Category: J/D Song Fic
Spoilers: Minor for S3.
Summary: A look at the paths two lives might take in the future.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Aaron and Tommy, although if they want to lend them to me, I won't complain. The song is "Overs" by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.
Notes: This is my first song fic, and it's rough, I know. I was actually looking for the lyrics to a different S&G song when I came across this one, and it was too perfect. The song is Simon and Garfunkel's "Overs" and can be found on the lovely album, "Bookends."
Feedback: I'm beginning to think it doesn't exist. PLEASE tell me what you think!!
Why don't we stop fooling ourselves? The game is over, over, over.
No good times, no bad times, there's no times at all
Just the New York Times sitting on the windowsill,
Near the flowers,
We might as well be apart.
It hardly matters, we sleep separately.
And drop a smile passing in the hall
But there's no laughs left 'cause we laughed them all.
And we laughed them all in a very short time.
Time is tapping on my forehead,
Hanging from my mirror,
Rattling the teacups,
And I wonder,
How long can I delay?
We're just a habit like saccharin.
And I'm habitually feelin' kinda blue.
But each time I try on the thought of leaving you,
I stop and think it over.
"Why don't we stop fooling ourselves? The game is over, over, over."
Josh looked up from the brief he was studying and caught sight of Donna leaning over
her desk. For a second he felt a pang in his chest... but it passed quickly. More
quickly, in fact, than he could ever remember it passing before.
A few short months ago, he had let himself believe he loved her. It was the night they worked on that terrible speech, their "anniversary," that he'd finally admitted it.
But then the world crashed down. The president had MS. Josh screwed up tobacco. Donna slept with Cliff. And whatever had been between them slipped away in the chaos. It went sour, grew frayed around the edges.
Now the thrill he used to feel when he looked at Donna was little more than a memory. Josh was seeing Amy Garner now, giving Donna evenings off. She didn't tell him how she spent them, he didn't ask. And their lives changed subtly, in the way of two people growing apart.
For some reason, this made Josh sad.
"No good times, no bad times, there's no times at all
Just the 'New York Times' sitting on the windowsill,
Near the flowers,
We might as well be apart."
He sent her flowers for her birthday. She was surprised. He had been seeing the same
woman for six weeks now - Amy Garner, a woman Donna deeply respected yet somehow couldn't
warm up to in person - but he sent her, Donna, flowers for her birthday. Last year, when
she had been taking care of him for all intents and purposes, he forgot. This year, for
her 28th, he remembered, even though their working relationship had become... well,
just that - a working relationship. They were boss and assistant. Casual friends, maybe,
but they no longer ate every lunch together. She didn't straighten his tie, he didn't
mention her dates.
At first, the detachment bothered her. She had been in love with Josh for so long that it was odd to fall out of it. At least, that was what she was fairly certain had happened. It wasn't by choice or design. It was gradual. The sharp longing faded into a dull ache that now only echoed occasionally, catching her by surprise. Like the flowers, which she kept on her desk for a week, then took home to press and hang beside the flowers he'd given her last April.
Her new boyfriend, Alex, an eighth grade English teacher with little to no interest in politics and absolutely no connections to the Republican Party, sent her flowers for her birthday, too, but then, he bought her flowers nearly every week. It would have been ridiculous to try to save them all, so she threw them away after a week.
"It hardly matters, we sleep separately.
And drop a smile passing in the hall
But there's no laughs left 'cause we laughed them all.
And we laughed them all in a very short time."
It was the most hectic spring Josh had ever had. Between governing, the grand jury and
reelection, the entire staff was running ragged. The schedule took its toll on everyone -
Sam missed his sister's wedding when an oil tanker crashed off the coast of Georgia in
March, C.J. came down with laryngitis, not once but twice, and Amy Garner broke up with
Josh the first week in April. It was his longest relationship since Mandy - more than
three months - but they never quite clicked into gear. After three months, Amy was ready
for some kind of commitment, while Josh was in the middle of a reelection strategy. He
told her that things would be calmer after the convention. She told him she didn't want to
wait. It was painful but amicable. Josh took it as a definite sign that he simply wasn't
relationship material. Unsure of what to do with the realization, he swallowed his pain
and buried himself in the campaign.
