Epilogue, Version 2:
This is the second ending. Mistletoe gave me a very hard time while I was writing this story, and finally brought me round and got me to agree that maybe it was possible to end this a little more happily than I'd originally envisioned. It's just as well she did, because I don't think I could have finished writing it if I'd had to think of the ending I just posted as the final word. They both seem possible to me, but I'm sentimental enough to hope that things could end this way, if someone along the chain of command balked at going as far as they did in Epilogue 1.
Parts of this duplicate parts of the first version—my apologies to anyone who's reading both. And to anyone who shares my dislike of Harold Porter, feel free to imagine the worst happening to him after this is done. My favorite possibility was suggested by someone who wrote to me when I was first posting this, and said, "You're gonna have to have Porter and Russell struck by lightening and surviving to be hanged, drawn and quartered before crowds of people throwing rotten produce, as the Voice of God speaks the words 'You bastards! What are you doing to this country?'" I couldn't possibly top that. . . .
Epilogue, Version 2:
Donna got home late that night. There had been a terrorist threat on the Hill, and the entire Capitol building had had to be evacuated. She called a late press briefing and assured them that the situation was now under control. A suspect had been apprehended. No, the Capitol Police were not releasing his name. No, she had no other information at this time.
When she left, she didn't know whether the House Leader was going to call a vote on the Patriot Act that night or not. The threat against the Capitol made the anti-terror law seem all the more urgent, but he was being pressured by some of his most influential members to hold off until they had time to give the measure proper consideration and debate. Porter was locked up in his office, shouting into his phone. Will was shut up in his, but he wasn't shouting and Donna wasn't sure what side of the problem he might actually be coming down on.
It sounded as if Josh had managed to stir up enough voices of protest that there was at least a chance that the vote would be delayed—or, if it was called, might fail. She couldn't wait to see him and tell him what was happening and how much he'd accomplished. And she was starving. She wondered if he'd have gotten home in time to make dinner for them, or if they should just order Chinese.
She was surprised to find the house dark and quiet. Josh must still be on the Hill, then, courting Congressmen to vote against the Act. It was funny he hadn't called her to let her know, but probably he'd been too busy even to think of it. She tried him on his cell, but got a message telling her the customer she was trying to reach was unavailable; he must have switched the thing off. She rummaged in the refrigerator for the leftovers from last night's dinner, ate them, cleaned up, and went to bed alone.
The next morning Porter was in a temper. The House Leader had refused to call the vote until that afternoon. Donna smiled to herself. She tried to reach Josh on and off all morning, but he never remembered to turn his cell back on. Probably he'd forgotten to charge it and the battery was dead. She'd tease him about that sometime, but not tonight—tonight he would either be drinking from the keg of glory or in the depths of despair, and he didn't really deserve to be played with when he was feeling either way, after all he'd done.
The vote was called at 4:00. Donna held her breath till the last vote was in, and was bitterly disappointed when the Act passed. The debate had been heated, though, and the vote close. What would happen in the Senate wasn't clear. Donna held her press briefing, packed her briefcase, and went home. To her surprise, the house was still dark. She couldn't see any signs that anyone had been there at all.
She tried to call him on his cell. She tried to call him at home. She got in her car and drove to his house, but it was dark. She drove home, parked in her spot, rummaged in her dresser drawers till she found the key he'd given her years ago, then—still mindful of photographers—walked back and let herself in. Josh wasn't there. The red light on his phone was blinking; the messages were mostly hers.
She walked back home and sat up all night, waiting. He didn't come. The next morning she dragged herself into work, but couldn't concentrate. The Senate decided to postpone a vote on the bill; she didn't care. She started calling hospitals, the police, but got nothing. Then she started on congressmen she thought Josh might have talked to on Tuesday. That was more productive: quite a few said he'd been in their offices, campaigning vigorously against the Act. The last one who seemed to have seen him was Congresswoman Finnegan; he'd been in her office just before the alert had been sounded and the building cleared. When Donna got home that night, the house was dark again. She called the police then and filed a missing persons report, but day after day went by, and she heard nothing.
