Disclaimer:  None of them belong to me.

Credit:  The term 'Lyman swagger,' was lifted from the wonderful story of almost the same name by Jaye Reid.  She tells me that it is a common expression in fanfiction, but since I've only read it in hers, I want to give credit where credit is due.  Thanks Jaye.

Rating: PG

Pairing: Josh/Donna with a little of Jed/Abbey mentioned

Notes:  'single quotes' denote direct thoughts, "double quotes" denote dialogue

Timeframe: The winter after Inauguration. I & II

Observations At 30,000 Feet

By

Lattelady

Abbey Bartlet leaned back wistfully in her well-padded seat on Air Force One, and stared back into the darkened cabin.  They'd been chasing the sunset across the county, since they took off from Andrews Air Force Base three hours earlier. But like so many little things in the last five years, no matter how enticing the light in front of them was, night always won out in the end.

The single backward-facing seat was one of her favorite places to sit.  She had an unobstructed view of the goings-on in the Lounge section of the plane and was only steps away from the Presidential Suite.  Jed and Josh were in there now, finishing up a conference call with Leo on the ground.  Charlie had been sent to get some sleep almost an hour ago, so Abbey hoped the meeting would be over soon and she could go to bed, too.  CJ and Will were snoozing in the back, having given the final press briefing for the night. Donna Moss was asleep not fifteen feet away, on the opposite side of the cabin, in the first set of seats facing forward.

Twenty minutes earlier the younger woman had slipped quietly into the unoccupied seat, without a second glace around the Lounge.  It was apparent she hadn't seen Abbey sitting in the shadows, across the cabin and forward ten feet, or she would have come over and spoken to her.  Josh's young assistant always treated her with the utmost respect and as a person separate from the President, not just an extension of her husband.  Mrs. Bartlet had been about to announce her presence when Donna closed her eyes, reached up and turned on the light over the seat next to hers.

'Innocence sleeps,' Abbey thought with a sigh. 'Ahhh, to be so young!'

~*~

"Yes, sir, Mr. President." Josh Lyman's voice carried out into the Lounge, a few minutes later, as the door to Jed Bartlet's office opened and a light sliced past Abbey's shoulder, but still left her in the shadows.

She was about to get up and return to the Presidential Suit, when Josh slipped past her. She watched as he moved to the other side of the cabin, and her smile broke into a full grin, when his back came into view.  She'd heard chatter about the Lyman swagger, but had never until that moment really noticed it.  She couldn't help wondering what made that particular characteristic of his, so much more pronounced, tonight. It had been a hell of a month getting ready for the Asian trip, and she could tell that he was as tired as everyone else, by the droop of his shoulders.

To Abbey's surprise, Josh came to a stop ten feet away, where Donna was sound asleep.  The younger woman had pulled her legs up under her, and was turned half-sideways in the darkened seat, with her head propped against the edge of the seatback beside her.  If Donna hadn't left the light burning over the vacant seat, Abbey doubted she would've been able to see the expression that crossed Josh's face as he looked down at the sleeping form beside him.

Suddenly the First Lady felt like a voyeur, but couldn't tear her eyes away from the gentle scene that was playing out in front of her. Gone was Bartlet's Pit Bull. In his place was a man whose emotions ran strong and deep and they played across his face, as if they were an everyday occurrence.  Her breath caught in her chest and she longed for the times when Jed had looked at her like that. It was then she began to realize, that tonight, Josh Lyman's swagger was caused by 'a who,' not 'a what.'

She pulled back deeper into the darkness that surrounded her, when Josh turned and looked out over the unlit cabin before he reached for something beside Donna.  Abbey wasn't sure what he was doing, but from where she was sitting it appeared as if he collapsed the armrest that separated his assistant's seat from the vacant one beside it. Then with a characteristic flourish, he pulled a blanket out from under his arm and gently covered the sleeping woman.

