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"Always" By Cindy



If it was one thing in the world that Josh Lyman hated it was jet lag.
No matter how many over seas trips he took he never got used to it. And this week's trip to London with the President had been no different. The trip had been routine....Bartlet meeting with Tony Blair, England's
prime minister.
Now as Josh pulled his car away from Washington's airport it was almost two thirty in the morning.
The Deputy Chief of Staff stiffled a yawn as he started the familiar drive home....it was only then that he realized that Donna had a file he needed for a meeting that day.

With a sigh, Josh yanked the car into a hard left and headed in the oppisite direction. She'd probably kill him for dropping by this late,but then she kept his schedule so she knew they were getting in tonight.
As he turned onto Donna's street his heart dropped at the sight of five police cars and one ambulance parked next to her apartment building.
Josh quickly pulled his car over and threw it in park. Icy fear raced up his spine as he walked toward the five story brick building. As the deputy chief of staff reached her first floor apartment Josh was shocked to see the open doorway quarinteened by crime scene tape.

"I'm sorry, Sir, you can't be here."A young uniformed cop stated briskly as he stepped in front of Lyman.

Josh fumbled in his jacket for his White House I.D. before replying. "My name is Josh Lyman, I'm the Deputy Chief of Staff of the United States.This apartment belongs to my assistant Donna Moss, I need to talk with her."

"I'm afraid that's not possible, Sir."The blond haired man replied as he motioned for a detective to come out of the apartment.

"What do you mean it's not possible?"Josh snapped growing more concerned by the minute. "Is she hurt?"

"I'm Detective Dan Nagy I'm in charge of this investigation. Did you say your name was Josh Lyman?"The slightly heavy set red haired man asked as
he took out a small note pad.

Josh nodded. "Yes, this apartment belongs to my assistant."

"She live here alone?"The detective asked not glancing up from his pad of paper.

Josh strained to see around the older man and into the apartment. "She had a roommate but Ellen moved out abou a month ago....he never answered my question....is Donna hurt?"

The Detective finally met his gaze. "Around one ten this morning neighbors heard gunshots coming from this apartment. When we arrived we found one body, female, blonde, approximately twenty five to thirty."

**********


Josh's throat closed up as what the cop was saying started to sink in.
He reached back for the wall he knew was behind him somewhere.
"Donna's not dead."Lyman stated firmly as he some how managed to keep his voice from shaking.

The two cops exchanged a sympathic look, they had seen this too many times before.
"Mr. Lyman, we're going to need you to come down to the station to do some identification."Nagy replied quietly as he started to lead Josh away from the apartment.
Josh nodded mutely it took all his will power to keep one foot in front of the other.
This couldn't be happening.....Donna wasn't dead.....
She couldn't have been murdered....not his Donna....

******

Sam Seaborn scanned the squad room as he stepped through the door. He finally spotted Josh slumped in a chair at a desk two rows back, his head buried in his hands.
"Josh?"Sam asked as he knelt next to his friend. "What the hell happened?"

Lyman raised his head slowly eyes bright with unshed tears. "I-I stopped by Donna's apartment on my way home. I remembered she had a file I needed for the meeting with Senator Benton. When I got there the street
was blocked off with squad cars.....the cops think she's dead, Sam."

Sam dropped his head for a moment struggling to control his own emotions. "How?"

Josh leaned back in the chair. "They think she walked in on a robbery.....and...they....shot....her."His voice trembled and broke on the last word.

Sam stood as a red haired detective approached Josh carrying a small plastic bag.

"I'm sorry it took so long, Mr. Lyman."Nagy commented as he empted the bag in front of Josh. "These are the items we need you to identify."

Josh swallowed hard as he tenderly fingered a simple gold chain bracelet that he'd seen Donna where several times. He gently replaced the bracelet and picked up the next item which was a small cameo pin.

The detective glanced at Sam as if noticing him for the first time. "Who are you?"

Sam cleared his throat. "Sam Seaborn, deputy communications director."

Nagy nodded and returned his attention to Josh. "Mr. Lyman?"

