Josh strode into the West Wing, he had accomplished his mission and was promised the rings within a week. He was on top of the world, ready to take on congress regarding the appropriations bill, the state of Connecticut as its future Senator, and Miss Zoey Bartlet, his future wife. He was the man.
Not even Toby's scowling at him could burst his bubble. He was about to say something sarcastic when he heard CJ Cregg's voice, "Mi amore."
CJ watched him as he came in and saw the bounce in his step. Happy for her friend internally, she pasted on the face of a very pissed off press secretary. Walking over to him, she smiled at him sweetly as she took him by the ear and led him into her office, slamming the door, looking at him, hoping that he realizes she is pissed, "Have you lost what little brain cells you had to begin with?! How in the hell could you let me stand there and LIE to the press, Josh?! Do you have ANY idea how much credibility I lost because of you and Zoey?!"
Josh was expecting C.J.'s tirade, so he allowed her to vent at him before he responded. "C.J., I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But you didn't outright lie, you just didn't tell the whole truth."
She rolled her eyes at him, sarcastically, "Josh, that's like saying a blow job isn't sex!"
Josh thought about that for a moment, "Well, that depends on what the meaning of 'is' is, isn't it?"
She narrowed her eyes at him, "Don't get cute with me, Josh."
He saw that she meant business and instantly regretted his flippant remark. "C.J., Zoey wasn't ready to go public yet. Its taken us a long to get to this point in our relationship. I just wanted to take her out, to be seen together so that it wouldn't be such a big surprise when we did come out. I just didn't know that Jean-Paul would be there, would make a scene."
She sighed softly as she sat down in her chair behind her desk and looked at him, "I'll do damage control for you guys this time. But Josh, remember, I report the political goings on of the White House. Luckily for you and Zoey, the White House does not comment on the personal lives of the employees and every reporter in the country knows that reporting on the activities of a Presidential child is a plea to be shipped to Siberia."
Josh grinned at her, "Thanks C.J. Zoey will thank you too." He paused a moment, then decided to give a head's up to regain her favor, "Can you keep a secret?"
She reached for her small bowl of salad and started to eat it, blithely, "It's in my job description to keep secrets."
"Okay. I just got back from my jeweler."
She looked at him, slowly, "Okaaayyy..."
He got up and moved closer to Gail, suddenly interested in her water aerobics - he glanced at C.J. with a sideways look before responding. "I took in some old family things."
She nodded, softly, "Your dad's pocket watch?"
Josh continued his inspection of Gail, "No, something that was my Grandmother's."
She nods again as she watches the array of colors on the fish, knowing what he's saying, softly, "I know what you are saying and what you are going to do. And while I applaud you on this and wish you the best, I'm not sure I'm supposed to be the first one you tell this to. I think you need to head out of my office and take a right and go down that long hall and take another left and go into that round office."
Josh sighed, and looked at her, "Yeah, I know. Leo took it upon himself to be paternal and to give me the lecture on the proper way to do these things. I just wanted to let you know, because, well because I didn't before." He then gave her a contrite glance. "Kinda of like a peace offering."
CJ smiled at him softly and kisses his cheek in a friendly manner. "You really are a sweet man, Josh. And she's very lucky to have you, and you are even more lucky to have her. Don't screw this up. Never ever go to bed angry or never let a day go by where you don't tell her you love her, got it?"
"Got it. Thanks, C.J." But instead of getting up, he stayed where he was, continuing his examination of Gail. Then he pointed at the fish and asked, "How are they going to take this?"
She looked at her nervous friend, softly, "The President and First Lady?"
"No, I know how they are going to take this." He waived at Gail. "Danny, the press, the public. Will they accept us?" He valued her opinion and knew she would tell him the truth, no sugar coating on it.
"Well," she sighed softly as she walked over and closed the door and then pulled the shades. Walking back towards her friend, she led him to her couch and curled up in her favorite chair, "I think you guys will be the Hollywood darlings of the District. Your every move will be watched and carefully scrutinized. If you screw up and flirt with a waitress at a restaurant and Zoey isn't around and a reporter sees it, he could report that your marriage is on the rocks. I worked in PR in California, Josh. I witnessed several marriages shatter because of the spotlight. I think that if you and Zoey are careful, and you both make a pact that no matter what is reported, you both cannot get angry at the other unless you have concrete proof of what is being reported, then you will be fine. However, you, my friend, will be the Enquirer's favorite topic."
She paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts to tell him what he did not want to hear. "Your reputation proceeds you. It will be D.C's playboy is smitten, caught by the hometown girl next door. Girls you've never met or even heard of will fall out of the woodwork claiming to have had your baby. Zoey has to prepare herself for all of this."
