So once again I do not own The West Wing or any of the characters portrayed here. I only, respectfully borrow them. But really come on guys imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and since the WGA/SAG strike is about to put me out of work too, surely you'll allow me a little harmless fanfic without suing me. No spoilers, no particularly bad language. As always I appreciate anyone who take the time to read my work, feedback is always welcome just please let me know before re-posting. –B.G.

 

 

BIG SHOES

By The Bondi Gargoyle

They stood to one side watching the paramedics work.

"Where's Josh?" Toby asked Sam

"He's on the hill"

"Get him back here now!"

"Okay Donna, what's going on?" Josh walked into the bullpen. "Congresswoman Nicholls was just complimenting me on my suit when my pager went off. I gotta say, right now, I'd rather be having lunch with her than playing Mr. Fix-it for these guys."

He stopped as she came out of his office and he saw her face. He'd seen that mix of dread and pity on Donna's face only once before, the night of the Illinois Primary.

"What's happened? Is it my Mom?"

'Why am I always the one who has to do this?' Donna wondered, 'Why is always me who has to bring his world crashing in?' But she knew the answer. It was because she was the only one he allowed close enough to help him pick up the pieces.

"It's not your Mom. It's Leo."

"Leo?" Josh repeated, the blood draining from his face.

Donna put a steadying hand on his shoulder "He had a heart attack."

"Is he...?" Josh struggled to form the word.

"No. They took him to G.W. for treatment."

"Okay. I need to get over there."

"Josh, you can't," she stopped him, her hand now on his arm.

"Why not?"

"You're the Deputy Chief of Staff. With Leo incapacitated, you're the Acting Chief of Staff."

Josh looked stunned, then scared.

"You have to go see the President," Donna instructed gently.

She watched as he took as deep breath and slowly exhaled. Somewhere in that breath he found his resolve because when he looked at her again, he was consummate Josh, ready for action.

"I'll go see him now and then I want Senior Staff in the Mural room."

"I'll make sure they know."

"Sir?"

"Josh." The President waved him fully into the room.

"You've been told what's happened to Leo?"

"Do we have an update?"

"We're working on it. Mr. President, are you comfortable having me as Acting Chief of Staff or would you prefer-?"

"You'll do." Bartlet didn't sound particularly confident.

"Okay. Where would you like to start?"

"Why don't you tell me?"

"Well the Secretary of Energy wants to meet to discuss his suggestions for the current crisis."

"Fine."

"He'll be here in half an hour."

"Fine. What's next?"

"Truthfully, Sir, I've been on the Hill all morning, I'm still trying to get a handle on things."

Bartlet stared down his nose at the younger man

"When you figure it out, I'll be the first one you tell?"

"Yes, Sir"

"Thank you. One more thing, Josh, I want you to move next door."

"To the O.E.B.?"

"Next door to the me. I want you in Leo's office."

"If it's all the same, Mr. President, I'd rather not."

"Its not all the same. Your office is at the other end of the building. I'm not going to wander the halls every time I need you. Until Leo comes back, you'll be through that door."

"Yes Sir," Josh surrendered.

"Fine, we're done."

"Thank you, Sir."

Josh stepped back out into the outer office and let out a long sigh. Mrs. Laningham didn't even ask, she just put a cookie into his hand. Nodding his gratitude he walked into the Mural room.

"What happened?" Josh asked quietly.

"Apparently, he was on the phone," Sam explained. "Margaret heard him yelling, then it all just stopped. She went in and found him slumped over his desk."

"Who was he talking to?"

"Why?"

"Cause I want to know which sonuvabitch I need to kill!" Josh replied near yelling himself.

"He was talking to the New York Times," Toby supplied.

Josh glanced at CJ, "Isn't that your job?"

"He was talking to the Crossword department," Toby continued. "Number six down was misspelled."

"The crossword, that's what..." Josh shook his head, "that's... Leo's in hospital because of a crossword puzzle? Stunning."

"One June 5th, 1944 the code words for the D-Day invasion appeared, quite innocently, in the London Times crossword," Sam observed.

Josh glared at him "What are you doing?"

"Trying, and apparently failing, to preserve the appearance of normalcy with our usual banter and trivia."

" Okay." Josh refocused on Toby "I'm going to need you and the Encyclopedia Britannica over there to take most of my appointments today."

