Title: Heart Condition Chapter Eleven (Conclusion)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the West Wing characters etc. Just trying to play a little, so please don't sue! Sylvia Lyman is a little bit mine, but mostly her own…
Author's Note: I apologize for the delay, but the muse seemed to vanish in the midst of school starting, parents and in-laws visiting and children's birthdays. Hopefully the conclusion will be worth the wait! I'd like to give credit for the red light cameras bit to whoever it was that mentioned it in their feedback from chapter two. Unfortunately, I can't find that feedback in my inbox. So thank you to whoever you are!Chapter Eleven
Donna awoke as the early morning light began streaming into the room. She shifted carefully off Josh's hospital bed in hopes of letting him sleep a bit longer. Her efforts were in vain.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" Josh croaked sleepily, one eye creeping open.
"Just needed to stretch a little. That bed isn't exactly made for two." Donna commented as she tried to ease some of the kinks out of her body.
"You didn't have to stay all night. The nurse would have let you sleep in that family room again, I'm sure."
"Says the man who not thirty seconds ago questioned me getting out of bed." Donna quipped, while studiously avoiding his eyes. Josh reached out to grab her hand and force her to look at him.
"Donna, I'm not going anywhere… well hopefully I'm getting out of here, but I'm not going to disappear if you leave me alone. You don't have to stay by my side every minute of the day." Josh's tone was gentle, his eyes knowing. Donna sunk down into the chair next to his bed, her eyes bright with tears.
"I know. Really I do know that. It's just…"she trailed off without finishing the thought and stared at his heart monitor as if it would give her the answers she suddenly felt she needed. Josh tugged gently on her hand.
"Just what, Donna? Just that you want to know how much longer before you're going to be back at my hospital bed again? Just that you don't trust me to take better care of myself? What is it?" Donna shook her head at each of his questions, but still couldn't bring herself to answer him. "Donna, are you wondering whether this whole idea of you and I was a mistake? I would understand if you are, I wouldn't like it, but I would understand." The vulnerability in Josh's words finally broke through the emotion that Donna had been holding back.
"It's just that things have been good here in this room with us. I'm afraid that the minute we walk out of the hospital it's all going to change."
"You prefer me tied to a bed?" Josh tried to lighten the mood with a joke, but it fell flat as tears started streaming down Donna's face.
"Josh, three days ago we were hardly able to hold a conversation. It was damn near unbearable to be in the same room. There were a lot of reasons for that and I'm afraid that once the immediacy of you being in that hospital bed has past, those reasons and feelings are going to come back and destroy what we've started."
Donna was reassured somewhat by the silence that followed her words. The fact that he was considering her concerns rather than immediately denying them proved more to her about his feelings for her than a hundred love sonnets would. After a few moments of contemplation, Josh spoke gently.
"Everything you just said is true. I was angry and hurt when you left. I felt abandoned. You broke my heart and I never expected it because it had never occurred to me that you would ever leave me. That hurt and anger and all of the other stuff isn't going to just magically go away because we are together now. The difference is that we can talk to each other honestly about what we're feeling, what we've been through."
"But what if it's too much? What if we just can't get through all of the garbage we've been through?"
"Donna, have you smiled much the last eight months? Because I have to tell you, I haven't. I've paced, I've complained, I've fumed and I've even yelled, but I haven't smiled a hell of a lot. Can't recall much laughter either. And I can trace the last time I did much of either of those to that Monday morning before you … left. Until yesterday, that is. Now I can't seem to quit smiling even when watching that jackass Bailey say incredibly slanderous, heinous things about both of us. So it seems to me that if I can smile my way through that because you are in my arms, I might want to keep you around." Josh tugged gently at her arm, trying to pull her back down into his embrace, but Donna resisted.
"Josh, it's much easier in this room, surrounded by people who are cheering us on to laugh about the things people are saying about us. It's much different when somebody is saying those things to our face. You are supposed to be avoiding stress. How are you going to do that if somebody is saying ugly things about us in front of you?"
"Donna, do you honestly believe that I would be better off without you? I've been doing that and so far it's not worked out so well for me. One could even argue that being without you is what landed me in this place to begin with." If hadn't been for the brokenness clear in Josh's tone and expression, Donna would have gotten angry at his accusation. The raw emotion in his eyes was enough to stop her cold. Josh mistook her silence for indecision and continued pressing.
"Donna, I can't make you guarantees that everything will work out perfectly. We've covered how ridiculously bad at this I am. But I love you and I want the chance to be with you and prove that to you for as long as I can." Josh tried again to pull her back into his arms. This time, she came willingly, tears still streaming down her face.
