SPOILERS/SERIES: Post ITSOTG.
ARCHIVE: Ask, please.
DISCLAIMERS: Consider me disclaimed.
SUMMARY: "You feel for a moment like you're stuck in Sam's bad TV drama, because you're praying aloud in this hideously sterile hospital room, and because real life isn't supposed to work like this."
NOTE: So, one day, I find this fic in my box, and it's got Marguerite's name on it, which is weird, because I think I remember her from X- Files. It's called "Percussion," and it's amazing, and then there's "Written" and "Fraternity." So, she crafted this amazing little trilogy, but CJ's voice was missing. So here it is. Read the others, too, at Marguerite's page.
With immense thanks to Marguerite. Immense. If there's anything good here, it's because of her, this time.
You spend a great deal of time staring at your palms.
They stopped bleeding long ago, but you can still feel the phantom pain of glass shards buried deep in your flesh. This is why you stare, because you don't want to forget the way that pain feels, because it is all that connects you to that night of shattered glass.
You know you hit the ground, because the glass in your skin proves it. Without the pain in your palms or the dark bruises on your knees, you would have no reason to believe that you were there that night at all.
No reason except the foggy memory of gunfire, and the bare places on your neck where the thin chain once touched. You remember some of it, now, and you have the remnants of the necklace in your pocket. But it's not real. It's just an echo, the backfire of a gunshot, the sound of distant sirens, the thin wail of rubber against asphalt.
You find yourself in the hospital chapel, but you aren't sure why. It is bare and cold, and usually the small pews are populated with fathers losing babies or children losing parents or wives losing husbands.
You aren't sure what you're losing.
Today, it was dark when you returned from White House after a thousand hours of briefings, and immediately, you were there. You sat near a dishwater-blonde woman with an infant, and the baby was sleeping peacefully, nestled in some fluffy approximation of a blanket.
The woman turned and asked you, "Why?"
And you looked back at her sunken cheeks and her slumped shoulders, and for the first time in days, you weren't worried at the fact that you couldn't quite remember how to smile. It didn't seem strange to you that stranger was looking at you with her eyes like that.
You knew what she was asking, and you knew the woman wanted to hear something about God, or something about the world working in mysterious ways, or that tragedies are transient.
Instead, you touched her child's perfect, tiny toes and said, "Because sometimes the world is an awful place to live."
Then, perhaps, you expected tears, the woman's or your own. But instead she nodded, looked up towards the naked cross on the far wall, and said to you, "Do you think He meant it to be this way?"
You thought of Josh, and of the way you've spent so many hours imagining the way he must whimper in his sleep. You thought of the needles in his hand, of the sallow way his skin blends into the sheets, of the little LED display near his bed.
You thought of the sharp smell of antiseptic.
You can't remember that night, but you remember the moment Josh first opened his eyes to look at you, and the relief when he saw that you were whole. And you didn't have the words to tell him that you were anything but, that you were falling apart all over, that you couldn't even brush your teeth without thinking...
You've been thinking a lot lately.
So you turned to the woman and her baby, and you said the only thing left to say. "I'm sorry."
Once, you were baptized Claudia Jean Cregg, and the Holy Water helped wash away the sins of the world from your eternal soul. Your parents told you that you didn't even flinch when the water hit you, that, in fact, you smiled. You were clean, once, of the guilt.
You've taken dozens of showers, scrubbing yourself with scalding hot water and rough pumice and three bars' worth of Ivory, but none of this can erase from your skin the sticky remnants of that night. Nothing can wipe away the guilt you feel every time you realize that nothing's wrong with you except the scars on your palms, and that in a room not so far away, one of your best friends is fighting a sometimes-losing battle against pain and defeat.
You think you've betrayed him, with your health and the fact that you can still get up in front of the cameras without your hands shaking. You can't stand the fact that he almost died, and you bruised your knees.
