little_zigzags (little_zigzags) wrote,
little_zigzags
little_zigzags

FF: In This World (Part 2)

Title: In This World (pt 2)
Author: little zigzags
Prompt: 111. Josh/Donna, Camp David
Fandom: TWW
Rating: R
Pairing: J/D
Spoilers: Through The Third Day Story, I guess.
Disclaimer: No money from these beauties.
Summary: But then she looks at him, late at night, his slumped shoulders and the thin line of his mouth and she’s rooted to the spot. Josh got across the Atlantic only a few hours faster than it took her ex-boyfriend to get across Madison and really, that’s got to count for something.


Notes in Part 1 of this story.






Continued from Part 1




-





She wakes the next morning, vaguely disoriented, her long legs twisted in the sheets and the sun beating in through the half-open window. Her feet hit the cold wood of the floor and she thinks about her childhood home in Wisconsin, how even now she hates the feel of carpeting under her feet.

As she stands by the sink in her tiny bathroom, drinking water out of the little cup she put her toothbrush in last night, she feels an inkling of nausea forming in her stomach. It takes her a second to remember her conversation with him the night before, and she closes her eyes, thinking about the vaguely forlorn look to his face as he left her.

There are times in her life when she is so sure that he loves her, that she is in love with him, that something is there beyond his need for her organizational and lunch-fetching skills. She hadn’t meant to be rude the night before, but she thinks about what she said and cringes at the flash of pain that crossed his face. It doesn’t matter who was there.

She rubs her palms against her eyes, realizing now that those few words were the absolute worst she could say to him. It hadn’t mattered that he was there when his sister died, or when the President was shot. It hadn’t mattered that he sat with CJ for hours after Simon Donovan was killed, and she had had to look away as the woman cried quiet, forlorn sobs into his neck. And it hadn’t really mattered that he was there when she threw the clot in Germany. He loved the chase of domestic politics, loved swinging votes to unexpected, brilliant outcomes. And he was good at it. But his life, these were all things that were out of his control, and he hated that, hated that there was nothing he could ever do to change the outcome. There are no Senators to wrangle, here.

It’s only a little after 6AM, and there’s absolutely no reason for her to be awake, but still she pulls up her hair and changes into some jeans and a sweater before making her way downstairs. The lodge is quiet, yellow-lit by the early morning light, and she wanders into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

Coming back out to the porch she and Josh sat on last night, she pulls her arms around herself against the cold as she sips. She is lost in thought, looking out onto the little daybed where she and Josh had sat the night before. It had been so strange to have the time and the situation to talk to him like that. If she allows herself to admit it, they’ve been skirting around these issues since Gaza, since he had gone halfway around the world and sat at her bedside looking like he’d lost some vital part of himself. She remembers the flush of relief she had felt when she had seen him by her bedside, the blind fear that came before it. How could he doubt that he mattered more to her than a simple fling?

But he did doubt it, and so did she. They're all about the doubt, the restraint, the unsaid words and the unfinished conversations. Almost half a year has gone by since Gaza and they still haven’t finished what was started when Josh made the decision to drop everything to be with her.

Staring out into the pretty wooded area, she hardly notices footsteps behind her until a familiar voice sounds in the quiet room.

“What are you doing up so early?”

She turns, smiling as she lights upon Leo’s familiar face. It’s strange, she doesn’t think she’s ever seen him in anything other than an immaculate suit and dress shirt, but here he is in a White House sweatshirt and a pair of khakis and it’s the strangest thing she’s ever seen.

“Oh, I don’t know. Habit, I guess.”

He grins self-deprecatingly. “Yea, me too.”

She smiles softly. Noticing his steaming coffee mug, she frowns. “Should you be drinking that?”

He throws up his free hand. “What is it with the assistants in this building thinking they’re my mother? I mean, just when I escape Margaret—”

She chuckles. “Sorry, Josh’s mother instilled it in me long ago to keep an eye on him.”

Leo nods knowingly. “I’ll bet. And it’s decaf.” He nods at a seat on the porch and waits until she’s settled herself to sink into the chair across from her. “How is Josh?”

She looks at him questioningly. “Leo?”

She watches his lips settle into a grim line. “Just because I’m not there, Donna, doesn’t mean I don’t know things. The last few months, hell, the last year, it can’t have been easy on him. How’s he holding up?”

She looks at the older man, his eyes deflected from hers. She has always known that Leo cares about Josh, strongly and deeply. And yet, there are some times that she hates him, hates him for putting Josh through what he does, for cultivating his urge to work himself harder and more strenuously. She hates him for bringing in Angela Blake, for taking the China trip out from under him, for not setting Josh up for the job he was meant to have. But still, she looks into Leo’s eyes sometimes and sees the pride and the love and she can’t help but let that hate dissolve.

