Disclaimer in Part 1:
Author's Notes: 1) A huge thanks to the wonderful website Political Affairs which helped greatly with the canon dialogue between Josh and Donna. If you haven't been to the site, you should check it out immediately.
2) Not sure if the narrative and time jumps work in this chapter, if it doesn't please let me know and I will try and do better. Finally, I have no beta (very sad, I know) so all mistakes are mine.
To say things had not gone as planned would be a generous understatement.
The thing is, in the movies, they make it seem so easy for a person to change their life. There is usually a montage of the heroine getting rid of all the things that have been preventing her from obtaining happiness. There's always a scene of the girl crossing dates off of a calendar, making up with people, righting past wrongs, all being done while some generic pop song played in the background. The problem with that was it didn't resemble real life in any way. In real life, you could have a plan, she thought to herself, a great plan to gain control of your life, but that plan could go straight to hell when upon your return to DC the Communications Director pulls you in his office and tells you that the president has MS and that your boss is going to need you now more than ever. They never show you that scene in the movies.
Although Donna had had grand plans for herself, they paled in comparison to the current situation with the president. All thoughts of taking control of her life were pushed to the back burner. Toby was right, Josh would need her, and that had to be her number one priority for now anyway.
It wasn't until she had been alone with her thoughts, pushing sofas into an abandoned room in the basement that she had realized that Toby had been the one to share this information and not Josh. She sat down on one of the sofas she had just worked up a sweat dragging into the room. Toby had told her, not Josh. She remembered a time when Josh couldn't keep anything from her. All she had to do was give him her 'face' and he would crumble, imparting information he probably shouldn't have, telling her about Leo's problems last year being a prime example. It wasn't as though she wanted him to share state secrets with her, not that he knew any, but when he could, he used to share everything with her. Obviously the president having MS was a major secret, sure to rock the administration, but Toby had told her, meaning that Josh could have told her if he had wanted to.
How badly had she ruined things between them?
It seemed like a lifetime ago, not months, that she was practically living with Josh, bringing him lunch every day, establishing rules to ensure that he healed properly. She had rubbed his back when the pain medication had upset his sensitive system, they had sat together and yelled at CNN and had stayed up talking about everything and nothing when it was obvious Josh didn't want to be alone. When he returned to work, she was so happy and proud that despite the worst intentions of Virginia White Pride, Josh Lyman had lived.
Then Christmas happened and it seemed like all her hard work was for nothing as the demons had returned. This time his pain was self-inflicted, which made it so much worse for her. She had felt guilty that she hadn't noticed he was struggling before he launched his hand through a glass window to make the sirens go away. She had assuaged her guilt by cancelling her plans to go home for the holiday, instead choosing to stay with Josh. The morning she was supposed to fly out, she had lied to Josh and told him that her flight had been cancelled due to a snow storm in the Midwest and it was too late and too expensive to try to book a new one. He had quickly called her bluff and threatened to check her flight details with the FAA, reminding her that they also worked for him. They had had a small argument about her staying with him and not going home to Wisconsin.
"You need to go home, I'm fine." Josh insisted.
"You're not fine, plus it's too late now anyway, I already canceled my flight and it would be too expensive to re-book now, I wasn't lying about that."
"I don't care. I'll buy you a new ticket. Consider it your Christmas present."
"Josh." She whined.
"I don't know why you say my name like that, as though my name alone is some sort of solid counter argument."
"Josh, could you please for once not be, you know, you and just accept my help."
"Fine," he conceded, "but only under the condition that I owe you one. I feel like I'm too much in your debt."
Then they had argued about how friendship didn't mean that you owed anyone anything, you did nice things for that person because you cared. Josh was adamant though that he wasn't going to be in Donna's debt any longer, something about too many years in politics and not feeling comfortable being on the wrong side of owing favours. Despite this Donna still tried her best to convince him that they were even.
"Josh, you gave me a job when I was completely under qualified and then you took me back when you had no reason to trust me, I think we've even."
"You saved my life, Donna. Last summer and last night. We're not even close to being even." The vehemence in his words had startled her, she was used to banter and fun, not serious conversations, with Josh.
"Fine, I reserve the right to a favour in the future." Then suddenly a sly smile appeared on her face, "And I know exactly what I want."
"I can't give you a raise."
"Ah, fine, then I want to go to -"
"I also can't take you to Hawaii." He cut her off abruptly.
"You're really taking all of the fun out of this you know."
"It is my mission in life, remove fun from every occasion."
"Well, congratulation, mission accomplished."
How did the two of them go from what they had to what they were now? He wouldn't even share his thoughts or feelings with her anymore. Everything seemed so surreal. The president had MS. That was enough to unsettle a person, but the universe hadn't been done playing cruel jokes on them.
