Disclaimer: Wow, it'd be nice if I owned any of these characters. But the fact is, I don't. So please don't sue.
Summary: Ask, and you shall receive...
Note: First post here. (Well, anywhere.) Feedback would be great!
Just Another Day
By Kathryn Adams
Donna watched her boss fight a losing battle with gravity for a good five minutes.
Anyone else would have given it up as a lost cause. Josh hadn't bothered to actually stack the papers and books together, preferring the scoop-everything-important-off-the-desk-and-run method. (Josh, bless him, didn't trust computers or laptops to store anything safely, and he regularly used floppy disks to shim up uneven table legs.) Now it looked like parts of the stack were trying to escape. Worse, the pile must have weighed a ton, forcing him to walk with his arms stretched out at full length and his chin trying to keep the top papers in place. Just holding onto all that looked like...what was a good phrase... "an exercise in futility." As for actually walking with it...
Aside from Josh's stumbling footsteps, and occasional curse, the basement hallways were quiet. This part of the White House didn't get many visitors, even on the busiest days. At this time of night the underground rooms were practically deserted. Which was a shame. There wasn't anyone around to share the sight of Josh careening off walls and trying to knock the pile back into place by ramming into doorframes. At least it would make a fun story to tell Ginger and Margaret. Also Sam, and Toby, CJ, maybe Leo, and whoever else needed a good laugh.
Inevitably, despite the best efforts on Josh's part, one of the folders slipped loose. Then another. Josh lost his balance trying to grab falling papers in midair, and everything gave way. Papers, books, and the Deputy Chief of Staff ended up in an untidy heap on the floor.
Donna managed not to laugh. Barely.
If it had been her on the floor she probably would have just rested there for a while. The drifted papers looked deep enough to be comfortable. Josh was already on his feet however, squatted over the pile, swearing.
He noticed his unhelpfully grinning assistant out of the corner of his eye, but didn't bother to look up. "Uh, Donna?" he said testily, trying in vain to find "page 1" of the mess on the floor, "A little help?"
"What's the magic word?" she teased.
This got her an irritated glance. "Sagittarius."
Which pretty much took the fun out of everything.
Donna walked over and started picking up files, her expression neutral. "'Please' would have worked just as well," she said mildly.
As usual, Josh went from annoyed to sheepish in a second. "Yeah, thanks." He muttered. "Sorry."
Now THAT wasn't usual at all. Apologies from Josh weren't unheard of, but he didn't exactly blurt them out all the time either.
"Yeah, I'm just..." He sighed. "I'm okay, just...y'know."
They picked up the rest of the papers in silence. Donna helped get everything stacked a little more neatly in Josh's arms, and then slyly took the five or six files she'd been carrying and added them to the top of the stack. She waited to see if he'd notice. He didn't.
"Where to?" she asked as Josh struggled to his feet.
"Basement room." He didn't have to say which one.
"Is that still password protected?"
"Nah. But it's quiet. And I've got stuff to do."
"Obviously. Need help with that?"
"I got it."
"I'll walk with you anyway."
"Donna, you don't have to...whoa." The pile tilted and started dragging Josh to one side. Donna put a hand to the papers and pushed until he'd gotten his balance.
"No, it's okay. I told Sam I'd drop some files off with Ainsley." She waited to see if Josh would ask what files, and then notice them on top of the stack. He didn't.
Two thank-you's and an apology in two minutes; something was up. Donna peered sideways at her boss.
"You look a little stressed."
"Me? No. Except, well yeah, a little."
"Things are kinda weird lately, aren't they?"
"No, that's just the problem." Josh turned to look at Donna as he walked, and almost tripped in the process. "Things aren't weird at all. Everything's completely normal."
"And this isn't good?"
"No, not at all."
"So now we're supposed to like it when things are crazy."
"Yes! No, well kinda. It's just that..." It took a moment to get what he was thinking into something coherent. "Everything about this whole situation with the President, and the cover-up, it shouldn't be normal. It should still shock the hell out of everybody. Everyone should run around thinking 'This is insane. How did we get like this? What in God's name can we do NOW to fix it?' But it doesn't, and we don't.. As bad as things get now, it's all just..."
"Same old thing?"
"Business as usual?"
"You can stop coming up with phrases for 'normal' any time now."
Their footsteps echoed as they continued down the empty hallway. All joking aside, Josh had a point. You could see it in people's faces. Maybe everyone was just numb from worrying about it, but lately it felt like it had always been this way. Trying to keep the President from being impeached wasn't an emergency project anymore, it was part of the job description. If someone was stressed, you didn't even have to ask what from. And just in case anybody started to forget, there was a one-word reminder. It wasn't fair. A funny story could take a half-hour to tell (and at least half the time it would be finished with a weak "You had to be there"), but for this all you needed was "Sagittarius."
But then... "Josh that argument would be more convincing if you didn't pitch a fit and start shouting whenever you have to deal with a crisis."
"Hey, I'm not saying it was great when weird stuff kept popping up," Josh politely ignored the phrase "pitch a fit" as he did a balancing act down a series of steps. "Although some of it was kinda fun, y'know, like the President's signature getting forged on a "Benefits of Peyote use in Alien Contact" study approval, or Toby yelling he was going to hit the Secretary of State with a baseball bat when the guy was standing right behind him, or somebody kidnapping CJ's fish..."
(They both had to stop and snicker at this one, then look around to make sure CJ wasn't nearby. That was a funny story there, but you had to be careful where you told it.)
"And some of it was downright infuriating. But at least when stuff was driving everybody crazy you knew you could just ride it out until everything went back to normal. And now nothing ever happens except this, and the whole thing is just...normal."
