Title: One Hell of a Night

Author: Michael Weyer

Except for Matthew Connors, Alice Fairchild, Megan Maguire, Perry Leiter, Valerie Rosthon, Robin Goodfellow and Liam Danahure, I don't own any of them.
Steven St. Wolf and Randi Jessup created by Steve Pantovitch.
Shaw Hunter created by Tim Knight.

Summary: An event occurs that has long-ranging impact on several facets of the Wandererverse.

Spoilers:
West Wing: Up to "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." And just for the hell of it, in the Wandererverse, Jed Bartlett is from Massachusetts. (It just seems to fit better).
The District: Midway through the first season.

A little ditty that suddenly hit me. Hope you enjoy it.


One Hell of a Night

In which a shooting echoes throughout a nation.

The Newseum
Rosslyn, VA
May 9th, 1999 - 21:35 EST

This was the part of her job that Gina Toscano hated the most.

Crowd detail was always the most strenuously trained aspect of the Secret Service. An agent had to keep their eyes and ears open at all times, to watch out for any threats, whether they were open or implied. Given the various noises and expressions that filled a crowd, that was a difficult task to say the least. When the crowd happened to be for the President of the United States, the pressure to do the job tripled.

Gina was doing her best to hide her nervousness as she skimmed her eyes over the crowd. She could feel the pressure on her, even though she knew a lot of it was only in her head. As one of the few women in the Presidential detail, she had to prove herself twice as much as her fellow agents. She was also getting used to suddenly being thrust into such an important detail. It was a far cry from what she had been doing only a few weeks before.

Guarding Zoey Bartlett, the President's younger daughter, sounded like an easy task. With a full schedule of college courses, the young woman's life was pretty centered on school, with little time for fun. When she did go out, Gina and at least two other agents would be near her at all times, ready to move at an instant's notice. Zoey had protested the treatment at first, wanting to live a normal college life. Unfortunately, with her father the most important man in the country, that wasn't an option, a point Jed Bartlett had driven home to her.

Once she got over her initial reluctance, Zoey quickly got used to her permanent security detail. She seemed to like Gina and was disappointed the agent wouldn't make "small talk" with her. The truth was, Gina liked Zoey too but the first rule of the Secret Service was to put personal feelings aside and not develop strong attachments to an assignment. Gina needed to have her attention focused solely on protecting the President's daughter.

That had become more of an issue than ever recently. Gina still wasn't sure how word got around that Zoey had started to get close to Charlie Young, the President's personal aide. Once it did, however, it soon generated a very ugly reaction. Apparently, the idea of a black man being with the daughter of the President of the United States was something that a lot of people were having problems with. Gina had kept her ears open and knew that even some of the Washington elite didn't like the looks of that but that was politics. Her job was to concentrate on the more militant of the protestors to the possible couple.

Zoey had quickly learned that being the President's daughter sadly made her a target for those who didn't approve of her father's decisions or the government in general. She'd heard some snide comments and even out and out insults against her from people who disagreed with some official stance or another. Despite the fact that she obviously had no power whatsoever to influence her father's thinking in those matters, Zoey was still getting some hate mail. But recently, the hate had turned particularly venomous as several letters started to come in with the same message: If she didn't break it off with Charlie, she was going to die.

The President had been apprised of the situation, of course, and had naturally wanted a dozen agents on his daughter full-time. He had quickly been talked out of it, though, the Secret Service not wanting to give these radical elements credit by increasing security too much. However, the behind the scenes measures had been stepped up and all agents were told to be on extra watch.

Nearly every DC-based Secret Service agent was here this evening. With the President, Zoey and the President's staff all attending this function, the security was high and Gina, like every agent, was keeping her gaze steady on the crowd. She was dressed in a dark suit, designed to allow freedom of movement, her jacket open to allow easy access to her holster. Her black hair was pulled in a ponytail around her attractive face, which was currently in a cool and professional look as she looked around the crowd. She could hear reports from her various fellow agents through her earpiece, each one giving an all-clear signal.

As President Bartlett exited the building, there was a roar from the crowd, mostly cheers, with a few boos from protestors here and there. Gina didn't pay much attention to them. The obvious nuts were almost never the ones who would cause trouble, she had been taught. It was the unobvious nuts one had to watch out for.

The Presidential party was just reaching the limo when Gina's gaze fell on a young man in his early twenties who was looking up. He was dressed in a loose shirt, dirty jeans and a baseball cap and it took a moment for Gina to realize why he was noteworthy. His face was utterly expressionless, neither happy nor angry at the President's presence. His eyes, however, reflected a cold professionalism that belied his appearance. With a sudden chill, Gina realized that she knew this man. He had been the same man who had been giving Zoey an evil look at a rally a few days earlier.

As she stared at him, Gina saw the man slowly look up and give a nod, a slight smile coming onto his face. Whipping her head around, the agent looked in the same direction. Her eyes widened as she saw two men, approximately the same age, suddenly stand in an open window, facing the crowd below. As she saw the flash of light on metal, Gina brought her left cufflink to her mouth and yelled out the word that every Secret Service agent was trained to listen for and prayed they'd never hear.

"GUN!"

She'd just gotten the word out when the shots rang out. Instantly, the crowd's cheers turned to screams, nearly everyone ducking out of animal instinct. The President seemed surprised as bullets suddenly rang out around him, his own agents quickly shoving him into his limo, his staff quickly pushed down to the ground. Several agents had already begun to return fire at the window, pushing the gunmen back.

Standing by the limo, Bartlett had little idea what was going on. There were screams and yells something that sounded like firecrackers. Amidst the chaos, he barely felt the sudden stinging pain that ripped through his midsection when his body was shoved into the limo. He held his side and groaned as he started to sit up. *Great* he thought to himself. *They save me from bullets by breaking a couple of rips, great tactics.* He was still gasping with pain as the limo took off.

As she dashed across the pavement, crouched with her gun in her hand, ready to take a bullet for Zoey, Gina let one brief thought flash through her mind.

This was going to be one hell of a night.

*****

Washington D.C. Police Headquarters
2141 Hours EST

"Thank you for that report, Captain," Chief of Police Jack Mannion stated. He was standing on the small raised platform that filled up one end of the ComStat room. Behind him, a large screen showed the computerized charts and graphs that showed the various crime areas of the city. The state-of-the art information center had, in only a few months, helped the District of Columbia Police Department reorganize their strategies in order to police the streets better. It was one of the few moves made by Mannion that every officer could get behind.

He was an intriguing figure, always dressed in a nice suit, with a pair of white and dark shoes that made him stand out. With his slicked back hair and sharp features, many thought he looked more like a basketball coach than a police chief. His outspoken manner and refusal to play politics made him an anomaly in Washington while also making him strangely endearing. However, he had standards for how a police force should be run, standards that he refused to back down from. Several captains and officers who had failed to live up to those standards had been busted down in rank and even fired. Mannion had made it clear that he honestly didn't give much of a damn if people liked him or not but he was damn sure going to make sure they gave him respect.

As he watched the uniformed captain sit down, Mannion turned to the other side of the room. It was set up like a small auditorium, the chairs filled with officers looking at their chief as he made his feelings known. At least twice a week, he would gather the captains for such a meeting, to go over what they had done in the past week and how they could improve their routines. This meeting had been long, Mannion a bit more critical of a few captains, who were still feeling the sting from his comments.

Mannion was just about to pick another speaker when a flashing light came onto one corner of the main screen. Frowning, the chief turned around to face the chief programmer of the ComStat. Before he could say a word, Ella Farmer's fingers were flying over the keyboard. The middle-aged black woman, dressed in a light dress with one of her trademark headbands holding back her hair, stared at the information flowing over her screen. Her eyes widened and her face dissolved into shock. "Oh my God," she whispered.

"What is it?" Mannion frowned, walking over toward her.

Ella managed to make a few keystrokes and the main screen came alive with a small map of the area near the Newseum. "Multiple shots fired at the President while he was making a speech," she quickly spoke up, summing up what was on the screen. "One of his staff was shot on scene, belly wound apparently....." She trailed off as a new alert came and glanced up at Mannion. "Chief....he's been taken to George Washington University Hospital."

"The staff member?"

Ella shook her head but couldn't bring herself to actually say the words. "The President's been shot," wasn't exactly a common phrase.

Mannion took exactly one second to process this, then turned on his heel and faced the room. "I want roadblocks put up on every major highway, bridge, side street, alleyway, every damn road out of the city. Joe," he turned to Deputy Joe Noland, the veteran black officer already on his feet. "Call up the airports, train stations, bus stations, the damn harbor and seal them up, send extra units to cover them." He turned to Ella. "Ella, get me FBI, Secret Service and whoever else, tell them whatever help they want, they've got it. But let them know we're not going to be treated like second-stringers here."

He let his gaze sweep over his officers. "I want every single cop we've got on full alert," he stated in a cold tone. "I want off-duty officers on standby, I want pressure put on the streets but for God's sake, tell your people to keep it cool. The last thing we want is to shoot someone because they had dark skin or something. But I also want whomever did this found and found fast. As of now, no one gets out of D.C." He turned to face Ella, letting everyone know he was finished. Immediately the captains rose and started to quickly file out of the room.

"So, someone got a shot in on Bartlett?" one young captain sneered. "Man, I'd like to shake his hand."

"What was that?" It never ceased to amaze people how sharp Mannion's hearing was. Instantly, the procession stopped, everyone turning to see the chief. Mannion had fixed a hard glare at the officer who had spoken up, letting him know he wasn't happy about that comment. "Did you have something to say about our President, Captain?"

The unlucky captain swallowed before replying. "Chief, I'm sorry but...I mean...I didn't even vote for the guy."

"I don't care if you did," Mannion said. "I don't care what party you're in, I don't care if you like the guy or not. Fact is, I don't like him all the time myself but he is still our President. He's still the highest-ranking figure of law authority in the country so when someone shoots at him, he's hitting us too. So, put aside the feelings and do your damn jobs or I'll find someone who will, is that clear?"

The captain swallowed again, nodded and then quickly made his way out of the room with the rest of the group. Mannion stood on the stage for a long moment, Ella and Noland the only other people with him. Mannion slowly dragged a hand across his face before striding out. "I'll be in my office," he spoke up as he walked off. "Joe, Ella, keep me briefed."

The two watched him walk out and then looked at each other. "I don't mind telling you," Noland said in his deep voice. "That this is one time I'm glad I'm not the man in charge."

Ella gave a nod of assent before turning back to her screen and the flurry of information flowing before her.

*****

Regency Hotel
Washington D.C.
2145 Hours EST

It was quiet in the room, save for the buzz of chatter on the scanner lying on the main table. The three people gathered around it were listening intently to the chatter, making sense of the myriad voices talking over it.

"Goddess," Andrea Parker whispered as she sat back in her chair. She rubbed at her hair, not believing what she was hearing. "I can't....this is too much to take." She shut her eyes and shook her head. "Goddess, this was gong to be a one-day stopover and now...."

"I know," Jarod Russell told his lover, rubbing at her shoulder. "I've been Secret Service. They take security seriously. For this to happen..." The Immortal shook his head. "I can't believe this happened."

Sidney Green slowly rose from his seat and calmly walked to a window. He gazed outside, seeing a few police cars roaring down the streets, sirens blaring, letting the public know they were out there. His face was drawn and tight, his eyes haunted as he looked out.

"Sid?" Jarod asked his Watcher. "Are you okay? Ever since we picked up what was happening, you've been...well, hit hard."

Sidney was silent and Jarod turned to Andrea in confusion. The Amazon shook her head, as puzzled as he was. She couldn't remember seeing Sidney this disturbed by something. Then again, this was an event big enough to affect anyone.

Sidney suddenly turned to face the two Immortals. "Do you have your ID kit?" he asked Jarod.

Jarod threw a thumb over to the bed, where a case sat. "Never leave home without it," he remarked.

Sidney nodded. "Good. Get some Secret Service cards for you and Andrea, that'll get us inside the hospital."

Andrea frowned. "We're going there? Sidney, what are you doing? I know you're concerned but we can't just go see the President-----"

"I'm not going to see the President, Andrea," Sidney interrupted. His face was now showing sadness and even a bit of fear. "I'm going to see a friend."

*****

JAG Headquarters
Falls Church, VA
2149 Hours EST

Commander Harmon Rabb had to fight to keep from whistling as he packed up his files. *One case tied up more neatly than I expected and tomorrow's a free day.* Harm was already thinking of how to spend the time tomorrow when the Buzz signaled the arrival of the woman he would be spending the time with.

"Wow, you look like I feel," Major Sarah MacKenzie spoke up as she stood in the doorway of Harm's office. The Marine was wearing a more easy expression than she'd had earlier in court as she looked at her fellow Immortal.

"Happy, I hope," Harm stated.

"Oh, yeah," Mac replied, returning his smile. Taking a quick glance in the hallway to see if anyone was nearby, she walked toward the desk, leaned in and gave Harm a quick kiss. "Winning does agree with you, I must say."

"Wait until I lose to you sometime," Harm shot back. "I'll be ready to pay you back big time."

"Maybe you can give me a preview of that tonight?" Mac teased as the two walked out of the office. They walked through the main outer office, both already consumed with thoughts of being together later that night.