Josh blanched at C.J.'s words. He had never considered babies falling out of the woodwork. He carefully considered what C.J. had said, she was right, but he had no concerns. He had absolutely no interest in anyone but Zoey.
"C.J., thanks. I gotta go see the man in the Oval Office."
"Um, Josh..." She paused and looked at him, softly, "You and Zoey just told them, what? Less than a week ago? May I give you a nickel's worth of free advice?"
Josh looked at C.J., curious as to why she'd be giving him advice now, after he had just stated he needed to see the President about the Appropriations Bill. He was running late as it was for his meeting with Leo and Jed.
"Give the President and First Lady a chance to absorb all of this. They've only had a week. They need some time to get used to this and to get used to seeing you both together as a couple. Believe it or not, this is very traumatic for them. And, to be blunt, I don't want to see the President get so upset and agitated he has a relapse. Wait a few months, okay?"
Josh was shocked at her advice. He had waited five years, but C.J. didn't know that. He and Zoey had decided to let everyone believe their romance was new found, discovered after her return from France. Abbey and Jed tactfully agreed to the vagueness surrounding the date of the start of their relationship.
He nodded in agreement and sighed internally. A secret romance leads to a secret engagement.
CJ looked at him, she could see the gears turning in his head and knew exactly what he was preparing to do. "And don't propose to her yet, Josh. You know how girls get. They get excited at the ring and can't wait to tell everybody. It wouldn't be fair to her to say 'Here's the ring, will you marry me but don't say anything to anybody yet'. Trust me on this, Josh, I speak from experience."
A week later -
Josh trepidly entered the Residence's sitting room, looking for Zoey. He was formally invited to drop in whenever he wanted to by the President and assured by the First Lady that he was more than welcome, but he felt very uncomfortable wooing his girlfriend at his bosses' home.
He sighed relief as he found her alone on the sofa, idly browsing a magazine.
Glancing up at him, Zoey couldn't help but laugh as Josh kept checking over his shoulder for any signs of an angry President. Standing up, she tossed her magazine down and walked over and kissed him softly, grinning at him, "Don't worry, Mom's at a luncheon and Dad is...," she paused, "Well, I don't know exactly where my father is, but I can assure you, he isn't here."
"Good" He took her in his arms and gave a her a deep kiss. Then stepped back, "What you are doing?"
She grinned at the kiss and sat back down, holding up her magazine, "Reading 'In Style'. What about you?" Glancing at her watch, she looked at him, "Shouldn't you be in a meeting someplace with someone far more important than I?"
"Nope, no one in this world is more important than you." He said with a grin. "I had Donna clear my calendar, in the hopes you'd want to go out to lunch with me. Are you free?"
She chewed her bottom lip, regretfully, "I can't. Ron Butterfield gets his underwear in a knot if I go out at the last minute without any mention in advance to my detail. They like to know so they can clear the place."
Josh raised his eyebrows at that comment. "Are you really that confined? I thought you had more freedom than that."
"Well, normally I do, but, and I'm probably not supposed to be telling you this, but I'm trusting you to keep your trap shut," she paused as she went over to close the door and walked back and looked at him, speaking softly, yet in a tone that doesn't convey her fear, "Dad said that he got a threat matrix report this morning and there have been some kidnaping threats made against me so he sort of wants me to stay around here for a bit till things calm down."
Josh looked at her in surprise, "Threats? What kind of threats? From who?"
She shrugged a little, "Just... threats. I don't know, dad wouldn't go into the specifics. But he and mom just want me to not take any unnecessary trips or anything."
"Oh" He drew her into his arms for a reassuring hug. "You know, they are right. You're safest here." He sighed and she looked up at him.
"What's wrong Josh?"
Josh shrugged, his disappointment evident. "Nothing. Well, actually, I was hoping to take you back to my place, after lunch."
Zoey drew a breath as she reluctantly pulled away from him, looking at him, softly, "Josh, this is something you need to get used to. Nine times out of ten, the people who make the threats are bluffing, but there's always that one chance. I don't let myself get too freaked over it, but it would really help if you could just let this roll off your back or something."
He searched her eyes, as he had learned, many years ago, that her eyes mirrored her emotions. He saw her concern for him and his feelings. Funny, she was the one threatened and she was more worried about him than herself.
"Okay," He smiled at her and tried to reassure her, falsely, that he was fine. "The kooks will always be out there, we'll just be careful." Pausing, he said softly, more to himself, "I'm not going to hide in fear the rest of my life." Glancing up at her, Josh realized that he voiced his thoughts aloud. Smiling at her softly, he added, "Nor should you."
