Author: N. Y. Smith
Date: June 29, 2002
Rating: PG-13 (a little language and innuendo)
Disclai mer: Nope, still not mine. We'd have had several weddings by now if they were.
Archiving: Just let me know, please.
Author's Notes: A little action-adventure (relatively speaking) for your summer reading pleasure.
"And when you pick up Josh from the airport, you'll wanna . . . are you listening to me, Donna?" Leo McGarry tilted his head, peering at his Deputy's Assistant who, currently, was staring off into space. Gently, he grasped her arm, "Donna?"
"Oh," she startled, "Leo, I'm so sorry. I . . ."
"What was wrong. You looked like something was . . ." his brow crinkled further.
She shivered. "I don't know," she swallowed hard. "All of a sudden I got this really scary feeling and . . ."
"He'll be okay, Donna," McGarry squeezed her arm before dropping his hand to his side. "Just give him these files when you pick him up at the airport."
"Thank you, Leo," she said, unsteadily, packing her bag for the airport run.
"This is November two-seven-two-two-niner declaring a Mayday, I repeat a Mayday. We are a white Cessna one-fifty-two forty-five minutes East-Northeast of Knoxville. We have lost power and we are going down. Mayday, mayday Cessna November two-seven-two-two-niner going down forty-five minutes East-Northeast of Knoxville . . ."
Pine boughs and golden leaves crashed into the windscreen, pulling at the wings. Metal screamed as the left half of the wing tore away, branches rushing past the resultant hole. Sam Seaborn grabbed the handholds, face paling as the fuselage pitched left, the pilot and seat torn away by a tree trunk. The fuselage pitched to ninety degrees and beyond, tearing away the remaining wing as it continued to roll. Josh Lyman tried to brace himself against the cabin top, but it gave way so he grabbed the lip of the seat. Pitching through upright and beyond, he could see Sam out of his seat and grabbed his shoulders but inertia wrenched him away as the fuselage crunched to a sudden halt on the right side.
"Sam?" he screamed and silence was his reply. He yanked at the seatbelt release, slicing his forearm on the ragged edge of the gape that had been the roof, trying not to fall on Sam, who lay, motionless, on the bottom of the wreckage. "Sam?" he called and Sam moaned, a little groggily.
"It stopped," he rasped.
"We're alive," he blinked long. "Jimmy?" he nodded toward the pilot's seat.
Josh shook his head.
"Damn," Sam choked.
"The cellular customer you are calling is not available at this time," the mechanical voice answered instead of her boss.
"Donna, did you get that language from Josh?" Toby asked.
"No answer," Donna Moss waggled the now-silent cell phone at the Director of Communications. "He was supposed to call me half an hour ago."
"He's trapped in a small space with Sam Seaborn and one of his law school buddies. He probably started looking for a way to jump out of the before they left Knoxville airspace."
"Then, I'd think, he'd be on the phone to bothering me."
"Coverage can get spotty coming through the mountains."
"No service," Josh Lyman waggled his silent cell phone. "What about yours?"
Sam Seaborn reached for his pocket. "It's gone."
"Maybe it's under you."
Sam shook his head. "What time is it?"
Josh checked his watch. "Ten-thirty," he grinned sheepishly, "give or take."
"When do you think they'll come after us?"
"We're not due in Raleigh until nearly noon." Josh leaned back against the ruined seat. "Unless someone heard the mayday, they won't start looking until then."
Sam pointed, "Your arm is bleeding."
"Yeah," Josh tugged at the torn fabric. "You okay?" he glanced at his friend's supine form.
"I'm," he ran his hand through his hair, "I don't think so."
"Has J called yet?" Just the sound of Amy Gardner's voice made Donna Moss' back stiffen. "He was supposed to review a position paper . . ."
"I haven't heard from him, Amy. Have you?" desperation tinged Donna's tone.
"No," Amy Gardner said flatly. "He's probably too busy trading babe stories with Sam to answer."
