Spoilers: Up to 'King Corn', although nothing specific. Speculation future fic ahead, children.
Notes: Again, a huge huge thank you to Amanda, who stayed up to 4am with chants of me going "IT'S ALMOST DONE!" and doing a great insta-beta. Oh, and again, a big yay to Portishead and their song "Numb". Also? The unedited version of this is up over at JoshDonnaNC-17FF and http: "I can't understand myself anymore, 'cause I'm still feeling lonely, feeling so unholy."
They meet in a bar in Tucson. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but neither of them is laughing.
He is the last person in the world she expected to see when she walked into the crappy bar attached to her motel. It's just after two a.m., and she's too wired from the road and caffeine and life to just pass out for a few uninterrupted hours of shuteye. So she'd figured she'd grab a few beers, eat some bar nuts, and go back to her room.
But Josh Lyman is sitting in her crappy bar on her shitty road trip to hell, and the universe is too excited about screwing her to stop her from sitting down next to him. Strangely, she's not very surprised.
"Crazy seeing you here" she mumbles before dropping onto the stool to his left and motioning for the bartender. They're the first words she's spoken to this man in more than eight months. She'd even sent him a bland, flowered sympathy card when she'd read his mother's death announcement in the Post.
She's perfectly aware how horrible that was of her. If nothing else, she'd owed his mother more than that. But there are a lot of things she doesn't like about herself right now. One more doesn't make that much of a difference.
He's staring at her in bald-faced disbelief. If she weren't so bone tired from three days on the road, she'd laugh. Instead she orders a whiskey sour, changing it quickly to a gin and tonic because she can't drink whisky on nothing but a Subway sandwich and a bag of chips.
The bartender, a large black man in his fifties, is quick with a bottle and the pretzels. The drink is cold to the touch and begins to sweat in the heat of the bar. This isn't a place that's here for the tourists. It's obvious in the décor and lighting and the fact that it's almost three am on a Tuesday night and the place is still open.
She salutes the bartender with her drink and figures that she's both too exhausted and numb to feel uncomfortable here, or that she's world weary enough to fit in.
She's not sure, but its probably both.
And she's avoiding things again. Her shrink said she had to stop doing that, or she was going to end up in a world of trouble. As if quitting her job and taking off cross-country – again – wasn't a world of trouble.
"Why are you here?" His voice is low and harsh, and she remembers why she stopped talking to him.
"Fuck you, Josh. Either be civil or I'm throwing this drink at you."
"Not putting up with your crap right now."
She can see him twitch out of the corner of her eye, and sighs before turning to glare at him.
She takes a good look at him. He's gained weight in the last eight months. He's also got a lot more gray hair, and a tan. Weirdly, he looks healthy for a guy sitting in a bar at 3am on a Tuesday. Generally better than the last time she saw him. Then again, those weren't the best of circumstances.
Mostly, he looks tense and is avoiding looking directly at her.
Typical Josh. Not that she really blames him at this point.
"Did you come looking for me" he asks, drink suspended half way between the streaked bar and his mouth. His shoulders are rigid. She has never seen him this bleak.
"No." Her answer is honest. It's all she really has left to give. She turns back to the bar and runs her thumb around rim of her cloudy glass. "I ran away."
In profile, she can see his mouth twist. There is humor there, but mostly anger. And defeat. "No. No one would come looking for me. But it figures..."
She doesn't know what to say to that, so she shrugs and takes a sip of her gin. It burns on her tongue, and she's reminded why she doesn't drink it normally.
"It's still all about you, isn't it?" She's surprised at her words. She had no idea they were even in her until they came out, angry and low.
"Me finding you." She lets that sink in for a bit. Waits for him to realize that he's still being an asshole before she continues. "You aren't even asking why I ran away."
He doesn't answer her for a very long time. The mysteries of the universe are apparently floating in his glass. When he finally starts to speak, he doesn't look at her. Doesn't even really move except to turn the glass in his hands. "You ran away because waking up hurt too much. Breathing hurt. Moving hurt. And finally, it wasn't worth it to pay lip service to the pit of voles that was slowly crushing your soul."
And right there is everything she needed to hear. Donna wonders how, even after years apart, they can share the same brain. She quirks her lip and clinks her gin against his glass. "Okay, so you have some idea."
His mouth flattens into a hard ironic line. "You're smarter than I was. Took me nearly thirty years to figure that out."