"What's going on here?" Harm asked out loud as he and Mac saw nearly everyone in the office gathered before the row of television screens set high on the wall. The two came up to the crowd, both looking up. They stared at the scenes on the screens in confusion.

"Bud?" Harm asked Lt. Bud Roberts, whose face was pale and drawn. "Bud, what's going on?"

Bud slowly brought his head around to face his fellow Naval lawyer. "Someone..." He stopped and swallowed. "Someone shot the President."

"Oh, Jesus," Mac whispered as she realized what she was seeing. Harm was consumed with the same shock as his partner, unable to form any words. Instinctively, the two reached out for each other, clutching their hands together and not giving a single thought as to whether anyone saw them or not. They simply stood and coped with the helplessness of hearing of their Commander-in-Chief in the line of fire.

The door to the rear office opened and Admiral A.J. Chegwidden stepped out. "Okay, just what the hell is this?" he asked. "Why am I looking at an office of military personnel who are simply standing around and watching television?"

"Sir," Bud choked, pointing at the screen. "The President's been shot."

Chegwidden looked like he'd taken a bullet as well, starting in place as his jaw unhinged. A buzz began to build among the people watching, officers trading thoughts and feelings. At once, about a half dozen phones began to ring and in moments the office was a flurry of activity, with people starting to yell out information they'd just heard or was still being confirmed.

"Hold it," Chegwidden called out. "Hold it." He took a deep breath and then yelled. "HOLD EVERYTHING!"

Dead silence went through the room. Even the phones were silent as everyone looked at the Admiral. With his face set and strong, Chegwidden began to speak in a quieter voice. "I want this handled as calmly as possible," he began. "There will probably be a lot of wild rumors going around for a while and we can't let that overwhelm us. I don't know yet how this will effect us, whether this was a terrorist act, if there'll be reprisals, I don't know yet. Until I do, we will remain calm and collected and do everything we can to ensure that things don't get out of hand. All right?"

He backed up, seeing the office agreeing and taking on their duties much more calmly than they had before. He slowly turned and saw Harm and Mac still facing the screens. His eyes glanced down at the way the two held hands and frowned. *They have to be a little more careful about that* he thought to himself as he walked up. "Commander? Major?"

The two started at hearing Chegwidden's voice and quickly broke apart, letting go of their hands as they turned to face their superior. "Sir," Harm briskly said. "We're sorry, sir but...."

"I understand," Chegwidden said. He looked the two over for a moment and then looked down. "You were both done for the night, weren't you?"

"We were, sir," Mac said. "But if you need us for more-----"

"No, no," Chegwidden told them. "No, I don't see any reason for both of you to stay around until we know more. You're dismissed but be ready in case things get complicated."

"Yes, sir," Harm nodded. He and Mac both saluted Chegwidden before walking toward the exit. Chegwidden watched them go and sighed. *I'm getting too soft in my old age. Not to mention suddenly turning into a romantic.*

*****

George Washington University Hospital
2247 Hours EST

"Mob scene" did not begin to describe the situation at the hospital.

Reporters from every major TV, radio and newspaper news outlet were fighting to talk to anyone who had been in the hospital, from doctors to cops to even patients. A dozen cops were fighting to keep them back, a dozen more keeping back the mob of onlookers who had descended on the hospital as the news came. Miniature roadblocks had been set up to keep more onlookers from arriving and the hospital had been forced to send patients away due to the high security. "The last thing I want," the chief of staff had said. "Is to have a patient die because we weren't allowed to work on him until he had a full background check done."

With all the high tension and bodies rushing around, Jarod, Parker and Sidney didn't have much trouble getting inside. Besides their ID's, the two Immortals did have the look of Secret Service agents, from the dark suits and long coats to the strong and impassive features. Having made their way inside, the trio started to move through the crowded hallways.

It took a few minutes for Parker to finally ask the question that had been brewing inside her for the last hour. "Sidney, how the hell do you know Jed Bartlett?"

A slight smile came onto Sidney's face. "You'd be amazed just how many people I know, Andrea."

"Why didn't you ever mention this before?"

"Well, Andrea, at the height of your obsession with catching Jarod, I thought it best not to mention I knew the man who could order a federal manhunt."

"Yeah, you had to catch me on your own," Jarod said with a smile.

Parker smirked at him. "I'll decide it that's good or bad later."

As they turned to the hallway leading to the main waiting room, Sidney stopped. His gaze was fixed on a woman standing in the middle of the hall, a woman who was obviously fighting not to break out crying. "Abby?" Sidney called out.

Abigail Bartlett, First Lady of the United States, turned around at hearing her name called. Her face held total surprise for a moment as she saw the man standing before her. "Sidney?" she softly asked.

Sidney walked forward and held out his arms. Abby gratefully fell into them, letting him hold her tight. She closed her eyes and fought off a fresh wave of tears. "Oh, God, it's been so long," she whispered.

"I was in town when I heard," Sidney explained. "I had to come."

Abby broke off the hug and wiped at her eyes. "God, he'd have loved to have seen you again."

"I'll make sure he does when he wakes up," Sidney said. He bit his lip. "How is he?"

Abby rubbed at her face. "He's still touch and go. The doctors won't tell me much for sure just yet."

"What about the others?"

"Zoey's taking it hard of course," Abby said, waving a hand. "The others....God, Sidney, he was bleeding and he looked so helpless and...." She shut her eyes, tears once more flowing down her cheeks. Sidney once more held her tight as Parker and Jarod watched in amazement.

"There are days," Jarod began. "When I start to think Sidney's got a secret past even you and I couldn't touch."

"I know," Parker agreed. She looked about the hallway, seeing the activity around them. "Shouldn't we try and...." She shrugged. "Do...something?"

"We are," Jarod muttered back. "We're here for Sid. And right now, that makes us part of the First Lady's detail."

Parker shook her head. "God, I need a cigarette."

"Back alleyway," Abby spoke up. "There's a good crowd there already." She looked over at Sidney. "Are they...friends of yours?"

"Yes," Sidney told her. "I hope that's not too forward of me."

Abby shook her head. "No, it's okay. More the merrier, right?" She choked on a new wave of tears. Holding her hand gently, Sidney led her over toward the nearest sofa and sat her down. Moving next to her, he gently rubbed at her back. "I know it's hard," he began. "He's my friend."

"He's my husband," Abby told him. "I've seen him in tough spots before, Sidney but now...God, I can't take this."

"Yes, you can," Sidney told her. "You're a strong woman, Abby. You can hold it together, if not for yourself than for your daughters. They need you right now. They need you to hold them together."

"Thanks, Sidney," Abby said, wiping at her eyes. "I'm glad you're here."

"The least I can do for Jed," Sidney said. "He was always one of the few people who understood my positions on morality under fire."

"Jed always said he got a lot of his moral fiber from you," Abby told him, a smile coming onto her face. "The way you always talked about how you had to care for people no matter the situation..."

Sidney threw a look at Jarod before gazing at Abby. "Well, I've had...personal experience with that." He looked about. "Where's Zoey?"

Abby motioned weakly toward a nearby room. "Inside with the others. She's....she's blaming herself, I just know she is."

"She shouldn't," Sidney said. "It isn't her fault."

Abby snorted. "You know it and I know it, Sid, but her..." She sighed. "She's Jed's daughter, taking on all the responsibility of the world on her shoulders. She just can't stop blaming herself."

"Would you like me to talk to her?"

Abby clenched his fist tight. "Give her...give her a little while, okay, Sid? Please?"

Sidney nodded and then brought her in for another hug as Jarod and Parker stared at the duo. With a look, they silently decided to back away and give the two a little time together.

Out in the hallway, Parker rubbed at her nose. "Goddess, I've never seen Sidney like that before."

"I know," Jarod agreed. "He's always so put together, to see him trying to hold in obvious pain..." He shook his head. "Always funny to know how life can surprise you, right?"

"Excuse me?" Jarod and Parker turned to the two uniformed officers standing before them. One was a young black officer and Jarod was guessing he was still a rookie by the slight air of nervousness he was holding. The taller woman was an attractive, if not overtly beautiful, officer whose red hair was in a tight bun. *She should let it out, it'd look better on her.* Parker thought to herself.

"I'm Officer Page," the male half of the two said. "This is Officer Parras. Can we see some ID?"

Parker and Jarod quickly opened up their wallets to show the quickly prepared but authentic looking cards inside. "Russell and Parker, Secret Service," Jarod explained, instantly slipping into the cool tones of a government agent.

As Page gave the two ID's a close look, Parras fixed the two with a careful gaze. "I thought we had the list of all the agents on the Presidential detail."

"We aren't," Parker quickly added. "We're with the First Lady right now."

Parras still looked suspicious. "Maybe I should ask...."

"I wouldn't," Jarod broke in. "I mean, you could of course but she's with someone right now and you can imagine how she's not in the mood to be asked to identify every person in her detail."

Parras pursed her lips. Something still felt a little off these two but she didn't know what. She looked to Page, who shrugged. "Their ID's are okay. They got in here, so they must be good."

"Shouldn't you be doing something productive?" Parker broke in. "Like, oh, I don't know, finding out who shot him?"

"I thought that was your job," Parras said. "Oh, no, wait, your job is making sure he doesn't get shot at all. Great going."

Seeing Parker and Jarod tense, Page quickly stepped in. "All right, everyone calm down, let's not blow up here." He turned toward Parras. "Nancy, come on, they check out, let's go, okay?"

Stealing another glare at Parker and Jarod, Parras followed the younger officer away, leaving the two Immortals behind. "Our tax dollars at work," Parker muttered.

Jarod shrugged. "Come on, Andrea, ease up. It's a rough night for everyone."

*****

Montreal, Canada
2255 Hours EST

She came in low and fast, having perfectly timed the winds. She could feel the wind whipping at her suit, making it tricky to maneuver herself. She had to admit, the suit's design was working better than she had expected, allowing her to fly without the slowdowns that usually hit parachutists. Her eyes flickered behind her specialized goggles, the small mask covering the lower half of her face keeping her from sucking up too much air, her cap tight on her head as she flew down.

Her eyes moved to one corner of her left eyepiece and checked the readout on the LEM display. As the numbers counted down, she managed to bring one hand to the ring at the center of the straps on her chest. She kept her eyes glued to the readout and as it hit just the right number, she yanked the cord.

The parachute whipped open, as jet black as her outfit and she felt herself yanked up and back. Her hands worked at the cords, picking up the wind just right to slow her descent and aim herself at the exact place she wanted to go to.

It wasn't hard to miss. It was a large and sprawling estate that looked like it would be better off at home in Europe instead of the Great White North. The lights were on and blazing all around, a fleet of limos near the front gates and she could see a few people on a terrace on the east side. Fortunately, the cool air was keeping most of the guests in and no one was looking up in her direction.

She pulled back on the cords to slow her descent a bit more as she landed on the roof, a little off-center of her planned spot but still not too bad. She instantly went into a crouch, eyes darting about to see if she'd been detected. Rising to her feet, she gave her release cord a yank and a twist. Instantly, the specialized cords to her parachute began to pull back into the pack that had released them, like a release in reverse. In seconds, the parachute was right back inside the pack and the woman was moving across the roof.

Despite the briefings and the planning, she still felt a bit nervous as she made her way across the roof. While it looked as if the special design of the suit was indeed blocking infrared and laser sensors, it wouldn't do much if some actual cameras had been installed since the intelligence report was formed. Luckily, the owner appeared to have not been quite that paranoid so she was in good shape.

She came up to the roof access door, right where it was supposed to be. She reached into her suit pocket and removed a small round device with a tiny tube-like attachment. A flick of a switch and a skeleton key slid out of one side of the circle and was inside the lock. The woman held up the tube, running it up and down the edge of the doorway. She flipped open the other device, showing off a small computer screen that was telling her that no alarms could be detected here. Nodding, the woman turned the key, opened the door and slipped inside.

She repeated the process with the door at the bottom of the small stairway. Satisfied it was safe, she opened it and found herself in a large and long hallway. The carpeting was deep and dark, the paneling the best available, the lighting dim and the antiques and painting lining the walls the best money could buy. She held up the tube and flicked a button. Behind her goggles, she could see a flash that was invisible to the naked eye, a flash that would briefly cause any scanners or cameras in the area to experience a few moments of snow that would be seen only as a technical delay.

Satisfied the flash had worked, she pulled off her goggles and with it her mask and head covering. A long mane of brown hair billowed out behind her, her hands swiftly moving to pull it up. Sliding into a corner, she opened up the pack on her back and from a small compartment pulled out a short dark red wig. She pulled it over her natural hair, taking care that it was on straight and wouldn't slide off. She unzipped the front of her suit and shrugged it off, revealing a highly athletic but very shapely body, clad in a black designer dress that would have been the highlight of any Hollywood awards ceremony, her long legs on full display. She lifted up the circular device and flipped the other side open, revealing a small compact mirror. Lifting up the tube, she removed the cap on the other side and twisted it, allowing a sample of ruby red lipstick to emerge. Checking herself in the mirror, the woman carefully applied the lipstick, giving her reflection a little kiss to make sure it looked good.

