Title: The Gathering Storm
Author: Willow
Synopsis: Tensiosn mount as the rift between Jed and Leo grows.
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Anything up to season 5, Memorial Day, but set in an a/u.
Notes: Third in the Stone By Stone series. Starts 1 weeks after In Need Of Assistance .
Disclaimer: Not mine.


SUNDAY MORNING

CJ walked out of her kitchen with a glass of orange juice in one hand and the telephone in the other. She sat down on her couch and dialed Josh's number. "Good morning, Joshua," she said. "What you doing at the moment?"

"At 8.30 on a Sunday morning," Josh replied. "I'm lazing around my apartment, what would you think I'm doing?"

"Coming jogging," CJ suggested.

"No."

CJ had known he would say that, so she ignored him. "It's a beautiful morning, Josh."

"It's going to rain."

"Get your running shoes on. I'll be round in 30 minutes."

Thirty five minutes later Josh opened his front door to CJ. "You're insane," he said as he walked back into the apartment. "I have things to do you know."

"The quicker we go, the quicker we'll get back," CJ told him. "Come on."

"Insane," Josh muttered and reluctantly followed CJ out of the apartment. "How the hell did this Sunday morning torture start anyway?" he asked.

"It was your idea," CJ replied.

"I really think that's unlikely."

"You said the doctor told you to exercise, so you wanted to start jogging."

Josh stopped and stared at CJ. "That's how this started? That was over 3 years ago, CJ. I'm fit now, I don't need to exercise"

"I'm sure there's logic in there somewhere, Josh," CJ smiled. "Stop moaning, we're going running."

Josh dutifully fell into pace beside CJ and they ran in almost silence, almost apart from Josh's occasional sighs, for twenty minutes.

"It's going to rain," Josh said, looking up at a sky that was turning a dark shade of purple.

"Do you think you'll melt?" CJ asked as a flash of lightening filled the sky.

"No, but we might get barbecued."

"Wimp. We'll shelter."

"Under trees?" Josh asked doubtfully, "Did you miss the lesson about lightening and trees when you were at school?"

"Well it seems you have two choices. You can stand in the open or take your chances under the trees," CJ called as she ran for shelter.

"Great options," Josh muttered and followed CJ to the trees. "So this was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning."

"What else would you be doing?"

"I have plenty of things I could be doing," Josh protested.

"For instance?" CJ asked. "Wow that was close. The storm must be overhead," she commented on an extremely loud crack of thunder and a flash of lightening.

Josh didn't reply. All he could hear at that moment was the noise of the thunder, the gunshots. He leaned back against a tree and folded his arms across his chest as he tried to push down the rising panic.

CJ knew she was rambling, but she'd seen the panic in Josh's eyes when the thunder and lightening cracked above them. She hadn't realized loud noises still had any effect on him. She was fairly certain that asking if he was alright and drawing attention to his panic wouldn't help, so she'd started talking about why the storm must be directly over them because the thunder and lightening had happened simultaneously.

Slowly Josh became aware of CJ talking, something about the speed of light, and his breathing started to return to normal as the panic ebbed away. "You've been spending too much time with the president," he gamely teased.

CJ followed his lead and grinned, "I'm a wealth of useless information."

Josh wasn't fooled for one minute, he knew she'd seen the effect the thunder had had on him. "Let's go back," he said.


"You want some food?" CJ asked when they arrived at her apartment.

"You're cooking?"

"No. I was thinking you could cook while I shower. There's bacon and eggs in the fridge."

Josh started to protest that he was the guest, but he'd eaten CJ's cooking before. "Go and shower," he told her.

Once they'd both showered and eaten, CJ had to ask, even though she was sure she shouldn't. "You feeling alright?"

"Yeah," Josh replied as he put the dishes back in the cupboard.

"Okay."

Josh knew that tone it was the same one she used when she was convinced they were keeping her out of the loop at work, so he decided on a little honesty. "Just for a second, when the thunder cracked, it was.... you know. But I'm fine now, really." He tried to sound confident and reassuring, because he didn't want anyone knowing that he still had panic attacks.

"Good," CJ replied. Although she wasn't sure she believed him, she didn't want to push him so she changed the subject. "Have you spoken to Janet?"

"Why would I?" Josh asked, unsure why he'd tell Janet about the effect thunder had on him.

"Because Donna's back tomorrow."

"Right," Josh smiled. "Janet's going to stay on for a few weeks, at least until Donna's off the crutches."

"Wow, she's a gluten for punishment," CJ smiled.

"Hey!" Josh protested with a faint grin.

"Mind you she's not the only one," CJ continued. "Donna actually seems to be looking forward to coming back."

"I've tried to warn her that she'll regret it once she's there."

"It has to get better soon," CJ said without much conviction.

"You'd think," Josh agreed.

"I've been getting questions you know."

"About Leo and the president?"

"Yeah," CJ agreed. "They want to know why you've been taking meetings Leo normally takes. Why Leo isn't going on the trip next week. Why Leo wasn't with the president yesterday. You get the idea."

"They?"

"Patty, Steve, Chris; the other's won't be far behind."

"What did you tell them?"

"That Leo and the president haven't been speaking for weeks and I'm surprised it took them so long to notice."

"CJ," Josh sighed.

"I told them that you often staff for the president and Leo doesn't always go on trips. You know, someone on the staff must have said something for them to know that you've been taking his meetings."

"Could have been someone at the meetings," Josh pointed out. "I don't know what to say, CJ. I have no idea how to solve this one; I don't actually have any idea what started it."

"Gaza and the CODEL, Camp David," CJ suggested.

Josh shook his head. "This isn't just a disagreement over whether there should be a summit."

"No," CJ agreed. "Look don't worry about it," she told Josh, "I can fend them off."

"Yeah, but for how much longer."

"I've been doing this job for a while now," CJ said in a slightly irritated voice.

"I know. But how long will it be before this spills outside the west wing? How long before they have to be somewhere together, in full view of the press? Have you ever seen a picture of us all someplace, where Leo and the president weren't side by side?"

"No," CJ agreed.

"Well I think you're going to," Josh sighed. "You're not the only one getting questions. I was on The Hill on Friday, I got asked three times whether Leo was alright."

"He doesn't look it."

"I know," Josh agreed. "He won't talk about it. He told me the president will either come round or he won't, but there's nothing we can do about it."

"I suppose no matter how hard this is becoming for us, it's ten times worse for Leo."

Josh nodded his agreement. "I should go, I've got to go into work and catch up on the stuff I didn't get done in the week."

CJ knew that Josh was struggling to do all his work, while attending meetings that Leo would normally have taken. She had been worried that Leo looked tired and drawn over the last few weeks, now she was worried about Josh as well. "Tell him it's too much."

Josh shook his head. "It's not that bad. There's just a couple of reports I didn't get chance to read."

"You can't carry on at this rate, Josh. You're going to be ill."

"What can I do? It's up to them to sort it."

"Meanwhile we're caught in the crossfire," CJ added. "Come over for dinner. I'll call Toby and Donna, we'll order takeout and get drunk."

"Sounds good," Josh smiled.

continued.................................