"Donna's already started working it out with Ginger and Bonnie. Are we going ahead with the meeting with Frayne?"

Josh contemplated this

"Time clock's ticking." Toby pointed out

"Yeah, let's keep that, you, me and Leo were all in agreement, now we just have to talk down the President. Listen, you guys, today's going to be a little weird but-"

"We have every faith in you," CJ spoke up.

"What?" Josh glanced at her, caught mid-thought and off-guard

"I just thought you needed to hear that," she said with an affectionate gaze.

"Oh. Well, thanks. I guess that's it. See you in a couple of hours. Toby, we're on for two o'clock."

"Check"

They started to file out.

"CJ?"

"Yes Josh?"

"Really, thanks." He gave her a genuine look of gratitude.

She winked at him and headed for her Press room

Donna walked in as CJ was leaving. "Okay I've moved most of your meetings onto Toby and Sam. Someone from the Counsel's office will deal with the thing with Birk and everything else has been postponed, for a couple days at least. Margaret's getting Leo's schedule together right now and working out what can be shifted and what you'll need to do."

"Speaking of shifting we have a new problem." Josh sank into a chair, rubbing his temple. "Can you get me some aspirin or Tylenol?"

Donna handed him a bottle from her pocket. He dry-gulped two pills and handed it back

"Keep those close."

"What's the new problem?"

"The President wants me in Leo's office"

They regarded each other in silence, both aware of the ramifications.

"We should go talk to Margaret." Donna declared finally

"How much fun can one man have?"

As they walked into the outer office, Margaret rose to greet them. "I've color coded Leo's appointments, red are vital, green are pretty important, purple can be moved and blue he was trying to get out of anyway."

Josh studied the mass of multi-colored ink. "Do I need to remember any of that?"

"No, that would be my job," Donna confirmed, taking the appointment book out of his hand.

" Good." He looked at Margaret. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm...I'm okay." Margaret seemed on the verge of tears but she held her head high. Donna put a comforting arm around her friend and colleague.

"Sorry, dumb question," Josh muttered. "Have we heard any news?"

Margaret and Donna shook their heads.

"Sit down for a moment, Margaret," Josh suggested. Margaret obeyed and accepted the glass of water Donna poured her. As she drank it, Josh studied her, unsure of how to begin. He glanced at Donna for assistance.

"The President's given Josh a direct order," Donna offered up.

Margaret looked back at Josh, questioning.

"He wants me to work out of Leo's office," Josh explained, picking up the thread. "And the thing is, I need Donna within, well, within shouting distance."

"Of course," Margaret nodded.

"We don't want to displace you," Josh quickly added. "I was thinking that we could put another desk or table in here and Donna could work there, using my lap top."

Margaret had begun shaking her head. "I don't think Leo would like that, he would say that this is the office of the Chief of Staff; it needs to command respect not look like a storage locker. I'll trade desks with Donna until Leo comes back."

"You're sure?"

"Yes."

"Okay," Josh agreed. "Thank you."

 

"How about if Margaret briefs you while I go clean out our desks?" Donna suggested, putting the schedule book gently back into Margaret's hands and heading for the door.

By the time she returned Josh was alone in Leo's office, his hand resting on the back of the chair behind the desk, his eyes fixed on some distant mark.

"Josh?"

He looked up at her, "Hmm?"

"Where would you like this stuff?"

"What?" He still seemed half –lost in thought.

"Your things."

"Oh um... I think I'm going to work at the table."

Donna nodded, understanding. Josh would obey the President and work in Leo's space but to sit at the man's desk was more than he was up to right now. She began arranging a makeshift desk on the table.

"Donna!" Josh bellowed

"Coming."

"Now, Donna!"

She appeared in the doorway, "You rang?"

"This is the McIntyre file."

"Yes."

"I asked for the Beidecker file."

She seemed about to speak, but merely held out her hand. Josh tossed the file in her general direction and she returned with the other one.

A full twenty minutes went by before Josh walked out to where she was working. "I asked for the McIntyre file didn't I?" he asked, sounding calmer.

Without a word, Donna rose, crossed to the file cabinet, pulled it open, retrieved the McIntyre file and slammed the drawer shut, holding the folder out to Josh with an expression that clearly stated she was losing her grasp on her patience.

"I meant before," said Josh, with a quick smile. "I realized I actually said 'McIntyre' when I meant 'Beidecker'."