"I don't think so," Donna disagreed but Amy Gardner had already walked away, oblivious.
"What's wrong?" Josh pushed up on all fours and stared down into his friend's face. "You're a little banged up but nothing that . . ."
Sam closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "I can't move my legs," he whispered hoarsely.
Josh ran his hands down the long bones, "I don't feel any broken bones."
Sam ran his tongue across his lips. "I can't feel anything," he inhaled sharply, "below my belt."
"Does your back hurt?"
"Everywhere hurts," Sam snapped, then sighed. "It hurts, just above the belt, it hurts, sharp."
Josh leaned over both sides. "I don't see any blood." He slid his hands gingerly underneath his friend. "It feels like there's a rock, just above the belt."
Sam nodded and the tear that had been teetering at the corner of his eye toppled, sliding down his temple into his hear. "Maybe you should go check on Jimmy."
Josh looked at him for a long moment. "You'll be okay?"
"Great," Sam chuffed.
"Donna, I still can't get J on his phone. God, this is just like him to . . ."
CJ's glare cut off her latest diatribe. "Donna, are you sure Sam's friend was named James
"Yes, CJ, Jimmy Cunningham, state representative from Raleigh-Durham. What's wrong?"
CJ shifted her weight and motioned to Leo. "Do you happen to know the number of the plane they were in?"
Donna shrugged her shoulders but rifled through the folders in her hands, peeking in one. "N-two-seven-two-two-nine." Her breath caught.
"What's going on?" Leo stepped in front of Amy.
"A fire tower in the Smoky Mountain National Park picked up a mayday from a plane and called the local sheriff. He called the FAA who called the owner of the plane. His secretary told them he was flying from Knoxville to Raleigh with a friend from the White House."
"Oh, God," Donna breathed, pulling out her cell phone and punching in the numbers. "Please, Josh," she chanted over and over again, scowling at the operator's voice.
"I could have told you he wasn't answering," Amy huffed.
"Maybe they're at the airport." Donna rattled. "Maybe they left early and they . . ."
"J never did anything early in his life."
"Amy," Leo said sharply, "don't you have a meeting right now?"
"Let me know when he turns up," Amy Gardner tossed over her shoulder.
"The FAA already called the airport, Leo. They're not there."
"Call Ron Butterfield," Leo said quietly. "See if he can help co-ordinate things."
CJ nodded, patting Donna's back gently.
"And take care of Donna."
Sam Seaborn's head jerked in the direction of crunching leaves.
Josh nodded then grimaced as he resituated himself inside the cramped cockpit.
"What's wrong?" Sam asked.
"Twisted my knee," Josh replied, rubbing the offending joint.
For a long while only the rustling of the dry leaves interrupted the silence. "He had three kids."
"Two boys and a girl." Sam drew his forearm across his eyes.
"What stinks is that I'm alive and there's nobody to care."
"Lots of people care, Sam . . ."
"Not like he had," he replied roughly before looking at his watch. "Do you think they're looking for us yet?"
Josh glanced at his own timepiece, then Sam's, then scowled. "We're not even due in for another fifteen minutes."
"The North Carolina State Police has two planes following their probable flight path between Knoxville and Raleigh-Durham," Ron Butterfield reported. "A Search-and-Rescue Team from the National Guard will take over once they've been located."
"What are their chances?"
"Leo, I wouldn't want to hazard a guess . . ."
"What is it like," Donna said so quietly, "where they are?"
Butterfield hesitated. "This area of the park is pretty densely wooded with both hardwoods and evergreens and the elevations vary from five hundred to two thousand feet. If the wreckage," he looked at Donna, "is shrouded by the leaf canopy, it could take a while."
"The trees seem pretty dense," Sam squinted toward the leaf-shaded sky. "Do you think they'll see us?"
Josh tilted his head toward the rear of the fuselage. "There's a big section of the wing sticking up out of the trees about a hundred yards back; that should be visible from the air."
"Maybe you should go for help . . ."
