AN: So, this is probably a one-piece, and it kind of goes
nowhere. I had a different ending for
this, so if you hate how I end this one, I suppose I could go with the
original. But this one is chock-full o'
angst, and I love me some angst.
Also, um, they aren't mine. Yeah.
The Sound of Sirens
The room is filled with finely dressed people—the first Inauguration Ball is in full swing.
The band, the lights, the streamers, the dancing…it's all very reminiscent of the Bartlet Inauguration.
A wave of nostalgia sweeps through me. This isn't the Bartlet Inauguration; it's the Santos Inauguration.
I scan the room for familiar faces, and my eyes find only a few. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I walked out of the Bartlet White House, but I was expecting…more.
I was expecting to feel happy…satisfied. Something.
"My first piece of advice, son, is to at least look like you're having a good time."
"Good evening, Mr. Vice-President."
"Wow, that sounds strange, huh?" Leo grins and pats me firmly on the back.
"I think it suits you," I match his smile, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.
It must not be much.
"What's going on?" Leo sobers, and furrows his brow.
"Nothing, I'm just…exhausted," I sigh. And it's true. The final leg of the campaign was grueling, and nothing really let up after the election. I feel like I'm dragging around lead shoes, and it takes all the energy I have to muster a smile, much less an animated conversation with a powerful Senator, or the insatiable media.
Leo let's out some kind of grunt, and I know he's only half-buying my excuse. He's always had that remarkable ability to see right through me—who's idea was it to put him on the ticket again?
Leo's former partner-in-crime is making his way toward us, and I am starting to feel the cold hands of death reach around my neck.
"Well, you two look like you lost an election or something," Jed Bartlet booms, a relaxed grin on his worn face, "Don't tell me you secretly switched parties."
"Not a chance, Mr. President," Leo grins, as he embraces his friend.
I feel my heart hit my stomach, and my throat clenches. I scan the room, and see the President dancing with his wife—the First Lady. Both are grinning wildly, and laughing at their own, secret jokes. I look back over at President Bartlet and Leo—Vice President McGarry, and I begin to realize that what I am missing, is a best friend.
The President had Leo. Leo was the one who got him through the tough times; Rosslyn, the hearings, Zoey's abduction—not to mention all of the 'little' things in between.
Isn't that what I'm supposed to be for President Santos? His confidant, his friend, his most trusted partner?
I look back over at President Santos, and I realize that I am none of those things. And that it is very likely I never will be.
No, this is not the same Inauguration at all.
"Josh, I've never seen any man in more dire need of a stiff drink and a good night's sleep," Bartlet exclaims, and it occurs to me that I've been completely tuned out of the conversation for the past five minutes.
"I'm fine, sir," I say half-heartedly.
I'm not fine. Not really.
"You're lying, and not well," Bartlet says slowly, and I look at him. He too, looks exhausted, but he also looks happier than I've seen him for a very long time.
"I'm sorry, sir, I—" I scan the room, and my eyes fall on Donna and Toby, chatting in the far corner of the hall, "I need to talk to Toby. I'll see you later tonight?"
"Fine," Bartlet sighs, and I can see he's disappointed in my decision, "Go to work."
Without so much as a look back, I cross the crowded room. I can feel both men looking after me, but I can't deal with that right now. I need to talk to Toby, and more importantly, Donna.
They see me coming, and both take a defensive stance. I try not to look offended, as I stop just a few feet from them.
"Hey," I venture. I must have left my stellar vocabulary skills in my other suit.
They both nod, and I can see by the way they are looking at me that they were, in all likelihood, in the middle of a conversation about me.
"Toby, do you mind if I talk to Donna for a minute?" I venture, and I can see Toby's eyes darken. Though we managed to get over the asinine 'incident' that took place in his office last year, I still can't help but to feel that Toby resents me for taking on this role, and for digging up Santos without him. I think he still feels that the Chief of Staff job should have been his after Leo left, and he's not satisfied at all with the role I offered him in the Santos White House.
"Whatever," Toby mutters, and I nod gratefully before leading Donna away from him. We don't get far, because Donna decides to…just stop walking.
"Don't 'Donna' me, Joshua," she huffs.
Oh, God, now what?
"You ask Toby if you can borrow me, but you fail to ask my permission? Maybe I don't want to talk to you right now," she spats, and I close my eyes.
Things between Donna and me have been horrible for a while now. I brought her on to the Santos Campaign soon after the DNC, and she has become a brilliant Press Secretary, and an even savvier strategist. Things were going really well between us, up until about Election Day.
No, scratch that, things fell apart precisely on Election Day.
Election Day, or rather, Election Night, Donna and I got really drunk, and…
Well, let's just say we celebrated in style.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a freak out. Just a tiny one, and it had nothing to do with her.
No, it had everything to do with her.
I had struggled for a very long time after Donna quit to work with Will Bailey. Struggled to understand what had happen, and what was going to happen, and how I could make happen what I wanted to happen sooner.
Anyway, it wasn't until after the DNC that she and I were really able to find our footing again. We were back on the same team, fighting the good fight, this time as equals. Kind of.
So after Election Night, I told her that I was happy that we were getting back what we had, but that I had reservations about carrying a relationship into the White House.
I think she took it to mean that I didn't want her in the White House with me--or something, because she threw some kind of fit.
She yelled, for quite a while, and from what I managed to gather, she was yelling about more than my stupid little statement. She was still pissed at me for a lot of things, and she let me know it.
