Rating: M (for language)
Spoilers: Through "Holy Night"
Category: Post-Ep for "Holy Night"
Disclaimers: All the usual.
Summary: Early in the morning of Dec. 26, Josh calls Donna, and has a talk with Toby.
Author's Note: I guess I've learned now never to say never again. I'd always wanted to write a post-ep for this episode, though, so maybe it isn't surprising that after Liz sketched out this idea for a story she thought she'd like to read, I found myself writing it. Many thanks to her for that, for reading it over several times when she was very busy, and for her editorial suggestions. Please don't blame her for any mistakes in characterization, details, or language, though; they're entirely my own.
The way I think of Josh spending this Christmas owes a lot to both Jo March's "Me and Victor Laslo" and Speranza's "Epiphany," so my thanks are also due to them. Not to mention to Aaron Sorkin, for writing that beautiful episode in the first place. . . .
By the early hours of the 26th, it's snowing again. If you could call it snow: tiny white pellets that pile up in cracks and crannies of the pavement like crumbled styrofoam, and rattle against windows like hail. By dawn they've changed to thicker flakes and the streets in D.C. are icy and treacherous, but Toby comes in to work early anyway. He thinks at first that, except for the Secret Service, he's the only one there.
He's just come from taking his father to Union Station and putting him on a train back to New York, after the most awkward, searing, emotional, confusing, difficult, embarrassing—and yes, in spite of all that, at times disturbingly rewarding—few days he can remember since—well, ever, really. He'd ended up letting his dad stay much longer than he'd originally meant to. The snow had kept up and the tracks had still been frozen in New Jersey through much of the 24th, and after that Toby somehow hadn't had the heart to kick the old man out and make them both spend the loneliest day of the year by themselves. They'd gone to see Andi, the way his dad wanted, and she'd been surprisingly good about it all. There'd been moments when Toby had looked up and seen her talking to his father, smiling, letting him put his hand on her belly to try to feel the babies kick, and he'd actually felt like maybe this hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
That doesn't mean he's planning to let Josh off the hook, though. Toby has no intention of letting the interfering s.o.b. think he scored any points with that one. Him and his damned good intentions and his moralizing, "you-don't-know-what-I-know" attitude. He's too much Toby's junior to be able to play that one with impunity, and while most of the time Toby doesn't let it get to him that Josh, who's seven years younger than he is, nevertheless outranks him on the staffing tree (if he's being fair, which this morning he isn't in the mood to be at all, Toby might admit that Josh has carried his title from the start with surprising humility, and has never played that card with him or Sam or C.J. at all)—while most of the time Toby doesn't even think about the age difference between them, it's bugging the hell out of him right now. "You don't know what I know." What the hell. Toby knows things that have never even brushed up against that boy-faced boy-wonder's trust-funded, Westport-Protestant, Harvard-pampered ass. He knows. . . .
He stops in the doorway to his office, abandoning that train of thought abruptly. There's a crumpled blanket on his couch; a couple of cushions, a glass, and a nearly empty bottle of whisky on the floor beside it. A bottle that he's pretty sure he last saw unopened in his own cabinet.
Toby makes his way a little more quickly than usual down the hall and through the bullpen. Josh is at his desk. Toby pauses for a minute in the door, watching him: he looks rumpled and unshaven, and seems to be wearing the same clothes he was the last time Toby saw him, on the 23rd. He doesn't see Toby in the doorway; he's talking on the phone.
"Yeah . . . . Yeah . . . . I know it's early, Donna, I'm not blind. I wanted to catch you before you left. . . .Yeah, I know you're still on vacation; I'm not trying to screw you out of it. I just wanted to let you know things have changed here, and I don't need you back today after all; you can stay another day, like you wanted. . . . Yeah. . . . Yeah, it's okay; I really don't need you. . . . Yes, really. . . . Look, don't worry about it. The roads are bad again, and it's supposed to go on snowing on and off all day. Just stay there, take another day, have a good time. . . . Skiing? . . .Yeah? . . . Yeah? . . . Okay, look, enough with the details already; I do actually have a few things to do here. See you tomorrow then, if the roads are clear. Have fun. . . . Yeah. . . . Bye."
He clicks the phone off and stares at it for a moment. Toby is just about to say something when Josh rubs a hand over his face and, without looking up or seeing him, hurls the phone across the room in the direction of the door. Toby steps aside quickly; it whizzes by him, and shatters against the wall. Inside the room he thinks he hears Josh saying, "Oh, fuck everything, anyway." Toby steps back to the door.
Josh is on his feet now, by the window, where he's leaning his weight on his arms against the frame, looking out at the snow. He turns quickly at Toby's voice, his face reddening a little.
"Toby? Sorry about that. I didn't hit you, did I?"
"I can still dodge a lousy pitch. I think your phone's finished, though."
"Yeah, I, uh—"
"Haven't you been home at all?"
Josh turns around and looks out the window again. He doesn't answer.
