by Speranza

Author's Note:  I'm kickin' it old school for the Leo McGarry Ficathon; this story is for atticus.

Part One.

29 Dec 2003. 08:00

Donna Moss refuses to get in a second earlier than 8 a.m. on the first day back from her vacation: it is the only way she has of making the vacation last. But she is at her desk at 8 a.m on the dot, taking off her coat, hanging it up, changing from her snowboots into the pumps that she keeps in the drawer of her desk.

The light is on in Josh's office, and his coat is hanging on the hook. He's probably been there for hours already. Hell, he's probably been there since Christmas.

Ten to one, Josh Lyman never went home at all.

29 Dec 2003. 09:14

"Hey, Josh; it's me, it's Monday, I'm in the office. Call me if you need me."

29 Dec 2003. 11:25

Donna takes advantage of Josh's absence to catch up with herself, to go through Friday and Saturday's mail and all the paper that's accumulated on her desk over the last ninety-six hours, despite the fact that twenty-four of those hours were Christmas Day. There are no days off at the White House, not really. Some poor bastard is always working. Usually it's Josh. Sometimes it's her, too.

When she realizes that she hasn't seen Josh yet, she assumes a Monday morning meeting (the Hill? OEOB? or maybe even down the hall, because they're gearing up for the second Inaugural, and Josh has certain policy initiatives he wants Toby to hit hard in the speech) and she goes to see what's on Josh's schedule for lunch. There's nothing—not a single damn thing on that piece of paper. And that's odd, because while Josh doesn't keep anything like an accurate calendar for himself when she's not around, he usually tells her when he's not in the White House, and he often scrawls in the blanks things like, "11 AM—Proctology Exam" or "2 PM—Wet t-shirt contest" or simply: "5:30 PM—Murder!" But there's nothing for today, nothing for the weekend, nothing for Christmas. The last item on Josh's schedule was written Christmas Eve, and it's in Josh's own surprisingly neat handwriting. Fixing the roof , it says. Beside it is one of Toby's pink rubber balls.

Donna is just about to follow up on this when the phone rings and it's Ginger, wanting to know if she's free to go down to the mess. Donna's about to say yes when she realizes that, hey, wow, technically there's nothing to stop her from actually going out to lunch—Josh can't say she's playing hooky if Josh hasn't bothered to let her know where he is—so she pitches the idea to Ginger. Ginger tells her to hang on, and then a moment later, says, in a whisper that Donna knows well (she's afraid to be jinxed!) that Toby's in a meeting that should go at least another hour, and so she and Bonnie can—

Five minutes later, they meet in the hall in their coats, and they're giggling like schoolgirls.

29 Dec 2003. 12:30

When they come back from P.T. Buck's (where she had a really nice grilled chicken salad and a glass of Chardonnay, because what the hell), Donna stays behind at the desk to ask Larry if Josh has come back to the building. "Back?" Larry says, with a frown. "I don't think..." and then he's checking the log, first the handwritten one on the desk, and then the computer scans of their ID cards, until he finally says, "Mr. Lyman hasn't been in today," and hey, that's surprising.

"Really?" Donna asks. "God, what time did he leave last night?"

Larry does more hunting and pecking on the keyboard, and then says, "03:00 hours. No, wait, Donna, I'm sorry: that was 0300 on the 27th, so—early Saturday morning. He didn't come in yesterday, and he hasn't been in today."

Donna dials her cellphone on the way to the bullpen.

29 Dec 2003. 12:37

"Hey, Josh, it's me—where the hell are you? It's...mm, after twelve-thirty on Monday morning—and you're not here! Where are you? Don't tell me you got a life while I was away. Call me when you get this."

29 Dec 2003. 14:30

"Josh, it's me again. Just trying to find you. Call me when you get this."

29 Dec 2003. 14:48

Donna tucks the phone into her ear and says, "Hey, Margaret. It's Donna. Do you have any idea where Josh is keeping himself today?"

