From the Ashes (1/2)
by Vicki James, 2000
vicki_james98@h...

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Summary: An emergency situation forces Josh to revisit a past trauma.
Contains Josh/Donna romance.

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The West Wing and its characters are the property of Aaron Sorkin, John
Wells Productions and Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement is
intended.

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It was late enough into the night that a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call was going to
come far too soon.

While half of the guests had bid their goodnights to the opulent ballroom,
the other half at the party were still going strong. But nobody would need
anything further from the Deputy White House Chief of Staff's personal
assistant.

Except for maybe the Deputy White House Chief of Staff himself.

Josh caught Donna just as she stepped from the ballroom into the hotel's
large and ornate lobby. He had been travelling in the opposite direction.

"I was just coming to find you," he informed her. "Where are you going?"

"To bed." She frowned, already suspecting that would no longer be the case.

"There's been a change in the agenda for tomorrow's meeting *again*," Josh
said, sounding frustrated. "We have to meet quickly with Toby and CJ to make
sure everything is going to work out."

"Nooo" Donna pouted. "Josh, no. I'm too tired. And my feet hurt."

"Come to the meeting and I'll give you a foot rub before you go to bed."

"Will you?" Donna perked up at the idea.

"Not really, but you still have to come to the meeting." He took her elbow
and propelled her towards the great curving staircase that dominated an end
of the room.

Halfway up the grand staircase, where it turned to climb to the second
floor, was a door to an almost hidden mezzanine level. Josh led Donna
through to a series of rooms that could be used as temporary offices by
hotel guests.

The room in which Toby and CJ were already waiting was the largest,
containing a massive mahogany desk with a chair behind it and two others in
front, a separate computer station and a miniature a/v area with two
loveseats and another group of chairs. As the mezzanine level was not a full
floor, the room had a good-sized window which looked out over the lobby and
the entrance to the ballroom.

Donna sank wearily onto one of the loveseats and yanked off the delicate
high-heeled sandals she had chosen to wear with her cream coloured gown. She
grimaced as a few sharp pains shot through her foot. The shoes were
definitely made for style rather than comfort. CJ sat down opposite her and
shot her a look of sympathy.

"Let's make this quick," Toby began, evidently tired himself.

"We have to decide on a couple of changes to the schedule for tomorrow now
so that CJ can alert the press during her early briefing," Toby continued.
"We've received a couple of threats against the President and some of the
delegates. They're probably just hoaxes, but for safety's sake--"

Toby couldn't expound on safety any more, for at that moment the room shook
violently as a bomb blasted through the ballroom below.

******

As the dust settled, Josh opened his eyes to an unearthly red glow bathing
the room in light through the window overlooking the lobby beneath.

The small office was intact, though in complete disarray. The force of the
explosion had only been enough to throw Josh against the wall, knock Toby to
the floor and tumble Donna off the loveseat to the ground. But CJ had been
struck in a glancing blow by a bookcase that had dislodged itself from the
wall.

Josh helped Donna to her feet and they moved to CJ's side where Toby already
was.

"I'll be okay," the Press Secretary said in response to their looks of
concern, though she clenched her teeth in pain as she clutched at her
shoulder. "Something might be broken, but I'll survive."

"Let's get out of here so we can get you to a hospital," Toby declared.

Josh walked over to the door. He opened it an inch and then could get it to
open no farther. He pushed harder, and then threw his whole body against it,
but it wouldn't budge. Something on the other side was jamming it shut.

"Shit!" he cried, marching across the room to the window. Thick black smoke
was rising from the burning ballroom below. Opening the window would be a
death sentence.

He turned and picked up the phone that had fallen from the desk to the
floor. Holding the receiver up to his ear he slapped at the button on the
base several times, although he didn't really expect to get a dial tone. He
was not surprised.

Slowly, he put the telephone down. He looked up at the anxious faces of his
friends and needlessly told them, "We're trapped."

******

Donna glanced up from trying to improvise a sling for CJ's arm to watch Josh
hurl himself at the door once again. Her frightened, worried expression also
echoed with the pain her boss was undoubtedly feeling in his shoulder after
pounding it against the unyielding door for several minutes.

She couldn't take it anymore. She rose from CJ's side and walked over to
Josh, her eyes never leaving him.

"Josh, stop!" she cried when he would have thrown himself against the door
once more.

Laying a hand on his shoulder she gently turned him towards her.

While Donna had been afraid already, that feeling multiplied tenfold when
she saw the wild look in Josh's eyes. She felt her legs begin to tremble.

She swallowed back her fear. "The door's not going to open and you're just
going to hurt yourself. Come sit down."

Josh, his breath coming heavy from the exertion, said nothing but he let her
lead him over to a chair and took a seat.

"Somebody will find us. We just have to sit tight until they do," Donna
said, as she remained standing at Josh's side.

"Donna's right," Toby announced. "The emergency plan in case of an incident
like this was evacuation first and a search of all floors next. We just need
to stay calm and wait for emergency services to find us."

