Wind in the Treesby Pat Steiner and Bridget Walker
DISCLAIMER: The wonderful West Wing program belongs to NBC et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Donna, just who I'm looking for," Josh greeted his assistant cheerfully the second he saw her hang up her coat.
"Josh it's before coffee. Remember that rule I have. No speaking to me before coffee," she sighed, staring at the Mr. Coffee as if wishing would make it turn water and grounds into hot coffee faster.
"You know you really need to make sure Kevin gets you home at a decent hour," he told her, his tone teasing but with a serious note.
"Evan," she corrected.
"Whatever. What are you doing this weekend?"
"Evan has play tickets at Georgetown Saturday night and we're going to a brunch with his parents Sunday," she answered, looking up at him with half closed eyes. "I don't suppose this question relates to you wanting to ask me out."
He opened and closed his mouth in surprise before he answered. "No of course not," he frowned in confusion as he stared at the file he was carrying.
"Didn't think so," she sighed.
"Now what are you doing this weekend?" he asked again.
"Play on Saturday, brunch with parents on Sunday," she repeated with exaggerated patience.
"Oh good, nothing you can't get out of," he said breezily. "I need you to come with me to Saranac Lake, northern New York. Congressman Harkins has a weekend home up there and he's agreed to discuss sponsorship of the Webb amendment."
"Josh I hate how free you are with my time, and this isn't the first time we've had this discussion," she reminded him sharply. "It's hard enough to have a relationship in this town without breaking plans at the last minute. I've done it a lot in the evenings because I can't get out of here at a normal time."
"You want to leave at 4PM, get a factory job," he retorted more sharply than he intended. "Look I'm having to leave Ashley and you don't see me pissing and moaning."
Donna looked up and smiled sweetly. "Josh, Ashley is out of town until Tuesday on assignment. She left yesterday. Remember I was standing here when she was explaining that to you. And I recall plenty of pissing and moaning at that time."
"Donna, no one likes a smart-ass," he glowered. "Look, Congressman Harkins likes you. Well he doesn't live with you twelve hours a day. Anyway, he's agreed to talk to me if you'll come. His wife is having some kind of dinner party, and we're invited to that."
"Then it gets better? Not only do I have to travel with you there, try to be attentive while the two of you talk baseball or god knows what, and then get into the amendment, but I have to be social with Mrs. Harkins and people I don't even know? Josh you are really pushing it and you'd better thank god the coffee's done or you'd probably be dead right now." With a long sigh she pushed past him to fill her cup.
He shrugged and looked at his watch. "I'll make this up to you promise; and right now I'm late. You didn't remind me of my 8AM."
"Josh you have an 8AM with Mr. Costins. Of course if you read the note I left you last night you would have know that."
"I'm outta here. Get us on a flight in the morning that gets us to Syracuse by noon. Mr. Harkins is having us picked up in a private plane there. And Donna....," he paused and touched her hand. "I will make this up to you."
"Do you know how many times I've heard that," she hollered to his retreating back. "If you started this month it would take you till Christmas 2004."
"Good morning sunshine," Josh greeted her as he pulled up in front of her building the next morning.
"Joshua Lyman you are not going to live to make this flight," she muttered, waiting for him to come help her with her suitcase.
"Here you go," he called and popped the trunk open.
"You are too good to me," she retorted, hefting the bag inside and then joining him in the car.
"How did Kevin take the news?" he asked at once.
"Whatever. Was he upset?"
"No," she answered quickly and turned her head.
They drove in silence to Reagan National and she made no effort to help with the bags when he pulled to the curb.
"You owe me for the skycap," he told her when he got back in.
"You know you always put those things on the expense record," she reminded him.
Silence again through the wait for the US Air Flight, and the flight itself. Onboard Donna busied herself studying the points of the Webb amendment when she was not staring out of the window. Josh concentrated on paperwork until the captain announced their descent into Syracuse.
He stowed his papers and turned to her, touching her arm with two fingers. "You're awfully quiet. You're OK?"
"Of course. I'm fine, aren't I always?"
"Well even if you weren't you're not likely to admit it to me," he sighed.
"Now what does that mean?" she demanded. "I complain to you all the time."
"You whine," he corrected. "You don't often tell me when something is really on your mind."
"I whine? This from the man who could give lessons to three year olds."
"Maybe we could talk about why we're making this trip," he tried again.
"Certainly," she smiled, glad to turn his attention away from her personally.
They walked up the jetway and were immediately greeted by a youngish man in a leather flight jacket. "Mr. Lyman, Ms. Moss--Dan Halloran. I'll be taking you the rest of the way. Mr. Harkins sends his greetings by the way. We'll get your luggage and get started. Hope you brought warm stuff. It's probably nice back in DC but spring comes slow up here. It's already below freezing at night."
"Oh goodie," she smiled, shaking her head and following the two men.
They collected their luggage and Halloran led them to the private aviation area of the Syracuse airport. "And that would be Mr. Harkins' baby." He pointed proudly to a blue and white small plane.
"It's a tin can with propellers," she muttered and a slight tremble went through her, not unnoticed by Josh.
"Something wrong?" His hand went to her shoulder and even through her clothes he noticed she was turning cold.
"No I'm fine," she shook her head. "I was...well I guess I thought it would be something bigger."
"Oh you'll love it," Halloran assured her easily. "And the scenery on the trip up will be breathtaking. I'll keep it low so you can enjoy the mountains. There's snow on the tops already."
"If I were to resign, could I make it effective immediately," she growled.
"What?" Josh had not heard her completely.
"Nothing." She gave him a falsely cheerful smile and pushed past them toward the plane. "Gentlemen let's get this crate in the air."
Donna made her way onto the plane first and took her seat in the back. Without even being asked she took the safety belt and buckled herself in securely, then proceeded to check the strength of the belts.
Josh was confused, sure Donna could be a little paranoid at times, but she had never gone to this extreme, besides she had never had a problem with flying before. Frowning but refraining form comment he climbed in next to her. It was then that he noticed her shivering. Reaching out and placing a tentative hand on her shoulder he asked softly. "Donna are you alright?"
Donna opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by the voice of the pilot. "Ms Moss, Mr Lyman, the tower has cleared our take off, the weather is wonderful and we are set for a fine flight."
The engines were then started up, and the propellers started to turn. Donna paid close attention, and was startled to hear what she thought was a clicking sound coming from outside the plane. Turning towards Josh she questioned him. "Listen Josh, can you hear that sound, what do you think it is?"
Josh couldn't hear anything, but Donna's attitude was really beginning to worry him. He moved his hand from her shoulder and instead covered her hand. " I can't hear anything, but you know how my hearing is, not to mention my attention span at times, but it is obvious that something is freaking you out, so why don't you take a couple of deep cleansing breaths, and close your eyes, soon we will be in the air."
Donna turned to Josh eyes blazing. "Don't you dare patronize me Joshua Lyman. I am not one of your Senators who you can placate with a few well chosen words. There is something wrong, I have felt it ever since we arrived at the airport. I have a bad feeling about this." She then focused on the field that was passing by outside as the plane taxied down the runway, knowing that he couldn't force her to listen to him, Josh spoke anyway. " I would hope that you know me better than that Donnatella. I would never patronize you or treat you as anything less than you are, I am just worried about you, you are not yourself."
Nothing was said for a few minutes as the plane ascended into the air. Donna knew that she was being unfair towards Josh, but she couldn't help herself. She did have a bad feeling about this trip, and that combined with what had happened with Evan last night, was leaving her shaken. Suddenly feeling quite cold, she began to shiver. Josh who was watching her profile noticed this, and rather than have her anger directed at him again for babying her, he simply unbuckled his belt, reached around behind them and retrieved his large woolen overcoat from storage compartment. Leaning over, he wrapped it around his assistant, and briskly rubbed her shoulders. He then bent at the waist and whispered in her ear. "There is something you are not telling me, and I can guarantee when we Saranac Lake, and we have finished discussing the Webb agreement with the Congressman, we are going to talk, and I don't just mean general conversation, I mean a real deep and meaningful conversation."
After that Josh had just made himself comfortable when he heard a large scraping sound from outside of the plane. He immediately caught Donna's attention to know that he had heard that noise. The look of sudden terror on Donna's features tore at his heart, wordlessly he offered his hand to her palm up, and was not surprised when she took it and gripped it with her own.
"I don't know what..." he began only to be interrupted by Halloran leaning his head back toward them. "I'm getting a low oil pressure light," he said quietly, "and that sound means there's something badly malfunctioning in the port engine. I'm going to declare an emergency and set us down."
"There's no airport down there," Josh yelped, looking out the window at the expanse of mountains and trees below them.
Donna's eyes grew even wider as her terror increased, and she looked at Josh in mute fear. Her eyes seemed to beg him to fix it somehow.
"It's going to be OK," he assured her quickly, feeling the plane begin to lose altitude. "You know I won't let anything happen to you. You're very important to me. Who else would put up with my BS?"
He received the small smile he expected and he wrapped his arm across her back, hugging her to him, as he listened to the pilot give their position. "Halloran is there anything I can do to help?"
"This is not good," he answered shortly. "But I'm going to do my best. I've given Utica Rome our mayday location. Trouble is, I've also got electrical failure and I didn't get an acknowledgment. Might be that I can send and not receive though. Hope so. OK we're going to be down in about sixty seconds. You two bend over as far as you can, grab your ankles, head between your legs. Don't get up until we stop moving." He paused a beat and added, "And may God have mercy on us."
Donna trembled even harder at those words. "Oh Josh there's so much we need to..so much I want to say."
"Yeah me too," he whispered, "and it's going to keep. You get on down there like he told you. "Remember, it's going to be OK."
"Don't make promises you can't keep," she said softly, trying to keep tears from her voice.
"I'm in politics," he teased gently. "I know all about promises of all kinds."
The plane made a sudden dip, losing more altitude and he held tightly to her, bending her over as Halloran had instructed. "I won't let go of you," he hissed, as he flattened himself across her back, his hand to the back of her head and tucking his own head as best he could.
