Soloman Gerherdt wasn't a particularly striking man; he wore a grey pin-striped suit with a black trilby balancing serenely upon his head, covering greying, curly hair. He held himself with a patrician bearing, proud and tall, yet went largely unnoticed as he passed by.
Most people tended to overlook him, dismissing him as harmless and sweet.
He arrived at the White House on a cold, crisp Winter morning and strode straight into Sam's office, the door swinging closed behind him with a bang. Sam jumped, knocking a stack of papers onto the floor and narrowly avoiding a split cup of coffee.
"Ginger?" He called out, wanting answers regarding this unexpected intrusion.
"Yes, Sam?" She stuck her head into the office and blinked in surprise at the unexpected second occupant, "Oh."
"What's happening?" Sam's question wasn't addressed to anyone in particular, although he was staring straight into the face of the intruder.
"My name is Soloman Gerherdt and you would do well to heed my words."
Sam looked around him at Ginger and she shook her head, shrugging. He turned back to Gerherdt and froze, "Ginger."
"I think now might be a good time to leave and... get Josh. And Toby."
His gaze was fixed on a point just below Gerherdt's navel and she craned her neck to see what he was looking at. What she saw caused her to stumble backwards, out of the room, breaking into a run. Gerherdt had a gun trained on Sam and a small smile on his face.
"What do you want?" Sam asked, willing his voice to stay steady and calm.
"I would have thought that was obvious."
"You're surprisingly brave, Mr Seaborn. Didn't anyone tell you not to provoke someone who's pointing a loaded weapon at you?"
"I've never been good at following instructions."
"What I want..." Gerherdt paused, the tension in the room building to a crescendo, "What I want is to make a statement. Your death will certainly achieve that goal."
"I... I suppose it would." Sam saw movement behind Gerherdt and resisted the urge to react. He didn't want to alert Gerherdt to the presence of the Secret Service agents approaching his office, "What... what kind of statement?"
"A deadly one."
"That's such a cliché. Surely you can do better than that? You sound like a supervillan from a really, really shitty comic book. Details would be nice, at the very least."
Sam wondered absently how someone armed with a weapon had managed to slip past White House security. The Secret Service were highly trained, constantly alert, and annoyingly persistent in their efforts to keep their charges safe. It made little sense that they would have allowed someone with a gun to enter the building unless absolutely necessary.
"What did we say about provocation, Mr Seaborn?"
Gerhardt's finger tightened against the trigger as he prepared to fire and Sam tensed. There was a gunshot and Sam stumbled backwards as Gerherdt tumbled to the floor, a bullet in his head, blood spatter covering the desk.
Sam's breath was loud in his ears as he sank to the floor, back against the wall, knees pulled up to his chest. He could see Toby and Josh in the back of the communications bullpen, faces creased with anxiety and fear.
They seemed very small and very, very far away.
He wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his head on his arms. Taking deep breaths, he tried to calm his racing heart, willing his hands to stop shaking.
"Are you hurt?" Ron Butterfield moved into Sam's field of vision, crouching in front of him, "Sam?" He snapped his fingers in front of Sam's eyes, "Sam!"
Sam managed to shake his head, "No. No, I'm not hurt. I'm... I'm fine."
Ron chucked wryly, "I very much doubt that. You're probably in shock, Sam. Come on, let's get you up and out of here, okay?"
Sam got up and walked unsteadily out of the office under his own power, although Ron kept a steadying hand on his arm the whole time. He walked straight over to Josh and Toby, stepping into the former's outstretched arms and burying his face in brown curls. He could feel Toby's hand on his back, solid and reassuring, radiating warmth.
"How could this happen?" Toby was asking Ron, his voice deathly quiet, rather than the gruff, thunderous shout that Sam had been expecting.
"At this moment, we're not sure. We're looking in to it." Ron turned to Sam, "I'm sorry this happened. He shouldn't have been able to get that weapon in here."
"No shit." Josh muttered, then, "Sorry, I just..."
"I know. Sam, can you tell me what happened? Anything you can remember; anything that might be helpful."
Sam lifted his head and pulled away from Josh. He looked down at the floor, then up at Ron, biting his lip.