Josh chuckled. "Sam, I have a confession to make."
Sam looked at him. "What's that?"
"A while back," he swallowed, "when I claimed to be an outdoorsman . . ."
Sam grinned but sadness colored it.
"I may have been overstating it a bit." Josh grinned like the Cheshire cat.
"Do tell . . ."
"So, I'm thinking our best bet . . ."
"Is to stay here?"
"Yeah," Josh nodded, lolling his head against the remains of the rear seat.
"No problem," Sam said acidly, falling silent for several minutes. Then his eyes searched around them. "It sounds like spaceships, you know, like in those old, hokey science fiction movies."
Josh picked his head up, looking around, "Cicadas-they hatch or whatever every thirteen-years . . ."
"How the hell did you know?" Sam's head snapped to center.
"How the hell do I know anything?" Josh grinned but the smile quickly darkened. "She'll be worried. And afraid."
Sam lay his hand on Josh's good leg, which he'd propped up. "Leo will take care of Donna. And CJ and Toby and the President."
"Any word?" Toby Ziegler leaned close to CJ Cregg, almost whispering.
The Press Secretary shook her head then moved so that Donna couldn't see or hear her response from her seat in the small conference room. "Ron told Leo to expect the worst: these small planes just can't take . . ."
"Bicycles with wings," Toby spat.
"How's the President doing?"
"Well," Toby conceded. "Worried. I don't know how he would take losing them both."
"Leo's bouncing off the walls, worse than Rosslyn." Her brow furrowed as she watched their blonde colleague pinch the bridge of her nose, then cover her mouth with her hand. "Donna's closed up, just like at the hospital. How's Amy?"
Toby's back stiffened. "Her concern is overwhelming," he said sharply. "Hasn't missed a meeting."
"We get to pick Josh's next girlfriend," CJ said firmly.
"I know who my nomination will be . . ." Toby slid a comforting hand across CJ's shoulder and slipped back into the meeting hall.
"So, have you and Donna ever . . .?" Sam asked without even the slightest trace of a leer.
"I found your briefcase," Josh practically bailed out the hole in the roof to drag the damaged case inside. "Held up pretty well, I think."
Sam pulled the case over, thumbing the wheel locks into place, smiling triumphantly when the locks opened. "What about your back pack?"
Josh pulled it from behind the rear seat, "A little banged up."
"How could you tell?" Sam joked. "What about you and Donna?"
"Sam," Josh chided.
"We've crash-landed in the wilderness, Josh. We're supposed to have these life-altering discussions." He smiled gently. "What about you and Donna?"
"There is no me and Donna." Josh dug out a mangled file folder and leafed through it.
"Bullshit." He stared at Josh, who continued staring at his file folder.
"There can't be, Sam. Can't we just drop it?"
"Why can't there be?" he challenged.
"The Deputy Chief of Staff hires then beds a beautiful assistant who's thirteen years his junior and never graduated from college?"
"Does said Deputy Chief of Staff love said assistant?"
Silently, Donna Moss laid a file folder on the conference table in front of Amy Gardner, spinning to leave, but not so quickly that Amy couldn't catch her hand. Taking her eyes off the speaker, Amy asked her question with only a raised eyebrow, which Donna answered with a headshake. Gardner scowled and snorted.
Donna scurried out of the conference room, straight into Leo McGarry's unknowing arms. "Donna, what's wrong?"
She shook her head. "I don't know what I'll do if . . ."
Leo folded her into his embrace. "He's fine, Donna," he replied lamely. "He's gonna be fine."
"Only this Congress would refuse to legalize a lifetime commitment by two persons of the same gender while strongarming lifetime commitment between heterosexuals who had the misfortune to procreate," Josh raked his hand through his hair.
Sam looked over from the file folder propped on his belly. "It makes just as much sense as us sitting here debating policy while waiting to be rescued."
Josh leaned back and closed his eyes. "It's after one. They should have declared us overdue by now."
