From the Ashes (2/2)
by Vicki James, 2000 vicki_james98@h...
Summary: An emergency situation forces Josh to revisit a past trauma. Contains
The West Wing and its characters are the property of Aaron Sorkin, John Wells
Productions and Warner Brothers. No copyright infringement is intended.
Continued from 1/2
The bomb that had gone off on the main floor had been one of a pair. The second,
a much less powerful explosive, was supposed to have been rigged to damage
structural supports above the ballroom. However, the young man responsible for
the smaller bomb had panicked when Secret Service agents began a routine check
of the mezzanine level kitchen where he had been stationed. He had quickly
stashed the device in a panel in the ceiling and fled the hotel, abandoning his
short-lived career as a terrorist.
Though it had not detonated with its fellow, the explosives in the second bomb
were still live. The flames of the fire caused by the explosion had worked their
way through the roof of the ballroom, despite the diligent work of firefighters.
It took just one small flicker of flame to set off another, though much smaller,
The force of the explosion was just enough to raze the small kitchen. That, and
send a wave of fire hurtling through the ventilation shaft in which the bomb had
been placed. The flames raced through this channel until they had exhausted
themselves. They deviated only once in their journey to roll downward through an
opening in the shaft.
Josh saw the fingers of fire come reaching for him from above, but not soon
enough. Though he rolled out of the way the flames still found him in their
grasp. An agony of pain tore at his arm and shoulder.
Toby reacted immediately, simultaneously leaping to Josh's side and ripping off
his own jacket to smother the flames.
Josh lay immobile, gasping for air until Toby slipped an arm behind him and
helped him to a sitting position.
"Are you all right?" asked a concerned Toby.
"Fine," Josh choked out, his lungs taxed from smoke inhalation. He looked up to
the blackened edges of the ventilation access panel and his expression ignited
with a different sort of pain. "Donna…" he whispered.
CJ came over and dropped to her knees beside Josh. "We have to believe she got
out in time, that she's okay." She took Josh's hand in hers and gave it a
Josh just continued to stare upwards, his eyes reflecting his feelings of
complete and utter despair.
CJ was searching for words of optimism when they came to her. Not in her mind
but in voices heard through the door.
Toby was up, banging on the door. "In here!"
"We'll have you out in a minute," came the shouted response.
Hope surged in Josh. If firefighters were at the door then Donna must have sent
them. She was okay! She was alive!
He was on his feet and out the door as soon as it swung open. He turned to the
nearest firefighter. "The woman who sent you, where is she?"
Even behind his mask the puzzlement on the firefighter's face was apparent. "No
one sent us. We've just been doing a room by room search."
Josh felt panic get its icy grip upon him again. "There was another woman with
us. She went for help, through the ventilation shaft."
"Through the ventilation shaft…" the firefighter echoed. "There was an
"You have to leave this area immediately, Sir." Another firefighter came up
"Wait," Josh protested. "My…my friend."
"We'll take a look," promised the first firefighter. "If she was in that shaft,
we'll bring her out."
Josh couldn't help but note how the firefighter spoke of Donna in the past
tense. He felt heartsick but knew he could do no more and to try and remain
inside would only delay the firefighters' search and rescue operations.
Still, it was with reluctance that he let himself be led away.
Josh was half reclined on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face and an
emergency medical technician working on his burns when Sam appeared beside him.
"Josh! Thank God," Sam exclaimed.
Seeing his friend caused a momentary abatement in his worry for Donna. In his
fearsome concern for his assistant he hadn't had a chance to ponder what the
fates of his friends and colleagues had been.
Sam looked tired and a bit disheveled but not much worse for wear. "You're
okay?" Josh asked to confirm.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I was actually up in my room when it happened."
Josh knew the President had already retired for the night when the bomb exploded
as well. "Leo? Margaret? Charlie?" he inquired.
"All fine," Sam replied. "Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be that many
injuries. Responsibility for the bombing hasn't been determined, but whoever did
it was great at infiltrating the hotel and lousy at setting off the blast. The
bomb went off in a food service cart that had already been wheeled out of the
ballroom and into the lobby."