You were thirteen when death first meant anything to you. It was three weeks before your Confirmation, and it was your grandmother, a red- headed firecracker who helped you sort out your limbs because she, too, had been a foot taller than all the boys. It was a stroke, and you spent hours at her bedside before she died, the careful, measured beats of her heart dwindling down to nothing.
You took Brigid as your saint name, because it had been your grandmother's name, and because you wanted her to live more than anything. It had been all you could give to her, that inelegant spot between Jean and Cregg, a clumsy afterthought.
You took your faith in her memory, but you knew that it would never be enough to make up for the loss. And so you learned of death and disappointment simultaneously, but you accepted the bad wine and the dry host just the same, because some part of you believed this would return you to some previous state of innocence.
Perhaps this is why you finger, sometimes in that chapel, the old rosary that had spent so many years at the bottom of your bedside drawer. You Hail Mary, full of grace, because the words were once familiar, and because you feel so impotent.
After many minutes, you stood, looking down at the woman, and she was sobbing silently over her tiny child's sleeping form. You wanted to ask what she had lost, or what she was losing. You wanted to say something to comfort her, but you didn't know the words.
There was no script for that moment, and so you touched her shoulder, and you said, "Pray for us sinners."
And the woman's voice was rough and awful when she replied, "Now and at the hour of our death."
You couldn't take any more than that, couldn't stand the conspicuously bare cross looking down at you or the garish pink of the baby's blanket or the woman's harsh breath.
So you left, and now you find yourself here, standing outside Josh's room, your forehead against the door. Donna is inside, and you know that whatever she's doing for him is more than you'll ever be able to. You know that she has been near him every minute, and that she has remained despite the things that make everyone else want to hide. You wonder what would have happened if she had not been there, because you know you would never have been strong enough to do this for him.
You can barely keep yourself together, and so you lay your hands flat against the door, and you admit in a whisper all the things that you cannot say to anyone.
You admit that you think God betrayed Josh, and you admit that you're angry. You admit that you're afraid of blood and drugs, that you have been ever since those days in your grandmother's hospital room. You admit that you can't bring yourself to sleep, that all you do is lay awake and fully clothed, digging your fingernails into your palms.
You hear him standing behind you long before you turn to face him. "You should sleep sometime, Sam," you say, and even to your own ears, your voice is off somehow.
"I haven't," you admit. You aren't sure why, but you figure that he deserves to see your face, and so you turn to him. He is incredibly pale, and his hair everywhere, and his eyes are bluer than you've ever seen then. "Have you been in lately?"
"A few hours ago," he shrugs.
"Oh. I couldn't--" You want to explain what's kept you away, but you're fumbling to find some way to avoid your strange conference with the mother and her baby. "I've been... briefing," you finish lamely.
"It's awful, CJ." Sam's voice is different than you've ever heard it, and he suddenly looks exactly like the tall, beautiful children you spent your youth with.
"He can hardly breathe," Sam says as he leans back against the wall. You face one another from opposite sides of the corridor. "It doesn't seem fair, does it?" he asks.
You shrug, and you pick an appropriate cliché because it's simple. "Nobody said life was fair."
"I mean, that we're breathing. I mean that it's unfair that he took this for all of us. What right... what right do we have?"
You flex your fingers. "I don't know. Maybe none."
"They say he's improving."
"Well, somebody'd better be improving," you say. You concentrate on the pain in your palms and in your knees, because it is distracting. You hope that by concentrating on something else, you won't have to feel this.
You find yourself staring at your palms. "I didn't say thank you," you announce.
"I know," he says, and you look up at him. He has his hands in his pockets, and he is gawky and angular. "And I hope you won't."
"Thank you, Sam."
"Not for that. I don't feel any sort of cosmic desire to save you from falling from the edge of a cliff, or something like that. I just mean... You did the shows, and you've been here, and you're all in one piece." Your voice is shaking as hard as your hands.
"Barely." He shrugs.
"Somebody's got to be holding it together."
"Listen to us, CJ. We sound like a bad TV drama. Just listen to us." His chin drops to his chest, and you want more than anything to touch him, but you don't because you're not sure you could take it.
