Title: Just A Little Boy
Summary: Three years after the fire Josh still felt guilty
Spoilers: Season 1, 'The Crackpots And These Women'
Characters: Josh and his family
Rating: PG (Angst)
Disclaimer: Josh and his family belong to Aaron Sorkin
THREE YEARS LATER
"How long you going to be?" Josh was trying his best not to let the panic he felt enter his voice.
"Just one night," his mother assured him. "You'll have fun with your grandpa."
"Yeah," Josh agreed.
Clara turned to look at her 12 year old son. "That doesn't sound too convinced, Joshua."
"Just one night?"
"Just one night, we'll back tomorrow evening." Clara was well aware what was wrong with Josh. This was the first time they'd left him at night since the fire. It had been over three years though, she hadn't expected him to look so scared at the thought. "Would you rather stay at you grandpa's than here?"
"Yes," Josh agreed a little too quickly. He didn't know why that would be better, this wasn't even the same house the fire had been in, but it would. If his mom and dad weren't going to be at home all night, he'd rather he wasn't there either. If he stayed with his grandpa it'd be like a holiday, maybe.
"Alright, he'll probably like that anyway. Go and pack some things while I'll phone him."
Clara phoned her father-in-law and then went in search of her husband, she found him in the back yard, ostensibly reading the newspaper, but really he was just staring at the pages.
Noah looked up when Clara approached. "Packed?"
"Yeah, we should set off soon."
"Couldn't Josh come with us?"
"You think that's a good idea?" Clara asked. "Taking him to a funeral?"
"He only met her once."
"I know, but I just think a funeral is going to be pretty hard on us, let alone him."
Noah reluctantly agreed. "It's the first time we've left him since the fire."
"I know. He doesn't want to stay at home, he wants to go to Isaac's instead."
Isaac wasn't surprised when he heard his grandson call out in the night. He knew Josh had nightmares, and being away from his parents for the first time since the fire was bound to trigger one. Noah and Clara worried about Josh's nightmares, they seemed to think he shouldn't still have them, but Isaac knew he always would, maybe not often, but they'd always be there. It was almost thirty years since Plaszow and Birkenau, but he still had nightmares about the things he'd seen there. He opened the bedroom door to check Josh had gone back to sleep, but found him staring at the ceiling.
"You want to get a drink?"
Josh blinked a few times and focused on his grandfather. "Yeah," he nodded.
Isaac made cocoa and they carried their mugs into the lounge. When he sat down, Josh noticed a photograph he'd never seen before, it was of two small children and two adults. "Who are they?" he asked.
Isaac picked the picture up and handed it to Josh. He normally had it in his bedroom, but had brought it downstairs when Clara said Josh wanted to stay with him. He'd hoped Josh would ask about it. "That's me and your grandmother and those are your father and his brother."
"I didn't know dad had a brother."
Isaac felt a little angry at that, he didn't understand Noah's refusal to tell Josh anything about the war or his life before it. "I don't think he really remembers him, he was five when he last saw him and a lot happened to all of us."
"Where is he?"
"He died in the war."
Josh's class had been studying the holocaust and it had fascinated him. He knew his mother's family mostly left Austria before the war, his mother was born in New York. His father was born in Poland though and most of his family were killed by the Nazis. No one had ever told him what had actually happened, he did ask his father once, but he said he didn't remember and not to ask his grandpa.
"What was his name?" Josh asked.
"Jacob, he was 12 when he died."
Josh really wanted to know what happened. He'd looked at the pictures in class of the Jews in the camps, of the ghettos and forced labor camps, of the Nazis and the gas chambers and he'd been transfixed, wondering if any of his family had been there. But he'd been told not to ask.
Isaac saw Josh hesitate and look back down at the photograph.
"He looks like me," Josh commented, in an attempt to broach the subject without actually asking.
"He does. Noah takes after his mother, Jacob took after me."
They sat in silence for a few seconds, Isaac willing Josh to ask and Josh wondering whether he should or not. In the end Josh's curiosity got the better of him. "What happened to him?"