“It’s been hard for him. God, Leo, for a year now, it’s been hard.” She wants to make light of it, she wants to take the burden from Leo’s shoulders, but she can’t, not when she sees Josh, exhausted and working himself to the bone. “The job, he just keeps rolling with the punches. And when you—he won’t forgive himself, for leaving you there.” She forces herself to look straight at him. She doesn’t think she’s ever had a discussion this candid with him, but she can’t help but remember that Josh, Josh has no one left to speak for him.

Leo looks up at her, something working in his face. “Donna, he won’t forgive himself for sending you to Gaza. Everything else that was happening then, I think it paled in comparison.”

She looks down for the first time, feeling her face flush. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Leo is quiet until she looks back up to his face. “You didn’t see him, Donna,” he says gently. “He was crazy, full of fear.” He settles back in his chair. “I haven’t seen him like that, in well—a long time.”

She’s silent, desperately swallowing the lump in her throat. Sure, she had heard it from CJ, and Toby, and even Sam, calling her from California, his clear, resonant voice stumbling out the words. I’m so glad your back. For your sake—and for his. But hearing it from Leo, Leo who had made it part of his job to disregard the winding lunacy that was their personal lives, hearing him say the words that she cannot process, somehow makes it real. That beyond the pitfalls of his job, beyond the near loss of his dearest friend and mentor, he has cared about one thing.

Leo rolls his eyes, suddenly, his face full of his usual well-hidden humor. “Where are they all, anyway?”

“If the snoring filling the hallways upstairs is a clue, probably still asleep,” she smiles lightly at him over her coffee mug.

“The best and brightest minds in the nation, sleeping the morning away like teenagers,” Leo grumbles, his Toby-like tone making her laugh outright.

“Do you want me to wake them?” She thinks of Josh, tangled in the sheets, and wonders how she will apologize to him.

Leo shakes his head. “Nah, let ‘em sleep. They’ve got a long year ahead of them.”




-




When he ambles down the stairs about an hour later, his hair mussed from the shower, his gaze glances over hers skittishly as he finds her propped up on the counter in the large industrial kitchen, eating a piece of toast.

She smiles softly at him, hopping down from the counter and busily making him—and CJ, who rambles in the door behind him, squinting in her glasses—a cup of coffee.

She presses the mug into his hands, mirroring his actions from last night. He peers down at her warily, tall and barefoot in a Yale t-shirt and jeans. “Crap,” he says, a hint of joviality in his eyes and he recognizes the sincerity in her careful smile. “Is this why we came here? So you guys could fire me and leave me out here to fend for myself?”

“Yea, like we would leave you here, you know, alone,” Toby says, wandering in behind them, looking surlier than usual without his coffee. “The place would probably spontaneously implode in like, half and hour.”

“Hey, I have skills,” Josh retorts, taking a loud slurp from his coffee. “Super-human skills. Outdoorsman's skills.”

CJ snorts into her coffee, Donna rolls her eyes. “Hey Josh, I think I saw a snake when I was coming in from the car yesterday. A big one. It went under the front steps.”

“A snake? Did you kill it?” He says, his voice inflecting to a high soprano.

She bursts out laughing, CJ soon to follow. Even Toby bares his teeth in a jovial grin at his gullibility.

Josh’s eyes darken as he pouts, and she reaches out reflexively from her perch on the counter to pet his arm. He looks at her sharply, and she swallows. They’re not like this, usually. It’s just something about the crisp fall air, and the informality of the situation. It’s Josh in his t-shirt, his bare arms and his soft, still-damp hair. She can see CJ looking at them keenly from the corner of her eye, and she flushes, looking down into her coffee. She wonders what has gotten into them lately, all serious, gut-wrenching conversations and strange looks.

She wonders if they can be normal again after all that has happened.

Josh coughs, looking flustered and disoriented as he looks away from her. “Where’s the President?”

“He’s making some calls this morning. He told us all to entertain ourselves.” CJ says, catching Toby’s eye as he attempts to sidle out of the kitchen. “He also said you are not allowed to work on the speech. Something about fresh air, or something equally superfluous.”

“Oh, I’m totally telling him you said that.” Josh grins evilly like a twelve year old boy before CJ fixes him with a hellish stare.

“You do that, idiot-boy, and I’m telling him that you and Sam are the ones that broke the Tiffany lamp in the Lincoln bedroom.”

Josh raises his arms defensively. “It needed welding!”

They groan, and file out from the kitchen. He waits for her to hop from the counter before following behind, his hand firmly clasped against her back.