She hears Margaret shuffling through papers, and then Margaret says, "I don't have anything. Wait, hang on, let me ask Leo," and then Donna's on hold. She waits, vaguely irritated and wondering if Josh is mad that she went to a chalet with Jack Reese and is trying to cut her out of the loop as some sort of payback, and then Margaret gets back on the line and says, "Leo says Josh is visiting friends in Virginia."

That's a surprising answer. "Josh has friends?"

Margaret replies, with deep seriousness: "Do you want me to ask where in Virginia?"

"No, that's okay," Donna says.

"Because I can get you a more specific location," Margaret says.

"No, really. That's fine," Donna says. "I just didn't think Josh knew what a day off was. Go, Josh," she says with forced cheerfulness, and hangs up.

29 Dec 2003. 15:30

"Hey....so.... Virginia. They say Virginia is for lovers—so have you met some beautiful, young and neurotic political operative? Come on, you can tell me. I can see you now, holed up with her in a charmingly rustic weekend cabin talking highway policy. [laughs] So, okay: you've had some calls today, but nothing urgent: a lot of people are taking some time off. Including you, apparently. I'm going to go buy a lottery ticket and hope that we don't get that weird meteor memo. Call me when you get this."

29 Dec 2003. 17:30

"Okay, now you're freaking me out. Don't tell me you're out having fun, because you hate fun. You don't know what fun is. If you're asking, and I'm not saying you are, but if you're asking—I had a terrible time with Jack Reese and it's not going to work out. Okay? Happy? I would rather have been out drinking with you at the Hawk and Dove.

"I mean, it's not like you're going to take advantage of me, is it?"

29 Dec 2003. 19:05

At 7:00, Donna's finger is hovering over the speed-dial on her phone, but suddenly she can't bring herself to call, doesn't think she can stand it if Josh doesn't answer the phone. She slowly puts the receiver down, and busies herself for what seems like an unbearably long time, but turns out to be only five minutes, and then she picks up the phone again, and presses the button. It picks up on the fourth ring, and then she hears Josh's voice, ("Josh Lyman: leave a message") and listens to the silence after the beep before gently putting the receiver down, and getting up, and walking down the hall, and right past Margaret, and into Leo's office.

"Where's Josh?" she asks, and her voice sounds calm and reasonable to her own ears.

Leo McGarry is sitting in the warm orange glow of his Tiffany desk lamp, reading a hardbound file at least four inches thick. He slowly looks up over glasses that have slipped down his nose, then pushes the file onto the desk and carelessly tosses his glasses on top of them. "He's in Virginia. I thought Margaret told you."

"Josh hasn't answered his phone for ten hours," she says faintly, because saying it out loud is terrifying: it makes her realize how very, very wrong it is. "Josh has never not answered his phone for ten hours, except—" except when he was shot, but she can't say that aloud, because then it will be true. But she already knows it's true. "He's hurt, isn't he?" she asks quietly. "Where is he?"

Leo gets up out of his chair with quick, jerky movements, and then he's moving swiftly past her and shutting—locking—the door. When he turns, his face is grave and lined and Donna feels suddenly faint, because it's right, she was right, it's all true. "Donna," Leo says in a low voice, but his tone is a warning: it's Keep it together. I can't deal with neurotics. "Josh is in Virginia, he's in a hospital in Virginia," and at that one word, hospital, she thinks she really will faint, because oh God not again. Leo must see this in her face because he says, in a gravelly voice, "He's fine, Donna; it's just a misunderstanding: a mistake—but I'd like to keep this quiet in case people get the wrong idea," and that's crazy, quiet, how can you keep something like this quiet? and Leo's face tightens and he says, "He's in there under a fake name. Nobody knows about this. His mother doesn't know. Just me. And now—you."

"I want to see him," Donna says quietly, but Leo's already shaking his head; fine and well, he can shake his head as much as he likes, but she's got the cards, here. Leo wants to keep this quiet. "I need to see him. You need to take me up there—"

"He wouldn't want that," Leo says flatly, and Donna's heart is pounding with insane fear because of that wouldn't, Josh wouldn't want—not Josh doesn't want. Something's really wrong with Josh.

"You don't know what he wants," Donna replies, a bit hysterically.

Leo just looks at her. "Yes. Yes, I do."

Part Two.

