Disclaimer: I own neither the characters nor the universe of The West Wing, and make no such claim upon them. I'm simply having some fun here.
A Man of Occasion
Donna Moss was always good with remembering dates. It served her well throughout her life – she never missed sending a birthday or Christmas card, didn't miss meetings, and it had helped immensely this primary season in keeping track of the various state primaries. It had also been invaluable during her nearly eight years working for Josh Lyman, as he was not nearly as organized as her, and invariably forgot his mother's birthday until five o'clock on the day itself. She had to give him credit that he always thanked her profusely for sending a card and flowers far enough in advance that the day wouldn't be missed (not that that was her job, she thought with some bitterness), and gave her one of his dimpled grins, the kind that made her heart melt.
"Used to. Used to make my heart melt," she tried to tell herself, almost completely unsuccessfully.
Unfortunately for her, her faculty with dates was not something she could turn off anymore than her feelings for her former boss. And so when February 6, 2006 came and went with not even a single daisy being delivered to her office in Bob Russell Campaign Headquarters back in D.C. (and she did check in from California), she found it hard to suppress a feeling of heartbroken disappointment from welling up inside of her, no matter how much she told herself she had no feelings for her former boss at all, and that it was really just a schoolgirl crush which was long behind her. Just like he was.
She did open a couple of bottles of vodka from the minibar back at the hotel that evening, though.
For the last four years, Josh had never failed to have a beautiful bouquet of flowers sitting on her desk on February 6, the anniversary of when she appeared in the Bartlett For America office in Nashua, New Hampshire, and hired herself as Josh's assistant. Along with her birthday, when she got flowers and a present, it was one of those days that always made her feel valued and appreciated, like he actually listened to her. Until their third year in the White House, Josh would celebrate their "anniversary" on April 4, the day she came back to the Bartlett campaign after her ill-fated reunion with her boyfriend Paul, but after that evening when the two of them, along with Sam, Ainsley, Ed and Larry were trying to punch-up the President's speech for the Correspondents' Dinner, he gave her the big bouquet in February, when he finally realized that February 6 was the more important anniversary for her.
He still made sure to give her three pink roses every April 4 thereafter, though.
She thought back to the conversation they had that April. Whatever her current mixed feelings toward Josh were, she had to admit that he was very sweet that night. Of course, she thought of her response to him, "If you were in an accident I wouldn't stop for red lights," and cringed inwardly. Could she have been any more blatant about her feelings for him? And he did nothing. Obviously he didn't care – he must have never really cared. Despite the lovely flowers.
A part of her still hoped, though. Super Tuesday was tomorrow. Maybe he was too busy and forgot in the rush of the campaign, even if he never had before.
Maybe. Or maybe he truly didn't care at all any more.
She shook her head, trying to put it out of her mind. Tomorrow was a big day. She had more important things to think about than how inconsiderate Josh Lyman was.
It was nice to be back in D.C. For good or for ill, after seven and a half years, it was home. Maintaining an apartment she was rarely in was expensive, though, even with a salary larger than any Donna had ever had before. Maybe she could consider subletting it.
After picking up a coffee, she made her way to Russell for President headquarters, to get ready for the swing through Pennsylvania in anticipation of the upcoming primary. It was a beautiful spring day in the nation's capital, the kind of day that made her happy to be alive, working in the beating heart of America's government, trying to get a good man elected president. And Vice President Bob Russell was a good man, she knew. He was no Jed Bartlett, true enough, but that kind of man did not come along twice. One had to be realistic – she couldn't chase the dream for ever. She had learned that lesson all too well, in so many ways. And anyway, Bob Russell was going to be the Democratic nominee for President, and she was going to be in on the ground floor.
Smiles greeted her on her way to her desk. She may not be the naïve girl she once was, she had become a player in the campaign (and, she hoped, the party itself), but she still had a sunny disposition and had made herself popular in the campaign with her coworkers, with Will Bailey, and with the Vice President himself, as an effective strategist and a talented spokesperson.
Will Bailey, Manager of the Russell for President Campaign greeted her with his characteristic friendly smile. "Morning. Is it your birthday?"
She smiled back and shook her head. "No. That's a random question."
"Oh. It's just someone had the largest bouquet of flowers I've ever seen delivered to you. If it's not your birthday, someone obviously likes you."