Snapping the lipstick and compact shut, she moved back to her pack. She kicked off her jump shoes and reached back into the compartment. A pair of black high heels and a small purse came out. Her jump shoes and the suit went in. Quickly stuffing the pack into a small closet, the woman opened her purse and pulled out a pair of earrings and a dark brooch necklace. After both were attached, she softly whispered. "Dixon, I'm in, you copy?"

"Loud and clear," the voice came into her ear, the specially designed earpiece working perfectly. She knew the microphones in her necklace were picking up her every word and transmitting them to the van parked a mile away from the mansion. "You dressed to kill?"

"I am. I just hope it won't be literally," Sydney Bristow stated as she walked down the hallway and toward the main staircase.

*****

The instant she reached the bottom of the steps, Sydney knew something was wrong. "Dixon, something's up," she said under her breath, her eyes sweeping around the main foyer. "This foyer should be filled with people but I only see a handful."

"Check out the rest of the floor," her partner's deep voice spoke in her ear. "Keep your ears open and.....hold on, something's coming through from L.A."

"I'm on hold," Sydney stated as she made her way through the foyer and into the main drawing room. It was a large room, with a bar on one end, a roaring fireplace on another, hunting trophies and paintings covering the walls. All in all, it looked like a hunting lodge fitted into one room.

Sydney saw the guests, all in fine suits and dresses, gathered around a large-screen TV, most sipping at drinks, a few in chairs, all looking thrown in various ways. Pushing her way through the crowd, Sydney managed to see the CNN broadcast. It took a moment for her to register what she was seeing and felt her throat instantly go dry.

She spun around, as if trying to hide the shock and horror in her eyes as she whispered. "Dixon. Dixon?. Oh, shit, Dixon...."

"I know." For the first time she could remember, Sydney heard her partner in a less than professional tone of voice. "I just saw it on our feed from L.A."

"What are we going to do?"

"Do the job."

"What?!" Sydney realized a few people were staring at her and quickly brought her hand to her face as if she was fighting off sobs. She whispered into the comlink. "What do you mean, do the job?"

"It'll be easier now," Dixon said, starting to get back to his old self. "Everyone's distracted, including the guards. You can get into his office easier."

"Dixon-----"

"Syd, there's nothing we can do from here," she heard him hiss. "The only thing you can do....is what you came here for. Get to it fast in case the party breaks up early."

Sydney closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them, she gave a nod, then remembered Dixon couldn't see it. "All right, all right, I'm going," she whispered. She turned and began to make her way out of the room. She clenched one fist to keep from just yelling out at the feeling of helplessness within her. She had to put aside her obvious concerns for the moment in order to get the job done.

Sometimes, it sucked being a secret agent.

*****

Getting her way upstairs wasn't too hard. With all the security downstairs with the guests and everyone obviously distracted, Sydney had an easy time finding her way to the main study. Pocketing her skeleton key, Sydney opened the door to a tiny crack. She slid a small tube inside and flicked a button. A bright red flash went out and Sydney rose, pocketing the device. The jammer, giving her a small window of opportunity, had shorted any alarms, scanners and cameras out.

Moving to the desk, Sydney was grateful to see the computer was on. *He must have been working on something before the party.* She quickly reached into a hidden pocket of her dress and pulled out a flat CD-ROM disk. She slid it into the drive as her hands swiftly typed in a few commands. One swift search later and she had the file she was looking for. "Dixon, I'm copying now," she whispered.

"How long?"

"Ah, ten, twenty seconds more."

"We'll be waiting."

"I don't get it though. Why is this guy so interested in Egyptian history and archaeology exhibits and excavations?"

"Ours is not to reason why, Syd."

"Yeah, yeah, forgive me if I don't want to follow the second part of that little saying."

A beep went out and Sydney was grateful to see the file transfer had finished. She ejected the disk and slid it into her dress. Rising, she moved toward the door, ready to slip out the front door. Unfortunately, the large suited man who suddenly filled the frame put a wrinkle into things.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded in a deep voice, his arms crossed before him.

"Oh, hello!" Sydney said, taking on a light French accent. "Pardon, sir, I was looking for the restroom to try and powder up." She motioned at her face. "I was...upset, you know? The situation in America is quite unsettling and-----"

The man stepped closer, his face letting Sydney know he wasn't buying her story for a minute. "I'm afraid you'll have to come with me."

Sydney nodded, then jumped back and lashed out a foot, smashing the guard in the face. He staggered back and Sydney grabbed him by the front of his suit, planted a foot into his chest, then fell back. Landing on her back, she rolled and lifted up with her leg, sending the man flying over her. He landed on the end of the desk, gasping as his head hit the flat surface. He rolled off and lay on the floor unconscious.

Sydney rose to her feet, staring at the limp body before her and realizing that was a bit more violent than she had intended. This Bartlett thing was distracting her more than she thought. Which was probably why she didn't realize until too late there was someone behind her. She tried to move but it wasn't in time to avoid the smashing blow that sent her into darkness.

*****

Sydney hated coming back to consciousness. The pain in her head was like a lance as she tried to raise it up and clear her eyes. She was on her knees, held tight by the elbows by two men. Blinking, she raised her head up to look at the man before her.

He was tall, with dark Asian features highlighted by a dark goatee and a long Fu Manchu mustache. He was bald, which added to his sinister appearance, his eyes cold as they swept over Sydney. Despite the elegantly tailored suit he wore (at least ten grand, if Sydney was any judge) he looked like a cobra ready to strike. He looked to one of the suited men holding Sydney and spoke in a cultured but cold voice. "Does she have anything?"

In answer, the man held up the disk taken from Sydney's dress. "We haven't checked it yet so we don't know for sure what's on it."

The Asian nodded and then went back to Sydney. "I suppose asking you who you work for would be futile so my associates will try to get that out of you before you die." He looked over at one of the men holding Sydney. "Take her out back, find out what you can, then kill her." He turned and began walking to the doorway. "I have a party to get back to. Or at least it used to be one before this came up. Try to keep her death quiet, all right?"

"Yes, sir, Dr. Zin." One of the guards said.

The man flashed a look of annoyance at hearing his name mentioned and then continued to walk away. "A shame to cut this short but I have things to do," he told Sydney. "Give my regards to the choir invisible."

*****

Sydney stumbled as she was dragged out, her breath coming out in a light cloud. "Come on, come on," a guard muttered, yanking hard on her arm. He and another suited man were pulling Sydney outside, having gone through the kitchen and past all the guests. "Listen, just because we're going to kill you is no reason to be upset-----"

Without warning, Sydney lashed her left foot into the knee of the guard on that side. He screamed as he felt his knee shatter, letting go of Sydney as he hopped back in pain. Sydney put her free hand onto the arm of the other guard and lashed out with her fist, smashing him in the jaw. She followed that up with a kick to his face, sending him down. She turned to see the other guard yelling in rage as he lunged at her. Sydney ducked the man's punch and then rose, smacking out with one hand to knock away his arm, then booting him in the gut. She swung a leg outward in a sweeping kick, smashing him in the face. She spun around and kicked him again, sending him flying back into the bushes.

Turning, Sydney quickly moved to her first assailant. Turning him over, she reached into his jacket pocket and removed the disc, sliding it back into her dress. Sydney looked up as voices started to come closer to her. "Shit," she muttered and turned around and started running away from the mansion. "Dixon, you read?" she called out.

"Loud and clear, emphasis on the loud," her partner answered. "Did you get the file?"

"I got it," Sydney replied as she ran past several of the limos that were still parked in the immense driveway. "But I need a pickup ASAP."

"You running hot?"

A bullet flew past her ear and sent sparks against a limo. "As the Sahara," Sydney answered as another bullet shattered the window she'd just run past.

She threw herself onto the ground as another burst of bullets smacked the cars around her. *Great, another great dress gone* she thought to herself as she crawled on the gravel. She looked about, trying to figure out a way out of this mess. She had to get down to the bottom of the hill where Dixon would be waiting but the small platoon of gunmen heading in her direction made that a little problematic.

A mechanical roar got her attention and she looked over to where the main gate was. A guard on a motorcycle has just roared past the main gate. Sydney guessed he was coming back from a patrol around the large grounds and was headed right in her direction. Struck by inspiration, Sydney slid off her wig and clicked the small device woven into the lining. Counting to three, she closed her eyes and threw the wig as high into the air as she could.

Even through her eyelids, Sydney could see the tinges of the bright flash that went out from the wig. It was quickly followed by the cries of the guards as they were blinded. The motorcyclist also cried out and automatically jerked back on his bike. It went out of control, crashing onto the ground, the rider falling off it.

Blinking her eyes open, Sydney got to her feet and dashed to the bike. *Damn, and I actually kidded about the flash bomb in the wig trick* she thought as she reached the bike. She snapped out her foot and kicked the stunned rider in the jaw. He fell back on the ground, his helmet flying off. Sydney reached down and picked it up. Sliding it over her head, she pulled the motorcycle up and got onto it. Gunning the throttle, she tore down the driveway in a cloud of gravel.

She flew past the gates and right by the trio of motorcycles that had just arrived. Immediately, the three guards turned their bikes around and started to give chase. Glancing over her shoulder, Sydney saw her pursuers closing in and rolled her eyes. "I so do not need this tonight," she muttered as she opened it up more.

She could feel one of the other riders getting close and knew she didn't have much in the way of weapons. Sydney immediately knew she'd have to be creative.

She waited until her first pursuer had gotten close and then cut the engine and twisted the handles, sending the cycle into a wild spin. The rear tire swung outward and smacked into the front of the oncoming motorcycle. With no way to dodge, the cycle buckled forward, throwing its rider up and out. The man's cries abruptly ended as he hit the ground hard.

Seeing the other two cyclists coming in fast and knowing the same trick wouldn't work twice, Sydney quickly weighed her options. The road down the hill was a long one, sweeping in a circle at the point where Dixon would be waiting. If Sydney kept to the regular open road, there was a big chance she'd be caught.

So, it was quite logical to her that she'd immediately drive her bike off the road and down the hill.

*****

Her pursuers were surprised by the move but quickly followed her, the three bikes rocketing down the side of the hill. Sydney's eyes strained to take in the path in front of her, the bike's headlight providing far too little illumination. For all Sydney knew, a ditch was lying right in her path and she wouldn't know it until it was too late. It was taking all her skill to keep the bike steady as she bounced over the rough hill, hearing loose branches crack under her bike's wheels.

She heard the staccato sound of gunfire and instinctively moved to the side. She knew the guards were firing at her but couldn't risk looking back to see how close they were. All she could hope for was that it was impossible for a man on a motorcycle to hit a woman in a motorcycle a few yards before him, especially over such rough terrain. The idea that one of them could get lucky was something Sydney had to hope against.

Her instinct for dangerous obstacles warned her in time to turn her bike sharply to the left. She swept past the large rock that had been in her path and continued downward. She heard a crashing sound and risked a look back in time to see one of the motorcycles flip upside down, the front tire ripping along the rock. The rider was still flying through the air as his partner swept by, still doing his best to fire at Sydney.

She looked forward again and felt her heart rise as she saw the road appear not too far away. As if on cue, a large van sped up and came to a sudden stop. The side door opened and a pair of black-garbed figures appeared.

Knowing what was going to happen, Sydney directed her bike to the immediate left of where the van was. The minute she was out of the way, the two black-clad figures fired a pair of machine guns. It took a few rounds but the two found their target. With a cry, the remaining motorcyclist flew backward, landing hard on the ground. His bike went on for a few seconds before falling on its side.

Sydney braked her bike as hard as she could and leaped off of it. Ripping off her helmet and letting it drop behind her, she dashed over to the waiting van and practically jumped inside. The door shut behind her and the van took off.

Sydney was heaving for breath as she looked up at Dixon. The middle-aged black agent was looking at his partner with utter concern. "Are you all right?"

Sydney was still gasping as she nodded. She reached into her dress, removed the disk, held it up and shook it. Letting out a relieved smile, Dixon nodded to the driver. "Call the field and tell them to have the plane fueled and ready to go."

"What about...the flight...tonight?" Sydney got out.

"Flights are being delayed," Dixon explained. "Dulles has been ordered shut down, to make sure none of the suspected shooters fly out. We'll have to take a charter flight."

Sydney slowly managed to sit herself up and looked at him. "How is he?" she softly asked.

Dixon sighed. "If he makes it through tonight, he should be okay. The trick being...His making it through tonight."

Sydney nodded as she started to get her breath back. She was silent for several minutes as Dixon got up from his seat and moved next to her. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be fine." She looked up at Dixon and was suddenly hit by a thought. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"Does your wife know?"

Dixon started a bit. "What?" the suited agent asked, not understanding Sydney's question.

"Does your wife know what you do?" Sydney pressed him. "I mean, what you really do?"

Dixon sighed and sat back in his seat. He knew that this question was going to be coming up sooner or later. It always did with the younger agents, especially ones who had outside connections. "No," he told Sydney. "She doesn't."

"Why not?" Sydney asked. "She's your wife, Dixon, doesn't she deserve to know the truth?"

"Why?" Dixon shrugged. "So she can wait up late at night, terrified if I'm coming home or not? So she starts rehearsing how to tell our children I'm not coming home ever again? She doesn't need that, Sydney. And neither does whoever you're thinking of telling."