No, they had to take away Mrs. Landingham. Even thinking about it now upset Donna. That wonderful woman, taken away too soon, while some people might look at her age and suppose she had lived a full life, and to a certain extent that was true, but to those who loved her it was too soon. In a way it was always going to be too soon no matter when it had happened.
So first the MS, then Mrs. Landingham and finally Cliff Calley and the dairy. It was just supposed to have been a date. A simple blind date setup up by Ainsley. A perfect opportunity for Donna to try out her new dating philosophy, so what if he was a Republican, half the country were Republicans too. But there ended up being nothing simple about the date. Donna was willing to take her share of the blame, she shouldn't have seen him the second night, she knew it was wrong, but damn it, that was the old Donna, the old Donna who thought of others first. Cliff was funny and kind and not too hard on the eyes. Why did it have to stop after one date? She knew she shouldn't have slept with him. She wished she could say she knew when it was happening it was wrong or that the sex had been bad and shouldn't that have been punishment enough. But none of those things were true. She didn't feel guilty until the next day, and the sex had been good, really good actually. But she knew she had to come clean, when she had made her new life decision one of the conditions was not doing anything that could hurt the administration and continuing to see Cliff would hurt the administration. She knew she had to tell Josh, but she waited until the last possible moment.
He came walking into the bullpen, admonishing her about her bow-tie tying abilities.
"I got away with this thing, but you should really learn how to tie a bow tie."
"Or you could," she threw back.
"Yeah, but that doesn't seem that likely, right? You can go home."
"I'll stick around."
"You wanted to talk to me about something before."
No time to chicken out now, she had to tell him."Yeah. Listen ... I was fixed up on a blind date a few nights ago -"
"When?" He demanded.
"A few nights ago ... and Ainsley fixed us up. He's a Republican lawyer working for Ways and Means, but he was being transferred, and it turns out now he's on Government Oversight -"
"You can't see him anymore."
"I know that."
"You can't see him anymore."
"I know that."
"Was it just that night?"
"Yeah ...," she could have left it like that, she didn't have to tell him about the second night, but even though she wasn't ready to admit it, even to herself, she had wanted to hurt him. To try and see if there was any part of him that still cared for her. It was childish and juvenile (if Sam were there he would have told her both those words meant the same thing) but she didn't care. "No," she paused, "We got together the next night again. We shouldn't have."
"Look, when we got together the first time-" She started to explain her behaviour, a knee jerk reaction when Josh was disappointed with her. She hated disappointed Josh, she could handle angry, yelling Josh, but she couldn't stand the look in his eyes when he was disappointed in her.
"You just thought he was with Ways and Means, who I was battling on the estate tax."
"I'm sorry-," and she was, seeing the look of disappointment in his brown eyes was more than she could handle. He was still her friend and friends should never do anything to intentionally hurt each other. But that was just what she had done.
"Did any reporters see you?"
"The second night?"
"All right. You can go home."
"The President wants you in five minutes."
"Thanks," he turned and went into his office, slamming the door closed behind him.
She wished he had stayed and yelled at her, had said something rude or mean so that she could yell back and get angry at him. Instead he had walked away. She had hurt him and instead of staying to talk things through he had walked away. She had a horrible feeling, an almost physical pain that knotted her stomach, it wasn't so much that she was afraid that she had lost her chance with him (a tiny sliver of hope had still remained alive, despite the events of his rejections months ago) it was the horrible realization that all this time she had been fooling herself because maybe she never had him in the first place.
Josh had slammed the door closed and threw himself into his chair. He had gotten up to stand against the wall, but quickly abandoned that idea; there was no way that the relaxation technique that Stanley had taught him was going to help him now. He was angry, but he had no right to be. She was allowed to date, she was allowed to...to be with other men. Although the word 'other' implied she had in some way been with him, which wasn't true. They were friends; at least he had thought they were. He wasn't too sure now.
Damn it, he was angry, angry at her. She had ruined everything; didn't she know she was supposed to wait? Wait for him to figure everything out? No, she had to go and ask him out when it wasn't time for that yet. He hadn't worked out his feelings for her yet. Did he just feel gratitude for the way she took care of him or was it something more? He felt lust that was for sure, he had many many fantasies that involved her and his desk, her and the wall next to his office door, her and the floor, really any flat surface and her, but was there something more?
God, things had gotten so complicated. He looked over to the area between the bookshelf and the portable chalkboard, the place where she had finally told him the truth about why she returned to the campaign. The place where she had declared that red lights wouldn't stop her from getting to him if he was in trouble, a part of him had known that already, but to hear her say the words out loud was meaningful. He had thought after that night that things were clearer between them, the doubts that he had in his head seemed insignificant.
