This is a bit experimental for me and since uni comes first it might be updated a little sporadically. Still, there's not nearly enough fic out there at the moment, so I figure it's worth having a whack at it. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Madam Vice President, we need you to come with us, please.”
Agents surrounded Donna before she had a chance to take a breath. “What’s happening?”
“Ma’am, this way.” They marched her out of the office, leaving a bewildered Senator Young behind her, and led her out the building. She reached for the head of her detail.
“Steve, what’s going on?”
“You’re needed at the White House immediately.”
Her blood ran cold. “Josh?”
“We don’t know anything, ma’am.”
She scrambled for her cell and dialled Josh’s number, but there was no answer, and by the fourth ring they were approaching the Oval Office from the south lawn, and she had no information at all.
“Donna!” She was barely inside when she saw him, frantically rushing for her, brushing agents aside to hug her. “You know what’s happening?”
“Not a clue. Josh, the kids?”
“They’re fine. They’re okay, they’re in my office with Agent Michaels, I was just with them. Can somebody please tell us what’s going on?” he added, whirling around to face Steve. From behind him, in marched the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, looking pale and drawn.
“Mr Lyman, please take this.” He pressed a bible into Josh’s hands. “Madam Vice President, rest your left hand on the bible-”
“Let me talk to the President,” she demanded. “What the hell is happening?”
“Raise your right hand and repeat after me.”
“What is this, a coup d’état? Let me talk to Sam!”
“President Seaborn is dead.”
The bible fell to the floor.
“No,” Donna whispered, “that can’t be right.” She reached out for Josh, grabbed his arm, clung tightly. Somewhere in her peripheral vision, someone bent down and picked up the bible.
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
“No, listen, it can’t be right. Is - are you certain?”
“He was shot through the window of his hotel room.”
“Oh, God,” she whispered, sinking to the couch.
“Daisy,” Josh said, suddenly sitting beside her, his voice hoarse. “And the boys, they were there, too.”
“Mrs Seaborn and her sons are unhurt. A Secret Service agent was killed, as was the President’s body-man.”
Donna thought of Lukas, twenty years old, full of hope, full of plans for his life. He didn’t deserve this.
“Ma’am, we need to swear you in immediately.”
“Okay,” she said quietly. “Josh?”
He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, his voice strained, “yeah. I know. Give me that thing.” He stuck out his hand and the bible was pressed into it. “Okay.”
Donna realised she was trembling as she pressed her hand onto it. She kept her eyes on Josh, and he stared back, trying, she saw, to give her a smile, but it was weak and forced. Still, he gave her a slow, firm nod. She could do this.
“Repeat after me,” Chief Justice Himmel said. “I, Donnatella Aisling Moss Lyman…”
“I,” she answered, her voice steady and grave, “Donnatella Aisling Moss Lyman…”
Not two hours had passed since her swearing in. As soon as it was over the Oval Office had emptied and left her and Josh to cry in one another’s arms. But they were only given five minutes, so they dried their eyes and promised to look after each other later, and Donna had been led to the situation room to handle the security disaster that this had created. The killer, a marine veteran operating with a sniper rifle from across the street, had been killed, but the Secret Service were turned upside down over how he’d managed it, and the security for Donna, her family, and Sam’s wife and children was going to be enormous for the foreseeable future. As soon as she was done in the sit room, not quite two hours later, she was whisked off to a press conference, where the country, apparently, had only just been told.
She read a prepared statement from the teleprompter, and there was nothing personal she was expected to say, but that didn’t feel right. She took a breath, swallowing the urge to look back to Josh, standing behind her, and continued: “We’ve lost a great President today, but I hope you’ll all join me in remembering Sam Seaborn as a kind, honest, funny, selfless man who gave everything for his country and gave everything for those of us lucky enough to be his friend. He will be sorely missed.” She smiled out at the press corps, a small, sad, but sincere smile. “I’ll take just a few questions, and then Tamheed will fill you in on the details. Yes, I’m sorry, Sophie, is it?”
“Madam Vice - I’m sorry, Madam President, will you be making any changes to the policy and agenda of this administration?”
“I’ll be reviewing policy in the next few days, but I fully intend to finish what President Seaborn started and won’t be making any changes to ongoing projects. Aziz?”
“Ma’am, your husband Joshua Lyman served under President Seaborn as Chief of Staff. Will he be asked to step down in order to fulfil the responsibilities of a Presidential spouse?”
“There are no plans to make any changes among the White House staff at this time. Andrew.”
“Madam President, it’s common knowledge that you started your political career as your husband’s assistant and didn’t complete college until you were already serving as Chief of Staff to Helen Santos, not to mention that you weren’t President Seaborn’s initial choice for Vice President. What do you have to say to anyone questioning your qualifications?”
“Andrew, my qualifications include an impeccable Congressional record, a strong majority of yea votes in both the House and the Senate when I was nominated for the Vice Presidency, the full support and friendship of President Seaborn, and if that isn’t enough to prove to my critics that I’m qualified for this position, I’d like to refer you to the 25th Amendment. Yes - Tanya?”
Tamheed stepped in before Tanya could speak. “Thank you all, the President has an urgent phonecall waiting. Please direct any further questions to me.”
Donna recognised her cue and exited the press room with all the confidence she could muster, hearing Tanya asking the question Tamheed had no doubt anticipated - “Will President Lyman be seeking re-election after completing this term?”
Tamheed was good. Donna was nowhere near ready to answer that question.
When she and Josh arrived again in the Oval, Donna found that she did indeed have a phonecall waiting. Sam’s DCoS, Violet, had been with him when it happened, and injured in the gunfire, so Donna had asked them to have her call after she’d been treated. Josh left her to it, stepping outside to call Alice, Sam’s daughter, at Princeton. That done, he went to find the kids and bring them back into his office where they could wait with him for their mom.
Jacqueline was quiet, exhausted by the emotion of the day and content to cuddle up with her dad on the couch, but Noah was older, and - well, he had other considerations.
“When can I call Matt?” he asked. He was subdued, but determined.
“Not tonight,” Josh said. “Daisy and the boys aren’t taking any calls now.”
“They’re coming back soon, though, right?”
“They’re flying up tomorrow. Alice is driving down from Princeton tonight, she’s gonna spend the night with us and we’ll figure out the details with Daisy when they’ve all had a chance to rest.”
“I want to call Matt,” Noah said again.
“I know, kid.” Josh studied his son carefully. He knew it better than Noah realised.
Years ago, he’d walked through a hospital with Sam, showing off his new daughter and plotting her future with the three-year-old Thomas Seaborn. Of course, as the years had gone by, Tommy and Jackie had found one another varying degrees of gross, and he and Sam had given up their plans. A few months ago, however, they’d realised they’d been caught out. Jackie and Tommy were a lost cause - but Noah and Matt were not.
When they bemoaned their ignorance to their wives, Daisy had told them it served them right for their heteronormativity, and they’d all laughed, and talked about how nice it was that they could join their families in matrimony some day, and not discussed optics, and for a few hours it had been easy to be alive.
It sure as hell wasn’t easy now.
“Daddy, where’s Mom?” Jackie asked softly.
“She’s in the Oval Office,” he reminded her. “Talking to Violet. And then we’re going to sit together and figure out together what we’re going to do next.”
“Mom’s the President now,” Noah said. “We don’t have a lot of choice.”
“Can’t she say no?”
“This is why we have Vice Presidents,” Noah told his little sister impatiently. “If she was going to say no, she shouldn’t have taken office in the first place. Anyway, she’s sworn in now.”
“Oh,” Jackie murmured, and turned her face into Josh’s shoulder. “I want Uncle Sam to be President again.”
“I know, honey. Me too,” he told her, kissing her hair. “It’s gonna be okay.”
The door opened just then, and Donna stepped through, looking tired. Noah jumped up to hug her, and then Jackie shuffled from Josh’s arms so Donna could sit between them.
“How’s Violet?” Josh murmured to her, glancing sideways at Jackie. Their little girl was very fond of Violet, and they hadn’t tried to explain any more than the most important details of everything that had happened.
“She’ll be okay. A little banged up. She’s going to fly back with Daisy and the boys tomorrow, and we’ll talk.” She rested her head on his shoulder, cuddling Jackie close against her side.
“No,” she sighed, “but we’ll deal with that later.” She sat up then, gently pushing Jackie upwards, but keeping an arm locked securely around her. “Kids, we need to talk about what this is going to mean.”
“I know what it means,” Noah said. “Secret Service following us around everywhere. We have to move here and Matt and Tommy will have to move somewhere else. And it means we can’t do anything that’s going to look bad in the press.”
“President Bartlet made certain rules about his daughters and the press,” Josh said, “and your Uncle Sam and Uncle Matt had the same rules for their kids. We’re not going to make any changes. You’ve only got to worry about what’s going to look bad to us, kiddo, that’s a whole different ball game.”
Noah nodded, relieved, but his jaw was still set. “What if I want to discuss issues? If I’m going to have a spotlight, can’t I care about politics?”
Donna and Josh exchanged a look. “Of course you can, honey,” Donna said, “but we don’t want you put under a microscope. We don’t want you talking to the press without talking to me or your dad first. We’ll be making that clear with your Secret Service detail, too.”
“It’s great that you want to get involved,” Josh said, “we’re proud of you. But you’ve got to be careful not to undermine your mom’s policies.”
“I get it.”
Donna smiled at him. “We’ll talk sometime about this. For now, we’re just going to worry about the immediate future.”
“Is there anything you guys want to ask us?” Josh said, and the kids shook their heads.
“I’m going to be very busy for the next few days,” Donna said, “and so is your dad, and we’ll always have time for you, but you need to understand that sometimes I’m going to have to make time for the President of France as well, you can’t be in and out of the Oval like you were in the Eisenhower office. You want to come see me, you might have to wait a little while sometimes.”
“We’re not kicking Matt and Tommy and Alice out of the White House, are we?”
“Absolutely not. We’re going to sleep in our usual guest rooms in the residence tonight and tomorrow, and your dad and I will talk with Daisy when she’s had time for a good night’s sleep. But they’ll be staying here as long as they want to. Till the end of the term if they want to.”
“I was watching the press conference, before.”
Donna smiled at Noah encouragingly. He took a deep breath and continued, “Do you want to run again?”
“I don’t know, kid.”
They didn’t get the kids off to bed until after eleven, and then sat up comforting Alice for another hour before she decided it was really time to go to bed. When she was gone, Josh and Donna retired to their own room at last, exhausted, but not ready to sleep. For a few minutes they just sat together in silence on the bed, holding one another. Before long the tears began to flow again, and they wept together until they were hoarse.
“Sam,” Josh whispered in her shoulder, and she trembled. “It’s not right,” he continued, clinging onto her. “It’s not right.”
“Not Sam,” she agreed, her face pressed into his shirt and her hands clinging onto his hair.
They remained like that a while longer.
“I can’t run this country without him. I can’t do it.”
“Donna.” Josh pushed her back a little, gently, so he could look her in the eye. “This is the whole point of having a vice president. Sam knew exactly what he was doing when he picked you.”
“I was supposed to support him and his decisions. I shouldn’t be making any of my own. The hell do I know about national security?”
“More than Sam did when he took office. More than Bartlet and Santos did. It’s okay if it takes a little time, you know?”
“I’m not prepared for this. Most presidents have two months of transition to get ready for it. Hell, Josh, most presidents are elected.”
“You were elected.”
“Not the first time, I wasn’t. And the second time they’d have voted in a Communist if his name happened to be under Sam’s.”
“Donna. You can do this.”
“Half of Congress and most of the Senate want to see me fail.”
“No, they don’t. Nobody wants to see you fail. And if they did, they’ll be disappointed.”
She shifted in his arms to rest her head on his shoulder. “Josh, I know you were getting ready to step down, but I really need you on my team here.”
“I serve at the pleasure of the President,” he told her, winking, and making her laugh, briefly. “But I don’t know if it might seem like - you know half of the Republican Party thinks I’m pulling your strings. Don’t you think having me as your Chief of Staff will reinforce that?”
“What, you think they’ll change their minds if I don’t? You know this better than anyone. I’d be an idiot not to have you with me. And I’ll feel that much safer, Josh, if I know it’s you who has my back.”
Donna and Josh were called to the situation room at six-thirty the next morning. She listened and understood and instructed, giving off confidence, boldness, never once looking to Josh for guidance, but all she really wanted to do was go home and hide under her bedsheets for two more years. This was for Sam, she reminded herself, she was doing this for Sam, and damn if she wasn’t going to do it well.
The meeting ran for two hours, and when she arrived at the Oval Josh’s assistant handed her a call sheet longer than she’d ever seen, hundreds if not thousands of names who had called to offer their condolences.
“The last six wanted to offer congratulations,” Stella told her, and she shivered.
“We won’t be returning those calls,” she said, and Stella nodded, looking a little relieved. “Could you find Josh and Alice? I’ll never be able to go through these myself, and I’m sure Alice can tell me which calls her mother would want to return when she gets back. Thank you,” she added as Stella disappeared, and sank into Sam’s chair.
Her chair, she corrected herself. That was something she would have to get used to. It was the first time, actually, that she’d had a chance to just be in the Oval. She’d wanted this job for a while now, but never, never like this.
She ought to go through Sam’s effects. It felt like prying, but she had to do it; anything might be in the desk. So she opened up drawers and started working her way through the papers. It was mostly pretty straightforward: national security reports, and federal agency reports, and one or two things she had to raise her eyebrows at, because it implied that Sam might have given orders she’d never have thought he could. Now that she thought about it, she could remember him coming to her one day, about a year into his time in office, when she’d been vice president just a few months, and telling her, vaguely, that the decisions were getting harder. Occasionally there had been times he’d been unable to talk about his day. Would she have to make that kind of decision too?