"You've been through my whisky."
"I'll buy you another bottle."
"I bought you that one!"
"Yeah, you probably did. Josh, what the hell do you think—"
Josh whirls around, and Toby bites off whatever moralizing thing he was going to toss back at Josh about what he knows and Josh doesn't about the dangers of too many late nights alone with Johnnie Walker, because what he sees in Josh's face then is something they both know too much about. Toby saw it in his own face every night and every morning for more than a year after Andi left. The sharp edges of it have rubbed down a little now—maybe, after the last few days, more than a little—but he can see the rawness of it in Josh's eyes, and hear it in his voice, and he curses himself for having taken his two confusing, embarrassing, uplifting days with his father and Andi that Josh had given him, without ever having asked Josh what he was going to do for the holiday.
Then Josh drops his eyes, and Toby does, too, and the silence that settles over the room is like the snow outside, gentle and deadly.
"I, um." Toby clears his throat, and considers his words carefully. "I thought Donna'd had to cancel her trip."
"Leo got her a ride out to the Inn at the last minute, on a press chopper."
Damn it, Leo! Toby thinks. What the hell were you thinking? But he knows he hadn't thought, either, any more than Leo had.
"She was due back today?"
"I'd said I needed her back, but they're calling for more snow. I don't want her on the roads. Especially with a Republican at the wheel; they don't believe in speed limits, like they don't believe in gun control."
Toby picks up a pen from Josh's desk and starts to fiddle with it. It's something to look at besides Josh's face.
"Who's this guy she's with now?"
"Jack Reese. Lieutenant-Commander Jack Reese. You've probably met him; the Pentagon's got him attached here."
"I don't think I've seen him."
"You're not missing much."
Toby looks up for a second, then gives his attention to the pen again.
"But Donna likes him?"
"Crazy about him. So crazy about him she asked meto ask him to ask her out."
Toby lets the pen drop back on the desk then, and looks up for real.
"She asked you to—"
"What was she—?"
"I have no idea. I have no idea what she was thinking. I have no fucking idea why she does stuff like that, why she can't get it through her head that she's drop-dead gorgeous, and any guy who isn't crawling out of his skin and beating his way through the crowd to her door is a guy she doesn't need; but she's got no confidence in herself, she's always taking up with the most half-assed assholes who don't deserve her, and then they take advantage of her, and she ends up getting her heart broken, and I am so fucking sick of watching it happen, I—"
He stops abruptly, and turns around to look out the window again. Toby watches his back. Josh is breathing too fast, his shoulders trembling a little, and his knuckles where he's holding onto the window-frame are white.
"You didn't do it, did you?"
"Ask this Reese guy to ask Donna out."
"Yeah, I did. Of course I did."
"She wanted me to, Toby!"
"Are you sure about that?"
"Of course I'm sure. She stood here in my office and practically begged me to. What else could I do?"
"'Speak for yourself, John?'"
Josh drops his head against the window. There's a very long pause.
"You know I can't." It's barely a whisper.
"We could transfer her."
"Where to? Except for Leo and the President, there's no one over me. I'm the one who's got to look after everyone here. Everyone in the whole god-damned place. . . ."
Toby shoves his hands in his pockets and scowls.
"Get her a job somewhere else?"
Josh turns around then. He looks incredulous.
"Make her leave the White House?"
"If she wanted to date you—"
"She doesn't, Toby! It's not like that. Jesus, why does everyone always think—?"
"Because we saw her when you were shot, Josh."
"Jesus, don't any of you guys know Donna at all? She's got a heart like—like a baby blanket, for god's sake, it's so damn soft. Of course she was upset when I was shot. Of course she tried to look after me. I was her job, I still am, but she'd have done the same stuff for Sam, for C.J., for you, even, for anyone she knew who needed help. She'd do it for a stray dog that got shot if it showed up on her doorstep, bleeding. That's who she is. That's why these god-damned guys can take her for a ride every time, because she's just so god-damned loving and giving, and she never stops to ask if they actually deserve it. And you want me to kick her out of her job here, this place we've all worked our hearts out to get to, when we'd cut them out of our fucking bodies if the President wanted us to, if it would do him any good, and we'd be glad to do it, because we can't imagine any place else we'd rather be, any other job we'd rather do—you want me to ask her to leave this? For me?"
Toby stares at him. Beyond the window the snow falls thicker and faster.
"You're crazy, you know, Josh," he finally growls. "Seriously, probably certifiably, off-your-rocker nuts."
Josh picks up the pen Toby dropped on his desk a minute or two earlier, and looks at it, turning it over in his hand for a while before answering. Then,
"Yeah," he says quietly. "I know."
And Toby sees that, really, there's nothing boyish in Josh's face any more at all. It's lined and shadowed, weary in a way that has nothing to do with physical exhaustion, and he realizes that maybe, after all, there are things Josh Lyman knows about that he doesn't.
And he hates himself for it, but he's so god-damned, fucking grateful that he doesn't.