TITLE: Witless: An Innocent Kiss
AUTHOR: Ryo Sen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SUMMARY: A companion piece to Jo March's "An Innocent Kiss." What was Josh thinking?
SPOILERS: "In Excelsis Deo"
ARCHIVE: Sure, just let me know where it is so I can come and visit it.
DISCLAIMER: These wonderful and well-written characters are Aaron Sorkin's. Okay, fine: Warner Bros, too.
THANKS: To Jo March, for her amazing writing, her generosity of spirit, and her quick and encouraging beta services
Witless: An Innocent Kiss Ryo Sen
Here's a little known fact about me: I love Christmas.
There are, of course, certain traditions that leave me utterly lost. For example, what's up with the creepy, molded plastic, lit-from-the-inside Santa Clauses? And why can't I have candy canes any other time of the year?
But for the most part, I can't get enough of Christmas. The gift-giving. The loving your fellow man. The presents. And especially the mistletoe.
Being Jewish, I wasn't exposed to the wonder that is the mistletoe until I was fourteen. Janine Cunningham enthusiastically introduced me to the tradition at her Christmas party, and I have been taking full advantage of it ever since.
I have to admit, though, I've never had quite so much fun under the mistletoe as I did this year. Of course, the increased quality of the mistletoe experience had a corresponding increase in hellish consequences. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
So it's Christmas Eve, and Donna, who was a big ball of girlish emotion after endlessly listening to Perry Cuomo's Christmas album on her headphones, accompanied me to the Mural Room to listen to a boys' choir. And while I admit I was expressing my love for my fellow woman--in a purely holiday-cheer kind of way--with an arm slung around her, Donna's absurd susceptibility to Christmas carols (her words; I call it sappiness) played a large part in the ensuing mess.
So we're listening to some tunes and Donna looked up at me with those big, teary eyes and did that smile she does when she's really happy, and I'm suddenly having completely inappropriate thoughts about my assistant. That, paired with the fact that we were about to witness an incredibly annoying weatherperson dressed up in a cheap red velvet suit, precipitated our abrupt departure.
I pulled Donna down the hallway, arguing pleasantly over the relative merits of Christmas and Channukah (and noting with amusement her attempt to pronounce it correctly). Then we reached the bullpen. And our drunken coworkers. Singing. Badly.
I shot Donna a look, "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that somebody spiked the eggnog."
In inimitable Donna fashion, she headed straight for the punchbowl and poured herself a cup. She knocked it back with disturbing ease, then nodded. "You're right."
"You know, Donna," I said. "It's eggnog, not coffee."
"Meaning?" she prompted, with a dubious look.
"Meaning that it wouldn't be establishing any sort of precedent if you'd actually brought me a cup too. It's not like I'm going to expect you to bring me eggnog every morning."
"It's a slippery slope, Josh," Donna shrugged. "Eggnog on Christmas Eve, coffee on weekdays; before I know it, you're expecting me to show up at your place every morning to fix your breakfast."
"You've had worse ideas," I grinned.
"Josh, get your own damn eggnog," Donna tossed over her shoulder as she walked away.
Gotta love the respect with which I'm treated by my assistant. I wandered over to get my own damn eggnog.
CJ tapped my shoulder, "Josh, are you sure you should be drinking that?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Do you not remember last year?" CJ asked.
"Not this again--"
"Oh, right," she gave herself a playful smack on the forehead. "You don't remember. Because you and Sam snuck away to the Reflecting Pool to go ice skating. While extremely drunk."
"I have no recollection of that," I answered.
"And yet there was photographic evidence of it," she noted. "Evidence of two senior staffers of the President-elect breaking several laws."
"It was so picturesque, too," she continued, ignoring my protests. "The blanket of snow on the mall, you and Sam in your mittens and mufflers, the dopey, alcohol-induced grins, and, oh, yeah, the open bottle of wine you were swigging from."
"It was empty," I argued.
"Because you drank it all and then puked at the foot of the Washington Monument," CJ countered. "Which I also had photographic evidence of before I burned the negatives."