At the bottom of the pile was a ribbon-bound package of four thick envelopes marked for Daisy, Alice, Matt and Tommy, which she put to one side with a quiet sigh, and beneath that bundle was a tiny safe. Suddenly Donna remembered the day of her swearing in, the first one, when the Senate voted on her appointment as Vice President. She and Josh had spent the evening having dinner and a late drink with Sam and Daisy, and talked about old times - it had become a habit, over the years, for them to spend the evening together on that date - and at the end of the night Sam had pulled her aside and whispered to her a word that she was never to repeat to anyone, even Josh, and that she would only need it if she ever took his desk. He’d wrapped up with his trademark “don’t worry about it” which would have worried her if she hadn’t been so damn tired, but she’d made sure to remember the word. And if she turned the letters into numbers - the safe popped open under her fingers, and inside lay a single fat envelope, sealed in wax. Donna, announced Sam’s elegant script.
Certain pages, she dropped into the shredder behind the desk as soon as she’d read them. In fact, it was probably most of the pages. Most were pretty much as expected, notes on security - some she was unsurprised by, others that completely threw her off. To see Sam’s hand telling her some of the things he had done in this office, and some of the things she would have to do. It made her feel a little sick, but she pushed the feeling aside. She was going to have to get used to it.
Other pages were worse. There was the story, written only a few days after her swearing in, of her predecessor’s betrayal of Sam. Jack Wallace, she remembered, had been undermining Sam’s authority almost from day one, but she had never known it had reached the extent Sam spoke of, an insane plot to impeach him and seize power. It was insane; if it wasn’t right there in Sam’s own handwriting, and if it weren’t for the numerous discussions over her own family meals about Wallace’s power trip, she wouldn’t have believed it. Nominate a VP you trust, Sam wrote, and watch your back.
Finally came a letter dated just two months ago. She recognised the day: the anniversary of her swearing-in. She and Josh and the kids always had dinner with Sam’s family on that date.
Donna, he’d written,
It’s come around again, and you’re one year closer to never having to read these. If you do, there’s only one reason, so I’m sorry. I know you must be feeling pretty overwhelmed right now. I suspect you might even be doubting yourself. Don’t. I asked you to stand behind me because I know you’ll have my back. You’re going to be a great President, and I hope it’ll be in 2031 and that I can be there to see it, but if it’s not, I want you to know I’m proud of you, and I’m so grateful to serve with you. You know, you have the highest approval rating of a Democratic VP in fifty years, you’re doing such great things, and the public has enormous faith in you. I can’t help remembering Bartlet and Hoynes, Bartlet and Russell, Santos and Baker, even myself and Wallace. I think you and I have made a pretty good team, don’t you?
I’ve left letters for Daisy and the kids out in the desk drawer, but I wanted to put this in the safe, because having Republicans in charge of the country for eight years apparently dragged it back fifty. So - Matt. I haven’t told him I know all about him and Noah. Would you tell those boys how much I love them, how proud I am?
Tell Josh I love him. Tell him the President has the power to fix baseball games, and I’ve been setting up the Mets to lose for years just to mess with him. (That’s not true, they’re screwing up every season all on their own, but if they start to actually win once you’re in power, the country would never suspect a thing.) And give my love to the kids.
You’re going to do great. When I nominated you to Congress I told them it wasn’t to do you or Josh any favours - if I wanted that I’d let you retire - but it was because I wanted the country to be protected, and be in the safest possible position. America’s going to be safe in your hands. So be confident, be decisive, be compassionate, just be you. You’ll be a great President. Don’t be afraid.
Remember I love you very much, and I believe in you completely.
Well, great. Now she was crying again. Thanks, Sam.
Inexplicably she laughed aloud through her tears. “Yeah,” she whispered down to the letter, “thanks, Sam.”
This is very much a work in progress so please let me know what you like, what you don't like, what you might want to see explored more. Thanks for reading!
Thanks so much to everyone who read, kudosed, and/or commented last chapter! I've planned this out with slightly more finesse than I usually do, so, I mean, we'll see if that lasts more than five minutes, but I'm giving it a shot. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was only a few hours later that Daisy arrived, still stained with tears but determined, now, to see herself and her children through it. She left the boys with Noah and Jackie in the Residence, and spent the afternoon answering condolence calls with Alice and Donna and Josh in the Oval, moving to her office in the East Wing when Donna and Josh had to get back to the situation room twenty minutes later. And there was another change. It wasn’t really her office any more, and with Josh staying on as Chief of Staff, everything she’d been working on would fall apart.
Having Alice with her was a blessing; she’d never have been able to focus if she’d been alone. But her daughter was so brave, so collected and warm as she spoke to every caller, taking plenty of the calls that Daisy might have otherwise had her staff handle. Alice was a rock, steadfast and immovable, and Daisy had a funny feeling that her daughter might be the one to really see them all through.
It took hours to get through the calls, by which time Stella had two more pages of names for her, but she didn’t like to leave the boys so long, and Alice was still just a kid herself, really. This was too much.
But when they arrived in the residence it didn’t seem right to take the boys away. They seemed, for the first time, at peace: sat around a coffee table playing cards with Noah and Jackie, talking quietly. Matt and Noah were holding hands, and for once they didn’t instantly spring apart when they saw her, although Noah shifted to block it from her view. They were going to have to talk about that now.
“Go get some sleep,” she murmured to Alice, nudging her towards the bedrooms.
“Aren’t you going to sleep?”
“I’ll sit up, I should talk with Donna and Josh. Give me the letters, would you?”
Alice handed over the bundle, stifled a yawn, and slipped away.
Daisy sat with the kids for a half hour, pretending not to see that Matt and Noah still had their hands clasped together, but certainly noticing Matt let go the second Donna appeared. She packed her two off to bed at once, giving Daisy a chance to give the boys their letters before they went to their own rooms for the night. They’d call if they needed her, but she knew her children, and suspected they’d rather be alone.
Donna moved then, to sit down beside her on the couch, and after a moment of hesitation Daisy relaxed, resting her head on her friend’s shoulder. Donna’s arm wrapped around her immediately, and Daisy knew she was free to cry, but she couldn’t.
“Is Josh heading over soon?” she asked instead, her voice steady.
“Yeah, he was just tying up some loose ends,” Donna said. She sounded exhausted. In a way Daisy thought that Donna’s deal might be worse than her own right now.
“We’ve got to talk about what’s going to happen next,” she said.
“You know you’re welcome as long as you want.”
“I know, and I appreciate that, but I wonder if I should find somewhere local and get the kids away from here.”
Donna shifted, carefully, moving to look Daisy in the eye. “If that’s what you really want. But I - Josh and I talked it over, and there’s no way he can handle anything in the East Wing as well as the West. The work you’ve been doing over there is really important; I’d like for you to stay.”
“Let me talk to the kids,” she said, “let me give it a bit of thought, but - Donna, that’s so incredibly kind of you.”
She smiled back, a little embarrassed. “It’s what’s right. What’s best for the country, and we’d like to have you. Of course, think it over.”
Daisy nodded, and of course it would be now that the tears would come. She blinked them back quickly and looked up to the doorway, where Josh had just appeared. He smiled at her, a little uncertainly, and came to stand behind Donna, a hand resting on her shoulder and massaging a little.
“I think,” Daisy said, “we need to talk about Matt and Noah.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired,” Josh said, later, half-grinning at her and running a hand through his thinning hair. “You must be exhausted.”
Donna started to peel away for her clothes, grabbing for the old sweats she’d been sleeping in. “Yeah,” she said, yawning. “I talked to Daisy before. I don’t know if she’s going to agree to stay.”
“Don’t worry.” He was already sat in bed, but he got up and took her hands, tugging her back with him. “She’ll do what’s best for her and the kids. Which is what we want anyway. Come on, we should get some rest.”
Donna kept hold of his hands as she settled in the bed next to him, holding him upright. She hesitated, just briefly, and shifted to lean against him, lowering her head to his shoulder. She felt him press his face against her hair and then plant a kiss there. He was rubbing soft circles against her knuckles with his thumb, and she could feel the steady rise and fall of his chest against her side. She turned her head to press a soft kiss against his shoulder.
“How are you doing?” she whispered. He ran a hand up and down her arm.
“Just tired. Let’s get some sleep,” Josh pressed. He let go of her to lie down, and pulled her back against his chest.
“Sleep, Donna,” he murmured into her ear. She wriggled around to face him, but he was already asleep - or pretending to be? She wasn’t sure.
She leaned forward a little. “Josh,” she sighed close to his skin, and kissed his forehead. She did want to talk to him, her heart was heavy - but so were her eyelids, so she let it be, and wrapped an arm around his waist, drawing herself against him. Soon, she promised herself, and drifted into sleep.
“Josh?” Donna poked her nose into his office and he got up at once to follow her into the Oval. “I’d like to hold senior staff in here today.”
He sat down alongside her desk. “Yeah, I - I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”
“Why not? I should get to know them, how they work.”
“You already know them all,” he pointed out.
“This is different, Josh.”
“Yeah,” he conceded, “it is.”
“They’re adjusting. You’ll still have meetings with most of them today. Give them time to settle into the new routine.”
She hesitated. “I don’t want to seem closed off. I need them to trust me like they trusted Sam, that’s going to take a lot of work.”
“And they will. It’s just going to take time as well.”
“Alright. Hey, have Stella and Dinah clear us a half hour together later on, will you? I think we might be able to find time for an actual lunch break today.”
“Okay,” he grinned, standing and moving for the door.
“Where are you going?”
He gestured vaguely at the door. “I have staff in - well, now.”
“I don’t get a kiss?”
Josh actually blushed. “I thought we weren’t gonna…”
“Joshua, come here.”
“This is the Oval Office,” he protested, but walked back towards her despite himself.
“Every first couple we know has kissed in the Oval.” She moved over to meet him in the middle. “Relax.”
“It was different for Daisy. And Helen and Abbey too, I can’t just…”
“When I’m your Chief of Staff it’s got to be ‘I serve at the pleasure of the President’.”
“Just be my husband for a minute.”
He nodded resignedly. She smiled, and kissed him softly, taking his face in her hands.
“Josh, I know how weird this is for you, but we can’t stop being married whenever we’re in the Oval.”
“Nothing. You’re right.” He leaned forward to press a chaste kiss on her lips. “You’re right. Now are you going to let me go to senior staff?”
“I suppose so,” she allowed, sighing theatrically. “See you at lunch?”
“Yeah.” He kissed her once more. “Have a good day at work, honey.”
Donna’s laughter followed him out of the office.
The assassin paid for his coffee, and walked up the street towards work. Pennsylvania Avenue was lovely in the fall.
“Max was pissed after your meeting,” Josh said around a mouthful of pasta.
“He went to you? Really?” Donna shifted on his couch to put down her plate. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”
Josh snorted. “He doesn’t. He went to Violet.”
“Did she show you the list?”
“Yeah. What’s she thinking? That’s the ten most moderate Democrats in the country. What good’s that going to do us?”
“That’s what I said. Max insists the Senate will vote down any nominee with the slightest lean to the left.”
“Which of course is exactly what happened when Wallace stepped down.”
“Exactly,” Donna sighed, shaking her head. “Max is the only one I didn’t work with before. Is he worth his keep?”
“He was doing what Violet told him to do. She should know better. Hey, I saw the name you wanted, though. You think he can do it?”
“I think he’d be great, don’t you? He leans far enough to the left, he gets stuff done, he’s mild enough that Republicans won’t laugh us out of the building. He’s retiring soon, so I can have a running mate who’s more liberal for the election and the Republicans can’t say a word.”
“Tamheed’s worried it’ll seem like a favour.”
“There are plenty of things we might do as favours, but handing out the Vice Presidency isn’t one of them. Nominate someone you trust, that’s what Sam said.”
Josh nodded. “Violet can get it done. For what it’s worth, I think you’re right.”
She squeezed his hand appreciatively, and shifted to face him. “Have you talked to Daisy?”
“No. I’ve been busy.”
“She’s been planning the funeral. She wants you to speak.”
Josh didn’t look at her. “I think you should do it.”
“Forget perception. I think it would mean a lot to Daisy, and to you as well. I know how much you loved him.”
“So did you.”
“Yes, I did. But you two had this whole history, this whole… You know what I’m talking about, Josh.”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
Donna pulled his hand to her lips. “You and Sam were friends for years before we met. And you loved each other very much. I know it would have meant the world to him.”
“Donna, please - stop it. Just stop.” He’d turned his face away so she couldn’t see him. Donna laid a hand on his shoulder and turned him back towards her. There were tears on his cheeks, and she pulled him into a close hug.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “If you really don’t want to do it you don’t have to.”
He nodded stiffly against her shoulder and took a moment to compose himself before pulling back. “So this afternoon,” he said, firmly, “we’re meeting with the Speaker of the House.”
“Tamheed.” Violet grabbed the press secretary by the arm and tugged her along as she made her way through the bullpen. “We need to talk.”
“Not here.” She opened the door to Elsie’s office, where the woman herself was sat with Max in eerie silence.
“Not a word of this leaves this room,” Violet said, and shut the door. “We need to do something about Josh.”
“I think we’re making too much of this,” Elsie said.
“You’re not making anything of it.”
“But plenty of people are.”
“You think Josh can’t figure out for himself that people are questioning his position as his wife’s chief of staff?”
“I think he needs us to back him up,” pressed Elsie. “If you’re proposing we try and get rid of him, Violet, you’re crazy.”
“Get rid of Josh?” Violet stared at her. “We need to protect him. And the President too.”
“I had a meeting with Jackson Vaudeville this afternoon,” Max said, “he’s playing games with the press, trying to insinuate that the President isn’t up to the task. As if the President - I mean President Seaborn - wouldn’t have known better than that.”
“People think she’s Josh’s puppet,” Tamheed said, “because apparently in the year 2029 it’s still too much for a woman to actually be good at her job. Or for a man to not feel constantly emasculated if his wife’s more powerful than he is.”
Violet stared. “That’s insane. Josh doesn’t care about that. Nobody cares about that.”
“The press care.”
“We’ll put a stop to it.”
