Originally published: Oct. 4, 2006
Pairings: I tried my best to ground this fic in cannon, but don't bend your brain too hard trying to make it work. It's just a weird little fic. I still don't know how I even came up with it.
Oh God, she couldn't sleep. AGAIN! She was so tired; weariness was practically seeping out of her pores. But she couldn't actually fall asleep. She'd tried everything. Counting sheep just bored her. Hot milk seemed like a waste without coffee in it. Taking a walk hadn't worked because she had run into Ronna, who wanted to talk with someone about the new polling numbers. Not exactly soporific. It was frustrating that she even had to search for sleep aids at all. For years, whenever this had happened, she could turn to her never-fail solution. But it wasn't available to her any longer. After all, it wasn't like she could go up to Josh and say, "Hey, boss, I'm having trouble sleeping. Do you think I could come over and listen to you breathe?"
Yeah. No way she could say that. Not anymore.
It was incredible that she'd ever been able to say that at all, actually. Incredible that most of their friends knew that they would each occasionally spend the night at the other's place and nobody thought it was a sexual thing. Incredible that it actually wasn't a sexual thing. Just an attempt by two people whose minds functioned at lightening speed to quiet their thoughts enough to let them sleep.
And it was completely innocent. No… that wasn't quite true. They always stayed on their separate sides of the bed, listening to the other breathe, to be sure, but she'd always been driven by deeper emotions. (So had he, she'd sometimes let herself believe.) It was about finding comfort in the other's presence.
It had started that terrifying Christmas, after she had brought him home from the ER, his hand bandaged, his psyche still fragile. She'd stayed as he got ready for bed, planning to sleep on the couch… just in case. He'd sat on his bed and looked up at her with devastation in his eyes. "You know, when I was a kid and I had trouble sleeping, I used to try to time my breathing to my sister's as she slept. I don't know why it worked, but it always did. I think it had something to do with tricking my brain. Do you think..?"
"Do you want a sleeping pill?" she asked."No. I… No."
She hadn't finished the question before Josh had lifted the covers for her. She snuggled in and tried to even out her breathing as best she could. Surprisingly, he fell asleep first. And when she'd woken up in the morning, he was still lying there, out cold. It was only when she'd risen to go to the bathroom that he stirred and smiled at her sleepily.
"You know, when I was a kid and I had trouble sleeping, I used to try to time my breathing to my sister's as she slept. I don't know why it worked, but it always did. I think it had something to do with tricking my brain. Do you think..?"
The next time they tried their little sleep-aid was on Air Force One, when apparently nobody was able to get much rest. Finally, after flinging his pillow across the cabin in disgust, Josh had turned to her and asked if that "breathing thing" would work on a plane. "How would you even…" Sam began, but CJ elbowed him in the stomach. She knew when Josh and Donna would have had the opportunity to make that discovery.
"I don't see why not. Do you want to try it?""I'd listen to another Presidential speech about National Parks if I thought it would help.""What are you doing?" Toby had demanded as the two of them arranged themselves so that Donna's pillow was under Josh's head (his still lying abandoned on the floor) and Josh's shoulder was providing a pillow for Donna."If you listen to someone breathe, you fall asleep easier," Donna explained."It seems to work," Josh added with a shrug. Toby nodded and closed his eyes again.
"How would you even…" Sam began, but CJ elbowed him in the stomach. She knew when Josh and Donna would have had the opportunity to make that discovery.
CJ later admitted that out of desperation she had tried listening to them and had fallen asleep, too. The same could not be said for poor Sam. He just got frustrated and ended up completely rewriting the President's speech for the California Teacher's Union, only to have Toby make him change it all back once he woke up.
Though it wasn't a planned strategy, the incident on Air Force One turned what they did into a normal thing. Nobody said anything as a general rule, but nobody talks about brushing their teeth either. (Well, unless they're Sam.) And it wasn't a regular occurrence. Just a sometime thing they did when things were stressful and slumber was elusive. The night Mrs. Landingham died. After the diary incident. The Carrick debacle. Anytime when comfort (not just oblivion) was needed.