And yeah, most of it I deserved; I know that. But I also don't know what she wanted me to say, sitting there in my boxer shorts, in the early morning hours of the Next Day.
So I didn't say much of anything, and that pissed her off even more.
Needless to say, things were a little off after that.
Suddenly, I am recalling the last Inauguration; President Bartlet's second. That was the night I threw snowballs at Donna's window, with Charlie, and Toby and Danny and…Will.
That was also the night I resolved to tell Donna how I felt about her.
I should probably get around to doing that.
"Are you just going to stand there?" Donna, who is scowling at me, pulls me back into the present. I look at her and realize that she looks just as amazing as she did that night.
"No, I just…I just can't—" I stutter, and again curse my lack of vocabulary this evening. I suddenly feel stifled, and my breathing becomes labored.
"Josh, breathe," Donna says, with a softness that shocks the hell out of me. I do what she says, more out of some kind of Pavlovian instinct than anything else. I look at her, and suddenly, my eyes are stinging. I look down, embarrassed, and I feel Donna's hand on my arm.
"I really screwed things up, didn't I?" I blurt, without looking up at her. I don't want to see her nod her agreement.
"I—" she starts, but now my verbal diarrhea seems to be out of my control.
"I don't know how I got here—how we got here, and I don't know how to say 'I'm sorry' in a way that doesn't sound—contrived. But I am sorry. I'm sorry for—for everything," I sigh, and finally look up at her, though I manage to avoid her eyes.
"Josh, you look like hell," is all she says.
"Yeah," I laugh, and shake my head.
"I was offered a job," Donna blurts, and I look up at her, eyes wide. I recall a similar conversation, several years ago—back then, I had no doubt that she would never take another job—I was confident she'd stay by my side.
Needless to say, that confidence has waned considerably.
"Oh?" I try to sound neutral, but the crack in my voice betrays me.
"A small media firm in New York," she replies, then takes a deep, slow breath. I can feel my heart pounding in my ears, drowning out the music that surrounds us.
"I think…Josh, I think I should take it," she finishes quietly, her fingers picking at the sequins on her ball gown.
"Donna," I start, and she shakes her head.
"I don't think I can do this," she whispers.
"You're the White House Press Secretary, Donna—we can't afford to lose you now!" I say, in a tone much harsher than I intended.
Her eyes darken, and she stops fidgeting and crosses her arms.
"I think The White House will be just fine without me," she says flatly, and begins to turn away.
And I see it. That moment that I have let slip through my fingers countless times. That moment that I let her walk away from me, because it was somehow easier than dealing with the consequences of What Comes Next. That moment is passing again, and suddenly, I hear sirens above the music.
"I won't be," I say, my voice gravelly and hesitant. She pauses, but doesn't turn around.
"I won't be fine without you," I repeat, louder this time.
"I'm not your keeper anymore, Josh," she whispers, her hands clenched at her sides.
I look down at my shoes, then up to the back of Donna's head. I scan the room and see Toby, talking to Leo, both looking at me from across the room. An overwhelming feeling of sadness courses through me.
It takes mere moments to lose everything you spend your entire life building.
"Please don't walk away from me," I whisper, and Donna turns around. I'm still looking across the room as she approaches.
"Josh," she says sadly, and I turn to look at her. She tilts her head and frowns, and I feel my face flush—God, I must look pathetic right now.
I am begging for my life, after all.
"You keep pushing me away," she says softly, "What do you want me to do?"
My throat clenches, and I simply stare, as she waits patiently for me to recover. I blink furiously, and look down again.
"Do what makes you happy, Donna."
I see her purse her lips, and take a small step back.
"Is that what you're doing, Josh? Are you happy?"
"I got Santos elected," I say, and look again at the dance floor.
God, the sirens.
"And that makes you happy?"
"You make me happy," I say, and a tear slides down my face. I look at her shocked expression, "But I don't think I make you happy, and I don't know if I ever can."
Her mouth is slightly agape, but she doesn't reply. She knows, deep down, that what I am saying is true.
"Dance with me," she says softly.
"I can't hear the music," I reply, and suddenly, I can't stop the onslaught of tears streaming down my face.
She takes my hand, and squeezes it gently. She leans toward me slowly and whispers,
"The music is there Josh. Let it in."
She leads me to the dance floor, and I slip my arms around her waist, before burying my head in the crook of her neck. I can smell her shampoo, and her perfume, and it makes me want to sob. She wraps her arms around my neck, and runs a hand through my hair.
"I'm not going anywhere tonight," she promises softly.
God, I don't deserve this.
Slowly, the music seeps into my head, and my body relaxes into hers. I can hear her humming softly to the tune the band is playing, and I tighten my grip on her.
It would be our last dance together.
The Santos White House is so much different than the Bartlet White House. I hardly know the people I work with each day; and it makes me long for days gone by. I still see Toby, and CJ, and even President Bartlet from time to time—but it isn't the same.
I would rather have my friends by my side, and a Republican in the White House, than a deathly quiet apartment and memories of a life I let slip by.
I push people away; because I can't stand the thought of losing them to tragedies I have no control over. But sometimes I push so hard, I don't realize that I'm losing them anyway. I pushed too hard, and forced Donna out of my life. I don't blame her, she had to do what was best for her—and what was best for her was to walk away.
In the shadows of my darkened home, I still see her smile; and for now, it has to be enough.