Sydney looked down and bit her lip. "I just don't like having to lie to people about what I do."

"It's our life," Dixon shrugged. "We're CIA, Sydney. That means we have to be secret about what we do. And I don't recommend letting something this big out of the bag. They don't like that, trust me."

"I always do," Sydney said as she sat back in her seat. She looked down at her hand, almost seeing the ring Danny had offered her just before she left on her mission. *I'm sorry, Dixon, but I love him. I can't keep something like this from him. As soon as we get back...I'm telling him. So he knows, he can keep it secret, what can they do to him?* With that thought, Sydney closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep, her mind already jumping ahead to the future she had planned.

*****

The Aft-Sec
Hastings Bay, MA
2324 Hours EST

"At the risk of making the obvious joke," Perry Leiter stated. "This place is pretty dead."

Valerie Rosthon was hard-pressed to disagree with the medical examiner's statement. Unlike almost every single night, the bar/club was incredibly quiet, only a dozen people there, half of who were staff. All were sitting at the main bar, looking up at the television broadcasts blaring from the screens set above. The two carefully walked across the deserted main floor, heading toward the bar. Perry was wearing one of his casual outfits, a pair of slacks and a light blue shirt, his dark hair a bit mussed. Valerie was wearing a dark brown skirt and vest over a white shirt, her hair well combed, makeup excellently done as always. Both were wearing the same shell-shocked expressions as everyone else in the country at this moment.

"It had to be my night off," Perry muttered. "The night I finally get away from dead bodies and the biggest attempted murder of the year happens."

"I was hoping for a night off too," Valerie chimed in. "Matt was so busy grading papers, I didn't think I'd have to look after him much." She shook her head. "God, the Watchers are going nuts too. The Immortals in D.C. are worried about being scrutinized, particularly the law enforcement ones. Central is going apeshit trying to make sure no one stumbles onto any problems in their backgrounds."

"You're letting me know about Watcher behavior?" Perry asked, raising an eyebrow.

Valerie shrugged. "Well, you want to be one. You might as well know how we work in a situation like this."

"I don't think there's ever been a situation like this," Perry sighed.

"Not in yer lifetimes," an Irish accent came up behind them. "Yer probably both a bit too young to remember JFK. Of course, I remember more than that."

The two turned around to face the speaker. Perry's eyes widened a bit at the voluptuous redhead who stood before them. Her red hair fell in curls around her shoulders and her body seemed to have been poured into the incredibly tight blue dress that accented her chest area. *If she comes out and greets the guests herself, no wonder the place is so hot* Perry thought to himself.

Valerie's face turned into a scowl as she glared at the woman. "Great. Madame Dracula herself."

The redhead scowled right back at her, only hers had more than a hint of actual danger behind it. "Just because that was written by one of my people," she stated. "Don't think I'll let it be brought up to me."

Valerie sighed and motioned from Perry to the woman. "Well, here's an interesting meeting. Perry Leiter, medical examiner, say hello to Megan Maguire, walking corpse."

Perry's eyes widened again. "You're...you're the...The..."

With a twinkle in her eye, Megan held out her arm. Perry reached over, laying two fingers onto her wrist and pressing down. He fumbled around for a minute before it hit him that it wasn't his imagination. The woman had no pulse. "My God," he whispered.

"Let's not get started on that then," Megan said. She looked over at Valerie. "Still not pissed about the other night, are you?"

Valerie simply glared at her, which cause Megan to chuckle a bit. "Well, ye were asking for it with all the snooping on Matt. How come ye're not on his case tonight?"

"Had to get away for a while," Valerie sighed. "I needed to get myself a drink."

"Aye, a few folks have been wanting that," Megan nodded in reply. "Well, come on, I'll give ye a pint of the good stuff. On the house special tonight."

She led the two over toward the bar, Valerie and Perry taking seats across from one of the TV's. Megan slid behind the bar, rummaging through a few bottles before finding the one she wanted. She stood up, placing two glasses on the bar and pouring in the amber liquid. "On a night when it feels like the world's falling apart," she announced. "A good glass of Bushmill's is just what ye need."

She watched as Perry and Valerie both lifted their glasses and sipped from them. The Irish vampire rolled her eyes. "Settles the question if either of ye have any Irish in ye," she muttered as she placed the bottle down.

"So, you've been through this before?" Perry asked, honestly curious.

"More than I care to admit," Megan told him. "Archduke Ferdinand was not the major event at the time you might think it was. Oh, yeah, his death kicked off the war and all but no one really thought it was going to be going that far. Lincoln...well, truth to tell, I was in Eastern Europe at the time, we didn't hear about it until months afterward and, as much as Matt would love to think otherwise, America wasn't a major concern for Eastern Europeans of the time. You might know a few lately, Sadat or Rabin but they're not quite on the same level. JFK....well, this was JFK for God's sake. You can't imagine how that just stopped the globe. I was in Boston at the time actually and you want to talk about a place at a standstill..."

"I think we can relate right now," Valerie sighed. "So, how does he feel about the whole conspiracy theory stuff?"

Megan snorted. "Lass, there's no way in hell Matthew will ever accept that there was a conspiracy inside the government to kill Kennedy."

"Why not?"

"Because that would mean a few of the military higher-ups were involved and to Matthew, there is no way a military officer would break his oath and kill the President."

Perry raised an eyebrow. "Sounds awfully naive to me."

Megan shrugged. "That's Matt. He's a great guy and all but he's got one serious failing. He believes that everyone who takes an oath for the military takes it just as seriously as he does. You show him evidence that former soldiers are now working for the mob or mercenaries or some such and he'll wonder what happened to make them change. It won't occur to him that they might always have been that way."

"So, you're saying," Perry began. "That Matt just automatically assumes every single person in the military is as loyal and patriotic as he is."

Megan nodded. "Apparently slips the lad's mind that being alive when the country was founded gives him a little edge."

Valerie narrowed her eyes. "Say...have you and he ever...?"

Megan gave a little smirk. "Are ye asking as a Watcher? Or just a really annoying woman?"

Valerie shrugged. "Either or."

Megan laughed. "No, no, me and Matt aren't like that. Aside from the fact that I'm clinically dead, it just wouldn't be right. We're friends, nothing more."

"Have you seen Matt around?" Valerie asked as she put down her glass.

"Not for a bit," Megan answered. "Come to that..." She reached over and picked up the phone nearby. Dialing a number, she waited for it to pick up. "Hello?" a young female voice spoke up.

"How is he?"

On the other end of the line, Alice Fairchild sighed. "Hey, Megan. How's it going?"

"As well as can be expected," Megan answered. "You?"

"The same," the Immortal teenager got out. "It's just a bit rough, you know?"

"I know, I've been through it quite a bit," Megan stated. "And so has Matt, which brings me to my question. How is he?"

In answer, Alice got up from her bed, walked across her room and opened the door. She held up the phone so Megan could clearly hear the music pouring from the downstairs stereo.

Downstairs, Matthew Connors sat in his sofa chair, staring blankly at the television, a drink held loosely in one hand. It wasn't images on the screen going through his mind, though. There were images of another kind. Of caskets being wheeled down a silent Washington. Of American flags at half-staff and black armbands worn on every person in sight. Of the blows each death dealt to the nation he loved so much. Matthew sipped at his drink and listened to the song playing loudly through the room.

"And I'm proud to be an American
And I won't forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me..."

Alice closed the door and sat back on her bed. "He just finished the full John Philip Sousa compilation," she told Megan. "And he's ready to go to the Cohen marches."

"In yer room all night then?"

"Yep. Don't suppose you could bring over something to ease my pain?"

"Sorry, lass," Megan stated. "Yer still underage."

"Wait a few more years."

"I'll still have to card ye." Megan had to smile at the way Alice slammed down the phone. "Damn, didn't even get a Pink Ranger crack in," she remarked lightly as she hung up.

"This is still so unreal," Valerie said, sipping at her drink. "God, why did this day have to happen?"

"Well, what happens, happens, lass," Megan told her. "Take it from a long-standing voice of experience. Ye get one crack and one crack only at days. Ye don't get to play them over again."

"Aren't we in the philosophical mood?" Perry noted.

"I'm Irish, laddie. We invented philosophy." Megan took a drink as she looked around. "I guess people must be staying home. Good for them. Always nice to have someone around at a time like this."

*****

Harmon Rabb's Apartment
Church Falls, VA
2337 Hours EST

The television was so new the box had a mild shine to it as the images played out. With his long-time night blindness cured by his Immortality, Harm had decided to join the 20th century and get himself a TV and VCR. It was set up in his living room, the light from the screen providing the only illumination.

Harm and Mac sat next to each other on the couch, each dully staring at the television set. They were still partly in uniform, jackets thrown on a nearby chair but otherwise hadn't changed since leaving the office. Mac was leaning on Harm, blinking a tear away from her face. Harm's arms wrapped around her, giving her a reassuring squeeze.

"It sounds like he's still hanging in there," Mac managed to get out.

"Yeah," Harm answered, sounding as distant as his partner. That's...good."

Mac nodded and shuffled herself a bit in Harm's grasp. "I can't remember when I wanted a drink more than now," she softly said. Harm was quiet but Mac could feel the disapproving look he was giving her. "And I can't remember when I needed one less," she finished. Harm relaxed at her statement and held her closer.

There was another silence before Harm spoke up. "This may sound inappropriate...But I'm glad this didn't happen two weeks ago." Mac looked up at him in surprise. "Why not?"

Harm gave her another squeeze. "Because then I couldn't have you here with me. To help me through it."

Mac felt another tear form in her eyes as she lay against Harm. "I know, honey," she whispered. "If I didn't have you here...I might well be at a bar. And that's one place I don't want to go back to."

Harm kissed her forehead and held her in closer. While they did feel some desire, neither felt comfortable yet for anything physical. Instead, they simply sat there and let the other feel their love.

*****

Saint Louis, MO
2241 Hours CST

In the weeks to come, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully would try to decide if they were lucky or not to have remained in the dark for so long.

It was the wail of a siren outside that woke Scully up. The Amazon sighed and turned herself over, brushing her red hair out of her face. Next to her, her empowered husband stirred a bit and turned his head toward her. "Whaist?" Mulder mumbled.

"Not sure," Scully said, blinking her eyes open a bit more. "Sounds like some excitement outside." She sat up a bit, her breasts swinging free as she fumbled at the table next to her. She and Mulder had wrapped up their latest case earlier that evening, an investigation in the disappearance of some local teens. To Mulder's slight disappointment, there were no real supernatural elements to the case. The teens turned out to have been merely abducted as part of a complicated ransom scheme. However, Scully had made it up to her husband in more ways than one over the last several hours.

Mulder opened his eyes to see his wife holding the TV remote in her hands. "You know, in most marriages, this is a sign of trouble ahead," he managed to quip.

"I just want to see if there's an accident or something," Scully explained as she flicked the TV on. "There could be some trouble getting out of here tomorrow and..." Her voice trailed off as she took in what she was seeing. "Oh my Goddess."

At the shock in Scully's voice, Mulder immediately sat up and looked at the TV. It took a moment for him to realize what the images and sounds were and then he joined his wife in a state of shock. "Oh, my God," he said softly.

Still staring at the screen, Scully fumbled for her coat, lying on the floor next to the bed. She rummaged into it and pulled out her cell phone. Swiftly scrolling through her memory menu, she came up with the number she wanted. Dialing it up, she held the phone to her ear, her eyes still fixed on the television.

It took three rings before a female voice answered. "Hello?"

"Melissa?"

"Dana? Oh, Goddess, Dana..." Hearing the voice of her sister, the emotion evident in her voice, caused tears to come to Dana's eyes. "Where are you?" the other Scully sister said.

"St. Louis," Dana told her. "Mulder and I were on a case, we just saw..."

"It's crazy, Dana," Melissa told her. "It's just crazy."

As Dana spoke, Mulder was still staring dumbly at the TV. It was ironic that a man who had built his reputation on his utter belief in alien life was finding it difficult to accept the all-too human situation before him. The phone on his side of the bed rang twice before he even realized it and automatically picked up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Agent Mulder?" Mulder came to attention a bit at hearing the voice of Assistant Director Walter Skinner on the other end of the line, sounding more than a little tired.

"Sir," Mulder said. "What is it?"

"I'm sure you've seen the news by now," Skinner said. "I'm letting you know that things are going to be hectic for a while, with transportation and assignments."

"Do you need Agent Scully and I back, sir?"

"No, for now, you two stay where you are," Skinner said. "Like I said it'll be crazy for a while. I'm just checking in and making sure agents are up to speed on the news."

"We're catching up, sir."

There was a pause. As sharp an investigator as he was, Mulder knew Skinner was probably guessing just why Mulder and Scully had been out of contact for so long. "I'll call back when I have more info," Skinner finally said. "And Agent Mulder? You and Agent Scully...take care of yourselves, all right?"

"Yes, sir," Mulder answered, limply hanging up the phone. He glanced over to Scully, who was still talking on the phone. "Yeah, okay, I'll talk to you soon. I love you too, Missy." She cut off the connection and slumped back on the bed, staring at the television.

