"Drugs are good. Drugs are really great. We should write a law to legalize them and distribute them at schools"
When he is not deeply asleep he is aware of just a bunch of things, small, unimportant things. He is aware of Toby grunting at the secret service that under no circumstances should he talk or be heard by pretty much anybody. He is aware of his feet barely touching the floor as three pairs of hands ease him into his bed. He is aware of the lingering perfume of Donna around him, somewhere.
Everything else is fuzzy and confusing, the pills taking away the pain and most of the real world with it.
"Drugs are great!"
He tries to shout but the air in his lungs isn't really enough.
"Has the doctor said if we can put him a gag?"
The exasperated voice of Donna is the last thing he hears before falling sleep again.
He sleeps a lot the first days although he doesn't dream much, mostly bits of reality melting with memories and strange things, like pink elephants at the White House hall, but he usually doesn't remember them.
That's another thing drugs help him deal with.
Sometimes he wakes up and doesn't remember anything of what has happened to him. He doesn't remember the shooting, the fear or the ambulances. He certainly doesn't remember the pain.
"Drugs are great," he murmurs.
That is till he tries to take a deep breath and a sharp pain across his chest brings all those memories back to him.
"You know, you're going to have to stop saying that eventually." Donna's voice sounds far, far away. Maybe too far for his taste. Maybe.
He has lost all track of time. He wakes and the moon it's bright at the other side of his window, he wakes again and the sunlight is orange against other house's windows and it seems that every time he looks around him Donna is near, wearing different clothes from the last time he opened his eyes.
"You look different," he says, because it's difficult to keep his eyes open and speak more than three words in a row.
She moves around him checking his bandages and his temperature, some monitors and other things he doesn't even really understand. She looks even paler than usual and dark circles, almost like bruises, have appeared under her eyes.
"Yeah, I'm trying a new look, tracksuits and sleep deprivation."
He tries to smile but he doesn't really get to do it before falling sleep again.
A week goes by. Maybe a month, maybe a year. He doesn't really know how much time has passed but he knows he is tired of being asleep. He tries to stay awake longer, he fights the weight of his eyelids and focuses on anything around him to avoid falling asleep again.
"Sleep, Josh." Donna's voice sounds strong and merciless. "Your body needs the rest."
He decides to focus on Donna.
"How do I know that you won't try to kill me while I sleep and run away with all my things?"
She is seated not far away at one of the armchairs that used to be in his dinning room, with a messy ponytail that shines every time it moves, reading something and with a cup of something.
"First of all, you need help to pretty much, breath. If I wanted to kill you I wouldn't need you to be asleep. And second, most of your things are ugly, useless or college crap," she resumes her reading and takes a sip from her mug, "Except your coffee maker. I love your coffee maker."
"I hate it."
"You're addicted to coffee, Josh"
"Yeah, and I have to buy it elsewhere cause I don't know how to use that shiny evil coffee maker."
The room's getting dim as if the sun was just about to set outside but he can still distinguish Donna's soft smile as she resumes reading.
"Can I get it then?"
"No," he yawns and his eyelids close once more, "you'll have to kill me to get it."
And the world around him dissolves into a dark painless nothingness again.
Soon enough -or at least what feels soon enough to him- the constant numbness begins to fade, leading to more awareness and pain.
He can breathe now without feeling a blast of pain every time he tries to fill his lungs but his chest still hurts from surgery, a constant low intensity pain that drives him insane when the painkillers start to wear off.
The room has the curtains mid-closed but there's still enough sunlight to lighten all the bedroom. Everything seems to be cleaner and more organized than it has ever been but the air that surrounds him is heavy, his spot on the bed is way too warm and the sheets around him and his pajamas are uncomfortably wrinkled and sweated.
"Stop shifting," Donna's strong voice comes from somewhere outside his room above some kind of murmur and just for a moment he isn't really sure if it's real or he just made it up. "You're going to make your stitches come out."
He struggles to sit up. "I need a shower," he tries to raise his voice but the effort takes his breath away.
"You can't shower, it's bad for the stitches," Donna appears at his door with her arms crossed over her chest. Jeans, some rock band t-shirt and barefoot, all shiny and fresh and clean and Josh would give half his money for a bath.
"I can't shout," he says.
"And I stink."
"I know, I'm right here," she takes some steps till she is at his side and seats carefully at the bed, near his hip. "You still can't shower."
"I'm pretty sure that goes against some human rights resolution," Donna opens two or three of the bottles that cover his night-table as if she weren't listening to him at all, "and maybe one or two federal laws." She takes the glass of water that is always by his side and gives it to him along three pills.
"Here. Take these."
Josh wrinkles his nose and looks suspiciously at the meds.
"What are those for?"
"This one is to help your skin tan and these two are pregnancy vitamins."
"I don't know what are they for Josh, the doctors said you have to take them, so take them."
He smiles maliciously enjoying the moment that tastes like the old times, as if nothing had happened.
"You mean that Chemistry wasn't among all those minors and majors you studied?"
She doesn't really smile, as if the bit of banter doesn't amuse her as much as they both know it does.
