memento

pg | no warnings apply

She had gotten used to the odd, upsetting, and sometimes just bizarre mail that she received in this job. It wasn't anything approaching the amount Josh got, or the astronomical number of crazy letters that were addressed to the President, but she got her fair share. People who thought she could single-handedly re-write foreign policy. People who wanted special favors - pardons, tax relief, proclamations. The occasional nutcase, making vague threats against her for things she had nothing to do with. She was better at dealing with those than she had been in the beginning; now, she showed them to Josh and they made fun of the people who thought 'cunt' was spelled with a k.

Newspaper clippings weren't terribly uncommon, so she wasn't too surprised when she opened the envelope and saw the black and white piece of paper. She unfolded it, expecting to see an article about the President's latest speech, or maybe a story about a family who lost everything in a flood.

The last thing she anticipated seeing was her own image.

It took her a moment to realize that was what it was. At first, it wasn't even clear to her that it was a human face. It was close-up, upside down, blood and flesh reduced to grayscale. Then her eyes scanned the accompanying text, where she saw her name, highlighted with a blue streak.

Her name. Her face. Her tragedy in freeze frame.

Somehow, the black & white color scheme made it more horrific than the face she had seen in the hospital, when Josh had finally allowed her to look in the mirror.

There was another name highlighted - the credit for the person who had taken the picture. She blinked repeatedly, not sure that it actually said what she thought it said.

Instinctually, she turned towards Josh's office, but the door was closed. He was in a meeting. Her gaze shifted to the other side of the room, where CJ stood talking to Carol. On unsteady legs, she walked to her, the sound of her heels clicking against the floor a welcome distraction.

"Hey. Can I talk to you for a minute?"

CJ studied her face, the smile on her own fading. "Sure. Come on in."

Wordlessly, Donna sat on the couch and held out the article. She watched as the other woman zeroed in on the upsetting bits, sighing deeply.

"Where'd you get this?"

"Someone mailed it to me."

"You haven't seen it before?"

She shook her head. There had been no desire to look at news coverage of the bombing, and even if she had wanted to, her family and friends had done their best to shelter her from it.

"Can you ... find out if it's really his picture? I mean, maybe it's a screw-up or something."

"It's his picture. Colin took it."

Several seconds passed before it clicked. "You've seen this before, haven't you?"

CJ sighed again, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Josh showed it to me a few months ago. When you were still in the hospital. I called Colin. I asked him about it. He may have taken the picture, but he didn't intend for it to make the paper. His editor developed the film and dropped it in."

She cast her eyes down, saddened by the revelation that this wasn't some mistake. "So you're telling me that while I was ... he took my picture?"

"Donna ..."

"He just stood there and took pictures?"

"He's a photographer. His whole life is prints and negatives, capturing moments for posterity. They wouldn't let him come to you. They wouldn't let him near the car. He felt helpless. He did what came naturally. You know how some cultures think taking a photo steals your soul? He tried to save some part of you. In case you died. It was the only thing he could do. He never meant for it to be published anywhere. He felt horrible about it. I'm sure he would have told you personally, but I think Josh might have scared him into the witness protection program."

Her throat constricted, and she widened her eyes to keep the tears from spilling. "Okay," she whispered. "Can I have that back? I need to get to work."

"I can ... throw this out, if you want."

"No, it's okay." She hoped CJ didn't notice that she was trembling.

As she made her way back to her desk, she waited until she could no longer feel the press secretary's stare before she crumpled up the article, tossing it into the trash. When she reached for a pencil, she noticed the smear of ink on her hand. She wrapped her fingers around the wood, bending it until it snapped, sending bits of lead into the air.

"Donna?" The door to his office was open now. He stuck his head out, an inquisitive look on his face.

"I broke a pencil."

"I told you not to get office supplies at the dollar store. What kind of quality do you expect for -?"

"I wanted to break it."

He peered at her more carefully, his expression changing to one of concern. "You okay?"

She plastered on a fake smile, the one she usually reserved for annoying aides and foolish Congressmen. "Yeah. You have another meeting in ten minutes."

"Donna ..."

She stared him down until he relented, returning to his office. She took half of the broken pencil, twisting it until it splintered again. A thin line of blood stood out against the pink flesh, the black ink.

(fin.)