Eventually, the House had to give up on the investigation. It became clear that the president never asked anyone to lie, and even clearer that the public was sick of watching it on TV. Still, even though they were winning the primary, it was a rough battle and it took its toll on Donna too - that fact didn't escape Josh's notice. But he never approached her about it, the way he would have in the old days. There was no time for small talk or banter, and there were days when Josh sorely missed it. He longed for an impossible question about income taxes or an inane fact about the history of Groundhog Day. Several times, as they packed up for the night, Josh wanted to ask her to go for a drink or dinner or a late movie, but he always bit back the impulse. She was seeing someone, he knew, although that was the only thing he knew - except that she seemed happy. While the rest of them were drowning in stress, Donna seemed somehow to be able to lift it off when she left the office. He envied her that, and deep down, he envied the guy. But he swallowed that, too, and focused on work. And after a while, he nearly forgot how close they used be. It seemed such a brief period of time, so long ago.
"Time is tapping on my forehead,
Hanging from my mirror,
Rattling the teacups,
And I wonder,
How long can I delay?"
The weeks before the primary seemed to drag on endlessly for Donna, but after they won,
the summer flew by. They convention was amazing, like nothing else she'd ever experienced,
and then it was over, it was August, it was hot. She broke up with Alex after he asked her
to marry him. He made her happy, but she didn't love him. She wished she did. She tried to
explain it all, and he was very sweet about the whole business, which somehow made it
worse. He wanted to keep seeing her, but she broke it off completely.
She didn't realize how distant she and Josh had grown until he asked her, three weeks later, if Alex was ready to go back to school. It was a rare casual conversation, stilted and awkward. He was embarrassed that he didn't know, but then, why would he. They didn't talk about their personal lives. In fact they rarely spoke about anything but work. And work wasn't going well.
The primary was a breeze in comparison to campaigning against the Republican opponent, the governor of Florida. Someone leaked the news that Hoynes was a recovering alcoholic. He was dragged through the mud, as was Leo, by association, Donna guessed.
And in September, Josh's story broke. Somehow, it leaked that he had been treated for PTSD, and rumors about his mental stability began to circulate. It was suggested that he had been suicidal while helping run the government. Donna caught on quickly that they had been saving this one. They could have brought it up during the investigation, but to what end? It was so much more useful to them, Donna thought bitterly as she watched the CNN coverage, now that the election was closing in.
It nearly tore Josh apart. Donna knew that he felt he was costing Bartlet the campaign. And as much distance as had grown between them in the last months, she knew what he was going to do. He was going to offer the president his resignation.
Bartlet, naturally, declined, much to Josh's dismay. The president instead gave Josh his full support, making him the poster child for trauma survivors. He painted Josh as the picture of mental health. The ordeal was terrible for Josh, who hated talking about his feelings and hated what he thought the whole thing was doing to the campaign. Donna was there for him as much as he'd let her be, but someone had to run his office. Besides, there didn't seem to be a lot she could do to raise his spirits. Things looked grim.
"We're just a habit like saccharin.
And I'm habitually feelin' kinda blue."
Josh somehow couldn't work his mind around it. They lost the election. They lost the White House. There would be no second term for Bartlet, or, presumably, for any of them.
It was a harsh blow; made more so by the fact that they all still had to go to work everyday. There were still two months left in the Bartlet presidency, lame duck or not. They tried their best to exit with dignity, meanwhile looking for new jobs. Everyone wandered around in shock for a week or two, and then a heavy depression set in. Josh was sure that his friends, like him, had never really expected to lose. And no matter what the president or Leo said, Josh knew it was in some measure his fault. He should have quit.
He went through the motions, like every one else. He showed up for work everyday and maintained pretty much the same schedule as he had throughout the election - there was a lot to do before the Inauguration. He tried not to think about what January would be like, but sometime before Christmas he realized he had no idea what he was going to do with himself after January 20. The thought of job hunting was thoroughly depressing, but the thought of having nothing to do but sit around in his apartment all day was terrifying, so he started looking. He put out feelers to see how badly his reputation had been damaged by the whole mental health fiasco and discovered to his relief that the damage was minimal. In fact, several different parties approached him about taking a job as Chief of Staff. But Josh found that the prospect had soured. He instead began toying with the idea of starting his own consulting firm. It would require less of a personal investment, and Josh was eager to step back from the limelight and slip back behind the scenes. Besides, the thought of being able to actually have a life was strangely appealing.
A personal life - now there was and idea. Josh had been thinking about a certain woman more and more. He'd pushed her from his mind for a while, but now his mind was a lot clearer. Maybe the reason their relationship never quite got off the ground was simply time. Josh wanted another chance to make things work now that circumstances were different. He just wasn't sure if she'd feel the same.
