Madam President, page 20
Lauren sucked in a quick breath in response to seeing Dev's pain.
"The kids...?" Dev winced as two men rolled her onto a backboard.
Michael looked out into the audience, which was being herded out of the auditorium like spooked cattle. "They're fine, Madam President. No one else in the auditorium was hit."
"My children?" Dev's eyes closed as she struggled to move her left arm, but found it impossible.
"They're fine too. The nest has been notified, and all security precautions are being taken."
Devlyn opened her eyes and focused on one of the agents who was pressing a thick pile of bandages against her hip. "Bad?"
"No, Madam President." He leaned over and whispered to her, "This is nothing for Wonder Woman."
Dev blinked, and they were moving. Her confusion was evident, and she looked as though she was going into shock. "Mighty Mouse..."
Lauren burst into tears at the sound of her Secret Service name.
"It's okay," Dev whispered. "It all turned out all right." The President's men had done everything right. They had covered her and gotten her out of there more quickly than she remembered. Although, to be honest, she couldn't remember much, beyond a searing pain in her hip and shoulder and the smell of her own blood.
Then the video simply stopped after Dev's gurney was wheeled away, freezing on a shot of the bloodstained stage. Dev's gaze dropped to her lap, and she concentrated on that day. "That boy. I remember him. He, he kept smiling at me..."
"You remember him?" Lauren turned in her friend's loose embrace so that she could see Dev's face. The President had watched with little more than a flinch, though Lauren didn't miss that her face was slightly paler than when the tape began. "Out of that entire crowd?"
"Yeah. He was right there. Smiling at me. Listening to me. Watching me." Dev shook her head. "Hell, I thought he was interested in what I had to say."
Lauren's anger mounted as she imagined the teenager biding his time, waiting to murder Dev, smiling as she tried to connect with him, just knowing that he was going to kill her. Little bastard! She turned away from Dev and was struck again by the image of the bloodstained stage. "Jesus..." She pointed at the image. "Can you...?"
"I'm sorry. Image off." Dev looked to Lauren, who looked like she was going to throw up. "Are you all right?"
Tears filled the blonde's eyes again. "I... I..."
"Hey," Dev said softly as she reached out and cupped Lauren's cheek in her palm. "I'm okay. I might leak when I drink now, but I'm okay," she joked.
This time Lauren did laugh through her tears. "Okay," she sniffed. "You're right. I'm sorry for being a baby."
"Don't be sorry." God, Dev. You haven't even asked about her mother. What kind of a lousy friend are you? “How’s your mom?" She felt Lauren stiffen. "Do you need to go back to Tennessee to be with her?" Her heart went out to the younger woman.
Lauren pulled away a little, suddenly uncomfortable. "What, um... what exactly do you know about my mom?" She eyed Dev warily.
"I know what happened, Lauren. And I understand if you don't want to talk with me about it. I mean, I'm not family." She's been here for me these last few days when her heart is probably back in Tennessee. “If you want to talk, I'm here, okay?"
Lauren nodded, but continued to pull away. She wasn't ready for this discussion. Especially not now. Not after everything that had just happened with Dev. Lauren felt like she was on an emotional roller coaster, and, while a big part of her wanted to talk about it with someone, she just wasn't ready.
The blonde woman's father hadn't understood her leaving Anna to come back to Washington D.C. She'd tried to explain that Devlyn wasn't just part of her job, that she was a good friend, but that hadn't worked either. They'd had a horrible argument in the hospital, and, despite the fact that she wasn't close to either of her parents, her father's parting words had hurt her more than she'd thought possible.
The writer grabbed a tissue from the stand next to Dev's hospital bed. "I don't need to go back." She wiped her eyes. "There's nothing I can do back home." Dev remained silent, but Lauren could tell she wanted to know more, and her chest constricted at the prospect. The room began to close in on her. Air. That's what she needed. Clean air, without the scent of disinfectant. She needed to be out of the hospital.
Lauren nearly jumped from the bed, startling Dev in the process. "I... um... I'm going to tell David we're finished here." And without looking back she bolted across the room and flew out the door.
"Lauren! Wait!" Dev cursed inwardly when the shorter woman disappeared out the door. She wanted to follow her and try to apologize for upsetting her. She wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be all right.
Dev groaned as she pushed herself forward, and a jolt of pain shot through her hip. She dislodged her heart monitor in the process, and the room was suddenly pierced with a shrill beeping noise as an alarm sounded.
Several doctors burst through the door with David right along side them. His eyes shut in pure relief when he saw that Dev was all right. "Oh, no you don't!"
"David," Dev grunted as she swung one leg off the bed. Another blast of pain made her feel lightheaded.
Jane joined David at Dev's bedside and after several moments she and David were finally wave off the panicky medical staff. "You can't get up, Dev!"
