Bullets rained across the pavement, ricocheting every which way. Toby fell to the ground, pressed against the iron gate as he sought shelter. For a moment it was if he was underwater, not hearing any sound at all, his vision blurred. After a few seconds, the noise plowed into him, screams and sirens mixing with shouts from the Secret Service.
The gunfire subsided but he remained on the ground, holding his breath for what might come next. When nothing more came Toby rose to his feet, looking around frantically.
His head was spinning with confusion, icy fear coiling in his chest.
Toby quickly surveyed the scene in front of him, looking for anyone who may be injured. Almost immediately he spotted CJ, the first face he registered amidst the chaos.
He let out a long exhale, jogging toward her. Even from a distance he noticed the hazy look in her eyes as she searched the crowd.
“Jeanie,” he managed through the knot in his throat.
CJ’s eyes met his, suddenly registering his presence. Fresh tears joined those drying across her cheeks.
“Oh thank god,” she cried, shaking hands coming to grip his forearms tightly.
He couldn’t explain what came over him, but when he squeezed his eyes shut against the hail of bullets, images of CJ flickered in the blackness.
Now, seeing her safe and alive Toby was overcome with relief.
He gently, though somewhat desperately, took her face between his hands and peppered kisses over every inch of her he could reach. Her jawline, her cheeks, the tip of her nose, her eyes, her forehead. CJ leaned into his touching, taking small gasps of air.
“It’s alright,” he soothed.
Toby rested his hand against her neck, feeling her pulse beneath his fingertips for reassurance.
He searched her face before quickly scanning her body. “Are you hurt?”
“I don’t—I don’t know,” she stammered. Her voice was low, panicked. “Where’s the president?”
“I don’t know,” he yelled above the crowd. He breathed another sigh of relief when he saw Sam and Charlie walking toward them.
Toby kept a firm grip on CJ’s waist, pulling her flush against his body.
“Hey, you guys okay?” Sam yelled.
“I think so,” Toby nodded. “Charlie, you okay? Where’s the president?”
Charlie looked terrified, his eyes were wide and his hands trembled at his sides.
Sam rested a hand on his back, “It’s okay.”
“They got the president and Leo in the car right behind Zoey. They’re fine.”
CJ let out a small whimper as the air became easier to breathe.
Sam’s eyes narrowed with concern. “CJ, your head’s bleeding,” he said pointing to her forehead.
Toby reached into his pocket, quickly pulling out a handkerchief which he pressed against the cut on her forehead.
“I must have hit my head on the ground,” she managed through fresh tears.
“You’re probably concussed,” Toby muttered, “We should get this looked at.”
Before he could say anything else, Josh appeared behind them.
“Everyone alright?” His eyes settled on CJ nervously.
“I think she may need stitches but other than that we’re all okay,” Toby responded.
Josh walked over Sam and Charlie, reaching his arms around both of them in a quick embrace.
“Okay listen,” Josh started authoritatively, “We gotta find an agent so they can take us—.” He was cut off by Toby who groaned suddenly, his breath catching.
“What is it?” CJ asked, trying to keep her voice even.
“I don’t know, my leg...” he trailed, reaching for his thigh. When he raised his hand again it was wet with blood, shining under the lights outside the museum.
“No no no no no,” CJ breathed, catching Toby as his stumbled backward into her chest.
Sam and Josh helped ease the two of them to the pavement. Toby settled in CJ’s lap, leaning heavily on her for support.
“You’re gonna be fine,” Josh practically ordered as he pressed his hands firmly against the wound. Another groan escaped from Toby’s throat.
Sam looked around for help. “We need a doctor,” he yelled, not bothering to hide his panic.
CJ’s wrapped her arms tightly around Toby’s chest as his head lolled back, resting against her shoulder.
“Shhh I’m here,” she choked. “It’s okay, honey. I’ve got you.” CJ clung to him as if her grip alone would keep him breathing.
Josh pressed down hard on the wound and Toby grew sickeningly pale.
CJ tried to sound authoritative but her voice betrayed her. “You’re not going anywhere, you hear me?”
Josh looked up from his place, hands trembling. “There’s a lot of blood here.”
Sam took off into the crowd, waving over a paramedic before returning to Toby’s side and gingerly taking the older man’s hand in his. He looked almost childlike; CJ wondered if a part of Sam’s idyllic, gentle nature would be permanently altered after tonight.
The paramedics lifted Toby to the stretcher as CJ fought against her every instinct to hold onto him fiercely. She was afraid that in letting go, she would lose him forever. Without his weight on her she was cold, bereft. For the first time she’d allowed the reality of what happened to sink in, and she shivered forcefully. She felt small, sitting on the pavement with the others looming above her.