"But each time I try on the thought of leaving you,
The dreaded day had arrived. It was January 19, the day they said goodbye to the White
House, and, in some cases, each other.
Donna wasn't ashamed to admit she shed more than a few tears that day. All of the assistants went to lunch together and there wasn't a dry eye in sight. Margaret was staying on as Leo's personal assistant, but it meant a move to Boston. Leo was officially retiring from politics but had agreed to oversee operations for several Massachusetts charities, and when he asked her to remain with him, Margaret couldn't say no.
Cathy and Ginger would both be staying in DC, working for different Senators, but Bonnie was moving to New York to work towards her law degree. They all promised to keep in touch.
Donna was staying in DC. She thought about returning to Wisconsin, but she was afraid if she went back, she'd never leave. So instead, she'd enrolled in the spring semester at Georgetown, taking out a huge personal loan. It was the scariest thing she'd ever done, save her trek to New Hampshire five years ago. Her parents' invitation to move back home and commute to school had been tempting, but she just couldn't fathom leaving DC.
After lunch, there were more tears. Donna said goodbye to members of the bullpen staff who trickled in and out all day. She said see-you-later to Charlie, because he'd be at Georgetown full time now and had promised to help her with chemistry. She got a gruff hug from Toby, who was headed for a teaching position at NYU and a much nicer hug from Leo, who wished her well in school and reminded her to call if she ever needed a letter of recommendation.
CJ was a hard goodbye. The elegant press secretary was also moving to New York to give PR another shot. Donna made her promise to call and write, but she had a feeling that CJ would not be lonely in the Big Apple.
Sam was tough too. He had been offered the position of Communications Director by no less than 12 different members of Congress, but had passed. He planned to take a year off and sail around the world. Then, he told Donna, maybe he'd be ready for politics again. Donna made him promise to look her up as soon as he got back to DC.
The sweetest moment of her day came when she was asked to the Oval Office. The president was behind his desk, signing something that looked important and arguing with Leo, but he cleared the room when she came in. He told her she deserved a medal for putting up with Josh and wished her good luck in school, even asking her (only half jokingly) to keep an eye on Zoey. Then he grew serious.
"I know how much you people gave up for me," he said. "And I know how hard you worked for this administration. Donna, you have a brilliant mind, and I believe you can go anywhere you choose from here. Thank you for taking this marvelous journey with me."
"Thank you, Mr. President," Donna said, choked up again, "for letting me come along. I will never be as proud to call myself a part of anything as I am to say I was a part of the Bartlet Administration."
"Thank you Donna," Bartlet said as he came around the desk and embraced her briefly.
A moment later, Leo cam back in, followed by Charlie and two agents. As she turned to leave, he called out, "Oh, and Donna, do me a favor. Look after him."
Donna knew what he meant, but she couldn't think of anyway to reply, so she simply nodded and left.
As she made her way back to her desk, she thought, that's one promise I don't know that I can keep.
She knew of Josh's plan to start his own consulting business and she thought it was an excellent idea. Josh had a brilliant mind for strategy and he needed to take a step back and work removed from the personal connections and injuries of a campaign. He had been hit hard by the loss, harder than most of them. The downtime would do him a world of good.
It was just hard for her to think that after tomorrow, she wouldn't see him every day. He'd no longer be her boss. She wouldn't know where he was and what he was dong every waking moment. True, they'd grown apart in the turmoil of the last year, but she still felt a connection to him. There was nothing she could do, however, because he didn't feel the same. When she told him she'd enrolled at Georgetown, he told her he was proud of her, and had even taken her out for a drink to celebrate. For a few hours, it was like old times. But since, there'd been no mention of the future, of the days beyond the White House. And after tomorrow, she thought, as she finished packing up her desk, she would no longer be a part of his life. She was fighting back tears yet again as she let the building.
January 15 was cold and sunny. Donna arrived in the stark office at 7 a.m. dressed for the inauguration.
Josh was already in his office, but the door was closed.
There had been talk of a post-ceremony pity party, but half of the staff would be leaving for their new jobs that very afternoon, and the plan was abandoned. So the morning was spent doing final checks on file deletions and saying final goodbyes. New staff was becoming oriented that morning, and old staff was to clear out by noon, just in time for the ceremony on the Hill.
At 11:30, Donna knocked on Josh's door and pushed it open. The office looked so different without the piles of clutter, the dusty photos on the wall or the mismatched memos and scribbles on the bulletin board. Josh was nowhere in sight.