"You should have been declared overdue by now-you and Donna."
"Sam . . ."
"You know you're in love with her, Josh."
"I'm with Amy now."
"You're having sex with Amy now," Sam corrected, "but you've never really been with her."
Josh snapped the folder shut and opened another. "Why all the interest in my sex life now, Sam?"
Sam let the open folder fall closed against his chest. "Since mine may, in all likelihood, be over or at least in for a dramatic change I'll have to live vicariously through yours. And you don't love Amy."
"Any word from J?" Amy Gardner slid into the chair next to Donna, voice confident and strong but her hands fidgeted, unconsciously picking at her eaten-down fingernails.
CJ shook her head.
CJ leaned around a door facing, spying Donna re-alphabetizing the President's folders for the sixth or seventh time, stopping for a moment, as if in prayer, before continuing. "Not well."
Amy stepped around CJ and walked to the table, quietly laying a hand on Donna's arm. "He'll be okay," she said quietly, firmly.
Donna's gaze traveled up to Amy's face, lingering for a surprised instant at the chewed-down nails, before matching her gaze.
"And if he's not," Amy's face softened, "he'd want you to go on."
"I don't think I can."
"You're strong, Donna," Amy slid to the other side of the table. "That's one of the reasons he loves you."
Donna cut her eyes away.
"Even if, at first, it's only because he would want you to, you'll go on." Amy pushed around a pencil with her index finger. "Of course, this is all academic because he's okay."
"I hope so."
"You love Donna."
"I can't, Sam." Josh stared at his folder.
"You keep telling me you can't but you've never said you don't love her."
Josh flipped a page but remained silent.
Sam gently nudged his friend's propped-up leg. "You need her."
Josh snapped the folder shut, staring hotly through the ruined cabin roof before closing his eyes and running his tongue over his dry lips. "And that's precisely why I can't have her."
"What's the word?" Leo McGarry planted himself in front of the Press Secretary.
"Nothing in the last thirty minutes."
"The press have it yet?"
She nodded. "I've told them to back off, at least until we hear something."
"And they're doing it?"
"Yeah," she said, genuinely surprised.
"Miracles never cease," he shook his head.
"Let's hope that's not the only miracle today, Leo."
"From your mouth to God's ear."
"You need her, therefore you can't have her," Sam's face contorted in confusion. "I really don't get that syllogism."
"Dr. Freeride, remember him? Older man who asked her to put her life on hold and take care of him?" he said acidly. "Sound familiar?"
"It's not the same."
"If the shoe fits, Sam . . ."
"The shoe doesn't fit, Josh," he rolled his head in frustration. "God, I wish I could get up and kick your ass."
"You're not taking advantage of her. She works in the White House, Josh."
"As a secretary."
"Assistant." Sam's face turned even redder.
"She still doesn't have her degree."
"When has she had the time?"
"I could have made her," he retorted. "I should have made her. After Rosslyn, when I knew . . ." He shot an embarrassed glance at his friend, then fell silent.
"When you asked me to help you make her the beneficiary of your entire estate-trusts, life insurance, everything-you think I didn't know then?" Sam smiled gently, "After Rosslyn, you think we all didn't know then?"
Josh returned to his reading, bitterness lining his face.
Sam adjusted his shoulders, a grimace contorting his face.
"Hurting?" Josh asked.
"I wish." He stared at the calico leaves. "I thought they'd have red hair."
Josh laid his folder on his good knee. "Who?"
"My kids." Sam swallowed. "I always envisioned them with red hair."
"And Irish tempers?"
"Oh, yeah," Sam conceded. "But I screwed that up. Literally."
They listened to the cicadas for a while.
"It's not too late, Josh, for you, I mean."
"Sam . . ."
"She loves you, idiot, even CJ said so, and . . ."
"Be quiet, Sam," Josh snapped, his eyes cast upward.
"But she . . ."
"Shut up, Sam," Josh ordered, pushing himself out of the plane and upright.