The only time it had happened almost every night was towards the end of President Bartlet's re-election campaign. It had continued its sporadic pattern until they had gotten back from their unexpected tour of Indiana. She was pissed at Josh and Toby for being so "them" the entire time and at herself for actually walking with them to the White House (knowing full well that it would take them a half hour to even get there)—only to have the President send them home as soon as they arrived. She didn't want to spend one more second with either of them, but somehow she found herself back at Josh's apartment. It was late when they got there, and since they still had to be in reasonably early they only managed about 4 hours, but it was such a deep sleep that both their brains were able to function properly again, as proven by Josh's college tuition brainstorm and the return of her sense of humor. Apparently, neither one of them could sleep as soundly on their own as they did together.
Now, on the campaign trail again with its odd hours and inconsistent sleep patterns, she needed the one thing that could soothe her into slumber more than she ever had before. She had managed during the primaries mostly by working herself until her body was practically dropping. Until she was so worn out, all she could do was pass out on her bed, with barely enough energy to wash her face first. But that hadn't worked since she'd joined the Santos campaign. It was Iowa all over again. It was like her body knew the one thing in this world that could bring her peace was only a few yards away. And only her stubborn pride was keeping her from knocking on his door. That… and the fact that they just didn't have the same relationship anymore.
And whose fault is that?
That wasn't a good path for her thoughts to take when she was already unable to sleep. It didn't matter right now why their relationship had changed or whose fault it was. She just needed to be close to him… or at least trick her body into thinking she still was. Maybe if she could find something that smelled like him, she could trick herself into thinking that things were still the same. That it was the Bartlet campaign again. The sense of smell could be quite powerful. Maybe she should steal one of his shirts or sneak into his apartment.
The shirt thing was something from a bad sitcom, but the apartment thing was actually feasible. She still had his key on her keychain. Every time that she went to remove it, she would remember that she had taken the key off after Josh had returned to work… and why she'd put it back on. She'd always told herself that it was so stupid and superstitious… but maybe part of her was always expecting the day would come when she would need it. The hotel was only a couple of blocks from his apartment. And it wasn't so late that she felt uncomfortable walking the streets of Georgetown. She could be there and back before anyone knew. Josh had a room at the hotel, so it wasn't like he would be there.
Wait…Josh had a room at the hotel…
Josh regularly had a room, like the rest of the staff, whenever they returned to DC. So, what if he had sublet his apartment like she had? But no… She remembered that he'd talked about going back to his apartment to pick up his winter coat before they left on Tuesday.
So there's nothing stopping me. Well, other than the fact this is completely insane.
She told herself what a stupid idea this was as she threw on her coat on over her pajamas. As she walked the streets of Georgetown. As she slipped quietly into his dark apartment. She breathed in deep and let out a contented sigh as she slipped off her shoes and coat and headed to the bedroom. She had made the right decision.
The place hadn't shown any signs of recent occupation but, like Baby Bear or one of the dwarves, she stumbled across an unexpected occupant snoring in the bedroom. She spun on her heel and attempted a quick retreat when his sleep drenched voice froze her in her tracks.
"Yeah?" she managed to strangle out.
"Couldn't sleep?" he asked as he half rose from the bed.
"Um… no," she breathed.
"Okay, get in," he offered groggily, as he pulled back the covers.
Oh, God! Oh, God! He's sleep disoriented and thinks we're still back in our White House days…
"Alright," she said awkwardly, hoping that he would fall back asleep quickly so that she'd be able to sneak out. With any luck he wouldn't even remember that she'd been there.
"You scared me there for a second," he said as he flopped back down. "I thought that something had happened back at headquarters and Lou or the Congressman sent you to tell me because you were the only messenger I wouldn't kill."
Okay - he's not so disoriented.
"Josh, is this okay?" she felt compelled to ask as she pulled the covers over her.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"It's not… normal that we do this. Any of this. It really never was."
"So what? We're weird. Nothing wrong with that. Now, sleep. I need you rested," he replied as he settled back under the bed covers. She did the same and somehow they nestled and burrowed until their backs were touching, at first tentatively, then unabashedly. His breathing evened out first, hers following moments later.
It was the deepest sleep she had had in well over a year.