Title: Roads
Author: A.j.
Rating: PG
Spoilers:Up toKing Corn. Joshfic.
Notes: Big thanks to Amanda who kicked me around about primary accuracy and my inability to spell simple words. Title and summary from the Portishead song 'Roads'.

Summary: "No more can I say, frozen to myself."


Josh wakes some mornings with the weight of everything he has done and all that he has left undone pressing down on him like sand. Thousands of tiny little hurts, light when alone, crush him into the mattress. He is heavy with it.

The worst part is that he has no idea how to make it lighter. None at all.

It follows him through out his days, solid and more real than this dream he's walking through. It's strange, this waking dream. This is what he always thought he was built for. To fight the unfightable odds and pull magic rabbits out of his bag of tricks.

He is at the top of his game in many, many ways. He knows where some of the better bodies are buried. Can use those more skillfully than his early days in the White House. He is confident and poised. He has to be. Because he is the only one that really believes in what he's doing. Really believes.

And that's only one of the reasons this race is so much harder than the last two. He is alone here, even in a crowd. He misses being part of a team.

He doesn't like thinking about Donna. Thinking about Donna makes moving through the day harder. Because her name and face and all the things he has and hasn't done to and for her are the most visible parts of his personal millstones. They're the most recent, anyway.

Thinking of Donna means thinking of Toby, and thinking of Toby means thinking of how much leaving the White House both was and wasn't the hardest thing he's ever done. Hard because he was leaving behind his family. And not because they haven't felt like family for a long, long time.

And that lack of feeling hurt so much more than leaving ever could.

His days now are a blur of people and speeches and buses and hotel rooms that all look the same. He hasn't seen the Hill in almost four months. And in the dark moments, where no one can see, he wonders if he ever will again. He still can't let himself think about why the possibility of no is mattering less and less. Not all the way through.

But sometimes, he tries.

He used to have time. Time enough for everything that was supposed to come after the Presidential Wild Ride. Wife. Children. Family.

That time is diminished now. He is forty-six and doing everything he can to ensure that his country will get a leader it needs. One it doesn't necessarily deserve. If all goes well, he will be fifty-five as he watches Matt hand over the reins.

It is a sobering thought, and one he tries not to have very often. But that's getting harder as the months and miles and sleep deprivation rolls on.

Staring out at rural America from the window of a tiny little Cessna, he wonders how he got so old so quickly. He has just lost his third round of magnetic checkers to Matt's daughter, and is listening to her complain about what a bad a partner her father has saddled her with. And how a color gameboy would be much more entertaining.

Her voice is so very young in the confines of the small aircraft. And Matt's responses are so very, very warm in return.

The headache that's been building since Tulsa pulses a little harder behind his eyes, and Josh just stares out at the rolling fields just starting to turn from winter gray to green. All around him, new life is jockeying for attention. Growing. Building. Moving on.

His hand twists on the arm rest, out of sight and hard against under his fingers. He wonders how he became Leo McGarry without the drinking problem, the ex-wife, and the daughter.

He also wonders why this is suddenly a bad thing.

Matt is laughing in the cockpit, deep and loud, it catches Josh off guard. It's been so long since he's heard anyone laugh like that. Just for the sheer pleasure of it. Knowing he's missed something, he tunes back in. Matt's little girl is grinning like a fiend and his wife is biting her lip, trying not to laugh too. Her son is stretched out, asleep on her lap.

It is a tender thing to see. Intimate. And he is very aware that he is an outsider.

But he wasn't always.

His brain blanks out as hundreds of moments like this one run screaming through his conscious. Sam grinning stupidly at a bar in Georgetown. CJ's hand on his cheek and laughter in his ears. Charlie laughing openly, and loud during an impromptu trivia session in the mural room. Toby flashing photos of his children and yelling for Ginger. Leo and the President watching from the edge of the room as their women laugh and drink and live.

And through all of those, there is Donna on the edges. Hovering and smiling and laughing and crying.

Watching Matt and Helen and their children, Josh lets himself finish the thought he's always shied away from. He wants that warm voice to be his own. He wants his daughter to question his taste in checkers partners.

He wants to wake up.

When they land in St. Louis, he finds the nearest florist and has a fern delivered to Donna's office in DC. The message on the card reads "Congratulations. You earned this job, and I have every confidence you'll kick our ass in it." The woman behind the counter smiles as she takes the cash, and promises no one will ever know his name.

He wakes the next morning, still hurting and heavy. He is gritty and tired in ways that are not physical, but the light streaming through the curtains is just a little brighter than it was before. And it's just enough to let him stretch his toes to the end of the bed and take the first deep breath of the morning.

It is going to be a long day.

-fin-