"Do you really want to mess with me when you're completely vulnerable to my wicked ways?"
"Good," she nudges him again, "Now take the damn pills."
He swallows them and stares at her almost without realizing it, looking for something familiar, something in her eyes, or maybe in her smile that is exactly the same as before the shooting but after a moment she grows uncomfortable and shifts next to him, looking away.
"I've been told I can't shower."
"True." She smiles, bright and full of pure evil Donna, "You can take a sponge bath though."
A couple of seconds pass until his mind adjusts to the concept, not wanting to think too much about the myriad of gross, uneasy and humiliating ramifications.
"A sponge bath?"
"Sure." Donna gets up and starts walking away, "Let me introduce you to your nurse."
"I have a nurse?"
She disappears through the door and seconds later comes back with a middle aged, brunette, short woman dressed as if she just came from doing some groceries at the market, a bright smile and a cup of coffee in her hand.
"Hello Mr. Lyman, my name is Kathy. I'm happy to see you're finally awake." She waits by the door, looking for a reaction while she drinks from her mug. "You have a fantastic coffee maker."
He rolls his eyes and looks suspiciously at Donna. He should have expected that; he almost can see it, Donna convincing the poor innocent nurse to come to the dark side with her and the damn coffee maker.
"You know, usually when I imagined scenes with a nurse and a sponge bath, they were somehow less painful and… humiliating."
Donna tries to hide a laugh and Kathy smiles almost pitifully at him.
"Believe me Mr. Lyman, it happens all the time."
When he wakes up the next morning sometime around noon his mouth is completely dry and Donna is nowhere to be seen or heard. Instead, the low murmur of conversation in the living room between Kathy and a familiar male voice fills his room while he tries to sit up and drink some water from the glass permanently sitting on the night table
The conversation in the other room suddenly stops and the quick steps of Sam grow louder till his worried smiley face appears at the door of the room.
"Hey! You're awake!" Sam nervously revolves around the bed "I've been here for a while but I didn't want to wake you up," he speaks as fast as human possible and plays with his hands constantly, "besides Donna would probably kill me if she knew that I had woken you up. In fact, I have no doubt that somehow she will know and manage to make my life miserable in many, creative ways for about-"
"Sam." he says it as loud as he can without hurting too much and Sam suddenly stops on his tracks. "Are you on crack or something?"
"What?! No, I just…" Sam sighs loudly and looks at him in the eye. "I'm just glad you feel better."
"I've visited before but you were always asleep."
"Yeah, it's because of those pills Donna keeps giving me. I think she is secretly poisoning me to steal my coffee maker."
"It's a good coffee maker."
"So I've been told."
There's and awkward moment in which they just look at each other and Josh can see little wrinkles around his friend's eyes that weren't there before. He can see the pity and the pain at his somehow always young face and the knowledge that he has caused that pain claws at his stomach.
"Don't do that ever again"
"Believe me, I'll try."
"Were you trying before?"
Josh rolls his eyes. "I suppose."
"Then try harder."
Josh smiles at him trying to relax him a little, trying to bring back a little of his eternal teenager light.
"I know, Sam." He tries to sigh and a blaze of pain cuts him short, "I know."
The next visit he receives is Toby. Toby who looks just as moderatedly angry as ever but talks to him softer than he is able to remember.
Toby brings him food that he can't eat yet, wine that he can't mix with his pills and a Cuban Cigar that it was obviously for himself and to smoke somewhere else.
He also brings him the draft of a bill they are going to try to push to the Congress and becomes his favorite person in the world.
After 'The Toby Incident' Donna forbids all visits and work related calls and even with the long rehabilitation hours he has everyday, Josh still finds himself more often than not with absolutely nothing to do but stare at the walls of his bedroom.
"I don't know what to do in bed," he claims suddenly and it's not until Donna tries and fails not to laugh that he realizes the implications of what he just said.
"I mean I'm bored," he explains while blushing.
"You could read something."
Donna is sitting at the armchair -now a permanent fixture at his bedside- almost drowning in insurance forms and policies.
"You don't let me read."
She doesn't look up. "I don't let you read work related stuff."
"And what else would I possibly want to read?!" he is restless and shifts uncomfortably in his bed.
"Jane Austen is a classic."
"Jane Austen is for girls."
"Says the man who wanted to be a ballerina."
He misses this from work, the occasional banter amid stressful tasks. He misses others things too, like arguing with Toby and teasing CJ and actually working on something he loves.
"I'm bored." His hands virtually ache for a project of law.
Donna finally looks up, rolling the eyes in the process and sighing as if his mere presence were the most frustrating thing in the whole world. Even more than a republican majority in the Congress.
"You could just shut up and sleep. You should rest."
"I'm resting. I've rested. I'm rested!" he lets his head fall heavily on the pillow, "I need a rest from resting"
He is reasonably certain that he's whining although he doesn't care much about it. God he is so, so bored.
"So watch some TV," and leave me be in peace for God's sake!. She doesn't say it out loud but he hears it nevertheless while the soft curtain of blonde hair hides her face when she returns to her reading.
"But you don't let me..."
"No C-Spam, Josh!"
