Title: Surviving
Author:
Willow
Summary: Leo talks to Josh after the events of the chili party.
Episode: Post season 1, 'The Crackpots And These Women'
Characters: Josh, Leo and Sam
Rating: PG


Part I

Everyone had headed home after the chili party had ended. Everyone that is except for Josh. He was sat in his office with just the desk lamp on, his feet on the windowsill while he stared out at the darkness. Normally he liked the West Wing at this time of night, when nobody else was around. It was peaceful. It gave him time to think. Tonight though he wasn't sure why he was still there, he certainly didn't want to think. The trouble was, he didn't want to go home to his empty apartment either. Maybe he should have gone out with the others and got drunk. Would that have helped?

A gentle knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "I thought everyone had gone?" Leo asked.

Josh turned round, "They have, I was just finishing a report."

"The chili was good."

"Yeah, thanks to Zoey," Josh laughed.

"Charlie was under strict instructions to make sure that didn't happen."

"I think she won him over without too much difficulty," Josh smiled. "I thought you'd have gone, Jenny'll be worried."

"I knew you'd be here," Leo replied, avoiding the subject of his wife. He really should tell Josh and Jed what had happened, but not just yet. He studied Josh for a moment and then sat down in the visitor's chair. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Ahh." Josh looked warily at Leo, "What did I do?"

"You know what you did, Josh." Leo watched the younger man intently.

Josh had known this conversation was coming, it was why he hadn't talked to Leo before he gave the card back. "Leo, I know what you're going to say, but I've made up my mind."

"I want you to reconsider, think about it some more over the weekend."

Josh shook his head, "I've thought about nothing else all day. I can't keep it."

"I can think of two reasons why you should," Leo said, continuing quickly before Josh had time to interrupt him. "Firstly, have you thought how your friends would feel about it? Have you even talked to them?"

"I told CJ that I had the card, but that it was just me who had one," Josh said.

"What did she say?"

"She laughed at me. She pointed out that there wouldn't be any speeches for Toby or Sam to write, or any press briefings for her to give." Josh smiled a little, "She said I was sweet for worrying about it."

"But you didn't tell her you were giving it back, did you? I don't think 'sweet' is the word she'd have used then."

"Leo," Josh sighed, running his hands through his hair.

"No, Josh. Don't you think that your friends, and your mom, don't you think that if the unimaginable happened, it'd be easier for them, knowing that at least you'd be okay? For God sake, Josh, you think I'd want to leave Mallory or Jenny. It's what we do, it's part of the job."

"Then it's a part of the job I don't want."

Leo glanced at the picture of Noah next to Josh's computer. When Josh had first come to Washington Leo had promised Noah that he'd look out for him, make sure he was alright. Over the last twenty years he'd tried to keep that promise, the trouble was that Josh wasn't eighteen anymore. He looked back at Josh, who was now watching him questioningly. "Josh please, just think it over. Talk to Sam or Donna if it'll help," he really didn't know how to get through to Josh on this, maybe his friends would have more luck.

"It won't make any difference, Leo. They don't understand and I can't explain," Josh said quietly, looking down at his desk as he talked. Hell, if he wasn't comfortable discussing his reasons with Leo, how can he possibly explain them to anyone else?

"I know why you're uncomfortable with this. But the President doesn't, and he will ask."

Josh looked up at Leo, "Then tell him. Maybe he'll understand."

Leo couldn't help but catch the tone of that comment. "I understand, I was there. You being alive was the only thing that kept your parents going." He paused and watched Josh, remembering for a second the 9 year old boy he'd once been. "It's just......."

"What's the other reason?" Josh interrupted.

"What?"

"You said there were two reasons, so...?"

"You're not the only one who got a card," Leo said, looking seriously at Josh and then smiling. "You'd be leaving me alone with Jed Bartlet - do you know how many lectures and quizzes I'd have to sit through!"

Josh couldn't help but grin. "So you want to punish me!"

"Hey, if I have to suffer......" Leo grinned back. "Go home, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, night, Leo."

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Leo walked into the residence, knowing that he could have handled that better. He didn't know why he was surprised when Josh gave the NSC card back, but he was.

"Did you find him?"

Leo looked to his left, "I'm sorry, Sir?"

"I guessed you'd gone looking for Josh. Did you find him?" Jed asked.

"Yeah, he was in his office, I sent him home," Leo replied as he and Jed walked into the next room and sat down. "Zoey still up?"

"Nah, I sent her to bed as punishment for tampering with my chili," Jed smiled, "and don't think I don't know that Josh and Charlie were in on that as well." Jed put his drink down and looked at Leo. "What was that about tonight with Josh? Don't get me wrong, Leo, I admire the sentiment, but surely he must realize that someone would still have to run the country. I'm sure if he talked to the others he'd find that they all understand that."

