The Politics of Love
Author's Note: Thanks to Terri, Merry, Giddy, Res, and Shalott. Yes, I'm still on about Josh/Donna.
Yes, there'll be some Josh/Sam soon but this isn't it. Sorry!
"Hang on," Donna said, stopping short. "I'll just be a minute," and then she was veering off across the chic foyer of Takada toward the ladies' room, her heels softly clicking on the spotless black marble floor.
Josh snorted and jammed his hands in the pockets of his heavy wool overcoat. "She couldn't have done that five minutes ago?"
"Maybe it was the fish," Sam suggested, and nodded his head in the direction of the floor-to-ceiling aquarium. It was filled with a wildly colorful array of exotic fish as well as bubbling and gushing jets of water, and his own bladder twinged in sympathy. Personally Sam felt that it was in bad taste to have an aquarium in the foyer of a sushi restaurant, but nobody else seemed to mind.
Josh drifted off to inspect the fish more closely, and so it was Sam who saw their waiter hurrying over.
He was clearly new to the job, and obviously nervous about serving the clientele, which that evening had included two Senators, three members of the House, and a couple of lobbyists. Not to mention themselves: the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, the Deputy Communications Director, and Donna—and while Donna might seem to a naïve outsider (or an inexperienced D.C. waiter) to be one of the less powerful people enjoying the excellent tuna sashimi that evening, she had in fact been instrumental to achieving the very thing that they were out celebrating: a bipartisan addition to the House Interior Appropriations Subcommitee's "Science, State, and Justice Appropriations" bill, which added an extra 200 million to the NSF budget. This after Donna had discovered that NSF scientists were this close to curing malaria.
"Malaria, Josh! Do you understand that 2.5 billion people—that's billion, with a b—are currently at risk for malaria? That's 40 percent of the world's population! Most of which are children: five thousand children a day. Thirty-five thousand children a week—"
"God, what do you want?" Josh had moaned, head dropping into his hands. "I'll do anything, just promise me you'll get out of my office and stop talking about dead children—"
Sam hadn't seen this happen, but it had been described to him afterward by both Josh and Donna, since what Donna had wanted was for Josh to get the NSF the additional 200 million dollars they requested ("It's nothing, Josh. Peanuts! Chump change!—" "Chump change?" "—to keep children from dying—" "Look, Donna, we had a deal!") and Josh had decided he needed Sam on this. Two long days' work, a persuasively worded memo (his), and about a thousand phone calls (Josh's) had yielded them four key votes and an additional 200 million to fight malaria. Josh had slammed the phone down in triumph, and Donna had smiled approvingly and bent to kiss the top of Josh's head. "You did good, Josh."
"Can you please not talk to me for, like, three days?" Josh had asked her.
"Hey, what about me?" Sam had protested. "I did good! I wrote the memo!" and Donna had laughed and come around the table to give him a wet smack on the cheek. "God, kill me," Josh had muttered, grabbing his papers and hightailing it out of the Roosevelt Room, but Sam hadn't thought he'd been genuinely pissed.
"Mr. Lyman!" the waiter called breathlessly, and Josh wheeled around, hands still jammed in his pockets. "Sir. I'm glad I caught you." The waiter came to a stop before Josh and held up a pale pink cashmere scarf. "Your wife," he said, "she forgot this—" and Josh jerked in surprise and opened his mouth as if to say something before snapping it shut and taking the scarf from the waiter's extended hands.
"Okay, thanks," Josh said, and the waiter ducked his head respectfully and quickly backed away.
Sam frowned. "You didn't explain that—"
"No. Yeah." Josh was frowning down at the pale pink wool in his hands. "I think he's new."
"He's most certainly new," Sam said, and then he looked up and saw Donna crossing back toward them. She was weaving a little because she was staring down at her Palm Pilot and poking at it with a little stylus.
"We've already been congratulated by twelve global anti-malaria groups—" Donna announced without looking up.
"There aren't any pro-malaria groups, are there?" Sam asked.
"—including the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the 'Medicines for Malaria' Venture, MARA/ARMA, ACTMalaria—"
Josh carefully draped the scarf around Donna's neck and tucked the ends into her coat. "Hey, Donna? How would things be different if we were married?"
Sam turned to stare at him, but this must have been only one of a thousand strange questions that Josh asked Donna in the course of a day, because she didn't so much as look up. "—and AMVTN, which I'll have you know, happens to stand for the African Malaria Vaccine Testing Network. Different how?"
