Better Off

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A/N: I don't own any of these characters, most unfortunately. Or fortunately, for them. Anyway, this is my first WW fanfic, and I'm pretty sure it sucks. Horribly. I'm very sorry about this, but I had to write it anyway, because I've got Noel on the brain. This is post Noel Josh-angst, in case you couldn't tell, and it rambles a lot and is just generally very weird and probably OOC. But I am a very sensitive little person. Therefore, if you are a compassionate person and you hate the following, don't tell me. I will be upset, even though I know is sucks. If you do like it, I'd love to know, but, well, you probably won't, so... Yep, I'm going to shut up and let you read now...

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I'm a very astute man, really. More than people think to give me credit for, because I always rush into things headlong without a second thought, or so it seems to them. The reality of the situation is that I know what I'm getting myself into most of the time, and I usually don't care. I see the truth, I see people who need to be told the truth, I see the consequences of telling them the truth, and what do I do? I tell them the truth and get my ass thrown in the presidential doghouse. Beneath all my arrogance, there really is a naive idealism in my nature that makes me do this. There's also a more-than-healthy amount of Lyman-ism, which is, for those who don't know me, a simple way of saying I calls 'em like I sees 'em. Put all that together, stick it in the White House with the most powerful people on the planet, and you have the perpetual discord that is my life.

Like I said before, I really am a very astute man. I can tell when I've done something to get myself shot down, and I can usually see the bullet before it hits.

Oh my God. Did I just think that? Oh, that was a bad, bad analogy to use. I can't believe I just thought that. I think I'm going to be sick. The words "shot down" and "bullet" are not good for me right now. Okay, deep breath. Get it together, Josh, buddy.

Well, I guess it's a little late for that.

Leo McGarry is a great man. Anyone else in his position would and should have fired me. Well, I take that back, my other friends in the office wouldn't have, but they'll never be in his position anyway.

And Jed Bartlet is a great man, too, because I gave him the best reason in the world to kick my insane ass out of his White House. I crossed a very clear boundary, and furthermore, the president of the United States should never have to worry about the psychological well-being of his Deputy Chief-of-Staff. But he did worry about me, because that is just the way he is. It's another example of why he is a great man, and why I really wouldn't mind taking a bullet for him.

But the bullet, the chaos, the screaming, the panic, it wasn't for President Bartlet. No, it wasn't for Charlie either, and I would never blame him. Or the Secret Service. The problem is that there is no one to blame. The whole goddamn mess was completely pointless. As in, there was no reason why it should have happened. I have worked in politics all these years because I firmly believe that things like this should not happen for no reason. Or rather, that things like this should not happen for the reason that this did, because in America that shouldn't be a reason.

I'm not an idiot living in a fantasy world. I know there will always be racism. I even had a buddy in college who turned out to be extremely KKK sympathetic. Of course, my young and still-innocent self was really torn up when I discovered this, and even more so when he tried to get me to don a white robe myself.

Now I'm in the White House, and I make real nice with guys like that. It's my job to be friends with the radical bigots even as I'm working to get rid of them. Such is the irony of politics.

But I've never had to face the unbridled malevolence that would cause someone to commit a crime like that before now. When you deal with political racists, they're never very open about their beliefs. I can tell anyway, though, because of that amazing sagacity I posses. I can almost feel the intolerance radiating from them, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother my visionary core a little bit. But not like the shooting. It's not even in the same league as the shooting.

The sheer force of loathing it would take to cause something so violent, so shocking something that would make hundreds of calm, upper-class citizens go screaming without forethought in the pure terror of the moment – yes, that would require a fierce brand of anger and lunacy that even my infamous hot temper has never known.

Politics is no place for these thoughts. It's a fast-paced world that I thrive in, and it has no room for mental breakdowns. I keep telling myself that, but I think the more I try to suppress these crazy thoughts, these goddamn flashbacks, the more they come until I can't see straight anymore and that doesn't even bother me.

I feel secure enough right now, which happens to be midnight, four hours after my extensive session with a psychologist recommended by the president, to admit what might be the reason this is getting to me so much: I was afraid. No, not little-kid-scared-of-a-monster-in-the-closet afraid, not do-you-like-scary-movies afraid, but chilled-to-the-bone afraid. I just knew I was going to die right there, and the last thing I would hear would be the screams, the last thing I'd feel would be the cold soaking through my suit. My very expensive suit... God, do you know what I thought when I was lying there, appearing for all the world to be five minutes away from the White Light? I was thinking about how Donna had rented that suit, because it was designer or something, and how now it had blood all over it. I was wondering if that would come off with Tide, for God's sake!