"Lauren is a big girl." David eased the President onto her back and carefully repositioned the leg she still had hanging off the bed. "She'll be back, Dev."
Dev had asked David to keep tabs on Lauren's mother. Apparently, everyone in the hospital had been talking about the very public argument between Lauren and her father. The old man had yelled at Lauren as she'd left the hospital. Screaming for everyone to hear that if some woman she'd barely known for a few months was more important than her own damned mother, that she didn't need to bother coming back home... ever.
David let out an unhappy breath. "Dev, she's been through more than you know. Give her some space."
Dev settled back into her bed with an angry sigh. "She's going to be okay, because I'm going to make sure of it." She looked up at her Chief of Staff, determination glinting harshly in pale blue eyes. "Sit down, David. I think you've got something to tell me."
Tuesday, June 1st
DEV SAT WITH her head hanging between her knees. She was panting slightly as her physical therapist stood back and made notes on the President's chart. The therapist was young and fit and a rising star in his field, having earned the glowing recommendations from Devlyn's leading physicians. The man took a breath and girded his mental loins before turning back to face the tall woman straddling the weight bench. They were about two-thirds of the way through their rehabilitation routine for Dev's shoulder and hip and he could clearly read the lines of exhaustion and pain on his patient's face. Things were about to get ugly.
"What?" she growled, not bothering to lift her head. Sweat was dripping from her forehead and chin onto the vinyl-covered bench between her legs.
"We need to do another set to work your arm." The therapist looked up to see Lauren slipping quietly into the room.
Lauren closed the door behind her and motioned for the man not to alert Devlyn of her presence.
"Don't want to." The President shook her head, grimacing at the bolt of pain even that small movement caused her stressed muscles. "We're done for the day."
"Ma'am, you have a routine that we need-" He ducked just in time for a small water bottle to sail past his head.
"Fuck the routine! I said we're done for the day!" Dev's shoulders slumped even further. "Now leave me alone," she whispered, ignoring the twinge of guilt she already felt over her outburst.
Lauren cleared her throat, causing two sets of frustrated eyes to swing her way. "Hi. It's Julio, right?" The blonde extended her hand to the therapist. "I'm Lauren Strayer."
The young man smiled and moved se
Lauren watched as the therapist made a hasty exit. She decided to ignore Dev's mini-meltdown. Lauren had been meaning to come to one of Dev's sessions earlier. But something always seemed to come up. Be honest, Lauri. You don't want to see her in pain. And you don't know what to say to her after tearing out of the hospital like an idiot a couple of weeks ago. You're embarrassed to face her in private.
The writer slowly padded to a bench near Dev and sat down. She studied the President carefully. Other than a quick initial glance, the older woman hadn't even acknowledged her presence. Dev's face was flushed and drawn. And it was clear that she was hurting. Lauren's thoughts turned to Dev's would be assassin, Louis Henry. The little bastard.
When it was clear that the President wasn't going to say anything, Lauren blew out an unhappy breath. "Hello, Devlyn," she drawled softly. "Are you finished for the day?" She cocked her head to the side. "Liza said you'd be going for at least another half an hour or so."
"Liza was wrong." Dev self-consciously wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "That's the beauty of being the President - I can tell people to fuck off and they actually have to do it."
Lauren sat up a little straighter at Devlyn's choice of words. "I see," she answered seriously. "And does that include me as well?"
Dev shot Lauren a contrite look and shook her head. "No."
Lauren watched as the President tried to make a fist with the arm that had been injured. She couldn't do it. "I'm just tired." Her voice was resigned. "And it hurts a lot."
Lauren had to sit on her hands to keep from literally reaching out for Dev. She wasn't sure it would be welcomed and she was already treading on dangerous ground. "I know it does. But there's something else I'll bet you didn't know."
"What?" Dev reached for her sling and looped it over her head.
"You're the strongest person I've ever met." Lauren stood up and moved behind Dev, carefully tugging long hair out from under the sling's strap. "And you're not a quitter." Okay, this is where she blasts you for not understanding what she's going through. Lauren closed her eyes and waited.
"I'm not as strong as you think, Lauren. I've been through an awful lot and I'm just damned tired. I only want to go to my room and go to bed."
Okay, that didn't work. "And you can go back to your room and take a nap." She waited until she saw Dev's head bob before adding firmly, "Right after you finish your physical therapy."
Dev looked up. "Excuse me? What happen to the ‘fuck you' factor?"
Lauren raised an eyebrow and gave Dev's sling a little tug. "It was just trumped by the ‘Lauren factor'. Go figure. Don't make me get tough with you, Devlyn. Southern women are relentless and you'll lose eventually." Gray eyes twinkled.