"I'm scared. I can't even really put my finger on what it is that I'm scared of, but I am. But I can't go back to life without you. I want to take care of you, to love you for as long as I can. If that's two weeks or fifty years, I'm where I need to be."
Donna crawled back up into bed with him and wrapped herself around him. They laid in each other's arms for several moments before Josh took a deep breath and brought up something that he'd been wanting to discuss with Donna since the night before.
"The Congressman had an interesting proposition for me last night." He began casually.
"Really? Did it have anything to do with me coming to work with you after your designated three week period of rest?" Donna questioned with an arched eyebrow. Josh's eyes bugged out a bit and he attempted to sit up a bit to argue with her.
"I'm very certain that no one other than you has mentioned three whole weeks in bed over this. We are not going back to the rules, are we?" Josh attempted to pout, but Donna ignored him.
"We most certainly are. And there will be new rules added. No more red meat for one. Fruits and vegetables of all colors will be part of all meals- and French fries and potato chips do not count! I've got a call into a nutritionist to help me plan all your meals and you'll be meeting with a personal trainer with a specialty in cardiac rehab on Monday morning."
"Do- NNNAA!" Josh whined. She turned to him with a wicked grin.
"I forgot the number one rule to my new plan. You are not allowed to be in bed alone for any of the three weeks."
"That's going to get awkward when it's just me and my mom." Josh teased. Donna elbowed him playfully. "Hey! Do I need to remind you that I had cardiac surgery yesterday?"
"Have I mentioned you're an idiot this morning?" Donna growled back at him.
"Not yet, but it's early. You have plenty of time to get it in. So… what do you think of the Congressman's plan?"
"Well, seeing that I don't have a job, and I'm generally in favor of being employed, it sounds pretty good. Being able to keep an eye on you is certainly a bonus, though if I'm working with Helen and you are with the Congressman that's going to be difficult once we win the nomination."
"Actually, Helen made Matt promise that they wouldn't do campaign swings that kept their family apart for more than 2 days. It was the only way she was willing to get on board with the whole idea." Josh offered quickly.
"I knew I liked her. What happens when you get him elected? I'd like to think I'm more understanding than Jenny McGarry was, but I don't relish the idea of putting our whole life on hold for four to eight years while you are Chief of Staff."
"It's a pretty big assumption that we'll get elected." Josh stalled, but Donna gave him a pointed glance. "If and when that happens, Matt and I will have another conversation, which will probably be preceded by about fifty conversations between you and I, Matt and Helen and you and Helen. I haven't agreed to anything at this point." He finished defensively.
"Ok." Donna replied and snuggled back into his arms. Josh stared at her in surprise.
"Ok? After all of that, you're saying ok? No more discussion needed?" His voice squeaked a little in surprise causing Donna to giggle.
"Oh, I missed the squeaky voice. But in answer to your question, yes, I'm saying ok. I don't expect you to do whatever I tell you to – professionally that is, but I do expect to be in the conversation regarding these decisions."
"That will not be a problem." Josh promised. "So we're in this thing for the long haul? Team Lyman-Moss?"
"Or Team Moss-Lyman, but yes, we are in this thing, as you so romantically phrased it, for the long haul." Donna responded and leaned up to kiss his cheek softly.
"Lyman- Moss is alphabetical." Josh pointed out. Donna rolled her eyes at him and elbowed him sharply. "Again with the abuse? Am I going to have to call a nurse?" Josh asked with a wounded puppy dog look.
"Oh stop it, you really are a big baby!" Donna admonished. Josh reached over to tickle her and she squirmed. "Hey! You're going to get hurt here!" Donna whined. They were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat at the door. The couple looked up to see Matt and Helen Santos smiling at them. Helen held a manilla file in her hands.
"Hi. We just wanted to stop by before you were released to give you a copy of Danny's column in the Post. He sent over an advance copy for you. I think you might like it." She said, stepping forward and handing the file to Donna.
"We've got some agents waiting to help you both get out of the hospital and into Josh's apartment whenever you are ready to go home." Matt added. Josh attempted to sit up a little straighter, but Donna was still snuggled into his chest. "Stay where you are, Josh. When you have a woman that beautiful laying next to you, you should keep them there as long as humanly possible." At his wife's pointed glare, he added "And I should know seeing that I sleep next to the world's beautiful woman every night."
"Nice save, Congressman." Josh smiled widely at his new friend and candidate.