The engines screamed in protest as the pilot applied full flaps and reverse thrust, trying for a belly landing in the closest meadow. The Cessna skidded across the grass and with braking impossible refused to slow, instead careening along the ground.
"Into your hands Lord," Josh gasped, keeping firm his grasp of Donna.
"Josh," she managed to whisper.
"I'm right here honey, you keep down," he whispered back. "We're down and...." He was unable to complete his sentence for a second later there came the simultaneous sounds of metal splintering and glass shattering. The plane had slammed into a small lake and it's bottom and windshield torn apart by the tree branches.
The impact ripped Josh's arms from around Donna, throwing him away from her as his seatbelt anchors failed to hold. She screamed his name as she felt his grasp loosen and then a moment later repeated her scream as she heard his own, this one of pain. The screaming continued until she realized it was coming from her mouth, and then there was silence save the calls of the birds whom the holocaust had disturbed. There was also water, icy cold mountain water soaking up through the bottom of the peeled open aircraft.
"Josh, Josh we've got to get out of here," she shouted, reaching for him and to her horror finding only empty space. Taking a deep breath and uttering a brief appeal heavenward for courage, she pulled her seatbelt off and braced herself for the shock of the icy water. The door had been sprung and she pushed herself through where to her great relief Josh was clinging to the remains of the wing structure.
"Donna?" He heard her movement and turned his head in her direction. "Donna, please be you."
"Josh I'm right here," she assured him, her voice quavering with relief, and she began to make her way toward him; at the same time wondering why he said that when she was but a few feet away.
"Donna you're not are hurt are you?" he demanded at once, reaching out for her.
"I don't know...I don't think so," she answered as she reached his grasp and he pulled her to him.
At once he began to feel her face, making sure.
"Look I'm fine," she began, "but we need to get out of this frigid water and you have a cut on your forehead that's bleeding pretty bad so...." She paused as realization dawned in the form of his blank stare as he was trying to check her over for injuries. "Josh?"
He knew at once to what she was referring. "Donna I can't.....I can't see you. I mean I can see like light and...but nothing...oh God I'm scared."
She had to swallow hard before she could speak. "Sshh it's OK. I'm right here with you," she soothed. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"I'm so numb from the cold, but I don't think so," he shook his head.
"Good, now let's get out of this water." She took firm hold of his arm and tugged him toward the shore, about ten feet away, hoping her businesslike manner would impart to him a calm she herself was not feeling. "Come on Josh work with me now," she commanded, pulling him along. It seemed more like ten miles, the cold now bone chilling and the weight of sodden clothes pulling them down; but she did get him to dry ground. "OK you're there," she told him, lowering him carefully. "I'm going to see to the pilot and get our luggage if I can."
"No..Donna no," he fairly shouted, groping for her hand.
"Josh there's a human being out there and he may be hurt," she said patiently, "plus we need dry clothes, and the first aid kit. I'll be right back. You don't move from here."
"Be careful please," he whispered. "That water is like ice--you could have hypothermia and not even know it."
"I'll be fine." She gave his hand a hard squeeze and hurried back to the water, taking a deep breath and forcing herself to step back into its coldness. Wading in up to her waist, she pushed out to the cockpit. A second later the sounds of her retching filled the woods as she saw the pilot, or rather his body.
"Donna, Donna what is it?" Josh shouted, hearing her and scrambling to his feet, starting toward the sound.
"Josh no, I'm fine," she shouted back, forcing herself to stop reacting to the sight. "You stay right there. I don't want to have to haul you out of here again. I'm pulling the first aid kit from the cockpit and then coming around to get our bags. I just hope there's dry clothes."
Josh did as she requested, pacing a few steps in each direction as he listened to the sounds of her exertion. "Donna get out of there, come on," he tried after a few minutes.
"Coming now," she panted, dragging two suitcases behind her, the first aid satchel and her canvas carry on back both over her shoulder and two blankets tucked under her arm, trying to keep them dry. Her progress was twice as slow as before with exhaustion making her legs tremble beneath her.
He was holding his arms out to her when she reached him, and in her now exhausted state she dropped the bags at his feet and gladly let him catch her, dropping them both to the ground. "You're OK?" he demanded anxiously.
"Just give me a minute to catch my breath," she panted. "The pilot--he's dead."
"I guessed that from your reaction," he sighed, holding her tightly to his chest. "I'm sorry. He was a good man and I'm sure he saved us with his skill at getting us down with no more damage." She nodded, moving her head against the wetness of his shirt, allowing herself another minute of being comforted by his strong arms before she pushed herself away.
"Now let me see that cut," she ordered briskly, "then a fire and dry clothes."
Obediently Josh allowed himself to be led a little further away from the crash scene. As soon as Donna felt they were a respectable distance away, she gently applied pressure to his shoulder, forcing him to sit on a large boulder. This brought Josh' face level with her breast enabling her better access to tend to his injuries.
At the first gentle probe of his face, Josh could not control his involuntary flinch. Donna ran her hand through his hair to soothe him. It worked. In response Josh felt around for Donna's other hand, and when he found it, brought it to his lips where he gently kissed the palm.
"I am sorry for hurting you Josh." said Donna apologetically. "I should have been more careful."
Josh repeated his action of kissing Donna's palm. "I know you didn't, I am just used to being the one in control. I'm not used to having someone take care of me."
Donna smiled. "Well I am terribly sorry anyway Joshua. Now, Mr Lyman. For the time being I am the eyes of this operation, and I fully intend to take care of you. Very well."
Josh squeezed his assistant's hand before allowing it to drop again to her side. "I am so glad that it is you taking care of me, but in the same regard you wouldn't be here if it weren't for me."
Even though he would not be able to see her, Donna tilted Josh' face towards her own. "No guilt." she admonished. "I am here because it is my job to come with you. End of discussion, now let me fix that cut."
Josh couldn't help it, at Donna's tone he smirked. "Yes Ma'am. You know sometimes I have to keep reminding myself that I am your boss, you work for me remember."
"What?" feigned Donna. "You mean you didn't know. I am sure I left that memo on your desk about the change in the corporate ladder."
"Donna...." Josh warned.
"I know I know, enough. Now hold still."
And for once, Joshua Lyman did what he was told.
He sat patiently while Donna retrieved a small pair of tweezers from the first aid kit, and carefully pulled the tiny fragments of glass away from his face. After applying antiseptic to his cuts and abrasions, Donna impulsively kissed her boss on the cheek, before hauling him to his feet.
Although momentarily startled at the kiss and the sudden movement, Josh managed to keep his balance, even though his head throbbed. A fact he was not going to share with Donna, after all he knew she was worried enough.
If he thought he was startled before, that was nothing compared to what happened next. Before he knew what was going on, he felt Donna's hands on his tie. She had it undone, and had removed his jacket before Josh found his voice.
"Ahh Donnatella. What do you think you are doing?"
"What does it look like.. ahh feel like Josh. Your suit is soaked, and I don't want you to catch pneumonia on top of everything else. I take it you have jeans and a sweater in your suitcase?"
"No buts Josh, stand still."
Josh could only stand there stunned as Donna proceeded to strip him down to his boxers and undershirt, which were thankfully dry.
Donna could not help but check out the man standing before her, after all she was a fully blooded female.
Josh could feel Donna's gaze upon him, and suddenly felt embarrassed. "What??" he questioned. "Donnatella I am kind of cold here, what are you staring at?"
"Oh nothing." she replied smugly. "I just figured you for a briefs man. Not a boxer man with little green aliens on them."
When the full implication of what Donna said hit him. Josh couldn't reply because Donna was already once again holding him steady while she helped him on with his jeans and sweater. Once he was fully dressed and warm once again she firmly planted him back on the boulder and pressed a blanket around him.
Josh sat there and listened intently to his surroundings. All was quiet except for the sounds of rustling, and the unmistakable drawing of a zipper.
"Um Donna. " Josh began. "Are you doing what I think you're doing?"
"If you mean, if I am currently standing in front of you in nothing but my underwear while I change. Then yes Joshua, I am doing what you think I am doing."
At Josh' reaction Donna simply stated. "Close your mouth Josh. It is clear you are not going to say anything worth hearing."
"How do you know," Josh demanded. "I mean I could very well be thinking of telling you how beautiful you are....if I could see you that is. Oh God Donna I'm scared."
Her heart lurched at his words, and she knew what it cost him to admit that. "I know Joshua, I know." She stroked his still damp hair for a moment. "I am too, very scared, but we're going to get out of this. When we don't arrive Mr. Harkins will know something happened. By tonight you'll be in a hospital talking to Ashley on the phone and complaining about the food."
"Well one of those isn't going to happen for certain," he said suddenly.
"Ashley," he replied with a short laugh. "She called last night and we talked for three hours. Long story but we're not seeing each other any more."
"I'm sorry," she said sincerely. "Was it the schedule thing?"
"Partly, but mostly that I....that she knew that I....."
"What?" Donna stared at him as she slipped into dry clothes, not able to imagine what Ashley could have had a problem with. "She found out your an axe murderer? Or did she simply grow weary of picking up your dirty socks?"
"She knew that..." he tried again and then shook his head. "Look it's not something I can talk about right now. Can we leave it at that?"
"Of course," she nodded quietly. "But if it helps make you feel any better, Evan and I have parted ways too."
"Donna I...Now I'm sorry," he stammered. "You and he...well you thought maybe he was someone you could have a future with?"
"Not hardly," she laughed scornfully. "But he was someone who's company I enjoyed. Washington can be a very lonely city. By the time the married, the men over forty, the gay guys---plus the married gay guys over forty, are eliminated, there just aren't that many men to choose from."
"Still though I'm sorry," he sighed.
"Thanks anyway. Now you sit right here and I'm going to make a fire. We need the warmth and hopefully it will help locate us."
"Donna don't go far please," he fretted, waving his hand to her.
"Hey relax will you. I'm just going to get back away from this water some where things will be a little more dry I hope, and get some wood. There's matches in the survival box thankfully."
"Stay where I can hear you please," he begged.
"Josh we're in the middle of nowheres-ville here," she sighed. "I'm in more danger when I park at night and walk up to my apartment."