Josh stared at the small pin barely able to breath let alone grasp a coherent thought. Maybe if he had been here.....
If he'd given her that raise she could've afforded a safer apartment....
"Mr. Lyman?"Nagy asked gently as he leaned on the desk. "Do those belong to Ms. Moss?"

"Yes."Josh replied in a tortured whisper.

**********


"Go away, Charlie."President Jed Bartlet mumbled into his pillow as his personal aide opened the door of the bedroom.

The young black man sighed inwardly. "I'm sorry, Sir, but Sam's here to see you."

Bartlet cracked one eye open and glanced at the clock on the nightstand, three thirty five. Whatever it was it had to be bad. "Send him in,Charlie."

"Sorry to wake you, Sir."Seaborn stated grimly as he stood at the foot of the bed. "But I wanted you to be aware of this before the early press briefing."

Bartlet frowned at the tone of Sam's voice. "What's going on?"

Sam leaned against the bed post. "Donna was murdered around one this morning."

Jed sat straight up. "What?"

"The cops think she interupted a robbery."Seaborn replied sadly as he rubbed a weary hand along the back of his neck.

"Dear God...."Bartlet replied quietly as he leaned forward. "Does Josh know?"

Sam nodded. "He swung by her place on his way home from the airport."

Bartlet did a double take. "He found her?"

Sam shook his head. "No, he got there just as the police started their investigation."

The President tossed off the covers and got out of bed grabbing a nearby robe. "I'll contact her family."

"Thankyou."Sam replied as he headed toward the door.

Bartlet's question halted him. "How's Josh doing?"

Sam turned back to face his boss. "I've never seen him like
this.....it's almost like he's shut down."

"Keep an eye on him."Bartlet replied quietly. "Something like this can shatter a man's soul."

********

It was nearly noon by the time Josh got to work the next day. Sam had let him crash on his couch so he wouldn't have had to go home and face an empty apartment. Sam had called him around seven to check in and tell him that he didn't have to be in to work for a few days but Josh had
gone stircrazy sitting there watching tv.
He had to keep busy otherwise his mind kept playing these awful possiblities of what Donna had gone through.

As Josh passed by the communications bullpen on the way to his office he heard the buzz of activity come to a dead halt. He could feel everyone's gaze but he ignored them as he walked into his office. Josh knew if he
turned and looked into the familiar bullpen he'd break down.....Donna's desk was there....her things....

Josh shut the door firmly behind him and walked toward his desk. Once seated he stared blankly at the stack of files and unanswered mail.

There was a knock on his door but Josh ignored it not looking up from the pile of paperwork. His gaze traveled to the left of his desk as he spotted a message slip in Donna's handwriting....

Sam opened the door and stepped into the office closing the door behind.
"Josh....we can cover things here. Go home."

Josh gaze never left the message slip. "I couldn't sit still any longer,Sam, I had to do something."

"Okay."Seaborn replied quietly as he stood in front of the desk.

Josh finally looked at his friend as he remembered something. "I-I should contact Donna's family...."

Sam shook his head. "The President's taken care of that."

********


Sam tentatively knocked on the Chief of Staff's office door around two o'clock. After hearing a muffled reply Seaborn stepped into the room.

Leo was muttering at his computer which obviously wasn't doing what he wanted it to do.

"Leo?"Sam prompted as he came to stand in front of the older man's desk,file in hand.

"Yeah?"McGarry replied distractedly.

"You realize what bill is next up?"Sam asked quietly.

"The gun safety act."Leo replied not looking up from the computer screen. "Josh and Toby have been working on that for weeks."

"Exactly."Sam stated as he placed the file on Leo's desk. "We've gotta take Josh off of it."

McGarry finally met the younger man's gaze. "I'd think if anything it'd help him deal with it. Make him feel like he was doing something."

Sam shook his head. "I think it'd have the opposite effect. He already blames himself for her death...."

Leo nodded sadly. "Tell Toby that you're taking over. Want me to tell Josh?"

