all around him, glass shatters
by tahlia

Bartlet is pushing through the crowd, waving, and isn't this awfully familiar? Secret Service agents, talking into their wrists, moving and darting swiftly, almost unnoticed. I notice, only because one of them clips my shoulder as he runs past us. He doesn't bother to stop, apologize. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lyman," never comes. They just keep running, and their feet keep hitting the pavement with a dull thud. Thud thud. Thud thud. My heartbeat.

It's all happening too fast to make sense. Infinitely, it will be just like this. I should have seen this on the horizon.

The speech inside was great. The speech Bartlet gave inside will always be great. They will always get a rousing applause, because that's Just The Way Things Work. Behind me, I can still hear them cheering. Clapping, swaying to the music. I look at Donna; there is no music, no one is swaying. That's in my head.

I can see this man rushing towards us. Why don't my sensory nerves detect his presence as anything other than ordinary? Donna looks concerned. My eyes are darting back and forth. Maybe, I think, maybe she'll notice, too, and she'll say something, because God knows she's more alert than I am. Instead she brushes her hand against mine: I'm shaking. Fingers intertwined, oh God, Donna, stop looking at me like that.

Pieces of glass are digging into my palm. I jerk my hand away, and her step falters a little. Startled. There's no glass, either. Damn. Too fast, too fast. I can hear it all around me, hundreds of thousands of windows, all shattering at the same time. In intervals. I can't remember, I can't think straight.

I can see all the other agents closing in on him, hunting him through the crowd. I still feel guilty, because my first reaction was to duck, fall, whatever. There were people all around me, but I never thought to pull anyone down. Sam pulled CJ down. He saved her. How come no one saved me? My hand goes to the strap of my backpack, but really, it's holding my heart.

"Joshie, go away." I hated when Joanie called me that. I'm not a baby, I'd remind her. "I can't hear the music over you!" I always thought this was a stupid excuse to get rid of your little brother. All she did was listen to that record. She could conduct it in her sleep, and she could certainly fill in the parts I overshadowed by being a five-year-old. She didn't need to send me away to check the popcorn. "I can smell it all the way up here, Joshie." I can stay and listen quietly, I promise.

Donna, "Josh?"

A world of trouble and worry is playing on her face. I'm too confused to notice. "Hmm?"

She says something about music, but it's garbled by the crowd.

"Say that again?"

Again, no audible sound. I yell a little louder, "I can't hear you over all this music!" Another falter in her step, and I need to figure out what's making her do that.

The man is struggling with the Secret Service agents trying to restrain him, and then, a split second, the entire crowd is gasping and everyone is shouting and why does this seem so familiar and...

Someone should explain to Amy why I can't come to the Christmas party.


"Josh?" The sound of Stanley's voice is monotone and only vaguely comforting.

He shakes his head, clearing his thoughts. "The guy was crazy." His justification. "He was going on and on at the top of his lungs about free trade and..." Josh trails off.

"And," Stanley prompts. "What?"

Josh shrugs. "I don't know, it just," what? "It's strange, 'cause apparently he was yelling from the time we got to the high school to the time we left, but...I didn't notice him." He sighs. "Anyway, the gun he had wasn't loaded. Hell, it wasn't even real."

"It was enough to spook the Secret Service."

Josh leans back in his chair. "Which, trust me, is not a very hard thing to do." There's an awkward moment. "Look, Stanley, I know the President and Leo are concerned about me since this, well," what was the proper word -- attempt? "But I can honestly tell you I'm feeling-"

"Leo," Stanley interrupts, "didn't call me." Josh's eyebrows shoot up. "Neither, for that matter, did the President."


"Then, who-"

"You told your assistant, what's her name again?"

Josh contemplates this for a moment. "Donna."

"You told Donna you couldn't hear her over the music." It doesn't register with him yet. "Except, there wasn't any music at the high school, Josh."

After a beat, "Donna called you?"

Stanley nods. "Yesterday. Found my number in your Rolodex, apparently, and phoned my office."

Josh is smiling humorlessly. "So, what you mean is, Leo talked to Donna and she called on his behalf."

"No, I mean, Donna called and I spoke to her personally." Beat. "Pestered the hell out of my assistant, too. Did she pick that up from you?"

Josh leans back in the uncomfortable wooden chair and it creaks a little. In his ears, it's thunder. "Oh, so we're getting hostile, now?" he asks, trying to go for the humor. It's only deflecting the inevitable. "But she talked to Leo first, I assume."

Stanley sounds frustrated. "What's it going to take for you to understand that everyone else thinks you're meeting with a Congressman tonight?"

For the first time, Josh hears silence, because he is startled. Stanley tries to sound calm when he says, "Tell me about the music, Josh."

Joanie, Josh finally admits, his sister, he was thinking about her right before the...he just blurted it out by mistake, "So stop trying to attach significance to it."

Stanley looks at him strangely. "What kind of significance?"

"Flashback significance." Josh is adamant, "I was not having a flashback, Stanley, so don't even try and say-"

"I didn't say anything. You brought it up."

"You asked!"

This is why Stanley's number is buried in his Rolodex.

Another calm sigh. "Tell me about your sister."

Josh hates how he's changing the subject, but didn't particularly care for the last one, either.

"She, she liked music."

"How did the fire start?"

"Popcorn, on the stove."

"And you ran?"

"I saw smoke."


"Common sense."

"And your sister, she was where?"

"Upstairs, in her room, listening to Schubert." (joshie, go away.)

"She got trapped by the smoke?"

