So because piratemistress has just watched the fabulous Noel and wanted to read my little post-ep fic, I'm posting it here as it's no longer anywhere else online. So here it is - fic from 2006.
“Come on,” she said, holding his arm and pulling him gently away from the carolers. She couldn’t tell what was going on inside, he was keeping it too well concealed, but his face had that pained, tight expression she’d grown to hate over the past few weeks and she wondered what it was about the singers that disturbed him.
He came with her readily enough, taking a deep breath and letting her guide him through the milling, happy crowd toward the road. He didn’t say much, his silence as eloquent as one of Sam’s speeches; there were very few things that kept Josh Lyman silent, and this was one of them. Donna quelled a flash of anger; sometimes she was glad the bastards who’d done this to him were dead. Other times she wished they were alive, and that she could have half an hour with them in a locked room.
When she stopped at the curb, Josh opened his mouth to speak but she forestalled him. “We’re getting a cab,” she said, spying one and raising her hand.
“Because you drive too fast, and the Metro will be hell this time of night.”
“I don’t drive too fast, and you’ll never get a cab this—”
A cab pulled up and Donna smiled. “You were saying?”
He eyed her for a moment. “I don’t drive too fast.”
“Get in the cab, Josh.”
With a grumble, he did, sliding over the back seat and giving her room to get in. She sat nearer than was strictly necessary, but he didn’t object and she felt the need to be close to him tonight. “George Washington Hospital,” she told the driver. “The emergency room.”
The driver glanced over his shoulder, eyeing them both warily.
“It’s okay,” Josh sighed, “I’m not going to bleed on the seats.”
“I just had them cleaned,” the driver explained around a wad of gum. “For the holidays.”
Josh didn’t answer, just let his head sink back and closed his eyes. With a shrug, the cab driver turned around and they pulled out into traffic. Donna kept half an eye on where they were going and half an eye on Josh. He looked tired, exhausted. She suspected he hadn’t been sleeping well. If at all.
As the cab slowed to a crawl in the evening traffic, the driver switched on the radio. A tinny Christmas classic wailed quietly, filling the silence. Donna had always loved Christmas, the bustle and the tinsel and the forced good will. She didn’t care that it was forced, at least it was good will. At least people were trying, aiming for the best for once instead of putting up with the worst. But this year none of it seemed to matter, it all seemed like exactly what it was – frills and fancy, covering up what really mattered.
And she’d discovered what really mattered that night in the hospital, and gone on finding out in the months of recovery thereafter. Josh wasn’t the only one to have nightmares, but hers involved endless, helpless waiting. And she—
“Turn it off.” He said it very quietly, so quietly she wasn’t sure she heard him right.
“Turn the music off.” He hadn’t moved, still sat with his head back and his eyes closed. But he was in pain, she could see it in his face. “Donna…”
She leaned forward and put a hand on the driver’s shoulder. “Excuse me, could you turn the radio off?” It wasn’t really a request; she’d been around Josh long enough to know how to give orders.
With a disconsolate grump the driver did as she asked and the cab filled with the white noise of the rush hour. Donna sat back, her full attention on Josh now. He still hadn’t moved, and didn’t look much more relaxed. She wanted to ask him if he was okay, but she knew he wasn’t and it seemed like a stupid question. He’d spent all day talking about it, or – knowing Josh – avoiding talking about it, so she didn’t press the issue. Instead, and given the circumstances she thought it was entirely reasonable, she slipped her arm through his and sat quietly.
They’d just turned onto 23rd Street when he spoke. “In my head,” he said softly, “the music sounds like sirens.”
And she remembered the Congressional Christmas party, and the way he’d bolted from the room when the lights came up. Toby had noticed something too, he’d said so after. He’d said he’d seen Josh crying. She squeezed his arm, ignoring the ache in her chest. “You’ll get better,” she said, and hoped it wasn’t a platitude.
“That’s what Stanley said.”
“He’s a very smart man.”
“He said that too.”
The cab turned into the hospital and pulled up outside the ER. An ambulance was parked in a bay, lights flashing. But no sirens. And Josh’s eyes were riveted. Donna briefly wondered if GW was the best place to take him; when it came to memories it couldn’t be good. Climbing out of the car, she hurriedly paid the driver – tipping heavily to compensate for the radio thing – and caught up with Josh who’d wandered away from the cab to study the ambulance.