"And thanks for bringing up another pleasant vision," he groaned.
"Hey if I didn't know better I'd think you worried," she laughed lightly, dropping a quick hand to his shoulder.
To her surprise he reached up and covered it with his own. "About you--you bet I do," he admitted.
"I'll be....be right back," she stammered, more surprised still by his admission.
The cold she still felt coupled with the toll going to the plane had taken combined to make her movements labored. It took her several trips to gather a pile of dry wood, and he could hear her heavy breathing. Finally he reached out for her. "Donna where are you?"
"Here," she returned, automatically putting her hand in his.
He closed over it tightly. "Enough now," he ordered sharply. "Donna you're going to pass out here. I may not be able to see, but I can hear you panting and gasping. Damn it I can't take care of you if something happens, so I need you to take care of yourself."
"Sshh it's OK. Calm down. I've got enough for right now anyway. I'm OK, promise." She rested her hand briefly on the top of his head. "Now let me get this fire going, and then once our collective brains defrost we can decide what to do."
"I don't believe it," he pronounced several minutes later when the heard the fire crackle and felt the heat begin to spread. "Girl scout right?"
"Eight years worth," she answered. "Plus we did a lot of camping and back packing when I was growing up. I'm going to put down the blanket here and let's get you laying down. I'm guessing your head is killing you."
"Guilty," he confessed, "but you're laying with me. How's the time? Are we overdue yet?
She reached for his arm to check his watch. "Yes by forty five minutes already," she reported and began to spread out the blanket. "And Mr. Halloran seemed experienced enough like he would file a flight plan surely. People have to be looking for us soon. My concern is that darkness is going to beat them to the punch."
"I think we'll be..." he began and then swayed forward against her. "Sorry, major dizzy spell," he gasped.
With a small gasp of alarm, she quickly spread the blanket out, then urged him to lay down as close to the fire as she could get him. "We should have about six hours of day light left," she sighed. "Please God let that be enough."
Curling up behind him, and pressing her body to his, she covered them both with the remaining blanket and once she was assured he was sleeping, closed her eyes as well.
"Ainsley Hayes if you think the President, or me for that matter is going to buy what you've...." The ringing phone interrupted Sam's tirade. "Re-write that whole paragraph while I get this," he ordered, only half way facetiously. He and Ainsley had come in this Saturday afternoon to work on a Position Paper the President needed first thing Monday morning.
"Sam Seaborn," he said automatically. "Mr. Harkins hello. How are you sir?......What? Well--well when should they have?.........My god that's over three hours ago. You've reported to Civil Air and the police right?.....OK good......No, the First Family and Mr. McGarry and Mr. Ziegler are at Camp David for the weekend....OK I'm on my way up there. If anything comes up, the communications people here know how to reach me." He hung up and swallowed hard before he looked at Ainsley.
"Sam what?" She lay a gentle hand on Sam's arm. "Sam you're scaring me, what's happened?"
"Josh and Donna's plane didn't make it to the Harkins place," he told her, covering his hand with hers. I'm going to get up there and join the search."
"OH my god," she gasped, her hand to her mouth. "Sam I know you're concerned but don't you think they've got all the help.." she began and looked closely in his eyes. It was only a matter of weeks that she had known him, but she was becoming extremely adept at reading his expressions and this one was telling her that she needed to back off.
"Then I'm going with you. This is not something you should have to do alone in case.....well in case the worst has happened," she said softly. "Let me run home and get some jeans and warm clothes and meet you back here."
He nodded numbly. Josh was one of his closest friends, an older brother to him, and the thought of losing him was more than he could bear.
The sun was just barely hanging over the trees when the increasing cold brought on by a dying fire woke Donna later. What little warmth the sun had given them was gone now.
Quickly she leaned over Josh, giving a long sigh of relief to find him sleeping, his breathing shallow but regular. "You're going to be OK," she whispered, giving his hair a light stroke. "You're going to make it back, and your eyes will be fine. I'm going to get us some more firewood now."
He stirred only slightly and she kissed his cheek, allowing herself a small smile. "Won't be doing that when you're fully awake and seeing I'm sure."
A small murmur was his only response and she quickly began to gather more wood, adding it to the dying fire until it was roaring again.
"Josh wake up now," she urged finally, shaking his shoulder and lifting him slightly. "Come on Josh you need to get up, get your blood moving again. Work with me here. Up you come."
After several tugs at him, she managed to get him on his feet.
"OK this is not a nightmare," he sighed. "So much for that hope." Full consciousness returned to him with a rush. "Donna, you're OK?" His hands groped until the found her shoulders and a second later gentle palms were cupping her cheeks.
"Of course I'm fine," she answered quickly, impulsively turning her head to put a small kiss in his palm. "OK Mr. Deputy Chief of Staff, let's do a few warm up exercises. Get those arms and legs moving." She took his hands and began to swing his arms. "March in place Joshua."
"I feel stupid," he sighed.
"Whatever it takes to keep you going," she retorted. "Besides it wouldn't be the first time now would it."
Sam and Ainsley stood together in the Operations Center listening to the reports of the search teams. It had taken only an order from the Commander in Chief to involve the Air Force in the search, under the command of Group Captain Marshall Becker. They were grid searching, beginning with the area outside the airport in Syracuse, working their way north east to the Harkins property, and with no results.
"This is not acceptable Captain," Sam moaned, letting his own frustration show and Ainsley wrapped her hand around his arm. "Sam it's getting dark out there, and we're talking about a lot of country. I know they're doing their best."
Becker looked with bemusement at the attractive woman who obviously cared for this man. "Thank you ma'am," he smiled. "Mr. Seaborn please a little patience. The choppers that are equipped with the big searchlights will look a little longer, but in all honesty we're going to need to get a fresh start in the morning I think."
"No, no," he yelped. "They could freeze to death--or worse what if they're hurt and bleeding."
"Mr. Seaborn, please," Becker begged. "With all due respect, President Bartlet tasked us with this because we're trained and equipped. We've recovered hikers in those mountains many times, and we will find Mr. Lyman and Ms. Moss too. It's going to take some time." He took a deep breath and added quietly. "Giving me a hard time is not going to hurry things along. I've already got the Commander in Chief to answer to. I don't need any more pressure than that."
"Of course you don't," Ainsley spoke up. "Sam let's get some coffee and let the man do his job." She gave his arm a firm tug and pulled him away. "Hey he's on our side. Let's not spoil that."
Back in wilderness, Donna and Josh were simply sitting side by side in silence. Contemplating their situation and their options. Donna, always the optimistic one and usually the voice of reason broke the silence.
"You do know that we are going to get out of this, don't you? We are overdue, by at least six hours, we will have been missed, after all we are both very important people who work at the White House. Well you are important anyway. Deputy Chief of Staff, you should be very proud to hold that position. But I always knew that President Bartlett would have chosen no one but ....."
Josh nodded, "silent time."
"Fine, you can be silent, but I am going to talk while I check your eyes."
"Why do you need to check my eyes?"
"I know, I know. I just hate being a patient."
"That you don't have to tell me, now sit up and tip your head back for me."
"Yes Doctor." Josh replied as he sat up from his position where he was sprawled on the blanket.
Donna moved so that she was behind Josh and could see his eyes better. Carefully she opened the lids wide and peered closely at the tissue underneath. This action brought her face very close to Josh', and therefore their breaths intermingled, this caused both of them to swallow heavily, in order to break down the feelings that this was invoking.
After a short while, Donna stood back.
"Well Doctor?" Josh enquired.
"I am definitely no expert, and am without a flashlight or one of those thingymajigs that an ophthalmologist uses, but from what I can see you don't seem to have glass imbedded in your actual eyes. Just tiny fragments around them. Hopefully if we find some water that doesn't have a plane in the middle of it, and bathe them gently I think you may regain some of your vision shortly."
Josh couldn't help but grin at Donna's amateur prognosis, and even though he couldn't yet see he reached out for her, and Donna took the hint and came into his embrace. They hugged tightly for a minute before Donna pulled back reluctantly. Josh cocked his head in question.
"It is beginning to get dark, and the weather is going to set in early. I for one want to make sure that I am warm once it does, so that means we have to make some preparations."
"And what would you have in mind Ms Moss?"
"I think our best option would be to put on all of the dry clothes we have, to add insulation. We will use your jacket which should be dry enough by now as a ground cover and then put the blanket on top of us. Our combined body heat should be enough to get us through the night."
Josh grinned. "Are you implying Donnatella that we are going to have to 'snuggle' tonight?"
Donna answered with a grin of her own. "Well.. once on an episode of The X Files, Mulder and Scully were once lost in the Florida forest..."
Josh held his hand up in surrender. "OK I give, we will do this your way, just help me get dressed please."
Donna immediately began to pull clothing out of their bag. "Fine, at least this time I won't have to see your boxers"
"Like I'd mind." Josh mumbled to himself.
"What was that Josh?"
"Um I said, that blanket was quite a find. Good job Donna."
Donna beamed. "Thankyou."
Sam sat in a cold plastic chair, his head cradled in his hands a cup of coffee untouched between his feet. Slowly Ainsley approached. At the sound of her footfalls Sam looked up.
"Did you find out?"
"Yes but I don't think..."
"But you did find out."
"Please just tell me."
Hearing the almost pleading tone in his voice, Ainsley knew that she could not refuse this man. "- 4. The temperature could get as low as -4, if not lower. But I am sure they will be fine, from what I have noticed they are very resourceful people, and Camp David has been notified, Leo is on his way." Tentatively Ainsley put a hand on his shoulder.
"I am a very hopeful person, and I don't see why I should change that now. They are going to be okay Sam, you have to remember that."
A ghost of a smile played at Sam's lips. "I know, Josh and Donna together could get though just about anything. I just hate this feeling."
"What feeling is that?"
Ainsley's hand traveled from his shoulder down to the center of his back and she pressed firmly, her fingers digging into his shirt. "They're going to be OK. I don't know how I know it, but they are. I'm a very perceptive person. Spooky sometimes, but sometimes I kind of know."