-








She spends the afternoon reading and walking along the various trails and wooded areas, enjoying the fresh air and the crisp smell of everything. Josh, Toby, CJ, and the President are playing two-on-two in the small basketball court, Toby wailing plaintively as CJ and Bartlet cheat miserably together. She grins as she hears Josh hoot and CJ cackle delightedly from afar. Leo has retreated to his room to sleep for a bit before dinner. She contemplates wowing them all with her impressive High School Girls Varsity lay-up, but thinks against it.

She never told Josh that she got into college on a full athletic scholarship. Josh holds a special place in his heart for jocks, albeit smart ones.

Later, she wanders through a grassy area, and is not surprised when she finds him leaning up against a bench, looking off into the distance. They’ve been running into each other more often than not, lately, fate or their strange, fucked up luck coinciding in its awkward way. He must have wandered there after the game, his hair a little sweaty, his shirt damp.

She comes to rest beside him, tucking her hair behind her ears. He looks down at her arm, in greeting, and she doesn’t realize that she’s settled so close as to see the fine details of his down-turned lashes as he keeps his gaze carefully averted.

“I stood out here the night I was back,” he says without preamble, his voice soft and almost inaudible; she has to strain to hear him. “I stood out here the night I was back, trying to call Germany.”

She nods, wanting to speak, to say anything, to apologize or scream or figure what the hell is happening here, but unwilling to break his line of thought.

“I was here, talking to—to Kate Harper, we were talking about important things, God, we were talking about peace in the Middle East, Donna.” He takes a deep breath, and she wants to touch him, say something, but she’s frozen to the spot by the rich sincerity of his voice, the deep vulnerability there. And so she stays quiet. “I was here, but I wasn’t. You see? I wasn’t even paying attention, all I could think about was getting you on the phone. Kate’s over here having epiphanies, and I’m supposed to be pitching in as one of the President’s senior political advisors, and Leo’s so upset that he’s about to have a major coronary, and all I can think about is getting you on the fucking phone and hearing your voice.”

His voice cracks desperately at the end, and he’s still not looking at her, and she inhales a sharp breath. “Josh—” She doesn’t know what to do. She hears everything in his voice—the fear, the sadness, the hope—and she feels as though she can’t breathe, all her words are stuck at her lips, clattering against her teeth.

“And that, Donna?” He looks up at her finally, his eyes intense and unreadable, and incredibly sad. “That scares the living crap out of me.” With that, he pushes up from the bench and walks back to the lodge, alone.




-




Dinner is a quiet affair—sandwiches and coldcuts, pickle slices, Josh and Leo commiserating over the thick cut of the pastrami.

She nibbles slowly on a potato chip. She’s tired, and she can feel the start of a headache grinding out from behind her eyes, like the migraines she used to get in college. She can feel Josh looking at her unabashedly from across the table. The President has emerged from his endless call-sheet and is playing chess with Leo in the other room, and Toby is hashing out the speech aloud, CJ nodding and giving her ideas. She misses Sam, sometimes, the way he could carefully diffuse Josh with his quick grin and easy presence. She wishes Charlie didn’t have a reluctant job interview this weekend with the Minority Whip, his plainspoken, genuine demeanor usually cutting through all the personal crap they bring with them.

She sighs, slowly, and pushes back from the table, standing. “I think—I think I’m going to bed.” She rubs her face slowly with the hand that’s not clutching her dinner plate. Josh stands, and she cringes at his obviousness. CJ looks between him and her, her eyes focusing on the tight tension lines across her forehead. “Are you okay?”

She looks over at Josh, his face frozen, his jaw twitching as though he wants to say something. She looks away. “Just a headache. I’ll be fine in the morning.” She takes one last glance over the three of them, forcing a smile. “Good night.”

She walks from the room, and sighs as she hears him slump back into his chair, the telltale scruff as he runs his hands through his hair.




-




“Okay, you chauvinistic moron, what the hell did you do now?”

He looks up from the tumbler of brandy that Toby had handed him before he went off to badger the President about the speech. CJ’s got her feet up on the table, her eyes glaring intelligently into his.

“What do you mean? I didn’t do anything! I’ve just been—I’m just a person, sitting here.”

“Getting drunk.” She tips her glass towards his.

“This is only my second!”

“Like I said, getting drunk.” She looks at him carefully. “What’s going on, Josh?”

He sighs, letting his forehead clunk onto the table tellingly. “I don’t—I’m not exactly sure.”

CJ rolls her eyes. “Ugh. This is going to be like twenty questions, isn’t it?” She places her merlot down on the table. “Does it have to do with Donna?”

He raises his head so quickly off the table that he’s pretty sure he’s gotten whiplash. “What? No! I mean—” He trails off lamely, looking carefully into the corner, suddenly quite interested in the exact hue of the paint on the wall.

“Is something—is a Donna thing going on?” She pokes him in the shoulder, and he turns back to her.

