Random Thoughts: As the countdown begins for season two, I started thinking about how the shooting would affect Josh and Donna's relationship and this story sort of wrote itself. Now that I've read Paula's spoiler, I know this is probably off base, but this board is all about fantasy, right?
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I just like to have fun with them. Please don't sue me. I have no money.
Summary: Josh realizes the attempt on the President's life has negatively affected Donna.
It was three weeks after the attempt on the President's life. That attempt had left two secret service agents dead and Leo McGarry and Sam Seaborn in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds. The other senior staff members had sustained minor injuries and where now doing extra work to make up for their wounded colleagues. With all the hustle around the shooting, morale in the West Wing was at an all time low. There were no longer silent tears or whispered conversations like there had been in the days following the shooting. In fact, there wasn't much of anything. People walked around like zombies, doing their jobs, passing their co-workers in the hall, but not saying much of anything. It was eerie.
Today was the first day Josh had really noticed this or much of anything. From the minute he'd returned from the hospital on that horrible night, he'd assumed the role of Acting Chief of Staff and hadn't stopped running since then. Not only had the pressure of his temporary job kept him from dealing with his own feelings about the shooting, but it had prevented him from seeing the way his co- workers were suffering. Especially Donna.
Not that she hadn't been by his side from almost the moment he'd returned, but she was much quieter. And she seemed to be lacking that effervescence and spark that kept Josh on his toes. They hadn't really had any time to talk, much less banter and bicker in the past few weeks. However, Donna had continued to be efficient and dependable, making Josh's job much easier.
Now, as Josh prepared Leo's office for his return and the press had finally backed off from the story, Josh had an opportunity to study the woman sitting on the couch next to his chair. They were in Leo's office going over Josh's schedule for the next two days.
Donna was reading off the events in Josh's schedule as if she were a robot. Not looking at him and not jiggling her foot, or tapping her pen, or even breathing it seemed to Josh. She was sitting ram-rod straight. And she looked tired. Very tired. `Why haven't I noticed how tired she looks?' Josh asked himself as he studied her. He'd taken her presence for granted these past few weeks, but now that he studied her, he realized he couldn't go on anymore without thanking her for all she'd done.
She startled at his voice. She met his eyes. Josh was taken aback by the dark circles under her eyes. "You okay?"
Her expression remained unreadable, as she said "uh huh," ducking her head back into his schedule book.
"It's just that you seem...."
"Josh, are we going to finish with your schedule or not? Because if not, I have ten thousand other things I could be doing," she snapped.
"Donna," Josh said, never having heard that tone of voice directed at him. He stared at her.
She stared at him for a few more seconds and then ducked her head again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."
"It's okay," Josh whispered back, reaching a hand across to her knee.
Almost the second Josh touched her, Donna jumped up, spilling his schedule book onto the floor.
"God! I'm such a klutz," she said, squatting in front of the couch and scrambling to pick up the scattered pieces of his book.
Josh squatted down next to her on the floor, purposely stilling her hands. Donna didn't jump this time, but she didn't look into his face. "Donna, relax. It's fine. Leave the schedule book."
"Josh, you won't know what you're doing tomor...."
"I don't care what I'm doing tomorrow," he said, gruffly. "I do care about what's going on with you."
Donna eyes were swimming with tears as she finally looked into his face. She tried to blink them away, but a few escaped down her cheeks. "With me?" she whispered. "Why would there be anything going on with me?"
"Donna, I know that I haven't been paying a lot of attention to much of anything except the job these past few weeks, but I'm paying attention now and I want to know why you look like you haven't slept. And why you're so quiet. And why you almost bit my head off. And why you jumped when I touched you."
"Is that all you want to know?" she asked, bitterly, disengaging herself from Josh, rising and walking to look out Leo's window.
"Donna," Josh said, surprised at her angry tone.
Hearing the hurt in his voice, Donna softened her tone. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired."
"Yes, I can see that," said Josh, walking to stand next to her, but not touching her. "I'm asking you why."
She gave a small laugh. "Josh, it's been a hard couple of weeks, if you hadn't noticed."
"Donna, I noticed," he said, putting a hand at her lower back. Feeling an incredible amount of tension in her back he said, "I've also been sleeping at night."
Donna sniffed. "Really?" she whispered.
"Yeah," he said, slowly moving his thumb up and down along her spinal cord, a small movement, but one she didn't seem to jump away from. "Except for a few nightmares....well a lot of nightmares, I'd say I'm averaging three to four hours a night."
"Yeah," he said, beginning to understand where the conversation was going. "You know. Nightmares about the shooting. About all the things that happened. About all the things that could have happened. Things like that."