“Hey,” she said, looping her arm through his again. “This way.”
“I never really noticed,” he said, “how big these things are. I mean, I’ve never really looked at one before.”
“Yeah, they’re pretty big,” she agreed. “Come on, let’s get inside. It’s freezing.”
Again, he let her lead him away, through the double doors and to the reception desk. She hated that reception desk…
“I was told to come here. My name’s Donna Moss. I work for the Deputy Chief of Staff.” Her hands were shaking, her voice trembling. She could feel tears bunching in her throat, threatening to choke her words. “I was told to come here. They said the President’s been shot. You have to let me through…”
Donna cleared her throat, pushing past the memory, and read the nametag pinned to the chest of the burly nurse behind the counter. “Yeah, hi, Maryanne,” she said. “Could you tell your duty manager that I need a doctor to see Joshua Lyman, Deputy Chief of—”
“Donna!” Josh hissed. “What are you doing?”
“We’re at the hospital, Josh,” she explained with exaggerated patience. “And I’m getting you a doctor. That’s why we’re here.”
He gestured at the handful of people waiting. “I’ll take a number, it’s not urgent.”
He walked away. “It’s not urgent!”
What he meant was that it was self-inflicted and that he hated being here at all, wasting people’s time. What he didn’t get was that he was the Whitehouse Deputy Chief of Staff, the one who’d been shot and on CNN’s rolling news for days and days after Roslyn.
“Joshua Lyman?” Maryanne’s gaze darted to where Josh had taken a seat at the far side of the room.
Donna leaned closer, dropping her tone to a conspiratorial whisper. “He doesn’t want to cut in front of anyone, but…”
“He’s the guy who got shot, right?” Donna thought the nurse looked a little star struck.
“Yeah. But he’s fine, he just cut his hand.”
Maryanne nodded and pulled out a clipboard with all the usual insurance forms. “I’ll go get an Attending. You’ll need to fill these in for him, Mrs Lyman, and—”
“I’m not his wife,” Donna corrected hurriedly. “Or his mother. I’m his assistant, Donna Moss.”
The nurse smiled. “I’m sorry, I assumed—” She cleared her throat. “Well, just ask him to fill in these and I’ll go hunt down a doctor.”
“Thank you, Maryanne,” Donna smiled. “The President will be very grateful.”
Eyes wide, Maryanne nodded and hurriedly disappeared down the long, white corridor. When Donna turned around, Josh was glaring.
“What did you do?” he asked as she approached.
“She’s a fan,” she told him, handing over the clipboard. “Can you manage, or do you need me to fill them in?”
He didn’t answer, snatched the clipboard from her and began to rifle through the forms. “I think I can manage to fill in a—”
Outside a siren whooped into life, Josh nearly jumped out of his skin and the clipboard went flying. Donna retrieved it, smiling at the startled drunk on the opposite seat. When she sat back down, Josh had his head in his hands. She filled in the forms and hoped the doctor would hurry.
True to her word, after about fifteen minutes, Maryanne returned with a young kid in a white coat – the doctor? – following. “Ah, this is Doctor Edwards,” she said, talking to Donna but eyeing Josh, who still sat with his head in his hands.
“Thank you.” Donna gave her a warm smile, and made a note to send her an official Whitehouse thank you. And maybe a mug. She put her hand on Josh’s shoulder. “Josh?”
He sat up, looking worse than before. “I don’t want to jump the line.”
The doctor smiled, head cocked to one side, and took in the pale face, sweating slightly even in the cool air. “There’s no line, Mr Lyman. Come this way.” Donna reassessed him instantly; the kid knew what he was doing.
Defeated, Josh followed the doctor, and Donna followed Josh. They were taken to an examination area and Josh was told to sit on the bed. The doctor pulled up a stool and nodded at the poorly bandaged hand, “Let me take a look.”
