Title: By the Fire Author: mavjade Fandom: The West Wing Characters: Josh/Donna, Joanie Lyman Genre: AU, angst, expansion of canon elements Word count: 2,458 Summary: "Nine-one-one what's your emergency?" Came to calm female voice of the emergency operator. "Please help, the kitchen is on fire." "Okay, what is your name and where do you live?" "Joanie." Notes: I wrote this months ago on a airplane and it took me a bit to get it from the notebook to my computer. It started as a backstory for Josh’s sister but my muse decided to take a dramatic AU turn and I couldn’t stop her. It has nothing to do with the Leo Lyman 'verse as I wrote this before that started. The prompt is from the NSWFF Prompt Thread: #16: warmed by the fire. This story originally had that title, but I decided to change it to just "By the Fire" because "Warmed by the Fire" reminded me too much of that time I worked in a burn unit and the song "Girl on Fire" kept coming on the radio. Briannakin who asked to be tagged when I wrote anything TWW. - - - - “Josh!” his sister yelled from downstairs. Josh didn’t pay any attention and continue to play with his G.I. Joe. Earlier, Joanie had yelled at him to go upstairs and leave her alone and told him that he was too young to watch the movie she was watching on the TV that night. “Mom said I could watch something,” he had argued. “Well mom isn’t here, so go away.” Joanie had answered. Josh had stomped up to his room in a huff trying not to let the tears of anger fall. “Josh!” She yelled again. “Come down right now!” She sounded upset to Josh’s young ears, meaning he might be in trouble, but she had been mean to him, and he was angry too. He waited a few minutes, and she didn’t yell again, so he continued to play on the floor with his G.I. Joe’s. Soon, he heard her footsteps running up the stairs, stomping like she was mad. Josh didn’t know what she was going to do, but since she was ‘in charge’ while their parents were not home -something she hadn’t been shy about telling him earlier- he thought she might spank him, and he really didn’t want that to happen. He ran to their parent's room and slid under their bed. “Josh!” He could hear her looking in his room. “Where are you? Josh! Come our right now!” He scooted further into the middle of the space under the bed as he listened to her searching for him. She yelled and yelled, but Josh continued to hide. ~*~*~ It wasn’t the first time their parents had gone out and left Joanie in charge, but this was the longest they had left their two children alone. In the past, they would go to the store or shopping and be back within an hour, but tonight they were going to a party for the law firm and wouldn’t be home for hours. Thirteen-year-old Joanie was looking forward to watching a movie and talking to her friend on the telephone. She planned to send her seven-year-old brother to his room where she wouldn’t have to deal with him. But after their parents left and she sent him away, he seemed quite upset saying their mom had promised he could watch a movie. As far as little brothers went, he was a pretty good one. She had friends whose brothers were a pain and always bothered them, but little Josh would normally do just about anything she asked. He might whine about it for a few minutes, but he’d do it. He would spend hours being her audience when she was practicing, pretending she was conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He would clap and cheer after every song, and seemingly never get tired of watching her. He had finally gone to his room as she had insisted, but now she found herself feeling bad about it. She decided to make some popcorn and then call him down to watch the movie with her. She went to the kitchen and started the popcorn maker. It was an older model -her parent’s had it for years- they would often pop popcorn and watch movies and television together as a family. She was getting some butter out to melt and pour over the popcorn when the phone rang. She ran to the other room to answer, “Lyman residence.” “Joanie!” came the response. It was Tammy, her friend from school and just the person she had planned on calling. They talked for awhile, Joanie figuring her brother could wait a little longer in his room. They discussed the boy who had just moved to Connecticut and all the girls who were hanging off him. They agreed that he was cute, but he wasn’t quite worth all that, not that he would give them the time of day even if he were. The two continued to talk for while when Joanie thought she smelled something. “Tammy, I gotta go, my brother is being a brat.” “Ahh… not little Joshie. He’s so cute.” “Ha ha, not all the time he's not," Joanie