"I... he... Gerherdt... He barged into my office, I guess it was around ten o'clock. I didn't have any appointments scheduled and I wasn't expecting anyone so I called Ginger in to ask her what was happening. He... he introduced himself and that was when I noticed that he had a gun. I told Ginger to leave, and to find Josh and Toby. Then, um, I asked him... Gerherdt... what it was that he wanted and he said that he wanted to make a statement. By killing me. And then..." Sam rubbed a hand over his face, "That was when you arrived and you know the rest."
Ron nodded, his expression sympathetic as he wrote down Sam's words in a small, black notebook.
"You all need to stay in the building until we determine whether or not this was an isolated incident." He told them, "It's possible that the gunman wasn't acting alone. I'll let you know when we have something."
"Thank you." Josh, Toby and Sam murmured simultaneously.
Ron moved away to talk to some of the other agents crowded into the room. Sam slid onto the nearest desk, legs dangling off the side, looking for all the world like a small child. His expression was dazed and far away. He refused to look in the direction of his office.
"Sam?" He focused on Toby's voice, "Sam, are you with us?"
"Hmmm?" Sam felt dazed, the image of Gerherdt's body on his office floor, surrounded by an ever-expanding pool of blood, swimming in front of his eyes.
He blinked and Josh came into focus, staring at him with wide, terrified eyes.
"I'm with you." Sam said firmly, realising that this was potentially even scarier for Josh than himself.
"Let's go and sit down in my office, okay?" Toby was surprisingly gentle, herding Sam and Josh over to his couch, before forcing them to sit down.
Sam flopped sideways, his head dropping onto Josh's shoulder. His skin was pale and the shaking was beginning to spread from his hands to the rest of his body.
"You look like you got hit by a truck." Josh said quietly.
"Funny, that's kind of how I feel." Sam straightened up, turning to properly look at his friend, "Are... are you okay?"
"Yeah. It's just... Toby's right. This shouldn't have been able to happen. If someone can get as far as your office..." Josh's unspoken concerns hung in the air between them and Sam found himself shivering.
They were no strangers to violence. Death, on the other hand, murder, that was a largely unexplored frontier. They had all lost family members and then there was, of course, Mrs Landingham, but this was something else. Their worst fears manifested right in front of them.
The violation of the most sacrosanct of places; their home, the one place in the world in which they had felt utterly, truly safe. Desecrated, no longer a sanctuary but a place of terror.
Ron Butterfield appeared in the doorway, "Until we can get this cleared up, we're crashing the White House. You and your staff are free to move around the communications bullpen but please don't try to leave or enter the rest of the West Wing."
They nodded silently until he looked satisfied and left. The office was still and quiet for a moment, each of the occupants lost in their own thoughts, worst case scenarios running through their minds.
Sam was the first to break the silence, "His language was... It seemed archaic, somehow."
"What?" Toby asked softly, staring at Sam, one hand rubbing absently at his mouth.
"His language. He said.... 'you would do well to heed my words'. Who says that outside of a fantasy novel or... or a fairytale?"
"No one..." Josh stood up suddenly, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand, "He said that?"
"And he kept using these really awful clichés. It was totally supervillain-esque."
"Not everyone shares your innate distaste for cliché..." Josh began.
"I know that but... it was as if it was scripted. Like... like he was in a play."
There was a knock on the door and Josh turned to see an apologetic expression on Ginger's face as she handed him a fax, "This just came." She looked around him at Sam, "How're you doing?"
"Okay, Ginger, thanks."
She nodded as if she didn't believe him but said nothing, instead flashing him an encouraging smile before leaving.
Donna entered almost immediately afterwards and thrust a thick, blue sweater into Sam's arms, "You're in shock. Put this on."
"Okay..." Used to obeying Donna's commands without any real explanation behind them, Sam did as he was told. Then he asked, a frown appearing on his face, "What?"
"You're in shock. You were shivering but it's ridiculously hot in here. Ipso facto, you're in shock."
Josh was staring at the fax in his hand as if it was going magically transform into a snake and bite him.
"Josh?" Toby asked, sitting forward in his chair, "What is it?"
"I... I think I might know what he wanted."
"Gerherdt. I think I know why he tried to... to kill Sam." His voice broke as he said the words, unable to look at his best friend.