"There's no other option, Donna, it's C-Spam or people eating snakes alive while confessing how they stole their mother's life savings! It's just... it's just not brain healthy!" he narrows his eyes and points an accusatory finger at her "you want to kill my brain! For my coffee maker!"
He ends pissing her off enough for her to move with the tons of papers to the living room and sets him with a DVD of some classic movie he is sure it wasn't at his house before.
He gets better. Painfully slowly, painfully difficult and just plain painfully, but he gets better.
He gets his stitches off and he's allowed to shower again like a human being. He is able to walk relatively long distances –as in going to the kitchen and back without having to take several breaks- and he can raise his arms again though not above his shoulders and certainly not with enough force to attempt to try the new basketball CJ has given him.
One day, Nurse Kathy says her goodbyes and gives her best wishes and parts not to be seen again and two weeks later the armchair that had rested for so long next to his bed goes back to the living room, where it no longer belongs. It seems like the damn furniture laughs at him every time he walks by on his way to the kitchen.
He should give it to Donna, it probably has her body mark on the cushions anyway and she has certainly spent more time on it than him and all his visits altogether.
Donna doesn't sleep at his house anymore, there is no need for that, but she still appears at his door every evening with some inedible healthy food and vague work news.
"You look great!" She seems sincerely pleased at improvements he can't see when he looks at himself in the mirror.
She moves around his kitchen with practiced ease, getting plates and forks and glasses for the two of them while he eyes suspiciously the content of the plastic bag that is going to be their dinner.
She opens the containers and separates the food in two halves before putting it on the plates.
"You do look better, Josh."
He still looks like crap and he knows it but he is not about to start complaining about it like an insecure teenager with acne.
"I still think you're trying to kill me for my coffee maker," he says poking the green mess of his plate with his fork, "you're just incredibly bad at it."
"Well, there had to be something I'm not good at." She smiles brightly and her enthusiasm contrasts with his poor mood.
"Clearly a job as a professional killer is out of the question for you." He looks bitterly at his own food to avoid looking into her familiar happy face in front of him. "Also, nun? Out of the question too."
"True, habits are way too rough for my delicate alabaster skin."
"That, and you're no good at loving comfort to the sick either."
The sound of the fork falling on her plate makes him look up before she can speak.
"Excuse me?" she seems furious and confused and he can't think of anything he said that could have caused such a sudden change.
"Come on, Donna, it's okay. You're a great nurse and the best assistant but-"
"Don't say it."
"Think of it. During all the time you have spent here taking care of my meds and everything else, how many times did you actually take some pity on me?"
He says it not with fury or resentment but with the best of his sarcastic smiles and even a tad of humor in his words. It doesn't matter. Donna gets up from her chair, slowly, not looking at him once, arranging all her things to leave while looking for her coat frantically around the kitchen.
"No! You have…" her voice breaks and he knows that he has hurt her. He hasn't the slightest idea of what he has said or not said, what he may have just implied, that was so far from reality to offend her. He doesn't know that but he does know he has hurt her.
"You have no right to say that."
She finds her coat hanging from the chair behind the door and puts it on with simple, efficient moves.
"You take pity on those who have no hope, Josh, you take pity when you can't offer anything better. You want me to go easy on you? Well, that's not going to happen. You go easy on those who are not strong enough to take it. You're better than that and I'm better than that."
She says it without stopping once to take a breath, putting to shame CJ and her 'I'm your first call' rants. She goes to the kitchen door an opens it not looking back at him. "You have no right to say that."
She closes the door behind her and a second later he can hear the main door opening and closing again with less force than he was expecting.
The night is warm in D.C. and the lights on the street are bright and full behind the open window of the room. He tries to take a bite of the quickly cooling green mess on his plate but there's a knot in his stomach that wasn't there before that won't let him eat. The sound of cutlery against china fills the room as he lets the fork fall and echoes in a kitchen suddenly full of space and empty chairs.
That's when he realizes he hadn't truly felt alone in a long time.
The first day at work everything feels new and old, shinny, fresh and comfortable. He walks along the hallways greeting people and assuring everyone that he really is okay now.
Everything feels the same and everything feels different at the same time. Sam still hugs him out of the blue, CJ flirts with him with an edge of joy that is just too contagious, Leo smiles and Toby doesn't shout too much. The President asks him about his blood pressure and other things he doesn't really understand but that he intents to pass along on the First Lady and Mrs, Landingham feeds him more cookies than he's had in months.
Everything feels familiar enough. Strange enough, too.
When he finally arrives to his office, Donna doesn't bring him coffee but a dozen of urgent papers that he needs to read and sign for yesterday. She closes the door after her and stands in the middle of the room just looking at him for several moments just before smiling the brightest smile Josh has ever seen. She closes the distance between the two of them and kisses him in the cheek.
"Thank you for the new coffee maker."
And with that she gets out of the room again.
He smiles, he fills his lungs as much as possible just because he is able to again, and then he starts to read and sign all those urgent papers. In the back of his mind the message that he sent along with the coffee maker to Donna's house replays itself over and over again.
I won't go easy on you either.