Title: He’ll Know They Stood Up (It’s Time To Consider Yourself) Author: mavjade Fandom: The West Wing Characters: Josh, Donna, OC (their son, Leo) Timeline: 12-ish years post show Notes: This is for the OTP Thread’s 'Romcom… in space' challenge. We had to roll dice to get two required elements for the fic, I got “Debilitating Phobia” and “Younglings knowing what we don’t.” So I started this with Romcom in mind, but it quickly turned the other direction. I think I was working through some stuff from the recent U.S. election in this. I think that might become pretty apparent in one paragraph. Sorry! A primer for this story anyone not familiar with The West Wing: Spoiler The debilitating phobia that is mentioned early in this story comes from one of my favorite scenes in my favorite episode of The West Wing. I’ve included the clip below. You only have to listen to the first 35 seconds to get to the line, but I encourage you to watch the whole clip, if only because it’s an excellent piece of writing. Right before the clip starts, Josh has just been diagnosed with PTSD and we learned that one his triggers for a flashback was music, it sounded like sirens in Josh’s brain. The older man is Leo, Josh’s mentor and boss, but also a father figure to him. Josh’s PTSD stems from being shot by members of a group called West Virginia White Pride. ~*~*~ “I’m sorry, Leo, I can’t,” Josh said to his son as they were walking in the door of their Georgetown home. “But dad!” Leo whined. “But Leo!” “Why not?” “You know I have a debilitating phobia of rectangles,” Josh tried to joke. It wasn’t so much a joke as a metaphor for the truth, but it was a way to change the subject just enough so that his son would be distracted, he hoped. “What does that have to do with anything?” “The targets, they are giant rectangles.” “You are so lame,” Leo sighed. Rather than getting angry, Josh decided just to play along. “I’m well aware of that fact, thank you.” “All the other boys and their dads are going to the shooting range, you don’t want me to be the only one left out do you?” “I never want you to feel left out. Never.” Josh absolutely hated the idea that his son might feel that way, but he knew this was the right decision, “But I can’t go Leo, I’m sorry.” “I never get to do anything fun!” “Nothing, huh?” This wasn’t something Josh could let go. His son knew that he was lucky and it was something Josh never wanted him to forget or take for granted. “How many of those boys call the President, Uncle Sam?” “None, but…” “How many get to do their homework in the Oval Office?” “None…” “Do any of the other kids get to have sleepovers at the White House?” “Okay, I get it. Fine,” Leo said as he began to walk to his room. “Leo?” Josh called to his son. “I am sorry.” “Sure, whatever,” Leo mumbled as he continued to his room and shut the door with a bang. Josh did feel bad. If Leo wanted to go on this trip, so did Josh, but he also knew it was a very bad idea. Over the years, things had gotten better. Music didn’t make him hear sirens and screams any longer, the sirens on the motorcade had long since stopped causing him to shake. He did still have panic attacks on occasion, but they seemed to be caused more by being over tired and stressed than any specific trigger. But there was no way he could tolerate being in a room full of guns going off, especially with his child there. More than once his nightmares -which thankfully were no longer frequent- had morphed from him being shot to Leo and Donna being shot. Just the thought of going to a gun range made his breath pick up, his palms sweat and his heart feel like it was going to beat out of his chest. Josh was pretty sure he’d hid his reaction from Leo when they were arguing, but now that his son had stomped off to his room, he couldn’t control the shaking. He backed up against the open wall in the kitchen, pushing himself into it as hard as he could. He closed his eyes and concentrated on slowing his breathing. In, two three four. Out two three four. He concentrated on the feeling of the wall behind him and every part of him that was touching it. The back of his head. The tops of his shoulders. His elbows. His palms. “Josh?” He opened his eyes to see his wife, Donna, standing directly in front of him. He hadn’t heard her come in. He wasn’t sure how long he had been standing there, but it must have been longer than it felt. “What’s wrong?” she asked, concern growing on her face. “I’m okay.” “You aren’t,” she replied. “You’re standing against the wall. I haven’t seen you do that in a long time.” He took a deep breath and pushed himself away from the wall. He felt slightly better, but still somewhat off kilter. Donna handed him a glass of water, and he sat down at the kitchen table. “Leo wants to do the father/son event next month.” “Okay…“ she started confused. “You don’t think you’ll have the time?” She leaned forward in her chair and put her hand onto of her husbands. She couldn’t imagine why this would cause Josh to panic. “You’ve gone to them before.” “It’s not that I can’t make the time, or at least do my best to make the time,” Josh replied. He couldn’t always count on days off, but he did his best to keep his commitments to his family. “It’s that they are going to a gun range.” Donna sat back hard in her chair, “Oh.” “Yeah.