Zoey nodded, giving him a soft smile, "No, of course not, Josh, neither will I. Charlie was always freaking out though," she gave him a soft smile, "More so after you and my dad were shot," she looked at him and saw his eyes flicker at the mention of his being shot. Zoey knew that she would never fully understand his own pain or fear from that fateful day, she knew that he would always hold out on her.
However, she also knew that Josh would never understand the fear and pain she herself endured during that particularly chaotic time in their lives, how she was absolutely terrified that she'd lose her father and a man whom she had already fallen in love with. How she had to hide her emotions from the others.
Josh cringed at her words. She brought up a subject that still haunted him, no matter how many sessions he had with Stanley. There had a been a time when all he wanted to do was resign and retreat to the safety of his family home, to spend the rest of his days locked up in the safety and solitude offered him there.
But he had fought the urge, for years now, and refused to cower from things which would probably never happen. Stanley had cost him a small fortune, but he offered Josh hope and a future.
But Zoey was too young to have to face this... To see his fears... Maybe she was too young to face her future with him. Damn, Rosslyn's shadows continue to plague him, in every phase of his life.
Zoey watched the man she loved wage yet another internal battle with his inner demons. She knew exactly what he was thinking. Josh would never admit it, but when it came to certain things, he was transparent. She slowly walked over to him and lightly grazed her fingertips down his jaw, softly, "Hey... remember me?" She gave him a soft smile when he seemed to snap out of his reverie.
Taking his hands in her's, she brought them up to her lips and brushed them against his knuckles and looked at him, softly, "I think about it too... and I know that my nightmares are probably ridiculous little meaningless dreams compared to the traumas you face at night. But, Josh, I don't want to spend our life going back to that. I know that it is probably easier said than done, but I want to try to help you with that. Even if it takes until we are old and gray."
He smiled ruefully at her words, and ran his hand through his thinning locks. "If I have anything left to get gray."
That's it, always deflect feelings with a joke. Master of misdirection. He saw her eyes change, caused by the hurt his flippant words had caused her. Damn. She is trying to be serious, and he retreated to the safety of misdirection and deflection, his means of keeping people away from his soul.
She gave him a small smile to mask her hurt.
Shrugging her shoulders nonchalantly, she walked back over to the couch and sat down and picked up her discarded magazine and started to thumb through it, glancing up to give him a soft smile, "You should probably go and see if you can get back any of the meetings you had Donna cancel. I'm sorry I pretty much ruined your afternoon."
He recoiled from the tone of her deliberate dismissal. Damn, all he did was fuck up every relationship he ever had. But not this one. He was determined to not fuck this one up.
He sat down next to her on the hard leather sofa, and gently took the magazine from her hands. Rather then look at her, he stared down, unseeingly, at the happy couple on the cover. He addressed the magazine, watching her reaction to his words via his peripheral vision.
"You didn't ruin my afternoon. And I'm sorry that I made fun of your concern. Zoey, I'm dealing with my nightmares. I'm still in treatment. Stanley says I've made progress. Its just..." He stopped suddenly, concentrating even more on the magazine, his fingers tightening their hold on it, rolling it tight, unrolling it, then twisting it again, even tighter.
She looked at him, ignoring the abuse he was inflicting on her magazine, softly, "What?"
He listened to the concern in her voice, and finally turned to face her. Not bothering to hide the fear and anguish he has carefully masked from the public for years. "I'll never put the shooting behind me. I live with the fear every day of my life. Every time I go out a door, out in public, I'm scared that they're there, waiting for me." He swallowed hard, pushing the lump that was forming in his throat down, she was the first person, other than Stanley, who has heard this. "Zoey, I don't think I'll never move beyond that."
She nodded quietly, "Josh," taking his hands in hers, Zoey realized that she was growing accustomed to this simple, yet intimate gesture. She found that she was enjoying being the rock he leaned on when his fears plagued him, it made her feel more secure and confident in their relationship. Looking at him, tears streaming from her depthless pool of azure eyes, she brought her lips against his knuckles, kissing them. Looking at him softly, she quietly said, "Nobody will get you, Josh. I won't allow it. I'll jump in front of a bullet for you if I have to, my agents be damned." She looked at him as she hugged him tightly, softly, "Josh, I love you. And I'm confident that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together. You won't just be gaining a wife when we get married, Josh. You'll gain the President of the United States as a father-in-law, and being the son-in-law of the President entitles you to a detail."
He held her in his arms, drawing strength from her youthful confidence. Little good the President's detail did them that day, but he would never voice his doubts to her. It was best that she believed her detail to be invincible.
