The Age of Aquarius
Author's Notes: West Wing, Josh/Donna. Thanks to Shalott, Mia, Merry, Latifah, and the ever-invaluable Terri for beta-reading.
"All right, I'm going," Donna said, striding into Josh's office in her hat and coat. "I'll be back by eleven."
Sam smiled at her. "Have a good time."
Josh didn't even look up from the pad he was writing on. "Nine-thirty."
"Josh!" Donna nearly stamped her foot.
"Nine-thirty," Josh repeated, still scribbling. "The President'll be back by eleven, which means I need to be in the Oval by eleven. So nine-thirty—ten at the latest. You can do it if you eat fast and get decent service."
"Right." Donna folded her arms over her chest and huffed angrily. "Because breakneck speed is really romantic."
Josh finally lifted his head. "Hey, think of the efficiency. You can date double the gomers in half the time."
There was a whirl of blonde hair as Donna stormed away. Josh stared after her for several long moments before blinking and dropping his eyes back to his legal pad. "So where were we again? We got Hadley, Robertson, Nadler—"
"—Martinez, Paulson, Scott, and Lupold," Sam said, putting a tick beside each of the names on his own pad. "Mercer's on a plane, but her aide promised she'd call when she landed. Shifrenson's not answering his phone, which is a bad sign—"
"No, that's a good sign. He's afraid of me."
"He should be afraid of you. Personally, I'm terrified of you."
"No, I'm serious." Josh tapped out a rapid, irregular rhythm on his legal pad with the tip of his pencil. "He knows he'll have to say yes when we corner him—and I'm gonna corner him, Sam, like a rat in a hole. Put him in the plus column."
Sam raised an eyebrow but drew a light check-mark next to Congressman Shifrenson's name.
"Shifrenson makes nine," Josh mused, tilting back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. "That gives us three hours to scare up two more votes and put some language together."
"I'll work on the language; you strong-arm Mendelsohn, Howard, and Fritz. And why don't you just date Donna?" Sam asked, and Josh jerked violently upright, hands flailing as his wheeled desk-chair squeaked and nearly sailed out from under him. Sam threw his pad down and leaned forward. "No, I mean it; serious question. You obviously have feelings for her. You don't want her dating anyone else. You had her last boyfriend transferred to Guam—"
"Hey, it's nice in Guam," Josh muttered, looking away. "It's not like I sent him to the Russian Front—"
"And she loves you: I mean, obviously, she loves you."
"—although I could have," Josh said darkly.
"But most of all," Sam said, building toward his rhetorical climax, "you're good together. Really good: you're like the Astaire and Rogers of political maneuvering. I mean, surely it hasn't escaped you that you've become—well, let's call a spade a spade, Josh: you're the leading political mind of the party. And you have to admit that Donna's partly responsible for that."
"You think I don't—" Josh's voice cracked a little on the last word, and suddenly he was standing up, hands gripping the desktop. "Shut the door."
Sam blinked and sat up in his chair, taken aback. "Josh, nobody's—"
"I said shut the goddamned—" and then Josh was striding around the desk, shutting and locking first one door and then the other. When Josh turned, his face was pinched and strained. "I want to show you something."
For the first time, Sam felt uneasy. "Okay?"
Josh walked to one of the filing cabinets, reached into his pants pocket, and pulled out a small ring of keys. Sam's uneasiness increased: they routinely left highly-classified White House files lying about on their desks, or on conference tables; Josh in particular was notorious for charting out high-level strategy ideas on napkins, whiteboards, the backs of envelopes, a habit that Sam was pretty sure he'd picked up from Leo. What on earth would Josh keep under lock and key?
Josh pulled out a couple of file folders—one blue, one red—and shoved the drawer shut. He came back and parked his hip on the desk next to Sam, and stared down at him. Sam thought he had never seen Josh look so serious.
"Take a look at this," Josh said quietly, and handed Sam a single sheet of paper. It was heavy-bond paper, the good stuff, and Sam glanced down at it and felt prickles on the back of his neck.
JOSIAH BARTLET (1940-2003): AN AMERICAN LEGEND. Josiah Edward Bartlet, Nobel Laureate in Economics, three-term congressman, two-term governor, and 41st President of the United States, died yesterday at—
Sam looked up quickly, his eyes stinging. "This is the President's obituary."
"Yeah." Josh pulled the sheet of paper from Sam's fingertips and glanced down at it. "This one's for the Times—or maybe the Post. I forget." He offered it again to Sam, who waved it away. Josh laid the paper carefully back in the blue folder.
"I—how?" Sam couldn't quite frame the question. "How is that—?"
"They write them in advance," Josh explained, "and keep them on file."
"Oh," Sam said.
"After the story broke about the President's M.S., everybody scrambled to make sure they had an obit at the ready. We vetted a bunch of them, Toby and me."
"Oh," Sam said.
"Thing is, it's not just the President." Josh tilted his head and looked hard at Sam. "The major papers, they've got obits written for everyone: politicians, celebrities, the Pope. You hit a certain age, they farm you out to an intern, work up a draft. Or if you hit a certain level of importance: senators, congressmen, Supreme and Federal Court judges, the Cabinet. White House staff."
"Oh," Sam said.
"Do you want to see yours?" Josh asked.
Sam looked away, feeling sick. "No, thanks."
"Mine is great," Josh said, moving back around his desk toward his chair. "It says I'm the leading political mind of the party. Also something about me having the cutest butt in professional politics." Josh was thumbing through the red folder, and now he pulled out a glossy 8 x 10 photograph and held it out to Sam across the desk. For a moment, Sam didn't want to take it—he was irrationally positive that it would be a picture of the President, dead in his coffin—but then he took the picture from Josh's hand.
It was Josh, crossing between two parked cars on some residential street Sam didn't recognize. Josh was apparently unaware of the photographer, and wasn't looking at the camera, but it was still recognizably him, raincoat flapping around his ankles. He looked questioningly up at Josh, who handed him another picture. Josh again, this time coming out of a residential doorway and wearing a different suit. The gold numbers beside the door frame read "271."
