Author's Notes:

I first posted this on JDFF in February 2006. At the time I wrote it, it was clear that Santos would probably win the election, and, sadly, that something would happen to Leo, since we'd lost John Spencer in December. There were some spoilers just starting to come out, but I hadn't seen them when I started this, and basically ignored them once I did see them. It reads like an AU now, but at the time I was just imagining a world in which everything had been continuing pretty much as it had all year, right up to the election and after. So, Santos and McGarry have won, Leo's well and on the job, Josh is about to become C.O.S., and Donna . . . . Well, read it and see.

I'm still grateful to Mistletoe for her beautiful knitting, and to Aim for telling me not to hit "Control A" and "Delete," and for some very helpful suggestions. I took some and ignored others, so anything that doesn't work here was and is my fault, not hers.

Thin Ice

by Chai

"Well, that's that," Lou says, snapping her pen shut and closing her notebook with a smack. "I think we're done."

"Really?" It's only five in the afternoon, but Donna feels tired, and her voice shows it. "What about the Education Department thing? Haffley's been crowing that we haven't announced anything yet."

"Let him crow. His family can stew him and call it coq au vin. Serve him instead of turkey tomorrow."

"Josh wanted something done about it today, didn't he?"

"Donna," Lou says, drawing her eyebrows together, "Josh wants the whole damn transition done today. Or yesterday, or the day before that. You're not going to let that crazed, obsessive workaholic ruin your vacation, are you?"

Tired though she is, Donna feels the corners of her mouth twitch up in the beginnings of a smile. "No, of course not. I just meant—" She breaks off, wondering what, exactly, it was she did mean. Josh is Lou's boss now, not hers; she doesn't have to worry about what he wants if Lou doesn't. Which is the way she likes it. Isn't it?

"You just meant that maybe we should miss our planes so we could spend the next few hours hashing out the wording of an announcement that isn't scheduled to be made until next Thursday. I think we can manage to get it done by then and have our Thanksgivings too. Especially since we're under orders from the President-Elect himself. Matt said he'd skin anybody alive who tried to work this weekend."

"I heard him. He's really serious about it, isn't he?"

"He is. He seems to think people work better when they get a little time off to be with their families every now and again. A radical concept in labor management that that Scrooge-like early-nineteenth-century industrialist in the next office there hasn't quite got a handle on; he wants us all down the mines sucking up coal dust every second of every day. You'd think he hadn't noticed that the election's over and we won. I'm beginning to think he's certifiable, you know?"

"Yeah." Donna glances toward the partition that separates Josh's office from Lou's, a spasm of something she can't afford to feel contracting her chest. No, she tells herself, don't go there. It's not your job anymore. It never was your job, not like that. No. No. No.

"And it's not like he's got all his own ducks in order yet; there are still some key positions he hasn't filled, people he hasn't placed."

"Yeah," Donna says, a completely different sort of emotion twisting inside her this time. She laughs, a little bitterly. "Yeah."

Lou looks at her sharply. "Still no word?"

"Still no word." She tries to keep her voice neutral but doesn't succeed.

"God damn the man," Lou says. "Has he always been such an asshole?"

Donna bites her lip. "Yeah," she sighs. "I guess."

"You'll get something good, Donna, don't worry about it," Lou says, in an unusually warm voice, for her. "I'll make sure of it. Don't worry."

"It's okay." Her voice sounds weak. "I'm not worried. Look, it's ten past five, and my flight's at seven, could I—?"

"Yeah, I've got to get going too. I think I hear the Congressman starting to kick everyone out, anyway. Have a good trip; hope you have a good time. Say hi to your folks for me."

"Thanks. You too," Donna says, blinking back tears as she dashes from the room.

oooooo

"Happy Thanksgiving, everyone," the Congressman—his resignation won't take effect until the Christmas break—is shouting cheerfully, striding down the corridors and between the cubicles in what was, until a few weeks ago, his campaign headquarters. "I hope you all have a wonderful day tomorrow. We've got something to be thankful for this year, all right."