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. “Maybe it’s time to tell him,” Donna offered. “What? No!” “Why not, he’s got to learn sometime, Josh.” She didn’t relish telling the story to their son, but she knew that it would be better coming from them than Leo accidentally finding out on the internet when he decided to Google his parents. “He’s also going to hate me someday because he’s a teenager and I’m his dad, but I’m in no hurry for that to happen either.” “Josh…” She knew exactly where he was going. It wasn’t so much the shooting that Josh was worried about. It had happened, but he was okay, and Leo could clearly see that. It was the other half of the situation, the part that would still rear it’s ugly head from time to time that made Josh worried. “It just… he still is our little boy for a bit longer, and I don’t want to have to ruin his idea of the world just yet,” Josh sighed. “I don’t want him to know that his dad’s a nut job because some kids hated the idea that His Charlie was in love with His Zoey so much they tried to kill them simply because Charlie is black and Zoey is white. But even though those kids missed, they got the Jew, so at least they were somewhat satisfied.” “That’s not what he’s going to know, and that’s not what we’ll teach him,” Donna said as she turned her husband’s face toward her so she could look him directly into his eyes. She could feel his hands beginning to shake again. “He’ll know that his dad overcame the odds of surviving such terrible injury, but also that he survived so much more and came out stronger on the other side. He’ll know that His Charlie and His Zoey didn’t let hate tear them apart in the end. He’ll know that his entire family -not just the ones that are related to him by genes- but everyone who loves him stands up for other people and won’t ever stand by and let hate win.” “Dad?” Josh dropped his head down as Donna looked past him to see their son standing in the doorway. “Hi, sweetie!” Donna said trying to discreetly wipe away the tear that was rolling down her cheek. “Dad, I know you don’t have a fear of rectangles, I’ve known that was a coverup for awhile.” Josh turned and looked at his son, “You do?” Leo walked over to stand between his parent’s chairs. “I’m ten, not six. There are things that are rectangles all over this house,” he said as he inclined his head toward a large picture frame hanging in the hall. “I know why you are afraid of guns. Some kids were talking about it one day when I first started at this school.” “They were?” Josh asked, trying not to get upset that other kids were talking to Leo about how his dad had been shot. “How’d they know?” “Their parents, I guess,” Leo shrugged. “Lyman isn’t exactly that popular of a name in D.C., ya know.” Josh chuckled, “I guess not.” “So if you knew this,” Donna asked her son, “why did you want to go to this so badly. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you’d usually want to do.” Leo looked down at his feet, “We had a substitute teacher tell us a story about how she learned not to be afraid of spiders by being around them more, I thought… that might work for dad too.” Josh pulled Leo to him wrapping his arms around his son, “That’s a great thought, Leo, thank you. But I don’t think it’s going to work for me.” “Why?” Leo asked. “Because, it’s not really that I’m afraid of guns. I am, but it’s a little more than that.” Josh looked over to Donna, not really knowing what to say or where to start. “How about we go into the den and we can talk, okay? I’ll make us some hot chocolate,” Donna said, hoping the few minutes would allow them to figure out how to explain post-traumatic stress disorder to a ten-year-old without frightening him or confusing him. - - - - - After their discussion and Leo had gone to bed, Josh and Donna sat cuddled on the couch together. Donna sat with her back against the corner, Josh with his head on her chest and an arm around her waist. Donna was running her hands through his hair, something she often did when they were lying together. It had been a difficult conversation, but one that even Josh had to admit was a good idea. It was what Leo had said right before he left to get ready for bed that really had Josh thinking. “So you’ve kept it secret all this time?” Leo