Wait. Sam looked up. "This is—"
Josh was already nodding grimly. "Donna's building, yeah." He scrubbed his face, took a deep breath, and let his hands drop. "For what it's worth, both times I was only dropping something off. I couldn't have been in there for five minutes."
"I—yeah, of course." Sam stared down at the photographs again, looking from one to the other. God, this was creepy, like looking at Josh through the crosshairs of a gun-sight. "Who took these?"
"Some photographer. Does it matter? Point is, if it's ever more than five minutes, they'll probably run with this." Josh handed another piece of paper to Sam.
This time, the headline read:
DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF IN SEX SCANDAL WITH TOP AIDE.
Sam let out a long, slow whistle. "Holy shit."
"Where'd you get this?"
"I've got friends."
"Man. I just can't believe—" Sam let his eyes drift down the page.
President Bartlet soon could face a decision over whether to keep top political strategist Joshua Lyman on staff in the wake of—Sam's eyes shifted.
—to the chest during the attack on the President in Rosslyn, Virginia—
—Moss, who has no college degree, was hired by Mr. Lyman during the early days of the 'Bartlet for America'campaign—
—has long been the subject of knowing whispers by Beltway insiders. Mr. Lyman will certainly be asked to justify—
—how long this has been going on and whether he ought rightly to have been in a position to review Ms. Moss's job performance and issue salary reviews. "With Republicans, it's money; with Democrats, it's sex," said an unnamed source. "If the Democrats could keep it zipped, they'd be dangerous."
"If the Democrats could—?" Sam asked incredulously. "Who the hell—?"
Josh made a tsking sound. "Yeah, I looked into that. Max Lobell."
"Max Lobell? He wouldn’t—"
"They took him totally out of context," Josh interrupted. "He was just shooting his mouth off, except there were reporters in the room. See, it doesn't matter that that quote has nothing to do with me or Donna. They never say it does."
Sam looked down at the article again, and no, the journalist never said that the unnamed source was talking about Josh, but he damn sure left that impression. "I'm guessing he didn't offer you the chance to vet this," Sam said bitterly.
"No," Josh said, "but I did anyway." Sam blinked and looked up, surprised, as Josh ticked off the points on his fingers. "I told them that they couldn't use Max's name. I told them that I wasn't in any way responsible for setting Donna's salary. I told them that if they so much as alluded to a hint of a mention of PTSD, I would sue them to the ends of the earth and into the afterlife. Oh—and the first version of the story said, 'Deputy Chief of Staff in Sex Scandal with Assistant.' I figured that if Donna was going to be publicly ridiculed in the newspapers as nothing more than my shiksa concubine, she should at least be a Top Aide."
Sam fought down his anger. "You can't let them get away with this."
"Let them?" Josh strained forward over the desk. "Tell me how to stop them. It turns out you're not the only one who suspects that I've maybe got a thing for my assistant. They've got a story—a draft, pictures. All they need is for it to actually happen, which is why I can't—"
But Sam was already shaking his head. "No. Josh. You can't give in to—"
"Oh, give it a rest: half the campaign thought I hired Donna because I wanted to sleep with her. It took months for people to see that she was invaluable—"
"A month," Sam said defensively. "Maybe—"
But Josh was yanking pictures out of the red folder and flinging them down onto the desk. "Here, it's Todd. Mike. Donald. Jack—"
Sam half got out of his chair to look down at the photos spread across Josh's desk. Donna was in each of the pictures, but the camera was focused on the men who had walked her to her door. Sam recognized Jack Reese and quickly looked away.
"—just in case you think they're not paying attention. Somehow they missed Cliff Calley, thank God for small favors—"
"Josh, this is—sick." Sam was on his feet now, rapidly gathering up the pictures while trying not to look at any of them. "You shouldn't have seen these. This is a violation of Donna's—"
"Do you think I had those pictures taken?" Josh looked wild. "Do you?"
"You've got to talk to Oliver. There must be something—"
"There isn't." Josh sat down in his office chair, looked away, and went silent; Sam couldn't remember him ever looking so defeated. Sam sat there with him, trying to think of something—anything—to say.
"Does Donna know?" Sam asked finally.
"Nah." Josh didn't meet his eyes. "She'd never date again. She—one of us should be happy."
There didn't seem to be anything else to be said, and after a moment, Josh got up, collected together all the photos and papers, and replaced them in the locked filing cabinet. Turning back, he sighed and picked up his legal pad. "So—Mendelsohn, you said?"
"Yeah." Sam's throat felt dry. "Mendelsohn, Howard, and Fritz."
"Right," Josh said, and picked up the phone.
"How's it going?" Donna asked.
Sam looked up quickly: Donna was standing in Josh's doorway, blonde hair spilling onto her shoulders, wearing a truly devastating blue dress. "Fine," he said, and glanced at Josh—who was sitting at his desk and scribbling on a legal pad, exactly as he'd been when Donna'd left two hours ago. He didn't look up. Sam turned back to Donna. "How was your date?"
"Eh," Donna said, and gracefully shrugged a shoulder, and Sam now saw she was holding a small white Styrofoam box. "He was boring, even at breakneck speed," and Donna was looking at him, but she was talking to Josh. Josh hadn't looked up, but he was obviously listening. "Actually," Donna added, plopping down into the other visitor's chair and kicking her heels off, "I used you guys as my exit strategy. Here," Donna added, putting the white Styrofoam container down on Josh's desk. "It was a prix fixe dinner. I brought you my cake."
Now Josh looked up. "You don't want it?"
"Nah. I seriously don't need the calories."
Josh picked up the small Styrofoam box. "What kind of cake is it?"
"It's pie, technically. Chocolate and peanut butter pie."
Josh fumbled around in his desk drawer and came up with a plastic fork. "I like peanut butter pie."
"Yeah, I know. It was that or the cheesecake, but last time the cheesecake didn't agree with you."
"Where'd you go? Luba?" Josh asked, mouth already full.