Seaborn shook his head as he walked toward the door. "I'll do it."

********

C.J. paused outside of Josh's closed office door not sure if she should disturb him. Everyone in the West Wing was reeling from Donna's death but C.J. knew that Josh was the hardest hit. She could only imagine what he was feeling.
Making up her mind C.J. raised her hand and knocked twice. After a long moment Josh's muffled 'Come in' could be heard.
As she stepped into the small room C.J.'s heart broke. Her friend was pale with large dark circles under his eyes, his clothes rumpled as if he had slept in them.

"Josh....."The Press Secretary began softly as she came to stand in front of his desk.

Lyman didn't look up from the pile of paperwork. "I'm fine, C.J.."

C.J. didn't buy it for a minute. "You sure?"

Josh met her gaze as he set the pen down. "I should've brought her on the England trip."

"Josh, there's no way you could've known."Cregg replied quietly as she leaned on the left corner of the desk.

Lyman felt the tears start to well up again and angrily blinked them away as he stood. "I've been to her apartment, C.J.. I knew what neighborhood it was in. I knew she had to have a roommate to make ends meet...."

C.J. moved to stand next to him. "Josh, listen to me. There's no way you could've prevented this horrible crime. Even if you had taken her to London this jerk could've been waiting when she came home."

Lyman sat heavily down on his desk as he met his friend's gaze not being able to keep the tears back any longer. "I miss her."He replied in a tortured whisper.

C.J. nodded as she drew him into a comforting embrace. "I know, Josh. We all do."

**********



By two thirty Josh pushed his chair forcefully away from his desk. He had to do it....he couldn't avoid her desk forever. Somebody had to pack away her things and send them to her mother....might as well be him. He owed her that much.
As he stood and walked around the corner of his desk Josh took several deep breaths then opened the door and stepped into the hallway. Once there Josh moved two doors to his left and plucked an empty printer paper box from the storage room.

Margaret noticed him as he crossed the threshhold of the bullpen. She quickly crossed the space between them concern written all over her face.
"Josh? Are you all right?"Leo's assistant asked as she saw him stare unseeningly at Donna's empty desk.

"Yeah, fine."Lyman replied quietly as he absently twirled the box in his hands.

Margaret reached for the box. "Josh, I can do this for you."

Lyman finally met her gaze. "Thanks, but I need to do this."

Margaret nodded as she stepped back."Okay, you know where I am if you need anything."

"Yeah."Josh replied as he slowly walked toward Donna's desk. He set the empty box down on top of a pile of paperwork that she hadn't been able to get to.

As he sat down in her chair Josh could feel the lump start to rise in his throat. He swallowed hard and shook his head to clear it. He reached for the pictures that were propped against the computer. There were four all together....one of her family, one of the two of them with Sam after
the Democratic nomination, one of her brother's three daughters, and one of just the two of them.

Josh's hand lingered on the last picture. He picked the frame up and brought it closer as he tried to figure out where it was taken. They were in a resturant somewhere.....couples were dancing in the
background, heavy oak paneling lined the walls.

Josh leaned back in the chair as the fingers of his right hand gently traced the outline of Donna's face. She was smiling, her eyes sparlking with laughter. Her dress was red, with thin straps, her hair was pulled back in a french braid.

"Hey."Sam stated quietly as he came up behind Josh.

"Hey."Josh replied distractedly. "I was putting her things away.....do you know where this was taken?"

Sam leaned over Lyman's shoulder to get a closer look at the picture.
"Looks like the Inaugural Ball."

"Yeah, that's right."Josh replied softly his gaze never leaving the picture.

"Josh,we need to talk."Sam commented as he stepped back from the chair.

"Think her parents will mind if I keep this one?"Lyman asked quietly as he gently set the picture down on the desk.

Sam shook his head as he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I don't think they'll mind. When you have a few minutes we need to talk."

"Sure."Josh replied absently as he opened one of the drawers on the left side of Donna's desk.

"Okay."Sam acknowledged as he turned and walked away.