asked. “Yes,” Donna answered. “People that don’t want dad and Uncle Sam to do their jobs might try to use it to hurt them.” “But…” Leo started to say but then stopped to think. “What if the secret is making it worse?” “What do you mean?” Josh asked, curious as to where his son was going with his statement. “When I’ve kept a secret that was something kinda bad, I always feel a lot better when I’ve told someone. Couldn’t it be the same for you?” It was an excellent point. The number of people who knew Josh had PTSD was very small. Being what many consider the second most powerful person in the United States -for two different administrations- of course the conversation came up. They had all discussed what would happen if the information came out and if they should release the information themselves to control how and when it came out. There were pros and cons of both but ultimately, in both administrations, the decision was left up to Josh. There were so few people that knew, and the people that did Josh trusted implicitly, so he had always decided not to jump into the fire that would be that controversy. But Josh had never considered that keeping his diagnosis a secret might be a factor personally. That the mere idea of him worrying about what it would do to his career -and to all the administrations to which he had given so much of himself- could be causing enough underlying anxiety to be furthering his symptoms. He knew that if he decided to allow the public know, it wouldn’t make things go away, but if it could improve any symptoms, it was certainly worth thinking about. “You’re quiet,” Donna said breaking into his thoughts. Josh turned so that his head was on her lap and he was looking up at her. “I’d think you’d be happy for a few moments of quiet.” “Oh, I usually would be, but I can see the wheels turning in that busy mind of yours.” Josh turned his head away from his wife and looked at his hands. “I’m just thinking about what Leo said. He may be right.” Donna remained quiet and continued to run her hand through her husband’s hair. While they often bantered back and forth, she knew this was a time that he needed to work through what he was thinking while he was telling her. “Maybe I should let it come out,” Josh continued. “Not because it’s for the good of the administration, but for me.” He turned back to look at Donna to see how she was reacting. “I don’t know.” “I think it’s worth thinking about,” Donna said with a small smile on her face. “You’ve always considered the administration, your career and mine, I know you have so don’t deny it.” Josh chuckled, he had certainly done as charged. He had considered how his decision would affect her since they were just boss and assistant, and he wasn’t about to stop considering her now. “But you’ve never really stopped to think about just you,” Donna continued. “And I think you should; it’s time. And no matter what you decide, I’ll be right here.” Josh sat up so he could sit face-to-face with his wife. He took her face in his hands, “Thank you.” He leaned in and kissed her gently. “You always have been here.” “And I always will be,” she whispered. Josh pulled back and stood up, holding his hands out to help Donna off the couch. “I mean, it’s not like people haven’t called me crazy many times before, and you for putting up with me. What do we have to lose?!” “Joshua!” “You’re only outraged because you know it’s true.” “I’m outraged because you aren’t crazy and I hate it when you say that,” Donna exclaimed. “But yeah, you may be right, I am for putting up with you.” “But you love me anyway,” he smiled. “Yeah,” she returned his smile, “I do.” ~Fin - - - - - A few other notes: Spoiler: Longish note that's kinda a question The part where Josh talks about Leo's "His Charlie and His Zoey" comes from something I did when I was young with people who weren't related to me but I loved. My parents had a friend who I called "My Brian" and I called him that for a long time (and I'll still refer to him as My Brian on the occasions that I talk to my parents about him). I didn't want Leo to call everyone in his life 'Uncle and Aunt' and since we'd already had Uncle Sam (for those who don't know TWW, Sam is just a very good and old friend of Josh's, they aren't related.) I wanted another way for Leo to distinguish them and to show his love for them, but not use the aunt and uncle methods for all of his family that isn't related by genetics. Where I wonder about it is saying "my so and so" is possessive, and while coming from a child it's a sign of love, I wonder about someone, even a child, using a possessive for a black man. To me it's a sign of love, but I'm not a person of color so if it is not received that way, I apologise and I'm happy to change it. Please let me know if that is the case.