Many thanks to Lisa, Renee and Karen. Three truly amazing ladies.
There are only so many hours in a day that a White House operative has allotted for sleep. That is to say, there are only so many hours in a day that President Bartlet allots for sleep, and thus this trickles down to those in his employ. Josh Lyman is of a different nature. From these allotted hours he sleeps only few, choosing to capitalize on two o'clock to work out the kinks in a policy brief or catch the wires before anyone else does.
The few precious hours he devotes to slumber are generally between two-thirty and five o'clock in the morning. He's the type of man for whom once his head hits the pillow, he thinks of something that is far too urgent to allow him respite. It's a call to the Premier of Canada or a press release he could have worded differently. After minutes of speculating over what hasn't been done, what needs to be done and what could have been done better, he generally slips off and dreams fitfully until his alarms screeches the arrival of a new day.
He begins to think of her first, before the "urgent" things, before he reviews the things he's sure could have been better, before he berates his poor choice of words when speaking to the Secretary of State. He thinks about her and the color of her sweater, of her and why she chose macaroni and cheese for lunch instead of a salad, her and the way she smiled shyly at him after a well-timed comment about the way her hair was curled just so. Nocturnal thoughts of Donna, they're killing him.
He ponders her; her actions, her deeds, her words, they're all fodder for his over-tired and over-worked imagination and before he knows it, weeks of thinking after her have left him with the distinct impression that for as much as he knows of her, he barely knows her at all.
His assistant, and so perhaps this speculation would be better left alone, after all, Donna is his assistant and he doesn't need know much more about her than how she takes her coffee or when her birthday is.
Black-one-sugar, October 14.
She fills the moments between when his lids close and open; she's with him always and there's no reasoning as to why. Josh just can't figure out why he can't get her out of his head. Why, hours later, he can't stop laughing at a witty barb she had directed at Sam. Why he's memorized her home and cell phone numbers. Why he finds himself wondering, when he's in her neck of the woods, if he should just drop by. Donna is a point of fascination for him, because he's never quite sure where she's coming from or what she's about, but he's never short of surprised by her.
And he loves that.
He loves that.
She's the part of the day he finds himself most looking forward to and this is most certainly a problem because in college, in law school, campaigning, it was the thrill of debate, the thrill of fighting-the-good-fight that put that skip in his step. Now he finds that he's edgy until she bursts into his office for the first time in the morning and gives him the rundown for his day. Without coffee.
He begins to realize, over the course of their first year in office, that many of the most important, critical events take place on days that begin with no preamble. Alarm, coffee, commute and the country is at war. Alarm, coffee, iron the day's clothing and he's being called in early to deal with the fallout from a hostage situation. These days are awful and he dreads them, but she always finds a way to mitigate some of the tension, whether she knows it or not.
Donna doesn't treat Josh. Donna just is around Josh and it's that simplicity, that she can just exist and not overthink and work and be. Their interaction is so simple that it's almost organic. They are, they just are together.
And so it's easy to allow his palm to slip to the small of her back when he's following her into the elevator because that feels like the right thing to do, like where it's supposed to be. It's that simple, he finds it that simple to lay a hand on her shoulder as he's leaning over to glance at her computer. He touches her because touch is therapeutic and he knows that somewhere in the back of his head, but really all he's aware of is that touching her makes him feel peaceful.
Makes him feel right.
"I'm running out for lunch," she'll say to him and knows enough to hold out a hand to grab his wallet, that he'll buy because she knows just how he takes his burger, and most of the time doesn't force him to eat salads. Sometimes she does though, force him to eat salads, and he can't help but wonder why that is? Because she wants to keep him around or simply because it's healthy or because she feels like he needs someone watching out for him?
Not that he likes the mothering, and he'll never admit to it, but he doesn't mind that she's the one who has his back. She's whip smart and isn't paper thin; she'll give him grief when he needs it, knows when to steer clear, knows when to stock the hall fridge with Heineken Light when he'll need a fuzzy-head at the end of a bad day (because even he can't get drunk off of that).
It's apparent, glass-clear, that she's studied him and she knows him and it's probably better than anyone else knows him. It's in the dimness of his room, when he's in his bed during the latest hours of the night that he allows himself to wonder if other assistants know their bosses this well, even when it's their duty to. Josh thinks it's truly bizarre that he dedicates absolutely any time at all to pondering these matters, even more so that the answers are important to him. A grown, adult and very intelligent male if he does say so himself (and he does) and his rational mind is too-often preoccupied with these thoughts, these questions.
It's a simple solution, to rectify his situation. He could, of course, ask her all of these questions that he has, but... do other employers ask their subordinates these questions and do they wonder about them and why is he attempting to normalize this in the first place? Nothing surrounding the two of them is remotely normal and maybe, yes, maybe he's fairly certain that she knows this as well.
They can't speak of it, that would be foolish. This is all silly, this infatuation.
Josh wants to stop, he doesn't want to stop, he does, this is foolish. Sometimes, to offset his thoughts and feelings he doesn't acknowledge, he won't smile back when she greets him in the morning. Sometimes, he'll call her in on a Sunday just to see if it pisses her off and even though ninety-five percent of the time it doesn't because she serves at the pleasure of the president (How many times has he replaced 'President' with 'Deputy Chief of Staff' in that sentence? He can't even count). It's a tenuous balance that must be struck.
It's another year of this, of confessions about streetlights, appearances in red dresses that have no business in the workplace, that she begins offering these things to him. Like she knows.