And I will never, as long as I live, even if I end up with some disease that makes my forget my own name, forget Toby's face when he saw me lying there. I swear I won't. I can't. I'd really like to, though. A look like that is especially haunting if it comes from someone who's usually as calm and non-emotional as Toby is. I knew he thought I was going to die too, the moment he saw me. I could read so much in that one look, a silent apology for not finding me in time, for ever doing anything to offend me in the course of what he thought would be my short life. Of course, I'm sure he stopped thinking that when he found out I was going to live, but I appreciate the fact that it scared him so much. Really, I do.

I appreciate everything they all did for me, and are still doing for me. God, I don't know how such nice (when they want to be) people got into the White House. Sam's always been like a brother, or something, to me. He doesn't know that, but really, he's helped me through a lot in my life. We've done everything from helping each other get over girlfriends to getting drunk to going to school together, and I'm glad we see each other every day now. It's a good thing to have a guy who's got your back in politics.

Leo has always tried to be fatherly to me since my dad passed on. Actually, he was trying to be fatherly before that, too. It's in his nature. He doesn't even realize it. But I think somewhere along the line, he stopped trying to offer me guidance as a paternal substitute and started doing it as a friend, age difference be damned. I love that about Leo, that he's just got such a damn good heart he can learn to be friends with anyone. I bet if we'd introduced him to Sam's hooker – I mean, call girl – friend, he would've sold his house if necessary to give her the money for the rest of her education so she didn't have to work that job anymore. And he would've arranged that it got to her anonymously. That's just the kind of guy he is.

Toby's a good guy too. Sometimes I find him almost comical – so short, so gruff, so intense. He reminds me a bit of one of Santa's elves on depressants. But he's a good guy, and we're the kind of friends that test our friendship at the weirdest times. Toby is really a cool guy, too, not just secretly nice. I admire him for his passion for what he does, and for how hard he tries to hide it most of the time.

CJ... oh, CJ, CJ, CJ. What am I going to do with her? She needs a man. I'm not saying I want to be that man – no offense, just, she's like an older sister or something – I'm just saying that she needs one. Badly. She can't marry her work, and she doesn't want to. She wanted Danny, but that was doomed. See, I really am astute, that I can tell these things.

Maybe Toby... aw, but he's too short, she's too tall. She's too verbal about her thoughts, he's too... well... not. And they work together. But people say opposites attract... Ah, that's impossible. It would be cute, though. Toby would open up to her if he liked her, loved her, whatever, and I think she'd learn to be in tune to him in time. Maybe one of these days, pigs'll fly and that'll happen. It would be good for both of them.

And then there's Donna. Oh, they all care about me, but Donna's the most devoted woman I know. Why else would she be asleep five feet away from me right now?

No, no, no, not that! This is innocent, I swear! She took me to the emergency room about my hand, took me home, and returned thirty minutes later bearing Rocky Road ice cream and a copy of It's A Wonderful Life. That woman... ugh. Follows me everywhere. But it might be good, in a way. I could use it after today's eight-hour soul-baring interview with the government psychologist.

Anyways, back to why this situation is totally innocent: she invited herself in, with intentions of making sure I didn't get suicidal, and also possibly on orders from Leo, and then babied me like... well, like I'd let no one else. But Donna's been my secretary for three years, and somewhere in that time, I've gone from depending on her to get me files to depending on her to lift my spirits. And she does it without coffee, if you can imagine that.

Then she insisted on watching the stupid movie with me and fell asleep on my couch. I guess I've put her under some stress lately – what would she do if her boss got fired? I know Donna better though, that's probably not the only reason she's been worried. Yet another person trying to make sure I don't spin out of control.

So now, as I sit here in my ugly blue armchair with my fourth helping of Rocky Road, absently staring at the TV screen, which is featuring some Spanish soap opera, Donna is visiting Dreamland right next to me. I'll wake her up in a few hours, but I don't have the heart to make her go home so late, and I don't want to keep her anywhere near me when she needs sleep. Believe me, it is not a pleasant situation.

The guy and the girl on screen are making out now. Too bad I don't know Spanish, or I could decipher all their whispered sweet nothings between kisses – but you can pretty much get the meaning from their body language. Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, I did not know you could do that on television! Geez! We need to write a bill against stuff like that, ugh. Time to watch ESPN.