Josh stared out into the corridor as the doctor got to work. He was embarrassed and Donna wondered if she should leave, let him handle this alone. But she was transfixed by the doctor unwrapping the bandage, fascinated by the nasty cut already showing the first signs of infection… It was almost as if she could see on the outside how he was feeling inside, and that if she walked away now she’d be turning her back on him. Besides, Josh wasn’t talking and the doctor needed someone to answer his questions.
“When did you do it?”
“Three days ago,” Donna answered.
The doctor gently touched the swollen skin, and Josh flinched. “Sorry.” He peered closer. “I think there might be something still in there, looks like glass. I’ll need to give you a local and clean out the wound. I’ll put in a couple of sutures and follow up with antibiotics. It’ll take about half an hour.”
“Thanks,” Donna said. Josh was still staring into the corridor.
The doctor watched him for a moment, then glanced up at Donna. “Ah, Maryanne mentioned that Mr Lyman was involved in a shooting a few months back. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but in some cases there can be a delayed—”
“I broke a glass,” Josh said, still not looking at either of them. “There was a magazine, I pushed it aside…”
The doctor didn’t believe him anymore than Donna did, but there were times and places for the truth and this wasn’t it. The very last thing she wanted was Josh’s mental health on the front page of the morning papers. “We just need you to fix his hand,” she said.
And so he did, with no fuss and little conversation. Whether it was his natural style, or whether he just read Josh well, Donna didn’t know. Either way, she was grateful and put him on her thank you list too. Within half an hour they were ready to go. Ten minutes after that they were in another cab and heading for Josh’s apartment. She’d asked the driver to switch off the music as soon as they’d climbed in, and they rode in silence through the emptying streets into Georgetown.
It wasn’t until the cab drove off and they stood at the bottom of the steps leading up to his building that Josh said, “How are you getting home?”
“Let’s go inside.” She walked up the first few steps, but he didn’t follow so she turned around. “If we have to argue about it, can we at least do it inside? It’s freezing out here.”
He was intransigent. “Did Leo tell you to stay? Because—”
“—because I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Leo didn’t tell me to stay, Josh. And if you don’t get up here and let me in I’ll be found dead in the morning and you’ll be accused of deliberately freezing your assistant to death.”
“Actually, I don’t think that’s a crime in DC,” he grumbled, climbing the stairs and rummaging for his keys.
“You want to risk it though?”
He put the key in the lock, turning it awkwardly with his left hand. “Extreme provocation is a mitigating circumstance.”
Donna didn’t reply, but was pleased to at least hear him talking again. She didn’t know what to do with this silent-Josh. Inside, it was blessedly warm and she waved to the concierge. “Evening, George.”
“Hey, Donna. Good evening, Mr. Lyman.”
“Hey George,” Josh nodded.
George pulled out a handful of letters from under the counter of the small reception desk. “Got some mail, Mr. Lyman.” As Josh took the letters, Donna noticed George’s gaze dart discretely to the fresh bandage. “Happy holidays, sir,” he said as they moved away.
Josh didn’t answer, flicking through the mail, so Donna smiled on his behalf. “Merry Christmas, George.”
“You know,” Josh said as they climbed the stairs, “I just realized this actually isn’t a good time. I have a…a thing.”
Something unpleasant fluttered around inside Donna’s chest, but she kept her face and voice even. “What thing?” A date?
“It’s a…” They were almost at his door now, Josh was fiddling with the keys and slowing to a stop. Donna held her breath. “It’s just—”
And then she got it, because she always got Josh. He was embarrassed to let her in. “Trust me,” she said, taking the keys out of his hands, “it can’t be any worse than my apartment after that time my roommate—”
She stopped as she stepped inside. Perfect. It was as neat and hotel-like as ever, barely lived in. Maybe she’d read him wrong, but that couldn’t be true. She never read Josh wrong. The door closed quietly behind her, she slipped off her coat and hung it up on the peg that had somehow become hers during the three months she’d been all but living here. She was about to make a crack about a coaster being out of place when she saw the window.
The glass was so new it still had stickers on it, and the wooden sash was pure, virgin wood. Never painted. Brand new. A brand new window. He caught her staring and rubbed his good hand over his face, saying nothing as he headed for the kitchen.