Two days before the Patriot Act was due to be voted on by the Senate, Donna gathered her personal possessions from her desk in her office and walked into her briefing room. Steadying her hands on her podium, she said that she knew most of the people in front of her were already aware that she had begun her career as an assistant to Josh Lyman, the former White House Deputy Chief of Staff who had more recently become known for his strenuous criticism of the current White House administration. What they perhaps did not know was that, after a period of estrangement, she and Josh had recently repaired their friendship and become lovers. A few days ago she had learned that she was expecting his child. He had been overjoyed, and had asked her to marry him. She had said yes. He had then left for the Hill, planning to campaign there against the Patriot Act, whose text she had shown him and which both of them believed perilously endangered Americans' rights and freedoms under the Constitution. That was the last time she had seen him. The last time anyone else had seen him that she had been able to learn of was just before the security alert that had caused the Capitol to be evacuated. The police had suggested to her that people often chose to disappear, but she knew Josh very well indeed and she was certain that nothing—absolutely nothing—would have made him choose to leave what he was doing before he had done everything he could to stop the Patriot Act from becoming law. Donna was not going to speculate about what had happened to him, but she hoped that the press would not listen to calls for patriotic solidarity with an administration that had shown itself to be utterly uninterested in upholding the Constitution, as the President when he had taken his Oath of Office had sworn to do. She herself was resigning her position as White House Press Secretary, effective immediately, and intended to use whatever time was left to her to work against the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, which had passed in the House but was still pending a vote in the Senate, so that Josh would not have worked against it in vain.
While she was talking, Harold Porter was shouting at her through the closed pressroom door, but Will Bailey was standing in front of it, shouting back that only an idiot would try to stop her in front of a roomful of journalists with cameras and phone connections to newsrooms all over the world. When she had finished, Donna stepped off the podium and walked down the steps in front of her into the room. The press pool surged around her, begging for more comments, but parted to let her pass through them when she asked them to, then flowed after her through the outside door.
"You'll need police protection," one of the men from the New York Times said in her ear.
"Whether I'm protected or not will depend on who the police work for, won't it?" she answered.
"You'll be safe if the press is with you," he answered. "I can have guys outside your door twenty-four hours a day."
"Thank you," she said, and thought how ironic it was that she would turn to the press for protection when she and Josh had lived in fear of them for so long.
Josh's story and Donna's made headlines in every major newspaper across the country the next day. The investigation into his disappearance was still ongoing when the Senate Majority Leader brought the Patriot Act to a vote, where it passed anyway, though by a slim margin. The ACLU hired Donna to act as a spokesperson against it as they began the long process of challenging the Act in the courts; she was able to raise quite a lot of public sympathy for their cause. The baby came, a boy. She wanted to call him Joshua, but Josh's mother and Toby both reminded her that a Jewish child wasn't named after a living person, so she called him Noah instead. If even Toby wasn't prepared to stop hoping that somewhere, somehow, Josh was still alive, Donna certainly wasn't.
It was hard, looking after the baby and doing her public work too, but she had a lot of help from Josh's friends. Toby took a special interest, as did Sam and C.J. and Danny, but no one was more involved than Leo, unless it was former President Bartlet himself. But still, she had good days and bad days. On the good ones she sometimes took out the postcard Josh had brought with him from the house in Connecticut, and looked at what he had written on it and at the mountains on the front, so blue and strong and enduring, in spite of everything that had happened over so many years to wear them down. She looked at it on the bad ones, too. It was harder then to find the point of it, but she remembered what Josh had used it to help him fight back from, and then she would feel a little stronger, a little more able to get through another day.
The war dragged on. Russell became increasingly unpopular, especially as the press became bolder and began to print more stories about the N.S.A. and their surveillance of U.S. citizens, or the C.I.A.'s prisons in Eastern Europe, where terror suspects were held in secret and terrible things were sometimes done. When the next election came, Arnold Vinick ran again and won by a landslide. He had campaigned on his plans to withdraw from Qari'stan and dismantle the surveillance programs and the C.I.A. prisons, insisting that the U.S. would be most secure when it was known throughout the world as a truly law-abiding country that could be trusted to act in accord with its own Constitution and with international law. Donna voted for him. Although they never admitted it, so did every one of Josh's old friends, even Leo and the Bartlets.
Noah was a late talker. Some people worried about it, but since he could put together fifty-piece puzzles before he was two, Donna wasn't one of them. He said his first full sentence the same day Donna got a call from Mike Caspar at the F.B.I. She burst into tears, and Noah said, "Don't cry, Mommy; it's all right." It seemed typical Lyman overachievement that his first sentence should be a compound one. He hadn't said anything but single words before that, but she'd always known he was just being stubborn, like his father.
Leo had tickets to Germany for them by that afternoon. They flew to Landstuhl, just as Josh had to see her all those years ago.
The light was too bright; it hurt his eyes. He squeezed them shut again. He was floating on a dark, fuzzy sea. The darkness was almost better than the light, easier, more comfortable, though he knew there was pain there, just under the surface of the waves, washing under him, washing over him. He didn't really mind; he could deal with that kind of pain. It was the light he wasn't sure he wanted to deal with. If he opened his eyes there was light that was too bright and hurt. . . .
