And it is raining. Because, honestly, why wouldn't it be?
"Why wouldn't it be, Josh?"
"Why wouldn't it be what?"
She forces a smile. "Nevermind." So much he can't know about what she's thinking tonight. So much she won't tell him till tomorrow at least, till tomorrow when it's safe.
When it's safe. When it's safe. So much meaning she didn't intend to pack into that phrase. Because, safe from what, really? From Republicans? From debt?
"Your hands," he says, so quietly that it's as if he's not saying it at all, but thinking it. She realizes her hands are shaking, and she puts them in her pockets. Josh edges closer, but his hands are shaking, too.
"And I suppose you're going to tell us why it is that you're here," Stone Phillips says, and Donna wonders who turned up the volume so loud. Surely there isn't anyone in this end of the building who wants this amplified. It's literally echoing around the bullpen.
"Eight years ago ...."
And she thinks, 'Eight years ago I was in college in Wisconsin. I was studying, you know, French.' She even thinks in 'you know's and 'thing's. This administration has changed her in more ways than she can list.
"I would like to take this opportunity to describe to you some of the symptoms and implications of the condition ..."
"You know," she says quietly. "We're probably gaining the votes of some of the other people in the country who have MS."
Josh looks at her, taking more interest in her statement than she expects. "Swear to God," he says, "I forgot there were other people in the country who have MS."
She smiles, and hopes it doesn't look too sad, and then she concentrates on her face, on keeping it still. Joey Lucas and Kenny Thurman are in the room, and Donna doesn't want Joey to read the expressions crossing her face. She doesn't want Josh to read them either, and that's why she has to focus on controlling her breath, to keep it rhythmic and even, as though the airwaves carrying the Bartlets' interview aren't the only thing dictating when she breathes and when she doesn't.
There is a space behind her, to the left, that is conspicuously empty, and another slightly in front of her to the right. These are the places where Dolores Landingham and Charles Young like to stand. Charlie hasn't come back since that day. He has called, and he made quite certain there was a proper temp stepping in this week. As if anyone can make up for Charlie, as if anyone can do as good a job as Charlie. President Bartlet has been mourning, and there has been no Charlie.
There is another temp in the building, too. He's a young man. A young man, how much further from cookies and pillbox hats could he be? It occurs to Donna that last week, the day after the accident at 18th and Potomac, Mrs. Landingham missed work for the first time in 15 years. And it doesn't even count, because, technically, at that point, she was no longer employed.
"I will continue to support my husband one hundred percent ..."
...in the final days of his Presidency, Donna thinks, because he has decided not to run again. He told them all that night, the night of 18th and Potomac. "No," he'd said simply. "No." And Josh had come back to the office for Donna, to tell her.
He had actually cried that night.
She takes her hand out of her pocket and reaches for his hand. He accepts her offer without seeming to notice; his eyes are on the TV, and hers aren't. She can hear just fine. If she looks at the TV, she'll read the captions, and that'll be too much like reading a newspaper. So she focuses on the nearest window, on the rain, on the fitting rain.
"...disease? Is it fatal?"
"No, that's the good news. I'm going to be here ..."
Where? Not in this White House, Donna thinks, and Josh is squeezing her hand. They're in tune, too much so, disconcertingly so, and she knows he is thinking the same thing as she. She steels herself so she can handle his emotion on top of her own.
The interview drags. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. The doctors Bartlet are together against Babish's best advice. Babish was wrong about this, Donna thinks. Without Abbey, the President would seem lonely. He would seem alone. The whole staff should be sitting out there with him in their varying degrees of self-control. Mrs. Landingham should have stayed in the world another week and been sitting out there with him.
Twenty-five minutes, and they all start moving. They're going to be in the room for the press conference, and this time it's going to be vital that their expressions remain aloof.
Aloof. What a silly word. This whole damn thing feels silly, but Donna is fairly certain this is because she's becoming hysterical.
In a few minutes, it will be over. She walks slowly beside Josh as they head for the gallows. The press conference. And suddenly she's pushing Josh into his office and closing the door.
"What?" he asks.
"This is it?"
His face softens.
"This is it, Josh? He's going to go in there and say 'no' when he gets the question? This is it?" Her voice rises at the end of the sentence.
"We've got two years, Donna, before we ... but, yeah. This is it."
She pretends she isn't crying, and he pretends he isn't on the verge of reaching for her. They have worked together for two years, and they have two years left to work together. And then ...
But tomorrow ... tomorrow will still be safe, because this night, Wednesday night, the night they circled mentally, but never with a pen, on every calendar in the building ... Tomorrow, this night will be over.
Two years from now this night and all its implications will be over.
"We gotta go," Josh says, nodding toward the door, and Donna composes herself before his eyes, smoothing her face into a detached, concerned expression. Josh does the same. His eyes are too bright for Donna to look at them.
They rejoin their friends and colleagues in the corridor, and nobody speaks. They know what the President will say. CJ is herding the press into order. She's wearing her glasses to break the line of her exhausted eyes. Carole is beside her.