“She fought Josh and the President - I mean our President - I mean, God, there’s got to be a way around that.” Elsie hesitated. “It doesn’t matter. But she fought them on a bunch of issues. We can leak something like that, can’t we, make it clear she stands for herself?”
“Won’t that suggest she and the President weren’t on good terms?” Max protested.
“They were on good terms. They were close friends since the Bartlet campaign, and especially since she was sworn in. Anyone could see it was a different relationship than he had with Wallace.”
“We need to present a united front. We’ve got the state dinner next week, and there’s going to be press. Let’s all be photographed being friendly with the President. The First Lady needs to go too -” Tamheed paused. “Do we still call Mrs Seaborn First Lady?”
“Josh did this morning.”
“The First Lady goes, and Alice if she likes. What about Noah?”
Violet shook her head. “Noah’s underage. Alice didn’t start going to these things till she was eighteen, neither does he. Noah and Jackie get the same rules as Matt and Tommy.”
“Matt’s fifteen and Noah’s sixteen. There’s a difference; and Noah cares about politics. He always has questions after my press briefings.”
“Josh and the Vice - I mean the President - don’t want him in the public eye till he’s eighteen.”
“Josh can be persuaded to do a lot to make the process smoother for the President.”
“Not use his kid, Tamheed, God.”
“We don’t need to do that,” Elsie stepped in. “Just make it clear to the press, and clear to Josh, and clear to the President that we’re a united front.”
A rapping on the door interrupted them and they were faintly horrified to discover Josh himself watching them. He pushed the door open and said, “Violet, think you can tell your staff where you’re going next time you disappear? I need a word with you.”
Violet got up to follow him, but Elsie spoke before they could disappear. “Josh-”
“Make it quick.”
“We just want you and the President to know we’re all with you. Okay?”
He grinned at her, and at Max and Tamheed behind her. “Thanks. Now, will you let us go? We’re keeping Mrs Seaborn and the President waiting.”
Violet squawked. “Why didn’t you say so?” she demanded, and chased him down the hall.
It was night, now. The kids were in bed, Daisy and Alice had disappeared about an hour ago, and Donna and Josh were curled up on the couch together, sharing a glass of wine.
“I’m glad they’re staying,” Donna said pensively, watching the fire crackle across the room. “It’ll be good to have them.”
Josh nodded, absently humming an agreement.
Donna studied him for a second, and took his wine glass, and set them both down on the table. “I really need you to be honest with me.”
He stared at her, surprised. “I - Donna, I’m always-”
“Sweetheart, you’ve got to talk about Sam.”
He looked away from her.
“You’ve got to. Everyone’s going to want to talk to you tomorrow, and if you can’t do it…”
“I can do it, I can do it,” he said, but his voice was thick. “It’s not - the speech, I know you wanted me to do that, I can’t do the speech, but I can do people.”
“Josh. You can’t even talk to me about it.”
“You know why.”
“Yes, I know why, and Daisy knows why, and Sam knew why. It doesn’t upset me that you loved him, Josh.”
“It wasn’t like that.” He scrubbed angrily at his face. She moved his rough hands away and replaced them with her soft ones, removing the tears and keeping his eyes on her. She nodded encouragingly. “It wasn’t like that,” Josh repeated, “I didn’t love him like - not like I love you. Everything that happened between us, it was before you and I even met, we were just friends long before-”
“I know,” she said before he could get lost in himself. “I know, Josh.”
“It’s just, I did love him once, really love him, and I hate that he’s not here, and I - I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Please don’t hide from me.”
He shifted towards her, urgently, his hands moving for her shoulders. “I love you. I love you like I’ve never loved anyone, and it was never this good with Sam, it wasn’t. I don’t want you to ever think I - we were so young, and we were just playing. It got a little too real, but we were playing. I don’t want you to think I ever even thought about it…”
“I don’t, Josh. Listen to me. It’s okay that you loved him. And it’s okay that your love changed over time. Everything you’re feeling, everything you ever felt, it’s okay. It’s not a betrayal, it’s not a weakness, or - or a failure. It’s all normal. It’s all okay. I just don’t want you to ever feel like you can’t talk to me.”
He hugged her then, tight, pressing his face into her neck, not daring for a second to let go. She shifted just a little to press a kiss wherever she could reach; it landed on his ear.
“I can’t say goodbye to him in front of all those people,” he said. “I have so much to say to him, but I can’t share it. I don’t have a single thing to say that I can share with anyone but Sam.”
“Then I’ll speak,” Donna said, her fingers running through his hair and her lips still against his ear, “and you’ll go and see Sam and say goodbye to him alone. We’ll have everyone over for drinks, and we’ll swap stories till the sun comes up, and he’ll see us, Josh, he will.”
“Jews don’t believe in heaven. I don’t.”
“I know you don’t, but Sam did, and he’ll see us. He’ll hear all those things you have to say to him, he’ll know how much we all loved him, and he’ll rest in peace.”
Please do continue to tell me what you like, what you don't like, what's interesting, etc. Thanks very much for reading!
As I read back over this, uncannily, I can remember exactly what I was watching to as I wrote each scene. This chapter was written with background Lemonade, Into The Woods, Annie (which I'd never seen before, and, by the way, absolutely screams Josh/Donna AU, if anyone wants to become my hero by writing it), and Friends. I don't know what that information gives you, but I guess this is an outlet store for Claudia's House of Useless Knowledge.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Donna rolled her eyes and flopped down on the bed, shifting her phone so she wasn’t crushing her ear. “Oh, God, Toby, don’t, I’m off the clock.”
“Come on, I can’t just…”
“Okay, if you say so, okay, I’ll try.” There was reluctance behind his acquiescence - most of her friends were like that now, but she’d get them over it. “Mrs Lyman. How’s that?”
“So much worse.”
“Fine. Donna. You happy?”
“Happier. We wanted to see you this afternoon, but you slipped away so quickly.”
“Yeah. I thought it was best we didn’t end up in any photos together.”
“You know I don’t care about that.”
“You should. You’re running again, aren’t you? You should care.”
“Yeah, I’m running, but there’s no reason that should stop me from seeing my friends.”
“Donna, you know better than that.”
“You should have come back with us. We missed you.”
“Maybe you did.”
“Of course I did. I do miss you. But everyone wanted you there.”
Josh hovered in the doorway, watching her with a question in his eyes. She mouthed “Toby” at him, and he brightened a little, coming to sit beside her.
“Yes, everyone. Daisy was asking after you. She said, ‘I wish he’d come, he must have great stories’. She said so. And Alice asked for you.”
“Sam wouldn’t have wanted me there.”
“He told me you two were talking, he mentioned you all the time. He would have wanted you there. We wanted you there."
“It wouldn’t have been a good idea, Donna. Josh’ll tell you the same thing.”
“Josh, didn’t you say to me just as we were leaving the church, ‘I hope Toby’s coming back with us’?”
Toby spluttered on the other end of the line. “He’s right there? Donna!”
Josh snatched the phone. “Toby, get your head out of your ass and come and see us. We miss you.”
Donna watched Josh glare at the phone as Toby talked.
“We don’t care about that,” he continued, sternly, “we’ll issue a presidential decree if that’s what it takes.” At whatever Toby said next, he barked out a laugh. “You think she won’t?”
Donna leaned over to take the phone from him and turn the speakerphone on. “Toby, come and see us, please,” she wheedled. “We really do miss you. We want to see you.”
Toby, on the other end of the line, exhaled heavily. “Okay. Only ‘cause I like you. Don’t expect me not to hate everyone else I meet.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. We’ll expect you tomorrow. Don’t be late,” she told him.
"But you didn't specify a-"
Donna hung up the phone.
Josh raised his eyebrows at her. “Do you really think he’ll come?”
“He said he would. And none of the Bartlet team would think of ignoring a presidential instruction. By the way, CJ and Danny are coming to dinner Wednesday. And even you’re a little on-edge with me in the Oval - and we’ll be talking about that later, by the way, husband-of-mine.”
He made a face at her, and she laughed.
“Don’t worry, it can wait till tomorrow. Oh, I had a chance to talk to Kate today, did I tell you?”
“Yeah? She tired of being First Lady of Oregon yet?"
“No, she loves it. I never thought she would."
"They're staying in town for another week, I asked them to dinner Thursday night.”
“Is there anyone from the old days we aren’t going to be entertaining this week?”
Donna smiled at him and shook her head. “I miss them. Don’t you?”
“Of course, but - don’t you think we’ve got little enough free time as it is? I’ll be surprised if we have a day off again in the next month. You’ll be exhausted.”
“I know.” Donna wriggled around on the bed to look him in the eye. “We never see them any more. If they weren’t doing okay, we’d never know it. I’ve never been in a position to do so much. How could I forget my friends now?”
He was staring at her. She blushed a little under his gaze; his mouth opened and closed a few times before he could find the words.
“You just - you never think of yourself first, do you?” He shook his head when she tried to speak, laid a thumb gently on her bottom lip, tracing. “I don’t know how you have this capacity for - for goodness. You’re incredible.”
She shone under his praise; he bent his head to worship.
“I don’t want to keep the secret any more,” Matt said.
They were stretched out on Noah’s bed, curled towards one another, hand in hand.
“If it gets out-"
“How many times are you going to tell me that?”
“Matt, it’s the truth.”
“Why does this have to be political?”
He looked away. “I don’t care about politics. I held off because of Dad but now what’s to stop me?”
“Now what’s to stop you?” Noah sat up, and pulled his hand from Matt’s. “Now what’s to stop you?”
“To stop - to stop us, then. We shouldn’t have to keep this a secret.”
“It was fine when you were the First Family.”
“You always wanted to be able to talk about gay issues. You always said once your mom got elected you’d use the platform. Why is this different?”
“First of all,” Noah huffed, getting up to pace around the room, “it’s not gay issues. I’m sick of you calling me gay when I’ve told you and told you I’m bi. And it’s different because by the time Mom was President I was supposed to be nearly eighteen. It’s the rule that your dad had, and Uncle Matt, and Uncle Jed. When I’m eighteen I’ll talk publicly about my love life. Not before.”
“Our love life, Noah!”
“You’ll still be seventeen. It’s our parents’ law! But, Matt, accidents happen, and this might get out. It could do my mom some damage. If this is what voters care about, and they vote against her because of this, what do you think a Republican president’s going to do to people like us?”
“What’s your point?” Matt was standing now, too, the bed between them, his hands flying.
“I think it’s time we told our parents. Just so they can protect themselves. What-” he suddenly went very quiet - “what do you think?”
Matt gaped at him. Noah found himself fidgeting awkwardly.
“You want to tell our parents.”
“I just - Matt, I don’t think they’ll be upset or anything…"
Matt closed the distance between them and flung his arms around Noah.
“What-” Noah hugged back, laughing. “What are you doing?”
“You still - want us.”
“Of course I want us. Of course I still want us,” he said, and pulled back a little to kiss him.
“You’re not ashamed.”
Matt laughed and kissed him again. “We’ll tell our parents. Right now if you want to. And then we’ll tell Alice and Tommy and Jackie, and when we’re eighteen we’ll tell anyone who’ll listen. That sound okay to you?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.”
Donna turned over another report and scrubbed her eyes. It was barely seven-thirty; she’d been working for two hours. She heard the door swing open, and looked up to see Josh come in.
“Morning,” she smiled, lifting her face to him. He checked, she noticed, that the other door was closed before he kissed her.
“How are you doing?”
“I think it’s time for a ten minute break.” Donna pushed herself to her feet, stretching as she moved. “You got time for a walk through the rose garden?”
“Sure,” he said at once, offering his arm to her as they walked together. Once they were outside she turned in to him.
“Are you sure you have time for this?”
“Maybe I’ve got to be quick,” he admitted with a lopsided smile.
“Okay, we need to have a talk,” she said then, stopping them both. “I know you had certain boundaries in the Oval with Sam and Matt, but if this is going to work with us - last week you told me in there it’s ‘I serve at the pleasure of the President’, but that’s exactly what it can’t be.”
“Josh, you’ve never once said no to me in there.” She leaned forward a little to press a kiss to his lips. “I know you’re uncomfortable, but I really need you to be - you know, you.”
“I know,” he said, “and I’m trying, and if it’s two minutes to say good morning that’s one thing, but - that office means something. It doesn’t matter how hard we try, we’re never going to be on an equal footing in there.” He stopped and glanced away a second, squeezed her hand. “It’s only till I retire. But when we’re going to talk, really talk, and it’s personal, Donna, I can’t do it in there. Do you understand?”
“Yes, you silly man, of course I understand,” she said, and smiled. “If we’re going to talk about our lives we can do it out here, or in the Residence, or - will you freak out on me if we use your office?"
“I can manage.” Josh kissed her warmly. “Thank you. For - understanding. I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Donna threaded her arm back through his then, steering them both to walk. “Dinah resigned this morning.”
He sighed. “I thought that might be coming. She was devoted to Sam, you know.”
“Yeah.” Expecting Dinah to stay on now would be like expecting Mrs Landingham to leave President Bartlet. “I said we’d do all we can to support her. She’s looking at going back to Wyoming.”
“I’ll try and talk to her today, see what we can do for her. You want to bring Ben over?”
“Yeah, I’d like to. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but he’s been with me for so long it doesn’t seem right to go elsewhere. He started working for me in my first year in Helen’s office, you know.”
“I remember. Stella can see to him. Hey, I should go make a start on the day. You got time for lunch later?”
“Only ten minutes if we’re going to get away in time for Toby. You’re working on the VP stuff today?”
“Violet’s taking meetings with House leadership. We’re hoping to have be ready to announce by end of play tomorrow. Max is working on a speech.”
“What about Elsie?”
“I don’t want her near the VP thing. She’s working with Tamheed to put your agenda out there, and I’m having her take some of Violet’s legislation meetings on the Hill. She can use the experience. Leave staff to me, okay?”
“Okay.” She kissed him quickly. “Let’s get to work.”
Dinner over, it was getting late, and Jackie was falling asleep at the table.
“Honey, maybe it’s time to go to bed,” Donna suggested, and Jackie nodded wordlessly, standing to kiss her parents, and exited the dining room with a certain measure of grace.