Realization dawned for Donna. It was April 4.
Will continued, "Well, whoever it is, don't let them lure you away from us. We need you."
"Trust me, I'm not going anywhere" she said.
"Good. Meeting with the Vice President at ten," Will said, walking away.
She smiled again. It was good to be appreciated professionally.
As she approached her office, she saw a few of the staffers clustered around her desk. Will wasn't kidding – it was a huge bouquet. Roses, lilies, daisies, violets – it must have cost a fortune. It was beautiful, easily the loveliest bouquet she had ever received. She couldn't help but smile, despite herself.
"Someone's got an admirer!" said Melanie, of the communications staffers, in a playful voice.
"Just an old friend," Donna said nonchalantly.
"I wish I had friends like that," Melanie said.
Donna sat down. There was a card attached. She was almost proud of herself that she took ten minutes before she opened it.
Sorry about missing February. It was hectic – Super Tuesday. This one was always my favorite anniversary anyway.
You've been doing amazingly on the VP's campaign. I kind of wish you weren't – it would be easier on me and the Congressman!
Happy Anniversary. I miss you.
- A Man of Occasion.
That...man. Of course April 4 would be his favorite of their "anniversaries" – it was the one where she came back to him, to be his assistant again. Where she acknowledged what he undoubtedly saw as her true place in this world – working under him.
But the flowers were lovely, and he acknowledged how well she'd been doing for Russell. That meant a lot to her. Her life may not revolve around Josh Lyman and his whims anymore, but that he saw what she could do, and how well she was doing it – well, the compliment meant more than one from anyone else possibly could.
And leave it him to remember an off-hand comment he made five years ago.
But he missed her. Probably just as his assistant, but it was still more than she ever expected him to say. And it made her realize, for a moment at least, how much she missed him. She didn't regret leaving, but she really did regret his complete absence from her life after so long.
With a sigh, she moved the flowers to a corner of her desk and got down to work.
She honestly didn't know what she was doing, sitting in her car outside his townhouse after midnight. She knew he was in town – part of her job was to know what was happening with the Santos and Hoynes campaigns – and he would hopefully be home.
But still she sat, as the minutes ticked by. She knew it was foolish to hesitate – he obviously wasn't just going to slam the door in her face, not after that note, and how he clearly wanted to talk to her after he stood outside her hotel room door in Iowa. She still didn't know why he didn't knock, although she didn't take the step of opening the door either.
As the clock in her car CD player clicked to 1:00 a.m., she mustered up the courage to go and talk to him. Hesitating only slightly when she got to his door, she rang his doorbell. When he didn't answer after about a half minute, she pressed it a few times more insistently.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," she heard him yell groggily.
The door opened. Josh was wearing a housecoat over a t-shirt, and looked like she just woke him from a deep sleep. Wonderful.
"Hi, Josh," she said quietly.
"Donna? What are you – it's one in the morning..." His eyes widened, and she could see him visibly regain his alertness. "Is something wrong? Did something happen? Are you o.k.?" he said, his voice almost panicking.
She couldn't help but smile at his concern. It was nice to know that hadn't changed, despite their estrangement.
"Nothing's wrong, Josh. Don't worry. I just wanted to talk," she said calmly.
"Now? Do you know what time...? Actually, never mind that," he said, and opened the door wide. "Come on in."
Donna made her way into Josh's living room, which looked like a tornado had been through it. "Of course," she thought. "He doesn't have anyone keeping him organized."
"Sorry about the mess," he said, as if reading her mind, while he moved piles of files off of two chairs. "I, uh, haven't been home much this year, and the housekeeper pretty much avoids moving things since that stack of books," he gestured to what was less a stack and more a disorganized pile, "nearly fell on her." He gave her a tired grin, and asked, "Want some coffee?"
"Sure," she said, sitting down.
She heard the distinct beeping of a microwave oven after about a minute, and Josh emerged shortly thereafter with two steaming mugs. He handed her one, and said, "It's not one of those fancy lattés you like, but I made it a couple of hours ago. So you don't, you know, have to fear for your health or anything. Cream's fresh, too."
"... two sugars," he said with a grin, sitting into a chair facing her. "I have a prodigious memory."
"You certainly remember dates. Some of them."