Donna pulled up her knees, propping her stockinged feet on the edge of Sam's chair. "Yeah."
"I think I'm allergic to the ricotta. I'd wish they'd make their cheesecake with cream cheese like normal people."
"I've told them and told them," Donna said, and then she cracked a grin and hugged her knees. "So? Where are we on the thing?"
Josh wiped chocolate off the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. "We picked up Mercer, Mendelsohn, Howard, and Fritz while you were out cavorting with Mr. Boring Prix Fixe Dinner."
"Says the man eating my pie," Donna said, and rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine—who else do you want?"
"We don't need anybody else," Sam interrupted. "We don't even need Shifrenson: Mendelsohn, Howard, and Fritz make eleven."
"Josh always likes to have two extra votes in his pocket," Donna explained, and then she turned her attention back to Josh. "Shifrenson's a thought: he's scared to death of you. Want me to rattle his cage?"
"Yeah, that'd be great," Josh said, picking up the phone again. "Let me know when he's primed, and I'll run in and go, 'Boo.' Meanwhile, I'll try Shane and Ferry—"
"Try Ferry first," Donna advised, standing up. "She loves us right now; the First Lady helped her get her health care credit extended to under-sixes." Balancing on one stockinged foot, Donna leaned over Josh's desk and stole a forkful of pie.
"Hey!" Josh said, glaring. Donna closed her eyes and moaned around the fork.
"I'm, uh," Sam said, gesturing helplessly in the direction of his office as he backed out, "going to do little more—"
But both Donna and Josh ignored him; they were still bickering about the pie ("I thought you didn't want any!" "Well, I didn't—when it was mine.") in a way that made Sam feel sorry for both of them.
Normally, Josh knew, there was a nice little hour-long flight between Washington, D.C. and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, but not today, Donna said. No, today there was only a twelve hour flight that—
"Wait, wait—you're telling me that some idiot will actually sell you a flight that goes from D.C. to Harrisburg by way of Cincinnatti, Raleigh, Newark and Detroit?"
"Yes." Donna consulted her notes. "To be fair, it's probably a computer that came up with that, but yes. That's the flight."
Josh rubbed his temples. "Okay, look, just rent me a car, willya?"—and that was how he and Donna ended up speeding along US 15-N toward Harrisburg, or—more accurately—how Donna had ended up speeding along US 15-N with him in the passenger seat.
He didn't really like to drive, and he'd never been particularly good at it. Because he'd skipped two grades in school, he wasn't eligible for a learner's permit until his senior year, and then he'd hit the curb while trying to parallel park: it was the only test he'd ever failed in his life. He hadn't had time to retake it, either, because he'd gone off to a National Honor Society leadership program, and then he'd gone up to Cambridge, where really, driving was only for maniacs. Josh had thought about getting a license during one of the summers, but he'd spent his first two on the Hill doing Senate internships and the third holed up in the British Library writing a thesis to satisfy the formal requirements of his Fulbright. ("Comparative Democratization and Political Economies: Understanding Voter Turnout in Established Democracies Since 1945," by Joshua Lyman.)
And then there was law school, which was a blur of caffeine and dirty underwear, and where he'd been so entirely stationary that he'd gained nearly fifteen pounds. Still, he'd had a thing for Tricia Harding, his co-editor at the Law Review, and Trish—who came from the South where everyone learned to drive a tractor in elementary school, or something like that: Josh hadn't actually been paying attention—had professed herself horrified at Josh's license-less state and had taken him out in her Dodge Aspen. Josh had gone along with this plan mainly because it gave him time to hit on Trish, but he actually succeeded in getting a valid driver's license long before he managed to bed her—which was just as well, because their relationship, like the life of man, was nasty, brutish, and short.
Still, Josh had become a legal driver, which meant that he could occasionally borrow a friend's car and drive up to Boston or down to New York, but he found he vastly preferred taking the train, where you could read and somebody else was responsible for parking the damn thing. Sometimes there were even snacks. When he finally moved to Washington, he told the realtor that he wanted a place where he a) wouldn't get killed and b) could walk to work. He'd bought his condo sight unseen based on its high price and location. If he absolutely needed to go somewhere by car, he called a taxi, or used a service, or rented one. So Josh could and did drive, but he'd never driven enough to be entirely comfortable with it.
Donna, on the other hand, drove like a crazy person, 85 mph and never met a hairpin turn she didn't like.
They were almost to Harrisburg when Donna pulled into a gas station to refuel, even though the tank was still almost half-full; Josh remembered from previous trips that Donna had almost a neurosis about running out of gas, and wordlessly handed her his credit card to hand to the attendant. "What do you want?" Josh asked, opening the car door. "Tea?"
"Yeah, okay," Donna said, and Josh slammed the door and hurried past the pumps to the gas station shop, which oh-so-tantalizingly offered COFFEE! CIGARETTES! LOTTO! The glass door opened with a little tinkle of bells, and Josh passed displays of motor oils and beef jerky until he reached the counter of carafes. Coffee. Decaf. Hot Water—and he fixed Donna a tea (mint) and poured himself a coffee (black), and then picked up a packet of Combos (for her) and a Snickers bar (him).
Back in the car, Josh quickly pulled the white plastic top off his coffee, blew on it, and gulped some down: there would be no drinking of hot beverages once Donna hit the road. Donna, on the other hand, seemed to have no trouble driving 85 mph and sipping tea at the same time.
"So, look," Donna said, glancing over at him as they neared Harrisburg, "about the Governor's wife? Exercise a little tact."
"Tact?" Josh was taken aback. "What would I say? Is she really ugly or something?"
"Wait, let me guess. She's got three arms? Six fingers? She's a dwarf?" Josh asked. "Hey, I'm a Democrat, Donna: I'm pro-Dwarf, Dwarf rights all the way—"
Donna rolled her eyes. "I don't know why I was worried."
"Seriously, what am I supposed to know about the Governor's wife?" Josh asked.
