TITLE: "Shanah Tovah"
AUTHOR: Luna (email@example.com)
CATEGORY: First season finale resolution; character death (rated PG)
SUMMARY: Toby and Josh deal with some fallout.
DISCLAIMER: The West Wing and its characters are the property of Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, Warner Brothers, and NBC. I'm as poor as I look. Don't sue me.
NOTE: The opening quote is from "Running Up That Hill," a song by Kate Bush. "Shanah tovah" is a traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting.
"See how deep the bullet lies, Unaware it's tearing you asunder There is thunder in our hearts, And so much hurt for the ones we love Tell me we won't let it go..."
September 30th, 2000
Josh winced when the doorbell rang. A visitor meant putting his brave face on, using the crutches he hated -- though at least he wasn't still grounded to the damned chair -- and repeating again and again that he was doing fine. He'd even asked his family and closest friends not to come by on Saturdays. He needed the time alone with his thoughts.
Frowning, Josh hoisted himself up from the couch and made his way across the room. The ringing lasted until he yanked the door open, and froze. His eyes met a familiar face with an expression that matched the insistent, impatient noise of the bell.
"Hello, Josh." When there was no response, Toby continued, "May I come in?"
Josh shook his head to stop himself from staring. "Yeah. Yeah, come in." He moved aside and Toby walked into the apartment, moved a small stack of books off a recliner, and sat down,
"You want coffee?" Josh offered. Toby shook his head. "It's just, you know, everyone else has been coming by. I haven't seen you since...." Josh trailed off, remembering exactly when they'd last seen each other. "All summer," he finished, lamely.
"I was there a lot in the hospital," Toby said.
"Oh." Josh resumed his place on the sofa. "I guess I don't remember."
"You wouldn't. You weren't exactly conscious. It was touch-and-go there for a while."
Josh looked past Toby and out the window. There were a couple trees in front of the building across the street, and their leaves were turning orange around the tips of the branches.
"I still can't really believe it," he said, distantly. "That a whole month went by and I didn't even know."
"You know, the entire greater Washington area went nuts worrying about you. The President nearly held Congress hostage to get that gun control bill back on the table, and Leo had Margaret wearing out the phone lines keeping tabs on you. Donna co-opted Ginger and Bonnie and the three of them basically kept up a constant vigil at your side."
"Donna bonded with my mother in the hospital. The two of them together...." Josh looked down and smiled. Through a combination of nagging and spoiling him, the women had kept him going. "Is C.J.'s shoulder healing up okay? The last time she visited, she still had a sling."
"Yeah, that came off last week -- not that it was holding her back any. She's been amazing this summer. Ferocious. She still wouldn't let you anywhere near the press room, but she misses you. Sam does, too."
"And you?" Josh asked quietly, looking down at his hands.
Toby fixed him with his trademark somber, steady gaze. "I took some time off, after Charlie's funeral."
Josh sighed. He barely remembered anything about that night in Rosslyn -- the voice yelling "Gun!", and thinking there must be a mistake; the Secret Service didn't let things like that happen. He didn't even remember hearing the shots, or dropping to the ground, or being hit -- only the sensation of disbelief. Later, he read in the paper that Charlie had reacted instantly, pushing Zoey Bartlet behind him towards the waiting limo. He'd taken four bullets to save her life.
Aloud, he murmured, "I wish I'd been there for that."
"Yeah." They both fell silent briefly. "So I went and stayed with my brother and his family for a few weeks."
"Oh. He was okay, right? Coming back from the Columbia?"
"He was fine, but both of us seriously needed some time to relax."
"I didn't come by to talk about me, though. I came to ask how you're doing."
Josh looked up at Toby and an edge crept into his voice. "You came to ask how I'm doing?"
"Is that so hard to believe?"
"I'm fine," Josh said, through clenched teeth, looking as if he wanted to say more. Toby waited.
The silence broke. "I almost died, Toby!" Josh exploded, and struck the coffee table hard with his fist. "A month of my life disappeared, and there's been tests and physical therapy and wondering whether I could even walk again. And painkillers. And pain. People tiptoe around like if they say something less than cheerful I'll collapse. The doctors are vague and encouraging, and they say I should be able to get back to work in a week or two, and everything's just so damn *wrong*...."
He stopped, out of breath and shaking, dropped his head into his hands, and began to cry. The sobs caused painful twinges along his spine, but he didn't care.
Toby hesitated for a moment, then moved from the easy chair to the couch, placing a steady, reassuring hand on Josh's shoulder and letting him let it out.
"You could have been killed too," Josh managed after a while. "You, and everyone."
"I was the one who hired Charlie in the first place."
"I know." After a beat, Toby added, "I wasn't entirely forthright with you before."
Josh raised a puzzled, tear-stained, boyish face. "What?"
"When you mentioned you hadn't seen me all summer. Part of the reason for that was that I felt...." He broke off and swallowed hard. "I walked away that night with nothing more than a few bruises. I felt guilty that I was all right, and so many people, people I care about, weren't."
Their eyes met and held. "I know that feeling," Josh said, slowly.
"I thought you might. I won't tell you that everything has gone back to normal at work. It hasn't. Security's even tighter, and there's a little more sadness in the atmosphere, and some people are gone."
"I know." He sighed. "The day I got out of the hospital, Mandy told me she was going back to New York. I can't say I blame her. I've had some thoughts about quitting."
"So did Sam and C.J. So did I. When I went out of town I told the President I might not be coming back."
"You?" Josh was surprised. "But you did."
"I've always believed we should take what we do very seriously. Now we've seen in the harshest way possible what's at stake. If something like this tragedy can force us to give up, then the people with the guns win, Josh." Toby rubbed his forehead, thinking. "The President told me he would understand whatever decision I made. When I came back -- I think he was proud of me for staying. And he will be proud of you."
Josh took a deep breath, paused, and finally nodded. "Yeah."
Toby stood. "I have to go now. I'm kind of on my way to shul for New Year's services."
"Oh. Hey, I forgot that was today."
"It's today." He leaned down and touched Josh's shoulder again, lightly. "Things have changed. They're never going to be the same again. But we can start over; we can learn from this. It'll be good to have you back." He straightened up. "I can see myself out."
As he began to walk away, Josh wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Toby?"
He stopped in the doorway.
Toby broke into his rarely-seen grin, a ray of light bursting through the clouds. "Shanah tovah, my friend."
Josh returned the smile. The door closed. Tired but still smiling, Josh turned his head and glanced out the window, where the wind stirred the leaves that were just beginning to turn.