"It's a plane."
"Mr. President, search planes from the North Carolina State Police have spotted what they believe to be wreckage approximately fifty minutes flying time east-northeast of Knoxville."
His Senior Staff, with Donna Moss, Charlie Young and Amy Gardner, flanked the Chief Executive in the small conference room that had been service as their office.
"The debris field," Butterfield continued, "is approximately one hundred yards long and ten yards wide indicating a steep rate of descent."
Leo quietly squeezed Donna's shoulder, seeking as much comfort as he offered.
"What's next?" the President asked in a subdued voice.
"The National Guard is sending in a SRT helicopter to retrieve any survivors. Mr. President," the Secret Service agent paused, "the forestation in this area is very dense, combined with the steep rate of descent and their position on the downslope of a steep mountain, well, it will be a very difficult extraction."
"Thank you, Ron," Leo dismissed. "I'll let you know if we hear something," he continued, dismissing the rest of the staff. Each, in turn, nodded quickly to Amy Gardner who stood quietly in the back of the room. They paused to hug Donna, who'd sat beside the President, and in front of the Chief of Staff, Leo lingering until last. "They'll find them, Donna," he promised. "They'll find them and they'll bring them home and together we'll deal with whatever comes next."
"This is like in the movie 'Jaws,'" Sam said from beneath the hands which covered his face.
"Excuse me?" Josh's face broadened into a grin.
"When they were talking about the USS Indianapolis and the captain . . ."
"Yeah, the captain said that, after all those days in the water, the worst time was while they were waiting on the rescue planes after they'd been spotted." With a sigh he pulled his hands away from his tear-streaked face.
Josh grabbed the closest hand and folded it in his, the tears moistening his palm. "We'll deal with it, Sam. Like we did with Rosslyn, like we did at Christmas, like we did with MS, like we did with Mrs. Landingham." Josh's head jerked up, "They're here."
Sam listened for an instant then sighed jerkily.
Crawling carefully from the wreckage, Josh stood shakily, leaning heavily against the remnants of the cabin. Over the rotor wash, he could hear shouts, and leaves crashing. Then, just like in the movies, they appeared-the rescuers in fatigues-picking their way down the avenue of destruction.
"You alone, sir?" A granite-jawed young man asked.
"My friend's in the cabin," Josh answered, "back injury."
The young man crawled in, radioing for equipment while the helicopter hovered over their position.
"It's gonna take a while to get him out of there, sir," the other rescuer, a young woman, said. "We're gonna send you on up."
"Not a chance," Josh Lyman grinned at his friend. "He goes first."
"But, sir . . ."
All it took was the patented Lyman Look to convey the message. The woman keyed her mike, "Send down the basket litter-and a back board."
Ron Butterfield's normally dour countenance was almost contorted into a smile as he entered the small conference room. "The National Guard is bringing in two survivors, Mr. President."
Donna's cell phone rang and, sheepishly, she answered it.
"They're bringing them straight to Duke Medical Center . . ."
"Excuse me?" Donna said loudly, then the confusion on her face blossomed into a smile. "Josh, is that you?"
Butterfield fell silent as tears slid down Donna's face.
"Are you okay?" The group drew closer. "What about Sam?" Her face darkened. "I'll call Dr. Bartlet and have her recommend someone."
Sam? Leo mouthed.
Donna held up a finger. "Leo wants to talk to you," she handed the telephone to the Chief of Staff.
"Well?" CJ asked impatiently.
"Josh says he's okay, but Sam has a back injury." He respirations were nearly as rapid as her heartbeat. "They'll be at the hospital in about forty-five minutes."
"What about the pilot?" Toby asked.
Donna shook her head. "I've got to call Dr. Bartlet. And get a cab to the hospital and . . ."
"Slow down, Donna," the President comforted. "Ron will make sure you get to the hospital and we'll wait here."
CJ cleared her throat and nodded toward the back of the room.
"And Amy, too," the President added hastily.