"She used to be—get the hell out of my way!" Donna yelled, flashing her brights on-off-on-off-on-off before jerking the wheel to the left and flooring it, zipping past the slow moving vehicle in front of her with an angry beep of her horn, "—his astrologer."
Josh blinked. "His astrologer? I didn't know Governor Aldretch had an astrologer."
"Well, he did. She apparently told him to run, and he did. He married her during the campaign."
"It was framed as a human interest story," Donna added.
"She told him he'd win, apparently."
"Can we hire her?" Josh asked, and Donna smiled. "Okay, fine," Josh groaned, "no crystal ball jokes, I won't ask to see his chart, and I'll lay off Nancy Reagan. I don't think Zelda's supposed to be there, anyway—" and Donna shot him a reproving look. "No, seriously: we're not even getting dinner out of this," Josh told her. "This whole meeting is hush-hush, because Aldretch ran as a moderate but the political demographics of Pennsylvania are changing so rapidly, particularly in the east—Pike, Monroe, Northhampton, Lackawanna County, Bucks—"
"Lackawanna's fun to say," Donna observed.
"Yeah, and what about 'Bucks'? Bucks is fun, too!"
"Not as fun as Lackawanna. Not even close."
"Yeah, whatever. Point is, all those counties: Pike, Monroe, Northhampton—-"
"Lackawanna," Donna interjected. "See? Fun to say—"
"—and Bucks, not to mention Lehigh, Berks, Schuylkill—"
"Schuylkill's a good one. Not as fun as Lackawanna, but—"
"—might be in play! There's a good chance that we might swipe the whole of eastern Pennsylvania from the Republicans, not just Philly. Hey," Josh added abruptly, "do you know what's between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh?"
"Alabama," Donna answered promptly, and then added, apologetically: "Heard it."
"She was his astrologer?" Josh asked, his mind having circled back to the governor's wife. "I mean—seriously?"
Donna nodded, and began singing, "When the moon...is in the seventh house...."
"And he still has a career?" Josh asked, but the question was clearly rhetorical. "I mean, the man is Governor of a major state—"
"...and Jupiter...aligns with Mars...."
"—and if he's able to help us turn Pennsylvania blue in the next election, he's going to be a seriously credible candidate for—"
"...then peace...will guide the planet...and loooooooooove...."
"—a cabinet position, maybe even Vice-President or—will steer the stars. This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, age of Aquariuuuus...A-quarrrrr-iiii— okay, stop, stop, that's terrible: pick a key already!"
"I had a key! I was doing fine!"
"That was just wrong. That was—that threw me right out of my happy early-70s place."
"Well, the next part is even harder," Donna said, and cleared her throat. "Harmony and understanding..."
Josh sighed, and then dutifully sang: "peace and something something, some other thing. Happiness and revelation, la la other hippy things go here: Aquarrrrriius—you know, seriously, I'm a Democrat and everything, but that song is gay."
"Just get it out of your system before you talk to the governor," Donna advised, flicking on her turn signal and pulling the car off the highway.
They managed to make it to the governor's office on the second floor of the Capitol building without having to sign in or give their names, which was good: Josh wanted to attract as little attention as possible. The governor's secretary seemed to have been briefed on the importance of this visit, because when Josh said, quietly, "Could you tell the governor that Josh Lyman's here to see him?" she jumped up and said, "Oh, yes; please come with me," and gestured for Josh to follow. Donna wiggled her fingers at him and melted back into the outer office.
Governor Aldretch was a huge, hearty-looking man who would have been well-cast as the Sheriff in an old Western. "Mr. Lyman," he said, crossing the room to shake his hand. "A pleasure, sir—a pleasure. Welcome to the Keystone State—home of the American Flag, the Liberty Bell, and Hershey's Chocolate, the three greatest icons of America. Thank you so much for coming."
"I'm happy to— Thanks," Josh said. The governor invited him to take a seat in one of the visitor's chairs, and Josh slid his backpack off his shoulder and pulled out a notebook and pen.
They discussed the electoral politics of Pennsylvania district by district, Josh soliciting the governor's opinions about where and how to run Democrats. It was nearly two hours later when Josh scribbled his final note—Wayne County, 39.7% incr. reg. Democrats / X vote nat. or loc. He shoved his notebook back into his bag, stood up, and reached across the desk to shake the governor's hand—only then noticing the large, framed photograph on the wall behind him. It was of a woman—a pretty woman, Josh admitted: petite, with dark eyes and black hair—and Josh let his eyes wander across the other photos on the wall. The same woman had her willowy arm wrapped around the governor's thick one at some gala event, was bending to speak to a crowd of multiracial children, was waving from the windy bow of a ship.
"My wife, Elena," Governor Aldretch said proudly, and Josh jerked back to himself; he hadn't meant to stare. "I'm sorry that she couldn't be here to greet you, but she's meeting with coal miners in Allegheny County."
"Right, no problem," Josh said, but he was weirdly unable to take his eyes off her. Before he could stop himself, he said, "Was she really your astrologer?"
Governor Aldretch laughed. "Yes."
Josh shifted uncomfortably where he stood. "You don't strike me as the...astrological type."
"I wasn't at first," the governor admitted, "but my first wife, Claire—God rest her soul—well, she swore by it. Had her charts done quarterly, and mine, too. After she died, I kept up the habit. There are worse things than taking some time every now and then to reflect upon your future."
"Yeah...I guess," Josh said uncertainly. "But, I mean—weren't you worried that people would—"
The governor laid a meaty hand on Josh's shoulder, startling him. "Son," he said, seriously, "I've buried one wife already. Sometimes you just have to say, 'fuck people.' Fuck 'em all."
Donna was sitting in the outer office reading the National Review. "Food now?"
"Yeah," and Josh let himself think God, she's beautiful. She's just— But that was a mistake, because he could feel a kind of stirring down low—or maybe he was nauseous, or just hungry. "Come on," he said, extending his hand to her, and when she took it, he tugged her up, out of the chair. "I'll buy you lunch," and there was that feeling again, low and deep and—okay, not nauseous, maybe hungry, and Josh looked down at Donna'a pale, sensibly-manicured hand, and then up at her cornflower blue eyes and lightly-freckled nose and felt a wave of desire so strong it nearly knocked him over.