Josh barely noticed his friend's exit....his gaze was fixed on one of the items in the drawer.
It was the book he had given her for Christmas.
Josh tenderly traced the cover before gently lifting it out of the drawer. He could still see her face clearly as she read the inscription he had written on the inside cover.
It'd barely been twenty four hours and he already missed her
terribly.....how was he going to make it through the rest of his life without her?
There were so many things that he never got a chance to tell her.

Slowly Josh stood and placed the book carefully in the center of the box. He turned and walked away from the desk and headed toward Sam's office.

***********


Josh knocked on Sam's open office door before stepping inside. "You wanted to talk about something?"

Sam nodded as he motioned for Lyman to close the door. "Yeah. I just came from Toby's office."

Josh sat down wearily in one of the chairs. "And?"

Sam stood and walked around his desk. "I'm taking your place on the gun safety act,"he replied as he sat down on the corner of the desk.

Josh's eyes narrowed sharply. "Toby and I have been working on that for weeks, you know that."

Sam nodded. "We just think with the.....circumstances that it'd be better for you if you worked on something else."

Josh leapt to his feet. "Like what?! Counting how many parking tickets various ambassador's have gotten since Bartlet got into office?"

Sam shook his head. "Josh, you're too close to it."

Lyman took a step toward his friend. "So what?! So is most of America! Everybody knows somebody who's been shot or killed!"Josh felt his voice crack on the last word but continued. "For God's sake, Sam, we can't
send our kids to school without another kid blowing them away. We can't go to McDonald's to get a hamburger without some nutcase coming in and shooting everything in sight! Donna was the last one! Nobody else is
going to bury a loved one because of this senseless violence! This stops now and it stops with this safety act. You're not taking me off of it!"

Before Sam could even think of a reply Josh turned on his heel and stormed out of the office.

********

After leaving Sam's office Josh stormed back to his own and slammed the door shut. He paced in front of his desk in a futile effort to calm himself down.

In a few minutes his energy was spent and Josh leaned against the right wall of his office his fingers laced behind his neck. Part of him knew the others were just trying to look out for him. On the other hand Josh
was angered that his friends thought so little of him that they felt a personal tradegy would distract him from doing his job.

With renewed determination Josh pushed himself away from the wall and sat down behind his desk. He unplugged his phone and tossed his beeper into a desk drawer. The gun safety act was pretty much complete, but
there were a few glitches that he and Toby had discovered on a read through. Josh pulled the files he needed from the far left pile and picked up a pen.
It was going to be a long night, but a worthwhile one.

******

By six o'clock Josh pushed the chair away from his desk and rubbed his eyes wearily. The lack of sleep was starting to catch up with him.
Making a decison the deputy chief of staff stood and placed what he needed in his briefcase. Turning he grabbed his laptop from its place on top of the file cabniet and he left the West Wing without a word to anyone.

******

Eight o'clock came and went and Josh was in his living room knee deep in computer paper, file folders and chinese take out cartons. He had forgotten how graphic the reports were that he and Toby had compiled. As he flipped through the information Josh did his best to keep the images
of Donna's last moments at bay. But with each turn of the page the images became more frequent and more intense.

Josh set the computer on the sofa next to him as he drew his knees to his chest. He stared unseening at the wooden shelf above the tv.
Did she have a chance to fight her attackers or did they just blow her away as she stepped into the living room?
Did they laugh at her fear?
Did she beg for her life?

Josh blanched at the last thought not able to bear the thought of some maniac pressing a gun to Donna's temple as she knelt.....

Shaking himself out of his thoughts Josh leapt off the sofa and headed toward a small cherry paneled cabinet next to the bookcase. Inside among other things was a glass bottle of Remy Martin cognac that Leo had given him after the inaguration.
They'd been so busy this first year that he'd never had an occasion to use it. Josh shrugged as he took the bottle out of the cabniet; now was as good a time as any.
Josh left the glasses where they were and headed toward his briefcase which was lying in a heap next to the coffee table. He flipped it open and plucked out the picture of the two of them taken at the inaugural ball.