Leo snapped the cell phone shut. "Josh is giving them hell," relief lightening his voice, "and Sam seems in pretty good spirits. Says he's getting a little feeling back in his legs."
Josh Lyman grunted, slid around in his seat, trying to find a way to sit comfortably in a chair in the infirmary of Air Force One with his leg splinted straight.
"Wouldn't you be more comfortable on one of the sofas upstairs?" Sam asked, his head immobilized between two yellow foam blocks.
"Not until you go to sleep," Josh groaned, then pushed himself upright with his crutches.
"Not happening," Sam cut his eyes to meet his friend's gaze.
The jet bumped a bit and they both held their breath for a moment before exhaling.
"I'm up to the pins-and-needles-stage now," Sam confessed.
"That's good, isn't it?" Josh grinned.
"It stinks," his sour voice belied the smile on his face. "We were lucky," he said, quietly.
"Damn lucky," Josh admitted. "So, what are you gonna do with your second chance?"
"Dance at your wedding." He wiggled the toes on his now-functional left leg for emphasis. "And you?"
"If he's smart," Amy Gardner's flat, nasal voice preceded her through the cabin door, "he'll work on marrying the right girl." She slipped a key into his chest pocket. "I'll come by one day next week and get my things."
"Sam, you have a phone call," Donna breezed into the infirmary, stopping short at the sight of Amy Gardner' s hand on Josh's chest. "I'm sorry," she backed away, turning to leave.
"Wait, Donna," Amy called eyes meeting Josh's, "it's time for me to leave." She glanced at Donna, then back at him, "But if you ever decide to trade up . . ."
Josh met Amy's challenging gaze then looked over to Donna's doe-like eyes. "I did already."
Amy grimaced then shut the door quietly behind her. Neither Josh nor Donna noticed.
"Yeah, Sam?" she said breathlessly.
"Oh, God," she flushed, the pulled the handset before realizing it wouldn't fit underneath the head restraints. "Speaker?"
"Yeah," Sam agreed then she punched the button, "Sam Seaborn . . ."
"Sam?" a familiar voice, uncharacteristically shaky filled the cabin.
After a long moment an equally shaky voice replied, "Mallory?"
Silence filled a moment then, "They said on the news you were hurt. Are you okay?"
Unbidden tears rolled down his face as he answered, "I am now, Red."
Josh smiled for his friend, then frowned at Donna who was shoving him into a chair, turning it so it faced another, then, over his whining, gently laying his foot in the opposite chair. She snatched the crutches from him then knelt at his elbow with a Cheshire grin.
"Torn ACL, huh?" he stammered, mouth suddenly dry.
"Yep," she whispered in his ear, "to be repaired with arthroscopic surgery, ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
He winced. "Sam's gonna be on his back for a few days, even if it's only a bruised spine?"
"He's gonna need someone to take care of him . . ."
"Somehow," Donna glanced at their friend and smiled, "I don't think that's going to be a problem."
"You both were."
"I know," he studied her face, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, then leaned over and brushed his lips against hers.
She sighed, so softly, and for an instant, a delicious, electric instant, they kissed.
With a sudden gasp she turned away, fear dulling her blue eyes that looked anywhere but at him.
Josh swallowed hard. "After they pulled us out of the wreckage they helicopter was headed away from Raleigh and they had to turn it around. The pilot could have spun either direction but one way was more work for the helicopter to end up going the right direction. That's what I've been doing, Donna. Until now."
She glanced at him.
"The pilot, being a much smarter guy than I am, apparently, chose the easier way. He chose to allow nature to take its course to get himself going in the right direction. All he had to do was relinquish a little control then stop when he was going where he needed to be. I'm spinning around Donna, and I need for you to stop me, to tell me when I'm where I need to be."
Her eyes searched his, anger and fear flashing in them like lightning in a summer sky, before she faced him, pulling so close he felt the pounding of her heart-or was it his?-so close he felt her answer before he heard it.