"Happy Thanksgiving, Congressman!"

"Happy Thanksgiving, Matt!"

"Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. President!"

"Elect, Bram, just President-Elect."

"That's good enough for me, sir."

"Well, it isn't good enough for me, but it will have to do till January 20. Get out of here, everyone, what are you waiting for? You've all got trips to make, planes to catch, turkeys to eat. I don't want to hear about anyone missing their turkey because they stayed around here too late. Have a wonderful time with your families, and be back here on Monday refreshed and ready to go. We've got a lot of work to do on this transition, but I don't want any of you even thinking about it for the next couple of days. This is a time for you and your loved ones, and that's what it's going to be. Got it?"

"Yes, Congressman."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, Mr. President! Elect, sir, Elect—I know."

"Okay, I'm out of here too. Helen's expecting me." He heads towards the doors, then stops outside the office occupied by the man who was his Campaign, and is now his Transition Manager, and his Chief-of-Staff-to-be. "Come on, Josh, grab your backpack and get going."

Josh looks up from the papers he's been reading, and stands up. "I've got a couple of things to finish up still, sir."

"Josh."

"I'll be leaving soon, sir."

"Come on, Josh. You don't want to miss your flight, do you?"

"I don't have a flight to miss, sir."

"Train, then."

"Not that, either."

"Well, if you're driving you'd really better get going; Florida's a long way. You don't want to keep your family waiting, Josh, or you'll get voted the biggest turkey in your clan, and they'll serve you up with the cranberry sauce for dinner."

"I'm not going to Florida, sir."

"I thought that's where your family was? You went to see them when we were campaigning there."

"Just my mother, sir. She moved there a few years ago. I'm from Connecticut."

"A Damn Yankee? Yeah, that figures. I did know that, too. Are they all coming here, then?"

"No, sir. She's—taking a vacation, sir."

"She lives in Florida, and she still wants to bother with a vacation? You'd think she'd be getting enough sunshine where she is. But I expect you can get some pretty good cruises leaving from Miami; when you live that close, it must be easy to take advantage of them."

"She left before the election; said she'd be glad to miss the hoopla if they had to count pregnant chads or something."

"She's got a point. I'm glad to have missed that myself."

"I am too, sir."

"I hope she remembered to send in her absentee ballot, though."

"Of course she did, sir."

"But who are you spending Thanksgiving with then, Josh? With the rest of your family? Brothers? Sisters?" Matt is feeling jovial and expansive; Thanksgiving is one of his favorite holidays, and he really does have quite a bit more than usual to be thankful for this year. He's had a bit to drink at the staff party this afternoon, too—not enough to make him drunk, but still enough to dull the social sense that would normally keep him from straying into uncharted waters like that. It's funny, he thinks, looking more closely at Josh's face, which seems to have tightened a bit; he really doesn't know the man well at all. They've spent a hell of a lot of time together over the past eleven months, but the talk has been all politics, all of the time. It occurs to him now that Josh probably knows a lot more about him than he does about Josh. That's going to have to change, if the man is going to be his Chief of Staff.

"I'm spending it here, sir," Josh says quietly. "In D.C. But I've got to finish a few things off now, if you don't mind. And you've got a plane to catch."

"Right. Yes. Of course. Well, have a good time, Josh. My best regards to your mom, and the rest of your family. Tell them I said not to throw you in the oven, no matter how big a turkey you make of yourself, because I need you around after the holiday's over."

"Yes, sir. Have a good time yourself, sir. I'll probably need to check in with you about some things over the weekend, you know."

"If you must. Just not tomorrow, okay, Josh? Tomorrow's for family."

"No sir. Not tomorrow."