“I’m going, too,” Tommy announced. “I’m tired. Is that okay, Mom?”
“If you really want to,” Daisy consented, smiling. “You got everything ready for school tomorrow?”
Tommy nodded firmly, and followed Jackie out of the room.
“I swear those two were about a foot shorter and a lot more fun last time I saw you,” Toby told them.
“They’s growing up,” Josh remarked proudly.
“Sure, but I could swear it hasn’t been that long,” Toby protested.
“Long enough,” Alice disagreed, prodding him with the edge of her knife. “I think the last time I saw you in person I was sixteen and determined to marry your son.”
Toby smiled. “My son is determined never to marry anyone. You might have luck with my daughter.”
“What are the twins doing with themselves these days?”
“They’re good, you know, they’re doing good. Molly’s on track to make partner before she’s thirty, Huck’s seeing the world. They’re happy.”
“And you?” Donna was watching him with a strange stillness, her fork hovering halfway to her mouth.
He didn’t look right at her, but forced a grin. “They’ve always told me I don’t know the meaning of the world. Since Andy died…”
“Yeah,” Daisy said. They shared a quiet, commiserating smile. Under the table, Josh’s hand found Donna’s, and clung.
“I think I should head out,” Toby said after a moment. “I’m staying with Molly and she - worries. You get it.” He promised to see them again before leaving town, and disappeared out of the house with alarming speed.
“You think something’s going on with him?” Daisy wondered briefly, but then turned to her daughter. “Alice, honey, why don’t you go finish up your packing?”
Alice didn’t even question it, just left. As soon as she was gone Josh opened his mouth to speak, but Noah pounced first.
“There’s something Matt and I need to tell you."
It was just past the crack of dawn when Violet burst into Josh’s office the next morning.
“We’ve got it,” she declared triumphantly, waving a piece of paper in the air. “House and Senate leadership on both sides.”
“Violet Hastings,” Josh said seriously, “you are the man.”
She grinned at him.
“The woman. Whatever. Go tell the President.”
“But the President’s…” Violet stopped herself quickly. “I’m sorry. I still think of President Seaborn. I’ll get used to it.”
“Hell,” the President said from the doorway, prompting Violet to leap several feet into the air, “I still think of President Bartlet. Don’t worry about it.”
“Tell her,” Josh prompted.
“You don’t want to?”
“It’s your victory.”
“What can I do for you, Violet?”
“Ma’am, we have a nominee."
It was less than an hour before the chosen man and his wife were sat comfortably on the couches of the Oval Office opposite Donna and Josh.
“You’re not serious,” he said.
“I’m completely serious,” Donna countered. “You think I go to all this effort for a joke? I’m trying to run a country, you know.”
“No, I mean - you know I’m retiring soon.”
“I’m not asking you to join the ticket for re-election.”
“We’ve got a family to think about.”
“So have we. Look, do you two need a minute to talk it over?”
He nodded expressively. “Yes, please.”
“Use my office,” Josh offered, and the two practically fled from them.
“What are we going to do if they say no, ma’am?” Violet asked then, fidgeting anxiously.
“They won’t,” Josh agreed, watching the couple discuss in heated whispers. “Would you have Dinah call Elsie up here, please?”
“Yeah.” Violet headed out to the secretary’s office.
There was a light knock on the doorway, and the nominee entered.
“We accept,” Will Bailey said.
As always, comments, thoughts, etc. are super appreciated, because I thrive on validation and because I want to know which parts are interesting. Thanks so much for reading!
It's fine, it's fine, it's only taken me... yikes. Five and a half weeks. Um. Oops? An 18-hour journey back from a weekend at home gave me time to do this. Again, not my finest decision. For an extra £10 I could have skipped seven hours of spending far more money in coffee shops at Victoria. Either way, at least it's done. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Greg Jeffords checked his weapon.
He wanted to act, damn it, he’d killed one President and this one was no better. If he got her quick enough, it wouldn’t be that empty shell of a Vice President nominee replacing her, it’d be the Speaker, and that would have been better at least, but orders were orders, and his Higher Power had a plan in mind.
“North and Nomad on the move,” came the voice over the radio. He opened the car door and the President stepped out with her son, pausing to smile at him.
“Agent Jeffords. They tell me you’re joining my detail.”
“I’m glad to have you.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said, feeling the cool metal under his fingers, and imagined pulling the trigger.
Josh scrubbed at his face. It was too soon to call it a night, but these people were exhausting already, and he would be working with them for a year.
“This isn’t unheard of,” someone named Wyatt was insisting. “Think of Truman. Johnson. Roosevelt.”
“We don’t want to focus on the past.” That was Otto - and thank God for Otto, a voice of reason in the lunatic parade that was his wife’s campaign advisors. “President Lyman isn’t popular for the same reasons as past presidents. She’s popular because she built herself out of nothing.”
“She was never nothing,” Josh objected wearily.
“Sorry, Josh. I mean she had nothing. She’s the American Dream personified. The ultimate modern success story. She wasn’t able to get a college degree, she was held back, she went out and found a way to build a career that worked for her. She earned her way through the ranks and she didn’t stick to the way people are supposed to do it. People admire her for that.”
“Lyman for America?” Tina grinned.
“No,” Otto said at once. “Everyone knows she started out on the Bartlet campaign, we don’t want to rub it in their faces. We need to establish her as an individual. Her own person. We don’t borrow anything from Bartlet, Santos, or Seaborn.”
“Seaborn-Lyman was the first strong President-VP relationship we’ve had in fifty years. We want to emphasise them as a team.”
“Not now, we don’t. Not with Josh there - sorry, Josh, but-”
“No, you’re right. I wasn’t so much in the limelight before, but I am now. Enough people think I’m pulling her strings without us encouraging the idea. No, remind people of her longstanding friendship with President Seaborn, but we don’t want it heading up our rhetoric. I’m retiring at the end of this term, by the way, and that should dial the crazy theories down a notch, but let’s not get carried away.”
“You’re retiring?” piped up a kid who seemed barely older than Noah, but according to rumour had even more raw genius in him than Otto at his age. Or, for that matter, Josh himself.
“I’m getting old, Jackson,” Josh grinned laconically. “It’s time for someone else to take over. The President and I have it all under control. Speaking of which - she’ll be expecting me; the Baileys are coming for dinner. Otto, you can handle this?”
“Sure,” Otto nodded, turning back to the table. He’d come a long way since the kid who’d dreamed of a job as a speechwriter. Josh did, in fact, trust him with Donna’s campaign. Maybe he’d come a long way, too.
Donna settled back on the couch, watching across the room as Josh mediated Jackie’s game with the Bailey twins, and kept an eye on what looked like an intense discussion between Noah and Will.
Kate, next to her, nudged her with an amused smile. “Your kid really holds his own, doesn’t he?”
“He wants Will to prove he’s good enough for the office. He’s got a whole list of questions he wants answered.”
“That boy’s going to do great things one day.”
“Yeah, he is.” Donna felt a swell of pride, watching for a moment more, then turned towards Kate. “You know, I really didn’t think you’d be so okay with all of this.”
“What? The Vice Presidency? I don’t think I’d have to be much more in the public eye than I am in Oregon. As long as they see me in a photo with the girls once in a while, they leave me pretty much alone.”
“It won’t be the same now.”
“I know, but there are still things I can do, and it’s only for two years.”
“You’re doing a book, aren’t you?”
Kate shook her head. “I tried. Turns out I don’t have much to say that isn’t of the I’d-have-to-kill-you variety.”
A Secret Service agent, standing discreetly in the corner, twitched at her words. Donna suppressed a giggle.
“I’m working the lecture circuit instead,” Kate continued. “If I talk in vague enough terms I can get away with most things. I’m thinking of taking on some of the specialist training at the NSA. Of course, if that has to wait till the next term, I can do that.”
“I don’t see why it should. Josh has his own career, after all. No reason why you shouldn’t too. And I want to establish the precedent. You and Will are here for two years, if we manage to get the next eight, I want our next Second Lady to do her own work too.”
“You have a running mate in mind?”
“I do,” Donna said. Of course, she hadn’t even discussed it with Josh yet, let alone anyone else, but she wanted to do as Sam had done, and establish a natural successor. Charlie and Zoey Bartlet-Young would one day make a formidable First Couple.
Donna carefully resisted the urge to yawn. If there was just one part of being President she couldn’t get used to, it was this. She understood it all in theory, but had never weighed in on national security before, and having Josh and all his expertise here with her made all the difference but she absolutely could not appear to be taking her cues from him, even when his experience was worth a hundred times hers.
It was exhausting. He’d been amazing; taking and answering her barrage of questions anywhere and everywhere they came to her, whether at their early morning meeting in the Oval or over lunch in his office or, once, mortifyingly, when they were about to go to bed. He was her hero in all this; she didn’t know how she’d ever cope next term, when he wouldn’t be here with her.
Just now, though, it wasn’t Josh’s years of experience she wanted, it was his comfort. Because what the Secret Service agent in charge was telling her, in as many complicated sentences as he could wrangle, was that the investigation into their best friend’s murder was going nowhere.
“Is it really possible that the most qualified investigators in the country, working with the most advanced resources in history, on the biggest case on the planet, can come back to us after two months with nothing?” Josh, predictably, was losing his patience by the bucketload.
She wanted to snipe at him; doing that in the Oval Office in front of - well, anyone, really, or even if they were alone - was a terrible idea. Instead she gave him a sharp look discreet enough that only her husband would recognise it, and returned her attention to the agent.
“Is there anything at all we can be doing to help?”
“Madam President, your people are already doing so much to assist us.”
“I want our President’s killer found and dealt with,” Donna said, calmly. The agent shifted uncomfortably.
“I know how important this is for the country,” he said. “They need to see a strong leader. But-”
“Screw leadership. I want my friend’s murderer punished. I want to know how and why it was done, and I want to give his family closure. I want to know what’s next, because whoever killed Sam didn’t do it just to do it, they had an end goal in mind. I want them stopped. I want you to do this for me quickly.”
“We’re doing everything we can, Madam President.”
“Of course. And I know you’ll be making sure to use every resource available to you. I want it clear that by any means necessary, this is going to be done and done right.”
“Any means necessary,” the agent repeated weakly.
“Of course, the really crazy stuff you’ll run by Josh’s office first. And all emphasis on necessary. But get it done.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the agent said, and fled the moment she dismissed him.
She sat there for a second, then looked to Josh, and got up, and walked to his office, sensing him close on her heels. When they were inside he started pacing circles, and she sat back on the edge of his desk, watching him. It was a long time before either of them spoke.
“How can they not know anything?” she said eventually, her voice small. “There’s a plan behind this. There’s further steps. And we don’t know what’s coming.”
He stopped pacing, and moved around to sit next to her. She noticed that his hands were still twitching, but he balled them into fists to steady them and focused on her.
“What are you afraid of?”
She looked away from him. “Anyone who wanted Sam dead isn’t going to prefer me.”
“We’ll up your protection,” he said at once, slipping an arm around her back. She let her head land on his shoulder, but didn’t snuggle closer like usual. Instead she sat very still, staring straight ahead.
“It looks weak. Makes the country look weak, makes me look weak. Says I can’t handle this. Weak, frail woman trying to do a man’s job.”
His hand against her hip squeezed her close, and now she nestled in, just a little.
“Josh, do you think I shouldn’t run?”
“I mean - I don’t know what I’m doing with this. I don’t know how to deal with national security. In the sit room I feel like I’m playing guessing games.”
“You’re learning fast. You’re asking all the right questions, and you do have experience. I know you don’t think so, but you’re coming from everything you stood for in Congress and in Helen’s office, I don’t know why you think you can’t do this, you’re really doing great. I’m not just saying it.”
“It’s not just the job, Josh. I’m scared.” She shuffled awkwardly in his hold, turning her face into him a little. “I’m so scared. I don’t know why someone would want Sam dead only to put me in his place. They’ll be wanting the Speaker, which means getting to me before Will’s confirmed. If that’s what they want. And who knows what they want?”
He closed his eyes and bowed his head a little, pressing his lips against her hair. “Donna, nothing’s going to happen to you. I won’t let it.” He let his free arm wind around her belly, his hands meeting at her side, and tugged her closer. “If that means increasing your detail, that’s what it means. You’re still going to do whatever you want to do. And I’m behind you. As your husband, I think you’re incredible. As your Chief of Staff, I think you’re starting something that deserves to be continued. As a citizen of this country, I want to vote for you next November.”
She detangled herself from him, gently, and crossed over to his window. “Keep working with the committee for now,” she said, “but I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Elsie glanced up from the pile of work on her desk and smiled at her stepbrother. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, you know,” Will said, tugging out a chair and making himself comfortable. “Setting up Jane to take over the Governor’s seat is a lot more work than I anticipated. Turns out conflicting policy ideas aren’t so easy to reconcile. I’m going to have the same problem with Donna when we start to work together on getting bills through. What?”
Elsie was making a face at him. “I know you’re friends and all, but you can’t call her by name outside of your family and the Residence. Even Josh only calls her the President when staff are around; rumour has it he won’t call her by name inside the Oval even when they’re alone. I’m not going to call you by name at work either. You know, once you’re confirmed, that is.”
“You know I don’t care.”
“They wouldn’t let me touch the VP candidacy as soon as there was the slightest possibility. You’re savvier than that. You know it matters.”
“We’ll still be working together.”
“Hardly ever,” Elsie corrected him. “Josh doesn’t want to open us up to criticism. When you need something from Communications you’ll go to Max. What did you expect?”
“I would have liked someone on my side in this place.”
“We’re all on the same side, Willie.”
“I don’t know. I mean, of course Donna - fine, fine, the President - is going to want a united front. We worked closely together on the Russell campaign, you know, she doesn’t have an unpleasant bone in her body. But Josh isn’t like that; he’ll do what it takes to get the political victory. And that’s fine, it’s good, he’ll make sure the President’s protected - I just want to make sure I’m not left in the lurch.”