"Josh?" Donna was looking at him strangely.
"Yeah," Josh said, distractedly, and he was smarter than this, he had to be smarter than this. "We should find out where the nearest..." and he was tugging Donna out of the governor's office and into the hallway with its fluted columns and Renaissance ceiling and two-story murals.
"Restaurant?" Donna supplied.
"Restaurant," Josh repeated. "Right. Where the nearest restaurant is," and even though it was a lot more public out here—people bustling, lawyers and politicians and aides hurrying past them, back and forth from the state legislative chamber—it also felt a lot more private. There was a tour group twenty feet away, and a woman with a pointer and a microphone was narrating the history of some damn painting or other.
Deputy Chief Of Staff In Sex Scandal With Top Aide. If the Democrats could only keep it zipped...
"I really want a Cobb salad," Donna said, thoughtfully. "Chicken, avocado, little chunks of bleu cheese—"
"Donna," and this was where things got dangerous, he could hear it in his own cracking voice. He tried to calm himself down, but he was groping at her waist, fingers clutching, and Donna's blue, blue eyes were widening. "I love you more than—air," Josh stammered, "and—bagels—and my telephone."
Donna just stared at him. "Wow," she said, finally. "That's like the Josh Lyman trifecta."
"I'm serious," Josh said in low, hoarse voice. "Donna, I—"
"Is it something about Harrisburg?" Donna asked with an almost manic intensity. "Five years and then—wham, bang—you're moved to declarations of love by the mediocre artwork of a mid-Atlantic state Capitol?" and then suddenly her face crumpled, and she raised her pale, sensibly-manicured hand to her mouth, and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
Josh felt horrified. "Donna," he said. "Don't cry. I'm sorry, I take it back, I'll buy you a salad—" but Donna was already shaking her head from side to side, hand still pressed to her mouth, and then she took a deep, wet-sounding breath and said: "Happy!"
"Really?" Josh asked, and now Donna was nodding frantically, head bobbing, and Josh put his arms around her. She wept against his neck, and God, she was wonderful—soft and good-smelling and trying to say something that it took him a while to translate.
"I've got nothing funny to say," Donna sobbed, and Josh sympathetically tightened his arms and murmured, "It's okay. It's okay. We don't have to be funny all the time." He held her, awkwardly stroking her hair, and then Donna lifted her tear-streaked face off his shoulder. He leaned in helplessly. God—Donna!—and he wanted to push her up against the wall with its terrible mural of the Susquehannah River and—
— Sex Scandal With Top Aide —
"Wait," Josh said, jerking back, and goddamnit, he was smarter than this, absolutely: he had to be. "Donna. Come to Virginia with me."
Donna's fair skin was flushed pink. "Virginia?" she repeated, and then her eyes widened, and her lip started to quiver, and Josh quickly kissed her forehead, and moaned: "God, please don't..."
"Happy!" Donna managed, and clutched him tight.
Josh closed his eyes and let himself be overwhelmed by the feel of her. "Me too, actually," he said, and had to fight off tears himself.
Toby and Sam were already waiting at the Arlington Circuit Court when Josh and Donna got there.
Sam looked gleeful and kind of stunned. Toby just looked like Toby.
Josh had just opened his mouth to say, "All right, all right, what are you looking at?" when Donna sort of squealed and rushed forward to hug Sam, who wrapped his arms around her and said something that Josh couldn't entirely hear, but sounded suspiciously like: "Attagirl." Then there was a kind of muttering and rocking thing happening. Josh sighed and looked to Toby for moral support.
Unsurprisingly, he found none. "You know," Toby said, pulling a cigar out of his inside coat pocket and regarding it thoughtfully, "I never found your relationship with Donna particularly baffling. I just figured you ran on sexual frustration like the rest of us. Though possibly," he added, pausing to sniff at the cigar before tucking it back into his pocket, "a slightly higher-octane blend."
"You're not a best anything," Josh told him. "You're a best—person who is standing there."
"Fine," Toby said. "You can ask C.J. to be your best man when she gets here. She looks better in a suit than I do, anyway."
Sam's head jerked up off Donna's shoulder. "Sorry, Josh. Donna asked first." Donna turned and joined Sam in an apologetic look.
Josh rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah."
"Besides, it's not every day I get to be a maid of honor," Sam said.
"Man," Donna interrupted. "And you have always been a man of honor, Sam."
"I say 'lad,'" Toby mused. "Lad of honor—"
"Lad is good," Josh agreed.
"You're just mad that Donna asked me first," Sam said.
"Yeah, very possibly," Josh said.
Toby looked at Josh. "Your mother's not going to be upset that you're marrying a shiksa goddess?"
Donna frowned and said, "Wait, should I be offended?"
"Depends on whether you put the spin on 'goddess' or 'shiksa'," Sam replied.
Toby narrowed his eyes at Sam. "You are forbidden from ever saying that word again. Or any other in my language."
"What, you think I'm too goyish?" Sam asked.
"My mother's thrilled. She likes Donna more than she likes me," Josh said.
"That's hard to believe," Toby said.
The doors burst open and C.J. rushed in, coat flapping behind her like some kind of demented bird. Josh thought she might hug him or something, but instead she loomed up beside him, looked down over her glasses, and said, "You're joking, right?"
"Uh, no?" Josh said, trying not to cringe.
"Five years we've had to deal with you being wacky and repressed, and then you impulse-marry after an afternoon in Harrisburg?"
"I said that," Donna said, crossing her arms and nodding sagely.
C.J. wheeled on her, and she practically leapt back. "And do either of you have any idea how difficult it was to get the entire Senior Staff out of the White House at the same time on no notice without telling anyone?"
Josh supposed that if he was going to marry Donna, he'd have to take responsibility for saving her life. He stepped between her and C.J. "Hey, we gave you two hours!" and C.J. was so apoplectic that she couldn't even respond.
