Delicate Systems (2/2) by Jo March

Disclaimer, etc., in part one.

I am pounding on CJ's door because--Well, because if I don't have someone to confide in, I will quite possibly explode.

CJ gives me a long, hard look and grins. "So Dan came back," she says as she lets me in.

Huh? Dan who?

"What are you talking about?" I ask.

"Girlfriend," CJ says--and she is clearly too amused--"have you looked in a mirror lately? Because you have all the signs of a woman who just got what I'm guessing was one hell of a good night kiss." She pauses, as the other alternative to Dan occurs to her. It is then that Mount St. Claudia Jean erupts.

Her fury is something to behold.

"I'll kill him," she mutters. "I will kill Joshua Lyman."

"Can I help?"

"No. Because after I kill him, I am going to kill you. I'm going to kill him, and I'm going to kill you. And then I'm going to call a press conference to explain that I had to kill the deputy chief of staff and his assistant because they were too damn clueless to be allowed to live."

"CJ--"

"Do you have any idea what kind of trouble this could lead to? Have you ever considered--Where exactly did he kiss you?"

Well, that's a rather personal question.

"On the mouth," I answer, slightly bewildered.

"God help me, I counted on Donna to be the smart one, and this is the reaction I get," CJ mutters. "No, you idiot, where were the two of you when this happened? Were there witnesses?"

"Oh, that. No witnesses."

"Praise the goddess!"

"We were in the elevator."

"Well, at least--" CJ pauses, as the same thought I had occurs to her. "Security cameras."

"Yes, but, you know, those things are notoriously fuzzy and I'm thinking Josh's back would have been to the camera, and even if it wasn't, what are the odds someone would recognize--"

CJ grabs her handbag and starts rummaging through it. "I know I have some aspirin in here somewhere," she mutters.

"I'm sorry, CJ, but it wasn't my fault," I say. "Josh started it."

CJ gives me this look that--Well, I'm pretty frightened by that look. "Who stopped it and at what point? Were any items of clothing removed before the stopping? Were any acts that the Christian right might consider inappropriate between two unmarried adults--"

"CJ!"

Once again, she gives me the look. I cower.

"No clothing was removed," I say. "No other acts occurred. It was a kiss, that's all. Couldn't have lasted more than six seconds tops."

"You're sure?"

"CJ, I would know if--" I hate having alabaster skin. I'm blushing again. "Besides, he was drunk. He won't even remember this tomorrow."

The best six seconds of my life, and he won't even remember.

I hate him.

I must look a wreck, because CJ puts her arms around me and gives me a hug. "Donna," she says with a sigh, "the two of you have to work this out."

"There's nothing to work out," I protest.

"Right. There's nothing. This is why he goes ballistic whenever you have a date. This is why the name Joey Lucas gives you a headache. Because there is nothing between you."

"There isn't."

"I swear to god, Donna, I don't know which one of you is more clueless. But my advice is to get this thing out in the open, acknowledge that it absolutely cannot happen, and move on. As long as the two of you go around pretending you don't care while giving each other those looks--"

"Josh does not give me looks."

"Josh gives you smoldering looks, and it's making the rest of us very nervous. The two of you need to set down some ground rules and start behaving like professionals."

"I suppose."

"Do I have to list all the reasons you and Josh are a bad idea?"

"I already know them by heart."

"Good. Recite them to Josh. In a public place. Where there will be no kissing."

I nod and start to head back to my room.

"CJ?" I say when I get to the door.

"Yes?"

"He kisses amazingly well. It was incredible."

CJ groans. "I swear to god," she mutters. "I am locking the two of you in separate rooms until after we leave office." * * * Alone in my room, I ponder the nature of my relationship with Josh and reach the following conclusion:

We have a delicate system.

No, really. Josh and his notorious inability to hold his liquor is the perfect metaphor for our relationship. We are a delicate system. Most of the time, the system works just fine. But add a new element--Joey Lucas, Dan Rydell, a red dress; little things that would not upset, say, Toby and Ginger--and it goes to our heads rather quickly. It upsets the balance; it throws the entire system off kilter. We lose our equilibrium. Things get said. And done.

Josh and Donna are a delicate system, and we need to stay sober.

CJ's right. I need to explain this to Josh. I need to explain why we have to stop doing this thing. We have to stop the looks and the talk about our personal lives. We have to stop the teasing and the innuendo.

Josh must never, ever drink in my presence again.