"Oh, Goddess," Scully whispered. "Oh, Goddess, while we were...He was..." Mulder reached over to hold her, the two staring at the screen and realizing just how quickly history could pass even an Immortal by.

*****

County General Hospital
Chicago, IL
2258 Hours CST

"Broken leg in 2, knife wound on hand in 3 and broken jaw, bar fight, in 1." Dr. Mark Greene turned away from the large wall chart to the doctors before him. "I'll get the broken leg, Carter, you take the jaw, Lucy, I'll give you the knife wound."

"Just what I wanted," Lucy Knight muttered as she took the chart offered to her.

"Kind of low-key so far, isn't it?" John Carter said, looking at his own chart.

"People are mostly home tonight," Mark shrugged. "Not a lot of chances for accidents or such. And thanks again for coming in early, we were down a few people."

"Not a problem," Carter assured his fellow doctor. "I could use the overtime."

Lucy gave Greene a quick nod before walking toward the area where her knife wound was. She was halfway there when a curly-haired figure in a nice dress walked by. "Dr. Corday!" Lucy said in surprise. "You're going home?"

"I've been here since one this afternoon," Dr. Elizabeth Corday stated, her British accent still clipped despite her fatigue. "And I have to start again at nine so I damn well better get some sleep." She looked to Lucy with what appeared to be concern. "Are you...all right? I know it's been rough tonight."

Lucy blew a strand of hair away from her face. "I guess," she said. "I'm just trying to put it aside but...it's sorta hard. But, you've been through it before, right? With Princess Di."

"I felt it then, yes," Elizabeth admitted. *And for Churchill, JFK, George V, Queen Victoria, Lincoln and people you wouldn't even know about.* "Hang in there, Lucy. It'll get better, I promise."

"Thanks," Lucy smiled. "It's nice to know I've got someone looking out for me." She nodded at Elizabeth before walking away. Elizabeth watched her go, her own smile slipping away. *You wouldn't be so happy if you knew why I was looking out for you, Lucy.*

Shaking her head, Elizabeth walked over to the front desk and came up to Greene. "I'm off," she announced. "Should I wait up for you?"

"I don't think I'll be by tonight," Mark told her. "I've got too much to do here and I don't think I'll be good company, anyway."

"I'll put it on your tab then," Elizabeth said in a teasing tone. She moved in and gave Mark a quick kiss on the cheek before heading toward the exit. She took a deep breath as she stepped into the cool night air, her heels clicking on the pavement. She stopped as she saw the figure who tossing a ball at the nearby basket. "Peter?"

Dr. Peter Benton looked over to Elizabeth, his always stern expression seeming even more drawn tonight. "Hey, Elizabeth," he said in a flat tone. "I just needed to get out and do something."

"Yes, that seems to be quite the popular exercise tonight," Elizabeth said. "I can understand it. Seeing your leader going down like that...It must be quite the experience."

Peter tossed the basked through the hoop and turned to face her. "Well, you'd know about it, right?"

"Well, yes," Elizabeth answered. "Princess Diana, of course and I dimly remember JFK a bit."

"Oh, I think you remember him better than that."

Something in the way he said it caused Elizabeth to stare at her former lover with sudden suspicion. "What do you mean?"

Peter folded his arms, suddenly looking more imposing than a jacket over his scrubs would have indicated. "Well, considering you've been alive for over two hundred and sixty years, you must have been through quite a few events like this."

It took a minute for what he was saying to register with her. When it did, Elizabeth's jaw fell open and she stared in shock at her co-worker. The matter-of-fact way he'd said it, the total lack of surprise and the way he was gauging her response, all added up to only one thing for Elizabeth. Her eyes flew to Peter's left wrist, trying to remember if she'd ever seen a tattoo there.

"They do miracles with plastic surgery these days," Peter spoke up. "It was a tad too conspicuous to go around doing work in so I had to take care of it."

Elizabeth closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them. "You mean," she began in a low and dangerous voice. "The entire time we were together...You knew----"

"No," Peter cut her off, shaking his head. "No, I didn't know when we were dating. Your Watcher retired only a few weeks ago and they assigned me to you. And let me tell you, finding out the woman I just broke up with is an Immortal was enough to send me into shock."

"Wish I could have been there to see that," Elizabeth muttered. She looked over at Peter and took a breath. "So...Why are you telling me?"

"Two reasons," Peter said. "First of all, in case you haven't heard, things have changed recently for Watchers and Immortals."

"I know," Elizabeth said. "I got the mail with the video. And I believe it."

"Me too," Peter agreed. "It's just too damn wild to make up and it explains a lot. So, that's changed things for us."

"We'll have to talk about that," Elizabeth sighed. "What's the other reason?"

Peter looked up at the sky before replying. "I know this may sound crazy...But on a night like tonight, when it feels like anything could happen..." He looked back at Elizabeth. "I didn't want to leave something this big hanging over my head."

Elizabeth was silent for a minute before replying. "Take it from someone who knows, Peter," she said. "That's a very common reaction at times like this."

"And you've been through it before, right?" Peter asked. "With people like Di and Victoria?"

Elizabeth snorted. "Peter. Please. Comparing Diana to Victoria is like...well, like comparing Bartlett to Lincoln or FDR." She strode over, bending down to pick up the basketball lying on the ground. "Diana...well, she was popular, yes but in the end, she wasn't as important as people would like to think she was." She bounced the ball on the ground as she carefully walked forward. "Now, Victoria, on the other hand, *was* Britain. She was everything we strove for, everything we wanted to be. Grand, glamorous, strong, proud, she was the symbol for us all. And when she died..." She let out a sad sigh. "When she died, it just seemed to take the glamour off of us, leading us to lose our luster."

She leaped up and threw out her arms, the ball sailing out and sinking right into the hoop. Peter stared in amazement at Elizabeth, who just smiled back. "I'm Immortal and I'm a surgeon. Hand to eye coordination is essential."

"You should try out for the hospital charity team," Peter said as he walked over to pick up the ball.

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, I prefer to remain the 'cool and subdued Englishwoman.' Keeping up appearances is important."

Benton nodded as he rose. "What about Churchill? You were in England then."

"Ah, Churchill was always a unique case," Elizabeth replied. "On the one hand, he was the most uncouth, arrogant, irritating and at times downright insulting man I've ever met in my life." She sighed. "But this is the man who single handedly got us off our asses and fighting when the entire Axis was on us and *your* people were content to just sit back and act like it was absolutely nothing important------"

"Okay," Peter said, holding up a hand. "Let's not digress into that right now."

"Sorry," Elizabeth said sheepishly. "He was....even after the war he was just so big a part of England, of what we were. When he died, again, it felt like part of us went with him." She looked up at Peter. "At the risk of sounding biased, Peter, you Americans have never realized just what the Royals and nobility means to us."

"Seeing as you were nobility yourself, I think you've got a little bias on your side."

"True," Elizabeth admitted. "But it's sort of ingrained in us. Even if the Royals aren't as influential as they once were, we just accept them as representative of England, capable of things you people aren't."

"Really?" Benton said, raising an eyebrow.

Elizabeth fixed him with a glare. "I meant Americans, not blacks and you know it," she said. "I was on the Union side during your Civil War, I'm sure it's in my file. I meant that you had a President who resigned because he was going to be thrown out anyway due to his crimes. We had a man who willingly gave up the throne for the love of a woman. You can't beat that for romance."

"Let's not bring that back up," Peter warned her. He sighed as he bounced the ball on the ground. "Well, we don't all live forever, Elizabeth. For some of us, this is the only chance we have to experience something so earth-shaking."

"You should be so lucky," Elizabeth said. "I'll tell you one thing that's always been common at these times, Peter. Just when you think things can't get more hectic...they always do."

*****

Gary Hobson's Apartment
The Loop
2305 Hours CST

Gary Hobson sighed as he flipped through the channels on his TV. He often wondered why he even bothered carrying CNN on his cable. After all, when he got the news an entire day beforehand, it seemed to be an unnecessary waste. Of course, his special version of *The Chicago Sun-Times* concentrated mainly on the city itself so news from other places was sometimes surprising. Also, since Gary spent every day changing what was to come, the news would shift as well. But often, he felt that CNN was pretty much like any other station: It showed reruns.

Gary would usually be either out trying to change things or managing the bar downstairs at the moment. However, Gary had decided to close the bar, figuring he wouldn't be getting much business tonight anyway. And, perhaps because of the shooting and the chaos it had caused, there had been a significant lack of serious emergencies for Gary to try and stop. So he was stuck in his apartment, watching reports on news he had already had the better part of the day to process.

The ringing of the phone was something new and Gary reached over to answer it. "Hello?"

"You knew." Gary rolled his eyes upward as he sat back in his chair. He had been expecting this call for a while. "Yes, Marissa, I knew."

"That's it? How can you be so calm?" Marissa Clark's voice pressed.

"I've had the better part of the day to take it in and handle it, Marissa," Gary answered. "That puts me a little ahead of everyone else."

He could practically see her on the other end of the line. The blind black woman was one of the few people who knew the secret of Gary's paper and knew Gary would normally be throwing himself into a frenzy to stop what was going on. "Gary, if you knew, why didn't you-----"

"I couldn't, Marissa."

"Gary, I know you. I know you wouldn't let something like this slide by. You'd have been on the phone with the FBI, Secret Service, everyone you could think of and no matter if they thought you were nuts, you still would have tried. Why couldn't you-----"

"There was a note, Marissa."

That brought her up short. "What?"

"A note," Gary said as he leaned back in his chair. "The alarm went off, I heard the meow, I open up the door and see the cat on the paper, same as always. I picked up the paper and there's the front page." He glanced down at the table at his side, seeing the headline that covered half the page. BARTLETT SHOT, CONDITION SERIOUS.

"And?"

"And stuck to the front page was a note. It said, in very nice handwriting, I might add, that I wasn't to inform anyone about what was going to happen. I wasn't to try to stop it in any way, I should just let it happen."

He could imagine Marissa's look of shock. "And you just did?"

Gary sighed. "Marissa, whoever sent the note is the person who gives me my paper. If he or she or it or whoever tells me it's time to not change something, I think I'm liable to listen to it."

Marissa was silent for a long moment before speaking. "Can you at least tell me if he'll be okay?" she said in a softer voice. "The paper simply says he's in serious condition as of press time," Gary told her. "I'll have to wait for tomorrow for more."

"This is the first time anyone's attached something like this, Gary," Marissa went on. "It's the first real contact you've had with whoever's doing this." "I know, I know," Gary told her. "But I can't get any clues from the note itself. Greek paper, old style handwriting, no signature or anything. For all I know, Marissa, the paper comes from outer space."

"Gary, that's crazy."

"Marissa, getting tomorrow's news today is crazy. Next to that, alien life on Earth really isn't that far fetched."

*****

Michigan Avenue
2330 Hours CST

"Great, just freakin' great!" Mel Porter slammed her hand down on the steering wheel, leaning back in her seat. Gathering herself up, she opened the door and moved around to the hood of her beat-up Dodge. With a grunt, she opened up the hood and coughed at the cloud of smoke that rose up.

*God, just what I needed!* She reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone. Dialing it up, she waited for an answer, trying to calm herself and not think about how inviting a target she was. An attractive woman in her early thirties with dark brown hair cascading in curls around her face, wearing a white blouse and dark mini-skirt standing beside a disabled car. "Pick up, pick up, pick up..." she whispered.

The other end of the line opened up with what sounded like a small crowd. "Hello?" a young and chipper British accent said.

"Jess? It's Mel."

"Mel? Where are you, girl?"

"My car's busted by Michigan Avenue," Mel explained. "Can you call and get a tow truck sent here? I've got the number behind the bar there somewhere."

"Mel, you've got to trade that thing in. It'd be cheaper to buy a new car than to keep fixing that clunker!"

"Hey, it's a family heirloom! Let's not forget who's the boss here, okay!"

"All right, all right, I'll call."

Mel sighed. "How are things?"

"Quiet, as you might guess. Looks I've got an easy night tonight."

"That doesn't mean you get off early, Jess."

"Spoilsport. I'll call the truck, they should be with you soon. Just hang loose, all right?"

"I'll try," Mel replied, cutting off the call. She stepped back and waved her hand to wave off the fading smoke. She looked back down at the engine, as if trying to will it to work again.

"Hello?" Mel shrieked and rose up and shrieked again as her head banged on the hood. Holding her head with one hand, she fumbled in her purse with the other as she spun around to see the man standing before her.

He was a tall and handsome man with proud features, his dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. He was wearing a white shirt, open to show off his rather muscular chest and dark buckskin pants. Mel was taken aback, not just at the fact that the man had come up behind her with no warning whatsoever but by the fact that someone was approaching her who looked like they had just stepped off the cover of a romance novel.

"Stay back!" Mel yelled. "I'm armed!" She pulled her hand out of her purse and aimed an object at him. The man stared at it dully and Mel realized she was holding her phone. "Just...just back away, all right?" she nervously told him. "I----I've got someone coming and you...you....you should just leave, okay?"

The man stared as if not understanding a word she was saying. "Do you understand me?" Mel slowly said. "I am asking you...to leave....now...please...."

The man looked at her, then at her car. "Busted," he said, Mel noticing the strange accent in his voice. "Car....is busted...."

