Usual disclaimer: Not mine, borrowed. I wrote this after "17 people" but never posted it for some reason so I'm doing it now. Spoilers would be for "17..." and "ITSOTG"

Since You've Been Gone

By The Bondi Gargoyle

Two weeks after the Illinois Primary: San Francisco

"Everything okay?" CJ glanced across at Donna who had just hung up the phone.

"What?" Donna glanced up at CJ as though she had forgotten the other woman was in the room

"Everything okay?" CJ repeated

"Yeah, fine. Do you know where Josh is?"

CJ stuck a pillow behind her back and propped her laptop on her knees so she could see its screen and CNN simultaneously. "Last I saw him he was in the piano bar getting drunk with Mandy"

Donna grimaced involuntarily

"My thoughts exactly," laughed CJ

"I thought you liked Mandy?" Donna queried

" She's all right, and she's a hell of a political operative. We're not going to win the election without her."

"But?" Donna persisted

"Oh it's just her and Josh. Not that I want him for myself but good lord one of them has enough ego for six people, I can't quite figure how they intend to conduct a relationship without killing each other"

"Smart is sexy" offered Donna

"Meaning what?"

"Josh likes having a woman he can argue with, it turns him on"

"You seem to have developed quite a well rounded picture of Josh in a short time" CJ said with a smile, giving up on her laptop for the time being.

"Josh isn't that hard to figure out" Donna pointed out "Besides isn't it kind of my job to be able to read his mind?"

"I guess" CJ studied her room-mate "You don't like Josh that way, do you?"

"Me? Of course not!" Donna scoffed "Not my type at all"

"Okay" CJ shrugged "Anyway if you're trying to find him, at this point I'd say he was either in his room, or Mandy's."

"Isn't Lily sharing with Mandy"

"Except she's in all likelihood in Rob McKenzie's room. And before you ask Sherman is in Kate Walter's room and her room-mate Liz is in Dana Amos's room."

"Where's Sarah?"

"She went back to Manchester last night"

"How do you keep up with all of this?" Donna shook her head

"Practice"

"More importantly, why do you keep up with this?"

"Well since I seem to be falling into the role of spokesperson, I'd like to know who's sleeping with who before the press does, so I can be prepared if someone is dancing with someone they shouldn't be"

"I'm..." Donna paused "I'm not cramping your style am I CJ? I mean I appreciate you agreeing to share a room with me and I know you'd rate one on your own if I wasn't here so..."

"It's fine, really I learned a long time ago about the short comings of campaign sex. That said if you ever want me to clear out..."

Donna's smile was slightly melancholy as she shook her head and said; "I don't think that'll be necessary"

"Hey don't look so glum, we're not the only ones sleeping single. As far as I can tell both Toby and Sam are pretty much monk like, though I guess Sam is engaged"

"For the time being" Donna muttered

"What makes you say that?"

"Its something Josh said. I guess Lisa's not thrilled with Sam's latest career choice"

"Ah and Toby's still recovering from his divorce. This is a truly depressing line of thought. Are you going to go find Josh or do you want to stay here and split a hot fudge sundae with me"

"This is just like being back in the dorm" Donna grinned

"My dorm never had room service. What's it going to be?"

"Oh lets see, walk in on Josh and Mandy or hot fudge. Difficult decision."

The next morning

"Come in" Josh called around a piece of toast. He usually left the door off the latch once he was up and dressed. It saved him answering it every other minute. Donna pushed the door open and walked in.

"Hey, there you are." Josh smiled "Can you take a look at these notes, I can't read what I wrote and you're usually pretty good at deciphering it." He held a notepad in her general direction "And have some breakfast" he offered moving toward the phone "Mandy seems to consider it the eighth deadly sin, so there's plenty." He picked up a waffle, dipped it in a pool of syrup, and took a bite then washed it down with half a glass of orange juice. At that point he realized Donna was still standing just inside the door

"What?"

Donna found herself glancing at the bathroom, where the sound of the shower was clearly audible

"Hey it was her choice. I told her this room was going to start filling up with people."