"Yes, you did."

"Donna, tell me when I do that."

"I just figured that you've got a lot on your mind today."

"It's no excuse for taking it out on you."

"Well you picked an interesting day to reach that conclusion."

Josh looked momentarily hurt, until he realized she was teasing him.

 

"Don't I get points for intent?"

"Not especially."

"Okay."

He felt a wave of gratitude for her presence. Long ago she had mastered when to steer him with kid gloves and when to jostle him a little. Today, more than ever, he was relying on their familiar rhythm. It was the only thing that didn't currently have a surreal edge to it

The phone rang.

"Chief of Staff's office," Donna answered it.

She listened for a minute, then covered the receiver and glanced at Josh "Ready for your Situation room briefing?"

Josh shook his head and Donna flashed a sympathetic look. She brought the phone back to her ear, about to make an excuse but Josh stopped her. Walking away from his responsibilities wasn't going to bring Leo back any sooner

"As long as they promise not to go to war without Leo, I'm okay."

"He'll be right down"

The day was fading into evening when Donna next tapped on his door.

"Yeah?" Josh looked up from his files, his expression one of utter misery

"CJ needs to see you."

"Send her in."

CJ entered and Josh pushed out the chair across from him with his foot. CJ slid into it and regarded him searchingly.

"How's it going, Josh?"

"How do you think? What's up?"

"The Commerce Secretary."

"What about him?"

"He told Chris Clements from the Dallas Star that we're going to go with his plan. She wants our official comment"

"Our official comment? We haven't signed off on that. In fact Toby and I are trying to convince the President it's a bad idea. What are you doing, giving Frayne to the press before this is a done deal?"

"I didn't call a press conference, Josh, she bumped into him in the lobby."

" I expect you to control these people. This is the last thing I need today." Josh groaned

"What's wrong?" Toby asked, walking in and tossing a couple of files onto the stack Josh was working from.

"Mike Frayne told Chris Clements that we're going ahead with the deal. We might as well kill Leuwin- Gersher now."

Toby shrugged, the answer obvious to him; "Deny it"

"Then the story becomes the fact that we're out of sync with our own Cabinet." CJ pointed out

"Is Chris willing to deal?" asked Toby

"I don't know"

"Find out"

"And CJ, let's try to keep the press away from the Cabinet for the rest of the afternoon."

"It was the lobby, Josh, not my office."

"Just do it," Josh snarled, picking up his pen and turning back to his work, an indication he was done talking.

CJ went out one door and Toby the other.

"Look after him," Toby instructed Donna.

"I could say the same to you," she retorted.

Toby stopped, "Meaning what?"

"You guys need to protect him, until he gets his feet, and until he gets to see Leo. You drop the ball too many times today and you're going to be without any Chief of Staff, acting or otherwise."

Toby grimaced. He liked Donna, but he wasn't too crazy about having his own assistant telling him how to do his job, let alone someone else's.

"Listen Donna," Toby paused, taking her in. Normally easy going, even in the face of a crisis, a tension hovered around her in a cloud. "He's tougher than he looks."

"Not today."

Toby suspected that her current expression was often behind Josh finding his humanity. He found that he was no more immune than was his beleaguered friend

"No. You're right, we need to take up more of the slack."

"Just today. Just until he sees that Leo's okay."

"Yes." Toby reached out and awkwardly patted her shoulder "Don't worry, it'll be okay. I'll make sure it's okay"

 

"Chris, can I talk to you?" CJ stood over the reporter's desk

"Sure thing"

"I need you to drop the story."

"CJ," Chris shook her head.

"The President hasn't signed off on this yet."

"Frayne seemed to think he has."

"Josh and Toby say no."

"That's a story in itself then, isn't it?"

"I'm not coming to you empty handed, I'm willing to trade, but I need you to sit on this."

"Why?"

"Because of Leo."

Chris's expression softened slightly. "I heard CJ, and me personally, my heart goes out to him, and to you, but a story's a story."

" Chris when the President does decide, I'll get you ten minutes on the record but right now, look Josh is having a bad enough day without having to release a statement that cuts a cabinet secretary cold."

The sympathy on Chris Clements' face faded "So this isn't about Leo, it's about Josh."

"Yes"

"I see"

"Chris, I know he's not the greatest with the Press Corps, but don't punish him today."