Oh, who am I kidding? I really hate sports. Well, like playin' 'em, don't like watchin' 'em. Never have time anyway. Time to watch MTV.

Oh, gross. Ewww... How old can that girl possibly be? Does her mother know she's wearing that outfit? And can she sing at all? Time to flip off the goddamn TV and go to sleep. But I don't want to. I want to sit right here and think. I have a lot to think about.

You know, maybe what I said earlier about CJ applies to me too... well, except I need a woman, not a man. She'd have to be one amazing woman though, to put up with me. And we'd never get to see each other because of work. But... God, how long has it been since I've kissed someone? And I don't even want to think about getting laid. Really, I'm not as horny as people would think... I tend to wait until I know a woman very, very well. And there has to be a kind of intensity, chemistry, with us. I don't want to just bang every girl I think is cute. That's cheap. Not to say I haven't been guilty of that at times when I've been drunk, or even on just the occasional weak impulses, but I do attempt to be moral most of the time. And it's been a long time. Where the hell is that girl at? She needs to show up already.

Joey and I could have had something, but I don't know how far we would've gotten. She was a good woman, a sweet one, and I loved being with her, but I just didn't feel comfortable with her. It was a crush, and maybe I would have gotten over that stage to be able to be with her without being all that nervous. I'll never know now. All I know is that it never felt exactly right, and that's what I'm looking for in the girl I want to marry. And I want to marry a girl soon, you know. I don't have forever and, like CJ, I can't marry my work.

I'm going to have to wait for her to fall into my lap, pretty much. It's not like I can be a normal guy and run around looking for chicks. And when and if I do meet her, I'll tell her all the stuff I just thought to myself. And she'll be the one sitting here with me, not poor Donna. She'll keep me from going crazy, and I'll be a better man for it. I can be romantic, you know, and women like that. This girl will get the Lyman-Sap-O-Matic if that's what she wants, but she'll have listen to every stupid, arrogant thing I say to her, and put up with it, because that's what marriage is. And if she's nothing else, she's gotta be loyal. I hate it when people are disloyal to me. I've built up defenses for myself after experiences where I trusted people and they didn't return the effort. I don't bounce back from that so easily.

Come to think of it, Donna could probably be that woman. But she's Donna. Donna my secretary. Who works for me. And annoys the hell outta me half the time. Maybe Donna has a sister. No, she doesn't, I remember that. Did I meet her family once..?

She's really all right when she's asleep, I gotta say. All peaceful, angel-like and whatnot. I should thank her for coming here. Oh, she's stirring. Damnit Donnatella, go back to sleep.

"Josh?"

No such luck.

"Yeah?"

"Why am I asleep on your couch?"

"Because you forced me to let you in, watch a cheesy Christmas movie, and bore you until Mr. Sandman came to visit."

"...Oh."

We're just staring at each other for a second here. Eyes locked. That girl is really too devoted to me. And I guess I'm too devoted to her, if truth be told.

"Donna?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"Coming here. Annoying me. Falling asleep on my couch. You really shouldn't have, not today. But it was nice that you did." Nice? Hell, Donna, you saved my life. Well, no, I'm not going to off myself just yet. But she saved my potential sanity, just a little. Being with her is a lot better than being here alone.

She's smiling groggily now, and I'm not quite sure she gets what I mean, but she appreciates it anyway. "Oh, Josh, really. You'd do the same for me."

I regard her for a second, and I realize that I probably would. She's not going to remember this conversation in the morning, what the hell. "You're right."

"I know."

"Donna?"

"Yeah?"

"Go back to sleep. I'll get you up in a couple of hours. Wait, do you want the bed?"

"Um, no, that's okay. I like your couch. Thanks Josh."

"No problem."

And off she goes again. It's good that Donna came. It really is. Being alone at a time like this... I'm glad I'm not. I'm not very stable. Even if she's asleep, having someone here does wonders. I'm better off for it, somehow. I should get some shut-eye too... I think I'll just go to sleep right now, I don't even want to get up out of this chair.

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A/N: That was bad, wasn't it? Thought so. I shouldn't write any more now, should I? Thought so. Well, there's no actual reason for you to review this story now unless you liked it or disagree with me when I said it sucked, and want to be kind so you can make my day... It IS Christmas, you know... ^_^ Speaking of which, happy holidays!