"Actually, the bigger problem is going to be the President. And Leo, of course," Sam reflected. "They're going to be furious."
Josh sighed. "We'd never have gotten the President out in two hours. And we couldn't have put Leo in that position. So we keep it small," Josh said, and then pointed: "Maid of Honor, Best Man—and hey, you! Grumpy, unpleasant guy!—Flower Girl."
Toby looked thunderous, and raised his hand in a way that prefigured a hailstorm of condemnation, but just then the clerk opened the door and said, "Excuse me, but are you ready now? Judge Braxton is waiting."
When Josh had called to say that he was marrying Donna—today, now, this afternoon—Sam had nearly fallen out of his chair. He had been less surprised to hear that Josh and Donna were driving hellbent for Virginia, because Virginia, unlike Pennsylvania, Maryland, or D.C., had no statutory waiting period and no required blood test. You didn't even have to reside in Virginia to get married there: Virginia, like the slogan said, was for lovers.
However, even lovers had to pay thirty bucks for a marriage license (cash only: no credit cards accepted) and it turned out that Josh only had a twenty and a couple of ones. Suddenly, the air was full of cash, tens, twenties—even Toby had pulled out his wallet and was waving greenbacks in Josh's face. Josh looked taken aback, and then he laughed and snatched twenty bucks from Toby's fingers—and then, to Sam's surprise, Josh turned to Donna and kissed her, and everybody stopped laughing, because the kiss—Christ, the kiss was serious.
When Josh pulled away, Donna's eyes were wet and the room was pin-drop silent. Wordlessly, Josh turned and pushed the money across the counter to the clerk, then leaned down and signed his name to the marriage certificate. A moment later, Donna took the pen from his hand and did the same, and then the clerk showed them all into the judge's chambers.
Judge Marjorie L. Braxton cleared her throat and said, "Are you ready?" They all nodded, and she looked down, and read, "The union into which you are about to enter is the closest and tenderest into which human beings can come. It is a union founded upon mutual respect and affection." She stopped, glanced over at the marriage license, and said, "Joshua Lyman, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, forsaking all others, for so long as you both shall live?"
"Yeah," Josh said hoarsely. "You bet."
Judge Braxton nodded and turned to Donna, and then she did a double-take and said, "Joshua Lyman?"
"Nice to meet you."
Donna coughed loudly, and Judge Braxton looked apologetic. She glanced down at the license and said, "Donnatella Moss, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, forsaking all others, for so long as you both shall live?"
"Yes," Donna said. "I will."
"Join hands and repeat after me," Judge Braxton said, and Sam watched Josh and Donna pledge themselves for better for worse, for richer for poorer, to love and to cherish, from this day forward. And then the ceremony came to a screeching halt as Judge Braxton asked: "Do you have a ring for the bride?"
Josh blinked and said, "Uh, no, actually," and Sam interrupted and said, "Yes, wait." Sam pushed past C.J. and Toby, hand fumbling in his jacket pocket, and then he pulled out the small velvet box and pressed it into Josh's hand. Josh stared down at it, and then up at him, and Sam shrugged and said, "I thought—just in case. It's not like I'm using it," and then Josh was bearhugging him and whispering, "Thanks, Sam—just—thanks."
Josh fumbled the box open, pulled out the ring—a simple, two-carat solitaire; Sam remembered buying it like it was yesterday—and looked up at the judge. "Okay. Right. What's next?" and Judge Braxton directed Josh to put the ring on Donna's finger, and pronounced them husband and wife by the authority vested in her by the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Sam swiped at his eyes. "I'm just—verklempt."
"Oh for God's sake, shut the hell up," Toby said.
Afterwards, there was a lot of hugging and kissing and rueful apologies, because they all had to get back to the office, even Josh. But Josh managed to pull C.J. aside for a second to say: "There are going to be questions, C.J., but don't worry—when they come, just answer them."
"Questions?" C.J. repeated. "About this? About you and—"
"Yeah," Josh said in a low voice. "There's a story out there. About me and Donna—"
"Uh—yeah, I know there's a story, I'm the White House Press Secretary, remember? 'Deputy White House Chief of Staff in Sex Scandal,' blah-blah—you've just thrown a big ol' bucket of Legally Sanctioned Marriage over that fire, Sparky. We make a nice little announcement along the lines of, 'And finally, we wish every happiness to our colleagues Joshua Lyman and Donna Moss, who were married yesterday in a small, private ceremony—'"
"Make sure you tell the President, first," Sam said, from over C.J.'s shoulder. "Really. In fact, if I were you, I'd go back to the White House right now and—"
"Uh, excuse me," Toby said, "and it is a sad, sad thing for all of us when I'm the most romantic guy in the room, but you might give the happy couple, say, a couple of hours alone before—"
"I don't want an announcement," Josh told C.J. "I want the story to break."
"What?" C.J. and Sam said, almost as one.
"He wants the story to break!" Toby said, shooting a hand out toward Josh. "He wants to fuck with the press!"
"Yeah, I do, I really do," Josh said. "And so does Donna."
"You bet your ass I do," Donna said, and slid her arm through his.
"I want them to print it, and I want them to be wrong, and then I want Claudia Jean to berate them until they cry like girls," Josh said.
"He means, like weak girls," Sam amended. "Or, presumably, boys with a nervous condition of some sort."
C.J. tilted her head to the side. "Slap them down, you mean. For violating issues of personal privacy—"
"We are in no position to be making claims of personal privacy," Toby said. "Not after the M.S.—"
"This is totally different," Josh protested. "This is—"
"Josh said there were photographers outside my house," Donna said quietly. "Taking pictures and waiting—is that true?"
"Yes," Sam said. "Yes, unfortunately."
"Donna, you're part of the administration," C.J. sighed. "You work in the White House. You're a 'Top Aide'—"
"That's bullshit!" Josh said furiously. "Don't defend them, C.J.—it's totally out of line!"
"I have to say, put my vote in the 'bullshit' column," Sam said. "It's not like there were policy implications."