Clutching the picture tightly in his right hand Josh headed for the small balcony. The apartment didn't have much, one bedroom, small kitchen, tiny living room. But then he hadn't paid for the apartment itself but for the fantastic view it gave of the Capitol building.

Josh slumped down onto the balconey's single wicker chair and propped his feet up on the metal railing. It was early May, and a perfect warm, cloudless spring night.
Lyman took off the top of the bottle and tossed it behind him. He heard it hit the carpet and roll. Josh took a long swig of the dark liquid and closed his eyes. The alchol burned its way down his throat.
Josh looked down at the picture and felt a lump rise in his throat as he saw Donna's smiling face.

"I screwed things up again, didn't I, Donnatella?"Josh whispered as he rested the picture on his knees.
"I hope you knew that I had feelings for you.....I just didn't know how to deal with them."

Josh reached out and gently traced the outline of Donna's face as he took another drink of the cognac. "I guess I was scared of screwing up a good thing. I've never had a good history with women.....the longest relationship I ever had was with Mandy and we both know how that ended.
Your friendship meant the world to me and I know I didn't say that nearly as often as I should have."

"I miss you, Donnatella."Lyman stated in a choked voice,"And I was a fool."

*********


Donna Moss smothered a yawn as she walked down the sidewalk toward her boss's apartment building at seven a.m.. She'd driven most of the night to get back to D.C. in time. During the long drive she'd had nothing to do but think....about her life....her job....her relationship or lack thereof with Josh Lyman.

Halfway to her apartment she had swung the car into a u-turn; it was time for a change. She couldn't stifle her feelings for Josh any longer.
One way or another Donna had to know if he could ever return them.

Now she stood in front of his apartment door, her hand raised to knock.
His car was parked on the street so she knew he wasn't at work. Taking a deep breath Donna knocked twice.
Silence.
After several long minutes Donna knocked again, louder.

**********

A sharp pounding woke Josh from his alchol induced slumber. He winced at the bright sunlight as he slowly sat up in the wicker chair. The world spun as a result causing Josh to sit still for several minutes. Once the world righted itself Josh stood and stumbled into the living room.
The pounding sound came again and it took Lyman a few minutes to realize the noise wasn't in his head.
As he passed the tv, Josh squinted at the clock on the vcr--seven.

Josh struggled to wake himself up as he reached the front door. As he opened it and saw the person standing in the hallway, the world spun again.
Josh leaned heavily on the door for support.
He had to be hallucinating....that was the only explanation....or he was still asleep.

Donna frowned in concern as she took in her boss's appearence. "Josh? Are you alright?"

Josh squeezed his eyes shut struggling to get control. If this didn't get him to stop drinking he didn't know what would. Whoever ths poor woman was she must think he's crazy.
As Josh opened his eyes and once again saw Donna standing in the hallway, his mind reeled.
'Maybe I am crazy.'

Donna reached out and placed a gentle hand on Lyman's left shoulder.
"Josh, you were drinking again, weren't you?"She sighed and ducked under his arm and stepped into the apartment. "Do you actually have coffee in the apartment or do I have to go buy some like last time?"

By the time she reached the kitchen she realized that he hadn't followed her. In fact he was still standing in the doorway. Donna turned away from the small counter, worry in her blue eyes.

"Josh?"Moss called as she crossed the space between them, "Are you alright? Did something happen while I was gone? Did you and Joey have a fight?"

Lyman still had his back to her so Donna reached up and placed a hand on his shoulder turning him to face her.

"Josh?"Donna repeated her concern growing by the minute. The last time she had seen him like this was during the campaign when they learned his father had died.

In a move faster than she thought he could make in his hangovered condition Josh grabbed her by the waist and swept her off her feet and into his arms twirling her around the apartment.

"Josh....what?"Donna asked as Lyman kicked the door shut.

"Where were you?"Josh asked in a choked voice his eyes bright with unshed tears.

Donna rolled her eyes. "Joshua, you may have graduated from Harvard and Yale but sometimes you have a mind like a sieve. I told you repeatedly that I was going on vacation while you were in London. I even wrote it on your calendar....."