Leo gives in, Leo has to give in, because Donna is flexible and cheerful and a good sport about all sorts of things, but not about this. So Leo nods grimly and puts on his heavy wool coat, and walks Donna back to her desk to get her coat, and by the time they reach the guard's table, Toby Ziegler is standing there with them, hands jammed in the pockets of his winter coat, his face carefully blank.

"What? I'm coming," Toby says, and Leo sighs as they bring his car around.

There is a moment of awkwardness as Donna and Toby jostle each other for the back seat, and then Toby says, "I insist," and opens the passenger side door for her. Leo shoots a dirty look from one to the other of them as he buckles himself into the driver's seat and then they are moving, heading south through the dark December night.

"So where is he?" Toby asks softly.

"A hospital in Virginia," Donna replies.

Toby thinks about this for a moment and then says, "Poplar Grove?" and that brings Leo's head jerking around. "How the hell—" Leo begins, almost angrily, but Toby just says in his soft, understated way, "There's a facility there; Stanley Keyworth works out of there sometimes. Josh thought the name was funny; he said it sounded like a golf course," and then they drive on for a while in silence, the Mercedes bumping rhythmically against the seams of the road. "So is anybody going to tell me what happened?" Toby asks finally, and Donna realizes that she doesn't know herself, except she does kind of know.

"It's a mistake," Leo says in a voice like ground glass. "Actually, it's a mistake compounding an error compounding an accident, but it could look bad for Josh if the wrong people get hold of it," and finally, finally, Leo tells them the story.

They had worked late on Christmas Eve trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East just long enough to fix a church in Bethlehem. At some point, in the early hours of Christmas morning, Leo had gone home. Josh had not, and later on Christmas Day, Josh had phoned him, sounding absolutely gleeful.

"We got it, Leo!" Josh had crowed. "Church repairs are a go, and there's gonna be an evening mass!"

"God, are you still there?" Leo had snapped. "Go home, already. Get some sleep."

But Josh had not gone home, though he had tried to get some sleep; later, Leo had been able to track Josh's movements over the next twenty-four hours pretty clearly. Abandoned blanket on the sofa in Toby's office. Pages and pages of scribbled, nonsensical notes on Josh's desk. Half-empty bottle of Glenlivet.

Bottle of sleeping pills: empty.

"It was an accident," Leo insists, "because Josh called me, he called me at home late the next night to tell me that he'd gotten thank you calls from both Christian and Muslim leaders, and he had some provisional ideas of how to package an infant mortality initiative, but he sounded—loopy. I knew right away that something was wrong, because he sounded so damn loopy, slurring his words, and I said, Josh, stay there, don't move and then he said: 'I can't sleep, Leo. I haven't slept for days.' When I got over there," and suddenly Leo's voice sounds like its scraping his throat, "he was face down on the desk, and there was an empty pill bottle on the..." Leo trails off and stares out through the windshield, though Donna's pretty sure he's not looking at the road. "I called Stanley—we'd just had Stanley in, and just by sheer dumb luck we had him holed up in Washington, and him and me and a couple of Secret Service agents, we smuggled Josh out of the White House and into an ambulance and down to Poplar Grove."

Part of Donna's furious that Leo didn't immediately notify the regular White House guards and have Josh taken to the nearest hospital by White House Express. But another part of her knows that something like this could really ruin Josh, and Leo—well, Leo would do a lot of things before he let that happen.

"So that was the accident," Toby says slowly. "What was the error?" and Leo sighs and explains that Stanley's people did all the normal things they were supposed to do: they induced vomiting and gave Josh fluids and maintained his respiration, but they also gave him a cocktail of diuretics and analeptics. But Josh had an adverse reaction to one of these, something called bemigride, and so they had to give him even more drugs, and by the end of it Josh was bruised, exhausted, and subject to hallucinations.

Under the circumstances, Stanley Keyworth had decided to hold on to him for a couple more days.

"But you could see how that might look," Leo says, at last. "If you didn't know Josh the way we know Josh,"—but nobody says anything to that.

Donna Moss stares out the window, and watches the dark trees streak by.

Part Three.