"Yeah, well, women mature faster than guys." She is smiling into her drink, and the fuzzy blankness that has been so much a part of her brain for the last two years is slowly starting to dissipate. His next words stop her cold.
"I miss you."
She flinches, just a little. Two years ago, she would have given her left arm to hear those words from this man. Hell, if asked, she probably would have admitted it earlier this evening. But coming from that mouth in this place, said in that tone, all the words cause are a strange sort of fear. And weariness.
"I miss you too." Because it's true. Despite everything.
"We're completely hallucinating this, aren't we?"
She shrugs and takes another sip of her gin. The tonic is strangely bitter. Then again, maybe that's just her life. "Some people say that reality is nothing but one long dream. Hallucinations are a sort of dream. It's possible."
He grunts and knocks back the last of his drink before standing and carefully turning her around by her shoulders to face him. There is something dangerous radiating off him. A frenzied energy she can't remember ever seeing before. It mingles with the traces of desperation on his face, and she wonders how much of his life she's actually missed.
He is alone now. No mother. No father. No Bartlet family. No candidate. Just Joshua Lyman.
He scares her a little like this. And for the first time in too long, she can feel the burn of arousal in her belly.
"Want to go back to your hotel room?" He is staring straight at her, eyes locked on her own, apparently reading her mind. He is asking to go back to her room and fuck her until they forget everything.
It's the best offer she's had all year. To be fair, it's only April.
"Let me pay for my drink."
He tastes like whiskey. Pressed up against the door of her hotel room, Josh's mouth on hers, there is very little to distract from that rather intense bit of reality.
He's a good kisser. Not too much slobber, just enough tongue.
He's also really, really efficient at getting her out of clothing. In very little time, she's naked of everything but her socks and he's got his hands on her ass. The cotton of his shirt is warm from his skin and tickles her chest as it flaps open.
The motel room is cold from the night air – deserts being cold, her brain puts in – and the air conditioner that's still running in the corner.
"Condom?" His question is asked along the skin of her shoulder, and she lets herself tighten her fingers in his hair just a little. He feels so damn good right where he is.
He leans back and eyes her, question clear on his face.
She shrugs and runs her hand across the light stubble on his jaw. "It doesn't matter."
Because right now, it really doesn't. And the way things are going, if the universe really wanted her pregnant and jobless in Arizona, all the condoms and pills and spermicides on the planet wouldn't change that.
She says as much.
He just smiles a little sadly and nods. "I'm clean too."
Later, she collapses on top of him, weak and empty. She is panting and can barely stand being in her own skin. Flushed and damp, she snuggles down into his chest, laying one openmouthed kiss on his collarbone before slumping sideways.
They say nothing, but Josh leans over to shut off the lamp before they shimmy under the cheap hotel bedspread and sprawl out.
Donna drifts off to sleep listening to this Josh breathe.
She wakes up to the sight of his back as he stares out the grimy window overlooking the parking lot. He's in the jeans he wore yesterday and nothing else. The morning light is harsh even through the industrial sheers, and the result is a strange chiaroscuro. Light and shadow melt across his skin without any specific shape.
The overall effect is one of anger and fear and loneliness.
She thinks it's better than defeat.
It's his turn to flinch when she puts her hand on his back. His skin is warm and just a bit scratchy against her cheek as she winds her arms around his waist. Over his shoulder she can see the parking lot and the bar and, in the distance, the mountains. He has her smell on him. Coating him. Marking him. She likes it.
"You're still here." Her voice is rusty and thick with the dry air.
"I didn't want to be."
She clings a little tighter to him, and after a few seconds his hands drop on to her forearms. She doesn't breathe for a moment, waiting to see what he'll do. If he'll hold or push away. In the end, he just begins to stroke the little blonde hairs on her wrists. His touch is light and leaves little pinpricks of sensation behind.
"I'm glad you are."
She can feel his muscles shift and bunch as he nods. Randomly, she realizes that he hasn't said her name yet. And she hasn't said his. She kisses his shoulder and picks out her rental car in the parking lot below. The yellow exterior is dull with dust and dirt. She's pretty sure that's a metaphor for lots of things right now, but she really doesn't want to think about it.
She is naked and pressed against Josh in the desert sun. They are broken and more than a little lost.
But they're together for now, and that's better than nothing.