Sam turned around so that her hand was moved from his back to his side and he took it from there, holding it gently. "And what do you know about us--as in you and me?" he asked softly.
"That I want us to get to know each other; and that right now I like very much that you're holding my hand," she returned in that direct manner of speaking she always used.
"How does your hand like this?" he asked, bringing it to his lips and placing a small kiss in the palm. "That was for being here for me."
"I wouldn't be anywhere else," she smiled, "and my hand--and the rest of me--liked it very much thank you."
"Mr. Seaborn, I'm sorry. The choppers are being recalled," Becker interrupted them. "I promise we'll be up again at first light. You can even ride a long then if you wish."
A large shudder passed through Sam and her arms went around him at once. For a long minute Becker looked away while they shared a moment of comfort. "I'm going to have one of my men show you to the guest house," he finally spoke up again.
"I don't think I want to leave..." Sam began and then looked down at Ainsley, seeing the strain wearing on her as well. Concern for her changed his mind. "OK please yes. Could we get connecting rooms please."
They were delivered to the nearby guest house and shown to a two bedroom suite. "Officer's club is right across the street," the Airman pointed out the window. "I suggest the two of you go listen to some music and have a drink and some hot food. If you need anything, you call our duty desk." He then left them alone.
Sam looked to Ainsley who was hanging back uncertainly. "I think that's an excellent idea," he offered. "May I take you to dinner ma'am?"
"I'm not really dressed sir," she smiled. "I just brought like pants and sweaters.
"Then we'll match perfectly, because that's what I have too."
It took a good deal of doing, but soon Josh and Donna were warm and dressed for the coming night. "The temperature is dropping," he fretted, pulling her tightly to him.
"Who are you, Al Roker?" she demanded. "It's not getting any colder."
"Not. Shut up Josh."
"You're talking to the deputy chief of staff here," he reminded her laughing softly.
"OK, and I'm just your assistant," she smiled as well, her head buried in the crook of his neck, seeking any semblance of warmth.
"No," he yelped with such vehemence she was startled and raised her head.
"Are you firing me?"
"After a fashion," he whispered. "I'm promoting you. If you're willing that is. Promoting you to....OK I don't even know what to call it, but here's one of the job duties." With that his fingers located her lips and he brushed his mouth across hers.
"Does a title come with that?" she asked when she could speak, having gotten over the surprise of his action.
"For now, someone I care about more than anyone else in the world," he sighed, and the struggle to keep his eyes open became too much. She felt him go limp in her arms as sleep took him. For a long time she held him upright, finally easing him down to lay with him. "I love you too Joshua Lyman," she whispered, kissing his forehead.
Dawn was just streaking the eastern sky when mother nature awoke Donna the next morning. Josh had not moved, and a quick check of his breathing told her he was sleeping peacefully. Moving very slowly and stiffly from the cold with muscles aching from the impact of the crash, she extracted herself from his grasp and rose to tend to her personal needs. That done, she walked into the trees a short distance intending to bring a few more branches for the fire when a rustling in the snow and brush attracted her attention.
"Hey," she called, her eyes straining to catch what she prayed was a rescue party. It was not. What it was, was a large animal. "Wolf," she gasped and looked more closely, "No, dog." Her entire body froze in place as she tried to recall what she had read one should do when confronted by a stray dog like this. At the same time, the animal dropped into a crouch, the hair on its hackles standing up and his low growl was indication enough what he intended. She began to back away slowly. It took all her strength of will not to turn and run. She had made only a few feet when she fell backwards over a log half buried in the snow and that motion was all the starving animal needed to commence his attack.
He was on her at once, and for a moment she was paralyzed with fear. A second later his teeth sank deeply into her thigh and she screamed with pain. It was that pain which galvanized her into action. Her hand closed over one of the limbs she had picked up. When he backed off to prepare for another attack she clubbed him square across his nose. With a loud screech of pain and fright, the animal took off running back into the trees.
"Donna? Donna where are you?" She could hear Josh calling her, obviously awoken by the disturbance.
"Right here Josh. Stay put, I'm coming," she shouted. Only then did she look down at her leg. Her pants had been ripped and blood was soaking the area.
"Donna where are you?" he demanded again, rising to his feet and trying to look in the direction from which he had heard her call. "Are you OK? What the hell was all that noise?"
"I'm getting some wood and I was taking care of a personal problem," she hollered. "Please stay right there. I'm coming." At that moment she was more than grateful he could not see, knowing her injury would only add to the sense of responsibility for having her along with which he was already consumed.
Gritting her teeth against the pain, she pushed herself to her feet and staggered across the snow. "See I'm right here," she greeted him, ruffling his hair as she passed by, heading for the luggage.
"Right here is here," he protested, patting the blanket beside him.
"Yes I know, and I'll be right with you," she promised. "I'm still having that uh....personal problem. Give me a minute please."
His suspicions were aroused at once. "What's wrong? Are you OK?"
"Yes I am," she lied as she rummaged through the clothes, finally locating a shirt she could tear into strips. "Josh it's a female thing. Like I said, give me a minute please."
"Female huh, excuse me." He threw up his hands and laughed lightly.
He was silent while she poured disinfectant from the first aid kit on the bites, her teeth set against the pain to keep from crying out, and she tied strips of cloth ripped from the shirt around her thigh, praying it would be enough to stop the bleeding, and adding a prayer for their rescue.
Sam and Ainsley had had an anxious but somewhat pleasant night. They had eaten at the Officer's Club and then adjourned back to Sam's room.
They both knew that they should have been getting some rest, but by an unspoken agreement, it was decided they didn't want to be alone right at the moment. Conversation was not sparse, and ultimately the theme of the storytelling turned to Josh.
Sam told Ainsley about how they met, and the story of how Josh turned up to his office, sopping wet and simply told him without words that Bartlett was the real thing. Ainsley could not contain her disbelief and her laughter as she pictured Sam simply leaving everything where it was and walking out of the building. Half way through the next story, Sam had stopped, and his gaze had become wistful. Reaching out, Ainsley had placed a comforting hand atop of his. She had asked. "Sam what is it?"
Sam had said nothing, which had begun to worry Ainsley. Moving to her knees in front of Sam she had placed both her hands on his knees, and pleaded with him again. "Sam, you're starting to scare me here, please tell me what's wrong."
If Ainsley had not have been listening so intently she would have missed Sam's reply. "He is my best friend Ainsley, and he means everything to me. He is like my big brother. I look up to him, and I admire him. Nothing can happen to him."
Ainsley watched as two lone tears snaked down Sam's cheeks. Silently she wiped them away before reaching out and hugging Sam around his waist. At first Sam was surprised by the brave move of this Republican wonder, but then he allowed himself to fall into the embrace, and be comforted by this woman. They stayed like that for most of the night, until Sam had grown tired, and Ainsley had excused herself to go to her own room. And now here they were, at the beginning of a new day, back at the Air Force Base, awaiting Leo's arrival, and the chance to take on a more active role in the search. They were not disappointed, because they had not long arrived when they heard a bustling and the unmistakable sound of Leo's voice. Ainsley and Sam looked up from where they sat to see Leo approach. They stood as he came near.
"Morning Sam, Ainsley. Any news?" Leo wasn't one to beat around the bush.
Sam simply shook his head, but Ainsley spoke. "Not yet Sir.. Leo. The helicopters are about to resume their search."
Sam cut in. "And I will be joining them."
Leo and Ainsley both protested. "Sam.."
Sam held out his hand to silence the pair. "You are not going to change my mind on this. I have sat around here for too long feeling helpless. I have finally been told that there is something I can do, and I want to do it. I want to be there when we find out one way or the other."
"You know that I can order you not to go." Leo asked.
Sam nodded. "Yes I do, but you won't"
Leo looked amused at this. "I won't? And why not, may I ask?"
"Because, as much as I am worried about Josh and Donna, and love him as a brother, you are as worried, and love him like a son, even though you would never admit it, and you know that having one of us out there will not only improve the communication on what is happening, with me up there, I will make sure that they put off coming back until the last possible moment. So that is why you will let me go."
Leo considered this for a moment and then put his hands up in surrender. "Fine you can go, but you're wrong you know."
"About the fact that I would never admit it, I would and I will tell him as soon as we find them. And we will."
Both Leo and Ainsley could see Sam's shoulders lift considerably at the words of optimism. Ainsley then broke into the conversation.
"I'm coming with you."
"No." replied Sam, very quickly.
"I'm going Sam. Just like you knew Leo would let you go, you are going to let me come with you, because you have no idea what is going to be found out there today and I am going to be right there with you no matter what. Isn't that right Leo?"
"Don't look at me. I make it a habit not to argue with Republicans unless it is really necessary."
Ainsley laughed. "Fine it is settled." Her attention was then seized by an officer walking towards them in full flight gear.
Sam stepped forward. "Yes?"
"I'm Commander Rogers. I will be flying one of the helos in the search today, I was told that you would be taking one of my seats today?"
Sam shook the Officer's hand eagerly. "Yes I will, this is Leo McGarry, White House Chief of Staff, and this is Ainsley Hayes. Against my better judgment, she will be coming too, do you have another seat?"
The Commander smiled. "I think we can fit her in. I'm just about ready to depart, are you two ready to go?"
Both nodded. "Yes Sir."
"Okay then, if you go through that door over there, you can get fitted up for gear, and then I will meet you outside on the tarmac, you've got about five minutes, then the bird is going to fly with or without you."
"We will be there." Sam replied. The pilot nodded and walked away. Sam and Ainsley were about to follow but were halted by Leo's voice.
"Bring them home."
"Yes Sir." Sam smiled before leading Ainsley off to where they had to change. Leo watched them go, hoping that Sam was telling the truth.
Donna could feel that her wound was still weeping, but knew that she had to get her mind off it. She looked over to Josh who seemed to be sleeping again.
"Joshua you awake?"
"No go away."
"Fine, I will go and put on my ballgown and go to the party."
"Very funny Donnatella, what is it?"
"I want to wash your eyes out again."
"How are you going to do that?"