Leo turns into a long, tree-lined drive but stops well before the small guard house and the high wrought iron fence. He puts the car into park, flips open his phone, and says, "We're outside." Five minutes later, the gate slowly trundles open, and a hand comes out of the guardhouse and waves them through. Leo flashes his brights and puts the car into drive. They pass through the gate and slowly work their way up a snaking path toward what seems to be a large mansion, but just before they get there, Leo takes the right fork in a V and turns them away from the house. They move deeper onto the property, and God, it's dark out here at night, no light at all—and then suddenly there is a light, and there's a smaller building, almost a bungalow, and Dr. Stanley Keyworth is standing on the landing outside the door. Leo pulls up and parks.

"Mr. McGarry," Dr. Keyworth says in what seems to Donna to be a deliberately neutral tone. "I see you brought Ms. Moss and Mr. Ziegler with you—"

"Yeah, well, 'brought' is really overstating the case," Leo retorts. "Donna won't believe he's alive until she sees him with her own eyes, and I don't know what the hell he's doing here."

Toby's mouth briefly jerks in something that could be a smile, but probably isn't.

"Shh!" Donna looks around wildly. "Shouldn't we be—not talking about this?"

"The staff here is very discreet," Dr. Keystone assures her. "We've had movie stars, corporate C.E.O.s, society matrons; people know not to talk. If anyone asks, the patient in this ward is named Franklin Smith—"

"Right." Toby makes a faint snorting sound. "A nice Jewish name."

"We always use Smith as a last name," Dr. Keystone explains. "It's hackneyed, but effective. And we cycle through first names alphabetically: Alison, Benjamin, Charles. Like hurricanes."

"So, what: there's never a Hurricane Irving?" Toby demands. "Hurricane Hershel?"

Donna suddenly can't take any more. "Please," she says, and her voice sounds wrecked to her own ears. "For God's sake: can I see him?" and Toby's face grows long and guilty.

"Yes," Dr. Keyworth says quietly. "Yes, of course."

The bungalow has its own small nurses' station, its own small doctor's lounge, and—off the corridor—private rooms for Poplar Grove's most exclusive patients. Josh's room is carpeted, and has "real" furniture, including a real headboard behind what looks like a real bed—but the bed is contoured and as adjustable as any hospital bed, and right now, the head is elevated at what looks to be about a fifty degree angle.

He is lying in the bed, asleep or maybe unconscious, and Donna finds herself at his side and gripping his hand without remembering exactly how she got here. His hand has an IV needle embedded in it, and taped down with a bit of bloodstained gauze. He is pale, and he has blue-black circles under his eyes, but he's breathing regularly and—well, truth be told, it's reassuring to see Josh getting some sleep: any sleep at all.

Donna squeezes his hand a little; it's very dry, almost powdery. But his forehead is clammy with sweat—the toxins, she hopes, working their way out of his system. He stirs a little, and she snatches her hand back, not wanting to wake him. Dr. Keyworth gestures for them to come out into the hall, and then he waves them into a comfortable little conference room—large mahogany table, comfortable leather chairs pulled around it. There is a coffeepot and a tray of sweets. The door behind them shuts with a faint snick.

"He's really going to be all right?" Donna asks worriedly, and Dr. Keyworth smiles at her reassuringly and says, yes, yes, Josh is going to be just fine. "How soon before you can release him?" and Dr. Keyworth shrugs and says, probably in a day or so; he just wants to make sure that all the drugs have been flushed out of Josh's system, and—perhaps even more importantly—that Josh actually does get a whole lot of rest.

"Whatever happened that night," he says, pouring out coffee for Toby, "was certainly exacerbated by lack of sleep—"

Suddenly Leo's looking angry. "Whatever happened? You said that what happened was an accident complicated by an adverse reaction to the bemigride—"

"That's right, Mr. McGarry," Dr. Keyworth says quietly. "but that doesn't explain why the accident happened in the first place, or why it happened at Christmas. Josh doesn't seem to do well at Christmas."

"It's not his holiday," Toby says, almost belligerently.