replied. All of her friends seemed to love her little brother as well. "I’ll talk to you tomorrow at school.” “Okay, bye.” “Bye.” She hung up the phone and walked back to the kitchen to see if that’s where the smell was coming from, she worried she’d burned the popcorn somehow. As she turned the corner, she saw a huge billow of smoke and the popcorn maker on fire. For a moment she panicked and just stared at the flames, unable to move, not knowing what to do. Finally, after standing there for several moments in fear, moments that seemed like an eternity, she remembered the fire extinguisher the was in the pantry, and she ran to get it. She ran back into the kitchen and tried to pull the metal pin out of the handle that would allow her to use the device. After a few tugs and a few tears, she was able to get the pin free, but she began to worry if she would be able to stop the fire. It was growing very fast. “Josh!” She yelled trying to get her brother to come downstairs and out of the house. She pointed the nozzle at the popcorn maker, but as the spray started, she noticed the kitchen drapes had also caught fire. “Josh! Come down right now!” she yelled again. She knew he could hear her. Their house was not so big that yelling wouldn’t be heard, which meant that he was ignoring her. This made her both angry and scared. Angry because Josh usual did as she asked and this was not the time for him to start being a typical little brother, scared because the fire extinguisher did not seem to be helping much and the fire was continuing to spread. She decided to give up on putting out the fire and wanted to get out of the house, but she had to find Josh first. She grabbed the phone in the living room and called 911. "Nine-one-one what's your emergency?" Came to calm female voice of the emergency operator. "Please help, the kitchen is on fire." "Okay, what is your name and where do you live?" "Joanie," she answered. "We live at one-four-one Newburry Street in West Port." "Okay Joanie," the operator continued. "Is there anyone else there in the house?" "Yes, my brother, he's seven. It's growing, please hurry." "The fire department is on their way, Joanie. You should get out of the house and move away now, okay?" "I've got to get my brother," Joanie said as she dropped the phone. She could hear the operator yelling her name as she ran away. She wasn't going to leave the house without her brother, so she ran up the stairs to find him. She started by looking in his room, then her room, all the while yelling for him, begging him to come out and that they needed to go. She looked in closets and under the beds. Finally, she went into her parent's room at the end of the hallway. She checked the closet and then under the bed where she found her brother curled up in a ball. “We have to go, Josh! Come out!” “No!” Josh cried. “I don’t want a spanking!” Joanie had no idea what he was talking about, but she often found she didn’t quite understand how his mind worked. “I’m not going to spank you. We’re going outside, okay?” “But we’re not allowed,” her brother said as he poked his head out from the ball he had made with his body. She reached her hand out to him her eyes pleading for him to listen to her, “It’s okay, mom and dad are fine with it. But we have to go right now.” Finally, after what felt like forever, his hand landed in hers, and she pulled him out. “Stay with me, okay?” The last thing she wanted him to do was run ahead and right into the fire. Joanie held onto his hand and started down the stairs as smoke started billowing up toward them. As they reached the bend in the staircase, she could see the fire had spread from the kitchen into the living room. She pulled Josh’s shirt over his mouth and nose and did the same with her shirt. Despite the covering, they both began to cough. “Listen to me,” Joanie said as she bent down to her brother’s level. She pulled the shirt away from her mouth so he could see her whole face. Tears were running down her face, but Josh didn’t say a word about it. “We have to try and get out the front door. I want you to crawl as fast as you can, okay?” Josh nodded his head and got down on the ground. She made sure he had started down the stairs, crawling backward, then pulled the shirt back up over her mouth and nose and did the same. It was hot, hotter than anything she had ever felt. It hurt her skin, her eyes were burning, her lungs were burning, and every breath made it worse. But despite how it all felt, she kept going, knowing she had no choice. It was getting harder and harder to see her brother, she tried to stay right behind him, but she couldn’t be sure she was doing so. “J.. Jo..sh!” she yelled