Elsie stared at him, then up to the shut door and half-closed blinds. “You want me to make sure.”
“I’m not asking you to spy for me, Elsie, just don’t let Josh waste me. I can do a lot of good if they’ll let me.”
“Why wouldn’t they? The President’s looking for the same partnership she had with President Seaborn. That’s the whole reason she went to you; she wanted someone she knows.”
“But I’m not married to her Chief of Staff. Do you think they’d have been so successful if Sam didn’t have Josh as a conscience? I trust the President, but Josh will put her first and the country second.”
“You know Josh as well as I do. Look, I’m concerned about the country. This isn’t a power grab, I’m retiring at the end of this term - and so’s he. I just want to make sure the future’s protected; it’s about my kids, Elsie.”
“Willie, you should go,” Elsie said, quickly, “I’ve got work to do. Kiss the kids for me.”
“Okay. Just think about it.”
“Hey, Josh, the President wants you, if you’re free.”
“Sure.” Josh nodded to Stella and got up to enter the Oval, knocking once before pushing the door open. Donna smiled when she saw him.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Can you tell me a little more about what’s going on with the re-election committee?”
He parked himself in a seat alongside her desk. “Weren’t we going to meet properly this evening?”
“I don’t want this to be a part of a meeting that’s written down,” she said steadily, holding his gaze.
“Is something wrong?”
“You’re doing opposition research for the primaries?”
“I want to see it.”
“I know it’s a little irregular.”
“I’ll say. At this stage there’s no reason for you to be concerned.”
“I just want to take a pass at it.”
“You’re looking for something specific?”
“Yes I am, but I want to see everything you have. And keep it off the record.”
“Donna - should I be worried about this? What are you looking for?”
“I can’t say yet. I’ll know when I see it, and I’ll tell you when you need to know. Oh, and I need you to brief me.”
“On what happened between Sam and Wallace. I want your perspective. Can you do that?”
Josh nodded crisply, and gave her a small smile. “Yes, ma’am.”
“One last thing,” Josh said, eyeing the select group of senior staff in varying degrees of impatience for him to finish the meeting. “I need a summary of Vice President Wallace’s tenure before he resigned. We’re doing some opposition research for the primaries. Keep it to yourselves.”
There were various noises of assent.
“Okay, great. I’ll release you. Thank your generous dictator.”
The various noises altered to ones of mockery as the staff drifted from the office, and Josh reached out to catch Elsie by the elbow.
”Hey,” he said, “I hear the nominee came to see you today. He want anything?”
“Sorry. No, nothing. He wanted to talk my ear off about Harry’s dance recital last night. I’m not an attentive enough auntie. Sorry, I know you don’t want us making a show of it.”
“Don’t worry about it. He’s family; I know you never get a chance to go home. Just don’t let it look like you’re running a secret conspiracy, okay?”
She laughed. “You got it, Josh. Sorry, I have to run, I promised to babysit tonight. See you tomorrow?” She flashed him a grin, and left with all the poise she possessed. Reaching for her phone, she brought up her brother’s number and typed a message:
So, I might turn into a repeat offender with the long wait. Like I said at the start, uni comes first, and it's essay writing season. I'm writing on gender ideology in TWW, and as will surprise nobody, it turns out there's a lot to say. Wish me luck. Since I can't use emojis, help me out and imagine the crying one's right here.
so it's been how long since i updated? oops. i'm one of those awkward writers who has about twenty projects on the go at once, and none of them are quite close enough to being done for me to start posting. also, if i start posting another one, this will never be done. but uni's done now for the summer, so hopefully i'll have a little more free time.
anyways, here it is. feedback is love!
“We announce in two weeks,” Josh concluded, closing the file Otto’s team had put together, “so we need to make a decision soon. How are you feeling?”
Donna shook her head and leaned back in the chair. “None of this is how I imagined,” she said. “Sam and I talked about my campaign, but the circumstances were going to be - you know, not this. I’ve wanted this job for a long time, and I like it. I think we’re doing good work here. But Josh, if I run, we need a better team than the one we have.”
“Yeah. They’d have fallen apart without Otto, and we can do better. I’m meeting with him this afternoon to see what changes need making.”
“Good. You’ll keep me posted?”
The door opened to allow Donna’s secretary entry. “Madam President, your eight o’clock’s here.”
“I have an eight o’clock? We were going to have breakfast,” she protested. It had become a point of order that she and Josh had a little time together often as they could that had nothing to do with work, and she hated to have it interrupted.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ben said, “but I thought you wouldn’t mind this one.”
Donna sighed, exchanging a look with Josh. “All right,” she said, “but next time check with me before you change our plans. See if you and Stella can’t find us twenty minutes later on, okay?”
Josh pulled his folders together and stood.
“Yes, ma’am. Uh, Josh, you’ll want to stay.”
Donna nodded to Ben, a little stiffly, and he slipped out, holding the door to allow entry to Noah. She softened at once. “Hey, honey. Let’s go into Dad’s office, okay? We try to keep family matters out of the Oval.”
“Um,” Noah said.
“I think - I think this might fall under the category of business?”
Donna and Josh exchanged another look, and with one accord moved to the couches.
“What’s going on?”
“I wanted to talk to you about the Israel trip in a couple of weeks.”
“Yeah,” Josh said, trying to be understanding, “look, I know you’ve got your opinions, but you can’t be involved in policy.”
“I know, but I was thinking - maybe - I could come. I’d like to see where I was born.”
After a long moment Donna managed, “Oh.”
“There’s been a lot of talk on the far right about Jackie and me since Uncle Sam died. About whether we really count as the First Family.”
“Son, you know better than to pay any attention to the far right,” Josh said, forcing calmness into his tone.
“I know, and I don’t. Like - I know this is my family and all, but it’s left me thinking, and I am curious about my roots. And I know you never knew anything about him, but I’d like to know a bit more about Rivka.”
“Okay. Okay. Well, after the war my grandfather moved to Connecticut, and his brother went to Israel. His daughter, Meira, my mom’s cousin, was Rivka’s grandmother. Rivka lost all her family and so when she fell pregnant she tracked down my mom; she brought you over after you were born and you both lived with her for a while. But she couldn’t handle being a parent.”
“That’s not to say she wanted to leave,” Donna added, “because she didn’t. She was - very troubled. She’d been through a lot, and she was very young. I don’t think she could have been much older than you are now. She loved you very much, but she couldn’t take care of you. And when we’d been talking about how we’d missed our chance to have children,” she reached for Josh’s hand here, “and when we’d met you a few times, and already loved you, it was unthinkable not to adopt you.”
“But she’s still alive,” Noah pressed. “Right?”
“She didn’t keep in touch. She might be alive, she might not, but we have no idea where she is. You’re not going to find her in Israel, hon.”
“No,” Noah said. “I don’t even really want to. I mean, she’s a distant cousin of Dad’s. But I want to come on the trip. It'll be spring break tomorrow and I think I could learn from it."
Donna looked at Josh, and he seemed as thrown off as she felt. “Let us give it some thought,” she said. “Even if we agree, it’s got to be okayed by committees. We won’t say no just yet, but we won’t say yes either. Okay?”
“Now go finish getting ready, kid, you’ll make yourself late for school. We’ll talk tonight.”
“Okay.” Noah made a beeline for the door, barely pausing to throw a “Love you!” over his shoulder. Donna watched him leave quietly, and didn’t look back to Josh until he seated himself next to her and slung an arm over the back of the couch behind her.
“I must have a meeting soon,” she said, not quite looking at him.
“You’ve got ten more minutes. I, uh…” but he trailed off.
“Maybe we should move this to my office.”
“Josh, it’s time you got over this,” Donna huffed, pulling away from him, but then looked back and settled in against him. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard. But can you just do your husband thing here, please?”
“Okay,” he said, sitting straighter and fidgeting. “I’m not sure you should go to Israel.”
“It’s my job to do.”
“I know. But you went through a traumatic experience there. I don’t think-”
“That was Gaza, not Israel.”
“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”
“Josh, I’m President of the United States, do you imagine I could ignore my responsibilities, even if I wanted to, just because I had a bad experience twenty-five years ago?” She stood up and started pacing furiously. “I am more than capable of handling it.”
“I know you think you can, but-”
“But you don’t.”
“No, I don’t.”
Maisie hovered by the entrance to the Outer Office. She wasn’t really supposed to be there, but she had five minutes before she needed to open Elsie’s office, and she’d barely seen Ben for the last several days. She watched him work for a few moments, then he looked up and saw her. He smiled, but it seemed a little forced.
“Hi, Maisie. If Elsie needs something it might have to wait a little while-”
“No,” she said quickly. “I mean. Um. I just - was passing and I thought I’d say hi. Hey!” She reached into her purse with startlingly sudden decisiveness. “Have a muffin.” She dropped it on his desk. “Chocolate’s your favourite, isn’t it?”
“I’ve been here two weeks, how do you know what my favourite muffin is?”
She smiled at him. “I thought so.” She opened her mouth to speak again, but sounds drifting through from the Oval Office stopped her.
“It’s not that it’s dangerous, it’s what’s happened to you…” It was a sound she was familiar with - Josh Lyman angry.
“What’s going on?” she asked Ben curiously, widening her eyes and leaning forward a little over his desk. Ben looked her firmly in the eye, then stood up and closed the door properly.
“Maisie, it’s time for you to leave.”
“Does Josh want the President to skip the Israel trip?”
“Maisie.” He spoke sharply. “Listen to me. You cannot under any circumstances repeat that. You’re hearing a private conversation between your boss’s boss and the President at whose pleasure you serve. Do you understand?”
He seemed so stern that she had to back off a little. “Yes,” she said, wondering if it really was as serious as Ben said. She did like the President, and she did want to do the right thing. “I’m sorry, Ben. Of course I won’t repeat it.”
“Good,” he said, and rewarded her with a soft smile. “Go on to work, Maisie. I’ll see you later.”
Maisie smiled back, and felt lighter than ever as she left.
Tamheed tapped her pen anxiously against her notepad. Stella had told her Josh would be back ten minutes ago, but sitting in his office alone she couldn’t help watching the door that connected to the Oval. Josh’s meeting with the President must have overrun. Had such things happened this often with President Seaborn? She had never understood marriage, but maybe it was difficult to have your spouse in the next office over and not give one another too much of your time.
The door opened, and she snapped her gaze back to her notepad, trying to look as if she hadn’t been getting impatient. Josh closed the door behind him, giving her an awkward smile as he settled into his chair.
“Sorry. Have you been waiting long?”
“Not at all.”
“The assassination. Josh, we know more than we’re saying, right?”
“There’s not much I can tell you,” he hedged.
“Okay, but - we do know things, right? We are making progress? Because it feels like we’re just trying to cover up that we know nothing.”
“We all loved him, Josh.” She paused for a moment. She hadn’t really had time to stop since it had happened, and now that the words were spoken aloud, she needed to dwell in them for a second. She had loved President Seaborn, she had given up a lot to serve at his pleasure. “Look. We can’t know the details, fine, but whoever killed our President-”
“Do you think I don’t care?” he demanded, suddenly aflame. “He was my best friend. Do you think I don’t - God, Tamheed, I have to look his wife in the eye every day! His children!”
“Josh,” she pleaded.
“We know things. We know a lot, but not enough. Okay?” He was speaking through gritted teeth and Tamheed shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“Good. Don’t say a word to the press other than ‘ongoing investigation’. You can go.” Josh stood pointedly, and she had no choice but to mirror him, and exited without another word.
“What happened to ‘Mr Vice President’?” Will complained good-naturedly, leaning back in his chair. “How’s your day going?”
“It’s going,” Elsie said, which was as good an answer as he’d had out of her since Sam’s death. “Listen, uh - something happened this morning.”
“Something I should be in the loop on?”
“One of the Communications interns was in the Outer Office this morning and she heard Josh and the President fighting,” Elsie shot out in a hurried whisper. “Josh doesn’t want her to go to Israel because of Gaza. And Maisie was ordered to stay silent.”
“Will she? I mean, she told you."
“She came to me,” Elsie agreed. “I told her it’s out of her hands and she accepted it. She’s a sweet kid, I don’t think she’ll say anything.”
“Okay. Well, thank you for telling me. I know you’re uncomfortable-”
“If you don’t trust Josh, I don’t trust Josh.”
“He’s too secretive. Too protective. If he keeps me away like this forever I can’t do my job, and that’s going to damage Donna.”
“The President,” Elsie corrected on reflex. “Okay. Well, I thought you should know.”
“You say Josh thinks Donna - the President - won’t be able to cope?”
“She wouldn’t be the President if she couldn’t cope. Our President would never have put her in that position, and if Josh didn’t think she could do it he would have stopped it. But - I can only imagine that an experience like that would change a person. You knew her best after Gaza. What do you think?”
“Even if she’s not fine,” Will said, “she’ll have to be.”
“And you’re certain Jeffords is our man?” Josh pressed, leaning forward on the desk. Donna, from her seat, shot him a look, and he took it down a couple of notches, but didn’t take his eyes off the Director Hannigan.
“Positive,” he said firmly.
“Then make a move. Why the hell won’t you people make a move? You’re going to-”
Donna kicked his shin under the table.
“We need him, sir,” Hannigan answered calmly. “Intelligence suggests even he doesn’t know who he’s working for, and until we find out, we can’t tip him off that anything’s wrong.”
“So,” Donna said, “you want to keep him on my detail?”
“Yes, ma’am. He’s waiting for something before he makes a move, and this way we can keep an eye on him up close. My team know to be on the lookout; your detail is as strong and as safe as ever.”
“Thank you, Director,” Donna said, standing, and the room stood with her. She exited, Josh close behind her, and didn’t look to him until they were enclosed in the Oval with nobody to bear witness. Then she whirled on him.
“What the hell was that?” she demanded.
“My job,” he fired back, “it’s my job to protect you, and I do not like this guy being so close.”