Donna looks at each of them in turn, feeling horrified. "I should have remembered. I don't know why I didn't remember. I shouldn't have left—"

"Don't be ridiculous," Leo snaps. "Josh was fine, and you know it. You wouldn't have gone if he wasn't fine, which just proves he was fine," and Donna frowns, because yes, the Josh in her memory had been perfectly fine. A little stressed-out, maybe, but so what else was new, and obviously hoping that she wouldn't actually go to the Washington Inn with Jack, but infuriatingly unwilling to say so. But still— "Jesus, Stanley," Leo is saying, "you of all people know the kind of pressure that we work under, and that it can be a little bit hard to go from sixty—sixty, ha, screw sixty, we're at a hundred and ten miles per hour all day, every day—to zero on a dime. Relax, people say: like it's easy. It's not easy, Stanley."

"I know, Leo—believe me, I know, but under the circumstances, I have to ask the questions," Stanley Keyworth says. "Last year, Josh put his hand through a window; this year, coincidentally, he overdoses on alcohol and pills? What about next year, what happens then: a hunting accident, or—?"

The thunderous look on Leo's face seems to stop him, and Donna feels her own eyes widening, because she's never seen Leo look this furious before. "We're going. I will not entertain—"

"I'm sorry, but I'm afraid that you have to," Stanley Keyworth says quietly. "It's my responsibility to ensure that Josh is getting the care he needs, physical or psychological. If it's just coincidence, fine; if it's not, do you really want to be in the position of wishing you could have done something while there was still time?" He looks slowly at the three of them: at Leo, still furious; at Donna, who has knotted her hands together and is on the verge of tears; and lastly, at Toby Ziegler, whose face still wears an expression of hangdog solemnity. "The three of you probably know Josh better than anybody in the world," Stanley Keyworth says. "So let me ask you: is it possible that Josh would try to kill himself?"

"No," Leo scoffs, like the very idea is ridiculous.

Donna stares down at her twisted hands. "No."

"No," Toby agrees.

"All right, those are your on the record answers," Stanley says calmly. "But you do understand that anything that happens in this room happens in the strictest confidence: Josh isn't even registered as a patient here. I'm just trying to help him. He needs you to help him. So—off the record. Is it possible?"

"No," Leo repeats, almost angrily.

"Yes," Donna says and looks away.

Toby looks down at his interlaced fingers. "Not yet," he says quietly.

Part Four.

"Donna, what do you know that we don't know?" Stanley calmly asks, and she quickly replies, "Nothing. Nothing," but she can't leave well enough alone, and adds: "Just—" And then she really does have to explain. "Just, you don't see him the way I see him," she says, almost apologetically, and she's talking to Leo, but she's looking at Stanley Keyworth; if she looks at Leo she'll turn to stone. "You think you know how hard he works, but you don't: he works like a crazy person, he works like an animal. And sometimes, I catch him off-guard, and he looks—hopeless, like he's trapped and can't escape." She takes a deep breath, briefly closes her eyes, and then says, "So do I think it's possible? Yes. I think it's possible."

Stanley Keyworth nods slowly and then turns his attention to Toby. "But not yet."

"That's right," Toby agrees.

"And why is that?" Stanley asks, sounding genuinely curious.

Toby looks at him stoically. "His mother is still alive."

Donna sighs in relief just as she hears Stanley Keyworth's own soft exhalation, because yes—yes, of course Toby's right: God bless Toby. It wouldn't hold up in court, of course, but it has the feel of incontrovertible fact to anybody who knows Joshua Lyman: after his sister's death and his father's death, Josh would absolutely and positively not do that to his mother.

"Josh, all appearances to the contrary, is a nice Jewish boy," Toby explains, arching his eyebrow. "He's going to take care of his mother, and then he's going to bury her, and say Kaddish for a year, and after that, who the hell knows," Toby's voice is rising, "because he is also a maniac who can't tell the difference between ambition and atonement, and he's going to end up in an early grave—or maybe Secretary of State—or both!"

"Surely not both," Stanley Keyworth replies.

"Have you ever met the Secretary of State?" Leo snorts.