"Josh?" Donna called out.
"Hang on a sec," his voice came from under his desk. "Just about got it."
"What?" Donna asked, against her better judgment.
"This!" Josh cried triumphantly as he climbed out from under the desk, covered in dust, holding a scrap of paper over his head.
"Oh Joshua, look at your suit," Donna said, exasperated. "You're a mess!"
"I got it, though," Josh said, barley glancing at the mess down his front. "Donna, do you realize that I may have just saved the Democratic Party?"
"How so?" Donna asked, as she began brushing the dust from his suit.
"This phone number was trapped under that desk leg," he said, obviously still very proud of himself. "If I hadn't seen it, the goon who moves into this office might have found it."
"So?" Donna asked, pulling a tuft of lint from his hair.
"SO?" Josh said. "So I just protected the party from delivering into the hands of Republicans the number for..."
"China Palace," Donna said, glancing at the paper and recognizing the number she had dialed at least 100 times over the last four years.
"What?!?" Josh said.
"Congratulations, Joshua," Donna said dryly. "Those Republicans may hold office, but they won't know the secrets of 'Ming's Mandarin Chicken'."
"I crawled around on the floor or fifteen minutes for this?" Josh said incredulously.
"Come on, dust boy, it's time to go," Donna chuckled, giving his suit a final brush.
"Donna, hold on," Josh said, suddenly serious. This was it - his last chance. "There's something I need to say."
"What is it Josh?" Donna asked, looking down.
"Donna, I don't think I ever told you just how much-"
"Josh, it's OK," she interrupted. You don't have to say anything."
"Yeah, I do," Josh said. "Please, let me finish. I should have said this a long time ago. You have been an incredible assistant, and, more than that, an incredible friend. You were there for me from the day you signed on, giving this job everything you've got, and believe me when I say, that's a hell of a lot to give. You saw me through the darkest parts of my life and you shared in the brightest. There is no way I could ever thank you enough for everything you've been or everything you've done." His voice softened, and he titled her head up so she was looking him in the eye. "You saved me, Donnatella Moss. You saved my life that Christmas. And you saved me in so many other ways.
"I know that I was never easy to work for, and I know I've been... well, I've made life hard for you this last year. But you saw it through and made it bearable for me. And I just wanted you to know that."
Donna was moved by Josh's speech. She knew most of what he said before, but it was wonderful to actually hear the words. She quelled any disappointment, telling herself she hadn't expected him to say more.
"Josh, thank you," she said softly. "You gave me a job when you had no reason to, you took me back when you should have shown me the door, and because of you, I was a part of this. So I think," she said, smiling and squeezing his hand, "that we're even."
He pulled her to him, squeezing her in a warm hug. When he released her, she tugged his had towards the door. "Come on, Josh. It's time to go."
They were nearly at the Capitol. Donna was bundled in heavy black coat and a bright red scarf with a matching beret and gloves. Josh reached out and grabbed a gloved hand. She turned towards him and he was struck all over again by her innocent beauty.
"Josh, what's wrong?" Donna asked, a little alarmed by the look on his face.
"This is wrong," he said. "Saying goodbye to you is wrong."
"Josh. What are you saying?" Donna asked.
"I'm saying I don't want to say goodbye to you tonight and not see you tomorrow, or the next day." He ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes. Then he grasped her other hand. It was time to take a leap, damn it!
"Donna, I know I have no reason to expect anything from you and no right to ask anything more from you. And if you want to walk away from me today, I can't blame you. But I'm in love with you. I've been in love with you for - God I don't know how long. And I want to be with you, now and always."
He searched her face, sure that he would find revulsion or anger. He found he couldn't read her expression.
"Josh," she began, "you are a hard man to know-"
"I know, Donna," he said. "I know, and I'm sorry. I shouldn't have-"
"Would you let me finish?!? You can be such a-! Never mind. Look, I know that you've had trouble with relationships in the past. And we both know I've had my share of failed romances." She stopped and took a deep breath. "But I can't help it. I'm in love with you too."
"It's OK," Josh said. "I really do understand." He stopped. "Wait a minute. Did you just say you love me too?"
"Call me crazy, but yes."
He grabbed her around the waist and spun her in a joyous hug.
"Donna, we are going to be so happy. I'll do anything for you. Anything at all."
"Well, then, shut up and kiss me."
"I stop and think it over."