Josh reached down, gently pulling her to stand as Sam supported her weight, pressing a hand against her back. CJ was thankful for this as she swayed dangerously, the pain in her head mounting.
“Shit,” she muttered through clenched teeth, looking up just as Toby was loaded into the ambulance on a rattling stretcher.
“Oh god,” CJ whispered, raising a hand to her forehead. “What the fuck just happened?”
An hour later, after being informed that Toby’s condition was stable but critical, CJ shakily climbed the few stairs to her podium as Sam trailed close behind her.
It would be a few hours before they had an update considering Toby was still surgery. The doctors at GW assured them the damage wasn’t extensive, though there was concern about the amount of blood lost.
The press room lights gleaned above her, momentarily blurring her vision.
“Good evening,” she started. “About an hour ago shots were fired at President Bartlet and staff on the way out of tonight’s town hall event.”
The press corps erupted into noise, questions hurling at her amidst camera flashes and waving hands.
“Is it true Communications Director Toby Ziegler has been shot?”
“What’s Toby’s condition?”
CJ’s head was spinning; her usual ability to track who said what was nonexistent.
She tentatively leaned into the microphone on the podium, “He, uh he was...there was a lot of blood and he...he...” was all she could manage.
Her mind was filled with visions of holding Toby’s injured body against her, trying to shield him from further peril. She’d been covered in his blood, as she tried desperately to mop up every drop of it. The smell lingered in CJ’s nose and she looked at her hands, still slightly stained.
Her head ached, there was a sudden ringing in her ears, and her knees wobbled.
Sam reached out, catching her elbows. CJ was barely aware of Josh bursting into the room and rushing to her side. He escorted her out, arms wrapped protectively around her waist. Sam stepped up to the podium to continue briefing.
Once they were in the hallway and away from the noise, CJ could think clearly again.
“Wait, Josh—“ she started, turning toward the press room, “I didn’t confirm it. I didn’t tell them it was Toby. I couldn’t...I forgot to say...”
“It’s okay,” Josh gently turned her around, guiding her toward the bullpen. “It’s okay, CJ. We shouldn’t have sent you out there. That wasn’t fair.”
Donna and Carrol were waiting in her office with water, a tray of food from downstairs, and a cardigan so she could remove her stained suit jacket.
CJ smiled shyly, thanking her assistant. Once they were alone, CJ looked at Josh from her spot on the couch.
“What did you mean when you said it wasn’t fair for me to brief?”
Josh rocked back and forth on his heels. “Just uh...you know.”
“Josh?” CJ peered at him with eyebrows raised. He couldn’t lie to her. Not to her face and not with her looking as stern as she did.
“I meant that we shouldn’t have expected you to be okay. If it was Donna,” he hesitated, “If it was Donna who was hurt I’m not sure I’d remember my own name.”
CJ looked away, letting out a long breath. “He was so happy to see me...after. He was kissing me and he...he called me Jeanie.” She smiled at the memory. “It’s been years since he called me that.”
Her breath caught suddenly. “Josh,” she whimpered.
Josh knelt in front of her, gripping her slender hands in his.
“I know, I know,” he soothed. “He’s gonna be fine.”
Josh squeezed her hands tightly. “We’re all here with you.”
CJ nodded, squeezing back.
When Toby woke hours later, CJ was propped up in a plastic hospital chair at his bedside. Her chest tightened when he let out a small groan of pain.
“Hey,” he said thickly, eyes still adjusting.
His eyes teared slightly and CJ forced herself to believe it was a sensitivity to the light in the room, not the sight of her.
She squeezed his hand tightly. “Of course I’m here.”
Toby studied her a moment before continuing, “You look tired.”
“I look better than you. I wasn’t the one who was shot,” she quipped, earning a small huff in response. Toby tried to talk again but his voice was raspy. CJ grabbed the paper cup from the bedside table, gently pressing it into his hand.
“Thank you, honey.” Her cheeks blushed in response to his newfound earnestness.
Toby motioned to the cut on her forehead. “You got stitches. Lemme see,” he ordered gently.
CJ shifted so she was leaning over him, their noses almost touching. Toby inspected the wound, reaching his hand up to touch it lightly.
His hand lingered before settling on her cheek, cupping her small features in his large hand.
She leaned against him, sighing deeply.
“Toby...” was all CJ could manage as she laid her head against his chest.
“I’m here, Jeanie,” he soothed, his hand tangling in her hair loosely.
There would be time later for CJ to tell him she could barely breathe if she wasn’t at his side. That the further away she was, the more lost she felt. That a few hours earlier she couldn’t even bring herself to say his name in the briefing room.
But for now they fell asleep nestled together, and for the first time since the shooting, CJ was at peace.