Isaac told Josh how Jacob had been taken, with hundreds of other children, from the Cracow ghetto and sent to Belzec. Josh's curiosity was piqued and he prompted his grandfather to tell him more about the war. Isaac told him some details about life in the ghetto, about being sent to Plaszow and Auschwitz and then being moved to Birkenau. He didn't tell everything though, Josh was only 12 after all.
Once Isaac had finished, Josh sat quietly looking down at the photograph.
"I know how much you miss her," Isaac said.
"Joanie, I know you miss her."
Josh carried on looking at the photograph. "It was my fault," he said so quietly that Isaac almost missed it.
"She told me to go to bed, I made her make popcorn, if I hadn't....."
"Joshua, Joanie was a strong minded girl, she was just like her mother, if she really wanted you to go to bed you'd have gone and if she didn't want popcorn, she wouldn't have made it."
"I blackmailed her," Josh whispered.
"Told her, I saw her and Jason kissing."
"You threatened to tell your mom and dad?"
"Josh," Isaac placed his hand on Josh's arm, "they knew about Joanie and Jason. She didn't make you popcorn because you threatened her, she made it because she wanted to."
"Yes." Isaac had no idea whether they knew or not, but he couldn't let Josh carry on believing that threatening to tell on his sister had led to her death. "Do you want to tell me what happened, what your nightmares are about?"
Josh shook his head.
Isaac nodded, "I never told your dad what mine were about, maybe I should have."
"You have nightmares?" Josh asked.
Josh chewed his lip, "Do you wake up and it's like you're still there for a few seconds?"
Isaac nodded again, "You?"
"Yeah. Do you always dream what happened, or do you make it worse?"
Isaac wasn't too sure how it could possibly be made worse, but he agreed that sometimes it was worse than what had really happened. "Are yours?"
"Sometimes I see her at the window, she's screaming but I can't hear her above the noise of the fire and sirens. I use to think I heard her scream, but that was me."
"You didn't see her really?"
"No. She sent me out of the kitchen and said she'd be behind me, but when I fell in the hall and looked back I couldn't see through the smoke..... I wanted to go back, but the smoke was too thick. I couldn't breathe, my eyes hurt. I should have waited for her, they said she was in the hall, I should have waited or gone back for her. I should......"
"Josh," Isaac pulled his sobbing grandson into his arms, he hadn't realized Josh had nearly been trapped. "Shush, it's alright. You couldn't have gone back, you were almost trapped yourself, you couldn't have gone back."
"She was all alone," Josh sobbed. "I left her there."
"You couldn't have done anything, you would have died as well." Isaac had a horrible feeling that Josh really didn't care about that. "Joshua, look at me. Joanie wouldn't have wanted you to die as well, she sent you out of the kitchen first because she wanted you to live."
"You don't understand."
"Yes I do." Isaac understood all too well what it was like to survive, when others died, and to not understand why.
"Did he sleep alright?" Noah asked his father the following evening.
"I may have kept him talking for a while," Isaac admitted.
"Baseball?" Noah guessed. Isaac was Josh's biggest fan and went to all of his games.
Isaac shook his head. "He wanted to know about the war, apparently they're studying the holocaust at school."
"They are? I didn't know that."
"You told him not to ask you or me about it," Isaac reminded him.
"I thought he was too young when he asked me before, if I'd known he was studying it...."
"You'd have told him what?" Isaac asked a little sharply.
"I know what happened," Noah replied angrily. "Just because I don't talk about it doesn't mean I don't know, that I don't remember. I lost nearly all my family, I thought I had lost all of them."
"I know," Isaac conceded. "You never told him about Jacob though."
"What would be the point?"
"You lost your brother, he lost his sister, you don't think that may have given you some common ground?"
Noah was about to retort that Josh's sister was his daughter, but he could see the logic in his father's argument. "I guess," he said. "What did you tell him?"
"Nothing too horrific. I told him vaguely how Jacob died and how you and I didn't."
