It’s during their first Thanksgiving in office that Josh really starts to notice the differences between then and now.
They go up to Manchester after much pleading and prodding and passive aggressive comments from Donna’s hundreds of cousins, because the Bartlets are family too, and so Josh sits in the kitchen and watches Liz’s kids tug at her elbow and Charlie pulling the china out of a cabinet and Jed yelling “Josh, when are you gonna make an honest woman out of her?” from across the room while Donna grins and shakes her head at him.
If the Bartlets were family then the Santos’s were something different, Josh mused as he ran around the Oval of all places, with the President of the United States of all people, putting books and lamps and whatever they could get their hands on in front of the doors and laughing hysterically as their female counterparts, would’ve just gotten word of their changes to the language in HR71, were making their way over.
The Secret Service puts a stop to it almost immediately, before Helen and Donna even make it to the West Wing, and Josh and the President will sit through a talking to about correct procedure and fire hazards like they’re little children and not the two most powerful men in the world, and its when Donna’s telling him thats why they should just listen that Josh thinks about how while there were many shenanigans that would go on in the Bartlet White House, that was not one of them.
There are things that are the same.
Sam still wanders in to his office looking for fruit or conversation, and Josh complains but secretly he’s pleased because his best friend is by his side to champion him and to stand by his side while he’s living the most challenging and exhilarating part of his life.
Donna is no longer outside his door, but it’s a fair trade because instead she's in his home, in his bed, in his life in a completely different way and he never knew he could be this grateful for anything but then she’ll walk in late to a meeting and smile at him from her place in the corner and he pauses because this is so much better.
Margaret is still there. She was ready to go home, but then Josh asks her to stay on in the Chief of Staff’s office and she figures, she can do this one last favor for Leo.
Even in the most informal of occasions, Josh still makes the effort to call President Bartlet “sir”, regardless of the amount of times he is shot down. Yet, President Santos is Matt the moment the work day is over. He doesn't know weather it’s because this time he’s the leader of the pack or because the Santos’s have small children and the hours are slightly less grueling and a little bit more social, but Leo and Jed and Abby were like his parents. Matt and Helen are his and Donna’s couple friends.
They move in together almost immediately, but they don’t actually get married until the brief window of less chaotic time between the midterms and the new congress. After a decade, they honestly would’ve been happy with something intimate and small but there were mid-western cousins and doting Jewish Aunts, and then their friends who were all prominent party members. So then it becomes a “who’s who” and who was invited and who was snubbed and what that means for the 46 policy initiatives they're trying to pass in just this year and suddenly half of Washington is coming and somehow the story is printed in the Times, the Post, as well as dozens of lesser blogs and columns and it’s mind boggling to Josh that this is how his life ended up, but then he sees her and takes a breath and he knows that it was all so, so worth it
He doesn’t visit Leo as often as he should.
When he thinks about it, he goes to Arlington more often than he does Connecticut, if only because it’s in his general area, but he feels guilty. He feels awful and even like he's betrayed Leo because he isn't able to go visit his grave as much as he’d like. He thinks about it when he still hasn’t left his office (Leo’s office, really), around two in the morning and he has no idea what he’s supposed to do or how he’s supposed to push through, push the President though, whatever crisis he’s currently staring down the barrel of, and he pulls out the faded yellow post it that one of his best friends, his surrogate sister, gave to him with so much meaning and promise and belief attached, and he misses their father.
They get a dog.
It’s Donna’s fault really. She had gone to a rescue animal promotion thing with the First Lady and the kids that hadn’t even made it on to Josh’s radar, and came home with a puppy.
He knows it’s a test. He knows she's measuring just how much time he can spend out of the office, and he goes along with it because he knows its a valid concern and one that needed to be actually looked at and not pushed to some far off day where they weren't going to be any younger if they actually wanted to have children in the near future.
It doesn’t work though, it turns out said puppy has separation anxiety and a very strong love and devotion for Josh, so little Jackson spends his days trotting around the White House and going back and forth between his plush beds in each of his parents offices. The President is enthralled by him and Josh even swears he sealed a deal with Jacksons big eyes and cocked head, and he doesn’t have to rush home for the dog.
They have the baby conversation in steps.
For the first two weeks it's casually dismissing the idea much too often for it to be a coincidence over coffee in the kitchen and in passing in their offices, citing work hours and lifestyles and other things that might make having kids a no brainer no.
The week after that they start sending each other articles about working parents and articles in what to look for in a full time nanny, purely as "food for thought".
By the end of the month they're hypothetically discussing what Sam could or could not take on from Josh's desk, and weather or not it would be completely unrealistic to have a regular time to come home.
One kid, they decide. They start with one and see where they're at.
The morning of Santos' second inauguration, there are four positive pregnancy tests lined up on the sink, and they're hugging on the bathroom floor. It's new beginnings all around.