“Nothing’s going on,” he says unconvincingly. “Nothing’s happened. You and your—your Press Secretary interrogation brain-wash tactics can go shove it.”

“Hey!” She exclaims, raising her arms in defense. “I’m just trying to be, you know, friendly, here. No brain-washing of any kind.” Her expression softens and she catches the defeated slump to his shoulders. “What’s going on, Joshua?”

She sees the corner of his mouth flatten into a grim line. He looks tired as he runs his hands through his hair. “I don’t know.”

“But it’s a Donna thing.”

He’s quiet when he answers. “Yes. I mean, it’s got to be, right? I guess it’s that, but it’s also—it’s a life thing.”

She raises an eyebrow at his convoluted sentences, but waits for him to elaborate.

“I don’t see anyone,” Josh continues, rubbing his eyes. “I don’t see anyone beyond that building, and I see her everyday, and it’s got to be that, you know, with the people on the desert island who have no one but each other so it’s like, default.”

CJ looks at him seriously. “You don’t really think that’s what it is, Josh?”

He coughs out a little laugh. “No, I guess not. But if I believe that, it means that when we get out of there, you know, back into the real world, it’ll go away.”

She laughs outright at this. “Oh, Josh, you’re a moron.” He looks at her, his face kind of hurt, which only makes her laugh harder. She pats his hand in a great-auntish sort of way. “First off, that’s not how it works. Second, we’ll never live in the real world, not ever again.” He nods his assent, and she continues. “Third, did you ever think that when we got out of there, you could actually do something about these—” she waves her hand in the vague direction of his chest “—feelings?”

Josh snorts. “You make me sound like a Lifetime movie.”

“Well, you are, if a Lifetime movie was like, 8 years long and had no mascara-teared resolution.”

He considers. “To be fair, I don’t think Donna wears mascara.”

She rolls her eyes. “Focus on the point here, my friend. We’ve got a year. Before, she couldn’t leave her job because of the loyalty, the commitment. I don’t think many people in her pay-grade feel it like me and you and Toby and Leo, but she’s got it. But we’ve got a year, now. Things are wrapping up. It’s not like this huge abandonment of principles if she gets quietly transferred to another job because you guys want to have lots of sex and babies—”

She pauses as something resembling an indignant squeak surfaces from his throat. “Josh, listen to me. We’ve got to start thinking about our lives. You and me, we’re the same. I could sit in that office like a walking talking turnstile for the nation until I’m 90. But I’m not going to. We’ve got to, you know, grow up.”

He shakes his head. “It’s not that simple.”

“It is.”

“It’s not!” She starts at the sudden loudness of his voice, and her chest tightens at the desperation in his voice. He’s Josh, and he runs around on caffeine and sugar and if he could pump lighter fluid into his veins, he probably would. And it’s no secret that he kind of has a thing for his assistant but what she never thought to acknowledge, because it was just too big and too problematic and too damn heartbreaking, was that Josh Lyman is in love with his assistant, kind of a lot, for years now.

“It’s not that simple,” he repeats, quieter. “This is her life, CJ. I can’t swap her for a job next door. God, I can’t just mess with her career because I want to take her on a date.”

She smiles at him, her eyes truthful. “Isn’t that what you’ve been doing for years?”

He groans, his head dropping back to his folded hands on the table. He peeks at her through one open eye. “See, there? Getting me to admit all my repressed and twisted inner thoughts? Interrogation brain-wash tactics. Full-on.”

She rolls her eyes. “No, Josh, it’s just what you do for, you know, your friends.”

He waves his hand mock-dismissively. “I can do this all by myself, Claudia Jean. Joshua Lyman, wooing inappropriate women since 1961.”

She leans back, pilfering a swig of his drink. “Okay there, Mr. Braddock. Just make sure someone’s there to catch you in mid-swoon.”

He stands up and saunters out room, pausing to look over his shoulder and fix her unexpectedly with his wide, genuine grin. She feels the tightening of affection in her chest. “Thanks, CJ,” he says quietly, and wanders out.




-




He wakes early, his mind reeling unexpectedly as he blinks in the 5AM sunlight gleaming softly across the wood floors. He’s been a little on edge since his conversation with CJ the night before, the nervy feeling of something like anticipation coursing through his chest, his fingertips. He’s been thinking about her off and on in some flitting way, and he realizes that he will not be able to get back to sleep.

He stands, rubbing his eyes as his feet hit the cold wood floor. He goes through CJ’s words in his mind, a mild flush raising to his face. He can’t believe he said all that to her, all the things that have been choked in his throat since Gaza. He’s been stalling, he knows it now, the white-hot fear blooming in his chest. He thinks of her and Colin and the fierce urge to protect her, hell, to just be with her, to sit in all the quiet places with her, to put his churning life on hold for a minute and look at her.