"Got the flowers, huh?"
"I did. They were the loveliest flowers I've ever gotten from anyone."
"Thanks," he said, as Donna saw some of his old familiar cockiness, the kind she hadn't seen in months, take hold on his face.
"Too bad you still can't read a calendar."
"I explained that. Didn't you get the card? I swear, you'd think florists could at least deliver..."
She cut him off before he got into full rant mode.
"I got the card."
"I really did forget, Donna," he said, running his hand through his hair. "Everything was so hectic, and it was just before Super Tuesday, and I honestly completely forgot everything except the campaign. I thought it was going to be our second last day, and that the Congressman was going to have to drop out... by the time I had time to think of it as anything other than Super Tuesday, instead of, you know, the thing, it was a week later. And the April one was just around the corner."
"Of course, you'd never forget that one."
"No, I wouldn't. Is that why you're here? To get mad at me about sending you flowers today? I thought we got past that. You never complained before. Well, since that time with Sam and Ainsley where you hit me," he said. She noted he wasn't able to suppress a smile even at that though.
"You know how it made me feel. How big a mistake it was to go back to Paul. Like it was a step backwards."
Josh frowned. "Donna, you can't believe I meant you to feel like that today. I just wanted you to get some nice flowers. On one of our anniversaries. I didn't mean to make you feel bad."
"I hoped you didn't."
"You hoped? You didn't know?" he said quietly. She could tell he was slightly wounded.
"We're your enemies, Josh. I worked with you for eight years. I know you play hardball."
"Yeah, I do play hardball. But I wouldn't ever try to hurt you. You have to know that," he said, pleadingly.
She stayed silent, but nodded.
"And you're not my enemies. You're our opponents, and I hope we beat you, but you're not my enemies. You could never be my enemy. I hope you and Will don't think of me as your enemy."
"No, of course not. But I know you don't respect the Vice President."
"No, I don't. I respect you, though. And Will. I just wish you were working for a better candidate."
"You mean Santos," she said.
"Well, yeah. He's the Real Thing. Do you honestly think Russell is the Real Thing?"
"He's going to win, Josh."
"No, he won't."
"Of course, the all-powerful Josh Lyman has decreed it to be so," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Well, not just that," he said with a cocky smile.
"God, Josh, you just never change," she said, exasperated.
Uncomfortable silence descended upon them. Donna tried to think when it had become like this.
"So how's the campaign going?" he asked. "I mean, I obviously know how it's going generally – you're still winning – and you're not going to give me any inside info or anything but, how are you liking it?"
She smiled. "I'm really liking it. It's not like the President's campaign – we're the favorite, not the underdog – but it's been great. We've got a good group of people working for us. And I like being in front of the camera. I'm good at it," she said, with no false modesty.
"You're great at it. Amazing. You did see I said that in the card?"
"I did, thank you."
"It's true, Donna. You've been a great spokesperson. You're smart, telegenic, and quick with the zingers. A little too quick!" he said.
"I'm a professional with a job to do."
"I know. I just want you to know I think you're doing great. Hell, I don't have to think it – you are doing great. If, God forbid, Russell should win, you'll have been a huge part of that," he said, with real warmth in his voice, despite the slam at the Vice President.
"Thank you," she said. A year ago, she would have lept up and wrapped him in a huge hug, and probably cried her eyes out in joy. It was no longer a year ago, however, and despite how happy she was to hear Josh say those things, there was something she had to know.
She fortified herself with some more coffee, and asked, "You said today was your favorite anniversary. In your card."
Josh was silent, and took a few sips of his own coffee.
"You came back."
And there it was. She knew it, of course, but to hear him say it...
He continued. "And, I want you to know that whatever happens, you can always come back if you want to, and..."
"God, Josh!" she shouted.
"You think after all I've done, I'll come back to be your assistant?"
"I didn't mean – "
"After all I've learned, all I've become, I'll want to go back to answering your phones and ordering your hamburgers?"
"Donna, that's not – "
"You arrogant bastard! That would be a huge step back for me. That would be a bigger step back than when I stupidly went back to Paul eight years ago! God, you're worse than him..." Her righteous fury stopped short when she saw the ashen expression on Josh's face.
"You think I'm worse... than Doctor Freeride?" he said incredulously.