"Josh I'm leaving"

"Its okay, Donna, she took clothes in there with her. She's not coming out naked or anything"

"I mean I'm leaving the campaign."

Josh had picked up the phone and begun to dial but now he re-set it in its cradle.

"I don't understand"

"John called me again last night"

"Who's John?"

"My boyfriend."

"You mean your ex-boyfriend."

"He wants me to come home"

"Yeah and I want a Ferrari, life's not fair"

"Josh, I was with him for three years."

"And then he dumped you."

"But now he wants to fix things, I can't just throw away three years of my life without giving him a second chance."

"Doesn't he understand that what you're doing here is important?"

"He's a doctor, Josh, he doesn't think what you do is important let alone what I do."

"Thanks a bunch."

"I didn't mean it like that. I know what you do is important. You're going to elect the next President. I think that's amazing."

"So be part of it. Do something amazing."

"Three years Josh, three years doesn't go away that fast."

"If you're that important to him, he'll wait."

"He won't though. He wants me to come back now. He wants to make good on his deal"

"Which is what, for you to go back to school?"

"Yes"

"Yeah it's the beginning of March, Donna, the earliest you could start classes is summer session in June"

"He wants me to come back now."

"And you're just going to go?"

"I came to tell you, not discuss it. He wanted me to come back earlier but I told him I had to wait 'til after..."

"'Til after I was back from my father's funeral?"

"Yes"

"Well that was big of you. And was John okay with that?" Josh asked, sarcasm licking at the edges of his voice "Cause Gawd knows we'd hate to inconvenience John"

Neither one was aware that the shower had stopped 'til Mandy came out of the bathroom, dressed though barefoot, putting her earrings on.

"You could at least tell me when people are in here" Mandy commented, picking up a cup of coffee.

"Donna's not in here. Donna's leaving" Josh replied darkly, his eyes fixed on his assistant

Mandy looked from one to the other and shook her head "Yeah well so am I, I'm late for a meeting with Leo and Toby." She retrieved her shoes from under the bed. " Bye Lover." She physically turned Josh's head, kissed him and squeezed past Donna without a word

"I just wanted to..." Donna began

"Donna I've got work to do" Josh protested dismissively "Apparently alone"

"I just wanted to say thank you, for everything"

He relented a little "Do you need a ride to the airport?"

"Isn't your car in New Hampshire?"

"Yeah but I could rent one and drive you."

Donna smiled "Good-bye Josh" she walked fully into the room, gave him a quick hug and was gone.

Josh stared at the closed door "Bye"

One week later: Manchester

"Josh do you have the polling data on Tennessee?" CJ asked, coming into his office

"Why would I have it?" he replied.

He was sitting in his desk chair; legs propped against his desk, computer on his lap. The actual desktop was covered in files, printouts, books, newspapers and binders.

"Because I gave it to you on Sunday"

"Well Sunday's about there." he tapped a binder, in the middle of the stack.

"What?"

"That's last Friday" he pointed at a file" Sunday's about there, up here is yesterday, the rest I'm not so sure."

"Where's the early Mesozoic?"

"Same place as your sense of humor" he retorted "Fossilized"

"Josh what's going on?"

"I'm a little behind okay. Help yourself to the Tennessee stuff, just don't tip everything else over."

"Why 'cause I'll mess up your system?"

"CJ, I'm trying to work here"

"Could have fooled me, Josh."

"Look I just lost my assistant, okay? Give me a few days to catch up."

"She's been gone for a week"

"As evidenced by my desk"

"Josh, how did you manage to cope before Donna came?"

"I got used to having an assistant, I'm adjusting. Back off"

CJ shook her head as she began to excavate the data she needed. "Why don't you just find a new assistant? We've got plenty of new volunteers, I'm sure eight or nine of them would love to be your Girl Friday"

"I don't want a new assistant" Josh mumbled

"What?"

"CJ, find the stuff you need and leave me alone okay?"