"Was he alright?"
"You think I try and shelter him too much."
"Yes, but I understand why." Isaac looked up as Clara entered the room. "He told me about the fire."
Clara and Noah both stared at him, Josh never talked about that night. "What did he say?" Clara asked.
Isaac thought about what Josh said, he knew Clara was strong enough to hear it all, he just wasn't sure Noah was, but they were waiting to hear what he knew. "He thinks it was his fault."
"I know," Clara admitted. "He told me on the day of the funeral."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Noah asked.
"I don't know," Clara shrugged. "What else did he say?"
Isaac related what Josh had told him, and in the end Josh had told him just about everything. "Joanie told him to go next door and get help and she promised she'd be right behind him. The fire had spread to the backdoor by then, so he had to go through the house. He fell over in the hallway," Isaac stopped talking and swallowed hard, trying to get the thought that Josh almost died too out of his head.
"I didn't realize," Clara said, "I didn't realize he almost, he was nearly trapped in the hall as well."
Isaac nodded. "He knows Joanie was in the hall when they found her, he thinks if he'd gone back."
"Oh God no. You told him...."
"Of course I did."
"That's why he feels guilty," Noah guessed.
"Partly." Isaac told them about Josh nagging his sister to make popcorn, about him threatening to tell them about Jason. He assured them that he told Josh there was no way Joanie would have made the popcorn if she hadn't wanted to. He also told them that if Josh asked, they knew all about Jason.
"Jason Appleton?" Noah asked.
Noah couldn't help but smile a little at that; Joanie had a secret boyfriend, "She was more like you than I thought," he smiled at his wife. Noah and Clara hadn't told her family about their relationship until she became pregnant with Joanie and they had to get married. Even then her family wouldn't accept Noah at first, in fact Clara wasn't reconciled with her parents until after Josh was born.
"Jason's a lovely boy, why would we have had a problem....?"
"Does it matter?" Noah asked.
"No. I'm going to check on Josh."
Noah watched his wife leave to check on their son. "Thank you," he told his father.
"He's my grandson, I worry about him as well."
"Aren't you suppose to be in bed?" Clara asked.
Josh looked up from his desk. "I was doing some school work."
"At this time of night?"
"Yeah. We're studying the holocaust. I asked dad but he said he didn't remember so I asked grandpa. Some of these could be family, one of them could be grandpa." He showed her the textbook with pictures of Birkenau and Auschwitz. "Did you know dad had a brother?"
Clara nodded, "Jacob."
Josh looked back down at the photographs in the book and then closed it. "Grandpa thinks dad doesn't remember him. How can he not remember his brother?"
"He was very young..... "
"He was his brother," Josh insisted.
Clara saw where this was heading. "I don't think he doesn't remember him, I think it's just upsetting to talk about him."
That made more sense to Josh; it didn't seem right that his dad could forget his brother, he would never forget Joanie. "Yeah," he agreed. "So he doesn't tell people 'cos it upsets him?"
"Not 'cos of..... " Josh hesitated and chewed his lip.
"Because of what?" his mother prompted.
"People look at him weird if he tells them."
"People don't know what to say, I don't know about looking at him weirdly."
"I don't tell people," Josh said so quietly that Clara almost missed it.
"About Joanie?" she asked. "Why?"
Josh shrugged. "Does dad feel guilty that he lived when Jacob didn't?"
"I don't know," Clara admitted. "I would think maybe he does a little."
"Grandpa feels guilty."
"I know he does." Isaac felt guilty not just for surviving when most of his family didn't, but also for sending his son away, even though it probably saved Noah's life.
"I miss Joanie," Josh suddenly admitted. "I do stuff and I want to tell her, but I can't."
"You can still talk to her."
Josh looked confused, "Do you?"
Josh considered that and then nodded. He wanted to ask what she says, did she think Joanie really heard. He wasn't comfortable talking to his either of his parents about his sister though. So he said nothing, but maybe tomorrow he could ask his grandfather what he thought.