“This is not your job. This is not professional, Josh, not a single person in there was thinking of you as my chief of staff, they were coming damn close to not thinking of me as their President! They see a husband protecting his wife and it undermines me, you know it undermines me, you know perceptions almost better than anyone.” She fixed him with a glare, but there was a look in his eyes that made her want to soften. She went to him then, laying a hand on his arm and caressing gently. “I know you’re scared. But you’re not scared of losing the President, you’re scared of losing your wife, and Josh-”
“I know.” He held her gaze, unmoving, seeking no further contact but the honesty of her eyes. “You’re right. I don’t - this isn’t working, is it?”
“Josh,” she sighed.
“Donna.” He leaned in, a little tentative, to press a soft kiss on her lips. “I thought we could draw the line, but it’s getting harder. Do you-” he hesitated anxiously - “do you think so?”
“I don’t want to think so,” she murmured, and entangled their hands. “But, um, right now we do have to talk about Israel.”
“Right.” With some effort, Josh visibly brought himself back into a professional mode, and they sank into one of the couches, side by side. “As far as the committees are concerned Noah can tag along.”
“Do you think I should take him?”
“Guess we shouldn’t wrap him in bubblewrap. He’s a smart kid,” Josh said, which meant, essentially, yes.
“Then I’ll take him. Up his detail for a few days, and of course he won’t actually leave our party.”
“Right. Uh, I - I really hate to bring it up so soon, but Jeffords.”
“He’s not coming on the trip. It’ll put us all a little more at ease.” She smiled at him, and some of the tension seemed to leave him.
“Good.” He fidgeted. “Donna - I really do think I need to step down.”
She leaned into him a little, and his arm wound across her shoulders. “I hate to say you’re right.”
“It needs to be a slow process. Don’t want the voters thinking it’s a snap decision.”
“I’m going to miss you,” she sighed, snuggling into his side a little.
“You'll find a replacement you trust?”
He grinned. “I’ve got your back.”
She twisted around to kiss him. “I’m glad. Now, come on, I need you to help me pack.”
Noah stared around him as he made the journey down the stairs from Air Force One. Israel - he was here at last.
It didn’t look how he’d imagined. It looked almost like America, even, just here. This was where he’d been born, the son of woman named Rivka and a man he’d never know.
The son of Donna and Josh Lyman, he reminded himself sternly. Rivka was nothing more than a distant cousin of Dad’s. If she was more he’d have to find her, so she couldn’t be.
Maybe she was here.
um, I'm a little sheepish at taking two and a half months to write this. furthermore, most of it was written at 1am, so I'm not sure how decent it is. all the same, feedback is love, feedback is food, please let me know what you think!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
February 10, 1945
“Where will you go?”
David Frenkel shook his head, shuffling closer to the campfire and drawing the blanket close around him. “I don’t know. Father’s gone, and now there’s nothing to hold me. Poland isn’t my home any more.” He spoke in Yiddish, an act of defiance against a world that had tried to remove them. “Maybe I’ll go with you. Where did you send your wife and child?”
His brother hesitated, but they were safe now. “America.”
“America.” David smiled. “Your little Salome must be almost grown by now.”
“Shell be twelve. She won’t know me.” Jacob looked away for a minute. “Miriam thought it best I didn’t know exactly where they went, in case there was trouble. But she spoke of a cousin in Connecticut. That’s where I’ll go.”
Noah lay back on the pillows of the guest room assigned to him in Beit Aghion, squashing his cellphone between his shoulder and ear. "It isn't the same. I know you mean well, but you can’t understand.”
Matt’s exasperated voice floated through the line. “I lost my dad, you know.”
“I know. But you knew him. All I have is Rivka's first name, and her father’s first name, and that she was very young when she had me, and she decided to leave me in America and come back here. You got to know Sam Seaborn, who liked Dickens, sailing, and Gilbert and Sullivan. You got to know what he was like when he was angry, when he was sad, when he was excited, you got to be with him. I know the last few months have been hard for you, but it’s not the same as Rivka.”
“You didn't miss out on parents, Noah. Josh and Donna are everything to you that my parents are to me. Rivka’s your mother, but she's not your mom, you know?”
“I know. I know who my parents are, but Rivka’s - like, a piece of me. When I'm sick, and they pray for me at temple, they call me Noah ben Rivka. When I’m called to the Torah, they call me Noah ben Moses. Moses was Rivka’s father and that's all the information I have on the person who gave me his name. But I’m not Noah ben Joshua.”
“I guess this is a bad time to ask you to explain all that to me again.”
“Yeah.” He scrubbed his eyes and kicked the end of his mattress, which felt a little satisfying. “I’m missing this whole part of who I am as a Jew, and I want to know where she is. I want to meet her.”
"And you think that being in Tel Aviv will make that happen.”
“It’s a good place to start, right? Some military clerk is going to look into her records for me. I had an aliyah at temple the other day and the Israeli press made a meal out of it, so who knows? Maybe she knows I'm here.”
Max tore the page from his typewriter, screwed it up, and tossed it in the trash.
This was the very reason he owned a typewriter. It was extremely satisfying to have something to throw when he wasn’t getting anywhere.
Not as satisfying as getting somewhere, of course.
He swore under his breath and started to type again.
“In a world of environmental protection policies,” a booming voice announced from the doorway, “one man seeks to destroy decades of work and waste an entire forest’s worth of paper.”
He squinted at Elsie. “That’s kind of wordy.”
“Yeah, I need to work on that.” She flung herself onto his couch, not bothering with such formality as an invitation. “State of the Union?”
“Trying to be.”
Elsie reached into his wastepaper basket and unscrewed a page, reading as Max typed. “Wow,” she said, “this is bad.”
“You’ve got a better idea?”
“Nope.” She kicked off her shoes and rested her stockinged feet on his coffee table. “I can’t get her voice. I keep getting halfway through and realising I’m writing for President Seaborn.”
“Maybe we need to watch some tapes of her older stuff.”
“Let’s call it for tonight. We’re sitting down with Josh and Violet first thing to go over policy. Maybe a fresh look will help us out.”
“Yeah,” Max sighed, “you’re right.”
Elsie threw a scrunched-up paper ball at him. “For your own peace of mind,” she said, grinning, “destroy these.”
May 15, 1948
New Haven, Connecticut
“Uncle David!” Salome burst through the maternity ward door, waving a rolled-up newspaper. “Uncle David!”
Her uncle glared at her, and she realised too late that her cousin had been sleeping. The baby acknowledged her presence with a loud wail that went on for ages, and Aunt Esther was angry with her. But she didn’t care. “Look,” she said when the baby finally stopped. She unrolled the newspaper, and they looked, and then Aunt Esther wasn’t angry any more. Israel was a nation again, all its own, there was a Jewish nation in the world.
“We should go,” Uncle David said. He looked at the baby and then at Aunt Esther. “Great thing happens on day of daughter’s birth. Is a sign. We should go.”
Salome thought he just didn’t like America much, but Aunt Esther said it was a sign too, and suddenly she felt like she shouldn’t be there, so she waited till they had gone quiet over the baby again, and slipped out of the room in silence.
“Education reform was high on President Seaborn’s agenda for this year and we intend to see it through,” Josh said, glancing up at the others in the office as he spoke. “We sat down with the President on Saturday and discussed what would be realistic goals to set so that we can keep moving forwards. We’re going to take it slow and ease people in.”
Violet took up the story. “Our first step is a cap on tuition pricing. Our students are paying an average of $136,000 for a four-year college education, and we can bring that down to make it affordable. The President herself was unable to finish college because of financial concerns, and this is a matter very important to her. We want to bring in a tuition cap of $12,500 per year.”
“It’s important we don’t get ahead of ourselves; we can reach a deal but we cannot make promises we can’t-”
A knock on the door interrupted him, and Stella poked her head inside. “Turn on CNN,” she said urgently, “it's Alice.”
Max grabbed the remote and turned on the television, and there Alice was, onstage at some rally with thousands of students hanging on her words.
“We cannot compromise on this,” she was saying, “we cannot allow our government to withhold education for the masses in favour of the wealthy few. Call your congresspeople, call your senators and tell them that their constituents demand free tuition for all. We cannot stand for-”
Stella reappeared. “Get her here?”
“Now,” Josh growled.
“So Malachi said you were talking to some of the military people today,” Donna said casually around a mouthful of coffee in their private suite.
Noah nodded, careful not to look her directly in the eye. “I know military service is obligatory here. I wanted to know more about how that worked. I don’t know if I like it.”
“What don’t you like?”
“Uh… Well. I don’t like the idea of people having no choice in the matter.”
Donna smiled, and watched him focus very hard on his drink. “I know it's hard to understand, but they do make a choice.”
“But why would anyone choose this?” He finally looked at her then, wide-eyed and hopeful, expecting her to make sense of the world for him, but she couldn’t really answer even just this one question.
“Sometimes making a hard choice is the only right thing to do.” She twisted around on the couch to look her son in the eye. “It was a very hard choice to accept the vice presidency. I agonised over that for days, I didn’t want to put you and Jackie in that position and I didn’t want to take on that responsibility. But Sam needed me, and the country needed me. I knew I was the best person for the job, and so I set aside my selfish reasons and made a very difficult decision to do the right thing.”
“How did you know it was right?”
“I trusted Sam,” Donna said quietly. “He knew I hadn't planned for it and he knew he was asking me to make a sacrifice, and he wouldn’t have asked me if he hadn’t really needed me. What I wanted was less important.”
Noah nodded, and stared at his drink for a minute. Then he jumped up and hugged her quickly - “Thanks, Mom” - and ran out of the room.
Josh entered his office, banged his head on his desk a few times, and called his wife.
“Bad day?” she asked sympathetically.
“Alice gave a speech this morning professing that Sam was committed to ending tuition fees altogether by the end of his presidency.”
“She’s rallying students to storm the House and Senate. For the love of God, I know he wanted to do it, but he knew damn well it wasn’t going to happen! We discussed this, we had a plan!”
“Okay, Josh, honey, you need to stop and breathe for a second, okay, before you cut off all the oxygen to your brain and really drop off the deep end.”
Josh sighed. “Alice is coming by this afternoon, Elsie’s going to help us figure out a way to walk it back without compromising our policies. It’ll be totally forgotten by the State of the Union.”
“Keep me posted, okay?”
“Yeah.” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, blocking out the world for a minute. “How's Israel?”
“Talks are going really well,” she offered.
“Can we talk about anything other than work? How’s Noah’s secret search going?”
Donna’s laugh floated through the line. “Seems to be good.”
“You didn’t ask him?”
“Well, I was sneaky about it.”
“Ah. And what’s he doing?”
"I don’t know, some military aide’s looking into Rivka’s records. I didn’t want to press him.”
“Press him? He’s a kid! You can’t let him do this on his own.”
“I’m a little busy with negotiations to be babysitting a sixteen-year-old who’s doing nothing wrong. Josh, you’re being ridiculous. If he wants to find Rivka, why shouldn’t he try? She’s his mother.”
“You’re his mother! And what if he does find her? What then?”
“Then she’s in our lives as much as she and Noah want.”
“I don’t know how we can do this.”
“Neither do I,” Donna admitted quietly. “But we can do it.”
October 6th, 2013
Rivka tightened her grasp on her baby as she stared at the strange man.
“It’s okay,” he said, offering a smile. “I’m Josh. I’m Salome’s son, I’m here to take you home.”
“Salome did not want to come herself?”
“My mom doesn’t get around as well as she used to. Is this your boy?”
“This is Noah,” she said, and shifted him so that Josh could see.
“He’s tiny. Four weeks, right?” Josh reached out to touch him. Noah’s fist curled around one of his fingers. “Did you know my father was named Noah?”
“Salome has been so kind to me these last few months. I wanted to honour her, and this was the best way I knew how.”
Josh smiled. “She will be honoured. Come on, she's excited to meet you both.”
He went with her to baggage claim, and laughed when she pointed out the big pink Hello Kitty suitcase. “Is this for real, how old are you?”
“Sixteen,” she said. Josh stared at her again, looking a bit horrified. She grinned at him. “It is fine. I took care of us. Which way do we go?”
“Uh, this way.” He took her suitcase and led her to his car, which was fancy and spacious and had a car seat for Noah already in place. "My wife is gonna be there with my mom when we get there, I hope that’s okay. She’s pretty excited to meet you and the baby too.”
“You have a wife.” Rivka glanced sideways at him. "Do you have children?”
“No.” Josh stared straight ahead at the road, even though people actually seemed to obey traffic laws here. “We wanted them, but, you know, circumstance intervened, and now it’s too late. But we have plenty to occupy us. Donna’s a Congresswoman, and she takes it more seriously than most.”
“I was President Santos’s Chief of Staff. Right now he and I are working on opposing President Edgeworth’s more damaging work, and I’m writing a book, ‘cause that’s what a politician does when he’s in between real jobs.”
“I see,” Rivka said. She turned in her seat to look at Noah, sleeping soundly. How could it be that people like Josh and his wife, who did good work and so clearly longed for a child, would not be gifted with one, and yet she herself was?
Noah sat with the cleric in a quiet corner .
“Rivka Melamed served in the army as a truck driver between 2015 and 2016 as a truck driver. She grew up with only her father, Moses Melamed, who died when Rivka was fifteen. It was said of Rivka by her comrades that she kept to herself, but was not especially unhappy to do so. Now-” He stopped, and looked Noah in the eye. “I am sorry I cannot give you the news you wish to hear. She was killed by a roadside bomb.”
“…that the debt crippling our students is unacceptable…”
“…will only lead to a broken workforce…”
“…a divided economy…”
“…that forces the poor to remain on the lowest rung of the ladder.”
“Good,” Elsie grinned, waving an arm at Max’s typewriter. “Get it down.”
Max typed. “It is my firm opinion…”
“That we must act quickly…”
“…and take immediate action…”
“…to ensure that all students have an opportunity for an equal start in life. Therefore I ask you all, for the sake of your children…”
“…for the sake of our future…”
“…petition your senators and representatives. We must act before the President’s term is over…”
“…and end tuition fees once and for all.”