CJ studied him for a moment, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. She held it out to him

"What's that?" Josh looked up at her

"It's her number in Madison"

"CJ."

"Why don't you give her a call?"

"And do what, beg her to come back?"

"Well you could ask her to send a St Bernard to find you when this mountain of stuff finally falls on you"

"I did fine before Donna Moss showed up, once I get a free moment to get organized I'll do fine now that she's gone."

"Okay. I'll just pin this to your board. In case you need it."

CJ smacked a pin through the number and left.

Three days after that: Detroit

"What?" Josh asked smiling as Mandy pulled back from him. He never saw the slap coming until it landed across his jaw.

"Jeez!" he howled in anger and pain, "That hurt"

"It was supposed to hurt" Mandy informed him sitting up arms crossed

"What the hell did you do that for?"

"What did you just call me?"

"I don't know, your name?"

"Not even close. What did you call me?"

"Mandy I've got very little blood in my brain right now, which is your fault, so could we save twenty questions for later."

"You called me 'Donna'"

"I did not" Josh scowled at her

"You did, you said: 'Gawd Donna that feels great."

"You misheard me"

"I didn't."

"Mandy, I didn't call you Donna, okay? There is no reason why I would call you Donna, so could we just pick things up where we left off and-"

"You're kidding? You think I'm just going to let this go?"

"Apparently not" Josh groaned sitting up

He glanced over at Mandy "Would you rather me be here with you calling you Donna or with Donna calling her Mandy?"

"Only men think that's in any way a reasonable argument"

"Well we're fifty percent of the population. If I could get every guy who agrees with me to vote for Bartlet we'd carry the election"

"You never want to have sex again do you?" Mandy started to get out of bed but Josh caught her

"Will you just calm down. I still don't think I called you by her name but even if I did does it matter this much? I'm here with you. That's the point I was trying to make"

"And my question is: what would your answer be? Where would you rather be?"

"That's a stupid question Mandy."

"Why?"

"Because I never thought of Donna that way. I'm here with you by choice, no-ones holding a gun to my head to be here. So why, why are you flipping out?"

"Do you miss her?"

"Donna?"

"No Marilyn Monroe. Of course Donna"

"I miss her ability to tame the savage beast that is my in-box."

"But what about her. Do you miss her?"

"No."

"Cause you've certainly been moping around since she left."

"I haven't been moping. I sleep about three hours a night, again your fault. It's not moping its sleep deprivation. Mandy, you're a beautiful, brilliant woman. You're smart, you're sexy and you have absolutely no reason to be jealous of some girl who worked for me for like a minute and a half. Come on, we're going to win the nomination, then we're going to win the election and then you and I are going to run Washington."

She studied him for a moment. "Okay"

"Okay?"

"Okay. Come here" She put her arms around him and kissed him.

"That's more like it" he enthused pulling her back down.

A few hours later Josh sat in one of the two armchairs. He had CNN on, the volume muted so as not to wake up Mandy. Quietly he crossed the room and pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his pants. He opened it and flicked past the boarding stubs and Visa receipts to the piece of paper CJ had tacked to his board

"Donna in Wisconsin- 608-555-1374"

He glanced from it to the bed where Mandy lay curled up. He had called his girlfriend, 'Donna' and he damn well knew it, he just didn't know why

Four more days: Manchester again

"Just try to be on time, okay?" Leo instructed.

"Have I missed a flight yet?" Josh protested scribbling the flight details on his hand

"Not for lack of trying. And you'll transfer that to somewhere that won't wash off in the shower right?"

"What makes you think I'm going to have time to shower between now and six am tomorrow"

"Make time."

"Yes Mother"

Leo swatted at the back of Josh's head

"Would you be opposed to me having Bonnie or Ginger try to make sense of your desk while we're gone?"

"I won't be able to find anything"

"Can you find anything now, Josh?"

Josh studied the pile, two weeks worth of paperwork flowing like lava across his workspace, and shook his head "If they can make sense of it, let them go ahead."

"Thank you. I think the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa might be in there somewhere if we could just find them"

"You know if my desk gets cleaned up you're all going to have to find some new material."