And Donna beside Josh, and Margaret beside Leo, and Ginger beside Toby, and Kathy beside Sam. But the President, with the eyes of the nation upon him, with his wife at his side, with his staff in the room, the President, when he enters, is alone. No Mrs. Landingham. No Charlie.
"Take your seats, please. Take your seats. The briefing will begin in ten minutes."
This isn't part of the plan; it's supposed to be immediate, but the President has left the room again. "Eagle's moving." She doesn't have to hear this part to hear it in her head. Josh starts to follow and changes his mind.
Tic. Tic. Tic. Surely the press is talking amongst themselves, but the only one listening is CJ. The rest hear only the clock, whichever clock is nearest them, and wait. When he returns, the President is wet. He's been outside in this weather. He's been outside the building, where they all would like to be.
Donna looks away. She doesn't feel like herself tonight. She looks first at Toby, standing several feet away. His eyes are downright haunted. He's an open book, more so than Toby ever is. Right now, if she asked him, he would not be able to define aloof.
Donna makes eye contact with Toby, and she smiles, because that's what happens when she makes eye contact with people. If they're all going down, if they're losing their jobs, if they never work in this town again .... Doesn't matter. She smiled at Toby last week and she can do it again tonight.
And while she's at it, why not smile at CJ? Somebody has to. The press corp is in upheaval, not one of them thinking to pause for breath, let alone to smile, so why not? Danny Concannon is on tiptoe, swear to God. Katie and Arthur are elbowing each other for prime spot. Dave and Mark and the girl with the freckles ... Donna even smiles at the girl with the freckles.
These are the people CJ works with. She works with senior staff, and she works with these reporters. They are very different halves of a whole, this woman and these barking newsmen. The reporters, to her, are both friend and foe, and she will miss them when she's finished here. Donna smiles at them all and turns away.
Her eyes rest on Sam. He's wet, too. He must have gone after the President. He is surprisingly calm. Donna smiles at him and he smiles back, not a single spark of battle in his eyes. He has accepted their fate, as the rest of them have. No one is looking at the President but Leo.
Donna's eyes rest on Leo, who is also somewhat damp, and it doesn't matter he isn't looking, she goes right ahead and smiles. This is Leo's last job, too. He will retire at the end of this, and he will live alone, and visit his old friend Jed, and talk out loud to the TV when C-SPAN airs Senate proceedings.
Leo is currently the White House Chief of Staff, and Donna cannot bring herself to look at his deputy.
"Mr. President, why didn't you come forward with your illness during the campaign?" The obvious question. One of the twenty-eight obvious questions CJ and Toby have been able to predict. The President answers without a hitch. Personal business, blah blah blah .....
Josh reaches for Donna's hand this time. The staff gathers, CJ beside them but separate as she hovers on the edge of the press. Leo and Toby on one side of the background monitors, Donna, Josh, and Sam on the other. And in the middle? A giant, waving flag on those monitors, taunting them, standing as a symbol of everything they won't be able to fight for.
"Can you tell us, right now, if you'll be seeking a second term?" Oh holy hell, Donna thinks, I'm going to hyperventilate. She forces herself to breathe slowly and not to put her hands over her ears. Right now, this woman says. This reporter who doesn't understand that if the President answers right now, he'll be sealing the fate of a great many people right now. Don't let him say it, she thinks frantically, don't let him say it, don't let him.
Josh looks away. Toby is staring at that damned waving flag. So is Sam. Only Leo is watching their President speak.
Except the President isn't speaking. Nobody is speaking.
Josiah Bartlet is looking around the room, at the waving flags on the monitors, at the press corps in front of him. The grief hasn't left his eyes since 18th and Potomac, and it's still there now. But there are laws that can be passed and others that can be better enforced, and maybe that's why he doesn't look so hopeless as his eyes rest briefly on each member of his staff, and then settle on his wife.
Donna can't look, so she watches Leo instead. His eyes are wide and he's leaning toward Toby. "Watch this," he says so quietly that she's reading his lips.
"I have not ruled out --" the President says, and this much is a shock, because not 24 hours ago, not 12 hours ago, not 12 minutes ago he had ruled it out. Donna looks at him, and he's looking at Abbey, and she's got tears running down her cheeks, but she nods just a little. "Yes," he says with her consent. "Yes, I do believe I'll be in town a while longer."
Eagle's not going anywhere, Donna thinks. Josh is squeezing Donna's hand, and he's keeping that damned mask of calm indifference on his face, but Donna knows. They're in tune. He's about to start dancing. He's about to run around the room shaking people's hands.
We won't win, Donna thinks, except, there are looks on some of the reporters' faces in this sea of endless press that change her mind. There are looks of relief on the faces of Danny and Mark and Katie, and not Arthur, but who needs Arthur? There are looks of relief on the faces Sam and Toby and CJ, and Donna bets Charlie is watching at home -- no -- no, there he is in the back of the room, and he's grinning, he's making no effort to hide the relief and the joy on his face.
Tomorrow, then, begins the campaign. Tomorrow begins an impossible, bitter, uphill struggle in the mud. But tonight? Donna sqeezes Josh's hand, and allows herself to stop smiling and relax. It is Wednesday, and it is raining cats and dogs, but tonight is safe.