"Isn't that a crime?"
"Destroying the evidence."
"That's not the point." She refilled her glass. "One cup, Joshua."
"Yes, Mom," I called after her.
Then I noticed the gaggle--including, I noted with some irritation, Donna--surrounding the new guy from Human Resources. I felt a surge of brotherly protectiveness and headed off to the rescue.
"That is your name, isn't it?" the new guy was saying as I reached the group. "Donna?"
"Donnatella," I said. Not in an obnoxious way. Just, you know, making it clear that he'd better back off or we'd have to throw down.
"Donna," she said, with what looked like a thankful glance at me. "My name's Donna."
The new guy--his name is Ernie; need I say more?--was giving me a look. Trying to figure out if he'd be stepping on my toes if he kept hitting on my assistant. I was giving him a look, too. One that said: Step. Off.
"Ernie," Donna said. "Ernie, this is my boss, Josh Lyman."
"Donna," I said. "We have that thing."
"That work thing."
"Christmas Eve, Joshua."
"Government business, Donnatella." Trump card.
Of course, there wasn't really much work to be done, but I thought I'd give her an easy out. Donna narrowed her eyes, then turned and walked away. I shot Ernie a warning look and followed her.
After giving Donna a much-needed lesson on guys on the make, I paused in the doorway of my office.
"Is that all?" Donna stood right in front of me, arms crossed. "Because if there isn't any real work to do, I'm going back to where people are having actual fun."
"No, that's pretty much it. Now that I've successfully defended your virtue, you're free to leave." I retreated to my office and was halfway to my desk when I noticed it.
A sprig of mistletoe hanging precariously from my ceiling.
Now, who could possibly have put that there? I have my share of admirers in the office--most of whom are drawn to my sharp wit and winning smile--but I figured I should narrow my list to those who had motive and opportunity. In other words, the female half (I hoped) of the support staff involved in decorating the office.
Let's see... that'd be Ginger and Margaret and Bonnie and Donna--
"Should I call maintenance?"
"What? No, it's--" I tore my gaze from the mistletoe and glanced over at Donna. An interesting thought occurred to me. "What do you have there?"
"Your Christmas present," she entered the office and handed me a small box wrapped in silver paper. At least it wasn't that heinous designer paper with bells and plant life and small woodland creatures.
"You bought me a Christmas present?"
"Yes, Josh. It's traditional to exchange gifts at Christmas. You didn't get me skis, and I got you this."
I made short work of the paper and the box, which left me holding a fancy-looking bag of coffee. I think I gave the coffee a puzzled look.
"Well?" Donna asked.
"Coffee?" I asked. "You gave me coffee?"
"Not just any coffee. This is a very special gourmet blend."
"I give you a rare book, and you give me coffee?"
"It's the thought that counts, Josh." She had her wounded face on.
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you were thinking."
"That now you can't say I never bring you coffee," she said, with one of her delicate smiles. See why I couldn't function without this woman? She's sweet, she's thoughtful, she keeps me in line. She's sometimes completely unreasonable. "Also," she added, "that I could have bought you a very nice coffee press if I made more money."
I ignored the sudden, inexplicable urge to hug her. "So the hidden meaning behind this gift is that you want a raise?"
"I wouldn't exactly call it a hidden meaning, Josh."
Fair point. I put the coffee on the desk beside me. "If you ever got that raise, would you actually bring me coffee?"
"Only in your dreams."
I grinned at her. My occasional dreams involving Ms. Donnatella Moss never involved anything as banal as coffee.
"Okay," I said, "we had the carolers, the visit from St. Nick cleverly disguised as a morning news show weatherman, the drunken revelers at the office Christmas party, and the gift giving." I took a step closer to her. "What's next?"
"Well, we could watch 'It's a Wonderful Life,'" she suggested, "but I have a plane to catch in two hours."
"What about mistletoe?" I prompted.
"Mistletoe? What are you talking about?" She gave me a confused look. I didn't buy it for a second.