"I'm sure you'll do your best to provide us with some"

"Goodnight Leo." Josh said pointedly

"Goodnight Josh" Leo smiled benevolently and headed for the door.

She was coming in as he was about to step out.

"Well you're a sight for sore eyes" Leo grinned

"Is he here?"

"In his office. Try not to let anything fall on you."

"Thanks."

Leo turned as she moved past him "I'm glad you're back. You are back aren't you?"

"I guess that depends on Josh"

"Well go talk to him, we're catching a plane tomorrow at six am. Make sure you're both on time for it."

"Thank you Leo"

"Goodnight"

Josh wasn't in his office. He was trying to get the photocopier to work.

"Come on you stupid overgrown toaster oven" He kicked it.

"I think you'll find if you just put toner in it, it'll be fine. But if you want to punish it for its stubbornness go ahead."

Josh stopped stalk still at the sound of her voice. Slowly he turned around.

"Donna?"

"Hi Josh" she braced herself for the shouting or the snide comment or the acerbic wit.

Josh looked her up and down. "Are you back or is this just a social call?"

"I'd like to be back," she said softly.

"Thank Gawd, " he sighed enthusiastically. "There's stuff all over the desk"

"I saw."

"Well make like 108 copies of this will you, double sided, and then we can get started on the desk. We have to be on a plane in about six hours so let's go."

Donna smiled, shrugged off her coat and traded it for the document he was attempting to copy.

Josh wandered back into his office and waited 'til he heard the photocopier before looking at the heavens "Thank you" he whispered with heartfelt emotion, his hands clasped together. He was pretty sure he would have some major explaining to do to Mandy, but he didn't care. All that mattered was that his right hand was back at the end of his arm where it should be.

The next day.

"Bout time you two showed up" Josh commented as Sam and CJ joined him in the departure lounge.

"How long have you been here?" yawned CJ, taking in the fact that Josh, besides being early, looked remarkably unruffled.

"About twenty minutes. Look I've been going over this speech, and I'm a little worried about the concluding paragraph. Sam look at this one you wrote last month." Josh pulled a copy from his backpack. "I like the note you hit at the end here."

"Who are you and what have you done with Josh?" demanded CJ

"What are you talking about"

"Josh, our friend Josh" Sam jumped in "Rumpled. Disorganized. You're an alien spy, aren't you?"

"And you've hit your head recently," Josh replied calmly "Are you going to look at the speech or not?"

"Here you go, Breakfast of Champions," a voice from behind CJ and Sam declared. They spun around.

"Donna!" Sam broke into a wide grin. "You're back!"

"And I brought muffins," she joked handing Josh the bag and barely avoiding spilling coffee on Sam as he gave her a hug. "Nice to see you too, Sam"

"Does this mean you and your boyfriend broke up again?" Sam asked wincing as CJ and Josh simultaneously kicked him in the ankle.

"It means I'm back," Donna said refusing to expand

"CJ, are you okay if we go back to the room-mate deal?" asked Josh

"Of course, I'm going to get fat eating all those hot sublimation sundaes by myself."

"What?" the guys looked at each other

"Girl joke" Donna said by way of explanation

"'Kay" Josh shrugged "So will you look at the speech?"

"Sure" Sam took it as they began to call the flight

As the queued up Josh noticed Donna was limping slightly

"What happened?" he asked taking her bag from her

"I slipped on the ice"

"When?"

"Day before yesterday."

"There's still ice on the ground in Wisconsin?"

"It's a late thaw"

"Boy am I glad the primary's not for a while."

"You and me both" Donna muttered

They handed over their boarding passes and walked down the concourse to the plane.

"Donna I've gotta ask..." Josh began quietly as they took their seats.

"Yes I'm back for good"

"And whathisname?"

"It's over."

Josh glanced out the window "I'm sorry" he said softly.

Donna briefly covered his hand on the shared armrest and squeezed it. "Thanks"

They smiled at each other and settled back for takeoff.

 

 

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