"Then there's really only one question," Toby said thoughtfully. "If we pick this fight, do we win?"
"Oh, you bet we win," Josh said.
"You bet your sweet everlovin' ass we win," C.J. said, and Toby shrugged and waved his hand like he was giving a blessing.
They all went back to the White House. Josh took a meeting with Leo about state-wide races in Pennsylvania, and then, after Leo had indicated they were done by waving his hand and turning his attention to an NSC status report on the Caspian Sea, Josh hesitated by the door and pretended to search for something in his files.
"So, uh," Josh said finally, scratching his neck before reaching up to brace one hand against the doorframe. "I need...what do you call that thing where you can't come to work, but it's not for work-related reasons?"
Leo looked up sharply. "A personal day?"
"A personal day!" Josh said, stepping forward excitedly. "Right! I need one of those."
Leo put down the NSC status report on the Caspian Sea. "You want to take a personal day?"
"Yeah. I mean, if I can," Josh added quickly. "If I can't, that's fine, I understand—"
"It's fine. It's just—" and Leo gestured at Josh, waving a hand up and down, "—normally, you're not that much of a person. I mean, you are," Leo amended quickly, making a face to indicate his disgust at his own poor word choice. "Of course, you're a person. It's not like I'm questioning your humanity. It's just—" Leo stood up, a frown darkening his heavily-lined face. "Everything's all right, right?"
"Yeah. Absolutely! Everything's fine," Josh said quickly, stepping forward and raising his hands reassuringly. "Just, uh—I just got married," he said, with a shrug.
"You what?" Leo asked, and then, already moving on: "When?"
Josh looked at his watch. "Uh—about an hour and twenty minutes ago," and Josh hadn't exactly known what to expect from Leo, but what he got was a smack to the head and a solid five-minute harangue that began, "What the hell is the matter with you?" and ended with, "Just pretend to be a normal person for five minutes, would you please?" and then Leo yelled "Margaret!" and pushed him through the connecting door into the Oval Office, where he was forced to apologize to the President and, eventually, to grovel. At some point there was a knock on the door and Margaret ushered in a terrified-looking Donna. Josh fully expected that Donna would be made to apologize as well, but instead, the President took her by the hand and gestured for her to sit down and then asked her a number of concerned, paternal questions like, "Are you sure you want to marry this bozo?", assuring her that he could have the marriage vacated if she'd changed her mind.
Donna looked down at her lap and tried to stifle a smile. "No, sir, Mr. President," she said. "If it's all the same to you, sir, I'll keep him."
"Well, maybe it's not all the same to me," the President mused. "I mean, I don't think I can endorse the marriage of someone who didn't consult me, let alone ask for my blessing—"
"Oh God," Josh groaned, covering his face with his hands.
"—whether as a father-figure, or a friend, or, oh, I don't know: Commander in Chief of the United States' Armed Forces—"
Josh let his hands drop. "You do know I'm Jewish, right? I've been guilted by professionals. You can't guilt me," and the President narrowed his eyes and Josh quickly amended, "—unless you want to, and then, yes, yes, you can."
"Absolutely," Donna seconded, nodding earnestly.
The President waved his hand in a slow circle and said, "So you're going to recreate this special moment, right? For your mother, Josh, and for Donna's parents, who just might possibly want to be there, and for Leo—because Leo's crushed, aren't you, Leo?"
Leo glanced up from the memo he was skimming. "Devastated, sir."
"See, Leo's devastated. And then," the President said, standing up, "when you've arranged for this special occasion, you might be good enough to drop Abbey and me a line—you know, if Donna's cousins in Wisconsin can't make it, and there's space left." The President tapped his fingertips together thoughtfully and added, "We could round out a table."
Josh was reduced to actually wringing his hands. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. For the love of God—"
"At least you got her a decent ring," the President said, peering down at Donna's hand, and Josh closed his eyes and sent a karmic 'thank you' to Sam. When he opened his eyes, the President was holding Donna's hand in both of his and murmuring something, and a moment later, Donna's face broke into a glorious smile and she threw her arms around the President and hugged him tightly.
Josh turned to Leo and muttered, "There's gonna be a thing with the press."
Leo's brow knotted. "About you and Donna?"
"You're gonna let them hang themselves?" Leo asked.
"Yeah. And then C.J.'s going to smack them down. Call it a wedding present."
Leo cracked a grin and turned away like he was trying to hide it. "This is your idea of a personal day?"
"Believe me, Leo: this is personal," Josh replied.
Josh drove Donna back to her apartment, and parked the car a little ways down the street, then got out and followed her to the front door of her building. Donna pulled her keys out of her pocket, and then turned away from the door and draped her arms around his neck.
"Here?" Donna asked, arching her eyebrow.
"Hmm...." Josh grinned slowly as he put his hands on her hips. "How about...here?" he asked, and nudged her back against the wall beside the door. He barely got a glimpse of gold numbers—271—before Donna pulled his lips to hers. He wanted it to look good, so he let himself go—except five minutes later, with one hand tangled in Donna's hair and his tongue in her mouth, he'd forgotten everything else.
Donna finally pushed him away and gasped, "Josh—" but Josh cupped her face and kissed her again. It was all still too new.
"Josh," Donna murmured against his mouth. "You could come up..." and that brought him back to his senses.
"I—no," Josh said, pulling back. "You get your stuff. I'm going to stay down here and lurk menacingly in front of the building."
Donna quirked a conspiratorial smile at him, then drew a finger down his cheek. "Left side's your good one," she said. "What should I pack?"
"I don't know. Underwear. Or not."
When the story broke the next morning, Josh and Donna were happily ensconced in the bedroom of a Bethany beachhouse ("Look, I don't really even like you," Toby said with a sigh, "but I have these friends, and they'd probably appreciate it if you checked on the place. They don't go out there during the off-season." "You have friends?" Josh asked) and having sex for the fifth time to the sound of the ocean and the faint but comforting murmur of CNN. It was like some inbred instinct, but Josh suddenly rolled, panting, off Donna and fumbled blindly for the remote control.