Josh was relieved to hear there was no body count. So far.
"Sam, have you seen Donna?"
The Deputy Communications Director's face darkened in apprehension. "No. I
thought Donna and CJ and Toby had been with you."
"They were. CJ and Toby are okay. CJ's got a broken arm or something but she'll
be fine. But Donna…" Josh swallowed as a lump rose in his throat, "Donna tried
to get out to get help. She…" Josh closed his eyes. He couldn't continue.
He looked up a moment later when Sam laid a hand on his arm. "I'll go look for
her, see what I can find out," he offered.
Josh nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
When Sam left, Josh stared up at the black sky. He was across the street from
the hotel, the broad expanse of the hotel's front lawn between him and the
building. Flames still lit the hotel and the sky directly above it shone orange,
then purple, as smoke rose up to disappear into the inky darkness of the night.
Josh tried to clear his mind; he tried not to think. But it was impossible.
First Joanie, then his father, now Donna? With Joanie, he had experienced loss
as a child, finding comfort in platitudes and bouncing back with the resilience
of youth. It wasn't until adulthood that her death began to haunt him. He had
grieved his father's death, felt the sorrow acutely and dealt with his demons
that attacked him for not being there to say goodbye. But his father had lived a
full and rich life and this fact offered Josh some comfort in his father's
Donna was young and vibrant and she had so much left ahead of her to experience.
She couldn't have lost that chance at life. He couldn't live with the loss of
He simply could not picture never seeing her beautiful face again, not hearing
her voice, whether she was calling for his attention - Joshua! - or calling him
on a quirky retort - Josh!
Josh realized with a start that the voice resounded not in his memory but within
his earshot. He sat up quickly, ripping off his oxygen mask and pushing away the
surprised EMT who was still trying to bandage his burns.
He stood, looking frantically around, listening carefully. Then he saw her.
She was silhouetted by the glow of the fire. She was still barefoot, her light-
coloured gown was filthy, and her hair was in disarray. She was standing,
turning, looking around in desperation, looking for him. With the fire still
raging in the background, she had the appearance of an avenging angel, or the
Phoenix risen from the ashes.
Donna called his name again and Josh tried to answer but his shout was subdued
by a paroxysm of coughing. He began walking hurriedly toward her.
When he had almost reached her she turned and noticed him. A hand flew to her
mouth, stifling a soundless cry.
Josh grabbed her, pulling her close, and her arms wound around his neck.
"Oh God, Josh," Donna said shakily. "I came out of the vent at the first panel,
almost right on top of a couple firefighters. I told them about you, I told them
to go back for you, but they made me leave! And then there was the explosion--"
Donna's voice broke and she dissolved into tears.
The tension that had been sustaining Josh ebbed in his relief that Donna was all
right. As his strength gave out he pulled Donna to the ground, unconcerned that
the grass was wet from fire hoses and the dew of the approaching dawn.
Josh held Donna tightly, her head resting on his shoulder, his cheek against her
hair. His fingers gently swept tendrils of hair away from her face, stopping
only now and then to wipe a suspicious dampness from the corners of his eyes.
"Shh…it's okay. We're okay. Shh…" he repeated soothingly, rocking her in his
Finally, her emotions spent, Donna gave a deep sigh. Then she pulled away from
Josh so that she could look up at him. She left her arms linked around his
Her eyes were red, puffy, her makeup smeared, yet her tremulous smile lit up her
"I was so scared," she whispered.
"I know the feeling," Josh replied.
Donna gazed at him intensely, and her smile faltered.
"Josh, when you kissed me in there…"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
"No, I don't want you to be sorry. I want you to do it again."
It was Josh's turn to smile. "Really?"
"Yeah." Donna's grin returned.
"I think that can be arranged."
"I'm waiting for that foot rub you promised earlier too."
"Don't push your luck," Josh growled and he lowered his mouth to hers.