But Toby wheels on him, like he's just remembered that Leo is there. "That doesn't mean he's fine. He wasn't fine, Leo," and suddenly Toby's out of his chair and pacing the length of the small room. "He was thinking about his father. And his sister. Because my father was there, Christmas Eve, in the West Wing, with a pass written out for him by Joshua Lyman. Josh was trying to yenta us together, me and my father—"

Donna lifts her head. "Did it work?"

That stops Toby in his tracks. "Yeah. The interfering bastard—yeah, it did. And while he was messing with my father, you and the President decided to set him up with some Sisyphean tasks—"

"The infant mortality initiative..." Donna says, remembering.

"Yeah, and peace in the Middle East for God's sake!" Toby nearly shouts. "Because that's just what Josh needed, to close out the year with a challenge—"

"We called it off." Leo's voice is hard and flat. "We told him to stop—"

"Yeah, because Josh always listens to what people tell him, Leo! Not a stubborn bone in his body." Toby sighs and half-falls into one of the tufted leather chairs. "All I'm saying is: be careful what the hell you ask Josh for. Because you just might get it—and then how the hell are you going to live with yourselves?"

The door opens and a nurse pops her head in. "He's awake," she says.

Part Five.

Toby waves a dispirited hand at them and says, "Tell him he's an idiot. And that I say hi," and then he's reaching for a donut, his mouth set in comfortably dour lines. Donna is already at the door, but Leo stops her, takes her arm in a firm, almost painful grip, and says, "Let me talk to him first."

Donna nods, and Leo goes past her and follows the nurse across the hall to Josh's room. The door is open now, and the room is lit by means of bedside lamps much less harsh than fluorescents, though a small hutch of monitors is softly beep beep beeping away. Donna hesitates in the hall, one hand gripping the doorframe, and watches Leo's gray-suited back as he moves to Josh's bedside and says, in a gentle voice she's never heard from him before, "Hey. How're you doin', kid?"

She can't make out Josh's answer; it's just a low mumble, though she sees him try to sit up, sees his hand rise to brush at his unruly ginger hair. He's trying to straighten himself up, but he can't, and after a moment he sinks back and his hand comes fluttering down.

"Donna's here to see you," Leo says softly, and this time there's no mistaking Josh's reply, his distinctive, slightly-nasal whine, his flailing hand. "No, Leo, please—" Josh says, and his words are soft and slurred, "—don't, not Donna, not like this—" and she's hurt that Josh doesn't want to see her, "—I don't want her to see me all—" and she's warm and vaguely flattered because Josh doesn't want her to see him like this, even though that's ridiculous. She's seen him look so much, much worse.

"She was real worried, Josh; she made me drive her here to see you—" Leo says, and Donna has never imagined that Leo would stick up for her with Josh, "—she was like a crazy person, I swear to God," and Donna can hear the smile in Josh's voice as he says, weakly, "Yeah, but that's kinda the whole charm of her," and then, more seriously: "Don't let her see me, not like this; not until they let me bathe or shave or—"

"Look, I want to tell you something." Leo's voice is low and serious-sounding. "Which I probably don't tell you often enough, but—you did good, okay? Last week, last month, last year, every day since the—"

"Oh my God!" Josh tries to yell, but his voice is stripped and pitiably weak. "I didn't try to kill myself, I swear to God, I was zonked, I would've done anything to get some sleep—no, not anything," Josh hastily amends, "not anything anything, just the normal, reasonable anythings: warm milk, glass of scotch, couple of Halcions—"

Leo, God bless him, isn't listening; he's almost shouting, talking over Josh's soft, cracking voice: "—every day since the campaign , Josh, you have been my right hand, okay? My right fucking hand," and Donna goes still, and Josh shuts up, because Leo McGarry doesn't use profanity, not ever, and his voice doesn't tremble like that, either. "And the day you lie there lecturing me about scotch and pills is the day I— that's the day—" and Josh sounds young and lost when he says, "God, Leo, I'm sorry," and Leo barks out, "No, I am; I am so, so sorry," and then she thinks she hears the sound of Josh crying—and it has to be Josh, Donna thinks blindly, backing away, because it really, really has to be.

The End

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