A cough in the doorway alerted them. Violet and Josh were standing there - and they did not look happy.
So one of the reasons I struggled with this chapter was in trying to research around Judaism, so that every time the story changed, I had this whole slew of new things to read up on. And I've learned a whole lot of interesting stuff, but I'm religious myself and I know that what it says on the internet is not necessarily a good guide for the way things actually are. So I apologise for any errors on that front, if you see any please let me know, and if any of you fine folks are actually Jewish and would be willing to answer questions from time to time I would pledge you the firstborn child I don't intend on having. Much love!
Um, how many months has it been since I updated? Oops. Sorry...
Jude walked through the lecture hall quickly, scanning the room, and slid into the right row when he spotted the person he was looking for.
“Alice,” he whispered, ignoring the glare of the professor, “someone gave me this for you.”
He handed her a sealed envelope.
“I don’t know.”
Alice shrugged and tore it open to reveal a letter written in cut-up words from magazines. Jude, watching curiously, laughed.
“People still do that?”
“I guess so. Hate mail doesn’t normally make it all the way to me.” She grinned at him. “This could be fun.”
She skimmed the letter - general ranting about how the Democrats were ruining the country and her own attempts to make tuition accessible were everything wrong with the country - but when she reached the last paragraph, she went very still.
it’s too late to run and it’s too late to hide. we will not let you tear this country down. just like your daddy its time for you to die.
“Who gave you this?”
“I - I don’t know, it was in my locker. Am I going to have to talk to the Secret Service?”
“No.” Alice folded the letter and shoved it in her pocket. “It’s fine. Nobody needs to know.”
Elsie held her hands behind her back, anxiously looking around the Mural Room, anywhere but Violet’s face as she ranted.
“-the idea that you could ever go behind Josh’s back, behind the President’s back-”
“Hey, this is what the President always wanted,” Max interjected before Elsie could stop him. Violet rounded on him furiously.
“Are you referring to President Lyman? Because this is nothing like what she has asked for. Or are you referring to President Seaborn, who knew full well he would never achieve this within his presidency? He had specific plans for getting us on the road and drastic action like this will tear the whole thing down! How you could - both of you - be so abysmally stupid as to throw away his legacy-”
“Okay,” Josh’s quiet voice said from the doorway, making all three of them jump. “Elsie, Max, you’d better get writing. I want to see the section we’ve been expecting by senior staff. Go.”
Elsie and Max disappeared with no need for more. Josh closed the door behind them and sat down on the couch. Violet hesitated for a second, and then followed suit.
“You’re even more pissed than I am about this,” he observed neutrally. Violet shook her head.
“Education was the President’s highest priority for this term. This was so important to him. I don’t understand how they can throw it away.”
“They’re thinking farther ahead than they should. We’ve all done it. Or do I need to remind you about the healthcare incident?”
She glared at him, and he smiled. “I thought not. Look, Violet, it does matter - but you can’t take it too personally.”
“But nobody does!” she exploded. “Nobody cares any more about the President’s legacy, or making sure we do what he planned to - I mean, I know the President is keen to finish what he started, I don’t mean that - but nobody cares any more. It’s like - he just died and then-” she broke off suddenly, looking away from him.
“Oh,” Josh said softly, “this is about Sam.”
She pressed her hand against her mouth, containing the tears that might have come, and nodded.
“You were in the room with him,” Josh remembered. “You watched it happen.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“What - what was it like for him? Was he - God. Was he in pain?”
Violet hesitated. “He was in pain, but I don’t think he was scared. He was… determined. Prepared.”
Josh let out a soft laugh. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s Sam.”
Elsie glared at the doorway. “Unless you’re a speechwriter with a free afternoon, don’t talk to me.”
Maisie took a slight step backwards. “The Vice President wants to speak with you. He’s waiting on line one.”
Elsie’s glare did not soften. “Tell my brother he’ll have to wait.”
“Fine,” Elsie huffed. “Put him through. Tell Max I’ll be there in five minutes and he had better have something good for me.”
“Close the door.”
Maisie obeyed and vanished. Elsie grabbed the phone.
“Well, thanks for screwing me over, Willie.”
There was an awkward silence on the line. “Please hold for the Vice President,” Will’s secretary said.
Elsie banged her head on the desk.
“Elsie,” Will’s voice came over in jovial tones. She glared at the phone. It failed to burst into flames.
“You screwed me over,” she said.
“The education section?”
“Why did I listen to you? I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Did Josh freak out?”
“Violet freaked out. Josh was calm.”
“What the hell kind of game are you playing? I could have lost my job, Will.”
“Which would have created stories about the President trying to shut me out.”
“What the hell kind of good would that do?”
“Elsie, I can’t bring you in on everything right now.”
Elsie slammed her fist down on the table. “Then you won’t have me in on anything. Whatever this is that we’ve been doing - if you’re using me to try and bring her down, Will, you and I are done.”
When Alice arrived at the Residence she went straight to her own bedroom, a duo of agents marching behind her and standing guard outside the door. She flung her jacket on the bed and turned, rifling through her bookcase for some light reading before bed.
She squeezed her eyes shut for a second and then turned, smiling. “Hey, Jackie, how’s it going?”
“Good,” she said cheerfully, entering without invitation and jumping up onto the bed. “Is it true your uncle’s really mean?”
“Jacqueline,” Alice objected, laughing in spite of herself. “You shouldn’t say things like that. Uncle Elliot is… he’s very traditional.”
“You mean he’s a Republican?”
“Then why is Daisy letting him come here?”
“Wouldn’t you miss your brother if you only got to see him once a year?”
“It’s been a week since I’ve seen Noah, and I’m doing okay.”
“You know, I was actually getting ready to go to bed. You can interrogate me in the morning.”
“It’s only nine,” Jackie complained.
“Well, then, isn’t it time you were going to bed?”
“Alice, I’m nearly twelve.”
“What’s this?” Jackie held up a piece of paper that had fallen on the bed, all too familiar to Alice.
“No, don’t look at that, it’s-”
“Is this a death threat?”
“Shhhhh!” Alice flew across the room and pressed a hand over Jackie’s mouth, looking anxiously towards the doorway. “You can’t repeat that, understand? You’re not to tell anybody.”
Jackie stared at her, and then looked to the door. “Your agents don’t know?”
“No, and they don’t need to. It’s just a game someone at school is playing, I don’t need the world going into crazy overdrive.”
“Alice,” Jackie said seriously, “I think you should tell my dad about this.”
“He doesn’t need to know. And I want you to promise not to tell him.”
Jackie made a face. “I don’t know. This seems bad.”
“It’s nothing. You won’t be in trouble, okay? You have to promise me, it’s our secret, okay?”
“Okay,” Jackie said, “I promise.”
Josh Lyman was not one to remain calm in the face of ineptitude, but there was something about this whole matter that didn’t seem right, and he didn’t want to miss it just because he was too busy yelling, so he was careful to contain himself as he read over the draft Elsie had finally brought him. She stood a few steps from his desk, watching him, and not for the first time he wondered what the hell had gotten into her in the first place.
He finished the section and handed it back to her. “Good,” he said, “this is the direction we’re going in. Keep it up.”
“Thank you,” Elsie said, but didn’t budge despite his cue.
Elsie opened her mouth, then shut it again.
“Elsie, for God’s sake.”
“Have you spoken to the President about this?” she asked in a small voice.
He met her eyes. To her credit, she didn’t flinch, but given the circumstances he didn’t think that was very much of a credit. He left a pause long enough to make her squirm, and then took pity.
“No,” he said. “This doesn’t go on the President’s desk. It doesn’t go further than the four of us.”
“I just thought you might…”
“Might tell my wife?”
Elsie tried for a smile. “Something like that.”
Josh hesitated. “Sit down,” he said eventually, indicating the chair in front of his desk. “Come on, I won’t bite.”
“It’s not easy to find the balance when you have a working and a personal relationship, especially here. I guess you know all about that.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Elsie admitted, “but it isn’t what you do.”
“No, it’s not.”
“How do you keep a balance?”
Josh appraised her for a second. “We don’t mix work and personal more than we have to. But it’s hard to do, and - I’m showing you my hand a bit here, Elsie, I’m trusting you not to tell anyone. I’ll be retiring in a couple of months. If I can’t serve the President and my family at the same time, I have to make a change. Do you understand?”
Elsie looked at Josh, really looked at him:
“Yeah,” she said slowly, “I think I do.”
Violet sank back in her chair and rubbed a hand over her eyes. Having Josh see her lose it like that – well, at least it was Josh, and not anybody else; and at least he understood, but she was mortified. Sam Seaborn had meant the world to her, he’d been her President, and as much as she admired and honoured Donna Lyman, it just wasn’t the same.
A hesitant knock on the door forced her to sit up. She had learned from Josh; she could scare away whoever she needed to. But the door opened and revealed Jackie, looking small and nervous and ready to flee. Violet forced a smile and leaned forward.
“Come on in, honey,” she said, blinking quickly, “what can I do for you?”
“I’m not sure if I should tell,” Jackie admitted. She closed the door as she entered and slipped into the big chair on the other side of the desk, seeming tinier than ever. “I promised I wouldn’t tell Dad. But you’re not Dad.”
“Who asked you to make that promise, sweetie?”
Violet exhaled. “Oh, honey, I’m sure Alice knows better than-”
With shaking fingers, Jackie slid a piece of paper across the desk. Violet looked down at it and read, carefully, all the way to the bottom.
just like your daddy its time for you to die.
She folded the letter neatly, stood up, and reached for Jackie’s hand.
“We’re going to see your father.”
“…so it’s really been a good trip. I think we’ve got a future here.”
Josh grinned at the phone. “I’m glad to hear it. And, uh, sorry. That I freaked out on you before. I should have known.”
There was a smile in Donna’s voice as she answered. “It’s sweet of you to worry. I understand why you did, Josh, I was a little nervous, but – nothing happened. It might have done, but it didn’t.”
“I know.” It hadn’t been about Donna’s fears at all – not really. The weight on his heart – the fear that something terrible was going to happen while she was away – that was all him. Even all this years later, even after seeing her make a full recovery with only a stiff leg if she stood for too long, he lived in fear of something going wrong. “It’s all me.”
“Josh,” she sighed, but then a voice in the distance called her away. “I have to go,” she said. “I’ll be home tomorrow. We can talk then. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” he said, and hung up the phone.
And something went wrong.
“Violet,” Jackie pressed, running along the corridor to try and catch her up. “Violet, no! I promised I wouldn’t tell. Can’t you help me without-”
“No, I can’t! This is so serious. Come or don’t come, but-”
She swung open the door to Josh’s office, uninvited, and froze in the spot.
Jackie ran in after her - paused a second – and screamed.
Josh lay on the floor, hands pressed against his chest, eyes wide and breath nearly gone.
I know it's been three months, but I hope (?) you've all come to accept this from me now. That was a mean place to leave you hanging, though. Sorry!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Air Force One with all its speed and authority still took eleven hours to get from Tel Aviv to Washington. By the third hour Josh was out of surgery; by the tenth he’d woken, briefly, just once, and incoherently, but enough to encourage the doctor - a little.
Now it was hour twelve, and Donna stood at the window of his room in intensive care. Aortic aneurism, they’d said, he would likely recover, and be home within the week, but he was so pale and still, Donna couldn’t help but wonder.
He hadn’t moved since she’d arrived. It was only the monitor beeping out his heart rate - slow, slower than she thought Josh’s heart was capable of.
The sudden voice cutting through the silence startled her out of her thoughts. She spun around to face Ben, hovering anxiously in the doorway. She nodded once, and he slipped into the room, closing the door behind him.
“How is he?”
“No change,” Donna said, drifting towards the bed again, but not looking down. “What do you need?”
“I’m going to cancel your meetings for today. The Vice President offered to take some, but the ones you want to keep we can move back a day or two. The Ambassador-”
“I’ll see the Ambassador today. Who else is on the schedule?”
“The directors of the CIA and FBI, the Secretaries of State, Treasury and HUD, a couple of photo ops, the Office of Protocol - the whole afternoon was blocked out for the State of the Union.”
“I’ll sit down for ten minutes with Elsie and Max and they can carry it on themselves. Protocol can wait. I’ll see Director Jameson and Secretary Warner, the rest can go to the Vice President. If he doesn’t have time for everything, Violet will know which ones are urgent. I want to be back here by two.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll have the motorcade ready.”
“Have Daisy bring the kids up to the waiting room before we go.”
Ben nodded and vanished, closing the door quietly behind him. Then Donna turned to Josh.
“So what the hell do you think this is? You never wanted to tell me about the Ambassador. I didn’t think you’d go this far to get out of it! Was this supposed to stop me? Maybe if you made a big enough scene I’d cancel the meeting? It’s not going to work! So why don’t you give up whatever you think you’re doing and just help me?”
She stopped to breathe. Josh was still and silent; some small part of her had imagined he’d get riled up by the unfair accusations and fight her on it, just like he used to when they were young and it was all they had. But they weren’t young any more, and Josh was thirteen years her senior, he wasn’t far from seventy, and for all he did eat and exercise and rest like the father of two teenagers should, he’d been shot in the chest before, and he had PTSD, and he’d worked himself to the point of sickness a dozen times over the years. She always pushed the thought away, but sometimes she wondered how long she had left with him.
“You better have something to say for yourself when I get back,” she said, and turned to go, and -
what if he doesn’t?
- she flew back to his side, and picked up his hand, and kissed his palm softly. “Don’t you dare go anywhere,” she murmured into his skin, and left before she let herself hesitate.
“No, Mr Secretary, the President won’t be taking any additional meetings today. I can see what I can do to help you myself, or you can talk to the Vice President. No, I’m not going to make those kinds of decisions for her. My office will set up a meeting as soon as it’s possible. Yes, sir. Thank you for your concern. No problem.”
Violet hung up the phone and refrained, barely, from banging her head on the table.