"It was too thick and she missed the railing and a couple of steps on the way down. Tripped and hit her head."

"And you ran?"


"Because you saw smoke?"

"Because I couldn't breathe."

"Why weren't you upstairs?"

"She, she made me go check the popcorn."

"You didn't want to go?"

"No." (i promise i'll be quiet.) "No."

"Did you try and go back in?"

"Yes, but the doorknob was too hot. It burned my hand."

"How did Donna scrape her arm?"

"I pushed her down."

Glass, shattering. Josh cradles his face in his palms, trying to shut out the cacophony in his ears. Too much, too much, sometimes not enough.

"How old was she?"

He looks up at Stanley and heaves a sigh. "13."

"I meant-?"

"48." Pause. "She would have been 48."

His hands are folded in front of him on the table, trembling a little, and Stanley puts a calm hand over them. "No one expected you to be a hero, Josh. You did the best you could."

"I did nothing," he pleads.

"You were five."

"I'm alive." (i can smell the popcorn all the way up here, joshie.)

"You saved your friends."

"The Secret Service did that. I just ducked like everyone else."

"Except you pushed Donna down first."

"The gun wasn't loaded, Stanley."

"But you pushed her down. You saved her."

There's a flash, a memory, of his body hitting the ground, of Donna yelping a little in pain. He hates to hear the sound she makes.

"Nobody needed to be saved."

"She didn't know that."

He can see his hand moving through the window, he can feel the pieces of glass under his skin, the pain, ah, the pain, but then something strange happens. Everything is silent. He is moving in perfect silence; he turns his head to a door he knows someone is pounding on, but he can't hear it.

Again, he feels the bullet (only for a split second) tear into him, feels himself thudding against the pavement, sees Toby, but he can't hear him. What was once vivid sound is now utter silence.

He can't hear anything.


"So," and she leaves her sentence hanging, purposely, because I know what's coming next.

I'm warming my hands on my coffee, nervously, obsessively. "I'm not cured," I say, remembering this identical cafe two years ago, and those identical words. "That won't, that's not going to happen. Ever."

She murmurs, "I know," as we move outside, into the cold, back to work. She lets out a sigh and her breath crystallizes in front of her.

We're still bathed in the light from the cafe's neon sign when she stops. Donna is fidgeting with the lapels of my jacket, fixing them and straightening them like a mother to her son; intimately, delicately, habitually. She opens her mouth, but then she hesitates and says nothing. I let my mind dwell on the possibilities for a moment before her lips curl into a forced smile and she says, "Okay" like it's a death wish.

I grab her by the wrist to stop her from moving away, not too hard, just enough to make her stop and notice. She does. I'm thinking, maybe I should tell her not to say thank you, but she looks at me with sad eyes and I know it's about much more than me pushing her to the cement. Or maybe it's exactly about that for all the reasons I can't understand. Or do understand.


"I'm cold," she whispers, and she manages to extract her arm from my loose grip. She hugs herself tightly and I can see the specks of white that have started to fall on her black coat. This is her excuse, her way out.

"Hey," and I step closer to her again. My breath is suddenly more labored than before, and I'm blowing large puffs of air into her face. "I'll be okay," I say, for her and for me, for nothing in particular, for every instance in my life. I say it for now, at this moment, with her.

Something amazing happens. She starts to smile, sincerely this time, and the ice seems to melt.

She's embarrassed when my face brightens a little, and she ducks her head. A piece of her hair not tucked under her hat falls from behind her ear. Without a second thought, I'm tucking it back where it belongs, invading her space, and my fingers are cold against her warm, warm cheeks. Now she can't help but look up.

"Really?" She asks it with the weight of the world in her voice.

I reply, "Yeah" with a smile, a smile with dimples, I think, and genuine joy. Then I nod my head in one direction, silently asking if she'd like to go back to work, but really, all I want to do is stand here, in the snow, staring into her smiling face.

Walking, we fall into step, and I wonder whether I've reassured her, or if this is simply a temporary thing.

Suddenly, I can hear, again. Music, everywhere, surrounding me, swallowing us both.

I steal one of her hands, capturing it in mine and intertwining our fingers, and I can't be sure whether that was a reflexive behavior. Comforting, or just...something. I take her hand and can't help but notice that she's trembling; shaking, actually, enough for both of us.

We turn the corner and halfway down the street a dozen college students have gathered together and they're singing. Singing...I look at Donna, they seem to have caught her attention, and only then do I realize that the harmonizing sound I hear isn't in my head. She's slowing to a stop, hesitating, wondering. She can hear them, too. I squeeze her hand.

She sounds worried. "Josh-"

I shake my head, glancing once at the choir. "I'm better." Hang a shining star upon the highest bow, they sing.

"No," and she takes a step backwards, "No, you're really not."

I take her other hand in mine, positioning myself between her and the choir. For a second, her eyes dart up from the sidewalk and I can see the fear in her eyes. Lightly, perhaps she's not even aware, her thumb strokes the back of my hand where my scar lies.

"I am," I implore. A step closer, "I need you to have faith in me."

What's the line from that old Christmas movie? 'Faith is believing in things when common sense tell you not to.' I'd be willing to bet all her common sense is telling her to pull me in the opposite direction, and yet she's planted there in front of me.

And maybe she realizes it, too, because suddenly she's hugging me. She lets out a nervous laugh, and whispers, "You're still not going to the Christmas party." I can't fight that, not with this in front of me.

And I begin to pick up the many thousands of shards of glass, one by one, and piece them back together.


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