"The Rattler" by Jae Gecko (West Wing, 500 words, infuriated)

"I'll be in my office when you're done," Toby had said, but I'd gone back to my own, my tongue still too numb for speech. The lamp on my desk cast shadows across the flag on the wall, obscuring the words at the bottom: Don't tread on me.

I stalked into the hallway and stopped just outside Toby's open door. He looked up from his desk, the corner of his eye twitching in an almost imperceptible wince. "So," I said, keeping my tone even. "Who exactly was behind the decision to leave me in the dark as long as possible?"

Toby raised his chin, looking me squarely in the eyes. "You had a speech to finish."

"And none of you trusted me to be able to write it once I knew." My voice was barbed ice. "I can't help but wonder what I might have done to make you think I was that incompetent."

"It wasn't about competence, Sam, it was about not making things harder on you than they had to be."

I sniffed. "Well, that makes it all right, then."

He leaned back in his chair, but his gaze didn't waver.

I splayed my palms in front of me. "When the chairman of the GDC came to me for an explanation after you slapped them down, I looked him right in the eye and said exactly what you wanted me to say. I spent the morning after the shooting at the studios recounting what had happened while Josh was still in *surgery*. I damn well could have written a speech through this."

"There was no compelling reason for you to know-"

"Of course not. Because right now we have absolutely no need for speechwriters with years of legal training."

"... until the speech was written." Toby stood, throwing his arms out to his sides. "Quit making kicked puppy noises for a minute and listen to me!"

I snapped my jaw shut and turned away.

"We made the decision that was best for the President!" he bellowed. "If it wasn't the best thing for you, well, that's just too bad. We stand with him, right now, or we don't stand at all. There's no room for individual egos in this one, period." He brought a hand to his forehead. "It was me, okay?" he said, more quietly. "Josh wanted us to tell you."

"Yeah?" I jerked my head back up, narrowing my eyes at him. "How long has *he* known?"

"Sam." Toby's tone was low, with an edge of warning. Don't make this personal, I could almost hear him saying, and it shouldn't have been, but it always was. "He's tried to convince me to tell you at least once every day," he went on, "so if you're going to blast somebody for this, just ... make sure you're aiming your weapon at the right guy. I'm just saying."

"Right," I said, dismissing him with a wave of my hand. "Are we done?"

Toby let out a sharp breath. "We're done."