He wasn’t kidding the day before; it scares the living shit out of him.

Letting out a shaky breath, he pulls on some sweats and wanders down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, stealing some from the pot the Secret Service have brewing for what seems like twenty-four hours a day. Cradling his steaming mug, he wanders forlornly onto the covered porch. No one is likely to be up for at least an hour, and he’s itching to talk to someone; to get out of his own mind.

He squints in the yellow light. It’s beautiful, crisp and a little cold, the fall foliage still brilliant, the birds and cicadas making a ruckus in the branches. He almost doesn’t hear the muffled sound to his right, but as he turns his chest clenches as he catches sight of Donna, curled under her blanket on the daybed he should probably start thinking of as hers.

Cautiously, he makes his way over to her. She’s got her back to him, her ponytailed blonde hair spilling out behind her, her chest rising and falling slowly under her sweatshirt and the blanket. He’s not sure if it’s sheer stupidity or the early hour that clouds his judgment as he perches lightly on the free edge of the daybed made by the crook of her bent knees.

She looks young here, like this, and it's maybe the first time that he’s ever gotten to watch her sleep. Sure, he’s seen her sleep pretty much everywhere: in hotel rooms, on campaign busses, in his office, in the middle of the bullpen during one of their all-nighters. And sure, he’ll watch her face or her delicate throat, or her eyelids fluttering through a REM cycle, but he makes a point not to linger.

He watches as she makes a sound in the back of her throat, her eyes opening, warm and unfocused as she sees him. He should go, walk away, leave her be, but he’s rooted to the spot, scrutinizing her face as she passes into wakefulness.

“Hi,” he says softly, leaning over to place his coffee mug on the table.

“Hi.” Pushing herself up on her elbows, she reaches out and waggles her fingers enticingly at the steaming mug. He hands to to her and she takes a careful sip, self-consciously brushing away a few stray hairs that cling to her bottom lip. “What are you doing here, watching me drool?” Her voice is deep and throaty, sleep-addled, and he loves her.

He smiles softly in the warm light. “No drool, I swear.” He reclaims his coffee from her and takes a swig before setting it down. “Did you sleep out here?”

“I guess.” She rubs her hair out of her eyes. “I had a headache, and I came down here for some air.” She pauses, remembering their odd, lurching day. “I guess I nodded off.”

He purses his lips, looks at her careful, wary eyes. “Listen, Donna,” he starts. “I’m sorry about yesterday. And—well, I guess the night before, too. It’s none of my business whether you date that guy, or the entire UVF, for that matter.” He looks away at her disconcerted, curious look. “It’s none of my business,” he repeats.

She’s unreadable now, and he looks down at his hands, until her voice sounds, thin and sad in the bright morning air. “I’m not dating him, Josh.”

He nods slowly, and she looks at his face, still disheartened and downcast, and so she continues, quieter, unsure. “It did matter that you were there. It would have mattered if you were there.”

His face snaps up, looking into her wide eyes. She looks calm, unreadable. He feels at sea, even as he feels her cool fingers side on his neck as though feeling his pulse, and he can’t breathe.

She’s watching her fingers trace his rough jaw-line with her thumb as though they belong to someone else. All of his breath is whooshing around in his lungs and his throat and he’s sure she can feel his blood thrumming under her hand.

She’s looking at him with this glint in her eye, her face serene, an expression he’s never seen before. It’s not quite an invitation and not quite a challenge, but he figures it’s five AM and they’re both still kind of asleep and the light is streaming through the screen, and so he kisses her, pressing his dry, warm lips against hers.

He feels her sudden intake of breath and then she’s still underneath him, still holding his jaw lightly, and he feels lightheaded, unsure, his heart fluttering all over his chest. He wonders for a brief second what a heart attack feels like and then she opens her mouth under his and he sighs and really kisses her, and all other cogent thought flees from his mind.

After eight years of sniping, nails-out remarks, of banter and goading and crassness, they’re being so careful with one another. He’s got one hand feeling the soft outlines of her ribs, her fingers are fanned out across his neck and jaw and cheek, lightly scratching against the bristly skin.

They break for a second, and she takes him his glassy, unfocused eyes. “Holy crap,” he says, and she laughs a little, her cheeks flushed from the cold air and from this, and he leans back into her.

They’re a little off balance; he’s leaning over her with a hand propped against the bed beside her, and he makes a little noise as she tugs his arm out from under him and falls back under him, his hands cradling her mussed hair.

It should feel weird, she thinks, and it does, a little, but he’s here and he’s soft and bed-worn and his his hair is a mess and so she kisses him back for all its worth, her hands grasping at the muscles of his arms, his back.