"I am not going to have much choice in this am I?"
"I didn't think so. Fine. Do with me what you will Doctor."
"Really? Well in that case..."
"Sorry. Okay I need you to open your eyes as wide as you can for me."
Josh did as he was told, and Donna moved over towards him the best she could, even though with every movement, she feel her thigh throb. Once she was right beside him, she gathered a handful of snow, and crushed it until the liquid poured into Josh' eyes. She repeated the process, until she had flushed them four times. Once she was finished Josh questioned her.
"Here. We are in a pretty open area. If any search craft pass over they shouldn't miss us. So we lay here and we wait."
"Okay, but only on one condition."
"You get some rest. You have been looking after me so well, I think you have been neglecting yourself."
Donna's thoughts immediately went to her own injury, and how maybe she had given a sign to Josh that she was hurt. Deciding she hadn't she chose to play along.
"I have not been neglecting myself. But I won't say no to rest."
"Good then. Come here."
"Yes Donnatella, come here. I won't know you are truly resting unless you are doing so in my arms. Now come here."
Donna thought it over for about two seconds before she lowered herself into Josh's arms, and allowed them to wrap around her. She put her head on his shoulder, and soon found herself growing quite sleepy. "Josh?" she questioned.
"If I had to go through this with anybody. I am glad it's with you. There's no one else I trust more than you. I just needed you to know that okay?"
Josh kissed the crown of her head, and then moved down and quickly brushed his lips across hers. "You are everything to me Donnatella Moss," he whispered. "Everything. We will get through this."
Josh expected an answer, but was not surprised when Donna's deep breathing indicated that she had found slumber. Confident she was asleep, Josh decided to confide once more. "I do love you Donna."
Donna moved in Josh' arms and for a split second, Josh thought that he was wrong and she was indeed awake. But she wasn't, she was simply trying to find a more comfortable spot. But Josh knew at least some part of Donna's conscience had heard him, because his heart lifted at her sleep laden words as she made herself comfortable. "Mmm, Love you too Joshua." Content that his feelings were returned, Josh allowed himself to find sleep, and for the first time since the plane had crashed, he was smiling. Really smiling.
On the ground, Donna and Josh slept at first, wrapped together, enjoying the meager warmth of the sun coupled with the warmth of each other's arms.
It was pain from her leg that woke her at noon time and she sat up slowly, pulling away from him. Her leg was throbbing in time with her heartbeat and some inner sense of medicine told her that was not a good sign. She knew it would probably become infected, and the throbbing made her imagine the bacteria being spread a little further in her system with each beat.
"Donna something wrong?" He sat up slowly, reaching into the air for her.
"No Josh, I'm fine," she answered hastily, "fine really, nothing wrong." Her words tumbled out nervously as she did not want him to know she had been hurt.
"You sound anything but fine." His suspicions were aroused at once as he listened to her; and he only wished he could see her face to know for sure. In the White House, he could know at once from her look if she was attempting to keep anything from him.
"It's that female thing Josh is all," she tried.
His hands groped and then landed on her injured leg, his fingertips just touching the lump that was the bandage. "Donna?"
"Josh it's nothing, please," she insisted. "OK I scraped my leg this morning getting the wood and I wrapped some tee shirt around it just to keep it clean."
"But you're all right?" He lifted his hand until he located her face, cupping her cheek easily with his palm. "Please don't lie to me."
"I'm fine, promise," she insisted, adding >for now< under her breath. "I'm going to put some water on it and rewrap it. Give me a couple minutes please."
"I should be helping you," he fretted.
"Josh do you really want to see my bare thigh--don't answer that," she laughed, and as she poured more disinfectant onto the nasty looking gashes she could not help a yelp of pain.
"You are not fine," he almost shouted. "Now tell me the truth, how bad are you hurt?"
"I'm scraped and my skin is raw," she answered, the truth, but only part of it. She was not going to tell him exactly what happened, nor that in addition the aforementioned scrapes and gashes, she had several puncture wounds from a large set of canine teeth.
"As soon as we get back, you're getting that looked at."
"I know, I plan to" she agreed easily, and that only served to increase his worry.
"Come on and rest now," he urged, holding his arms open for her. She was only too glad to sink into his comforting embrace, letting its warmth overwhelm her into sleep.
Sam stayed close by Ainsley's side as they walked to the chopper while the crew was still checking maps and charts. Once he had climbed aboard he reached back for her, taking both her hands to pull her on board. "If I say how cute you look in that jump suit will you smack me?"
"No but I'll slap a sexual harassment charge on you," she teased, laughing with that light lilt in her voice.
"You would too wouldn't you," he laughed as well, pushing her down onto the seat and tickling her gently.
"Sam stop...Sam....Samuel Seaborn," she warned, laughing so hard despite herself she could barely speak.
"Yes? Are you begging?" He pushed her down on the long bench and pinned her wrists, dropping almost on top of her.
"Remember that self defense class I took with the other White House women," Ainsley said, trying her best to sound serious, "well if you don't move off me I'm going to show you exactly what the instructor said to do to a man when he had you in this same position."
"Ouch," Sam yelped but instead of moving found that her laughter was contagious and he joined in, still holding her until their faces were barely an inch apart. All at once the laughter died and their eyes held as they realized their actual physical proximity.
"Sam...Sam I think we'd better get strapped in," she said softly, the first to break the spell as she heard the crew approaching.
"I think so, but I think we'll be doing this again," he smiled, rolling off her and helping her to sit up, then carefully putting the belt around her.
A few minutes later the ground fell away as the chopper swooped into the clear cold air with dizzying speed and Ainsley slipped her hand into Sam's.
"Hey you OK?" His concern was immediate when he felt her hand tremble slightly.
"I'll be fine," she assured him, though her voice lacked any conviction.
"Sam leave it go," she warned, and there was nothing but seriousness in her tone.
Silently he tightened his grip, saying nothing further.
The day wore on, and there was nothing but trees and mountainous terrain and snow below them. The sun vanished early as clouds moved in. "Going to get dark early," the chopper pilot warned, and sure enough an hour later the shadows deepened below them. The searchlight illuminated only a fraction of the area they could check in bright daylight but Sam was loathe to return. They looked for another hour and he noticed she had gone totally silent, plus was seemingly trying to shrink back into her seat, suddenly looking very small in her large winter coat.
"Ains?" he asked gently. "What's wrong and don't give me some Republican BS."
She opened her mouth to answer and before she got past the first syllable, turned a deathly white, pushing him aside as she leaned forward and lost the contents of her stomach onto the chopper floor.
"What the hell?" Sam's eyes opened wide in alarm as his arm went around her, holding her across her back, his other hand to her forehead, as she choked and gasped. At the same time he nudged the pilot with his foot. "Man we've got to go back, she's sick here."
"No, I'm fine," she screeched, still choking.
"You are anything but fine," Sam retorted. "Someone who's fine doesn't turn white and puke their brains out."
"I'm only airsick," she managed to gasp out and Sam lifted her back upright, easing her back against the seat.
"I don't care what name you give it--sick is sick," he protested, his concern deepening at her still pale face and labored breathing. "You were fine earlier though."
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "It's the dark and something I hadn't thought of for a long time."
"OK," he encouraged. "You want to tell me?"
"I don't want us to stop looking on account of me," she whispered. "They're my friends, but they're close to you and..." Tears came at that point and he quickly put his arm around her, urging her head down onto his shoulder.
"We will find them. Right now I'm more concerned about you and your well being. So give it up Ms. Hayes."
"About five years ago I was traveling by helicopter to a fund raiser and we hit bad weather," she began slowly. "It was dark like this. Then engine trouble and we almost crashed. I'm sorry. I honestly didn't think about it when I insisted I go. I'm fine now really. We can look a little longer please."
Sam took a deep breath, weighing the alternatives. The small circle of light below them drastically reduced their chances of finding Donna and Josh; while the woman tucked in his arm's protective grasp was still pale and trembling, and the sight frightened him.
"We're going back," he announced, giving the pilot a firm nudge. "Dave, turn this egg beater for the base, now."
The sun was beginning to sink in the sky once again when Josh awoke from a sound sleep. He was uncomfortable and did not know why until he realized he was feeling cold and damp. "Donna, why are we all wet? Donna?" His hand groped for her, locating her coat sleeved arm and then traveling up to her face.
"Donna for godsake," he gasped, for his palm cupped her cheek and came back soaked with sweat. "Donna wake up now." He gave her a light shake and realized she was more than just sleeping. "OK Donna, wake up," he shouted, patting her cheek lightly.
"Jo...sh?" To his infinite relief she managed that much.
"Yeah right here honey," he assured her. "Please tell me what's wrong. God I wish I could see so I could help you."
"Fever," she told him, struggling to wake and focus. "I think it's broke--I was hot and now I'm..."
"You're wet and shivering is what you are," he fretted, slipping his hand inside her jacket to realize she had totally soaked her clothing. "I'm not copping a feel here," he whispered, "just checking you."
"If I felt....felt better I'd be...sorry," she whispered.
"My kingdom for a tape recorder right then," he moaned. "And plan on me quoting that line back to you later; but right now I want you out of those clothes."
"Again...hitting on me," she sighed, trying to keep up the teasing.
"Yes that's exactly what I'm doing," he told her, his fingers beginning to fumble with the zipper of her coat. "Donnatella I would give anything to be able to see so I could help you, but I can't so you're going to have to work with me here. You need anything wet off you."
A sudden chill wind emphasized his words and he applied his fingers with renewed urgency. "Out of those clothes Ms. Moss."
Her hands were shaking so badly she could hardly manage and it took several minutes for her, Josh helping the best he could, to strip off her damp things. "I don't have much else to get into," she stammered. "I wasn't planning a princess cruise. This was supposed to be a simple overnight trip."
"I know, believe me I know," he sighed. "And until the day I die I'm going to blame myself for bringing you along. But that's something I'm reserving for a good self pity session once we're back. Hurry, get on what you've got and get back here so I can help keep you warm."
By the time she had managed to pull on a fresh pair of pants and her last sweat shirt she was shivering violently from the cold.