over the roaring fire. It was so loud she could hardly hear herself. She heard a faint cough, but it was off to her side and not right in front of her as she had hoped. She turned toward where she heard the cough and began to feel around, finally grabbing his foot. She pulled him toward her and underneath her, so his body was below hers. She started back toward the door and then suddenly the blackness engulfed her. ~*~*~ “I don’t really remember it, to be honest,” Josh said. He and Donna were laying on the couch of a vacation rental, each having a glass of wine in their hand. There was a fire in the fireplace before them, cracking and popping, heating the whole room. Donna had finally gotten the courage to ask Josh about the scars on his leg. She’d known him for eight years, and she had no idea about the fire. He’d talked about his sister once or twice, but never about how she had died. “They found us together,” Josh continued. “I was laying under her… probably saved my life. “They say something fell and hit my sister in the head, knocking her unconscious. My leg had second and third-degree burns, but I was lucky. The rest of the burns were pretty minor; my face, hands and upper body were fully shielded by her. I had minor smoke inhalation, but Joanie had been yelling for me, talking to me trying to keep me calm, she inhaled a lot more than I did. She was more exposed, severely burned. She survived a few days but…” He trailed off and stopped talking. Donna wrapped her arms around him and kissed the side of his head, “I’m sorry.” “It was a long time ago,” he replied softly. “I’m sorry I bought it up. Brought it all back.” “No, it’s alright. You deserved to know.” He wouldn’t tell her anymore tonight, she seemed pretty upset she’d brought it up. Telling her about the months spent in the hospital that he did remember, and all the surgeries he’d had afterward would only make her feel worse. He’d tell her if she asked, of course. He’d been so young he didn’t really remember all that much from before the fire. The details from after the fire were just a fact of life for him, but he knew Donna wouldn't feel that way. He'd always felt guilty he hadn’t listened to his sister when she first called for him. He had no doubt that she would be alive if he had. Even years of therapy his parents had insisted on hadn't rid him of that thought; he was the reason his sister died. He knew he had been a child, and there was no way for him to have known what was going to happen, but guilt wasn't always rational and knowing so didn't make the feeling any less powerful. It was really the what ifs and what would have beens of Joanie’s life he often thought about. Would she have become a conductor or would she have found another love? Would she have gotten married and had kids by now? Would she be proud of him and the things he’d managed to do with his life? Would she forgive him? He knew that last thought was also irrational. If she had lived, she wouldn’t have to forgive him for hiding when they could have been escaping from the house. But he did still wonder. “Do you want me to put out the fire? Donna asked gesturing to the fireplace. “Does it bother you?” “No, it’s okay,” Josh answered both questions. “It’s cold, and the warmth feels good. I’m okay.” They sat together in each other's arms until the fire had burned down to embers. Josh would make sure it was completely out before he went to bed, but he hadn’t lied to Donna. A fire in a fireplace really didn’t bother him. It sometimes made him think of his sister and with those thoughts would come the guilt which could be overwhelming, but he found he liked sharing Joanie with Donna. He didn't get to talk about her much. It was too painful for his mom, who had now lost her only daughter, her husband, and almost lost her only son. Josh had never wanted to share Joanie with any of his other girlfriends, they'd seen the scars but had never asked, and he never volunteered the information. He wouldn't have been comfortable sharing Joanie with them anyway and probably would have made something up. Donna was different, he would tell her anything. He trusted her like he'd never trusted anyone before. As the embers burned, he told Donna stories about the vacations they took that he mostly remembered through photographs, and about how Joanie would always let him play around in her room. How he’d watch her pretend to conduct a symphony while the music played on their record player. After their conversation, Josh realized Donna knew more about him than anyone else, even his own mother. He supposed that was a good thing as he was going to ask her to marry him tomorrow night. He hoped Joanie would approve.