Donna knew she had wounded him. She knew that in the Josh Lyman Hierarchy of Demons, Paul ranked somewhere above Jeff Haffley as a malevolent force. She remembered how happy Josh had looked, all those years ago, when she told him he was better than her old boyfriend. The way he looked now, it was like he would never be that happy ever again.
"Do you hate me that much?" he said, his voice quivering with trepidation.
She sighed. "Oh, Josh, no. I don't hate you – you know I don't."
"If you think I'm worse than him..."
"I don't, Josh. I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. It's just, I can't go back to being your assistant ever again, and for you to think I would..."
"That's not what I meant, Donna. I mean, you were the best assistant. The best. Better than any I've ever had, better than anyone I'd ever seen. You know how many people were envious of me? You were invaluable. But I didn't mean you should come back as my assistant. And I don't remember today because you came back to being my assistant.
"Today's important because you came back to me. That's what I meant. You can come back to me. Whether as a coworker, or if you want to be my friend again, or whatever. It meant so much that you came back to me eight years ago. When you hired yourself as my assistant, that was great, and you're right, you were valuable in ways I couldn't imagine. When you left to go back to Doctor Freeride, it was so... but when you came back, you have no idea how important that was.
"People leave. They've always left. But when you came back, everything was as it should have been. February sixth is you coming into my life in the first place. April fourth is when I got you back in my life."
That did it. She got up and hugged him then, tighter than she ever had. "Oh Josh. All those years, I just thought you were being..."
"I really wasn't."
"'Kay." She just held him for a moment, before letting go and sitting back in her own chair. "I'm still your friend, you know."
"It hasn't seemed like we're friends. We've barely spoke since you left me."
"I left the job, Josh."
"They why haven't you called?"
She sighed in exasperation. "Why haven't you called?"
"I didn't know you wanted me to! If you weren't leaving me, just the job, you could have let me know."
"I tried, remember? All those lunches you canceled. I was going to tell you."
"I know. I'm sorry, Donna, I just had so much to deal with, with China, and C.J., and the President's MS. I should have made time for you," he sighed.
"And I should have told you better. But you're right, in a way. I did leave you. I needed to."
"Why?" he said quietly.
"For almost eight years, I'd been 'Josh's Assistant Donna'. For almost eight years, I'd been in your shadow. And I know I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without your help in the beginning. For years. You did so much for me."
"You did so much for me too," he said.
"I know," she said. "But I needed to do something on my own. Without you being involved at all. To prove I could. And I still need to, to prove to myself I can do this. But thank you – for the flowers, and for the sentiment."
Josh smiled. "You're welcome. I did mean it, though. When the Congressman becomes the nominee, you can come back. And not as my assistant."
She smiled jauntily at him. "When the Vice President becomes the nominee, you can work with me. Maybe as my assistant." She was overcome by a yawn just then, and barely managed to cover her mouth. "I should go, Josh. It's late."
"I know. Can I call you every once in a while? Not to talk campaign stuff, but to, you know, just talk?"
"I'd like that. Can I call you too?"
"Of course. My mom's been asking about you, by the way. I'll tell her you're doing fine."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Josh, I've emailed your mother every week for the last eight years."
"But she keeps nagging me to find out how you're... oh."
They got up and he walked her to the door.
"I meant everything I said in the card. I miss you. Every day."
She smiled warmly back at him. "I know. I miss you too."
He looked almost relieved to hear that. "'Kay. Take care, Donna. I'll call you soon. Say hi to Will for me. I meant it before – he's a good guy."
"I will, although I don't know if I should believe this nice guy act of yours."
"Hey! I'm totally nice."
"You made me fight a chicken," she said, accusingly.
"I just sent the chicken over. You fought him. Pretty damn well, I have to say."
She smiled. "Thanks."
"Now, if I sent a turkey over, you might just be out of your league..." he said, waggling his eyebrows.
"Or a pheasant. Or some kind of ptarmigan."
"Good night, Joshua," she said, opening the door.
"Good night, Donnatella."
She walked to her car, feeling better than she had in months, even if she was emotionally drained and physically exhausted. As she put her car in drive, she looked over at the doorway to Josh's townhouse.
He was still there in the doorway, watching her.
She couldn't help but smile. Maybe things would turn out all right.