"You tell him?" Helen asked as they dumped their trays of half-eaten salads and empty bottles of water into a trash can near the exit of the cafeteria. An old woman asked for her autograph and Donna smiled as her eyes widened in surprise. Helen smiled politely and took the piece of paper, raising her eyebrows at Donna before signing her name.
"Your first one?" Donna asked, avoiding the subject.
Helen nodded. "They don't usually recognize me unless I'm standing with him. So, you tell him?"
"No, but we agreed we need to talk," she said, balancing a turkey sandwich and Lipton iced tea in one hand and her cell phone and Josh's wallet in the other. She hoped he'd feel up to eating and knew he'd only complain about hospital food, so she thought ahead, getting him something healthy he'd eat without whining.
"Hmm…" Helen said, a sandwich for Matt in her hand. They'd sent Ned to the hotel to work on travel plans. Josh was going to spend the night at the hospital, so they were going to be in Miami an extra day.
"What do you mean, hmm?" Donna asked.
Helen shrugged. "I just didn't think you'd chicken out."
Donna's eyes opened wide. "We're going to talk," she said in a voice that reminded her of Josh's squeak. "He's hurt, it can wait a little longer."
Helen pushed the door to the stairs open with her back, letting Donna walk in before it shut behind them and they started up the flight of stairs to the main floor. "Can I ask you something? I know we don't know each other, but…"
"You can tell my life's a mess, and you can't help medaling just a little?" Donna cut in good-naturedly.
Helen smiled. "Something like that. I mean, you did tell me of your undying love before telling anyone else in the world, I feel invested in it now."
Donna laughed. She liked this woman. Liked her a lot. It was kind of like hanging out with CJ, but without having to worry about work protocol. Josh wasn't taboo here, they were just two girls talking, which should've seemed weird considering this woman might soon be the First Lady. Donna was glad she'd gotten the chance to get to know her a little before the titles and the formality kicked in. "Well by all means then, ask away."
Helen stopped walking, prompting Donna to do the same. She looked at her for a long moment before speaking. "I wouldn't give a day with Matt back. Not a single day. Why are you willing to give up so many of them with Josh?"
And there it was, the other perspective, the wind knocked out of her like a punch to the gut. For years she'd told herself to wait. Wait until they were out of office, wait until it wouldn't be quite so hard, wait until they'd both done whatever it was they needed to do with other people, wait until they didn't work together. And then it was wait until the primaries are over, wait until he realizes how badly he hurt you, wait until you can repair what the two of you have done to each other, wait until you aren't working against each other. There's always time. Just wait… wait… wait…
But this woman didn't see that. Of course an argument could be made for wait, but there it was like a lightening bolt. Could any of those reasons be reason enough? Had they ever been reason enough? When it was put that simply, no. No reason was worth spending every night for the last eight years alone instead of with him. No reason she could think of was ever reason enough.
She looked up at Helen with a huge smile on her face. "So…that talk needs to happen today?"
Helen nodded. "Yes it does. Now, it's possible that I was eavesdropping when you quit your job today, so let's talk about you coming to work for me when we win this nomination."
"I see Javert's gone," she said triumphantly, walking into the curtained area along with Helen. Josh and Matt were discussing the possibility of a press conference or a local morning show since he hadn't gotten to speak that afternoon.
"Who's Javert?" Josh asked, looking up confused.
"Josh," Helen admonished. "Don't you know Les Miserables?"
"The musical? No," he said, shaking his head in disgust.
"Well, it's still touring. We're gonna find a show near us in some city somewhere and the four of us will go."
The congressman sighed and hung his head before standing up, kissing his wife on the cheek and taking the sandwich out of her hand. "What'd I tell you Josh?"
Josh nodded, the idea of double dates popping into his head. "Yeah," he said, glancing at Donna.
"Javert is the corrupt police officer. Where's yours?"
"Ahh…" Josh said slowly. "He left. Mentioned something about the President and the FBI. You know anything about that?" he asked with raised eyes.
She smiled innocently. "Now Josh. You asked me not to call the President. How would I know anything about that?"
"So I should've been more specific is what your saying?"
"Toby's my friend. I often confide in him. If he chooses to then confide in the President who chooses to take action, that can hardly be considered my fault."
"Very crafty," Helen said smiling. Donna looked at her smiled wickedly.
"Very sneaky is what you mean," Josh shot back.
"Sneaky, crafty, however you'd like to phrase it. I've made a good decision," she said, winking at Donna. "Now, I've got Donna's room key. Matt and I are going to her hotel to get her things and bring them to our hotel. We'll put them in your room…since you won't be using it tonight."
"Josh," the congressman said. "We'll make sure dinner's here by seven."
"Dinner?" Donna asked.
He looked at her and smiled. "I'm not missing any more dinners with you." Then he turned to the congressman. "Thank you Sir. For everything."
"Your welcome." They turned to leave and Donna smiled down at Josh. He reached out for her hand, but she turned at the last second and followed them out.