For a moment the two women regarded each other in silent negotiation; then the reporter blinked.

"Okay," she shrugged.

"Seriously?"

"But I'm holding you to that ten minutes."

"You got it." CJ took a step away.

"Hey CJ, do you have a thing for Josh?"

"Me?" the Press Secretary let out a genuine laugh. " Me and Josh? No, of course not."

" 'Cause you're very protective of him."

"I'm very protective of all of them, it's my job"

"No, you guys have always done this. I'd put it down to the shooting, but even before that we'd count Josh out and he'd get back up."

"He's important to this administration," said CJ, her tone guarded, not liking where the discussion was leading.

"If you say so. I guess you all see something special. All I see is an arrogant jerk who's a legend in his own mind."

CJ nodded, unsure of how much she could say, how much she should say.

"I know that's what you see, and for some reason, he cultivates that persona. I think it makes him more effective when he has to go be the President's bulldog; but Chris, really, there's another side to him. He's a good man and as many times as we've defended him, he's done the same for each of us. Right now, his mentor's lying in G.W., post heart attack, and I'm just trying not to make his day any worse than it already is."

"Ten minutes."

"Chris, I might even give you twelve"

 

"It's fixed," CJ told Josh, leaning into his office from the hall.

"How?"

"Ten minutes on the record when the President does sign off on something. And I played the Leo card," CJ admitted.

"The Leo card, or the Leo's spot is being filled by an incompetent so try not to put us on record for twenty-four hours card?"

"Josh, don't." CJ crossed to him. "No-one thinks you're incompetent."

Josh jerked his pen in the direction of the Oval Office.

"Its not about you, Josh, he's scared. Leo's his closest counsel, he doesn't know how to cope without him."

"I know."

"He's just yelling for the sake of it."

"It's not going to work, CJ. We're going to have to find another Chief of Staff"

"Who?"

"I don't know."

She squeezed his shoulder. "Just hang in there, Josh, it might get worse before it gets better, but it'll get better."

"So you say" Josh muttered doubtfully

 

 

"The answer is still 'yes', Josh."

Josh mentally groaned, running a hand through his hair.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but this a colossally bad idea."

"Politically speaking?"

"For a start."

"I don't care."

"Well unfortunately, Mr. President, you pay me to care and I have to you tell the ramifications are-"

"The election's still a ways off, Josh. I'm sure we'll manage to do something right between now and then."

"Forget the election, Sir. If we go ahead and endorse this trade agreement, we lose Oklahoma, we lose New Mexico, we lose Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska."

"Did we ever have those states?"

"We had them for Leuwin –Gersher. Sir, it goes to the floor in two weeks. If you get behind this agreement, this relatively minor agreement, and the only reason I can think to do that is to appease Mike Frayne, then the last month and a half that I've spent courting Hiram Harvey go right out the window. He'll take eight other votes with him and, Mr. President, we don't have nine votes to play with."

"Appease Mike Frayne?"

"I'm sorry, Sir, that was an unfortunate choice of words, I just feel very strongly that we shouldn't do this."

"Send a boy to do a man's job," Jed Bartlet muttered. Unfortunately, Josh heard him.

A little part of his brain told him that he should just excuse himself and leave the room; but Josh couldn't seem to stop himself from what happened next.

"Okay, that's it!" Josh heard himself say. "I am sorry that I am not Leo McGarry!"

"You can say that again!" Jed Bartlet retorted, Josh's anger setting alight his own.

"I'm sure you've said it enough for both of us over the course of the day, Sir. I have never claimed that I was ready to fill Leo's shoes, circumstances demanded that, for today at least, I had to step up. If you would prefer to have someone else as Acting Chief of Staff, just say the word. You tell me their name and I will send a car, or a chopper, or Airforce One, or the gawddamn space shuttle to get them. Today's been no picnic for me either, because you know what, Sir, I love him too. If he dies over in that hospital, he'll do it without me saying goodbye, because I've been stuck here all day listening to you yell at me because I'm not him!"

Josh fell silent. The President stood very still, looking at him, his expression unreadable.

"Well, I'll go clean out my desk," Josh said quietly, turning toward the door to Leo's office. He was supposed to wait until he was dismissed, but since he'd already thrown protocol to the wind, he thought he might as well give in to his desire to flee.

"Josh," the President's voice was full of warmth, "call Frayne."

"And tell him what?" Josh turned back around.