With Josh out of the office and the President too, she was more or less running the White House herself, but without any of the authority that came with his name and position, and it was wearing her down. She couldn’t do his job - who could live up to Josh Lyman? What would happen if he didn’t come back?
And if he died, that was the ball game. The President wouldn’t dream of running again.
He’d been in so much pain. Jackie had screamed beside her.
She had to get back to work.
Violet spent a good two minutes organising work to hand out to the assistant deputies, and then Stella sent her a copy of Josh’s schedule for the day, to see if she could take anything on, and she was back to square one.
She piled on as much of her own day as she could to the assistant deputies - they might hate her for it on a Friday, but that was too bad - and promised to take on about half of Josh’s meetings, identifying quickly which ones she could take, which weren’t important, and which ones he wouldn’t want her to handle. He’d have to make a decision on those when he woke up.
She’d seen him after the surgery, just for a moment; she’d taken Jackie to see that her dad was still alive, but he’d looked so still, so empty, and it was like the President all over again—
She couldn’t keep obsessing over this. She was going to go insane, and for all she cared about Josh, for all he was to her - she had a job to do, and if Josh’s own wife was coming into work at a time like this, she could do her job too.
She needed to go to the Hill.
Violet crossed the office and took her coat from its peg. She slipped it on and automatically stuck her hands in the pockets, and her fingers brushed something. She withdrew a slip of paper.
just like your daddy its time for you to die.
Well. Alice wouldn’t get out of this that easily. Violet reached for the phone.
“The Vice President will be here in five minutes,” Ben said when he brought her coffee, and the reshuffling of today’s schedule meant Donna was allowed some time to think.
The Vice President wouldn’t be a problem. Will hadn’t taken kindly to being left out of the loop on a few things, but he was still Will, still their friend, and he was a damn good VP. He’d do everything he could to help them now - but this particular problem, he couldn’t help with.
The Ambassador to Germany was coming today, and Donna didn’t know a thing.
Years ago, they’d been good friends. And it had been a while since they were really close, but until about six years ago, they’d still been on good terms, still had coffee when they were in the same town. Then a sit-down meeting with Sam and Josh to which Donna was not party had sent her friend away and cut all ties between them. It had been complete radio silence since, with only a clipped, civil, brief exchange of pleasantries at Sam’s funeral.
Josh had always refused to tell Donna what had happened, and he knew, he knew he’d have to tell her what happened now, and he’d left her alone in the dark.
God, she was so mad at him! And she was going to stay mad, because the other thing would take over her day, and she had work to do.
He was never going to put her through this again.
A knock on the door announced the Vice President, and she pushed that thought aside.
“How’s Josh doing?” Will asked before he said hello, and Donna managed to smile as they sat down together on the couches.
“He’s sleeping right now, but they think he’ll bounce back.”
“That’s good, that’s encouraging. He’ll be back at work soon?”
“He’s not coming back to work,” Donna said with absolute finality.
Will raised his eyebrows and leaned forward a little in his seat. “Really? It’s that serious?”
“He’s my husband. Maybe if he were just my Chief it’d be different,” she acknowledged, “but when family and work get mixed up like this…”
“I hear that.”
She smiled at him. “It’s not so easy working closely with your sister?”
“Elsie and I are in a bit of a rough patch right now,” he said matter-of-factly, then fell silent and looked at his lap, uncomfortable.
“That happens sometimes,” Donna offered, sympathy lacing her tone. She and Josh had needed to work together while in the middle of a fight plenty of times before. “It’ll blow over eventually. In the meantime, I think I can manage to trust you.” She gave him a smile, and opened the folder waiting for her. “Let’s get to work.”
The door opened and Noah stepped through quietly, his sister close behind him.
The room was empty. This was intensive care, he remembered, and went to the nearest soap dispenser to wash his hands before he approached the bed.
Dad was so still.
The last time he’d seen Dad this still was when they first brought Jackie home - two years old and always, always screaming - the third day she’d fallen asleep in Dad’s arms and he’d sat there, silent, holding her gently, for hours.
That had been a good still. That still had meant that Jackie really was part of the family now. This still?
When he last saw Dad a week ago, he’d been a mass of nervous energy, containing himself as long as there were cameras about but making a bit of a fuss when they were alone. Mom had snapped at him. He’d given Noah a thousand warnings about how to behave in Israel, and recounted what you were supposed to do when you had an aliyah - it wasn’t guaranteed, but it was more than likely, and it would be the first since his bar mitzvah - and then he’d calmed down a little bit, and talked about all the historical sites he should go to, and all the great things he should do, and made Noah promise to take pictures of everything.
There was a camera in his suitcase, which was still somewhere at the hospital - he hadn’t even been home yet - but he didn’t have many pictures. He’d been distracted looking for Rivka. And Rivka was dead, but Dad might-
No, if Dad was going to die then Mom would have stayed. And the doctor said it was promising. He shouldn’t get upset over things that weren’t going to happen. Everything that was going to happen was upsetting enough on its own.
Jackie had settled into the chair on the other side of the bed, and was holding onto Dad’s hand, and looked calmer than she had before. Noah sat down, mirroring her.
“Dad?” he said, his voice coming out small and uneven. “Um, it’s us. Can you - can you hear me?”
Dad didn’t move.
“They say you’re meant to keep going anyway,” Jackie suggested. “Tell us about Israel.”
Noah stared at her for a second, then looked back down to his father. “Yeah. Okay, Dad, you were right, Israel was really cool. They didn’t let me go out on my own, but I got to see all the memorials, and we went to Independence Hall, I got to talk with a big group of Americans on their birthright tour, and I went to Kikar Rabin, Mom didn’t come but I went, and we took a camel ride out into the desert-”
“Really?” Jackie was staring at him now, wide-eyed. “What are camels like?”
Noah wrinkled his nose. “They smell. And they’re not very comfortable. But it was cool to go.”
“Do you think someday I’ll get to go to Haiti? You got to go where you were born."
“Maybe someday,” Noah said, and then looked back to Dad, and went quiet.
“So I was watching Meet the Press the other day,” Jackie said conversationally, “and I was thinking that Senator Bassett kind of had a point about education spending.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Noah demanded. “He said-”
Jackie grinned at him, and nodded towards Dad. He was twitching a bit.
“See, the problem with the Democrats is that they don’t understand there’s only so much money-”
Jackie jumped forward to the bed. “Daddy? Are you okay?”
Noah didn’t know how his sister managed to stay so calm when she’d been on the verge of hysteria all night.
“Jackie? You here?” Dad mumbled, and then he went quiet again.
“Dad,” Noah said, “are you going to wake up?”
But Dad was asleep again - seeming steadier, now, a little more colour in his skin, breathing a little stronger - he let out a snore, and Noah grinned.
“Jack. Go get a doctor, and - and call Mom. I’m going to stay here, okay?”
Jackie nodded at him, and ran out of the room.
Noah watched the door close. He stood, slowly. “Dad, I think - um, I think I might get most of this wrong. I’m not great at it, but I’m going to try, okay?”
Dad was, of course, silent.
“Okay. Well, my Hebrew is nothing, so I’m going to go for it in English. Um…” He opened the map app on his phone and found the direction of Jerusalem, and closed his eyes.
“May the one who blessed our ancestors,” he said in a shaky voice and on shaky legs, “bless and heal the one who is ill: Joshua son of Salome…”
“And he’s doing better? He knew you? Good, sweetheart, that’s really good news. Thank you for calling me. Is anyone in with him now?”
Donna paused while her daughter answered, and nodded absently at the phone. “Okay. Honey, I’ve got one more meeting, and then I’m heading back over there. Go back and sit with Noah, and if they need you to leave then go find Daisy. Okay? Good. I love you.”
She hung up the phone, breathed a second, and buzzed the intercom. “Ben? I’m ready.”
Ben appeared in the doorway a moment later. “Madam President,” he said, “Ambassador Cregg.”
CJ stepped into the Oval behind him, and he moved out of the way, closing the door as he left. Donna observed from her desk, for a second, and then stood, smiling.
“CJ,” she said, reaching for her and drawing her to the couches, “it’s so good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” CJ said, her warmth laced with a touch of artifice, “Madam President.”
“Come on, none of that. We’re old friends.”
“Right.” CJ smiled briefly, but then leaned forward, elbows on her legs. “I heard that Josh was rushed to GW last night.”
“He had a heart thing,” Donna confirmed. “It’s called an aortic aneurism. They say he’ll pull through. In fact, I just talked to my daughter, he woke up a little bit this afternoon.”
“Oh, that’s good news. Give him my love, if he’ll take it.”
“I will. CJ, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you-”
“What happened between me and Sam?"
“Something like that.”
“Josh never told you?”
“No. He was supposed to brief me today, but…”
“Right.” CJ closed her eyes for a second, then met Donna’s gaze. “I’m sorry if this is hard to hear, or if it makes you dislike me.”
Donna nearly promised it wouldn’t, but she really had no idea what CJ was about to say, and she couldn’t make rash choices. “Go on,” she said.
“That meeting took place right after Wallace was found out.”
“That’s right,” Donna remembered, “it was the next day. I barely saw Josh that whole week.”
“I was Secretary of Homeland at the time. They called me in because they wanted to offer me Vice President.”
“They offered you Vice President.”
“Yeah. I turned it down,” she added, “because I was getting ready to resign. Danny had this opportunity in Berlin and I wanted to step back and take some time off. You know how stressful this work can be. So I started to resign and next thing I knew I was Ambassador to Germany.”
“But you and Sam can’t have fallen out over that.”
“No, not over that. We fell out because he told me his next choice was you.”
The air grew heavy in the silence. Don’t break, don’t break. Donna fixed her eyes on CJ, calm, waiting.
“It wasn’t about you really,” she burst out, “or it was, but - you were doing great work in Congress. You were crossing the aisle and winning more votes than the White House was sometimes. You were going to be wasted as VP - and I wasn’t wrong about that! You didn’t do half as much once you were out of Congress, even though you were working harder. And I don’t need to tell you my objections given your relationship with the President’s Chief of Staff.”
“Given everything that’s happened today, I don’t need to hear those,” Donna agreed evenly. “And yet it worked.”
“It did work. I never doubted you’d do a good job. I just thought we could have gotten along fine with someone empty like - well, somebody like Will Bailey. Of course, I was wrong about what we’d need from a VP. But we couldn’t know that, and if we could have set you up doing everything you were doing against a VP like Will, achieving nothing, and you’d have been the perfect candidate to be running right now.”
“Okay,” Donna said, taking a mental inventory of everything that had come out in that little speech. “Will Bailey is a damn fine Vice President and he has my trust.”
“That’s a mistake,” CJ said.
“I don’t believe it is. And he achieves plenty. He’s not setting himself up for success, he’s getting ready to retire, but he’s good for what he does, and I count on him. And I am the candidate running right now.”
“You haven’t announced.”
“I want to announce after we’ve found Sam’s killer. And there’s something else I’m waiting for. Which you don’t need to know about, CJ.”
“Right.” Donna eyed her and turned to the folder waiting on the desk. “Look, this is my last meeting today, and the sooner we’re done the sooner I can get to the hospital. Tell me what’s so urgent in Germany.”
“Elsie, there’s a call for you.”
Elsie turned a page in the enormous binder and sighed. “Can it possibly wait?”
“It’s the Vice President.”
She sighed. “Max, take over. Everyone, education is a huge priority for this speech. Let’s get it right, okay? I’ll be back in five.”
She followed Maisie from the Roosevelt room and headed to her office to take the call.
“Mr Vice President,” she said into the phone, stiff and calm. “How can I help you?”
“Mr Vice President.”
“Look,” Will said, his voice strained, “I’m sorry, okay? I want you to know that I never meant to make your life more difficult. It wasn’t about that.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Elsie agreed, checking to make sure the door was shut, “it was about getting intel on the President.”
“It was about not trusting Josh, and that was a mistake. I met with the President today and we talked through some things, and - well, I was wrong about Josh.”
“Did she say how he’s doing?”
“There wasn’t any change when we spoke. Not any worse.”
“That’s something,” she muttered.
“Elsie, we’ve always been close, right? I know I screwed you over, but I really wasn’t trying to. You know, the kids miss you, we miss you. We’re family, right?”
Elsie closed her eyes. Will had come close to destroying her career on the premise of we’re family.
Through the window, Josh’s face appeared on the television screen as the newscasters, presumably, discussed his emergency admission to GW. Elsie had spoken to the President for only five minutes today, but she’d looked pale and anxious, for all she focused on the work at hand.
Will was her brother.
“Right,” she said. She could hear Will’s relief through the phone.
“So… can we expect you for dinner tomorrow night?”
He was her brother, but he’d betrayed her.
“Maybe next week.”
It was two on the dot when Donna arrived back in the hospital.
She stopped briefly to see the kids, and sent them on their way to get some dinner. Then she spoke with Josh’s doctor, who confirmed that he’d woken up a few times, more coherent every time, and was starting on the road to recovery.
Then, finally, she was alone with her husband.
She hovered by the bed for a second, then gently pushed his legs aside a little and sat down on the mattress, smoothing the sheets over him.
“How are you doing, Josh?” she asked softly.
He cracked open one eye and looked at her. She shuffled forward quickly on the bed to get closer. “Hi,” she whispered, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You feeling okay?”
“Like hell,” he muttered.
“Yeah, an aneurism’ll do that to you. You’re going to have to cut down on the stress a little, hon.”
“I think retirement’s going to hit you a couple of months early.”
He smiled faintly and mumbled, “Okay,” before closing his eyes again.
Donna rubbed his leg a little longer and then moved to the chair, trying to get comfortable. He was a bit more like himself. She’d get her Josh back. But everything was going to be different now.
Disclaimer: I know nothing about medicine and this is all the result of some intensive Googling. I also know very little about Judaism, and I trust Google a bit less with religion. If anyone reading this happens to be Jewish, and would be willing to talk about it a bit, please let me know!
Hopefully the next thing to come will be another chapter of Nine Hundred Miles Away, and (it's pretty optimistic) it might even come within the next month.
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