"—alleges that Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman has been having an affair with his long-time assistant—"
Donna grabbed the remote from Josh's hand and turned up the volume. "—Top Aide, you jerks!"
"—Donnatella Moss. According to the story, first published in the Phoenix Daily Herald—"
"Jerkoffs," Josh muttered. "Goddamned Phoenix Herald—" and suddenly the image shifted, and they both bolted upright.
"Oh my God," Donna breathed. "There we are! On TV!"
"Wow, we're like porn stars," Josh said with hushed reverence, and Donna made a face and slapped his arm. Actually, they had chosen a surprisingly tasteful image, a still-shot of him kissing Donna that showed more tenderness than lust.
"—but rapidly picked up by a number of other conservative-leaning dailies, there are questions as to whether or not Lyman acted inappropriately in hiring Ms. Moss during the 'Bartlet for America' campaign," and here the camera cut away to their White House mug shots: his publicity photograph and the picture that appeared on Donna's White House I.D. "—and calls for an independent prosecutor to examine her job performance and salary reviews. The White House is expected to respond to these allegations later today."
He could feel Donna shaking with anger, and he put his arms around her. "Wait for it," he murmured into her ear, taking the remote control from her hand and lowering the volume again. "C.J. briefs at eleven."
"Wait!" Donna protested. "I want to watch C-SPAN!"
"Oh my God, those are the five sexiest words in the English language," Josh said, and tackled her down onto the bed.
Donna pouted sexily and drew her leg slowly against his. "Ohhhh. Let's watch...Capitol Beat..."
Josh was sprawled on top of her, and felt her breasts warm and soft against his chest. "You think I'm kidding. I've waited my whole life for this...."
"Debate me, baby! Five minutes, border security and immigration reform—and I'm yours," and Josh pressed his face to her neck, twitched, and made fake orgasm noises. Donna laughed and stroked her hand through his hair, and Josh shuddered for real. A moment later, she pulled his mouth to hers, and he shifted on top of her and pushed into her. Her hands were hot on his hips, on his ass, and she was making these sweet little sounds that, God, drove him nearly to distraction, and—
That was the fifth, or maybe the sixth (depending on how you counted) sexual act of their married life. The next one occurred about ten minutes later, when Donna closed her eyes and Josh stroked a thumb between her legs and bent to lick her sweet blonde shiksa curls—
She trembled, wet against his mouth. "Josh!" Donna gasped. "C-SPAN! Seriously—"
Josh lifted his head from between her legs and looked at the clock—five to eleven. "Yeah, okay," he said. "I think we need snacks."
By the time C.J. stalked out to the podium, they were well supplied with coffee and donuts and bowls of sugar cereal. They sat, propped up in bed, and gleefully ate Apple Jacks while C.J. tore the press corps a new one.
"You guys are kidding me, right? Do you know how long this story's been floating around the conservative press? This story's grown mold, people—believe me, if there'd been a ghost of a trace of a scintilla of evidence that Josh Lyman and Donna Moss's relationship was in any way unethical, it would have been on the front page of the New York Times long before now."
"Whooo!" Donna cheered, and waved her coffee spoon. "Go, C.J.!"
"Suck-ers!" Josh gloated, his mouth full of Apple Jacks.
"The conservative press have been trying to manufacture a sex scandal in the Bartlet administration since before we were elected," C.J. fumed. "The only reason the Daily Herald could run that hoary old piece of crap is because of the photographs, which were taken just hours after Joshua Lyman and Donna Moss were married in a Virginia courtroom—"
The room erupted in a chorus of "C.J.!" "C.J.!" just as Josh's phone rang. He swiped it off the nightstand, glanced down at the number, and flipped it open. "Hey!"
"Are you watching?" Sam asked, and Josh could hear Toby muttering in the background: "Of course he's watching! He's got a direct neurological line from his cerebral cortex right into CNN!"
"I'm watching. We're watching," Josh replied. On the screen, C.J. was saying, "—by a judge Marjorie Braxton, that's B-R-A-X-T-O-N—"
"Let me talk to Donna," Sam said, and Josh wordlessly handed her the phone.
"Hi, Sam," Donna said, and then: "Fun doesn't begin to cover it. I'll write them a headline: PRESS FLUMMOXED BY DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF AND TOP AIDE."
Josh stifled a smile and turned his attention back to the screen, where C.J. was now looking very, very angry. "The very existence of these photographs demonstrates the level of scrutiny to which White House staff are routinely subjected," she said, glaring at the assembled press corps. "This was a violation of privacy; those photographers weren't expecting a wedding, they were camped out in front of her house. I want to know why the first question I got this morning about Josh Lyman and Donna Moss questioned his ethics and her abilities—"
"Josh," Donna said, and handed the phone back.
"She's doing great, huh?" Sam said.
"Yeah. She's rocking my world."
"Mine too. Though seriously, you should turn it off."
"What?" Josh asked.
"Turn it off, Josh. You just got married. You're with Donna, and you're not at work for possibly the first time in years. You guys should take some time, do something special—"
"Hey!" Josh yelled at Donna, grabbing her wrist—she'd snuck the second chocolate donut off the plate. "That's my donut!"
"It's half my donut, now," Donna replied.
"Josh, " Sam said.
"No, it isn't," Josh argued. "There were two chocolate donuts, and you've had one, so you've already consumed your fifty percent of our collective pastry assets—"
But Donna was shaking her head. "For richer or poorer. Your donut assets have recently and unfortunately declined, and I get half of whatever's left—"
"What is this—divorce law according to Zeno?" Josh demanded.
"Josh," Sam said.
"According to you," Josh said, "I'll be left with some infinitesimal fraction of chocolate donut—"
"Have the cinnamon!"
"I don't like the cinnamon! Okay, look, I'll trade you the chocolate for the other Boston Crème, but only, seriously, if you admit that I am a much better person than you."
"Josh," Sam said.
"What?" Josh demanded.
"Just—never mind," and Josh was pretty sure he heard Sam laugh before he clicked off the line.