"Tell him... tell him to go back to the table, we don't have a deal."

"Yessir." Josh felt like he might start to laugh, weep or both.

"Then I want you to go over to G.W. and see Leo. I went and saw him earlier, while you were getting your Situation room orientation, he's going to be all right but he has been asking for you. So I want you to go sit with him. Finally, Josh, I guess you and I are going to take a little while to get used to each other in this capacity, but let's not waste NASA's money on a fools errand. There is no one on this planet, or any other, who I want next door in Leo's absence. You may not be quite ready to fill his shoes, but you do a passable imitation of it. So if I haven't driven you completely to the brink today, I'd like you to continue to serve as Acting Chief."

"I serve at the pleasure of the President," Josh answered, with a slight smile.

"Good. Okay get out of here, I'm heading for the Residence and you're done for the day. Tell Leo I'll come see him again tomorrow."

"Yes, Sir. I'm sorry about-"

"No need, Josh. Never happened"

"Thank you, Mr. President."

"Thank you."

 

Josh sat by the hospital bed. Leo seemed very small, much smaller than Josh remembered. Leo always came across as six-foot tall and bullet proof. He had come through a war that had killed too many of his friends; he had survived the booze and the pills and the character assassination attempt that had followed them; he had walked away unscathed from shower of bullets brought forth by the West Virginia White Pride. To be betrayed by his own heart, the very part of him that Josh had always credited as his biggest, strongest element, was almost unfathomable to the younger man.

Josh reached over and picked up the St Christopher's medal around Leo's neck, turning it over in his fingers

"McGarry, Leonard Francis. Lieutenant. Serial number..." Leo jerked awake suddenly, his eyes focused on something very far away.

"Leo! Leo, it's okay. It's not the war" Josh put a steadying hand on his mentor's shoulder. "Leo, it's Josh, you're in G.W. hospital."

Leo looked at him "Josh?"

"Yeah, it's me. You're okay."

Leo slumped back in the bed, breathing hard.

"I didn't know where I was. I thought I was back there."

"It's all right. You're just a little disoriented."

Leo brought up a hand to cover Josh's where it still lay.

"Its okay," Josh said once more, turning his hand over to grip Leo's.

"I'm in G.W.?"

"Yeah. Do you remember what happened?"

"I had a heart attack? Sometime this morning?"

"That's right. I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier."

Josh flashed on a memory. They were in exactly reversed positions. He'd been in the bed and Leo was holding his hand.

"I'm sorry I couldn't come earlier. It's been crazed, with the President and all. I tried to get away I'm sorry," Leo had said, but he'd held Josh's hand tightly as if to confirm that he now that he'd arrived, he wasn't going anywhere.

"Josh?"

"Right here."

"Have they got me on some thing? It feels like they've got me on something."

"Leo, you had a heart attack. I'm pretty sure they've got you on quite a number of things."

"It feels like painkillers or something."

"Leo, I talked to the doctor-"

"I don't want any. No pain killers, no muscle relaxants."

"Listen to me, Old Man, you've had a heart attack. Your body is going to be in pain. They've only got you on them so you can get some rest. I talked with the doctor. It's going to be very controlled. They're not going to give you that self administering drip thing I had, or anything like that."

"No."

"Leo."

"You tell them, Josh You tell them no pain killers."

"Leo, for pete's sake."

"I am not going through that again, Josh. You tell them!" He was clutching Josh's hand with vice-like strength and in his eyes Josh saw the one emotion he'd never before witnessed in Leo McGarry, he saw fear.

"I'll tell them. I promise, I'll fix it."

"Promise me"

"Leo, I swear, I'll make sure, no painkillers. Now just relax, you're going to have a relapse." With his free hand Josh stroked Leo's brow comfortingly.

"Okay."

They sat quietly for a few minutes, Leo still holding tightly to Josh's hand as though it were the one thing keeping him afloat.
"How're you and the President doing?"

"Just fine." Josh dropped his eyes.

"Wanna try that again with the truth?" For a moment, Leo almost sounded like himself.

"Well, we're both a little pissed to discover that I'm not you. But I think we've got it worked out."

"You didn't lose your temper, did you?"

"Why would you think that?"

"You did, didn't you?"

"Briefly but-"

"Josh!"

"But we're okay. When I don't lose my temper, he feels like I'm handling him."