He must also stop expecting me to come to things like this where one of us is likely to meet someone else.

He can't expect me to spend weekends and nights in the West Wing just because he wants me there. No work, no Donna--That's the new rule.

He can't call me Donnatella anymore.

Except maybe on my birthday and other special occasions.

I am not an unreasonable woman. I am sure that Josh will have some guidelines he will expect me to follow. Although I have always been completely professional. If he has misinterpreted any of my words or actions, it's his own fault. Still, I am willing to compromise in the interest of maintaining a smooth working relationship.

I will tell him so tomorrow.

And I will stop asking myself this question that has been in the back of my mind since we got out of that elevator:

If this is how he kisses when he's drunk, how incredible would it be to kiss him when he's sober? * * * As much as I value CJ's advice, I believe she is wrong about one thing: Josh and I should not have this discussion in a public place. Josh gets hostile. Josh says things that can be misconstrued when he's hostile. He says these things in a very loud voice, and that would lead to exactly the sort of situation CJ wants to avoid. So I will have this conversation with Josh, but I will have this conversation with him in private.

It's much better this way. CJ would thank me for this if she understood my reasoning. Not that I would ever tell her. I'm not that stupid.

I pound on his door as loud as possible at the crack of dawn because he will have a hangover and the noise will cause him great pain and he completely deserves it.

He doesn't answer.

He was pretty drunk. He was pretty drunk and I left him alone, and now he isn't answering the door. Several kinds of accidents could have occurred to him when he was alone and that drunk. I shouldn't have left him alone when he was that drunk.

Thank god I have his room key.

I hear the running water immediately upon entering. He's not dead; he's just in the shower.

Good. I can kill him myself when he gets out of the shower.

He's in there taking a shower. He's in there naked.

I have to sit down.

I am going to use this time while he's naked--I mean, while he's showering--to review my main points. I am going to be professional.

He's naked. I'm sitting on his bed, and he's naked.

This could easily be misconstrued. This is why we need to have a talk. So he knows not to be naked when I'm in the next room.

The bathroom door opens, and Josh steps out. Wearing a towel.

Just a towel.

Oh.

I feel a need to comment--in a strictly aesthetic sense--about the sight of Josh in a towel. First, there's the fact that he apparently can't even dry himself off correctly because he's all damp and sort of glistening and it's strangely fascinating. Then there's his chest. There is nothing like the sight of a man's naked chest to ruin a perfectly good fantasy. I mean, either in reality they have absolutely no chest hair and look like little boys, which is not appealing, or they have too much chest hair and resemble an ape, which is even less appealing. There is a medium that is pleasing and yet difficult to find--just enough chest hair to confirm that he is, indeed, very male.

I have found the perfect medium.

And I can't have him. Focus, Donna, focus.

"Joshua," I say in my best professional tone, "we are going to have a conversation right now."

He looks at me as though he is going to throw up again. That, at least, would stop my having these random thoughts about his chest. And about how that towel doesn't seem to be very firmly in place.

"Right now?" he asks. Actually, he kind of croaks.

"Yes." He has a scar from the shooting. I knew that. Rationally, I knew that. I just never really considered it before. Much.

"This," I tell him, gesturing at the space between us, "is a bad idea."

"You're right," he says. Much too quickly. Does he have to agree so quickly? Why does this have to be the one time he doesn't give me an argument?

I wish I could get a good look at his naked back.

He has a hangover. He should drink something. I stand up, walk around him very slowly (he has a fabulous back, by the way) and get him a glass of water from the bathroom.

He gulps it down in record time. I'd go back and get him a second glass, but I think maybe I'll wait. The towel might start slipping down a little lower.

"You kissed me," I tell him. Because he's probably forgotten.

"I was drunk."

Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. That's all it was? He was just drunk?

Bastard.

We argue for awhile; I make some excellent points about his jealousy of Dan and Casey. He apologizes. Sort of. And then I reasonably ask him to explain his motivation for kissing me.

Which is when he decides to get all indignant and put his hands on his hips. The towel slips down a little lower.

His stomach is excellent. Nice and flat.

Before I have a chance to fetch that second glass of water, he hitches the towel back up. "I'm not an actor, Donna. I'm not going to discuss my motivations for--"

The hell with it. I have to find out how he kisses when he's relatively sober.

Oh, god. It's even better. Who knew?

He wraps his arms around me and pulls me in tighter. Now he's sort of massaging my back while his tongue is just absolutely dancing around with mine and it's wonderful until I open my eyes and notice that he's starting to smirk.

