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.
[Author's Note: This is a sort-of companion piece to Pressure. It had its origin in a request chai4anne (whose stories you should read, if you haven't already) had to see a similar piece from Donna's point of view, following largely the same plot, but having Donna confront the way she's been dealing with Josh, and hopefully come to a happier conclusion than that bleak, bleak story did. I thought that was a great idea. So here it is.]
When she goes to his apartment the night he returns from California, she takes a good look at him before she goes over to kiss him. He looks defeated, and it's not just because Sam rejected his plea to return to Washington. He's been looking defeated so much lately, you wouldn't think he just single-handedly masterminded the most incredible dark horse victory since James Polk.
Donna can tell the moment Josh realizes she's in the room, because his face completely transforms, and suddenly he's not the harried man who was nearly fired weeks before the election, but the brash, confident man she fell in love with all those years ago. It occurs to her that other than when they were alone together, she hasn't really seen him smile in almost a year.
Since she quit her job as his assistant.
They've never really talked about that. They don't talk much, really – they haven't in those eleven months, other than short conversations, or plans to get together. When they are together, their mouths are too busy for words.
Donna misses the bantering, the flirtation, the verbal play that formed the core of their relationship for so many years, but this is better. Largely.
They drag each other into the bedroom, and it's passionate and fun and wonderful, and their together. Together at last. For eight years she dreamed of this, of being with him, and trust overachieving, competitive Josh Lyman to exceed her fantasies in bed. He's amazing, attentive, and insistent on her pleasure. She cherishes the times they make love.
Well, she considers it making love. She doesn't know what he thinks it is.
And this grates upon her. What is this? What does she mean to him? What, frankly, does he mean to her? She hopes it's the start of the relationship she has been dreaming of with him, sometimes almost unwillingly, for nearly nine years. She's older, more of a realist, more jaded, but a part of her still dreams of the perfect married life with Josh as the perfect husband, the both of them taking D.C. by storm, living in the perfect house, having the perfect children, their lives filled with tender caresses and verbal foreplay and wild passionate nights. And it would be so easy to just be in the moment with Josh, and trust that this was where they were heading, that they had the same endgame in mind.
But she doesn't know. She's not willing to sacrifice a year of progress, a year of her becoming her own woman, and not just Josh's Assistant Donna, for something that may be happening. She needs to know.
She also needs him to tell her what she's thinking. So far, she's made all the first moves – trying to give him her key that one night, basically propositioning him twice on election day. She needs to know he will do something. That he's not going to be completely passive in this, because she's know he very well might if she just keeps offering him sex. She needs him to act.
Even after their estrangement, she trusts she knows Josh Lyman. Knows how he thinks. Knows how he reacts. Knows what carrots to use, what sticks to use. Josh responds to pressure. He doesn't like it, but he responds to it.
When she wakes up alone in bed the next morning (they never wake up together, one always leaves first), she presents him with her plan: they need to decide what they are together within four weeks, or it's not worth the trouble. She knows this is another deadline for him, and he has a lot on his plate these days, but it's the best way she knows to get him to make a decision about what this is.
She kisses him and leaves.
The next day is a wonderful one for her professional development. Mrs. Santos asks her to be her Chief of Staff. Her, Donna Moss, who twelve months previous was picking up Josh Lyman's dry cleaning and making appointments for him! Mrs. Santos asks her to take a few days to think about it, but there's really nothing that could make her not take it. It's a tremendous opportunity, and it solves the problem of having to work under Josh, which would be bad whichever way this ends up going.
She sees Josh later and is so full of pride when she tells him of Mrs. Santos' offer. Josh is genuinely impressed, and for a moment the weight and worry she sees him carrying disappears in honest happiness for her.
She knows, of course, how much pressure he's under. He's got a President-Elect who really is a neophyte at executive office, notwithstanding his service as Mayor of Houston. Her crack during the primaries about being a three-term congressman not qualifying him to be President didn't come out of nowhere, after all. Josh also has to deal with Matt Santos appointing Barry Goodwin, who tried to get him fired from the campaign, to run the transition team. Josh had hoped he'd have Sam in his corner, but he's doing this all on his own, and not holding it together very well. She wonders if putting him on a deadline to figure them out is too much for him.
Josh then proposes her as his Deputy, saying she knows the job better than almost anyone else from working with him all those years. She'd prefer to work with Mrs. Santos, but it's a wonderful acknowledgment from him of all the hard work she's done and how much she's grown over the years. Josh does his best to sway her, and she's almost tempted, until he makes a comment about it her not having to bring him coffee. She knows it's his attempt at a joke, but it just brings back all her anger about how he kept her down and didn't want her to grow in her job all those years.
They really should talk about all this, but a hallway in the transition offices is not the place to do it. She coldly informs him that the offer is flattering, but she will be taking the Chief of Staff position to the First Lady.