So much for the broken glass story. She took a couple of steps closer to the window and saw dark spots on the cream carpet. It looked like blood. Should have used salt, she thought, to get the stain out.
She started guiltily and turned. “Hey.”
He looked at her, then past her to the window and back again. “It wasn’t a glass.”
“I know.” And she tried to imagine him standing there, punching his hand through the window. She couldn’t. Maybe she didn’t want to.
He sighed, looking tired. “Are you hungry?”
“I am. Are you?”
Which was a lie, but she appreciated the effort. “Filomena’s will be open. I’ll order something. Why don’t you go change?”
He nodded and turned away. “No olives,” he said, disappearing into his bedroom.
She gave the order, charged it to Josh’s account – he’d claim it as expenses anyway – and headed to her bedroom. Strictly speaking it was the spare room, but Donna considered it her own and a few bits and pieces of hers were still dotted around the place: a toothbrush (vital), some emergency make-up (also important), a couple of t-shirts she’d appropriated from Josh and a couple of pairs of jeans that he must have thrown into his own service wash because they’d come back neat and pressed. No socks though.
She changed – it felt good to get out of the suit – and padded back toward the kitchen. “Josh?” she called as she passed his room. “I need socks.”
The kitchen floor was cold on her feet as she pulled out plates, silverware and checked the fridge for anything to drink. He had beer, and not much else of anything.
“You owe me socks,” Josh said from the doorway, holding a pair of enticingly woolly socks in one hand. “Every time you come here, you steal my socks.”
“I borrow,” she corrected, taking them from his hands. She dropped onto the sofa to pull them on, glancing up when she realized he was still watching her. “Do you want me to pay a deposit or something?”
He smiled, and it was the first genuine smile she’d seen in too long. “No. You can have them. Merry Christmas.”
“Thank you!” She was smiling, but more because of his smile than the socks. “You’re a very generous boss.”
He laughed his dry laugh, and was on the point of replying when the buzzer announced the arrival of dinner. And so they ate, and talked about work and politics and didn’t mention once the reason his hand was bandaged or why she was staying with him on Christmas eve. And it felt okay, it felt normal. More normal than anything had felt for the past three weeks. Donna found herself relaxing, found herself drinking one more beer than was wise, and found herself studying his face and trying to work out exactly what it was about him that was so compelling. He didn’t have Sam’s perfect features, but there was something – an energy, perhaps – that she found impossible to resist. And it was that energy she’d seen him losing over the past weeks, its force turning inward instead of out, turning self-destructive.
That had been the hardest thing about the whole horrible disaster, to see him knocked so flat. First physically, then emotionally. She felt a sudden surge of emotion and wished she hadn’t had the extra beer.
“Donna? Are you brooding?” he asked suddenly, leaning back in his chair and draining his beer.
Sometimes she forgot that Josh got her as easily as she got him. “I don’t brood. Only guys brood.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Is that a fact?”
“An empirical observation.”
“Hours of research, Josh. Hours.” She stood and picked up her plate. “It’s late.” Almost midnight, and she was exhausted. After the day he’d had, Donna didn’t know how Josh was still awake.
But as he sat forward and studied his empty beer bottle, Donna saw a flicker of anxiety pass over his face and instantly understood. “No work tomorrow,” he said, but didn’t sound thrilled. “And I have some stuff to look over before I go to bed...” He was stalling.
“What stuff?” She headed to the dishwasher and slipped her plate inside. She didn’t clear his away; there were principles at stake, which was why she didn’t bring him coffee either.
“The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Bill,” he said, still fiddling with the bottle. “Leo wants a perspective on it.”
“That doesn’t even go to the floor until March, Josh. You don’t have to read it tonight.”
He gave a half-smile, but didn’t look up. “It’ll help me get to sleep.”
And, not for the first time in the past three weeks, she wondered if he’d been sleeping. “Go to bed, Josh.” She indicated the remains of dinner on the table. “I’ll clear up.”
He looked dubious. “I thought that wasn’t in the job description?”
“I’m not at work.” Reaching down, she took the bottle from his fingers and pulled him reluctantly to his feet. “Go to bed. Santa won’t come if you’re not asleep.”
“You do know I don’t celebrate Christmas, right?”