"That's what I'm asking you," Josh said irritably. "I mean—seriously. The hours I'm not with you, I'm pretty much asleep—"
"—and those are probably the only hours you shut up." Donna rolled her eyes as she poke-poked the Palm with her stylus. "It's not fair. I'm totally missing out on 'quiet time'."
"And, granted, we'd probably be having sex, but I for one am prepared to count that as an up-side."
"Yeah, I bet you would. Me, I'd expect a hell of a bonus," Donna said, and then she exclaimed, "ha!" and slid the stylus back into its holder with satisfaction, and snapped the Palm's cover shut, and so she didn't see the way Josh flinched and quickly looked away, a muscle in his cheek twitching.
"Well, that would depend on—uh," and Josh was trying, but couldn't quite find the next joke. "Something. I don't know. I think we ought to get you a taxi."
Donna slung her handbag over her shoulder, adjusted the scarf Josh had wrapped around her neck, and drifted after him. "It's okay. I can walk—"
"No. No, you can't," Josh said, turning and pushing out the restaurant's glass door ass-first. "Take a taxi. Get a receipt, I'll expense it."
"I'll drive her home," Sam volunteered. "My car's just—"
"Taxi's better," Josh interrupted, walking to the curb and waving his arm. Down the block, a taxi flashed its brights to acknowledge him. A moment later, it pulled up, and Josh went over and opened the back door for Donna like he was the chauffeur.
Donna turned to Sam. "Goodnight, Sam."
"Goodnight," Sam replied. "Get home safe."
Donna stepped down into the street toward the car, and just as she was about to get in, Josh said, awkwardly, "Good work, today." Donna's face lit up at the unexpected compliment. "Hey, thanks," she said, and then she was in the car, and Josh was slamming the door shut and fumbling in his wallet. He tapped on the window, then bent and handed her some money. "Get a receipt, okay?"
Sam didn't hear her reply, but a moment later, the car pulled away from the curb. Josh drifted onto the sidewalk, hands back in his pockets, looking distracted and unhappy. He circled Sam restlessly, staring down, walking to the restaurant door and back again before lifting his head. "Okay, I'm going home. Dead babies saved, job done. There's an infomercial and a glass of scotch somewhere with my name on it—"
"Look, you know she didn't mean it, right?" Sam said quietly. "She was kidding."
Josh jerked to a stop. "What?"
"She wasn't paying attention, she was tracking the press releases of anti-malaria organizations. She didn't hear what you were saying there."
"Saying where? What? I don't know what you're talking about," Josh said, and then, immediately proving he was lying: "I’m the one who was kidding, Sam. I'm a kidder, I kid all the time—Donna especially. I mean, what, you thought I was serious?"
Sam took a step closer to him, careful to keep his voice low. "I know how you feel about Donna, Josh. Actually, the whole office knows how you feel about Donna. Probably the African Malaria Vaccine Testing Network knows how you feel about Donna. And I'm telling you, she wasn't listening."
Josh was turning a startling shade of red. "No, no, you see, okay, that's exactly the problem—" and Josh's voice was strained, his finger stabbing hard into Sam's chest. "You think I don't hear the whispers, the gossip, about her and me, but I do, and I bet she does too, and it's just—man, you guys are so delusional. It isn't—there's nothing between her and me; she's a professional, doing her job, and right now she works for me, but she could work for anybody—Leo, Toby; hell, Donna could work for President Bartlet—and she would do the same job—"
Sam looked at him meaningfully. "You really think so? The same job?"
"—the same fantastic job, and yes, yes, I do, Sam, I really think so. Jesus, Sam," Josh sputtered, "what's the matter with you? Do you understand how demeaning that is, to her, to suggest that she—that I—that she would give me some kind of preferential—God, I never thought you were so goddamned, uh— sexist."
Sam stared at him.
"You know, I think we should just pretend we never had this conversation." Josh said, throwing his hands into the air, "because you and me, we've been friends for a long time, and I know your politics are impeccable on this point, because you're Mr. Feminist Action League and Mr. Save the Whales—"
"Yes," Sam said levelly. "Women love whales."
"—and so I know that this is just the sake talking, and not the real you." Josh turned, hand fluttering in a beneficent wave, and said, already walking backwards, "Going home now. Scotch, informercial. I'm going up to the Hill tomorrow morning; Leo asked me to talk to Cafferty about the thing."
"Okay. Yeah," Sam said, lifting his own hand. "Good luck with that," and really, sometimes there was no talking to people.
Two weeks later, Donna came into his office and shut the door. "Okay, what did I miss?"
