When they finally got to bed that night, Donna wouldn't let Josh even try to make love to her.

"Stop that," she said, pushing him gently back against the pillows. "You've been away from home for five days, getting two hours' sleep a night on a cot in the White House basement, and we've been up half the night now talking. You're exhausted. Let me rub your back, and get some sleep."

"We just got engaged, Donna. We need to celebrate. There are things I have to do with my fiancée that I've never done before," he added, incoherently.

"There's something we haven't done before?"

"There are things I haven't done with my fiancée before," he clarified. "Lots of things."

"Josh, you're so tired you can't even talk straight. I'll still be your fiancée in the morning, I promise. Get some sleep now. We're both tired. Get some sleep."

"I'm not too tired."

"You're exhausted."

"You're too tired, too?"

Donna smiled at him tenderly.

"Wiped," she said. "But in the morning. . . ."

"In the morning," Josh promised, his voice already groggy. "In th' mornin'. . . ."

Donna rubbed his back gently until he fell asleep. Then she got up and went into the living room to send a message to Helen Santos, saying she thought she'd better take another day off. The First Lady wouldn't mind, she knew. She was the most undemanding of employers, and she'd been genuinely worried about Donna before she left to see Louisa this—no, yesterday—afternoon. Besides, there was nothing so pressing on the agenda that it couldn't wait for another day: one of the advantages of working in the East Wing instead of the West.

But even Josh ought to be able to take a day off now, after the marathon of the last week. He'd mumbled as much to her as he was dropping off to sleep. Just to make sure, though, she sent an email to Margaret and another to Sam, and then turned his BlackBerry off. There was still his pager, if the President absolutely had to reach him, but she thought that was unlikely—Helen Santos had undoubtedly given orders that nothing short of a nuclear attack should be allowed to interrupt her husband's long-delayed chance to get a good night's sleep.

She was tired, but not as ready to sleep as she'd let Josh think: a kind of restlessness seemed to have taken her over, driven no doubt by all the intense and conflicting emotions she'd experienced over the last forty-eight hours, from horror and self-recrimination to giddying joy and delight. She went into the kitchen to warm up some milk and brought it back to bed with her, curling up beside Josh and sipping it slowly while she watched him sleep.

It was so good to see him sleep like that. It was what he needed more than anything else, she thought: deep, natural, uninterrupted sleep. She hoped he'd be able to get it more often now that one source of stress, at least, was gone, and he didn't have to worry about her deadlines anymore, or how to make her want to stay. Perhaps that would take enough pressure off him that these attacks would stop now. He'd always been able to manage the stress of his jobs. It was the other, more personal kinds of pressure that he found so hard to deal with. . . .

At least she'd be in a better position to look out for him now. It appalled her, to think how little she'd been doing for him all these months that they'd been living together. She'd done her share of the grocery-shopping and the cooking and the laundry, of course, and had given him the best sex she knew how to give almost every night, but she'd assumed that was all she had to do.

She'd told him, before they went away together, that they had to figure out what they wanted from each other—but she realized now that she'd never really asked him what he wanted or needed, not even when they'd had their big talk in Barbados. She'd just assumed that sex and good conversation and tolerance for his impossible work schedule were pretty much all he'd be looking for, and the idea of commitment—a deeper commitment than simply living together—was something he'd have to arrive at slowly, with considerable guidance and pressure from her before he got there. It had never occurred to her that he might have already made up his mind about that on his own, or that she might have been making him unhappy and on edge by her apparent unsureness about her feelings for him.

He hadn't told her, of course. There was so much, it turned out, that could have happened differently if only he'd told her what he was thinking—all along, from the beginning, almost. But how could she complain about that? She knew how hard emotional things were for him to talk about—harder than for most men, with his family history—and she'd never been exactly direct with him, either. She'd tried just once, but she could see now why he might not have understood her then, or why he might have been too uncertain of her meaning to do anything openly to find out.

They'd been in an impossible situation, really, working together like that—and not in an ordinary office, either, where they could have bent the rules a little to explore their personal feelings, but in the White House, where the work always had to take precedence over everything else, every minute of the day. Josh was an idealist, after all—he'd gone to work there to serve the President, and he would never have allowed himself to do anything that might interfere with that. And she'd been just as idealistic in her own way, once. It was that last year when everything had changed, when she'd gotten a taste of what it was like to have more responsibility and had started to crave it—and when she'd finally had enough of loving a man she thought was never going to love her back.

