what might have been going through the First Daughter's mind the first few nights after the Rosslyn shooting.

On the technical side, the whole structure was an experiment that took on a life of its own -- and gave me more than a few bad moments, as I had to not use Zoey's name or use the pronoun 'she' to refer to anyone except Zoey, which was fun during those conversations with the First Lady, let me tell you. :P

The beginning and end quotes are from Sarah 'Music to Have a Nervous Breakdown To' McLachlan's songs "Fear" and "Fumbling Towards Ecstacy" respectively, two songs I've always thought bookended each other surprisingly well.

Thank you's go out to the usual suspects -- the magnificent Jennifer Mingee for beta reading *way* above and beyond the call of duty (if the Toby section is good, it's entirely because of her), Kiki Kamnikar for allowing herself to be sucked in, and Mary Beth Neilsen for sniffling on cue.

comments to perri@neon-hummingbird.com

the west wing | seanachais | neon hummingbird