He then tells her there's no way he's going to figure this thing between them out in four weeks, and that after the coffee comment just removes any regret she had for putting him on the deadline. Four weeks! He can't figure it out in four weeks? He can't decide whether there's a future for them, or whether he thinks this is just casual sex, or whether he doesn't even want that? How hard is that? She's so frustrated – she's waited nearly a decade for this, or something like it, and he can't even put the effort into figuring out what he wants?
But she keeps calm, and informs him he has three weeks and six days left.
CJ has figured out by now that Donna and Josh are sleeping together. Not that they're really hiding it, or even could, after Ronna and Edie telling everyone about their tryst on Election Day afternoon. CJ asks Donna what this is with Josh, and she tells her that they don't know themselves yet, and are still figuring it out. CJ hesitates, then tells her to be careful.
Donna doesn't know whether to be pissed with CJ or not. That conversation during the lockdown a year and a half ago was about the most humiliating thing Donna had ever experienced, and she's accidentally dropped her underwear in front of Karen Cahill, so she knows about humiliation. But Donna thinks CJ was essentially right in her analysis of her career, if not the personal aspects. She did the one-night stand thing with Colin, and when she remembers how warm and loving Josh looked when she first woke up in Germany, and how distant he got when after Colin showed up, she still wonders whether Josh was about to proclaim his love for her, and how much having fucked Colin because she wanted to get out from under Josh's thumb really cost her.
Of course, it's just as likely that they just would have ended up in this weird sexual limbo eighteen months early.
But sexual limbo or not, it's a deeply satisfying limbo, so despite her still being pissed at him, she goes over to his apartment, and they have passionate and rigorous sex, albeit not particular tender or sweet sex. Exhausted and satiated, she fall into a blissful sleep, but when she wakes up at four, he's awake too. Still annoyed with him, she reminds him of the time left on his deadline, and leaves. She doesn't kiss him goodbye, but he makes no move to do so either.
She sees Josh is cracking up. The President-Elect commented to her, as he asked to her mortification if Josh was "having fun" with anyone that he looked like a zombie. She hears through the grapevine that he keeps yelling at Otto, and when she passes the other staffers, she sees they're doing their best to avoid him, all except for Ronna, who he's been working with for longer than anyone. Well, except for her, of course, but that was a long time ago in a different setting. Ronna seems almost protective of Josh, and a part of her thinks its a shame she's been tapped by the President-elect to be the new Debbie Fidderer (not the new Mrs. Landingham, she thinks. There can be no new Mrs. Landingham – the shoes are too big to fill), because she'd be a wonderful assistant for Josh. Then she reminds herself that it's not her job to worry about these things. Certainly not until Josh tells her what he wants from this thing of theirs.
So she goes back and forth with herself on the wisdom of the deadline. She knows he's under tremendous pressure, and she probably isn't helping, but she's afraid if she eases up he won't take her seriously, and will just ride roughshod over her concerns no matter what they end up as, whether as the lovers and partners she hopes or the casual sex partners she fears he wants. She needs him to take her seriously, and she needs to know what he wants. She's not going to make assumptions and be humiliated by him.
Besides, if he would just decide what he wanted, the pressure from her would just disappear, and if he wanted to, she could help him and ease his burdens and be the partner and help-mate she still wants to be to him. But they don't talk, and when she's honest with herself, she realize she's been avoiding talking to him until he givers her an answer.
She pops her head into his office and reminds him there's three weeks, three days left.
She can't believe he's going to be working with Amy Gardner again. Can't believe he would approve her hiring. And she doesn't buy his claim that he couldn't talk the President-Elect out of hiring her. She's never told him how more than anyone else she's ever met, Amy makes her feel like a meek, pathetic, uneducated low-class fraud who should be making coffee in some industrial park on the outskirts of Madison, although Josh really should know that. She's never told him about their conversation the night Zoey Bartlet was kidnapped, and how Amy drunkenly asked her if she was in love with Josh. She didn't answer Amy, but she wouldn't put it past her and him having a good chuckle over it between bouts of lovemaking during his second go with her.
And wouldn't you know it, she runs into Amy that same day. Amy's all smiles and friendliness and congratulates her on snagging Josh, and says with a smirk, "I guess I know the answer to that question I asked three years ago." She then congratulates Donna on Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and says Donna will probably last far longer than she did for Abbey Bartlet because Donna's a team player. And her smiles are sincere enough that Donna can't figure out whether Amy's being snide or genuinely friendly, and that just pisses her off more.
She lets Josh know she's upset at this, and doesn't go over that night. She doesn't let Josh know she fears being thrown over in favor of Amy, but he can probably figure that out, which makes her feel even smaller.
She keeps up the countdown, though. By voice mail.
It's only the one night she doesn't go over, though. She needs him, and that upsets her, because while it's one thing to just have fun sleeping together, and she's done enough of that that it doesn't bother her in itself, it's entirely another with him, who held her heart in his hands, knowingly or not, for all those years.