All of this had started out in Josh's regular, good-natured but cynical tone, but it had ended up sounding a lot harsher. He didn't look like he was ready to tackle the whole problem anymore, he just looked a little angry, and a lot tired. Donna wished she could think of something helpful to say. "Well, don't worry about it. This'll probably be fixed soon."
They exchanged a glance. Yeah, that sounded good.
Neither of them believed it for a second.
They'd reached the door of the basement room by this time. It looked strangely empty without a Secret Service agent standing nearby. One more indication of how routine all this had become.
Josh leaned against the wall by the doorknob and said morosely, "I just wish something could be weird again."
Donna opened the door about half a foot and then closed it again. Quietly.
The two of them stared wide-eyed at nothing for a moment, then walked a few paces back down the hall and stared at the floor.
There was a long pause, finally broken by Josh. "Well."
Another long pause.
"Josh did you have any idea that..."
For a little while the hallway was quiet again. Josh mused, shifting his hold on the stack of papers thoughtfully (he seemed to have forgotten how heavy they were). Donna found herself nodding, although she had no idea what she was agreeing to. She stopped.
Something occurred to Josh. He looked up. "You think they saw us?"
"I guess you'll find out when you go in there."
"Do I have to?"
"Well somebody should break that up before they get caught."
"Y'know Donna, it wasn't like they were tearing each other's clothes off or anything..."
"...I mean they'd have plenty of time to just...um...detach if someone walked in..."
"...and when you think about it I'm not really sure we have the right to intrude..."
"Josh they're supposed to be figuring out how to save the career of the President of the United States while they're in there! What do you think would happen if it was Oliver Babish who walked in? Or Leo?"
Josh winced. "I'm trying to imagine the President's reaction."
"Probably nothing compared to the First Lady's."
"Ow. Ow. Ow. All right I'll come in again."
Putting on a pretty unconvincing display of non-concern (Donna briefly wondered who he was trying to convince) Josh walked a several feet further down the hall, turned around, and strolled briskly back to the door. Or at least he tried to. Donna caught up with him after a few steps, and he was forced to slow to almost a crawl to keep from reaching the door too soon.
"What are you gonna do, just knock?"
"Well I thought I'd whistle a little..."
"Josh you never whistle, you barely ever hum."
"I'll think of something."
"You can't act worth a darn." "Can so." "Not about this." "Keep it down!" "I'm not yelling!" "Shhh!" "SHHH!"
The argument degenerated into a series of furious whispers until Donna took matters into her own hands and knocked the top third of Josh's papers onto the floor.
"Don't blame me Josh, I offered to help carry that."
"I was FINE until you (ow) why the heck did (ow, quit it) you didn't have to (all right, stop kicking me!). Look, just get the door."
By the time they got the papers picked up and the door opened, the normal-sounding (she hoped) Josh and Donna bickering had given CJ and Sam enough time to move to opposite sides of the table.
"Swear to God, Donna, sometimes..."
"I know, I know. Can I have my files back now?"
Josh tried to look down his nose at the folders his chin was holding in place. "Lemmie guess, I've been..."
"Never mind." Donna took back the files, straight-faced. "Before I forget: You're fired."
"'Kay. I'm gonna order some take-out for dinner. Anybody else want something?"
Absent-minded nod from Josh as he tried to set down the pile without spilling it all over the table. CJ and Sam both answered "No thanks," in subdued voices, carefully not looking up or, more importantly, at each other.
Her boss looked up. "What?"
"Food. Take-out. Money. Yes?"
"Oh. Right." He grabbed for his wallet, or at least where his wallet was supposed to be. His face did a slow collapse. "Desk."
"Don't worry, I'll get it after I drop these be Ainsley."
"I'll go with you!" CJ jumped up - almost knocking her chair over - then paused to gather up her papers in an exaggerated show of how not in a hurry she was. "I was just leaving, already meant to go. Back to my desk. For a moment. I have to go get some things for the thing." And then in an almost painfully casual voice, "Sam can I get you anything, since I'm already leaving and..."
"Nope. I'm good. Just gonna finish this up here." It was impossible to tell if Sam's face was getting red. He was going to hurt his eyes if he kept trying to read with his face that close to the book.
Pretending to hunt for fallen papers, Josh had actually ducked under a desk during all this. It looked like he was planning on staying there until he got himself under control. Donna could only hope he wouldn't let on that he knew anything, 'cause right now he was enjoying this way too much.
She had to admit, it was kinda sweet, in an oh-God-don't-let-this-get-them-in-horrible-trouble way.
CJ kept herself from tripping or dropping anything on the way out, although she did manage to clip the doorframe with her shoulder. It didn't look like she'd noticed.
Behind them, Sam surreptitiously glanced at his watch. Donna could almost hear him figuring how long he had to wait to leave, so it wouldn't be obvious that he was going after CJ.
The walk back upstairs was strange. On a good day CJ could be a fairly talkative person. On those days she was nervous about something she would try to cover with a stream of rapid-fire small talk. Toby usually got the brunt of it (Wow, thank God Toby hadn't been the one to walk in on that.) but anyone was fair game. Usually. She wasn't saying anything now.
The extended silence was starting to make Donna jumpy. She argued with herself about whether it would be more suspicious to notice something was different or to NOT notice something was different, then gave herself a mental scolding for being silly instead of just being a friend. "CJ?"
"What?" It looked like CJ was coming back from somewhere else in her head.
"You okay?" This felt like a replay of her conversation with Josh. "You look a little stressed."
"Yeah I'm okay, I'm just..." CJ rearranged the papers she was carrying, and absently patted her hair into place. "Things are just kinda weird lately."
Donna turned her head to hide a smile. "I know."