They stay like that for a long time, her tongue in his mouth and his deliberate touches. He’s peeled back the blanket and slides one warm hand down to the inside of her thigh, and God, he’s not even doing anything, but she arches up into him involuntarily and he pulls back and looks down at her heated face and deep, desirous eyes, and anything could have happened, but he hears footsteps out inside and reluctantly pulls back, sitting up on his knees to peer through the window into the lodge.

“CJ,” he mumbles, flopping back down, burying his face in the crook of her neck and groaning good-naturedly. She wraps her arms tight around his shoulders and his stubble scrapes against her neck and she’s grinning like an idiot.

He pulls himself up and moves over into the chair next to her, propping his feet onto the daybed and sipping his coffee nonchalantly as CJ wanders onto the porch, yawning, looking taller than usual with her bed-hair standing on end and a copy of the Times under her arm. She squints at them and adjusts her glasses, and he sighs his relief as she flops down beside him, taking a slurp of her coffee, apparently unaware.

He looks at Donna. He sees a corner of her mouth quirk up, but he can see a hint of consternation behind her eyes, the pink flush receding into the neckline of her sweatshirt. He smiles awkwardly at her, mindful of CJ, his blood still thundering around in his head. She pokes his toe with his and he wonders how he will navigate this successfully, how he will work, make his bids to the President, hell, will he sleep at night now that he has made out with her on a couch at Camp David, inches upon inches of long limbs under his hands and a soft mouth.

He has to pry his eyes away from her; CJ is speaking to him and God, he has no earthly idea what she has said.




-




The day feels jolting to her, incongruous. She keeps glancing at him as they go through the mundane activities of relaxation, all of them a little sick with cabin-fever and itching for the race-track halls of the west wing in which to stretch their legs. They work a little, Toby still scribbling away at his speech, his emotion bottled and raw under his skin like it has been since he lost Sam’s ear and bright intelligence. CJ’s on her cell with Carol and her deputies, her voice strident as she scratches at the denim of her jeans, feeling uncouth and churlish without a swish of Armani or Ralph Lauren around her knees.

Josh feels undone, and she can see it. He’s jiggling his knee, he’s bouncing off the balls of his feet. She breaths a sigh of relief as he heads out around three for a long run.

She doesn’t know where she stands with him. He’s Josh and he can backtrack faster than anyone, and the early hour makes it seem like the whole thing was nothing more than a half-awake hallucination.

Except—her skin is still tingling with the wasp-like sting of his stubble against her throat, her cheek. And when he comes back from his run, exhausted, damp with sweat, he catches her eye across the room as he stretches his quads next to the sofa, and his look is so heated and unresolved that she nearly falls over. She’s pretty sure it’s not done with. Josh is the ultimate procrastinator—and what is their relationship, if not a prime example of convoluted procrastination—but once he starts something, he eventually finishes it. Getting the votes, doing the crossword, hell, making a pass at her; she’s pretty sure he’ll find a way to continue it.




-




She’s let her guard down for a few minutes, because they’re eating their last dinner and he looks calm and really, there’s no way that he’s going to lay one on her in the presence of the President and Leo and Toby. Sure, he’d probably kiss the hell out of her in front of CJ, but only to piss her off.

They’re eating key lime pie and she’s laughing at something, maybe something that Toby is recalling about Molly with a small and affectionate parental grin, when he nudges her shoulder imperceptibly with his. She looks over at his inscrutable face, narrowing her eyes at him when she sees one dimple starting to form on his cheek. He points to the corner of his own mouth and she grins self-consciously, swiping at the corresponding spot, a smear of whipped cream coming away on her thumb, and she automatically sticks her finger in her mouth, just for a second, not even really registering that he’s still watching her. But when she looks back at him, he looks away quickly, which is strange, because he usually holds her gaze, his intimidation tactics fully ingrained to look people straight in the eye. And God, she realizes, he’s blushing, and it’s adorable and telling and she wants to hug him—or something—right here in the middle of the dinner table.

But she can’t, not here, so she brazenly reaches over under the table and grazes her nail over his hand, and she hears the sudden intake of breath, the little gasp in his throat. They’re on edge, she thinks, tightly wound, and she restrains her own noise when he turns his hand over to grasp hers tightly, then letting go to run his fingers lightly over the inside of her wrist, her thumb, her forearm.

It’s all pretty chaste, but it’s lunacy, holding hands under the table with the President and the senior staff two feet away from them, and she tries to concentrate on the conversation but can’t really, and she grasps his wrist loosely as his fingers sweep under the sleeve of her shirt.

She can’t look at him, not really, not even as they file out of the kitchen to have a last drink by the fire, to pack their things, to take one last listen of the crickets humming outside.