"This is like holding a popsicle," he moaned, trying to rub some warmth into her skin as she settled against him. He took a deep breath before he went on. "Donna, I want you to listen to me now. Come morning, we're going to have to start walking out of here. I don't think we can stay here any longer like this."
"Josh they will find us," she objected.
"The only thing they're going to find is two bodies in the spring," he returned solemnly. Another deep breath, "Donna earlier when I said...well I meant it...you know?"
"I did too," she whispered, stroking his cheek with her fingertips, then leaning forward to touch her lips to his. It began as a gentle kiss, ending as one that expressing loving and longing. "I love you Joshua Lyman, and if it took this little adventure to make me admit that to myself and you--well it was worth it."
"And I love you," he answered soberly. "Since the moment I put my ID around your neck that day. I have loved you and wanted you in my life."
"You have me now," she sighed, "for as long as you want."
"Try forever," he smiled, and with another kiss they nestled back together, the earlier question of walking out of the wilderness tabled for now.
Sam kept a comforting arm around Ainsley's waist as they made their way into her room. He was worried about her, because she was being uncharacteristically quiet. He guided her to the bed, and then crouched in front of her. Similarly to the way she had done to him the previous night.
The first thing that Sam noticed was that she refused to look at him. Using his index finger, Sam tilted her chin so that their eyes met.
"Do you want to tell me what you're thinking about?" he asked softly.
Ainsley opened and closed her mouth a couple of times as she attempted to formulate a response, and finally found her voice.
"I can't get past the fact that I let you down. I let you down, I let Leo down, and most importantly I let Josh and Donna down. I can't help but wonder that if our helicopter had of stayed out there, it might have just been the one that spotted them. But instead, my irrational fears forced us to turn back."
Sam placed a hand on Ainsley's knee and squeezed it. "Firstly, your fear is anything but irrational, you went through a traumatic experience, one that you had to revisit in an abrupt manner, and secondly, as I have told you before you have not let anyone down. You were ill that is not your fault, and taking a good look at you now, I am of the conclusion that you are still ill. Your skin is clammy, and your face is pale, so we are not going to speak of this anymore tonight, instead you are going to lay down here and get some rest."
Ainsley let out a deep breath, and realised that Sam was right. She still did not feel well. Toeing off her shoes she shuffled up the bed and stretched out. Once she was comfortable, she spoke softly. "Sam?"
Sam sat up on the bed beside her. "Yeah?"
"I feel funny about asking, because, well you don't know much about me, and we haven't known each other for long.."
"Just ask Ainsley."
"Um, would you mind, stretching out beside me and holding me until I fall asleep please. As you said, I don't feel well, and I would, well I just would like you to hold me."
Sam didn't respond immediately, and Ainsley took this has rejection.
"Look Sam, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to.."
She was once again cut off by Sam. "I am not saying no Ainsley, I was just taking some time to organise my thoughts. I have no doubt that I would have been a basket case if you had not insisted on coming along, you have supported me when I was sure I was going to fall apart. If I can return some of that now, I would really like to. So....Scoot over."
Ainsley did just that, and Sam stretched out on the bed behind her, fitting his body to hers so they were in the classic spoon position. By their own accord, his arms wrapped around her waist, and his legs tangled with hers. The room was silent, until Ainsley spoke.
"I want to go up again tomorrow."
"Ainsley...I really don't think..."
"Please Sam, I know that after today a helicopter should be the last place I would want to be, but I really want to help Josh and Donna, and at the same time I want the chance to conquer my fear. Please, this would mean a lot to me."
Against his better judgment, Sam found himself nodding. "Fine, you can come up again tomorrow, but promise me that at the first sign of trouble you will tell me so that we can land. Deal?"
Ainsley sighed in relief and snuggled in closer to Sam's embrace. "Deal."
Safely ensconced, the two found their breathing regulate, as they easily slipped into a restful slumber.
The glare of the morning sun is what alerted Josh to the fact it was another new day. Tightening his hold on the precious cargo in his arms, Josh opened his eyes, only to see a pair of blue eyes staring back at him. Taking note of her complexion the first words out of his mouth were not words of love as they had been the day before, but instead he said.
"Geez Donna, you look like hell."
Donna forced herself to sit up so that she could study the man who held her. "Why thankyou Josh, remind me never to ... Wait a minute. What did you say?"
Josh' eyes widened at the implications of where this conversation was heading. "I said, you look like hell. You are pale, and it looks like you are going to pass out at any second. But I can see you. You are a bit fuzzy, but I can see you."
Donna maneuvered herself so that her face was level with Josh'. "You can see. That is wonderful. That must mean you will be able to see this." Making sure that Josh could see her lips, Donna mouthed 'I love you' before claiming Josh' lips with her own. The kiss soon deepened as the couple not only celebrated their love, but Josh's recovered ability to see. When they finally broke apart, Josh cradled Donna's face in his palms.
"That is the best thing I could have possibly seen. Thankyou, but now I want to return the favor, I want to see your reaction when I say. I love you too Donnatella Moss."
Even with her pale pallour, Donna's face lit up like lights on a Christmas Tree, just the look Josh was hoping for. "So it is true what they say." he said.
"And what's that Joshua?"
"That it is better to give than to receive. As much as I love hearing you say that you love me, the look on your face when I said those words to you, far outweighed anything I could have imagined. Thankyou for giving me that gift." Bringing her face to his, Josh once again kissed Donna softly. "But you know, there is the downside to me being able to see you know."
"And what would that be exactly?"
"I will be able to tell whether or not you are lying to me, and if you are I will be able to prove you wrong, so answer me this. How injured are you Donna?"
Donna was silent, immediately she moved to sit up and away from Josh, but she found herself caught in his embrace. "Tell me." he whispered in her ear.
Finally she turned to face him, tears evident in her eyes. "It is pretty bad." she said, he voice at the verge of cracking. "Yesterday, while I was out getting the wood I was attacked."
Josh straightened in alarm. "Attacked?" he almost screamed. "Attacked by what?"
"A wild dog, it punctured my thigh. It hurts."
Josh stroked Donna's hair with one hand to comfort her, his other hand moved to the waistband of her sweat pants. Without words, he lowered them, he was mindful of Donna's modesty but at the same time he was anxious to check out her injury. Once they were sitting on the ground beside them, he gently unwrapped the crude tee shirt bandage, and inspected the wound. Josh was no Doctor, but it was obvious to him that the affected area was infected, and Donna would need strong medicine and soon. Taking the tee shirt he turned it until it was somewhat clean again. Taking some snow, he mimicked Donna's action of the previous day, and used it cleanse the wound. He then retied the bandage, and helped Donna back into her sweatpants. Both were silent, until Josh asked quietly.
"Why didn't you tell me it was that bad?"
"Because you couldn't see, and I knew that you would just revel in your guilt like you are doing now. This is not your fault Josh."
"Not my fault. Really? Who pretty much forced you on the plane?"
Donna shook her head. "Don't you get it by now Josh. I love you. You are my boss, but you are so much more than that to me. Wherever you go, I go. Sure I moan and complain all the time, but it is only because it is a part of our banter, that is my 'role' in our relationship, you issue orders, and I complain about them. So don't you dare start a guilt trip. Okay?"
Josh nodded reluctantly.
Taking a deep breath, Donna decided to voice the conversation they were both dreading.
"You were saying yesterday, that we would have to think about walking out of here today. With my leg I am not sure how far we will get, but I think that will be our best chance."
"No. I've changed my mind. I said all of that without knowing the full extent of your injury. We have no idea what diseases are running through your bloodstream at the moment. Alot of movement will do nothing but cause those diseases to move quicker, I am not going to risk it. I can't lose you. Not now."
"Josh. This may be our only chance, we may never be found here." Suddenly Donna looked up in astonishment.
"Why are you shushing me, all I am saying is, that..."
"Hush Josh, can't you hear that?"
"You think what?"
"I think I can hear a helicopter."
"I don't hear a thing" he yelped.
"Shut up and listen," she exploded, clamping her hand over his mouth for good measure.
"And there it is" she hollered and pointed, running a few yards away from him to wave her arms before her leg gave way and she collapsed in a heap, still waving.
"What the hell is the matter with you," he scolded her at once, hurrying to her, and keeping his eye on the approaching chopper at the same time. He pulled her to her feet, keeping his arms around her as they watched. A few moments later they were sure.
"I think we're going home," he whispered, his jubilation taking the form of quiet joy as he held her.
"Yes we are," she answered, just as quietly, her eyes shining with about to be shed tears.
"Sam oh my god Sam it's them. You see them don't you?" Ainsley's excited squeal echoed through the chopper and she threw her arms around his neck in celebration.
"I do see them," he laughed. "Of course I'm also being choked to death and won't be able to enjoy it."
She gasped and pulled back before she realized he was teasing. "We're going to be able to land aren't we? How are we going to get them aboard?"
"Why don't we let the man who's getting the big bucks for flying this crate handle that," he laughed, hitting the pilot's shoulder to be sure he saw the two figures below, now both waving.
"I'm going to set us at the edge of the lake bed," he told Sam and Ainsley. "It's clear enough I think. Hang on."
Holding their collective breath and clinging to each other, they watched the pilot skillfully bring down his craft. Ainsley drew in a deeper breath as he began to land, closing her eyes in determination that she would not be upset.
"I think our ride is here," Josh said to Donna while they watched the helicopter settle into the snow, their arms tightly around each other. "It's been fun but I'm ready to go back."
"Fun, what are..." she began before she realized he was laughing. "God Josh for a minute I thought you were having a seizure or something from that knock on your head. It hasn't been fun, it's been...." She stopped as she thought about what had happened to them the past few days, how close they came to losing each other; and also what they had found. "Parts of it have been wonderful," she finished lamely.
"Yes they have," he said seriously, "and those parts aren't going to end just because we go back to the White House circus."
With that assurance she relaxed in his grasp.
"I don't believe it," he choked a moment later. "It's Sam."
"And Ainsley," Donna added, watching Sam step down and then reach back to catch Ainsley, keeping his arm around her back as they began to run toward the stranded duo.