So you say, "There's no script for this."
He doesn't answer, and so you add suddenly, "My grandmother died when I was thirteen."
"So when I was confirmed, I took her name."
But you're not asking him to talk, so you ignore him. "But what... Sam, what am I going to take if Josh...?" You let the question fall off at the end, because you can't bring yourself to say it.
"He's not gonna--"
"What am I going to take, Sam?"
His voice shakes. "I don't know."
The door opens behind you, and you turn to find Donna. "He's asleep," she says without preamble. "But..."
So you follow her in with full knowledge that you probably shouldn't. And you can tell that she wants more than anything to stay, but she shifts from her left foot to her right foot and says, "Um. I'm going to get a soda or, um, something." She knows you better than you think she does, and so she disappears.
"Josh," you say, even though you know he's asleep.
"Do you want me to--?"
"Stay, Sam," you say, because you don't know if you can handle being alone like that.
He lingers near the door, and you see him brush across his cheek with the back of his hand. You sit near Josh's bed and put your hand atop his. "Hey, Josh," you say. "It's too quiet without you around." Your voice catches, and you see him move in his sleep, grimacing.
Sam is behind you then, his hands on your shoulders, and so you continue. "None of us know how to do anything without you, Josh." And it's all you can get out before your head falls to the bed's edge near Josh's hand. You can't cry, and so you're just shaking there, and Sam's hands are on your back.
There are long, empty moments, and then you lift your head and turn to look at this tall, blue-eyed child. "God, Sam. Her name was Brigid."
"Yeah," you say, "And there's no place for Joshua left in my name." and suddenly there are tears in your eyes, and you're saying, "I'm not crying, I'm not crying." But you are, and so you cover your face with your hands, because this is a private weakness. When you think you've recovered sufficiently, you look up to see Donna at the door.
And she's hugging herself, and there's something distant and terrible in the way she's watching you. There are no carefully chosen words for you to recite to make her right again. All that's left are the musty words of the Lord's Prayer playing over and over again inside your head, and suddenly, you're saying them, because they're old and familiar, and because they're supposed to fix things.
She sucks in a sharp breath, and by the time you get to "forgive us our trespasses," you're standing, and she's taken three steps forward, and then she throws her hands around your neck.
And so you're praying, like this, your voices and your tears a strange benediction. You and Donna both finish at "deliver us from evil," and you realize that through all this you never knew she was Catholic or that maybe she's not but the evil's as much as she can handle, and you hear Sam's whisper, "for thine is the kingdom..."
You feel for a moment like you're stuck in Sam's bad TV drama, because you're praying aloud in this hideously sterile hospital room, and because real life isn't supposed to work like this, with prayer, or IVs, or people saving your life and not expecting thank you.
Josh groans, and Donna's suddenly fussing over him, and Sam's stepping back as if he's afraid of breaking something, and you find yourself standing anchorless in the middle of the room, your shoes too dark against the linoleum.
"I'm just gonna--" you hear yourself saying, but you can't read this moment from a slip of paper, so you shrug helplessly. "I'm just gonna go." Sam follows you out, and you slump against the corridor wall, crouching down and covering your face.
"It just isn't right," he says, and he kneels, his hands on your knees.
"Do you think this is how it's supposed to be?" you ask, thinking of babies and crosses.
And he answers with the only words that any of you have left. "I'm sorry," he says, and you know that he is, and you don't know how to tell him that it's not enough.
So you stand slowly, pulling him to his feet, and you say, "We should eat something." And he nods, and despite the fact you aren't hungry, you both head for the cafeteria, because doing something is easier than being anything.
He turns to you as you reach the end of the hallway, and he puts a hand against your forearm. He looks at you, and you're both standing in the middle of this vast corridor, pale and shaking, and he opens his mouth to say something. You shake your head, because this isn't how things are supposed to be.
"I just... CJ..." And then, he shrugs. "Amen," he says, finally, and you release a held breath.
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