-




It’s not even that late, but everyone’s retreated to their rooms, and the stifling quietness prevails in the dimly lit cabin. He’s trying to read a book, some historical fiction that she’s tucked into his bag for him, but he’s itching to move, some instinct that wasn’t quenched by his hard five mile run along the dirt roads and trails. He doesn’t run that often any more, but is surprised every time with how he falls back into it; how much he likes it, the thundering rhythm of his breath and his feet on the road, and he’s glad he’d brought his sneakers along.

He stands and wanders out of the room, roaming the hallways, thinking of bothering Toby but deciding against it. They could sit, smoke a cigar in the cooling night, and maybe the edge of nicotine would soothe his nerves, but maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe he’d sit out there brooding, listening to Toby’s curmudgeonly, brilliant rant, and after all, he is Toby, he’s all well-hidden drunkenness and facial hair and genius, and really, it’s sometimes the most depressing thing he’s ever seen. Toby’s in love with his ex-wife and Josh is, well, something, with Donna, and so he’s not even surprised when he passes Toby’s room and stops by hers, and he knows he’s kidding himself when he thinks it's because her door is ajar.

She’s packing in her efficient, methodical way, clad in a thin t-shirt and pajama bottoms. He watches her for a minute, until she sees him midway through folding up the FBI sweatshirt that she forgot to give back to Ainsley years ago. She looks at him curiously, at his ruffled hair and similar uniform, and he suddenly can’t think of a word to say.

He scratches his chest awkwardly through his t-shirt. He’s wearing the CJ pajama bottoms, rolled up at the cuff, worn smooth by all the days he spent in bed that summer. She’s watching him without saying a word. It's not like her, and he’s terrified.

“I was here in the Spring once,” he starts without preamble, not even sure where he’s going, but she tilts her head at him and so he continues. “I was out on the bridge and there was this chirping. I thought it was birds for a second, but it was loud, deafening, and it took me a minute to realize that it was coming from the water.”

She smiles at him, and he breathes out. “Spring Peepers,” she says matter-of-factly, and he grins, because this, here, this is more like them, him wandering and she the bringer of inane facts and names and gibberish.

“What?”

“Spring Peepers. You know, young frogs. They’re finally out of the water and they make all of this noise. You know, hello, I’m here, I’m no longer aquatic, come eat me.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Come eat me?”

She shrugs. “Okay, maybe that’s not what they’re saying, but they’re young and you know, birds like them, so I’m just saying I probably wouldn’t be making all that noise.”

He nods, trying to look serious because she’s Donna and she’s smart and she’s sincere and it’s hard to laugh at her.

The silence falls in around them again. The room is so dim, and he feels like he’ll need his Ray-Bans tomorrow when he’s back in their glaring world. He takes a step toward her, sort of unconsciously, and she stands up off her bed, looking expectant and maybe a little bit anxious.

“Was there something—” she starts, but he cuts her off, feeling the words start to pour out of his throat.

“I think about you,” he says, and she falls silent, looking at him sort of questioningly. “I think about you,” he says, quieter, but it takes him a minute to realize that the conversation took place two days ago, and she’s not following as he picks up the threads of their unfinished words.

“About—about what’s after this administration. I try to think about jobs, and what it will mean, and whether we’ll have another democrat, which are all important things, but I don’t really think about it as much as I should. I’ve spent seven years in that building, Donna, and maybe this one is the last one, and it doesn’t even make any sense, but I think about you, and what you’ll be doing. What—” he stops, because he’s already said more than he’s said in years, or maybe ever, and she’s looking at him like she’s half touched and half about to commit him, but he continues anyway. “What we'll be doing.”

He thinks maybe that’s enough, but he figures if he’s gone temporarily insane, he might as well go with it, because she doesn’t look like she’s going to hit him or walk out or anything. “And you think about lawns and swings and kids, and—” God, he’s gone crazy, he’ll have to move to fucking Siberia after this “—maybe that would, be, you know, okay, too.”

Her eyes soften a little and if he doesn’t flee, or jump off a ledge, or just do something he might die right there on the spot, and so he closes the three steps between them and curls his palm around the back of her neck and kisses her.

She kisses him back, fiercely, grasping the sides of his face, and he wraps his free arm tightly around her waist. It’s crazy, they’re both crazy, and maybe they haven’t talked about it, but maybe, also, they’ve talked enough for three decades.

They’re still being slow with each other, the same lazy, careful kisses he gave her this morning, but things are more heated now, he can feel the tug of desire in his stomach, and he’s flinching as he feels her small hands press under his t-shirt, her thumbnail grazing over his abdominals. He thinks he might pass out.