Swallowing, Mel nodded. "Yes, yes, that's right. I'm waiting for a...."

"Tow," the man continued. "Waiting for..." He paused, rolling the word on his tongue before saying it. "Tow."

*Oh, great, he's nuts.* Mel thought to herself. "Look, I'm sure you're busy and all," she started, pouring false calm into her voice. "But maybe you should get going on home?"

"No...no home," the man told her.

"Of course not," Mel sighed. "Listen, someone's going to be by any minute to fix the car and I'd really appreciate-----"

"Car!" The man pointed at the vehicle. "Car."

"Yes," Mel said, suddenly feeling like a grade-school teacher. "That's my car."

"Broken?"

"Um, yeah, but I don't-----" Without a word, the man walked forward and moved his hand to the still warm engine. "Hey, hey, watch out!" Mel demanded as she quickly moved to join him. "What are you-----"

It had to be a trick of the smoke but Mel could have sworn that for one brief moment, the man's hand glowed above the main engine. With a roar, the car came back to life, the engine sounding better than Mel had heard it in years. She stared in amazement as the man rose and shut the hood. He turned toward her and pointed back at the car. "Broken no more."

"Um...Thanks..." Mel got out, trying to figure out just what the hell had happened. She backed towards the driver's seat, the man staring at her blankly. Mel opened the door, then paused. She looked at the guy again, trying to truly judge him. *He doesn't act dangerous. Hell, he barely acts intelligent. He did fix my car...somehow.* Making a snap decision, Mel spoke up.

"Listen, do you need a place to stay for a few days? Maybe clean up or..." She looked at his wardrobe. "Change?"

The man stared at her for a moment before nodding. "Yes. Yes, I do. I have...things...to care of."

"Take care of," Mel automatically corrected him. *Maybe he's got amnesia. I could put him up long enough to get the cops looking in on him.* "Okay, hop in and I'll show you my place."

The man looked at the car, then at her, then gave a short jump.

Mel sighed. "No, no, I meant..." She rubbed at her nose. "I meant, get in the car."

After another blank look, the man slid into the passenger seat as Mel buckled up. "By the way," she said. "Do you have a name?"

The man stared off, his mind whirling to the image he'd captured from the sign of a bookstore, the image that had given him the basis for the physical form he now embodied.

*Cole's Passion by Carolyn Marsh.*

"Cole," he said, turning toward Mel. "My name is...Cole."

"Cole," Mel repeated. "I'm Mel Porter, good to meet you."

"It is good...to meet me too."

*Oh, God* Mel groaned as she rolled her eyes. *Just what I need. The President gets shot and the only person I have to be with is someone who acts like he's from another planet.*

*****

Stargate Command
Cheyenne Mountain, CO
2215 Hours MDT

Dr. Janet Fraiser paused by the briefing room, not really wanting to go in but knowing she had to. News of the shooting had already filled the base, thanks to a couple of off-duty soldiers catching a news broadcast. Like everyone else, Fraiser was in a state of mild shock but was trying not to let it affect her duties.

She did find herself wondering about the situation at the hospital. As far as Fraiser knew, there were only a dozen other people in the world besides her who knew the truth about Bartlett's medical condition. She knew someone would have had to tell the anesthesiologist before the surgery began and briefly wondered if it might have been the First Lady. Fraiser found herself wondering if Bartlett's MS would still be a secret by the end of the night. But, that was a problem for someone else. Right now, she had something else to deal with. Taking a deep breath, Fraiser stepped through the door and took in the only occupant.

General George Hammond stood at the edge of the long briefing table, his eyes fixed on the television coverage of the shooting. Fraiser had seen him put in a lot of long nights on the base but she was hard-pressed to remember when she'd seen him looking so ragged. She coughed into her hand, not wanting to be too much of a nuisance.

Hammond turned around to look at her. "What is it, Doctor?" he asked softly.

"I just thought you'd like to know," Fraiser said. "SG-6 is due back in twenty minutes. That'd have every team reporting in except----"

"Except SG-1," Hammond broke in. "I know, Doctor." He turned back to the television, engrossed once more in the events being shown. Fraiser bit her lip, nervous about proceeding but felt she had to. "Sir? I hate to question your order but is it really a good idea to not tell the off-world teams what's happened?"

Hammond was silent for a moment before replying. "When this program was started, such an event was taken into consideration," the general replied. "Among others, up to and including World War III. It was left in my hands as to whether or not the event was serious enough to inform off-world teams."

Fraiser stared at him. "Sir, with respect, I think the shooting of the Commander-in-Chief is quite serious."

"Yes, it is," Hammond agreed. "We've been bumped to Defcon 3, so there's proof. But we still don't know the full situation, Doctor. Until we do...I won't distract our teams when they could be in the middle of dangerous situations."

Fraiser wasn't exactly certain about Hammond's reasoning but knew better than to argue with her superior officer. "Well, sir, I'll be in my lab and..."

"He wasn't the target."

Fraiser stopped, staring at Hammond. "What?" she asked, not understanding the statement.

"I called in a few favors," Hammond told her, still staring at the screen. "They're still investigating of course, but the common perception is...The gunmen weren't aiming at the President. They were going for his aide."

"His aide?" Fraiser frowned. "I don't understand, sir."

"His aide is black, Doctor," Hammond calmly told her. "And apparently, he has been close with the daughter of the President."

Fraiser took a moment to process this before staring at Hammond. "They..." She couldn't quite bring herself to say it.

"They were going to kill a man simply because he was dating someone with a different skin color," the general said for her. He shook his head and lowered his eyes. "Sometimes, Doctor, I wonder why the Goa'Uld even bother with us. We seem all too ready to wipe ourselves out first."

Fraiser bit her lip and shrugged. "Somehow, sir, I doubt you could ever understand it. Even if you live to be a thousand years. You just have to go through it day to day like everyone else."

*****

Project Backstep, Classified Location
Nevada Desert
2120 Hours PST

The mood in the briefing room was one of anticipation as everyone gazed at the screen. "God," Craig Donovan muttered as he shook his head. The powerfully built black soldier leaned on the conference table, a hand to his head. "This is incredible."

"I agree," Dr. Olga Vukavitch stated. The beautiful redheaded Russian scientist was wearing a simple dark blouse and skirt, her face drawn as she watched the news broadcast. "I've never seen anything like this."

"Yeah, you have," Frank Parker spoke up. "You just don't remember it." The main component of the entire project, the world's only "chrononaut" was sitting back in one of the leather chairs, his feet propped up on the table. He wore a simple pair of jeans and a white shirt, hardly the most stylish of the outfits on base. His handsome face was serious, but not to the intensity of the others gathered here.

Nathan Ramsey scowled at Parker. The intelligence veteran had never liked the irreverent operative and Frank's current attitude wasn't winning him over any. "God, Parker, the President's been shot!" he barked out. "Isn't that enough to get through that stupid attitude of yours?"

Frank looked over at Ramsey and the intelligence chief started at the sudden fire in the other man's eyes. "Ramsey," Frank started in a low voice. "I've seen Bartlett dying in at least a dozen different ways, from a kamikaze attack on the White House to a nuclear strike. I've also realized he died in plagues, earthquakes, comet strikes and a variety of other disasters. While I'm hoping he pulls through here, I know that if he doesn't, I'm going back to make sure this doesn't happen. So, excuse me all to hell if I don't quite treat this like it's the end of the world. If I did, then I wouldn't be here, now would I?"

Ramsey silently seethed while Olga and Donovan shared a look. They understood what the intelligence man apparently didn't: Seeing disasters on such a global scale occurring over and over, with him being the only one who remembered them, was enough to push any man to the brink. Parker's flippant attitude was undoubtedly the only thing that kept him sane.

The trio looked up as the door opened and Bradley Talmadge entered. The bearded coordinator of the facility had apparently not had a good evening. He looked haggard and tired, his suit jacket opened and tie undone. He gave a quick nod to the others as he crossed the table and took a seat.

"I just off the phone with the NSA," he announced.

"When do I go?" Frank asked without preamble.

"I've already had the sphere set up," Olga informed Talmadge. "The technicians are preparing for launch, they're just waiting for the go ahead."

Talmadge tapped at the desk before speaking. "We may not be going back."

There were looks of amazement around the table. Even Frank seemed thrown by that statement. "What do you mean, we may not go back?" Ramsey demanded. "If he dies----"

"If he dies, yes, that's a certainty," Talmadge interrupted. "However, there is a chance he'll pull through. We've been ordered to go on a 'wait and see' watch. If he manages to pull through....there'll be no Backstep."

Donovan shook his head, not understanding. "Why wouldn't Frank go back anyway? Even if he is only wounded, this is still a major event, we can't just-----"

"For starters," Talmadge explained. "We've been putting the sphere through the wringer for a while. Olga, you yourself told me you would prefer a longer cooling-off time between jumps."

"Well, yes," the Russian admitted. "But I understand it is needed to go out at a moment's notice so such concerns are secondary."

"Perhaps," Talmadge allowed. "However, you all know the power it takes to do a backstep and the strain it may take on our resources. Even with time reset, this is still a major drain on power. Which is why the NSA recently gave us some new...guidelines for regulating Backsteps. They've begun a hierarchy of disasters and whether or not they warrant a Backstep. A Presidential assassination is a definite go. A wounding...we don't."

"So, the only way I'm going back is if he dies," Frank summed up.

Talmadge nodded. "I'm not exactly happy about these new rules either but it's been handed down from above."

"I don't believe this!" Ramsey exploded. "We're supposed to let a bunch of bureaucrats okay us going back or not?"

"What's with the us, Ramsey?" Frank needled. "I don't see you planting your ass in that thing anytime lately."

As Ramsey glared at Frank, Talmadge coughed to get attention. "Regardless of our feelings, those are the rules. Olga, continue checking the sphere but don't initiate pre-flight checks just yet. Frank...I guess you're just like the rest of us. You can only sit here and wait."

"Great," Frank muttered sardonically. "Just what I need. Stuck in a top-secret base and unable to do anything but watch."

"Welcome back to the rest of us, Frank," Donovan sighed. "We just sit and watch and hope for the best."

*****

Joe's
Seacouver, WA
2131 Hours PST

"I just hope they don't make him a saint."

Joe Dawson, Duncan MacLeod, Amanda and Richie Ryan all looked at Methos. The world's oldest Immortal was sipping at his beer as he lounged in a chair. The bar was officially closed, Joe deciding that no one was going to be wanting to hear the blues tonight. Indeed, the mood was sour as the Watcher and the three Immortals gathered around the table, sipping at their drinks and listening to the news coverage.

"What?" Joe blearily asked. The Watcher had apparently been taking one drink too many and Duncan was ready to cut him off if he tried to get at the bottle again. Joe stared as Methos sat up a bit, putting his glass on the table.

"I just hope that when he dies, they don't try to lift him up to sainthood," the ancient Immortal stated. "I've been through that before and it is extremely annoying."

Amanda groaned and rolled her eyes. "God, Methos, the man isn't even dead yet and you're already running him down!" She took another drink from her mug and shook her head again. "Could you can your snide comments for once?"

"It's not snide, it's simple observation," Methos went on. "I had to go through it with Kennedy and I'd rather not have to wade through such hypocrisy again."

It was Richie's turn to roll his eyes. "Oh, here we go," the young man stated. "Mr. Living History is going to enlighten us as to how all the books are wrong yet again."

"Listen, whelp," Methos said, pointing a finger at the other man. "You don't have to live five thousand years to see how when someone dies, people are only all too willing to forget about all the bad stuff and hold him up to the best light. And when it's someone famous, that just happens in an even greater capacity. Like Kennedy."

"How like Kennedy?" Richie pressed him.

With a slight smirk, Methos leaned onto the table and began to speak. "Let's brush aside the whole 'did Oswald do it' thing and just concentrate on the man himself. For nearly forty years, I have had to put up with people believing, not thinking, not speculating, not wishing, but actually believing that Kennedy was one of our best Presidents ever and his death was the end of innocence of America."

"And what's wrong with that?" Amanda spoke up. "He was a good guy."

"Oh, please!" Methos scoffed. "First of all, America was never innocent. And neither was Kennedy. People keep holding him as such a good example, a profile of courage. He would never had gotten half as far in politics if it weren't for his father, the mob helped him get the votes in Chicago and you can't tell me differently and that was just to get into office. He was an adulterer, that's public knowledge now and for such a supposedly fine Catholic, he seemed pretty willing to turn his back on some of his beliefs to enjoy the good life. But what really kills me is the whole belief that if he had lived Vietnam would never have happened and neither would the whole cultural revolution of the '60's. There has never been definite evidence he would have pulled out of Vietnam and the cultural upheaval was going to happen anyway. The time was right for it, it had to happen if he was alive or not."

"What about the Cuban Missile Crisis?" Richie threw out.

Methos rolled his eyes. "All right, so he got lucky enough to get the Russians to back down from that." He narrowed his eyes at Richie. "You know, anyone can get lucky enough to be in office when a crisis breaks out and they're hailed for handling it so well. Look at Bush and the Gulf War. And then remember how a year later, they were fighting to get him out of office."

"You're a mean drunk, you know that?" Joe croaked.