She needs him to tell he what she wants from this, and as the days pass by, doesn't want to contemplate what she'll do if it expires. It was supposed to just light a fire under his ass and get her an answer in a day or two. It wasn't supposed to become this burden on his shoulders, but she feels she can't lift it without saying he's completely in charge and she'll do whatever he says.
But what if he doesn't say it? Can she just say this is actually not worth the trouble?
She desperately hopes she doesn't have to make that decision.
Josh is in talks with the West Wing. She knows this through the grapevine. She mentions it to CJ, who comments that Santos is buggering things up, but won't elaborate. She also calls Josh an ass, which is par for the course for her these days. They used to be friends. They all used to be friends. Donna misses that, even if she doesn't miss the indentured servitude to Josh.
CJ then pays Josh an unexpected compliment by saying he's more open-minded than she ever thought he'd be towards old adversaries. She won't elaborate on that either, but a few days later Will Bailey shows up as Josh's new Deputy. She goes and congratulates Will, who congratulates her on her new job. Will's a good guy. He was a good boss, and he treated her like a collaborator, far more than anyone else ever has, even if he was never the teacher Josh was.
A part of her still feels guilty for that crack, as it killed a nice moment between her and Josh, but she was still pissed at him then, and it felt nice to be the one doing the wounding for once. Well, not for once – she'd been doing that a lot, ever since Germany when Josh just went back to normal after getting her hopes up with his transoceanic dash to her bedside.
She tells herself she'll apologize to him after he tells her where he sees them going.
Their lovemaking, if that's what it is, is fabulous that night, but she leaves before he wakes, as it's so awkward not knowing what he wants. She leaves her deadline (two weeks, five days – he's already wasted nine days) on a post-it.
She is so pissed at him. It's Thanksgiving, and they were going to spend the evening together. He was going to be done at four. They were going to cook together, and talk, and watch a movie, and spend wonderful hours in bed exalting each others' bodies.
But it's five minutes to six when she pulls the chicken out of the oven he never uses, and he's still at work.
There was no need for him to be there at all today. No one else at the transition was working. Damn near no one in America was working, but Josh Lyman, Workaholic Extraordinaire had to be in.
She pounces on him as soon as he finally enters the door at six thirty. He said four. Why the hell did he have to go in? What happened to their special day? She doesn't let him get a word in edgewise, and just keeps going. Is this how it's going to be, this lack of consideration? This lack of time for her? Does he even want this? There's two weeks, four days to go. Does he even need that? Is there any point?
His face turns angry as he goes on and on about the pressures he's under, and how no one supports him and no one listens, and he's now stuck with Goodwin riding his ass and hoping he fails, and how CJ just keeps yelling at him and telling him how useless he and the President-Elect are.
His face is getting redder and redder, and his breaths are getting shorter and shorter. She's about to say something...
And then he starts complaining about the deadline. Calling it stupid. Saying how it's making everything worse, and she's certain he means that she is making things worse. He yells that he loves her. He's loved her for years, he yells, but the volume and tone are anything but loving as he says how her God-damned deadline is too much, and he doesn't have time to deal with this with Kazakhstan and the transition and Goodwin breathing down his neck and all these God-damned kids who will be running the White House. He yells at her to lay off with the deadline and give him some God-damned space.
And that's it for Donna, as she yells right back that it so damned clear to her now that he doesn't respect her at all if he's treating her this way and belittling her and making light of her needs and her deadline, and how the real issue is how he can't handle her standing up for herself. Well, she's not going to be his doormat anymore, and he can have space, all the space in the world, and she takes her stuff and leaves as the tears of anger and anguish begin to flow.
It's hard to drive back to CJ's like this, and it's harder still to pass through her apartment to the spare room she's staying in, past Danny and CJ who are obviously having a romantic dinner, just like the romantic dinner she was supposed to have with Josh, and that just makes it worse, as she collapses on the bed, wracked with sobs worse than when that bastard refused to hire her after the convention and threw her words back at her and made her feel like an amateur and a loser. And just like then, he throws in something that would light up her whole existence if it wasn't surrounded by such hurtful, hurtful crap. He claimed he missed her every day then. He claimed to love her now. But he was yelling so much, she thinks if that's what he thinks love is, then it's better off that they're over.
And she sobs some more as CJ knocks on the door, and Donna begs her to go back to Danny, she's all right, and it's nothing. And she does, because Donna knows CJ often doesn't know what to say to her, and hasn't since the lockdown.
They're over. Nine years wasted. Nine years of pining. Nine years of laughter and fun and banter and moments and arguments and hurt and silence and anger and reconciliation and smiles and tears, and this is what it comes down to. Two kisses and seventeen days of sex. What a letdown.
She cries all night long.