She pushed him toward his bedroom. “You’ve mentioned it a few million times. Now get some sleep.”
At the door to his room, he turned. “Donna?” The smile was gone. “Thanks, for this. And for— For what Leo said you did.”
Suddenly self-conscious, she began clearing the table. “Anytime.” She could feel his eyes on her. “It’s what friends are for, right?”
After a pause he said, “Right.” There was an odd hesitation in the word that made her look up, but his door was already closing. She stared at it for a moment, then shook herself, finished loading the dishwasher and headed to bed. It had been a long, long day…
Much later, in the dark hours of the morning when everything was silent, Donna woke with a start.
Something thudded to the floor and smashed. Donna shot out of bed. Heart thumping, she reached her bedroom door almost before she was awake. It was pitch black in the apartment and she hit the hall light, half-blinding herself.
Fumbling for a light in the darkness, Donna missed the bedside lamp and knocked over a glass of water. She cursed, quietly, and remembered where she was.
It was silent now, but that didn’t mean anything. She remembered other nights, months back, when she’d woken with a jolt to find that he needed her. Sometimes he’d woken her, other times she’d just known.
“Josh?” She barreled into his room, light from the hall spilling in behind her. The bed was empty. The lamp on his side table was in pieces on the carpet and he was slumped next to it on the floor, ashen in the dim light. Her heart stopped dead.
Sitting in the silent darkness, Donna’s heart raced – half from the memory and half from the sensation that something had just happened and she’d missed it. Uncertainty kept her frozen in place, listening to her own quiet breathing.
Panic paralyzed her. And then a tidal wave of adrenalin broke through and she was snatching up the phone even as she dropped to his side. “Josh?” She shook him by the shoulder, but there was no response. With clumsy, trembling fingers she touched his lips and it seemed forever before she felt a soft breath against her skin. Thank God. Thank God… Still shaking, she hit speed dial and forced herself into professional mode. “This is Donna Moss. It’s Josh, I don’t know what to do…”
She didn’t know what to do. There was no doctor on call tonight, no danger of a sudden complication or infection or catastrophic disaster. And yet here she was, sitting bolt-upright in bed, listening to the silence as if it might tell her something. It was giving nothing away, so she peeled back the covers and slipped out from between the smooth cotton sheets. There’d been no crashing, no smashing of bedside lamps, but there had been something.
The doctor said not to move him, and that he’d be straight over. But almost as soon as the call ended, Josh opened his eyes. He frowned, then groaned. “Damn.”
“Josh? What happened? Did you fall out of bed?”
He lifted a hand, but it fell back to the floor as if it was immeasurably heavy. “I’m not four years old.”
“So you’re sleeping on the floor now?” Donna had swiftly learned that sympathy got you nothing but the door where Josh Lyman was concerned.
There was no answer, just a terse order. “Help me up.”
Donna backed up. “Uh-uh. The doctor said not to move you. You might have damaged something.”
He glared. “The doctor? Tell me you didn’t call him.”
She said nothing.
“You were unconscious on the floor, Josh! Besides, I’d be out of a job if anything happened to you. I’m not taking any risks.”
There was another long silence. He looked pale as a ghost, and more defeated than she’d seen him since this whole nightmare had begun. She didn’t know what to do to help him. She was still racking her brains for something funny, or sensitive or helpful to say when he spoke. He wasn’t looking at her, and he raised his hand clumsily to his face. “I just— I was just trying to get to the bathroom.”
And there was so much anger and humiliation and pain in his words that it almost overwhelmed the professional façade of Donnatella Moss, Assistant to the Whitehouse Deputy Chief of Staff. It took her a moment to gather herself, to be who he needed her to be, but once she was fully in control she held out her hand to him. “We wouldn’t want the doctor to think you’d been drinking, or something.”
“Some chance,” he complained. But he took her hand, and didn’t object when she looped her other arm under his. Carefully, and not very elegantly, she managed to haul him upright. But he was heavy, and woozy, and his knees gave out just as they reached the bed. His dead-weight yanked her down and he collapsed onto his back, gray as dishwater and breathing in short, sharp breaths.