Looking at him sleeping beside her now, she wondered why she hadn't understood what he'd obviously thought she would understand when he flew all that way to be with her in the hospital in Germany. Perhaps it was just because of the pain and the drugs—there were whole parts of the experience she didn't remember clearly, and things she still wasn't sure had actually happened or not.

And yet she'd known he was there, and had realized that he'd left the White House at a critical time to be with her. She'd told herself it must be because Leo had thought someone should be there and had sent him. Her mother had shaken her head in despair and told her over and over again that Leo McGarry would hardly have sent his right-hand man to her at a time like that if the right-hand man hadn't wanted very badly to come, and that a man didn't do that sort of thing unless he really loved someone, but she hadn't wanted to listen to her mother. Instead she'd listened to C.J., an unmarried woman in her forties who had been quite bitter at the time about the state of her own relationships with men; and Kate Harper, three times divorced; and Louisa D'Amato.

Most of all to Louisa. If only she hadn't. . . . And yet she couldn't altogether blame Louisa, who had only been doing her job as she saw it, and had only had the information Donna gave her to work with all along.

Donna wondered if there were other kinds of therapists who might be more perceptive about what their clients weren't telling them, or who took a broader view and might try to remind their clients sometimes that their own needs weren't the only ones they ought to be considering. There must be, she supposed—there were people who specialized in couples therapy and family therapy, which could hardly be practiced by emphasizing one person's needs at the expense of another's. Perhaps that was the kind of therapist she should have sought out, someone who might have been able to remind her that Josh was not just a difficult boss but a human being with reasons for acting the way he did, and issues and needs of his own.

But she hadn't wanted to be reminded of that; she'd wanted someone to talk to about the traumatic experience she'd been through, and after that she'd wanted a sympathetic ear to complain to about how badly Josh was treating her and how frustrated she was in her job.

Or perhaps she should simply have listened to her mother, who had had no patience with that kind of talk, and had been relentless in trying to get Donna to look at Josh in a more sympathetic light. But that had been at least half the reason why Donna had refused to.

Thinking about it now, she felt ashamed of herself. Did other women in their mid-thirties still have issues with their mothers? When their mothers were as good and kind and loving as Donna, when she wasn't in a bad mood, had always admitted hers to be? She loved her mother hugely, and knew without a shadow of a doubt that her mother loved her. So why was it so hard, sometimes, to talk to her? And why, when her mother wanted to give her advice, was it an almost-automatic response to do the opposite of whatever she was urging? Goodness, Donna thought, I'm like a teenager still, rebelling and trying to prove that I can do things on my own.

It was a depressing realization; she wanted to be able to think of herself as more mature than that. And of course, most of the time she was more mature than that. It was just when her mother tried to direct the really important decisions of her life that Donna found herself digging her heels in and wanting to prove her wrong.

But her mother hadn't been wrong this time; she'd been absolutely right. And Donna could only rejoice that she had been, because after all, Josh had been in love with her all this time—ever since Gaza, and long before that—and nothing could make Donna happier than knowing that. She'd call her mother tomorrow and tell her, and her mother would laugh and cry and say, 'I told you so,' and Donna knew that she'd laugh and cry too, and say, "Yes, Mom, you really did. I should have listened to you," and her mother would say, "Yes, darling, you should always listen to your mother, but at least you finally did this time." And Donna would have to bite her tongue to stop herself just in time from saying that it was Josh she'd finally listened to, not her mother at all. . . .

It had taken her a long time, but she'd finally listened—to what he wasn't saying, what he needed to say. It was all she'd needed to hear. He loved her, and wanted her to be happy with him; he didn't want her ever to leave. She wondered why it had taken her so long to hear that, when he'd been saying it in every way he could except with words, and when she'd always known that words were something Josh didn't find it easy to come up with when his deepest, most personal feelings were involved. But she'd been listening to herself—her wants, her needs, her insecurities and fears—more than she had to him.