"Josh you SOB I don't believe we've found you" were the first words out of Sam's mouth and then there followed long exclamations of relief and hugging and back slapping.
"Looks to me like the two of you had something pretty cozy set up here," Sam finally managed to get out during a moment of breath-catching all around. "I hope we didn't interrupt. Of course we could come back later."
"Cute Sam, real cute," Josh growled and gave him a quick shove, knocking him down onto the soft snow. "Now listen, Donna's got a bad leg. A dog tore it up pretty bad so she needs..."
"And Josh probably has a concussion, and I know he's got some eye damage," Donna interrupted, adding quietly, "until this morning he was pretty much blind."
"I didn't know, obviously," Sam said quietly, accepting Josh's hand to get up. "We'll get the pilot to radio ahead to the hospital at Griffis to let them know. Josh, Donna start getting aboard. Ainsley go with them. I'll pick this stuff up."
With his arm tightly around Donna to help her, Ainsley on her other side, Josh guided them back to the chopper. He climbed in first, reaching down to pull Donna in behind him and was reaching for Ainsley, when movement in the brush caught his eye and as he watched, a dark brown furry shape made itself seen, followed by four more. Donna saw his distraction and followed his gaze, giving a small cry of alarm when she saw the cause.
"Sam," she gasped. "He's caught in the open there."
"What's the...." Ainsley frowned, hearing them and turning back to see. Sure enough the five dogs were beginning to spread out, flanking the camp, crouching low and making that guttural growling noise.
"Sam behind you," Josh yelled. "Leave that stuff and get aboard now. Run."
Sam swiveled his head in response to their warning, and for a second stood frozen in fear as he realized he was intended to be a dog meal.
"Sam come on," Ainsley screamed, instinctively starting to run for him.
"Ainsley no, stay there," Sam shouted, his fear for himself forgotten as he pictured her being mauled. "Josh don't let her." He dropped the load he was carrying and took off across the snow at a dead run. Meanwhile Josh jumped down and swiftly caught Ainsley around her waist, spinning her around and pushing her toward the chopper. "Get aboard now," he ordered. "Nothing you can do out here. He's going to make it." >Please God< he added under his breath, at that moment very much afraid for his friend.
Josh watched a few seconds more, satisfied Sam was keeping his lead and then pushed Ainsley aboard. Spying Donna's terrified face he gave her an encouraging nod.
"Josh come on please," she wailed, reaching for him.
He nodded but waited until Sam was almost there before he hauled himself up with Donna and Ainsley assisting. A few seconds later, Sam was almost at the door, but so were the dogs. Josh turned and flung himself onto the floor, holding his arms to Sam and screaming, "Sam now--jump--hurry."
Sam hurled himself at Josh, with the dogs now growling and barking furiously. Josh caught his arms and began to haul him aboard when in a last desperate attempt the lead dog leaped at their prey, closing his jaws over Sam's foot with a sickening crunch.
Sam howled in pain and with one last pull, Josh got him aboard and Ainsley slammed the door behind him, leaving the dogs to bark in bewilderment.
"Get us out of here," Josh ordered the pilot before turning his attention to Sam.
Ainsley was already cradling his upper body against her, stroking his forehead in comfort.
"How bad Sam?" Josh asked, reaching to take off his shoe.
"I'm afraid to look," he grimaced. "Is my foot still there?"
"Yeah it is," Josh grinned, "and you're being held in the arms of a beautiful woman, so life can't be that bad. Let me look."
Sam nodded and gingerly Josh removed the shoe and then the sock, already trying to figure out what he was going to use for bleeding. He gave a long sigh of relief when he found there was no need. "Sam it's not bleeding," he sighed in relief, "but you need to get it xrayed. You could have something broken in there. And I don't believe I'm sitting on the floor of a chopper handling your bare foot. Ick."
"Thanks Josh," Sam smiled quietly and Ainsley hugged him tighter.
"Yeah, well the least I can do for the man who came after us," Josh grinned, helping Ashley to get Sam onto the seat and then saw to it that they all strapped in as the chopper moved into the sky.
Their little campground fell away behind them and Donna gave an audible sigh. "It's already starting to seem like a dream."
"Nightmare all too real," Josh smiled, settling her against him, and kissing her lightly.
"OK I think we've missed a chapter or three," Sam objected. "What's going on?"
"This," Josh answered simply, giving her another, more intense, kiss. "Sam I don't have to explain it to you do I?"
"No I think I've gotten the whole picture," his friend grinned and Donna blushed. Sam looked down at Ainsley, dropping his arm across her shoulders. What their friends had found, he and his beautiful southern woman were heading for and the thought made him forget the ache in his foot.
GRIFFIS AFB HOSPITAL
The chopper landed on the heliport on the roof, and medics swarmed over it. It was not every day they had White House personnel to treat and they were going to be treated well.
"I'm walking in thank you," Josh announced to the orderly who approached him. "I'm fine, I have no need to lie down, and I'm not leaving this woman's side anyway." With that he locked his hand firmly with Donna's as they settled her on to her gurney and she gave him a grateful smile.
Ainsley hovered over Sam while they unloaded him, sitting him onto a wheelchair so they could take him to have his foot checked, and her hand was similarly attached to his as they wheeled him along.
Josh and Donna were examined in the ER in adjacent beds and when they were left alone their hands automatically reached for each other.
"I'd almost forgotten what it's like to be warm and dry," she sighed, fingering the soft sweat suit they had dressed each of them. "Your eyes are still OK aren't they Josh. You've gone pretty quiet there."
He squeezed her hand tightly. "I'm fine. Like you, I'm enjoying that strange sensation of warm and dry, and just been paying some dues--giving some thanks that we're both alive and together, and then daring to ask that your leg is OK."
"We're going to clean it up and take care of it right now," the doctor assured him, overhearing him when he returned. "And you Mr. Lyman have an appointment with the ophthalmologist to see what treatment your eyes require, so this is where you part company.''
Josh sat up suddenly, and almost brought Donna up with him. "I'm fine, I don't need my eyes checked. I can see now."
The doctor went to interrupt but was interrupted by Donna. "Joshua Lyman. Answer these questions, truthfully and factually. In the last ninety-six hours, were you in a plane crash?"
There was silence.
"Yes." Josh answered although his response could hardly be heard as it was mostly said under his breath.
"Second. During said plane crash, at any time, did either of us believe that you had gotten shattered glass in your eyes?"
"For any period of time, did you lose your sight."
"Just answer the question Josh."
"Yes. Yes I lost my sight. Happy now?"
"Yes Thankyou. Due to your answers to these questions, you will be going to the ophthalmologist. Now."
"And what if I still say no?"
Donna turned her attention to the Doctor. "You have examined my leg. Will I need a series of injections?"
"Yes Ms Moss you will."
Donna focused on Josh again. "Then if you say no, so do I. You don't go and get treated, neither do I. That simple. Your choice Joshua Lyman."
Donna sat up and crossed her arms. "Try me and find out."
Josh knew that he didn't have a choice, that Donna would indeed carry out her threat. Sighing he threw his legs over the side of the gurney and stood up. "Do you know what you are doing to me Donnatella Moss?'
"I have no doubt you are about to tell me."
"You are handling me. You know how much I hate being handled."
"Well get used to it Josh."
"Get used to it? Why on Earth would I want to get used to being handled?"
"Because I intend to do it until we are old and gray."
Josh studied Donna's expression as she said those words, and recognised a glimmer of fear. She had taken a big chance saying what she had and she wasn't sure if she was being presumptuous or not. Wanting to quell her fears, Josh jumped off the gurney and walked over to her. Cupping her face in his palms, he leaned in close. "That sounds like a plan to me, but you are the only one who I will allow to handle me." He then closed the distance between them and kissed her softly. When they broke apart he whispered against her lips. "I love you, don't ever doubt your place in my life." Josh then stood up to his full height and faced the doctor.
"While I am down at the ophthalmologist's, you are going to make sure that she is okay. You are going to take nothing but the very best care of her. She is precious cargo."
The doctor nodded. "By the time you return, Ms Moss will have had her shots, her leg will have been bandaged, and then after an hour or so of rest she will be right to travel. With crutches of course."
A nurse entered the room with a wheelchair. She looked up at Josh. "Okay Mr. Lyman, let's get you down to ophthalmology.
"That wheelchair better be for you, because I can walk quite well on my own thankyou."
"Get in the chair Josh."
Josh grumbled and sat down. "I have a very long memory Donna Moss. You just wait."
"Take him away already. Goodbye Joshua."
"Mm yeah bye."
Josh was wheeled from the room, leaving Donna with the doctor. "Okay Ms Moss lets give you those shots I promised you."
"Well good news Mr. Seaborn. Nothing seems to be broken."
Ainsley and Sam both breathed a sigh of relief.
"However.. The skin was punctured so you are going to need some shots. Roll onto your stomach please. And lower your trousers."
Sam's eyes widened with recognition. "My trousers? You are not going to stick a needle in my ..."
"Because there is no way.."
"If you don't let them do this, they won't let you go home. Do you really want to stay here?"
Sam sighed in resignation, he knew she was right. "Fine. But I want you.." he said pointing at Ainsley. "I want you to turn around."
Ainsley grinned, crossed her arms and turned around. She had to smother a giggle at the girlish yelp she heard from Sam's direction. When she heard the doctor instruct Sam to pull up his trousers again she turned around.
Leaning down she kissed him on the forehead. "See all better. Would you like a lollipop little boy?"
Sam simply glared.
When Josh was wheeled back into his and Donna's room, he found that she wasn't alone. Sitting in a chair by her bed was Leo.
Leo stood up as Josh approached. "Hey there Josh. Donna was just catching me up on everything. How are you?"
Josh stood up and sat on the bed beside Donna, and absently reached up and stroked her hair. A move not not gone unnoticed but not commented on by Leo.
"How am I. Better now that I know that Donna has gotten the care that she needed. She shouldn't have been on that plane Leo."