Part of her feels like its insane, she hasn’t even talked, hasn’t even said anything to him about anything other than juvenile frogs in springtime. But the lightheadedness she’s felt all day is clearing, clarity settling deeply in her body. Maybe they’ll buy that house with the lawn but maybe she just wants to stop talking about the hypotheticals, the year from nows and the endless, grueling wait. She cradles his face in her hands and kisses his boyish, worn-out face, and when she pulls back he’s smiling, his grin wide and sexy in the yellow light, and maybe that’s reason enough.

She goes to close the door, sliding her shirt off on the way back before she chickens out, not looking at him. She presses herself back into him before she gets too self-conscious, and she can just feel the flush beginning in her chest and rising up to her cheeks as she looks up to his face.

He’s looking at her, his face a mixture of amazement and arousal and maybe if she looks hard enough maybe the tiny little edge of panic. He closes his mouth and swallows once before speaking. “Okay, so—wow,” he says, and its a little bit dorky and a little bit sexy but she gives up caring when he puts his mouth on her neck, tentatively at first, his arms embracing her tightly as they brush along her bare back and sides.

Later, she’ll still feel a little self-conscious as he sweeps his eyes across her naked body in the bed. “Wow,” he says again, and she traces her finger over his collarbone affectionately. “You’re really—freckly.” And then she swats him, hard, and he laughs some new, sexy laugh and covers her body with his, and she laughs with him.

They have to be quiet, and they’re sort of succeeding, even though she can tell he’d love to keep talking and all of her sounds are rampant in her lungs like corralled animals. They can’t even really move that much, because God knows the thirty year-old camp beds will screech like crows. Everything is tempered down, slow, deliciously good, and she wants to scream, her fingers twisting tight around the sheets, her nails in his back. “Jesus Christ,” she croaks out, very softly, and he shudders, buries his face in her neck. “You’re telling me,” he rasps, and she clasps him tight with her arms and her knees and closes her eyes.

When she comes, he has to clamp his palm tight across her lips so that Toby isn’t privy to exactly what is going on. She’ll flush later, thinking about the look on his face as he watched her, how she didn’t turn away, and neither did he.




-




They sleep sporadically, and he rises in the blue light of 4AM to sneak back to of his room. “Walk of shame,” he says, grinning devilishly, and she fishes his t-shirt out of the tangled sheets and chucks it at his face, hard, rolling her eyes and trying not to laugh along with him.

Maybe not so much has changed.




-




They’re Josh and Donna, and they’re good at pretending to be something they’re not, and so no one suspects the next morning when they convene in the kitchen for a quick bowl of cereal before they head back to D.C.

He holds her gaze briefly as she hands him the milk, and God, he’s seen her naked now, and maybe that’s why he’s blushing just a little and failing at his poker face as he looks down and stabs his Corn Flakes with a spoon. It’s a little awkward, but its wonderful and new and she feels different, for the first time in years. It was terrible, she thinks, coming home from Gaza and still feeling like the same person, like nothing has changed. Maybe it’s a little weird to think of her honoring Fitzwallace’s life by sleeping with Josh but maybe that’s all she can do, keep changing and evolving and doing all the things that were cut short in his life.

Predictably, no one wants to ride with him. She fights a good fight for appearances and then clambers in the car after him, sighing mock-exasperatedly as she sits down, making him smile. She rifles through his copy of the Sunday Times and he gapes at her when she pulls out the Styles section.

“Philistine,” he mock-sneers at her, in his best impression of a New England Ivy league jackass. “Donna,” he says, lowering his voice so the driver can’t hear. “Seriously. I can’t be with someone who reads the Styles section of the Sunday New York Times. The Magazine, the Book Review, these are all things I can deal with. Styles, not so much.”

“Well, Josh, I’ll just have to say ‘tough cookies’ to you,” she says, smiling as she sees him mouthing the phrase incredulously. “But now that you mention it, I think I’ll read this first,” she says, snagging the front page out of his grasp and settling down to read.

“Hey!” He exclaims. “You do realize that this is my paper.”

“I do.” She smiles at him sweetly, which momentarily throws him, but he gets back to the point quickly enough.

“So this is how its going to be.”

She looks at him, at his ruffled hair as he flips through the paper, just the outline of the dimple on his cheek showing the barely hid humor. She smiles. “Probably.”

He looks at her, and she can see the seriousness in his eyes. Then he turns back, settling back and opening the International News. “’Kay.”

She laughs unexpectedly, something joyful breaking out into the air. He grins widely with her, not taking his eyes from the paper as the car starts its journey back to the world.






Bless you, of course, you’re keeping me from work,
But the thing of it is, I need to be kept.
There’s work enough to do—there’s always that;
But behind’s behind. The worst that you can do
Is set me back a little more behind.
I shan’t catch up in this world, anyway.
I’d rather you not go unless you must.




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