Disclaimer: Not mine. Wish they were, but I only get to play with them.
Authors Note: This is not a nice story. I'm not even sure I like it. It's pretty dark, so if you are looking for happy, don't read this. There was some joking on various message boards that everyone had been shot at the season one finale . . . and then a fan who ran into Richard Schiff said he was joking about it, so . . .
Abbey Barlet sat alone in a dark room. There were no tears left -- only a darkness and a disbelief that still hadn't faded, even after a week. If anything, her despair had grown deeper as her time apart from her loved ones increased. The horror had started when her Chief-of-Staff had burst into her room at 11:02 p.m. that fateful Friday night, and it wouldn't ever end. That night, Abbey thought her heart had stopped. And indeed it had.
A knock disrupted her solitude, and after a courteous pause, a ray of light from the slowly opening door pierced the darkness of the room. It did nothing, however, to dispel the gloom.
"Abbey? How are you feeling?" the President of the United States asked gently.
Abbey looked up into the lined and exhausted face of John Hoynes. The week had been difficult for him too, if for slightly different reasons.
"I'm alive, John," Abbey said softly. "I wish I wasn't, but here I am anyway."
The President looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry -- I thought you should know -- Leo McGarry died about an hour ago."
Abbey looked mournfully up at the big Texan in her doorway.
"That's all of them, then," she said. The deep resignation in her voice held a sorrow that seemed to permeate the very walls. They seemed to sag under the additional weight.
"How is his family?" she asked politely, although she knew exactly how they felt; hollowed by the gray flames of grief.
Hoynes shrugged. "They've been expecting it for the last couple of days," he answered softly.
They had received, at least, more time to prepare than Abbey had. And time to say goodbye.
"Did he ever regain consciousness?" Abbey questioned.
"No . . . probably a mercy."
Of the eight people shot that night, only Leo had required the services of the paramedics -- for the others, the point had been moot. The knowledge of that fact would have broken the heart of the White House Chief-of-Staff.
Many images had been burned into the American psyche over the week: the image of one -- and only one -- ambulance. . . . the footage of a pale Vice President standing in the Oval Office sobbing as he recited the oath of the office of the President. . . a mother collapsed on the floor screaming for her husband and daughter. . . a stranger at the press-secretary's pulpit in the White House Press room . . . statements from the White House that lacked the polish that had become the norm over the past two years . . .
Josiah Barlet. Zoey Barlet. Charlie Young. Claudia Jean Cregg. Joshua Lyman. Toby Ziegler. Samuel Seaborn. And now Leo McGarry.
"Names we will always remember, Mrs. Barlet," Hoynes said bravely.
Abbey hadn't realized she had spoken out loud.
"John . . . why?" Abbey asked. Then, all the anger and grief she had been holding for seven days streamed from her lips. "They died in pain and blood . . . ALONE, on the concrete or inside of a limo or on a hospital bed without ever knowing . . . They died in fear. They came here to change the world, and the world destroyed them. Why? WHY?!"
Hoynes said nothing. Tomorrow he would stand in front of the nation and officiate the sad services for another fallen servant. He would try to answer the question for a reeling nation and a shredded family . . . again . . . though he could not. There was no answer; there was no eulogy that would bind the wounds of a bleeding nation. The dreams and hopes of eight people, like the innocence of a nation, would burn on a pyre.
Hoynes knew he could try to rebuild hope; try to begin again.
But you can't capture smoke.
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