Dev stared at her for a moment. Lauren was serious, but the words still held a teasing edge. It was something she'd missed sorely the past few of weeks. "I knew somewhere along the line I'd find someone who had the trump card. I always figured it'd be Jane or Emma though." Dev visibly squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. "I guess I should apologize to Julio for being a royal bitch, huh?" Dev eased her arm into the sling
"It couldn't hurt, Madam President." Way to go, Devlyn. "I'll go tell him you're ready to continue."
"‘Kay. I'm not going anywhere. Umm... thanks." Dev sat stock-still as Lauren walked away. She wanted Lauren to stay, but a bigger part of her didn't want Lauren to see her like this. Weak. Miserable. A disgusted look crossed Dev's face. Most of all, she just wanted this day to be over.
Lauren paused at the doorway, waiting for any reason, any word from Dev that she wanted her to stay. After a few seconds she swallowed hard and opened the door. "The President is ready to continue her therapy, Julio." She smiled at him sympathetically. "Thank you for being so patient."
The man blushed and stared at his sneakers. "No problem, Ms. Strayer. That's my job." He glanced back up. "She's really hurting."
Lauren's brow creased with worry. "I know."
He inclined his head toward the gym. "You coming back?"
"Nah." Lauren pursed her lips before pushing her glasses up higher on her nose. "She doesn't need me." But I wish she did.
* * *
David entered the debriefing room just as the video of the assassination attempt ended on a freeze frame shot of the bloody stage floor. He shook his head. Why did they always stop it at that very second? His temper flared and angry brown eyes flickered around the room, landing on each man and woman before moving on and glaring at their next target.
"How in the hell did that happen!" He pointed at the video image. "Would somebody like to tell me why the President of the United States is currently undergoing physical therapy to heal her three bullet wounds?" David bolted across the floor and slammed his fists hard on the long table where the agents sat. "Well?"
The silence was deafening and not a single agent could meet David's glare. He angrily tugged at his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. "Get comfortable, ladies and gentlemen, because no one's leaving this room until I have the answers I want," he boomed.
Several agents flinched.
David took his jacket off and tossed it onto a couch. With quick, angry tugs he rolled up his sleeves. "I want to know how a fifteen-year-old kid got a gun in the first place. How he got it into that high school." David's already red skin tone turned an angry shade of scarlet. "And how he managed to get it and himself in perfect position to kill the President of the United States! God dammit, I want to know why he did it!"
An older man at the end of the table drew in a deep breath and rose to his feet before speaking.
David's jaw worked. "Yes, Agent Rothsberg?"
"It was a hate crime, sir," he began tentatively.
"A hate crime, sir." His voice was a little more solid this time. "The suspect tried to shoot the President because she is a woman and a lesbian." The agent pushed a file towards David, sending it sliding down the glossy tabletop.
"He didn't try," David barked, "he did shoot the President. Several times!"
The agent nodded quickly. "Yes, sir. All the information we have is in there." He pointed to the file David was now holding. "That's the latest intelligence."
David picked up the file and thumbed through it. "He very nearly succeeded in killing her." The Chief of Staff continued to chastise as he read. "Which one of you in here wants to have to confess that it was on their watch that the President of the United States got killed? Because if we continue to be this sloppy, that's exactly what's going to happen!"
David yanked an empty chair out from under the table and gracelessly plopped down in it, his nose still buried in the file. "Hell, it's been almost sixty years since Kennedy died. I guess most of those guys are dead now too. Trying to fill their shoes? You all had better hope that the investigation proves that kid got lucky." He closed the file. "Because if I find out any of you were lacking in your sworn duty to protect the President, or that you in some way made the attempt possible..." The rest of the threat remained unspoken, but was crystal clear.
Deep brown eyes traveled to every face in the room. All David saw was sadness, embarrassment and regret, which actually made him feel a little bit better. For now he could believe that the kid had gotten lucky. But this couldn't happen again. Somehow, someway, they would find where they had made their mistake. There might not be a second chance.
"Video rewind," David commanded. "Okay, kiddies, here we go again. We're gonna watch it over and over again until I know where everyone was and what they were doing when our President was struck down. Video start."
Friday, June 4th
Dev groaned as she eased herself back down into the bed and propped her cane against the wall. Her hip still hurt like hell and she missed not being able to run or work out. She wondered if anyone would be surprised when she pulled her sling off and choked several pe
She sighed as the warm sun spilled into the room through the tall windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. Devlyn was recovering in the Solarium, which also happened to be her favorite room in residence. Ironically enough, it was in this very same room that President Reagan had recuperated after being shot some 40 years before.
Devlyn's gaze strayed out the window. Well, I'm the first American President of this century that someone hated enough to try and murder. Too bad it was some woman/lesbian hating punk that did it. He doesn't even care about my politics! her ego squawked indignantly.