"Josh?"  The half-awake whisper carried slightly, but Abbey heard it.  Something in its tone made her bite her lip to stifle a sigh, as she felt emotions fill the Lounge.

"Shhhh, go back to sleep Donna, we've got hours yet."  He carefully tucked the blanket in around her.

"Mmmm, thanks, was…."

"I figured…"

"Left the light on, just incase…"

"I know, I do," he stood watching Donna, giving Abbey Bartlet an unobstructed view, as he seemed to bask in the presence of the blonde woman.

Everyone in the White House had heard them speak in Lyman-Moss code, but Abbey usually ignored it. She knew if it was important one of them would give her the long version, though tonight she was certain it was a vital conversation and just as certain that it was something neither of them ever spoke of.  Then the pieces fell into place, as Josh stretched and sat in the empty seat.  She knew that he had a comfortable bed in a small office across from the President's.  It was the one Leo used when he was on Air Force One, but her husband and his Chief Of Staff made it a policy to never fly on the same plane together, so the office and the bed were sitting empty.  Josh had been using the office earlier, but had chosen not to use the bed.

"Josh?"  Donna's whisper caught him staring at her, and it brought a smile to the First Lady's face. She hadn't thought anything surprised that young man, she'd never known a woman to catch him off guard, but this one seemed to, even half-asleep.

"Hmm, yes…" He mumbled.  Abbey saw him move closer, his nose inches away from Donna's face.  She could imagine him breathing in the scent of the younger woman's hair, as he tilted his seatback so it was even with the blonde head that was almost leaning against his shoulder.

"I just don't want to miss Hawaii, it may be my only chance."  Her soft mumble brought the Deputy Chief Of Staff's dimples out in full force.

"Don't worry I'll wake you when we stop to refuel."  He angled his body toward hers, almost closing the gap between them, still unable to take his eyes off her as she dozed.

"You wake me? That'll be the day."  She shifted slight by digging her shoulders into the seat to keep her balance, and reached out with her right hand, just missing his thigh.

"Shhhh trust me, Donna."

"I do, Josh."

"Good," a small smile played across his lips as he watched her, completely unaware of the First Lady watching them.  "You can lean on me, ya know."

"I know," the huskiness of Donna's whisper caused Abbey's eyes to blur with tears, again, as the younger woman rested her cheek on the man's shoulder and he rubbed his chin against blonde silky hair. 

The last thing the First Lady saw was Josh's left hand reach out and grip Donna's right one, because as he placed their joined hands on his thigh, he turned off the overhead light.

'How did I miss that one coming, and how long has it been going on?' Abbey blinked into the darkness. 'Jed always said I was a romantic. I guess this proves my point.  I'm a hardened surgeon used to making life and death decisions at a moment's notice.  He's the romantic, thinking he could make a change in the time allotted any president. All he did was change us.'

She took a few moments to digest what she'd seen.  As she looked into the darkness out across the cabin, she remembered a number of things, that taken one at a time, meant nothing, but when lumped together created to a very interesting picture, especially in light of the tender moment she'd just witnessed.

Abbey remembered sitting in a surgical waiting area at GW Hospital.  'I should have guessed then,' she thought as she recalled the ghostlike expression on Donna's face, as four hours, become five, then six, and finally fourteen.  Hours when doctors were fighting to save Josh Lyman's life from a bullet in the chest. Hours when his assistant refused to budge from the waiting area except twice, when she went to the window of the OR and watched the surgeons work.  The first time she returned from one of those trips, Abbey had been worried the young woman was going to pass-out.  But the First Lady's mind had been focused on Jed, his injury, and the ramifications for his MS. She had assumed Donna hadn't reacted well to the everyday trauma of what was taking place in the operating room, and had placed no special significance on the incident.  