I will not let him get away with that. I break off the kissing and put a respectable distance between us. I do an admirable job of appearing unconcerned, I think.

"Motivations?" I ask.

He doesn't take this well. He is reduced to calling me names, the most creative of which is "Ms. I Kissed You First." Idiot.

Damp, glistening, half-naked, sexy idiot.

I eventually get him back to the point. "Joshua, I'm trying to determine if your actions last night were prompted by, you know, typically masculine feelings of inadequacy when in the presence of such handsome alpha males, or if you actually feel some sort of attraction for me. Of course, at this point it doesn't matter, since the issue is already, you know, out there. But I'd like to keep things as clear as possible so that an already terrible situation is not made worse through miscommunication."

I think that's a reasonable position, don't you?

"Terrible? You think this is a terrible situation?"

No, you half-naked idiot, I don't think being in a room with you and a bed is a terrible situation. Everyone else we know does, however, so I'm thinking maybe they're on to something I'm missing. "You're all but naked, Josh," I say, taking a nice, long look at just how close to naked he is. "In a hotel room with your assistant, whom you hit on last night in an elevator that more than likely is monitored by video. Can you think of anything that would make this worse?"

Cause I can. I can think of something. I can think of you saying that you don't *want* to be half-naked in a hotel room with your assistant. That would be beyond bad, you thinking that. Please point that out.

"Leo knocking on the door right now," he says.

Wrong answer, idiot boy.

"Leo's in DC."

"CJ knocking--"

Let's not go there.

"Joshua."

"This is bad," he says. "Not this," he says, indicating the space between us, "but what this would look like to, you know, them."

"Exactly. So we have to figure out what we're going to do about this."

We're going to be professional and set down rules so that this doesn't happen again. That's what we're going to do.

That would be easier to do if he'd get dressed.

I don't want him to get dressed. Unless he lets me watch.

Thank god I didn't say that out loud.

"What the hell are you talking about?" he asks. Typical. He always pretends he doesn't know, and he always does.

"You know what I'm talking about." Okay, now I'm getting angry.

"I don't."

Liar. I work for a liar. I am in love with a liar.

A damp, glistening, sexy, half-naked liar.

I have to get out of here. I need to pack. I need to take a cold shower, and I need to pack.

"Forget it, Josh," I say and turn to leave.

"Donna, wait."

I'm not going to look at him. I am not going to look at his damp, glistening, sexy, half-naked self.

"What?" I ask, not looking at him.

"This is a phenomenally bad idea," he says. I hate him. Have I mentioned that?

"I know," I answer.

"I'm your boss."

"Yes."

"I'm ten years older than you."

"I'm aware of that."

"Leo would kill us."

"True."

"So would CJ."

Yes, and then she'll hold a press conference.

I turn back around. The damp, glistening, sexy, half-naked idiot is grinning.

"Probably Toby too," I point out. We might as well face all the obstacles. "Maybe Sam."

"No," he says. It's not a grin; it's not even a smirk. It's an honest-to-god smile.

With dimples.

I am lost.

"Sam's far too idealistic to grasp the potentialities," he says.

Well, there is that. "True," I answer.

He walks toward me, as well he should. I want it on record, after all, that *he* made the first move. Anything that happens after this is completely Josh's fault. Not mine.

"This is a phenomenally bad idea," he says. God, even his voice is unbearably sexy this morning.

"Yes," I agree. "So what are we going to do?"

He reaches out and starts playing with my hair, sort of like he did last night. And look where that got us.

"What do you want to do?" he asks.

Oh, no, you don't, mister. I'm not admitting it until you do.

"What do you think I want to do?" I ask.

"Probably the same thing I want to do," he says. Close, Joshua, but no cigar.

"Your logic is astounding," I tell him.

"You're going to pick on me right now?" he asks. I should note for the record that he's grinning like an idiot.

"What's wrong with now?"

"Not one thing," he says. And then he kisses me again. Another one of those amazing kisses where he puts that mouth of his to all sorts of creative uses. Sort of makes you wonder what he can do with the rest of that body.

There's only one way to find out.

"Joshua," I tell him, "lose the towel."

If we're lucky, CJ will be merciful and agree to lock us in the same room until President Bartlet leaves office.

THE END Jo and Ryo's West Wing Fanfiction can be found at http://fanficwithfootnotes.com

 

 

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