"Mistletoe," I rattled off, "a plant traditionally used as decoration during the Christmas season. In European folklore, mistletoe was believed to bestow fertility and to be an aphrodisiac. Which, you'll admit, is a useful combination. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was originally associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. The Scandanavian tradition holds that mistletoe represents peace; enemies could stand under the mistletoe to declare a truce," I raised my eyebrows, "or married couples could use it to kiss and make up."
"Josh, I'm impressed," Donna said. "Seriously."
"You don't work for Jed Bartlet this long without picking up some useless bits of trivia." I pushed the sudden, disturbing image of Jed Bartlet grinning proudly at me out of my head and concentrated on Donna. "So, Donnatella, should we move to the mistletoe portion of the evening?"
"Josh," she said, moving closer. "The tradition requires catching someone underneath the mistletoe," she said, from directly below it.
The crafty little minx.
I smirked and pointed out her handiwork. She glanced up, looked shocked, and I took that opportunity to plant one on her. A brotherly kiss, to be sure. I had no intention of... well, of anything except expressing my appreciation for her person in a non-verbal way. I gave her a sweet, chaste, close-mouthed kiss.
Until her hand landed on the back of my neck and she made this amazing little sound. Suddenly, we were kissing. Donna and I were kissing, and we were surprisingly good at it. Not awkward like during most first kisses, where you're trying to find the right angle, the right amount of aggression. This kiss just... worked.
Unfortunately, we were interrupted just as it was getting interesting. I belatedly heard the door open, and Donna jerked away from me.
I quickly removed my hand from her hair. "Jeez," I said, spotting CJ in the doorway, "doesn't anybody in this building ever knock?"
"I've said it before," CJ replied, "but I think it bears repeating: Boy, are you stupid!"
I scrambled for an answer that wasn't defensive. "That may be so, but we were being stupid in private until you barged in." Okay. So much for not sounding defensive.
"What the hell do you two think you're doing?" she demanded.
"Nothing," I sputtered, pointing up at the damn plant. "Mistletoe. Friendly kiss."
"Right," Donna nodded beside me.
"Friendly, my ass," CJ snorted.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" I demanded.
"Driving Donna to the airport," CJ answered. "And she told me to meet her here."
"What?" I turned on Donna. "You told her to meet you here? Are you insane? Are you actually an insane person?"
"Me?" Donna gaped at me. "You were the kisser; I was just the kissee."
"Oh yeah?" I wanted to point out that I wasn't running around hanging mistletoe over her desk, but I figured CJ was pissed enough without knowing this was premeditated. I may have missed a small portion of the conversation, having retreated behind my desk to think.
"It was just a little kiss, CJ," Donna pointed at the ceiling. "There's mistletoe, see? It was perfectly innocent."
"What I saw sure didn't look innocent," CJ replied. She had her arms crossed and that pissed-as-a-wet-cat look. I was a tad frightened. "It looked like full-blown tongue hockey."
"And the pot calls the kettle black," I pounced. Hey, it's kill or be killed sometimes.
"What?" CJ and Donna rounded on me.
"So I kissed Donna," I shrugged, doing my best impression of carelessness. "Under the mistletoe. On Christmas Eve. Big deal. It didn't mean anything."
"What do you mean it didn't mean anything?" Donna interjected.
Here's where I experienced the first inkling that I may have made a slight tactical error. But I ignored Donna and focused on CJ.
"And, yes, we're co-workers," I continued.
"You're her boss," CJ said.
"Yes. We work together. It's not like there's a conflict of interest involved." I crossed my arms. "It's not like she's a reporter and I'm, you know, the press secretary."
"This is about you and Donna, not me and Danny."
"But it could be."
"Are you trying to blackmail me, Josh?"
"No," Donna said. "No, he's not. No one is blackmailing anyone. It was just an innocent kiss." She glanced at me with this hurt look. "And apparently it was completely meaningless."
I lifted my hand, but Donna ignored me and turned back to CJ. "And nobody knows about it except the three of us. Disaster averted. Now if you two will stop arguing about it, CJ can drive me to the airport."