But then Leo had called him into his office and everything had changed. What was once a possibility became an improbability.
The news that President Bartlet had MS was hard to take in, so Josh had retreated into political mode. He quickly ran through plans in his head to counterattack the vitriol that was sure to come from the Republicans, hell probably even Democrats were going to crucify them as well. It wasn't until Josh got up to leave and Leo told him to sit back down that he realized there were other things at stake.
"We need to talk about something else."
"There's something else besides the MS? What else is he hiding?" Josh demanded incredulously.
"No, this isn't directly about the president. I'm not sure what's happening in terms of re-election, but I gotta tell you I think he is going to run again."
"Okay," Josh nodded slowly, unsure where the conservation was headed.
"If he runs again, no one is going to let us off the hook, there will be dispositions, special prosecutors, interrogations live on C-SPAN." Leo explained slowly.
"I know. I'll be ready, bring it on."
"I not worried about you so much as I am Donna."
"Donna? She doesn't know anything."
"Do you think these depositions are going to be limited to the president and MS? They will be trawling for anything they can use that will make the administration look weak or untrustworthy."
"I still have no idea what Donna has to do with this? She is as honest as they come, we can trust her," Josh stated firmly, more than a little bothered that Leo was suggesting that Donna was less than trustworthy.
"Let me tell you that I really don't want to be having this conversation, but when you ask your assistant to run home and grab her," Leo paused, clearly uncomfortable, "her...sex toys it becomes my problem."
A deep blush flooded across Josh's cheeks at the words 'sex' and 'toys' coming out of Leo's mouth. It seemed wrong and unnatural. So very wrong and so very unnatural.
"Leo, that was...we were just joking around, of course I didn't actually expect Donna to go home and get her, um, equipment, not that she has any, that I know of," Josh hastened to add, "not that I would know if she did, because we don't have that kind of relationship."
"I know that, but when you make jokes like that in the middle of the bullpen do you not think that people were going to overhear? It got back to me, you think there is no way that the Republicans are not going to subpoena and questions everyone they can? What happens when Donna is under oath and they ask her questions about her relationship with you? You think they are not going to ask her every embarrassing question they can think of to make her look bad? To make you look bad?"
"But nothing is going on," Josh supplied lamely.
"And we all know in politics it is the truth that the public cares about as opposed to the appearance of wrongdoings," Leo retorted sarcastically.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Yes, nothing, whatever is happening with you and Donna needs to be nothing. I understand that you depend on her and she's a great kid, but for now your relationship needs to be nothing more than boss and assistant."
"Fine," Josh turned to walk out of the room, "you know I not even sure what I feel for Donna, I just..."
"I know. I not happy about any of this either."
That conversation with Leo had bothered Josh more than he cared to admit. The last thing he wanted was for Donna to be put through uncomfortable questioning because of him. He owed her so much and how was he going to pay that back? By subjecting her to questions about their non-existent sex life that's how. So when she came to him a few days later, asking him to go out for dinner and drinks his first instinct was to say 'screw the special prosecutors', but he couldn't be that selfish, not with her. He hadn't lied to Leo, he was unsure of his feelings for Donna, didn't know if what he felt was real or misplaced dependency. But the look of hurt in her eyes when he had stumbled over his ineloquent words of rejection would probably haunt him for many years to come.
She had made it through telling Josh about her date with Cliff, but karma wasn't done with her yet, oh no. Then came the deposition and her instinct to protect Josh took over. It was a simple question. A simple yes or no answer was sufficient. 'Do you keep a diary?' She should have answered 'yes', just gone with the truth. What's that cliché? Honesty is the best policy. But that didn't happen, instead her mouth took control of her body and the words 'no' popped out. She shouldn't have been surprised. Of course, she lied about the diary. There was no way she was going to allow these parasites to read about Josh and what happened last Christmas. They would only use it to make him look unstable or unfit to advise the president. So she had lied, it seemed like the wisest choice at the time, of course she had no idea that Cliff had seen the diary when he was at her apartment that night.
So once again she had to go running to Josh for help. So far she was failing spectacularly at her new plan to take control of her life. Women who were actually in control of their lives didn't have to sit on a park bench while two men decided their faith. And all she could do was sit and wait. There was nothing in the dairy about the president and MS, only her childish fantasies of a make believe life with Josh. But in the end things had turned out relatively fine. Cliff had returned the dairy and life had continued.