But then he remembered, the way he always did. Out there in the light somewhere, he had his reasons. His reasons not to let himself disappear into the darkness. His reasons to keep opening his eyes, whether it hurt or not.
Out there in the light somewhere, someone was waiting for him. Two someones. He was sure of it; it was the fact he held onto, always. Keep trying, he always thought. No matter what's waiting for you right now, they're out there waiting too, and someday, somehow . . . . He had to keep trying. He couldn't let himself slip into that comfortable, easy darkness. He had to open his eyes, no matter how much . . . .
"Come on, Josh."
It couldn't be. Not really.
"Please, Josh. Wake up. Talk to me."
"Talk to us."
"It's okay, Josh. You're going to be okay."
Maybe he was.
"We're here, together. All three of us. It's going to be okay now. You're going to be okay."
Yeah, he was. He really was.
He opened his eyes, and the light hurt them. But that didn't matter. That really didn't matter at all.
Some notes, for anyone who's interested. I've just realized that this site won't let me include the links. I find that disturbing, since I did take the text for one speech (the docent's, about the Cox murals) directly from a webpage, and have always tried to give credit for it. There's a fuller version of these notes that includes the links on JDFF and on the National Library.
The quotations President Bartlet writes in Joshua's copy of the Constitution in Epilogue 1 are the New Hampshire state motto, written in 1809 by the New Hampshire Revolutionary War general, John Stark, "Live free or die: death is not the worst of evils," and Patrick Henry's famous declaration in St. John's Henrico Parish Church in Richmond, Virginia on May 23, 1775: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death."
It can be easy to forget as time moves on, but in 2006, when I was writing this story, "extraordinary rendition," secret overseas prisons, and NSA letters demanding the sort of compliance that Josh reads about in the "Patriot Act" were major headline news. Like everyone else I knew, I was appalled. Other than donations to civil liberties organizations, this story was the only response I knew how to make. I apologize to anyone who's offended by the grimness of the ending(s), but it seemed necessary for this particular story to go that way.
The Patriot Act I write about here is not an exact version of the actual one, but a compilation of that and other bills and orders passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Anyone interested in knowing more about the actual U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act can find the text of it, a helpful summary, and discussion at the ACLU page. The Act in this story includes the main points of the real-life Patriot Act, and also provisions that, as I understand it, were issued in a Presidential Military Order on Sept 18, 2001, including "the power to declare anyone suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism, as an enemy combatant" and to hold that person "indefinitely, without charges being filed against him or her, without a court hearing, [or] . . . legal consultant." (Wikipedia, Article on "Habeas corpus," subsection "Suspension during the War on Terrorism": /wiki/Habeas_corpus#Suspension_during_the_War_on_Terrorism) In case anyone has forgotten, the actual, real-life Patriot Act was passed in a late-night session of Congress, with very little discussion, in spite of its enormous implications.
In 1994 a small plane actually did crash into the lawn behind the White House, having evaded the no-fly zone that existed over downtown D.C. even before 9/11, the radar at NationalAirport, and the Secret Service snipers on the White House roof. I'm assuming that something similar could have happened in a pre-9/11 security environment here, especially if the Secret Service was distracted by a bomb going off on the other side of the building just before the plane appeared.
The docent's speech about the Cox murals on the House side of the Capitol was taken directly from the text on a government site that I can't link to here. Please see my notes on the National Library or JDFF versions of this story if you want to find the source for that speech.
To my gratitude to Mistletoe, Aim, and Sandra that I gave at the beginning of this, I should add my thanks to Sally Reeve for letting me read her story, "The Road Less Travelled" (JDFF 21632-21637) while she was writing it. As I waited anxiously to find out where her Josh had disappeared to after wrapping his car around a tree, the idea for this story popped into my mind more or less complete and refused to be quiet and leave me alone until I'd written it. On the other hand, I didn't read Speranza's beautiful "Epiphany" until "Patriot Acts" was almost complete. Her treatment of Josh and suicide is far more subtle than mine; if you haven't read it, you should; it's on her LiveJournal site.
A while back, I re-read some stories I hadn't looked at in a long time, and realized that the idea of having Josh go to look at the house in Connecticut where the fire happened and find it for sale had come from Jacinta's "Sagatauk," the fifth chapter of her (unfortunately, unfinished) series, "Relapse." My apologies for not having realized this when I first posted this story, but I'd like to make amends by giving credit now. Sadly, it's no longer on the web. If anyone ever finds a link to it, please let me know; I'd like to read it again.
And finally, if you're not already a member of the ACLU, please consider joining.