'But when had it all started and what exactly was it?'  Abbey's mind crunched though all the times she'd seen Josh and Donna together, and she realized that it wasn't often she saw one, without the other somewhere around. When she thought back over the last six years she recalled hundreds of snapshot like memories of them.  They would be dashing through the West Wing, both talking a mile a minute; or standing together at State functions, even if both of them had brought someone else as their date, they would be together. How many times had she come across them working in Josh's office late into the night, all the other assistants gone home, but Donna was still there.

It had been Donna who had recognized that Josh was in trouble a year after the shooting at Rosslyn and gone to Leo for help.  If rumor was correct it was Donna who took him to the emergency room to have his hand sutured after he'd spent a marathon session with Stanley Keyworth in an attempt to face what was really going on.

Josh's support of Donna was a little more covert.  There'd been the time she'd lied to the Congressional investigation on Jed's MS.  The First Lady grinned, 'poor Donna, it'd been such an innocent lie. Something about a diary, which would have no relevance on the case.  Unfortunately, it brought to light that Donna had been seeing a high-ranking Republican. To have had to go back and face Josh on that one, it had to have been difficult.'  Abbey shook her head at the follies of the young.  The Deputy Chief Of Staff had been moody for months afterward, but he'd kept Donna from getting into trouble and the contents of the diary secret.

Abbey knew that Josh was particularly careful of Donna's physical safety.  She had always assumed it was not only because of the shooting itself, but part of the PTSD that had followed the Rosslyn event. He was a man who liked to be very sure of his parameters, and it was natural that his assistant would fall into that category.  Or at least it was before tonight.  If she had to guess now, Abbey would say that it was more likely that Ms Donnatella Moss was much closer to the center of Mr. Joshua Lyman's life than anyone expected. It was no wonder he worried about her safety.

She had a sudden memory of the night of the second Inaugural Ball.  It was late and she had been busy with visiting dignitaries, when the doors to the room opened and Toby, Danny Concannon, and Charlie had made a noisy entrance.  Bring up the rear had been Donna in a lovely evening gown, and oddly, a man's black overcoat that almost trailed on the floor. Josh was right beside her, his hand low on her back as he guided her into the room.  All he was wearing was an after-six suit and white scarf. He lifted the coat from her shoulders and pulled his scarf from around his neck, with the same flourish that he'd used to cover her tonight.  No wonder that had looked familiar. The coat had apparently been his.  It was still a mystery to Abbey why Donna was wearing it, instead one of her own.

That memory triggered another.  They'd been on the first cramped chartered plane that Bartlet For America had been able to afford. Donna had been working for them for a few weeks, but already Josh had found her indispensable. They'd taken off late at night, but Josh had insisted that he and Donna needed to work on platform revisions.  The soft hum of his voice was the only sound in the cabin, that night, almost everyone else was asleep.  It was when he called out Donna's name and she hadn't answered, that caught Abbey's attention.  When she looked across the aisle, she saw that the young woman had fallen asleep, while taking notes. Josh had smiled gently and picked his coat up off the floor in front of him, and then with the same gesture he'd used tonight, deftly placed it over the sleeping woman.

'That's how he knew to bring a blanket,' Abbey shook her head and smiled.  'I wonder if they realize they're in love?' The thought made her smile and brought tears to her eyes at the same time. 'Yeah, they probably did, but as long as neither of them say it out loud, even to each other, they could hide it for a bit longer.'  

"What're you up to, Cupcake?" Jed's soft whisper caught her off guard.  "And why are you sitting here in the dark crying?"  He leaned down beside her and slid his thumb across her cheeks to dry them.

"I was watching something beautiful." And she knew it was true.  Watching them had given her renewed hope.  She knew without a doubt that the difficult, stubborn, intense man she was married to was worth all they'd been though over the years and that if anyone could make a difference he could. Josh and Donna appeared to be willing to put their lives on hold, if they could, so could she.  

"And you say you're not a romantic." Jed chuckled as he helped her up. "How about I show you something else that's beautiful." He wiggled his eyebrows at her.

"I love you Jed."  

"I love you, too Abigail." He whispered as the door closed behind them.

THE END

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