"Just be honest with him. He'll follow you anywhere as long as you're straight with him."

"So I discovered."

"The trick is to be honest without flipping out."

"Thanks very much for explaining that, it all becomes clear," Josh smiled. "Now listen up, McGarry, I've been reviewing your files. You need to start delegating more."

"Josh."

"Don't 'Josh' me. You need to be dropping more of this onto Toby and me to farm out to the staff. That thing with Wilmot, for example, that's right up Sam's alley."

"I have a history with Wilmot."

"You have a history with half of Washington. What you don't have, are enough hours in the day. You're going to have to trust us to handle more."

"I do trust you, Josh. It's just that-"

"No arguments, Leo. You do all this stuff: you worry about the President; you worry about the staff; you try to take care of everything. This attack was inevitable. So once you're back, you, Toby and I are sitting down and laying out a new division of labor. No arguments from you. It's time you stopped worrying about us so much and let us look after you."

"If I don't look after you, who's going to? You especially."

"Thanks Leo, I appreciate being singled out as the least functional."

"Not the least functional," Leo squeezed his hand, "just the most important."

Josh found he had to swallow hard before he could speak again.

"You should get some rest. The President's coming back over tomorrow morning and if you look tired, somehow it's going to be my fault."

Leo nodded. "You'll talk to the doctors?"

"I'll go as soon as you're asleep."

"You don't have to stay."

"Listen to me, McGarry. I know when I was hurt; they had me so loaded up it was hard to tell when I was awake and when I was asleep. However, I do know for a fact, that every night that I was in the ICU, and quite a few nights when I was on the ward, you came over, regardless of how late it was, and sat with me. So don't start lecturing me on what is and isn't necessary."

"Thank you."

"Shut up and get some sleep."

It wasn't until an hour after Leo's breathing grew regular and the grip on his hand relaxed, that Josh stood up. He leaned over and kissed Leo's forehead, watching for another minute before finally forcing himself toward the door.

He went and had a long argument with the supervising cardiologist that eventually resulted in the man agreeing to consider a reduction in Leo's medication. Suspecting that it was his turn to be appeased, Josh went outside and called Millicent Griffith on his cel. What was the use of working in the White House if you couldn't get the Surgeon General to pull rank for you occasionally?

Despite recent tensions, Dr Griffith liked both the Chief of Staff and his deputy. She dismissed Josh's apologies for the late call and upon hearing the situation promised to do what she could. Her last words were a warning not to wear himself out and a suggestion that he get some rest.

"Oh yeah, that's highly likely." Josh muttered to himself, as he sank onto the low wall by the emergency room.

Donna found him there a few minutes later.

"How're you doing?"

"Had better days," he admitted

"Anything I can do to help?"

He glanced at the square across the street. "Feel like taking a walk?"

Donna nodded. Josh hauled himself to his feet; causing Donna to reflect he hadn't looked that tired since he recovered from his own injuries.

They fell into step and sensing that Josh needed a little human contact, she slipped her hand through one of his crossed arms. He briefly touched it with his own, a gesture of acknowledgement and thanks.

"How are the others doing? When they're not acting like everything's okay in front of me?"

"They're shaken up," Donna admitted. "Sam's putting on the bravest front but that's cause he's been the one with Mallory and Jenny"

"Jenny's here?"

"She flew in from New York this afternoon."

"Where is she?"

"They went over to Mallory's when official visiting hours ended."

"I should call her. I should have called her hours ago."

"She thinks you did"

"What?"

"I called her when Sam called Mallory. I told her that you'd asked me to"

"When was this?"

"When you were on your way back from the Hill."

"Thank you," he sighed in a near whisper.

"You would have told me to do it."

"If I'd thought of it in the last twelve hours."

"You had a lot on your mind" Donna re-assured him, squeezing his arm comfortingly

"How's Margaret?"

"In the care of Mrs. Laningham and Mrs. Bartlet."

"The den mothers of the West Wing."

"Well having been one of their cubs, I can assure you, she couldn't be in better hands. How's Leo?"

"He's scared," Josh admitted. It wasn't something he would tell the rest of them, but he knew Donna would understand and keep the secret as her own. "Less of the heart-attack and more of what they've been giving him. Stubborn old man."

Hearing the catch in his voice, Donna stopped and put her arms around him.