The President-elect smiles and walks out of the room, his Secret Service detail falling into step around him. Josh sits down again and picks up the file he'd been reading, burying himself in his work again. It's hours before his eyes start to feel gritty, hours after that before his head drops onto his desk and, in spite of himself, he sleeps.

oooooo

The chime rings and the seat-belt sign clicks off at last. Donna tips her seat back and stretches her legs out, trying to get comfortable and not really succeeding. Then she tries to think about going home. It's a good thing to be doing; it really is. She still can't quite believe she's on her way. Everyone took the day off after the election to sleep in and celebrate and get over their hangovers from having celebrated so hard the night before, but after that she'd assumed it would be mostly hard work straight through to the Inauguration, and, when Josh offered her a job with the administration after the transition, for the next four years after that. He still hasn't offered her the job, but thank goodness the President-Elect had put his foot down and ordered all the staff to book flights home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas too. "Family time is important," he'd insisted. "You'll all work better for a few days off, and I want you to take them. I mean it, and I expect it. That's an order—no exceptions," and he'd given Josh a look, making everyone laugh.

Josh—there he is again, pushing himself into her thoughts no matter how hard she tries to fix them on other things. The mix of emotions she'd felt in Lou's office earlier that evening wash over her again: the familiar anger, the once-familiar but now disturbingly strange anxiety, and the startlingly unfamiliar but distressing sensation that she had finally pinpointed an hour or so ago as shame. The anger is at Josh for his lack of trust in her, which, instead of lessening during the campaign the way she'd expected seems to have grown, because what else can explain the fact that she's the only one of the main campaign staffers who has yet to be offered a position in the new Santos administration? It's humiliating and infuriating, and every time she lets herself think about it she feels angrier than she did before. But tonight, right along with the anger, has come anxiety about him, and that sinking, nauseous feeling that she realizes now is shame. Shame for talking about him that way with Lou, because no matter how many times she's told herself he's an asshole and always has been, she knows it simply isn't true and she hates herself for letting Lou think it is. And now shame for walking out of the office tonight and sitting on this plane heading home to her family, when she's absolutely certain he's still back there buried in his work. Alone.

She's never seen Josh as tense or as keyed-up for so long as he was during the campaign, and like everyone she's been stunned by his unwillingness to let up even once the election was over and won. She's joked about it with the others and twitted him about it every opportunity she's had, but, more and more, she's concerned. More than concerned. He's always been a workaholic, of course, but never like this except during some crisis like an election or the MS thing; the transition from one Democratic administration to another isn't anything anyone could possibly describe as a crisis, and while there's important work to do, they really have plenty of time to do it in. In the old days he would have worked hard but managed to fit in a lot of fun, too; for a second she almost smiles, remembering some of the crazy stunts he got up to with Sam and C.J., and all the times he'd roped her in to go along with them. Then she feels the tears start to sting at the back of her eyes, and tries to think instead about all the reasons she has for being angry with him.

Usually that isn't hard to do. But tonight it's harder, because she can't quite forget the scene she overheard a couple of hours ago, after she left Lou's office and was getting her things from her own. She was standing next to her door putting her coat on when Matt Santos came down the hall, saying goodnight and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and stopped to tell Josh to get going if he didn't want to miss his plane. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but the Congressman's big voice had carried easily through the thin partitions and small spaces that separated them. Josh's voice had been quieter; she hadn't caught all his replies, but she didn't have to. She's pretty sure she knows exactly what he was feeling, no matter how little of it he let Matt see. It shocks her, that the man he's worked so hard for and so closely with for almost a year doesn't know him better than that. After Matt left she stood still for a long minute, leaning against the doorframe, her eyes shut, wondering what to do. She knew what she'd see, if she stepped across the narrow hall and into the doorway where the Congressman had been standing: the familiar curly head bent over an interminable stack of work, the room darkened, just the light of the single lamp on his desk to read by. What she didn't know anymore was what he'd let her see, if she went to him then, in his eyes. Or what he would see in hers.

She had a plane to catch and family to spend Thanksgiving with, so she'd picked up her purse and walked down the hall to the elevators, glad they were in the other direction and she didn't have to walk past Josh's door.

oooooo