"It's more complicated than that, Mr President," Leo sighed. 'Tell him,' Josh had said, but Leo wasn't sure. Jed was watching him expectantly though, so Leo began. "It goes back to when he was a kid. He was a week shy of his ninth birthday, his sister was babysitting while their parents were out at a reception, Jenny and I were there......."

"Hang on a minute, Leo, does he know you're telling me this?" Jed asked.

"Yeah, I wouldn't......."

"I'm sorry, of course you wouldn't. Go on."

Leo hesitated for a second, but then continued. "There was a fire in the kitchen. Joanie told Josh to get out and get help. He ran outside to the neighbors. They tried to get into the house, but the fire had spread so quickly and was so intense.... all they could do was stand and watch." The thought of Josh standing on the lawn watching his home burn, knowing that his sister was trapped inside, still made Leo shiver. "The fire fighters found Joanie in the kitchen, she was dead, she was only 16." Leo took a steadying breath, remembering the aftermath, the pain that a young, talented girl had died so needlessly. The shock and heartbreak for his friends and their son.

"I had no idea," Jed said quietly.

Leo's thoughts came back to the present and he looked across at Jed. "Josh feels guilty that he survived and his sister didn't. I think the thought of that happening again with his friends, well he's not happy with it."

"He must know that it wasn't his fault though, he was a kid, what could he have possibly done."

Leo was touched by Jed's obvious concern for Josh. "He knows that deep down, Sir," he replied, adding a silent, 'At least I hope he does.'

"Okay." Jed was thoughtful for a moment. "Don't push him on the NSC card, Leo. It has to be his decision."

"Yes, Mr President."

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Sam took a drink from the beer bottle and watched Josh. He'd turned up at Sam's apartment twenty minutes ago, just after everyone else had left. He obviously needed to talk about something. He'd been distant and distracted all day and Sam was a little concerned. "What's wrong?" Sam asked.

"Nothing," was Josh's unconvincing reply.

"Josh, you've been quiet all day, has something happened?"

The NSC guy had told him to tell no one, but Leo had said to talk it over with Sam or Donna, plus he'd already told CJ. "I had a meeting this morning with a guy from the NSC," he began, looking down and studying his beer bottle.

"Okay," Sam said, waiting for Josh to elaborate. When he didn't, Sam asked, "Are you in trouble for something?"

"No," Josh shook his head. "He gave me a card, with details of where to go and who to call in the event of an attack or, whatever." He watched Sam, "Leo and I are the only ones who got them."

Sam smiled and shook his head. "And that's been bothering you? I thought you'd have got one of those months ago when we first took office."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"But no one else has got one, that doesn't seem right," Josh said, sounding unsure and a little upset.

"Josh, you can be a bit dense at times you know that? Why would Toby or CJ or I get one? We craft the message, I really don't think there'd be too many speeches to write or press briefings to give. You and Leo run things, which is a scary thought I grant you," he smiled.

"Well at least CJ called me sweet and not dense," Josh complained.

Sam knew Josh too well though. "Oh God, Josh," he said "you gave it back didn't you?"

Josh looked back down at the bottle he was holding and started peeling the label off. "Yeah," he said quietly.

"Josh!" Sam sighed. "Essential people are given these cards so that the country might have some chance of rebuilding. I can't believe you didn't expect to get one. Weird as it might sound to anyone who knows you, you're an essential person." Josh didn't look up and Sam could see that he wasn't convinced. He tried a new approach. "If I'd been given one and you hadn't what would you think?"

Josh put the bottle on the table and looked across at Sam. "That's not the point and it's not the same"

"It's just the same. What about Leo, you think he shouldn't have one?"

"'Course he should."

"Then why not you? You're his deputy. You can't expect him to run things alone, none of us has your experience or clearance. He'd need you." He saw Josh smile, "What?"

"He said I'd be condemning him to a lifetime alone with Jed Bartlet and his trivia quizzes."

Sam laughed. "He has a point. Though it's not one that's likely to persuade you." He paused and considered, "You know, just 'cos you have the card doesn't mean you have to use it. Take it back and keep it in your wallet."

"Maybe."

"It's just a card," Sam said. He decided to try his final hand. "This is gonna sound really corny and, well, pathetic," he said, sounding a little embarrassed. "If a bomb, or whatever, was heading this way. Knowing that you were going at be alright, that'd be some comfort," he smiled self-consciously.

"Really?" Even though Leo had used that argument, Josh was still surprised to hear Sam confirm it.

"Yeah. Think about it. Wouldn't you feel better, knowing that Leo was going to be okay?" Sam said, then he grinned, "Of course you'd be pretty pissed as the helicopter flew off leaving you behind, knowing that if only you'd kept that stupid card."

"Leo's told me to think about it over the weekend."

"Will you?"

"Yeah," Josh replied, though Sam didn't know whether to believe him.

Part 2 >>>