“I’m okay.” His fingers fumbled for her hand. “Just dizzy. I think I fainted. I’ve never fainted before, but I think my blood pressure—”
She pressed her fingers over his mouth. “Josh? You should try not talking. I know it’s hard for you, but just— Stop talking.”
A faint trace of a smile reached his white lips, and then the doctor arrived and it was all out of her hands…
Donna opened her bedroom door on silent hinges and stepped out into the hall. A light seeped from beneath the door to Josh’s room and she knocked softly, calling his name. There was no answer.
Cautiously, she cracked the door. His bedside lamp was on and he was in bed, asleep. No, not asleep, she realized. His eyes were wide open and staring at the ceiling in horror. Involuntarily she glanced up, but there was nothing there. She stepped inside. “Josh?”
He was breathing fast.
“Joshua?” She said it louder, anxiously. What was he doing? “Are you awake?”
And then she saw it. She saw him being shot.
He jerked, one hand flew to his chest and the breath burst from his lungs like he’d been punched. She knew exactly what was happening inside his head; Donna always did her research and she’d found out everything the internet had to offer about the symptoms of PTSD. Nightmares, panic attacks, flashbacks, night terrors; this could be anyone of them.
Hurriedly, she crossed the room. Josh was still staring, the fingers of one hand clasping a fistful of his t-shirt. All she could hear was his harsh, rasping breaths. “Josh?” He didn’t respond, lost in the nightmare. “Josh?” He whimpered, both hands clutching at his chest as if he was holding himself together.
She couldn’t bare it any longer, sat down on the edge of the bed and shook him gently by the shoulder. “Josh, wake up.” No response. “Josh!” She touched his cheek, and with a start he turned and stared at her in panicked confusion. She knew how he felt. “It’s okay,” she said uncertainly, “it’s over. It’s just a dream.”
He blinked, still not with her.
“Josh, you’re okay. You’re dreaming.” She was completely out of her depth, and could think of nothing more to do than stroke his forehead the way her mom used to when she’d had nightmares as a child. “Should I call someone?” Leo? Sam? “Maybe Stanley—”
“No.” His voice was tight, as if forced through a constricted throat.
“Maybe I should—”
His fingers clenched into a fist around the fabric of his t-shirt, right over the scar on his chest. Deliberately, she covered his hand with hers. “Does it hurt?” She’d read somewhere that it did, that the memory was as physical as the trauma itself.
Eyes shut, he said, “I’m fine.”
Over the past three weeks his lies had become so thin that they were now entirely transparent. More of a reflex response, she suspected, than any real attempt at deception. She stroked her thumb over the back of his hand. “Were you scared?” It was a stupid question, but Pop Psych 101 told her that talking about it was good. She hoped she was right.
“I don’t remember…” Another reflex lie, but his hand relaxed under hers and somehow she found her fingers lacing with his and resting on his chest. It felt intensely right, and to distract herself from that realization she said, “While you were in surgery, Mrs. Bartlett held my hand. That’s a claim to fame, don’t you think?”
He didn’t laugh, but he did open his eyes. More than that, he looked at her like he sometimes did – frankly, and without the ironic twist that turned half his words inside out. “Were you scared?”
“Terrified.” And that was God’s honest truth; more scared then she’d ever been her whole life.
For a long time he said nothing, staring back up at the ceiling. She noticed – was acutely aware of the fact – that their fingers were still locked together and that she could feel the warmth of his skin through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. She was just wondering how to disentangle herself when he said, “So was I.”
Donna was no expert, but it seemed like an important moment and she didn’t dare break it by trying to pull her hand out of his. Especially when he was squeezing her fingers so tightly. So instead she squeezed back, and said, “I can’t begin to imagine, Josh.”
“I could hear sirens,” he said, almost as if she hadn’t spoken. “I could hear sirens everywhere, but there was no one there. And I couldn’t move, I couldn’t shout for them. I thought—” He broke off sharply.
The sparse picture he painted was enough for Donna – too much, almost. Because she knew Josh, she knew him as well as herself, and she knew exactly what he’d been thinking as he lay there all alone. “You thought they were going to forget you,” she said quietly. “You didn’t think they’d find you.”