I tried again, "Donna--"
"Trust me, Josh," she avoided my eyes. "You really don't want to say anything else right now."
I watched her departure in shock.
CJ gave me an imperious look. "No more drinking, Josh," she commanded, then stalked after Donna.
Two and a half cups of eggnog later, I was feeling no pain. I wasn't feeling much of anything, actually.
Sam found me sprawled on my office floor, examining the carpet with a strange fascination. Somehow, he managed to manhandle me up into my chair.
I leaned back and blinked up at the mistletoe. "That," I told Sam, "is the spawn of Satan."
Sam's brow furrowed, "The mistletoe?"
"Is the spawn of Satan."
"I'm just saying, isn't the spawn of Satan usually, you know, a mammal?"
I regarded him blearily for a moment. "You sound like Donnatella."
Sam looked amused. "How much have you had to drink, Josh?"
"Why does everyone keep asking that?" I tried to stand up and be righteous in my anger, but my legs had other ideas. I fell back into my chair. "I'm not drunk."
"Right," Sam grinned.
"And I did not kiss Donna," I said. "So just ignore what CJ said."
Sam was staring at me with an odd look, "What CJ said?"
"Yeah," I nodded for what seemed like hours. "What CJ said about seeing me kiss Donna. I didn't. And it was her fault anyway."
"Donna's," I explained, exasperated by his inability to follow my flawless logic.
"CJ said you kissed Donna, but you really didn't, and it's all somehow Donna's fault?" he asked.
"Yeah." My eyes slipped closed and the room tilted slightly.
I opened one eye.
Sam leaned on the desk, his face close to mine, "Please tell me you didn't hang mistletoe in your office so you could hit on your assistant."
"Cause that's not exactly something Leo would condone."
"Shit," I sat upright, nearly smashing my face into Sam's. "Did CJ tell Leo?"
"Josh," Sam straightened and shook his head. "I don't think CJ's told anyone."
"She told you."
"No, she didn't."
I gave him a puzzled look. "Then how do you know?"
"You told me."
I tried to go back over our conversation in my head, but couldn't quite follow it. I flopped back in my chair. "Whatever."
My phone rang. I fumbled with it for a moment, then answered, "Josh Lyman, deputy chief of staff and despoiler of virgins."
"I'm not spoiled," said a familiar voice, "and I'm definitely not a virgin."
I grinned stupidly, "I thought you weren't speaking to me."
"I'm not," Donna answered. "Except in my official capacity as your assistant."
Official capacity. Right. And if Donna was already at the airport, that meant CJ was on her way back. Which meant I had a finite amount of time before CJ arrived to rip me a new one. My alcohol haze faded slightly. "Then in my official capacity as your boss, tell me what you got on CJ."
"What?" Donna squeaked.
"I figure it was a nice long car ride; and you're doing the whole Thelma-and-Louise, men-are-scum thing," I was on a roll. I should drink more often. "She let some juicy little tidbit slip. Something we can use against her for the next few years. It's about Danny, isn't it?"
"Joshua Lyman," Donna used her peremptory tone, "there are days when I am ashamed to admit I know you."
"Come on; what did you get?" I wheedled. "Cause I was thinking of getting the IRS to investigate whether her goldfish constitutes an illegal gift, but I might be on shaky ground there."
Sam rolled his eyes.
"You think?" Donna asked sarcastically.
"Donna, you must have got something."
"Yes, I got a very long lecture about why you were at fault."
"Me?" I sputtered. "If I'm going down on this, Donnatella, I'm taking you with me."
Sam chuckled and took the receiver away from me. He clicked on the speakerphone and said, "Under the circumstances, Josh, that last sentence was quite the unfortunate choice of words."
"Sam?" Donna asked, her voice all tinny. "What are you doing in Josh's office?"
"I'm providing comfort in his time of tribulation. And can I just say that I'm totally behind the idea of you two crazy kids finding love?"