Lyman gently set her back on her feet and drew her into a crushing bearhug. "Thank God."He whispered as he rested his chin on her head.

"Joshua, I can't breathe."Donna mumbled into his chest.

Josh pulled away from her enough so he could see her face. He reached up and touched her right cheek still not quite believing that she was alive.

Donna watched him with concern as she gently pulled his hand away from her face. "Josh, you're starting to scare me. Will you please tell me what's going on?"

Josh stared at her for a long moment before nodding. "I thought you were dead," he replied quietly.

Donna blinked in surprise as she stepped away from him. "What?! How?"

Josh placed a hand on her shoulder and guided her to the sofa. Once they were seated he began to tell her of the nightmare of the last twenty four hours. "After we got back from London Monday night I was halfway home before I realized that you had a file I needed for the meeting with
Senator Benton. When I got to your apartment building police cars and an ambulance lined the street. I finally got to your apartment to find police swarming....they said they had a body matching your description."

Donna sank heavily back into the cushions. "Oh my God....Trisha."

Josh took her left hand in his watching her with concern. "Who's Trisha?"

Donna swallowed hard as she fought back tears. "She's a friend of mine who works at the State department. Needed a place to stay while her apartment was being painted. I offered her my place since I was going to
be out of town....oh God Josh.....this is my fault."

Lyman shook his head as he drew her into an embrace. "No, Donna, it's not. There's no way you could've known."

********

It was seven o'clock before Josh and Donna could leave the office. The day had been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone involved. Full of the usual political crises and special moments as Donna was reunited with friends.

Now at nearly nine o'clock they sat in his apartment sharing a candlelit dinner which he had catered from her favorite restaurant.

"Josh, you didn't have to do this," Donna stated quietly as the pair set the salads aside and moved onto the main course of breaded shrimp and steak.

Josh set his utensils down and reached across the table taking her right hand in his. "I wanted to. I would've flown you to Paris if you had said the word but I was selfish tonight I didn't want to share you with anyone."

Donna felt tears start to form as she met his gaze not quite believing this was real. After their reunion that morning Josh had barely let her out of his sight as if afraid she would vanish.

Donna swallowed hard as she squeezed his hand. "Josh, I...."

Lyman shook his head and dropped her hand as he stood and picked up his chair placing it next to hers. Once he retook his seat Josh reached up and gently carassed her left cheek.

"I know you're thinking that this came out of the blue," Josh stated huskily. "But it hasn't. The last twenty four hours just made me realize what a fool I was."

"Josh...." Donna protested softly as she reached up to capture his hand.

"No, let me finish," Lyman replied with a gentle smile. "For once, please let me have the last word."

Donna nodded and waited quietly for him to continue.

"Since we first met I knew there could be a strong friendship between us."Josh continued as he tenderly brushed a stray blonde hair away from
her face. "Somewhere in the last six months my feelings toward you changed. But I didn't know how to deal with it or if there was even a chance that you would return them. So when Joey came along I figured getting involved with her was in everybody's best interest. I thought she would help me forget my feelings for you, but I was wrong."

"I started to realize that on the long flight back from London. I was thinking more and more about you and a future with you. Then when I got to your street and saw all the police cars and the detectives told me that they had a body that matched your description," Josh felt his voice
crack on the last word but continued on."When I thought you were gone.....I was lost."

Donna felt tears streaming down her face but she didn't care. She squeezed Josh's hand as she met his gaze. She was nearly lost in the emotion she found there.

Josh reached up and gently wiped the tears away from her right cheek as he struggled to find the right words."The last twenty four hours made me realize what my life would be like without you and it was not something I'd like to repeat. I know I made a mistake with Joey but is it too late
for us? Do you have any feelings for me besides friendship?"

Donna smiled as she leaned forward so their faces were only inches apart. "I love you, Josh. I always have."

Relief washed over Lyman as he stood and pulled her into an embrace.

"I love you too."Josh stated quietly as he captured her lips with his.

End