Donna turned and faced Josh, her gaze fierce. "I told you when we were out there. My place is beside you, and if I hadn't been this time, who knows what would have happened. Just like you say that you can't lose me, the feeling is returned. I could not have lost you Josh. You are everything to me."
Leo cleared his throat. "Well..looks like you too cleared a few things up while you were lost.
Josh and Donna nodded. Josh spoke. "That we did Leo, we finally realised what we had, and I for one am not going to let it go." Leo knew the feeling was mutual because at his words Donna positively beamed. Speaking of feelings, Leo's mind went back to the conversation he had with Sam a couple of days ago.
Looking down at his hands, he spoke. "Josh?"
"While you were missing, Sam and I were talking, and he made me realise something. Your father and I go way back, and I have known you since you were in short pants. And during all of that time, I don't think I have ever told you how appreciated you are. " Leo halted and looked up, only to see both Donna and Josh both riveted to his every word. "Ah. Over the years, you have come to mean as much to me as a son would. I am proud of everything you have accomplished, not only in this administration, but in the rest of your life as well. And I definitely agree with your choice in a partner. I am glad that you're home."
"No Josh. I just needed you to know that okay?"
Josh understood that this was the end of the conversation. He nodded. "I understand. Thankyou Leo."
Leo was visibly relieved. "Good then. Now what did the ophthalmologist say?"
"Ahh didn't think I could slip that one past you."
Donna playfully slapped him on the shoulder. "Not a chance. Now what is the verdict?"
"Josh!" admonished Leo and Donna in unison.
"I am fine. There is no damage from the crash, no evidence in scarring.
However he did see the beginnings of a stigmatism in my left eye, so there is a chance I may need glasses later on."
Donna smiled and hugged Josh. "Thank God."
"That is fabulous." said a voice from the doorway. All looked up to see Sam and Ainsley standing there. Him in a wheelchair and she pushing it.
"When did you get here?"
"About twenty minutes ago. Did the doctor give you the all clear?"
Sam looked down at his feet, so Ainsley answered for him.
"He did, but Sam had to have a shot in his behind, which he took exception to."
Everyone present laughed. Sam interrupted wanting to get back to normal.
"So Leo..Does your appearance here mean that we are being sprung from this place?"
"Please.." added Josh. "Please tell me you are here to take us home."
Leo smiled. "I am. The President has been gracious enough to send an Air Force plane for you all. I think he wants to have some control over your flying this time Josh and Donna. It is on the tarmac as we speak, and can take off as soon as you guys are sprung."
Everyone in the room was smiling at the President's generosity except for one person. Donna grimaced and dug her fingernails into Josh' palm. This got Josh' attention. Looking up at the woman beside him Josh immediately noticed the look of panic on Donna's face. Stroking the side of her face he asked softly.
"Donna what is it?"
All Donna could do was whisper in response. "The plane Josh. Please don't make me fly."
Josh looked at her with surprise. "Honey a flight like that isn't going down."
"You can't know that," she returned, "I mean you can't guarantee one hundred percent that."
"No I can't...but at the same time Donna you're going to have to fly. The job practically calls for it as a prerequisite for you, and for me, you know I spend half my life on a plane. I can't let..."
"NO," she yelped so loud that everyone was silent and looked to her. She colored bright red at the attention she attracted.
"Donna, it's OK," Josh soothed. "We've just been through an experience, but I'm not going to be able to develop a fear of flying here and still keep my job; though I'm sure I'll always remember a small plane and the Adirondack Mountains."
"I'm not sure I'll be able to fly again any time soon," she said in a very small voice.
"And you don't have to if you don't want to," Leo spoke up. "It's a simple matter to arrange for a car, but it's a long drive back to DC. Six hours, even in a limo, can be pretty confining."
"Leo would you?" she begged. "I'd take sixty hours over flying right now. I'm just not ready. Josh you can go and I'll meet you..."
"Oh that's gonna happen," he scoffed. "I'm going to let you out of my sight after what we've been through. Besides I think we could use the time when neither of us are suffering particularly. You need a chance to see if your feelings for me were deluded by pain."
She gave him a look of exasperation and then squeezed his hand hard. "I was stone cold sober when I told you...."
"Told him what?" Leo demanded, that amused expression he sometimes wore firmly in place. "But I think I already know."
"Then you don't need to ask now do you," Josh grinned. "Not to mention, you've got eyes. You can see that we've...well we've..." He stopped and looked to Leo, watching his expression.
"Josh I'm just old, not dead," Leo told him. "Plus I've seen it trying to come about for over two years. My only comment is what took so long."
Three hours later, Josh and Donna were safely installed in a small but comfortable limo, with Leo escorting Sam and Ainsley back to DC on the plane.
They had driven back to Syracuse and were on their way south now to DC. Donna had been sleeping with the effects of the pain medication and when she awoke she stirred restlessly within his grasp, whimpering slightly.
"Sshhh Honey you're OK," Josh told her softly, tightening his hold of her.
She stirred again, struggling to sit up, trying to move her injured leg.
"No not really," she lied and he saw through that at once.
He laughed lightly and kissed her cheek as he turned her sideways so that he could take her leg onto his lap, gently massaging the bandaged area. "Help?" he asked anxiously after a minute's effort.
"You have love in your touch," she smiled, remembering earlier words to that effect.
"Well as long as you're in such a mellow mood, let me tell you that I have no intention of letting you go back to your apartment."
"Excuse me?" she sputtered.
"In case you don't recall..." he laughed, "those are called crutches, and you've been given orders to stay off your feet as much as you can anyway until that heals. Not to mention, Donna, I finally feel I can say something to you about your place."
"What's wrong with my place," she demanded indignantly.
"Nothing if you ignore the fact that there was a drive by shooting on your block two weeks ago and that each time I've picked you up, several woman ask me if I'm looking for a party. Then there's the little fact of you have to walk up three flights to get to your place--on crutches? I don't think so."
"I didn't want to live in Virginia or Maryland and it's all I could afford," she reminded him. "Why doesn't the administration do something about affordable decent housing?"
"Next time you have the President's ear you can suggest it," he growled. "In the meantime, you plan on rooming with me. I've got a lot of space that's going to waste, and... and I happen to want to have you around," he added lamely.
"Thank you," she whispered, her voice quavering slightly as she relaxed in his arms.
And with those two words, the deal was made, a new way of life had begun, and a love would grow.
Two weeks passed as Donna healed under Josh's watchful, if not hovering, countenance. Now the night before Christmas Eve they were getting ready to attend the senior staff Christmas party, though not without Josh's concern. She was still using her crutches when her leg would become tired or painful, and he still followed her as if she was going to fall on her face any time.
Meanwhile across town, Sam was being admitted to Ainsley's apartment, where he managed only a few steps before being frozen in place by the sight of her. Her hair was piled attractively on the top of her head, and she wore a simple dark green dress that clung to her in all the right places. "You look amazing," he breathed as she spun once to give him the full view.
"Thank you," she blushed royally. "I wanted to look nice as the date of Samuel Seaborn." Since the mountain trip, she and Sam had been spending some out of work time together as they could manage, sharing dinners or a movie, keeping it light for the time being, but knowing they were working toward more. Neither was seeing anyone else and neither had any desire to do so.
"You are more than my date," he laughed. "You make it sound like this is just a Saturday night thing."
"I don't know what to call it," she whispered, suddenly serious.
Sam stepped up and put his hands on her shoulders, sliding them down her arms to take her hands, and feeling her shiver as he did so. For a long minute their eyes held. "I don't know what to call it either. I just know how right it feels," he assured her in total seriousness. "I think we have something pretty special growing here between us."
Her color deepened and she leaned forward to kiss his cheek. "And you are a very special man Samuel Seaborn. And we should go before we keep the leader of the free world waiting."
The White House was filled with the subdued lighting of Christmas decorations. A five piece orchestra supplied Christmas music and a buffet table groaned beneath its load of food.
With Josh hovering close behind, Donna negotiated the long corridor on her crutches, and Sam and Ainsley, hand in hand, followed them in.
"Josh I don't think she'll be doing any dancing tonight," Sam grinned.
"Doubtful at best," Josh grinned as well.
The evening passed with laughter and food and as the festivities were winding down, the lights were dimmed even further and the music softened to instrumental for dancing. Josh and Donna sat together, enjoying the conversation that swirled around them, his arm resting lightly across her shoulders.
"I wish I could dance," she whispered, leaning back against him.
"I'm pretty content with you right here," he assured her, "although there is something I do want...." He took a deep breath to further his courage and rose, helping her to her feet.
"Where are we..?" She asked and he merely shook his head, helping her to walk with him until they stopped in an archway. "I don't know what the tradition is here," he said slowly, casting his eyes upward to the large sprig of mistletoe.
She laughed loudly. "Joshua I know this isn't your holiday, but you do know what the significance of mistletoe is surely."
"Not when it comes to doing this," he whispered, dropping to one knee before her and taking her hands.
"Josh what are you?..." she gasped, not sure what was happening to her as the room seemed to swim before her eyes.
"You'll see," he whispered again, feeling in his pocket for the tissue wrapped object which he had been carrying, hoping for the right moment.
Her eyes grew to saucers as she began to understand. Neither noticed the noise and activity of the immediate gathering cease as what they were doing became the center of attention. "Donnatella Jolie Moss, I love you. I have loved you since the day early in the campaign when I put my ID around your neck and you became one of this crazy group. Now I want to ask you to be my wife."
"In a heartbeat Joshua Jacob Lyman, in a heartbeat. I love you," she answered at once, her eyes bright with unshed tears. He slipped the ring onto her finger and it was then they became aware of the attention they had attracted; for the President of the United States stood up and led the applause.
And in another corner of the room, Sam and Ainsley looked on happily, and then he took her hand, leading her to another archway, also with mistletoe adorning it. "While we may not be ready to go as far as Donna and Josh," he said softly, "I think we're ready for this."
With snow falling in the large window behind them, and illuminated by Christmas lights inside and the fountain lights on the lawn, Samuel Seaborn and Ainsley Hayes shared a soft gentle kiss, the first of many to come as their lives entwined.
Thank you for reading.