She had promised Josh when she had asked him out and he said no that this wasn't going to turn into a thing, but she found her feelings for him were harder to turn off than she had imagined they would be. It wasn't like switching off a light. Now that time had passed she could finally admit to herself that sleeping with Cliff Calley had been a childish attempt to make Josh jealous, an attempt which had utterly failed. For a little while things were calm, an uneasy banter returned to their conversation, they appeared to be forging a new Josh and Donna. To the outside world, no one would have noticed that things were off. She still bantered, Donna had even helped Josh and CJ come up with a statement as to why the president wanted to, you know, be president. It was the little things that were the clues that everything wasn't right. At lunch, Donna didn't eat with Josh in his office, instead choosing to go down to the mess or eat at her desk using the excuse she was having a working lunch. They didn't leave at the end of the day together anymore, one of them usually begged off, citing work. It wasn't the old Josh and Donna, but there was less tension, less hostility, maybe it was just what they needed, a little break from each other. They did spend close to 16 hours a day together, something 7 days a week so a little time apart was probably all they needed. Donna was actually starting to believe that things could go back to normal, whatever their new normal was going to be, but that was before Josh reconnected with Amy Gardner.
Donna soon realized that the opposite of love wasn't hate, it was indifference. Because if she was truly over Josh Lyman she would be indifferent to him being ensorcelled by Amy, but she wasn't, she felt it to her core, it was another rejection. This one more blatantly obvious. Once again, Josh found himself ensorcelled by a woman who was the polar opposite of her
It was Mandy, Part 2: Even Bitchier.
Part 2: Bitch Harder?
Part 2: The Bitchening?
It didn't matter what she called it. Amy was a short, brunette, professional career driven woman, while Donna was tall, blonde and an assistant. The message couldn't have been more clear.
If only Donna had known that Amy Gardner coming into her life would actually be the turning point in her relationship with Josh, she would have sent the woman a bouquet of flowers.
Josh had been sent to see Amy Gardner by the First Lady so he couldn't blow the meeting off. He had a vague memory of her from college, had seen her around town, knew she was working as a lobbyist for a women's group, but hadn't really talked to her. The conversation had started off fine, not fine as in enjoyable, but fine in that they were talking about the professional reason he had come to see her, but then the discussion had taken a personal turn for some unknown reason.
"Are you dating your assistant?"
"I heard you might be."
Josh's first thought was 'no, she's not cute, she's beautiful,' but figured it best not to give voice to that sentiment. Instead he said, "She's my assistant."
"Are you dating Joey Lucas?"
"She's not your assistant."
"You know the thing, with guys like you -"
"Why are we talking about this?"
"Because you stopped by."
"I'm a visible guy ... people say things about me. People write things. And what I do reflects on the President."
"Wait, people think I'm dating Donna?"
"My assistant." Try and keep up lady, he screamed unfairly in his head. Why should she know his assistant's name?
"Yes, for the most part, people think you are dating your assistant, um, Donna."
"And what do people say about it."
"That you're dating her," she huffed. "This is a very circular conversation."
"I mean what do people say about it, you know, what do they think?"
"Wow, it's good to see that after all of these years your ego is still intact, in fact I would swear that it has actually grown. You're not that important Josh, most of America just knows you as that guy who got shot." She said without a trace of sympathy, but continued anyway, "No one says anything really, it just a known fact that you are dating your assistant, or a mistaken fact I guess." She shrugged.
"Okay, thanks. I gotta go," he turned to exit her office.
"Wait, I still want to talk to you about this bill."
"I got the salient details Amy: Prostitution bad. I'm late for a thing."
Josh was vaguely aware of Amy yelling something after him, but he didn't stop to listen. He was too overwhelmed by idea that everyone in DC thought he was dating Donna, not that he was completely unaware of the rumour, of course no one had the guts to say anything to his face, but he was aware of the gossip. No, what he didn't realize was that no one gave a damn. People thought he was dating Donna and no one cared. It was a wonderfully freeing realization.
Josh practically bounced his way out of the building, excited that 50 percent of the reason why he and Donna couldn't be, well, together was no longer an issue. Now all he needed was for the damn depositions and investigation to be over.
Josh didn't have to wait too long for the rest of his Donna related obstacles to disappear. A deal had been worked out between Leo and, of all people, Cliff Calley. The president would accept the censure and the investigation would be over.
The last obstacle had fallen. But was he too late? It had been almost 7 months since she had stood in his office, beautiful but unsure of herself, and had asked him out. Since that time so much had happened. He had felt them drifting apart but was powerless to stop it. He missed her, missed her inane chatter, her pointless trivia, he missed her mere presence. These last few months, he had felt like he had been thrown into a prize fight with both arms tied behind his back and every time he looked into his corner for help, where he expected to see Donna, it had been empty. But now the ties had been removed and he felt like he finally had a fighting chance. It wasn't going to be easy, but he was going to get Donna back. It would have to start with re-gaining her trust and her friendship, but he was willing to put in the time and effort because things were different now. He wasn't willing to let her go without a fight this time.