"You could learn a few things, Lyman." Donna teased Josh.
"I couldn't agree more. So, have the two of you had a chance to discuss your plans after you leave the hospital?" Matt asked with blatant concern in his eyes. Helen admonished him with a glance to let the couple come to their own conclusions without his pressure.
"We were just discussing that, Congressman. If the offer is still available, I would very much like to join the Santos campaign. It's going to be a little difficult though with all the press Josh and I have gotten to keep me joining the campaign from becoming the story."
"Between the run of columns pretty well castigating the Russell campaign for launching baseless accusations at you and the time off you'll have during Josh's recovery, I don't think it will be a story beyond the first day." Matt responded.
"There were others outside of Danny coming to our defense?" Josh asked in surprise.
"We're saving the clips for you. I'll have Ned or Ronna drop them off tomorrow. Your mother mentioned something about it being against the rules for you to have any newspapers or magazines available to you during your recovery. There was also something about talking to the cable company about temporarily canceling your news stations, but I didn't quite follow. She said Donna was in charge of it all." Helen mentioned with amusement. Josh rolled his eyes at the mention of the rules again and Donna laughed at his response.
"Joshua and his fellow White House employees had problems following some really simple guidelines for his recovery after Rosslyn, so I had to institute the rules to allow him to heal properly. I will email you the approved visiting hours and topics for conversation when we get settled in at Josh's place. Those who do not follow the rules are not allowed any contact with the patient until he has been cleared to return to work." She explained with a steeliness in her voice Matt immediately knew not to fight.
"We certainly do not want to break the rules. We'll just get out of your hair. The agents will be outside the door whenever you are ready to go home." Helen nodded their goodbyes and steered her husband out the door.
"This is going to be a long three weeks, isn't it?" Josh asked with a pout.
Two weeks into his Donna imposed three week bed rest, Josh's stir craziness had driven his mother to book a red eye flight home to Florida by the third night and made Donna contemplate turning to tranquilizers- whether for him or her, she couldn't decide. She started using the Santos campaign visits to run errands and get out of the house for a few minutes. As predicted after a few days of media buzz following the Larry King interviews, the excitement surrounding Josh and Donna bottomed out, allowing her to leave the house without being mobbed. The buzz had also managed to give the Santos campaign a pretty major boost in the polls while exposing the lack of depth in the Russell campaign.
Donna had stopped at her apartment to pick up her mail on her way home from getting groceries and was thumbing through it as she walked into Josh's townhouse. An official looking envelope from the District of Columbia caught her eye. Praying it wasn't a summons to jury duty, she ripped it open. Her jaw dropped to see a grainy black and white photo of herself running a red light. The enclosed ticket dated the infraction as the day Josh went into the hospital.
"Joshua! You owe me a hundred bucks!" She yelled as she entered his bedroom, still staring at the ticket with chagrin. Josh and Bram, a new campaign staffer who was acting as a liaison between the campaign and Josh during his time off, looked up in confusion. A smirk played at the edges of Josh's mouth, but he did his best to restrain it. The tone of Donna's voice told him to tread carefully on this one.
"Hello, my love. How was your afternoon?" He asked cheerfully. Donna thrust her ticket and the accompanying photo into his hands. Josh stared at the documents in confusion. "What is this?"
"That is a ticket for running a red light at the intersection of H Street and 18th Street. I'm sure you've noticed the date- April 10th- the day that you were rushed to the hospital. So it stands to reason that you… what?" Donna broke off her rant when she glanced over and noticed the tears that were forming in Josh's eyes.
"You….you ran a red light for me." He choked out after a few minutes.
"I told you I would." Donna answered flippantly. Sensing the emotion in the room was building, Bram excused himself with a nod and headed back to campaign headquarters.
"But… that was years ago. I didn't think… I just…we weren't even talking much then and you still didn't stop for red lights." Donna was moved by Josh's emotional reaction and softened her tone.
"I told you I wouldn't back then because I was in love with you. That never changed, even when things were at their worst. Even though I knew it could have been the stupidest thing I'd ever done, I had to get to you, to be with you as quickly as possible. No silly traffic light was going to hold me up when you could have been really hurt… or… or worse." It was Donna's turn to fight back tears as the emotions of that day came rushing back. Josh reached out for her and she fell into his arms.
"I don't deserve you, Donnatella Moss. I know that now more than ever. But I do love you." He whispered hoarsely.
"I know. That's why you are going to be paying my ticket." Donna teased back, but softened the impact with a light kiss. Josh smiled back at her and pulled her in for another kiss.