Then the meaning of the rest of her words dawned on him.
"Love you too, honey." He pulled away from her and looked into her eyes. "Say, did you just propose? To me?"
She blushed scarlet, "Propose? Me? To you?" Chewing her bottom lip, she added, "I'm an old fashioned girl, Josh... I don't propose."
Josh started laughing, softly at first, then heartily, finally hysterically, till tears fell from his eyes. Zoey stared at him, wondering what was so funny. He wiped his eyes and looked at her, "You don't understand."
Zoey couldn't hide her glare as she watched him laughing, "What?"
He held up a hand of defense, "Its just that I had promised C.J. I wouldn't, at least not for awhile. She didn't think it wise."
Zoey just rolled her eyes. "CJ really needs to learn to mind her own damn business."
"Yeah." Then he blushed, "You know, I just sort of assumed that you knew how I felt, assumed that you wanted to, you know."
She grinned at his boyish blush, "Marry you?"
"Yeah." He paused, an apprehensive look passing over his face. "You do, don't you?"
Zoey merely grinned as she walked over to her bookshelf and pulled out the newest edition of 'Brides'. "Does this answer your question?"
He squinted as he tried to see what the hell she was holding out to him. Then blushed even more when he realized what it was. "Well, I'm sorry, I kind of took it for granted, which I shouldn't have. I'll never take you for granted. But now I can't. Propose to you, CJ's orders." He thought for a minute. "Well, I promised her I wouldn't propose to you. But, you never made such a promise, right?"
She laughed and then grinned as she slowly made her way over to him, "It'd make an interesting story to relay to our children."
"It would be a good campaign story." As he grinned back and took her into his arms, he reasoned. "And I wouldn't be lying to CJ."
She grinned wider to him, "No, you wouldn't."
Feeling cheesy, she breaks out in an even bigger grin and gets on one knee and looks up at him, "Josh, will you marry me?"
"Oooh, I thought you'd never ask." He responded in a falsetto voice. She burst out laughing, and he got down on his knees, suddenly serious. "Yes. I want to marry you."
She laughed and then hugged him tightly.
"Well it's about damn time you two finally did something to make it official."
"Shut up, Jackass."
Zoey broke away and looked at her parents standing in the doorway and chewed her bottom lip as they both scrambled to their feet.
Josh turned pale as a ghost. He had been so captivated by Zoey and the manner in which she had moved their conversation from his deepest fear to his highest hope that he didn't notice their entrance.
"Go on, go on, Don't mind us." Jed prodded. "Josh, do the ring thing."
Zoey blushed crimson, "Dad!"
"What? Everybody and their uncle knows he has one."
Abbey grinned, "Just to refresh your memory, Josh, her middle name is Patricia."
Zoey groaned as she buried her face in his neck, "This is not happening."
He held her tight, whispering softly in her ear, "Zoey Patricia Bartlet Lyman, has a ring to it, doesn't it?" Catching a glance at the President and First Lady over her shoulder, Josh laughed softly, feigning ignorance, "The ring thing, Sir?"
Rolling his eyes, the President merely said, "Josh Lyman, you better have a ring for my daughter. If you don't, than she will not marry you."
The woman in question just sighed again at her father's barbarism. Ignoring the sigh from his beloved, Josh merely grinned, "Why, to be perfectly honest, Sir, I was hoping that she'd make an honest man out of me."
"God help the Bartlet women, another sarcastic Jackass joins the family." Abbey moaned in a light hearted manner.
Zoey grinned at her mother, "Yes, but I love this sarcastic jackass."
Jed sighed, good-naturedly, "Josh, get down on one knee and propose to my daughter. I don't have all day."
Zoey laughed, "A forced marriage proposal... only in my family."
Grinning at his daughter, Jed stood there as he witnessed a rare sight... true soul mates. Truth be told, he had expecting a proposal sooner or later, however, he wouldn't admit to that anytime soon. "Watch out, little girl. I could have my agent's come in with the appropriate tools. We could hustle up a Priest and do a shotgun wedding, right here and now.
Zoey looked at her father in shock, and he managed to keep his face straight for another minute. Josh, however, took him seriously. Slipping his hand into his pocket, he felt for the small velvet box. He had planned to give it to her later that evening, alone at their home. But now seemed to be the time. Especially with his future in-laws breathing down his neck. He found it and opened it with one hand, palming the ring.
He then took both of her hands, pulling them gently so she would face him. When he had her full attention, he lowered himself to one knee before her.
"Zoey Patricia Bartlet, will you marry me?"