And maybe she does, and wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake.
Her mother's name is Margaret and it doesn't strike him as that Italian and he doesn't say anything, and her father's name is Richard and that's so American he almost laughs and the color of her childhood home is a deep red because it's Wisconsin and things like that make sense there. Red houses, except, she calls it crimson and he knows that she means red, a deeper red, and he knows that she doesn't understand the hue of crimson and he does and his world tilts. Because she means 'Barn Red' and he can picture a miniature Donna scampering up a tree and gardening in the front yard and... this is all incredible upside down and inside out and intrinsically... too much.
And it's funny, too, how their days, the days between him and her and he and she and them, fly by in a flurry of banter. Days, and days turn to months and before he knows it, they're the only two left in a bar on Fifth in year three-and-a-half and he's ordering her another drink because he can and he wants to say something about how the lights are doing something to her hair but he keeps his mouth shut.
Because he's drunk.
And he knows better.
Three and a half years and the first two were difficult and the third just slid by and things happened between them and they didn't and they grew together and apart and then grew together and... everything is something. Her mother is Margaret and her father is Richard and he's Joshua Lyman and it's only ninety-nine percent that he's certain that he's head over heels, in that knock-down-drag-out way in love with her.
Basically in love with a woman he can't be in love with.
Because there's are more than three-dozen regulations and terms and rules that say he can't be. There are only so many hours allotted in a day for figuring out how to get around said regulations and actually manage to attend to even imagine the two of them being more... than this.
More than anything.
There have been precious days and hours and weeks between then-when he met her-and now-when he's looking at her like there's nothing else in the world ever-and he feels neither more worse for the wear or wiser.
It's night and he feels like maybe he's known her forever. Josh can't really think that clearly, can't actually glean complex phraseology from his highly-advanced mind and thus, something around one thousand one hundred seventeen days since the very day he met her he finds himself asking, "Do you like working for me?" Though it slurs out of his mouth more like, "Dylike working for me?"
She's got a thumb in the glass, and it's slender and he wants to taste the mojito on the end of it, and how funny is it that she ordered a mojito anyway? "Oh Josh," a giggle and a grin and she turns her gaze to the television perched above the more expensive scotches because this is D.C. and C-SPAN is everywhere and all-the-time.
"Hard ass?" he asks, and his chin is so low to the bar he's nearly leaning. Josh can't help it, it's four beers and he's a little floored. But he knew this from the beginning and so did she and neither one of them decided to stop. His lips wrap around the neck of the beer and suck, as though there's courage there and what a bad idea, okay?
Josh can feel the roll of her eyes as she takes a few swallows of the liquid fed to her from the tiny, tiny red straw idling in her drink. "Compared to what?"
He hadn't expected this much, he'd expected her to retreat home once everyone had left, maybe open her door to him when he'd had one too many, but he hadn't expected them both at the bar and more than lethargic on a Friday night when they didn't have to be in to the office next morning unless he said so. Everyone else in the bar is happy-go-lucky and there's Ed and Larry and a few people from the OEOB and staffers he's seen around (but doesn't know the names of and thus are nameless) and other than that and the dozens of other people, they are alone.
A tiny brown forest of bottles is before him, their color matching the veneer of the bar and he studies it. "Compared to..." There's nothing he can think of, and what would be the point?
Donna bites her straw, and scissors it between teeth in thought; all he can think about it how young and gorgeous and flawed and brilliant she is. And she really is brilliant, shockingly, stunningly smart. It's probably really the worst thing to be thinking but, there it is. There it is. And she says, "Employer-wise, I think you're above par."
Hah, he laughs, thick and real and he feels so much better than he has in quite some time. There's no place he'd rather be really than here, talking and not-really-talking to the one person in the world he wants to be with because she's the one person who never fails in making him feel good. Pretty damned good, actually.
"S'good to know," he tells her and thinks about taking another pull of his beer, thinks that maybe he's had too much, thinks maybe his head is swimming a little but he feels really, really good. So he doesn't think or stop himself before he asks, "You still sewing your name into your underwear?"
Donna snorts, actually snorts into her drink and Josh swears that she spits a little of the sugary rum back into the glass. "Old habits," she claims and there's a smile in her voice and humor in her eyes. It's... such a nice moment, and he holds it for a moment, reveling in the bar noise and the anonymous passerbys and how slender her fingers are as they wrap around her glass.
"Why you would have that habit in the first place..." It feels like the right time to hold a drink to his lips and he does, the cool carbonation washing down his throat and Josh knows he's had too much. There's nothing he can do about it now, though, after the fact.
She surprised him with the quiet, with her reserve, the way she peers down into her glass and allows her hair to fall along her cheek; she wants to talk about it but she doesn't know how. "Oh, it's a long story."
"I want to hear it." His voice is the same as it is when he says something that's, "Too bad, my way or the highway," because he wants to hear it. He very nearly needs to hear it.
"No, I want to hear it, I've got all the time in the world." He's confident, he's quiet and he's adamant. He is, in fact, staring at her with the sort of eyes that are generally confined to office-late-at-night, when they're alone, alone, so alone.
Donna's eye sparkle as her lips purse and she's so close to indulging him. "It's really embarrassing."
"And how is that supposed to make me less adamant to hear it?"
She laughs and bites her lips, swivels her hips on the stool to face him.
He turns too, faces her. Her mother's name is Margaret and she grew up in a red house and she. Is. Beautiful. "Come on, I'm not good at waiting."