Title: Ground Zero
Author: A.j.
Spoilers: Post-ep for "In The Shadow of Two Gunmen", Donna pov.
Notes: Because everyone and their cousin has written one of these. Might as well imitate a lemming.

Summary: It's the waiting that kills you.


She can't see the clock from here, but Donna thinks it's morning.

Her eyes are glassy and grittier than she can ever remember them being. It's like someone dumped the contents of an ashtray right on to her cornea's and skipped merrily onward.

She needs caffeine. She needs a shower. She needs to brush her teeth.

Mostly she needs to not be here like this.

She feels small inside her skin. Reduced somehow in ways that will only become apparent years down the road. Because she's standing just that side of a gate, and she can't see right or left yet.

There is beeping in her ears. Machines going about their business, doing what needs done. She knows there was a time when her life consisted of more than these machines and this room and feeling like she's been hit by a board and that time was yesterday afternoon.

She still hasn't cried.

On some level she knows she's waiting, although for what she's not incredibly sure.

Being here feels strangely wrong in a way she can't pin down. She's used to being part of a moving, weaving dance of activity. Sitting still, sitting here, has unbalanced her. There's nothing for her to do with her hands. No reports to file or meetings to be on top of.

Josh's schedule is going to be fairly clear for a while.

She blinks her dry eyes and tries to remember when they didn't feel like they needed a shower.

Donna knows that she's a placeholder. Here because no one else can be just yet. His mother is on a plane from Connecticut, and the rest of the staff trying desperately to keep things running despite this massive and dramatic pause in their everyday lives.

The House is still in session, the trains are still running, and call her crazy, but she's fairly certain that the sun has, in fact, risen.

Josh would be so crushed to find out he isn't the center of the universe.

Donna blinks again and sucks air through her nose. The EKG machine bings again and she relaxes her fingers. It's stupid and possibly sad, but she misses him. She talked to him yesterday - had a nice long verbal skirmish, actually - and she misses him.

She's his assistant. But there's not really much assistance she can give him right now. Not like this.

She thinks she should probably be crying.

"Donna?"

Her eyes jerk up and find him there, and she's suddenly not alone in this room anymore.

"Hi." She's not really quite sure what else to say. He's awake and groggy and unshaven and his mother should be here for this. Not her. Not for this. But she is here and this is now and despite wanting to jump out of her chair and run screaming for her apartment and afghan and yesterday, he doesn't need that. He needs help. He needs her.

"How're you?"

"You really shouldn't try to talk, Josh. I know it's going to be a challenge, but you've got to buck up there." And it's probably not a good idea to be berating him while he's flat on his back with lots of stitches.

"Kay."

Her lips quirk, dry eyes burning in the fluorescent light, and she reached over to stroke his hand.

"Hurts..." Josh's voice cracks and she mentally starts apologizing for every petty prank she's ever pulled on him. He is broken in this place. Laid bare and not whole.

She doesn't know how to be strong for this. She's not sure she can do this. This? Is definitely not in her job description.

"I know."

His shoulders shrug gracelessly and she winces, her brain readying itself for his whimpers or gasps. The drugs they have him on must be stellar because after a few seconds he settles down, eyes drooping heavily.

His fingers are warm and dry under her hand. She waits because they've done this before - not this, but this - and whenever he passes out in her presence there's a ritual.

"Tell me?"

Her fingers tighten on his convulsively, her chest hurting at the sudden lightness in her mind. "It will get better."

"You said it right," he whispers, and smiles just a bit before drifting off.

Donna bites her lip softly and listens to the echo of the machines.

-fin-