Methos frowned at him. "I'll take that from someone who knows," he stated. Frankly, he was getting a little uneasy by how Joe was throwing back his drinks.

Richie sighed and looked over at his teacher. "What do you think, Mac? How full of shit is he this time?"

Duncan was silent for a moment, digesting both the thought and the drink he'd just swallowed. "I think Methos is right on this," he finally stated.

Joe, Amanda, Richie and even Methos himself all stared at him in surprise. "You do?" they asked in unison.

Duncan held up both hands. "I've seen this a lot in my own lifetime, Rich," the Highlander stated. "And in yours too. Regan had one of the most corrupt-filled administrations ever but people let him go because he was a loveable idiot. When Nixon died, I couldn't believe all the obituaries that were willing to slide over Watergate. Read about FDR and you'll see how people sort of pass over the section about him ordering all Japanese-Americans locked into camps. And it's not just America either. I've seen way too many leaders held up in much higher regard after they passed on."

"And not just leaders," Methos said. "People keep talking about what a tragedy it was for Elvis, or Hendrix or Morrison or others to die so before their time but I think it was for the best. It allowed them to become living legends without the usual crash that follows a musician. People who say that if John Lennon was alive today, there was no way he'd let his songs be used in soft drink commercials? Idiots."

"I hate to admit it, but they do have a point," Amanda spoke up. "Like Princess Di getting the attention of the world for being too busy arguing with her lover over who was going to pay the credit card bill that month than she was on making sure her driver was sticking to the road. Meanwhile, Mother Theresa, a true saint, dies the same week and barely anyone notices."

"As much as I love this wonderful digression," Joe stated. "Could we can the premature condemnations for right now? I'm worried about whether or not he's going to make it."

"You can't put too much on such things, Joe," Methos said as he lifted his glass to his lips. "You worry about this all night, you're going to be waking up sick tomorrow."

Joe glared at him. "The President's been shot, Methos," he coldly said. "Find me an American on this planet that has something else on their mind right now."

*****

Willy's Bar
Sunnydale, CA
2135 Hours PST

The mood inside the bar was rather sour. The hordes of demons and vampires inside weren't as happy about the shooting as anyone else but for different reasons.

"This really sucks," one vampire was saying. "Everyone's inside watching TV, the Bronze is closed, shops are closed, how's a guy supposed to find someone to eat around here?"

"I know, I know," a gray-skinned demon chimed in. "I was planning on finding some virgin I could gut for blood but I'm out of luck on that score."

"It's gonna suck if he dies," the vamp went on. "Everyone will be watching the funeral, day of mourning, we'll never get any fun in."

Before the demon could reply, the doors to the bar burst wide open. The customers all looked up at the two figures who entered. "Oh, shit," the vamp whispered. "Not those two."

Dead silence filled the room as Robin Goodfellow and Liam Danahure stepped inside, the doors slamming shut behind them. Behind the bar, Willy closed his eyes and wondered just how much money this was going to cost him this time.

The Limerick and Shamrock Connection strode to a place just before the bar, allowing them to take in the entire room of demons. The bar's inhabitants were all silent and tense, each caught up in terror trying to imagine what the pair of Eternals could do to them.

For a long moment, the two simply looked about, silent and unmoving, which made the demons even more terrified. "We'll make this short and simple," Robin finally announced. "And we'll use small words so we know you'll all understand it."

"This town is in a very difficult spot right now," Liam put in. "And that effects the group we hang out with. The group that would normally be out there tonight but have their mind on other things at the moment."

"Which is why we're delivering this message," Robin informed them. "There will be no attacks tonight on civilians. There will be no feedings, no turnings, no sacrifices, none of the usual tomfoolery."

"If there is," Liam added. "If anyone turns up dead because of otherworldly forces...then we'll be back. And you don't want that, trust me."

"Spread the word and let everyone know that we've ordered this," Robin said. His eyes swept over the bar, letting every demon see the cold fire in his eyes. "No one dies in Sunnydale tonight. Except you, if you screw us over."

There was a long moment of silence before the vampires and demons, looks of fear on their faces, slowly started to nod in assent. "Damn," Liam muttered. "I was hoping we'd get to kill one or two to make our point. I needed to burn this off."

"Well, we may get the chance," Robin said as he walked over to the bar. "Two Bushmill's, Willy. On the rocks for me, none for him."

Willy couldn't get the drinks poured fast enough. His hand was shaking so hard, some of the liquor spilled onto the counter. "Easy, laddie," Liam remarked. "We won't bust up the place."

"You won't?" Willy asked in hope.

"Nah," Robin added. "We've got too much style for something so brutal."

Willy gulped as the two threw back their drinks. They seemed to be utterly uncaring about the undead monsters that were staring at them. The demons knew better than to attack, though. They knew that any of them could be incinerated in a heartbeat without any effort whatsoever.

Putting down his drink, Liam looked at his oldest friend. "Gang's taking it hard," he observed. "Really hard."

Robin shrugged. "He's the President, Liam. He's the guy Americans look to, good or bad. Having him shot like that...It's hard for them."

"Not just them," Liam muttered. He toyed with the drink for a moment before continuing. "Rob...is it just me...or is it the more ye stay in this realm...the longer ye start to really get into it?"

Robin was silent for a moment before replying. "It's not just you, Liam. I've felt it too. Remember, I was human for the better part of a year before you dropped by. And I've felt a connection to these people then that...well, that's unlike anything I've ever felt before."

"I got that," Liam agreed. "Hell, I know ye would never had made that challenge to Oberon a few years ago. It was yer love for this realm that pushed you into that."

"Not just the realm," Robin stated. "But the people in yet. You know how I feel about Amy and Shaw and I have a bond with the guys I've empowered. And the rest of them have grown on me too."

"I can tell," Liam said. "Is that what's waiting for me? If I hang around here in a more human form, I'll get that connection?"

"It's not a bad thing, Liam," Robin said. "In fact..." He looked at his drink and a slow smile came onto his face. "In fact, it may just be the best thing you've felt in your life."

"I'll take yer word for it," Liam stated. "Course, I can think of one person here I'd like to get close to a bit more..."

"Watch it, Liam," Robin said. "Shaw is not in the mood tonight, trust me on that."

Liam shrugged as he raised his glass back to his lips. "Seems t' me, Robbie...If tonight's not the night to be in the mood for companionship...I don't know what is."

*****

Home of Steven St. Wolf
2147 Hours PST

Buffy sat and watched as her boyfriend tapped his fingers impatiently on the desk. They were in Steve's study, Steve holding a phone to one ear as he listened to the other end of the conversation. "Yeah, okay, Jack, but there is anything I can do for you?" He listened and frowned. "All right, all right, Jack. Thanks for the info. You'll call when you have more word, right?" He listened for Jack Ryan to finish up the conversation, then hung up.

Steve turned to Buffy. The Immortal Slayer was leaning against the wall, her face drawn, her long blond hair ruffled. She and Steve had been having dinner when the news hit and Steve had been spending the last few hours contacting nearly everyone he knew to find out as much as he could about the situation.

"CIA says it doesn't look like it's foreign elements," he began. "It sounds like some racists just decided to shoot his aide for being with his daughter."

Buffy closed her eyes and shook her head. "After everything I've seen, why is it so hard to accept that a bunch of humans with souls could do this?"

"I know, hon," Steve sympathetically said. "You can handle demons acting this way but that regular humans can do something so sadistic is something you hate to think about."

Buffy sighed. "What did the others say?"

"Horace is getting things together with 13. Not surprisingly, the demons are acting up a bit with the news but he can handle it. Section One is keeping an eye on the terrorist groups who might want to take advantage of the mess. Ditto for Stony Man and the Knights are on alert too." "Good for them," Buffy sourly said. "God, I need something to hit."

"Careful, hon," Steve told her. "You go out there in a mood like this and you'll do more harm than good. I know that, trust me."

Buffy ran her hands over her face. "I hate this, Steve. I hate it."

Steve got up from his chair and walked over, giving the young woman a hug. "So do I, Buffy," he said softly. "Believe me, so do I."

The phone ringing cut off the embrace as Steve quickly moved to answer it. "Hello?" He paused and seemed surprised. "Um, yes, just a moment." He turned and held the phone toward Buffy. "Take it."

Confused, Buffy walked over and took the phone from him. "Hello?" she said into it.

"Buffy?" At the sound of her mother's voice, Buffy nearly broke apart. "Buffy, are you there?"

"Yeah, Mom, I am," she said. "I'm sorry, I should have called earlier, it's been so crazy------"

"No, no, that's all right, honey," Joyce said. Buffy could tell she had been sobbing from the sound of her voice. "I've been sort of...off myself." She swallowed before she went on. "How's everyone else, I haven't been able to----"

"Okay, so far," Buffy told her. "They're all gathered here in case something big comes up. Robin and Liam went out to 'make the job easier.'"

"How?"

"I was sort of afraid to ask."

"Probably good," Joyce sighed. Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath before speaking.

"I'm coming over."

"Buffy, you don't have to-----"

"Yes, I do," Buffy told her. "I'll be over soon, all right, Mom?" She paused, her voice choking. "I love you, Mom."

"I love you too, honey," Joyce said and Buffy knew she was crying now. She could feel fresh tears in her own eyes as she hung up and turned to Steve. "I have to go," she told him. "She...She's alone, Steve, she needs someone to-----"

Steve moved and hugged her tight. "I know, hon. I know it's important. Tell her to be okay, all right?"

"You know I will." Buffy stood there, just letting Steve comfort her before she could do the same with her mother.

*****

Saying that the mood inside the living room was tense would be an understatement. The various members of the Scooby Gang were spread around the room, all in various states of numb shock. Xander and Cordelia sat next to each other on the couch, Cordelia's eyes showing signs of her tears. Giles and Jenny sat nearby, Giles sipping at some tea while Jenny simply sat and stared into space. Oz had his arms draped over Willow, who was still letting a loose tear down her face every few minutes. At the table, Shaw, Kendra, Faith, Amy and Larry all sat. Kendra and Shaw appeared to be the most put together of the group. Although all this understandably took both aback, it wasn't to the degree the rest of the group was, seeing as neither was a natural American.

"I cannot quite understand this," Shaw softly said.

"What? Trying to kill our leader?" Amy asked her cousin.

Shaw shook her head. "No, no, we had those on Toril. Assassinating a leader or at least replacing him through violence was a sadly common tactic there." She scratched at her head. "But those were mainly tyrants or other types of unworthy rulers. Bartlett is a good man. I cannot understand the reasons for shooting him."

"I think we've already heard the probably motive," Giles informed her.

"And that makes even less sense," Shaw told him. "How can people be so prejudiced that they would want to kill this aide simply for being with the daughter of the President?"

"Sadly, Shaw," Giles told her. "There are some things about Earth that even we Earthlings can't fully understand."

Faith suddenly stood up and began to walk out of the room. "Faith, where are you going?" a startled Jenny asked.

"I'm sorry, Jen, but I've gotta...I've gotta think, that's all." Wearing a more sober expression than anyone had ever seen on her, Faith walked out, heading toward the direction of the stairs. There was a pause before Shaw rose from her seat and began to follow her.

"I hate this waiting," Cordelia finally said. "We should be out there, we should be doing something!"

"Like what, Cord?" Xander asked her. "They've got the FBI, CIA, NSA, Marshals and about a dozen other agencies combing the East Coast. I think there's more than enough to handle things."

"I wish we didn't have to be here," Willow piped up. "If there's no mission, if there's no place to go, shouldn't we be with our families?"

"Willow, I know this is a stressful time," Giles told her. "I may not be an American, but I've certainly lived long enough in this country to be effected by it. But until we fully understand the situation and know everything that's going on, Steve wants us to stick around."

"But I really want to see my mom," Willow explained. "I mean, she actually set her books aside for a single night. Forgive me if I want to be able to talk to her tonight."

"I understand, Willow," Jenny told her. "I know you all want to be with your families. But for now, we have to wait until we no more."

Cordelia leaned in toward Xander, who held her in a light embrace. "God, and to think this afternoon, all I could think about was the prom."

"Puts it all in perspective, huh?" Xander asked.

"We can all use that, that's for sure," Amy couldn't help remarking.

*****

As she headed up the stairs, Shaw's ears practically perked up at the sound coming from the top. She paused on the landing and looked to where the top stair met the floor. Faith sat there, her head on her knees, her arms wrapped around her legs, shaking as sobs emitted from her throat.

Shaw carefully moved up until she could sit next to the Slayer. She was silent for a moment before speaking. "Faith?"

"Go away," Faith got out between sobs. "Just...just go away, Shaw, please?"

"No."

Faith looked up, her eyes streaked with tears. "Huh?"

Shaw steeled herself before speaking. "Bartlett is from Massachusetts. And I know that affects you personally. I also know that you don't want the others to see you like this. You don't like to have them see you less than confident at any time. I know that, Faith. I also know that being alone right now is not a good thing for you."

"Shaw..." Faith got out. "I...I don't usually do this...I'm always on top of things, always know what I'm doing and what I'm feeling, I can't...I can't..."

"Cannot feel, Faith? Cannot let yourself show your emotions? Faith, the others are just as effected as you are and are expressing themselves in the same way. They will not think any less of you for being honest with your feelings."