Still, she'd finally heard what he'd been trying to tell her all this time, and she'd told him what he'd so badly needed to hear, and now there really was a chance that they could be happy together, as long as they kept talking, and kept listening to each other more than to themselves. Not that she was going to accuse Josh of doing that. He'd been listening to her, all right; he could hardly be blamed for not realizing that she hadn't been saying what she really meant. But she'd said it now, and she'd make sure she said it again and again, often: she loved him, and his happiness mattered more to her than anything else in the world.

She looked down at him, and felt a rush of such tenderness that it almost overwhelmed her. He was so far from perfect, this man, and yet she loved him with everything in her, and she knew, when she really thought about it as she was now, that she loved him for his imperfections as much as for any of his obvious strengths. She loved the strength of his arms and legs, of course, and the beautiful lines of his body and face, but she loved the receding hairline and the creases in his forehead, too, the little lines that age was starting to draw around his mouth, and the flecks of grey that were just beginning to show in his thick curls. She loved the acuity of his mind and the strength of his conviction in his own abilities, even when it drove her to distraction, but just as much she loved the hesitations and self-doubt that she knew were always there under the surface, because they were a measure of how much he cared about everything he was doing, and how much it mattered to him to do it right.

He wasn't really an egotist, she knew, though when she was irritated with him it was sometimes hard to remember that: he was a man of passions and convictions who had long ago decided to throw the whole strength of his being into trying to make the world a better place and to do it no matter what the cost to himself, and she loved that about him desperately, even though it worried her desperately for his sake, too. She loved his humor and his seriousness; his love of life and his struggles when living it was almost too hard; his wonderful smile, and the dark look that could shadow his eyes when he was afraid of failing at one of the impossible demands he had placed on himself, or when someone else had failed and he didn't know how to make things right.

She loved the qualities in him that completed her own and made her feel stronger and safer, more intelligent and more vividly alive, but she also loved his weaknesses and his vulnerabilities, because they were what made him need her. And she knew now that he did need her, just as much as she needed him. That was a humbling and almost frightening thing, to think that she really did have that kind of importance in his life, after all these years of doubting it—but it gave her a feeling of wonderful warmth and strength and peacefulness and joy, as well. She hoped he could feel the same way, now that he knew how much she loved and needed him, too.

She looked around the room, and smiled. It was cramped—much more cramped now than it used to be, with all her things jammed in next to Josh's—and distressingly untidy; she'd been too miserable for the past few days to make any effort to pick up after either of them, and Josh had left in too much of a rush on Friday morning to pick up after himself. The bedroom door was standing open. She'd left a lamp on in the living room; by its light she could see Josh's t-shirt hanging off the exercise bike, his backpack dumped beside the door. Her shoes were tumbled together by the sofa, and the contents of her purse spilled over the coffee-table; the table and the desk were both covered with the papers she'd been looking at, and stacks of files and other papers were perched with coffee-cups and magazines and bits and bobs of clothing on the t.v. and bookshelves and every other dusty surface she could see.

The kitchen was just as bad, she knew, and the bathroom—after her wild search for Josh's medicines earlier—even worse. The apartment was small and crowded and a mess, but it looked more beautiful to her right now than the grandest house on Embassy Row, more beautiful even than that lovely and frighteningly expensive resort Josh had paid for in Barbados that had seemed like paradise to her just a few months ago. This wasn't paradise. It was better than that. It was real; it was theirs; and it was home.

It was all she wanted. She'd have to be sure to tell him that tomorrow: that none of those other things he'd been worrying about—proposals in fancy restaurants, and expensive rings and weddings and honeymoons and houses—really mattered to her at all, as long as she had this—Josh, and a place together that they could call home. And children some day, of course. And yes, children would need a larger house and good schools to go to, if she and Josh could possibly manage it. But all of that could wait. For now, this was more than good enough. It was real. It was theirs. And it was home.


Daylight was flooding the room when, hours later, she woke to find him kissing her. His eyes were warm and bright as they watched her; his usually brilliant smile almost shy.

"Do you still want to marry me?" he asked, wonderingly.

"If you still want to marry me," she answered softly, letting her mouth melt into his.

They made love for a long time then, and after a while she found herself losing all consciousness of any difference between her pleasure and his, or between herself and him at all.


The End