"He's quite happy to take care of all of us," Josh continued, leaning into the embrace, his cheek against her hair, "but will he let anyone look after him? No, he has to pretend he's Superman."

"He's going to make it, Josh" she whispered.

"In the most difficult way possible. He made me go tell the doctor to take him off all but the most essential drugs."

"Because he's scared of getting re-addicted?"

"Yeah, and I tried to tell him that wouldn't happen, but he'd rather suffer agonizing pain."

"You can understand why."

"Sure. Sure I can. I... I just hate seeing him like this. He's stuck been Scylla and Charybdis and there's nothing I can do."

"Except exactly what you are doing. The two biggest things on Leo's mind are the President and his fears about the drugs. In both cases he trusts you to deal with it. If anyone manages to look after Leo, it's you. "

"When he lets me, which is almost never."

"In his own way, he does."

"I guess"

Josh stepped back from Donna's embrace. She let her arms fall without comment but smiled as he instead took hold of her hand and resumed walking.

"Thanks," he said after they'd gone a few feet.

"You're welcome."

"For the whole day, you've been a rock"

"Can I tell you something?"

"Sure."

"The whole time I lived in Madison, and keep in mind I was dating a medical resident, I stepped foot inside the hospital exactly three times. Three times in five years. I've been in G.W. three times in the last twelve months."

"What are you saying?" Josh's mouth curved into a wry grin.

"I'm saying knock it off, both of you."

She didn't mean it, of course, and he knew it. She was trying to make him laugh and she succeeded.

"Are you and the President going to be okay?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

He remembered the look on his leader's face at the end of their conversation.

"Yes."

"Good."

"Did you have a chance to go the bookstore?"

"I did" She dug in her purse and extracted a book which she handed to him

He held it in both hands running his thumb over the slightly raised print of the cover.

"Why is it so important to have a copy of 'To Kill Mockingbird'?"

Josh had sent her to search for it with an urgency that suggested it contained lost state secrets that had to be retrieved before they fell into the hands of the enemy.

"Leo read it to me."

"When?"

"When I was in the ICU."

"I didn't know that."

"He came in when no-one else was there. Late at night, I suppose, I'm not really sure. I know I was drifting in and out of consciousness a lot. So some things that I remember, I only dreamed, and some things that were real, I don't remember. There are two things though that I am very clear on. One was you sitting beside me, always talking to me, instead of about me, like everyone else seemed to. The other was Leo's voice, reading Harper Lee. I think it's his favourite book, so now I want to read it to him."

Donna had a sudden flash of the future, though she had no idea whether or not it was her own. In her mind's eye she saw Josh sitting by a child's bedside, a book open on his lap, his voice a source of comfort.

"You should let more people see this side of you, you and Leo both."

"It's not how we do things," Josh replied simply. "Sam makes a much better musketeer."

"If you say so."

Donna glanced back at the lights of hospital's entrance and they watched as an ambulance cut its sirens and pulled into the bay.

"I suppose I should get back to the White House, I promised I'd take Margaret home," she said.

"I should go see if Dr Griffith had any success with Leo's meds."

They did not speak again until they were standing at the doors.

Josh put a hand on Donna's shoulder "What you said before. I'm glad you see it. It matters."

"Josh..." she trailed off.

"Its okay, just say it"

"I'm worried about you."

"Why?"

"Because you haven't looked this tired in a long time."

"Well, I haven't yelled at the President in a long time." He flashed a self-depreciating grin.

"And the last time you did..." Donna left the thought hanging.

"I'm not relapsing"

"Promise me you'll talk to someone"

"About what?"

"Leo, the President, the job, all of it."

"Who would like me to talk to?"

"I don't care, Josh. I just don't want you to get sick again."

"Donna, I'm not going to-"

"Josh just promise me. It doesn't have to be a shrink, it can be Sam or CJ or whoever. Just promise me that you aren't going to start bottling this all up inside of yourself."

"Can I talk to you?"

"Always."

They stared at each other for a minute both feeling as though something momentous had been agreed upon. Then Josh put his arm around her shoulders "Let me just check in with the doc and then we'll go see Margaret."

"You don't have to do that, she knows you're up to your eyeballs."

"Its what the Chief of Staff does. He looks after people. And as long as I can count on you to look after me, I think it's time that I started looking after them."

Donna nodded and slid her arm around his back and together they walked though the doors.

 

 

 

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