"Congressman," she said once they were in the hallway.
He looked back at her and saw a look of trepidation on her face. Kissing Helen on the forehead, she went to the door of the emergency room and waited. "Yes?" he asked when it was just the two of them.
"I…" she trailed off, trying to apologize for her actions that day but not quite sure how to.
"Would've done anything you had to do," he said smiling. She nodded, tears springing to her eyes. "You're going to make a good addition to the team, Chicken Fighter," he said with a wink.
She smiled back and wiped the one tear that had escaped away. "You always gonna call me that?"
"I think it has a certain flair to it," he said before turning and catching up to his wife.
She'd gone out into the hallway to apologize to the congressman, and when she'd gotten back, he'd been out cold. So she'd pulled the chair in the corner over to the bed and she'd rested her hand on top of the covers near his, so her fingers could brush his and she could feel he was there.
And then she watched him, watched him sleep, his face relaxed and his brow not furrowed. It was a rare look for him, contentedness, and she tilted her head a little to the side and just stared. The machines in the room made their noises, taking his heart rate and pulse occasionally, and he snored lightly, but still, it seemed so quiet compared to the chaos of the riot from just a few hours before.
She took a deep breath. This was the first time she'd been alone since it all started, and each moment started replaying itself. The confusion when she was talking on the phone with Toby and he told her something was happening. The way her fingers shook when she was frantically trying to get in touch with Josh that first time. The way her heart raced just a little when her phone rang and his name flashed on her screen, the way it stopped for just a second when he told her where he was.
She closed her eyes, willing herself not to cry again, but then she heard his words. 'Damn it Donna. I didn't sit in that room and make a thousand promises to any god who would listen just to lose you like this. Get in the fucking van!' And then, when she'd told him she was safe, the quieter sound of his voice, a sound not meant for her, but for Someone she wasn't even sure he believed in. 'Thank You God.'
A tear slid down her cheek but she didn't wipe it away, didn't notice it really. Her mind fast-forwarded to begging police officers to go in and find him. To frantic phone calls to Toby and appalling behavior to Matt Santos, a man who'd helped her for one reason only; Josh had asked him to.
And then she was in the van the moment she realized he could have left but didn't. He could've been safe the entire day, but had refused to leave without her. The woman who'd treated him horribly over the last three and a half months… longer really. But he loved her enough to try to be her hero. And more tears slipped down as she remembered it wasn't the first time he'd had to rescue her.
She fought to keep Cliff Calley out of her mind and focused on the day again. The absolute horror that hit her when Josh stopped answering his phone, the words over the walkie-talkie, 'Still having a hard time hearing you Davidson. Someone's down in the pavilion?' 'Yes, bleeding badly and unconscious.' And then, without thought, the feeling of running. Running as fast as she could to get where he was.
She knew now the man bleeding and unconscious was a police officer who'd died on his way to the hospital, but it didn't matter. Donna was back there, trying to get on the ambulance, the congressman's strong hands around her waist, pulling her away from it as it drove away, the feeling of Ned's arms closing around her. She looked down at her hands. They were shaking.
And just like that she was at the hospital, standing next to a desk listening to the congressman talk to a nurse. 'Grey matter.A police officer on the scene told me there was grey matter. "They didn't expect him to make it.' She sucked in a deep breath as she sobbed, opening her eyes and focusing on his face. His beautiful, beautiful face. Swollen nose, black eye, bandaged forehead… she'd never seen anything as beautiful in her life, except maybe the site of him pale and weak on the edge of death after surgery.
He opened his eyes then and she started crying even harder. It was too much. The day, the separation, almost losing him…again. She was shaking and crying and he put his hand on top of hers and watched her silently while she tried to calm down. A few tears gathered in his eyes too, and he wiped them away with his other hand.
"Shh… I'm fine now," he said quietly a minute later.
She shook her head. "I almost lost you."
He squeezed her hand tightly. "You're never gonna lose me."
She looked at their joined hands. "But what if I did? What if I lost you and I never told you?"
"Told me what?" She looked up at him, their eyes locking. "Told me what?" he repeated quietly.
"Told you I love you? What if I lost you and I never said that?"
He smiled slightly. "Donna, you've told me you love me a thousand times," he said, taking their joined hands and using his thumb to brush tears off her cheek.
She leaned into his touch and his thumb brushed over her lips, letting her hand slip from his and fall softly back to the bed. "Every time you told me not to drink too much but then took care of me when I was drunk anyway, every time you watched me from my office door, when you tied my bowties and told me you wouldn't stop for red lights and when you smiled at me when we were in Will's office in New Hampshire. When you asked for me before your… surgery…" he was crying then too, tears slipping down his cheeks. "And then again when you woke up."
"I needed you," she whispered.
"I needed you to need me," he whispered back.
"Because I love you. Because I've always loved you. You're everything to me, don't you know that?"
She turned her head and kissed his palm before whispering, "Yeah, you've told me a thousand times."