"While we're waiting we can ponder the reason why there is no sprinkler
system in this room," Josh said caustically.

Three other pairs of eyes turned toward the ceiling. Toby and CJ lowered
their gazes to look at each other and then to Josh, their expressions grim.

Donna was still looking up. "What's that?" she asked, pointing to a panel in
the ceiling.

Toby nudged a chair over to where the panel was and then jumped up on it. He
pushed at the panel and it opened, so he removed it and stuck his head up
through the gap.

"Looks like a ventilation system for heating or air conditioning," he said,
stepping back down. "It probably travels the length of the mezzanine level
but unfortunately the access is too narrow for us," he told Josh.

"But not for me," Donna said. "I could fit through there."

"NO!" Josh roared, surging to his feet. "You are NOT going through there, do
you hear me? We all stay together."

If Donna was taken aback by Josh's volatile response she didn't show it,
though Toby and CJ exchanged a startled glance.

"What else are we going to do? Wait around for someone to check these
rooms?" Donna spoke quietly yet firmly. "I can make it to another room where
I can get out to get help."

"I think we should let her try," CJ said softly. The others followed her
gaze to the window where a thin ribbon of black smoke had found its way
through the minute space between glass and frame.

Josh turned away and went to stand with his back to the room, leaning with
one hand against the wall.

"Can you help me up, Toby?" Donna asked, poised to jump up on the chair.

Josh took a great shuddering breath. "Wait," he implored, turning back to
Donna. Her eyes questioned him.

He returned to her, touching her at the wrists and then running his hands up
her bare arms to grasp her gently at her shoulders. He brought his face in
close and touched his forehead to hers.

"Please be careful," he whispered, words coming in a rush. "I can'tI can't
lose you, too."

Donna pulled back slowly. Her lips parted but she didn't get a chance to
speak as Josh lowered his mouth to cover hers, heedless of the fact that
they were not alone in the room. At that moment he didn't care. He wanted to
linger, stretch the moment out and make time stand still.

But he couldn't.

When he released her, Donna gazed at him in stunned wonder. "Josh"

"You'd better go now." He held out a hand to her. She nodded and he helped
her up onto the chair.

Donna reached up and grasped the edges of the opening in the ceiling. She
hesitated then, glancing back down at Josh.

"I'll get help and you'll be out of here right away," she promised. Her
voice shook slightly as she added, "Then I want that foot rub you mentioned
earlier."

Josh tried to smile at her; he managed a wan grin. "It's a deal." They gazed
at each other for what could only have been seconds yet in that short space
of time so many questions and emotions darted between their eyes.

Grasping her by the legs, Josh boosted her up and Donna pulled herself
through the opening and into the vent. Then she was gone.

Josh stood watching the opening, even after her could no longer hear her
passage. She'd be all right. She was determined and resourceful and
spirited. She wouldn't get beat by having to crawl a ways through a
ventilation shaft. She was too dauntless for that. Just like Joanie had
been.

Joanie.

Josh felt his heart start to hammer as something twisted in his gut.

His older sister Joanie, who had alternately tormented him and taken care of
him, had been courageous as well. She had thought to beat the ferocious
flames which had laid claim to their home after the popcorn maker shorted
out. But even for all her courage and tenacity, the raging fire had bested
her.

Josh remembered the little boy he was, so assured that the big sister he
worshiped would make everything okay, fleeing from the burning house without
a backward glance. He huddled under the giant oak tree at the corner of the
rear yard, watching expectantly for Joanie to come out and find him, laugh
and tell him everything was okay and ask him to make this incident one of
their special secrets they didn't tell mom and dad.

But Joanie never came outside.

Josh had been doing a wonderful job of keeping his composure since the bomb
blast. Outwardly, he had managed to hold onto a shred of calmness. Inside,
his heart raced. Even while pushing Donna into that shaft his mind had been
screaming at him to pull her back down, not let her go, not let them get
separated. For now that she was gone, he so feared he would never see her
again. He had stolen that all-too-quick kiss in desperation, in case it was
his last chance. He'd had no opportunity for a farewell with Joanie. His
feelings for Donna were certainly something other than brotherly. He hadn't
been about to let her go without taking that one brief moment in time to
touch her as he'd longed to.

Please God, let him have the chance to do it again.

Finally overcome by shock and fear and exhaustion, Josh sank to his knees.
He laced his fingers together and lowered his head to rest it on his hands.

CJ had watched with concern. "Will he be all right?" she asked Toby in a low
voice.

Toby's response was equally hushed. "Josh had a sister who died in a fire
when he was a kid."

"Oh God," CJ breathed. "Is there anything we can do?"

Toby watched as Josh's lips began to move soundlessly, and he recognized the
cadence in the man's silent words.

"He's praying," he told CJ. "We can't offer him any help more powerful than
that."

******

Concluded in 2/2

 

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