"This... um..." Josh held the paper out for Toby to take, "It's from Danny. Gerherdt sent him a letter before he came here; he wanted him to print it in tomorrow's paper."
Toby scanned the paper and swallowed hard, "We know this is real?"
"Danny thinks it is."
"And we're going to trust Danny?"
"Don't we always?"
Sam pushed himself to his feet and walked round the desk to read over Toby's shoulder. He was still pale and he moved slowly but he was beginning to look more like himself again. As he read the document in front of him, his eyes widened in shock and something else that Josh couldn't quite identify.
"He... he was..." Sam couldn't bring himself to utter the words, "Oh God."
"It's not your fault."
Josh had opened his mouth to speak but Toby slipped in before him. He nodded, "Toby's right, Sam. There's nothing you could have done. Gerherdt knew exactly what he was getting into and you did exactly what you were supposed to do in that situation. You cannot blame yourself for what happened. It was the result of his actions alone."
"I... He was looking for justice, Josh, and instead..."
"I know. This isn't the way it's supposed to happen. Bad things shouldn't happen to good people but there's a reason that the cliché exists because no matter how hard we try, the world is always one step ahead of us with the crazy, unfair shit. He wanted us to sit up and take notice. I don't know about you and Toby but I'm up and I'm noticing."
Sam nodded slowly, "We need to get this to Ron. He needs to know that this wasn't an act of a terrorist, merely a grieving father. If this is real," He gestured to the fax, still in Toby's hand, "Then the President isn't in any danger. None of us are and maybe we never were. Maybe this was his plan all along."
"Those are some awfully big maybes, Sammy."
"I know and I know we're taking a big risk but defending people like this, standing up for people like this, issues like this... It's the reason we got into politics."
"I would have had more sympathy for him if he'd come to us before pointing a gun at my best friend's head."
The glare that had slowly been forming on Sam's face abruptly disappeared and his expression softened, "Yeah. I hear that." There was a darkness in the depths of his eyes; bad memories struggling to the surface, "Josh..." Sam sighed in frustration, "You said it yourself, he wanted us to pay attention to him and that's what we're doing. Ultimately, it doesn't matter how he got us to listen, just that he did. He had a message to deliver and deliver it he did. He alerted us to a miscarriage of justice. The way he did it doesn't change that."
Toby placed Gerhardt's letter on his desk. He began to pace backwards and forwards across the room, rubbing absently at the corner of his bottom lip.
"What?" Sam asked, his voice sharper and higher pitched that usual out of frustration, annoyance and the lingering feelings of fear and dread that he just couldn't seem to shake.
"The script thing bothers me." Toby replied at last, "It sounds as if... as if he was sent by someone else. How do we know that this isn't an elaborate set-up?"
"A set-up intended to accomplish what, exactly?"
"That's what worries me; I don't know."
"America would be nothing if we continually surrendered to fear of the unknown. We made a nation out of refusing to give up no matter what the odds might be." Sam countered, "Look, we don't have to act on it, we can't act on it, until the Secret Service checks it out. Once they've verified the provenance of the letter, they can lift the lockdown and we can all get on with running the country. Not to mention getting some justice for this poor man's family if it does turn out to be the truth."
"Okay, much as I hate to say it, we actually do have to let the Secret Service decide what to do." Josh said, a finality in his voice that no one present was about to challenge, "They have to be notified of any correspondence pertaining to the lockdown, especially when it involves a direct attack or attempt on the life of a senior staffer." He gestured towards Sam, then turned and yelled, "Ginger!"
"Yes, Josh?" She appeared in the doorway almost immediately, tone disapproving, one eyebrow arched in obvious irritation at being summoned so unceremoniously.
"Make copies of this and distribute them to all members of the senior staff." Josh plucked the letter off Toby's desk and thrust it into her hands, "And forward a copy to the Secret Service."
"CC it to Ron Butterfield." Toby interjected, "I want to make sure that he sees this."
"Yeah." Josh nodded, looking distracted as he watched Sam sit down again, "You okay there, Sammy?"
"Uh..." Sam ran a tired hand over his face, huffing out one short breath, "Yeah. Long day."
"Yeah." Toby sat heavily in his desk chair as Josh did the same, falling onto the couch next to Sam, "Long year."