Donna remained silent, but he felt her back tense up again.
"Hmm?" she said, still staring out the window.
"Are you having nightmares about the shooting?"
She was silent another minute and then she suddenly spun away from Josh's arm. She quickly gathered Josh's scattered schedule book and began heading out the door. "I guess we can go over your schedule in the morning. `Night Josh," she said.
"Donna..." Josh said, but she was already gone.
Josh sat down on the couch. He rested his elbows on his knees hanging his head down. He let out a huge sigh. It seemed that although he'd done his own and Leo's job to the best of his ability, his inability to see the effect the shooting had had on the people who weren't even there had rendered those successes mute. How could he not have seen that Donna was scared too? Why hadn't he taken the time to talk to her? Why had it taken him three weeks to notice that she didn't look like she'd slept in all that time?
Josh started to lean back onto the couch when he noticed something on the floor where his schedule book had landed. He picked it up and turned it in his hands. It was a picture of him and Donna. He couldn't remember where it'd been taken, but it had to have been at one of any number of gala events they'd attended together during President Bartlet's first year. They were sitting at a table, Josh's arm draped across the back of Donna's chair, both of them smiling towards the camera.
Josh took a few minutes to study the picture. He reached out a finger and touched the image of Donna's face. She was obviously hurting and he had been too wrapped up in his own little world to notice.
Cursing himself for not noticing sooner, Josh thought back to the night of the shooting. He'd walked back into the West Wing sometime in the early morning hours. After going through a beefed-up security check, he had walked into the main reception area, staring down at his beeper, which was already going off. When he raised his head, he noticed Donna standing at the entrance. She hadn't said anything to him. She wasn't moving. She was just staring. He remembered stopping suddenly too. There was something about seeing her that made his heart skip a beat. He walked towards her, and it seemed that she looked him over from head to toe, as if she didn't trust that the hospital would have checked him out. Her face revealed her relief at finding him physically unscathed. He stopped right in front of her. She had started to open her mouth to speak, but Josh had stopped her.
"Not a word," he'd whispered, gathering her in his arms and holding on for dear life.
Donna seemed to collapse into him, her trembling body racked with sobs. Her heart was racing, and the minute Josh had touched her, his heart started racing too. It hadn't seemed real until he'd seen her. They'd stood in the foyer for quite a few minutes just holding each other.
When their hearts had stopped pounding, Josh pulled back to look at her face. There were silent tears coursing down her face.
"Shh," he'd whispered, kissing her forehead and then gently brushing the tears from her cheeks.
"You're okay?" she'd whispered, studying his face.
"The hospital checked me out. I'm fine," he'd whispered back, watching her eyes pool with tears again.
"And Leo? Sam?"
"Both doing fine. Gunshot wounds," he'd said feeling her tremble again as she threw herself back into his arms.
"Oh God, Josh. I'm so glad you weren't hurt. When I heard I came right...."
"Shhh, I know Donna. I know," he'd said, feeling tears start to prick his own eyes. He'd felt such gratitude towards this woman who had found her way through chaos to get into the West Wing to wait for him.
They'd held each other a few more minutes before Donna pulled back. Looking into his face, she asked, "What happened?"
Josh had felt himself shutting down as she asked her question. Being physically unscathed was one thing. But now he had to stamp down those other feelings, the ones he didn't want to deal with. The ones like watching Leo's body spin away from the car as the bullet had entered his body, or like seeing Sam's blood on the sidewalk long after the ambulance had driven away. He had a job to do and he couldn't do it if he had to think about what had just happened.
Though he longed for the love and security he saw shining in Donna's eyes, there was no way he could function if he even thought about her question. Instead, he'd pulled out of her arms, reaching for his pager again. "Somebody tried to kill the President," he said as he'd looked down at the numbers on his pager and began walking to his office.
It was a few seconds before he realized Donna wasn't beside him. He turned back to find her standing in the foyer still, staring after him. "Donna, we have to move some stuff to Leo's office," he'd said and then watched Donna's eyes flash at him briefly. Whether it was anger or something else, Josh didn't really know. He experienced a brief pang for the abrupt way he'd left her arms and changed the subject, but as he was formulating his apology, Donna's face took on a steely look and she had marched towards him.
"Of course," she'd replied in a monotone voice, scooting to her desk, throwing her coat on the chair and grabbing a notepad.
By the time Josh realized he'd made a huge mistake, it was too late and his pager had gone off again and he hadn't had another minute to think about what he'd done, until now, three weeks later, when he realized that his aide was at the breaking point and that he wasn't doing too well himself.
Sighing, Josh looked at the picture again. Both of them so innocent. So full of life. He wondered if he'd ever feel that way again.