Faith wiped at her eyes and Shaw could see a bit of shame in her features. "Faith," she said carefully. "We have grown close in the last few months. And I know you well enough to know that as strong and capable as you are...like everyone, you need to let go of your emotions now and again. There is no shame in that."

Faith bit her lip. "It's just that..." She didn't continue and Shaw knew what she didn't want to say. For Faith to admit she was afraid was a difficult thing so Shaw decided not to press on it. Instead, she just wrapped an arm around her soul sister and held her in. Feeling Shaw's warmth set Faith crying again. Shaw held her, deciding then and there to keep this quiet from the others. For now, she was determined to make sure Faith knew she no longer had to be alone.

Shaw just whispered, "Your emotions are what make you so strong. To hold them back is to neglect your greatest strength. Don't do that."

*****

D.C. Police Headquarters
May 10th, 1999 - 01:14 EST

"No, no, I don't give a damn what they tell you, Pierce! I made it clear, we are not going to be fetch and carry for the Feds on this one. Yes. Yes, I know the Secret Service wants first crack but this is still our city! Yeah, well have them call me if they've got a problem with it."

Mannion slammed the phone back on the receiver. He was more than a little pissed and it was showing. His normally neat appearance had fallen on the wayside. His tie was undone, sweat stains were starting to show on the armpits of his white shirt, his vest was a bit wrinkled and his normally slicked-back hair had a few loose strands sticking up. He sank onto his chair and looked at the two men who were witting across his desk. "Since when do we let the Feds order us about on a city shooting?"

"Chief, this isn't exactly a drive by," Noland pointed out. His uniform was immaculate as always but his face seemed to be carrying an extra five years. "This is a Presidential assassination attempt. That makes it more their jurisdiction than ours."

"They want our help, they have to play by our rules," Mannion stated.

"Since when do rules mean so much to you?" Ethan Baker asked. The Mayor of Washington D.C. was a heavyset black man in his late fifties, his hair almost gone but his face still retaining a great deal of power and authority. His gray power suit was showing a little wear from the stress of the last few hours but he was still ready to stand up to the man he'd hired to revitalize the police force.

"I know about rules, Mr. Mayor," Mannion replied. "I just interpret them the way I see fit. It's what I did before I came here. It's why you hired me, remember?"

"I remember," Baker coolly replied. "I also remember all the flak I got over brining an outsider to take over. I helped you out a lot, Jack. Try not to make me look like a fool."

"With respect, sir," Mannion said. "If making you look like a fool means keeping one crime from being committed...Then put on a clown suit and start falling on pies."

"I've done that on my own," Baker countered with a smile.

Noland sighed and looked over at Mannion. "Any progress with the manhunt?"

Mannion shrugged. "Nothing from our patrols but it looks like the Feds are taking over on it." He shook his head. "I know that if a reporter heard this, I'd get crucified but it'd be easier if the shooters hadn't been white males in their twenties."

"Then put me on the cross with you," Baker added. "It would be simpler if we could blame it on some foreign guys instead of it being home grown."

"Shooting at a guy because he's dating a white woman," Mannion said, not believing it. "I can't understand it."

"With respect, Chief, I don't think you ever will," Noland remarked as he looked down at the floor.

Mannion started and looked at his deputy chief. "Come on, Joe, I know what you guys go through-----"

"Actually, Chief, you don't." Noland's gaze was steady as he looked up at Mannion. "You can't. When I started out, we were pushed into the worst types of patrol possible, ignored by detectives and had to fight three times as hard as a white officer to get ahead. Now, the situation has improved but the fact is, a black man in D.C. still gets the short end of the stick."

Mannion looked at the deputy chief for a long moment. "And a white troublemaker from out of state getting the Chief job before you did might be a reflection of that?"

"Now, Chief...."

"Look, Joe, I've had to put up with some shit on this job myself," Mannion said as he sat up in his chair. "I've had to deal with politics and the press and I don't want to get into that whole mess with the Mayor being accused of having a mistress..."

"Thanks, Chief."

"But I also don't want you running behind my back, trying to undermine my authority. I know about that little stunt you pulled when I first got here, made it look like the crime rates were lower than they usually were. And assuming that when I look more closely at a certain case, I'm trying to manipulate you out. I'm not doing that, I'm just trying to do my job, Joe."

"As am I, Chief," Noland bit out. "The fact is, you're still an outsider, you don't know D.C., you don't know how to work in it-----"

"I know all I need to know, Joe!" Mannion shouted as he rose up from his seat. "I'm here because no one here could do the job. That's not a reflection on you or your record or personnel, that's a fact!"

"The facts, Chief," Noland said, getting to his own feet. "Are that you are not the most popular Chief of police we've ever had and-----"

"I don't care if I am! I care about getting the job done!"

"So am I!"

"All right, knock it off!" Baker had risen as well. His face was flushed, the tension of the last few hours erupting. "We are in a crisis, we're all tense but screaming at each other like this is not helping! Christ, do you two do this all the time? If so, then I might as well fire both of you!"

The two officers stared at each other before Mannion backed up and sat back down. Noland stiffly took his own seat. Baker still stood, glaring from one to the other. "Listen up," he said. "I'm saying this once. Mannion, I hired you to do the job and so far you've been doing it. But we do have some rules in D.C. that you're not familiar with. As much as you might hate it, you're going to have to play politics at some point in this town and that attitude of yours isn't going to win you over any. So shelve it now before it gets you into too much trouble."

He turned to Noland. "Joe, I know you're still pissed about me going to Mannion over you," he stated. "You're a good cop, you are. But I needed something radical and Mannion was it. But trust me, I did not hire a guy who stepped on people to get ahead in his career. So stop being so paranoid and give him a damn chance already."

He stepped back and glared at the duo. "I've got to go and put in an appearance with the press." He straightened his tie and brushed his suit as he continued. "If you two have issues, settle them on your own. For now, just concentrate on policing this city. That's all I want from either of you." He turned and walked out of the office, leaving the two men to look at each other.

"Joe----"

"Chief," Noland cut him off. "It can wait. I think we both have bigger things to do right now."

"Yeah, you're right," Mannion muttered. "We'll have plenty of time to try and bond later. Preferably with a drink."

*****

George Washington University Hospital
0132 Hours EST

"I still can't believe Sid's talking to the First Lady," Harm muttered as he looked over toward the waiting room.

"I know," Parker said. The two were still standing in the hallway, giving the appearance of dutiful Secret Service agents. "I guess she needed someone with her when they gave her the news. Even if it is good, the stress of all this was getting to her."

"I could tell," Jarod said. He bit his lip as he looked at the waiting room door. "Andrea...Is it me or did you get the feeling she was nervous about more than just the shooting? Like she was worried something might come out because of it?"

Parker frowned. "Come to think of it, I did get a little of that," she admitted. "But, I figured that was just nervousness."

"Maybe," Jarod allowed. He shrugged. "Hell, I guess we're all feeling that."

Parker sighed and looked down the hallway. "Well, he's out of danger, that aide of his is doing better and they're getting close to catching the shooters. I guess things seem to be okay right now."

"For the moment," Jarod pointed out. "If there's one thing tonight's taught us, it's that life can change at any second and we don't know how."

Parker looked down, then back up at her lover. "I love you, Jarod."

Jarod smiled at her. "I love you too, Andrea. And I'm glad we're here now."

"So am I," Parker told him. "Not just because of all this but because...Hell, because hospitals just scare me too damn much."

"You've been a doctor a few times."

"And was always out of that quick, you'll notice." Jarod shrugged. "Blame it on my upbringing, I just don't like the places."

"Trust me, Jarod. You're not alone on that."

*****

Zoey Bartlett sat in a chair in the small room, her legs curled up under her. She stared at her hands dully, her eyes having run out of tears to cry anymore. The room was quiet and dark and seemed to suit her mood perfectly.

"There's no blood, if that's what you're wondering," a deep voice suddenly rang out. Zoey started and looked up to see Sidney standing in the doorway, a quiet smile on his face. "Not in any way," he continued. "You need to know that."

"Who...who are you?" Zoey asked.

"That's right," Sidney said as he came in. "You were only a child the last time I saw you." He took a seat next to her and gave her his best fatherly smile. "Sidney Green. I'm an old friend of your mother and father's."

"Oh," Zoey dully said. "So...what are you doing here?"

"I was in town on...other business when I heard what happened," Sidney explained. "I was just talking to your mother and felt that perhaps you needed to talk to someone."

"I don't," Zoey said, staring back down at the floor.

Sidney let out a deep breath. "You can't blame yourself for this, Zoey," he told her. "This wasn't at all your fault."

"They shot my father because I was with Charlie," Zoey told him in a flat voice. "They shot Josh too and..." She bit her lip before looking up. "It was because of me."

"No, it was because a bunch of idiots with outdated prejudices decided to show just how backward they were," Sidney argued. "It wasn't your finger on the trigger, Zoey and it wasn't you who wanted to kill someone. This is not your fault."

"Mom thinks it is,"

Sidney stared at her. "Do you actually know your mother?" he said in a gentle but slightly chiding tone to get her attention. "She doesn't blame you for this one bit."

Zoey looked at him. "She doesn't?" she asked softly, hope suddenly coming to her face.

Sidney chuckled. "Yes, you're Jed Bartlett's own, all right. Taking the world's troubles on you and sometimes forgetting other people can shoulder the burden."

Zoey sighed and looked up at Sidney. "You really think it's not my fault?"

"I know it isn't," Sidney stressed. "Have you talked to Charlie?"

Zoey shook her head. "Not for long, he's been with the others on the staff, I haven't gotten the chance, I..." She swallowed. "He...He told me that I shouldn't blame myself for this."

"Then he's a smart man," Sidney said. He paused and then shrugged. "Well, other than voluntarily wanting to spend more time with Jed, that is..."

Zoey stared at him. "How can you joke about this?" she asked. "My father is lying in there, he could die------"

"I know," Sidney cut her off. "He's my friend, I care for him and I'm scared about him dying as well. But Jed's a fighter. You should know that. He'll pull through this, I know he will and the first thing he's going to be telling you, after, of course, he loves you, is this." He reached over and took Zoey's hand in his own. "You're not to blame for anything that happens to him. He knew this was a risk when he took office, Zoey. He knew this could happen from someone or another for whatever reason. And trust me, if he had the situation over again, if it was between being shot himself or letting Charlie be cut down, he would have leapt into the line of fire without a thought."

"Yeah, he's in for stupid and noble gestures," Zoey said. She let out a nervous laugh and was surprised how good it felt. She also realized just how foolish it was to be so guilty over the situation. She looked back up at Sidney and let out a small smile. "I...Thank you."

"It's no problem," Sidney said. "Jed's a friend and I'd like to think that extends to you."

Zoey squeezed his hand before she rose. "I...I'd better go check on Mom. She might need me."

"I'm sure she will," Sidney said as he rose. He draped an arm around Zoey's shoulder as he led her out of the room. "Just remember," Sidney announced before they left. "There's still hope. None of us knows what the future is, after all."

*****

Ireland

Calliway Burton slowly sipped at her tea as she stared at the newspaper in front of her. Had anyone else been in her home, they would have been quite intrigued by the way the paper was showing a headline that was shifting about. BARTLETT PRONOUNCED DEAD turning into BARTLETT IN COMA, then BARTLETT CONDITION SERIOUS. Finally, the headline settled onto a bold type that stayed: BARTLETT IN STABLE CONDITION, DOCTORS CONFIDENT ABOUT RECOVERY.

Nodding, Callie got ready to send this paper on its way. *It'll be a bit too late for most of them, of course* She thought to herself. *But there are some things that can't be changed. No matter how much you might want to try.*

That thought brought a bitter reminder for the Irish seer. Rising from the seat in her modest hovel, she walked over to a panel on the side wall. Waving her hand, she let it spin about, showing a large calendar on the other side. What made it unique was the fact that most of the dates weren't due to arrive for years, decades, even centuries.

Callie called this her "sure-fire" calendar. This was the listing of all the dates Callie had seen that had refused to change, that contained events that were mean to happen, no matter what. In many cases, Callie wished, prayed even, that these events would fade away, that history would shift and let them be erased. But they didn't. And the worst part was, Callie knew that these were events she could not interfere in, that she could not warn about in time to prevent. These had to happen and she hated life in general for it.

She let her fingers trail out to touch one date in particular, one highlighted in black. "Two years, four months and a day," she whispered. "They have no idea how close that is. They think today is bad. And it is. But that..." She closed her eyes and for the millionth time in the last year, cursed whoever was listening for giving her the ability to see the future. "They don't know how close they are to that day," she whispered. "Today was nothing. Then..."

She turned and walked back to her table, wiping at her face. She had to keep reminding herself of one thing. That while it was her curse to see the horrible events that were to come...It was her gift to see how things would turn out well afterward.

*But still...* she found herself thinking, the images of two towers in flames before collapsing into smoke flashing across her mind. *That day...That day they can't even imagine...Now THAT is going to be one hell of a day.*

She swallowed and found herself singing lyrics that wouldn't be written for two and a half years. "Where were you when the world stopped turning...That September day..."

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