Sam looked up from his laptop monitor and blinked a couple of times. "What?"
"I missed something," Donna repeated impatiently. "Something happened with Josh and I missed it. What did I miss?"
Sam sighed, pulled his glasses off, and tossed them onto a pile of documents. "Why?" he asked, and rubbed his tired eyes for a second before letting his hands drop. "What's he been doing?"
Donna looked shocked that Sam hadn't noticed. "What's he been doing? He's making me take lunch, is what he's doing—a full lunch, thirty-five minutes! He's been telling me to go home at 7:30! He's been saying 'please' and 'thank you' and yesterday? Do you know what he said?" Donna's voice was high and hysterical-sounding, and Sam shook his head, mentally bracing for it. "He said, 'Have a good weekend, Donna! See you Monday!'"
Sam winced. "Okay, that's bad."
"Bad? It's psychotic." She leaned forward and braced her palms on Sam's desk. "I'm telling you, Sam, something is terribly, terribly wrong with him. He's polite. He's considerate. He's—"
"— probably just trying to be a good boss." Sam sat back in his leather desk chair, which creaked.
"Yeah, okay, but why the hell start now?" Donna asked, and suddenly her eyes went wide, and she pressed a hand to her heart. "Oh my god, is he sick?"
Sam sighed. "He's not sick."
"Well, he looks sick. He just sits at his desk and works. Sometimes he even closes his door. He doesn’t come out to the bullpen, or try to do chin-ups on my doorframe, or anything else stupid and Josh-like. Sam," Donna said seriously. "He's using the intercom. What the hell is going on?"
"Well, " Sam began, but then stopped, unable to think where to go from there. Donna was glaring at him, though, arms crossed across her pale blue sweater, her long, shiny blond hair making her look kind of like a Valkyrie. "I really think he's just trying to be a good boss," he hedged finally. "And why not, really?"
Donna arched a well-shaped eyebrow. "And again, I ask: why now?"
Well, that was the sticky wicket, Sam thought, and wondered exactly what a sticky wicket was. It sounded like something out of cricket—they had wickets in cricket, didn't they (and didn't that sound like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan?)—but he couldn't imagine under what circumstances the wicket would actually be sticky. Really, it sounded kind of disgusting.
"Sam!" Donna repeated, and Sam abruptly straightened in his chair.
"Yeah. Sorry. I think he thinks you don't love him. Well," Sam amended, thinking about it, "more accurately, I think he thinks you're not in love with him, though that may be a finer distinction than you're interested in making at this point. Suffice it to say, I think he's attempting to put your relationship on a more professional footing, mostly out of embarrassment, really."
Donna stared at him for a long moment. "The hell?" she said finally, and stormed out.
Sam sat there for a second, basking in relief, before realizing that Josh probably should get a head's up about this. He picked up his telephone receiver, and then slammed it down, because really, he just had to get to Josh first and hide him somewhere, or maybe pull him out in public where there were witnesses. He rushed out of his office, took a sharp right, and briskly jogged down the hallway. Donna was nowhere in sight, but Sam was hoping that she'd take her regular route through the Communications bullpen while he himself saved precious seconds by cutting through the lobby. He pushed through a door, crossed, and pushed open the door on the other side. Twenty feet to Josh's office, but like an apparition, Donna suddenly strode across his line of vision, coming down the hallway perpendicular to his, headed straight for Josh's open door. Sam put on a burst of speed but it was too late: Donna was there and going in.
Sam crossed in front of the open door just in time to see Josh look up, startled, from whatever he was working on. "Hi," he said. "What can I—" and then Donna was coming around his desk, and grabbing him by the ear, and pulling him up out of his chair. "Ow?" Josh said, bent and wincing with pain, and Sam was just about to burst into the office and insist that, really, violence never solved anything, when Donna grabbed Josh's head, tugged his face close, and kissed him. Josh went very still, which was kind of incredible since he was contorted and off-balance and really, by every law of physics he ought to have fallen over. But there was apparently some law of Donna currently in effect, because he just stood there and let Donna draw him in as she deepened the kiss. Josh's hands slowly settled on her hips, and then he wrapped his arms around her tightly, crushing her to him, and—
"Hey, Sam? Is Josh—?" and Sam leapt and grabbed the doorknob and slammed the door shut.
"Meeting," Sam said, whirling quickly. "Just started. Might be a while."
"Uh-huh." C.J. looked skeptical. "Is this National Short Sentences Day and nobody thought to tell me?"
"Yes," Sam replied. "Exactly. I'll explain," and he took her with him up the hallway.