His fingers tightened around hers, and they were silent for a long time. It was late, glancing at his clock she saw that it was past two, and Donna felt her eyelids growing heavy. She needed to sleep; so did Josh. A couple of times his eyes drifted shut, but always flashed open immediately. He showed no sign of letting go of her hand, and she was honest enough to know that despite her fatigue she was glad. At least she felt like she was doing something, however small, to help him through this. Her gaze fell on the plump white pillow next to his and she wondered what he’d say if she just lay down. It wasn’t like they hadn’t crashed side-by-side on the campaign bus more than once, and woken up in some new town tangled together, aching and desperate for coffee. This wasn’t really any different.
And so she curled her legs up onto the bed and lay down. He didn’t move, just shifted his hold on her hand to accommodate her change of position. But he didn’t let go and, astonishingly for Josh, he didn’t even comment. With her free hand, she reached out and switched off the light.
His hand crushed hers like a vise, and after a moment Josh sat bolt upright. “Turn it on.”
Fumbling for the switch, she did, staring up at his panicked face. “What? Josh, you—
“It’s too dark. I can see—” He broke off and ran a hand through his hair. He looked exhausted; beyond exhausted. “It’s too dark.”
And that wasn’t right at all. “You know you can’t sleep with the light on, Josh,” she said, effecting a casual yawn. “You’ve alienated just about every hotel manager between here and Tallahassee with your complaining about hotel drapes not being thick enough. The light mornings wake you up; you have sensitive—”
“I’m just saying, you can’t sleep with the light on.” After a pause, she added, “Neither can I.”
Their hands were still clasped, and he didn’t let go as he collapsed back onto the bed next to her. “I’m so tired…”
“I know.” She rolled onto her side, so she was facing him. He wasn’t looking at her though, once more staring up at the ceiling. Quietly she said, “You won’t dream if I’m here.”
He shook his head. “Donna, there’s no way you can possibly—”
“Why not? I have a dream catcher, I’ll hang it above the bed and—”
“Donna! This is a bit more serious than—”
“I know how serious it is,” she snapped, sounding harsher than she’d intended. She softened it with a squeeze of his hand and said, “You never do well on your own, Josh. You’re a people person. You need someone here.” You need me.
He didn’t answer, and after a moment she switched off the lamp. This time his only response was to hold onto her hand like a lifeline.
It was dark, very dark, even the street lamps didn’t penetrate the thick curtains. And, perhaps because it was so dark, because she couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see her, she inched closer. Close enough, in the end, to rest her cheek against his shoulder. He didn’t object, didn’t react at all. But after a long time, when she was at last succumbing to sleep, he said, “Stanley asked me who I was with at Roslyn.”
At first, through the drowsy haze, Donna couldn’t make sense of his words and mumbled a groggy, “Huh?”
“Stanley,” he repeated. “He asked me who I was with at Roslyn. And the thing is, I wasn’t with anyone. I was on my own, and that’s why no one found me.”
“Toby found you,” Donna pointed out, although she hadn’t missed the subtext. “But if I’d been there…” What? God only knew what might have happened. One thing was for sure, though, “If I’d been there, I’d have screamed for you, Josh. I’d have screamed until someone came and I wouldn’t have left your side for a second.”
“Is that a promise?” He said it so softly, she barely heard him. But they both knew he was talking about a lot more than Roslyn. This was about who they were, how they functioned together. It was at the heart of their friendship, as hard and precious as diamond; an unbreakable, unyielding trust.
“It’s a promise, Josh.”
He sighed, a deep sigh of relief. In the darkness she could almost trace the smile tugging at his mouth; she could certainly hear it in his voice. “I’m going to sleep now,” he said.
“I’ll be here.”
She smiled, but didn’t reply. Gradually, his hand relaxed in hers but Donna still held tight. She didn’t plan on letting go until morning. With a sigh of her own, she closed her eyes and listened to his breathing even and deepen into a steady rhythm. And eventually fatigue caught her up, sweeping her along after him toward a peaceful, dreamless sleep.
A silent night, at last.
Hopefully that stood the test of time! As always, thanks for reading. :)
I think I'm going to have to watch Noel again this Christmas. :)