"Oh god, no!" Donna said. "Josh, please tell me you didn't tell Sam."
"Okay, I won't tell you," I replied, a little irritated by her horrified tone. It was all her damn fault, anyway.
"Josh," Donna asked, "how much eggnog did you drink after I left?"
"Three cups." So I rounded up. I'm sick of being labeled a lightweight when it comes to drinking. I'm a politician, dammit!
The room lurched to the left. I groaned and put my head down on the desk. Sam and Donna were having a hard-to-follow conversation about coffee and the Post, so I ignored them and thought about ways to keep CJ quiet.
I may have dozed off for a moment, but Sam's whining brought me around. I rolled my head sideways and yelled, "I wanna talk to Donnatella!"
"Josh, you're on speakerphone," Donna said patiently. "I can hear you just fine."
"I think I'm drunk, Donna." Not exactly a brilliant opening salvo.
"Yes, Josh, you are. You have a very sensitive system."
"I was not drunk when I kissed you." Did I just say that? Was that me?
"Okay," Donna said.
"Cause I just wanted to clarify that." No, I didn't. I really didn't. Why am I still talking? Why is Sam standing there grinning and letting me talk?
"Okay," Donna said again.
"And you did too kiss me back," I pointed out. "You were not just the kissee."
I paused to think over what I'd said and realized it could give someone who didn't know better the false impression that I had a thing for Donna. Which I didn't. I wanted to say something sensitive, something that would express my deep and genuine friendship with Donna, while emphasizing that any romantic feelings she may have towards me are unrequited.
"I do not love you, Donnatella Moss," I said.
And that, boys and girls, is why Joshua Lyman is not allowed to drink heavily.
"I don't love you either, Josh," Donna answered, punctuating her statement by hanging up abruptly.
"Wait," I said. "I meant--"
"Josh," Sam gave me a sympathetic look. "She hung up."
I stared up at him, "Did I just say--?"
"Yes," he answered.
I digested that for a moment. "Donna's gonna kill me."
"Yes," he said.
I dropped my head on the desk again, suddenly nauseous.
I heard my office door bang open. "Joshua," CJ said.
Sam gave me a pat on the back. "I think CJ's going to kill you first."
"Leave me alone," I whimpered. "I'm drunk."
CJ slammed her hand on the desk by my head. "What did I tell you?"
I propped my chin in my hand and mumbled, "You told me not to drink."
"And what did you do?" She had her arms crossed and was looking very fierce.
"I only had two cups."
Sam grinned, "I thought it was three?"
"Traitor," I muttered. "CJ--"
"Don't even try it, Joshua," she cut me off. "I reminded you of the Monument scandal."
Sam gave me a little wave, and turned to leave, "I believe that's my cue to leave."
"Sam," CJ raised her voice.
Sam halted midstep. "Yes?"
"Get your ass back here."
"Okay," Sam slowly turned back to face her. "Can I help you in some way?"
"I'm holding you responsible for this," she said.
"Me?" Sam gaped at her. "How am I responsible for Josh kissing Donna."
"She kissed me back," I interjected.
"Shut up," Sam and CJ said in unison.
"Fine." I dropped my head back into my arms.
"You're not responsible for that," CJ said to Sam. "You're responsible for this."
"I'm not his babysitter," Sam argued.
"What did I tell you last year?"
"What did I tell you, Sam?" CJ interrupted. "Didn't I say, 'Make sure Josh doesn't do this again, Sam?' Didn't I say, 'Who knows what trouble he'll get into next year?'"
"Yes," Sam admitted.
"So why am I trying to have a very important discussion with a very drunken Josh right now?"
"I got here after the three cups of eggnog."
"Two and a half," I mumbled.
"Josh," CJ warned.
"I'm just saying," I said, stupidly.
"Now is really not the time for you to nitpick, Joshua," CJ said. "Because I assure you, the press corps is not really going to care if it was two or three cups of eggnog; I'm guessing they'll be more interested in you groping your assistant in your office."
"I did not grope," I pushed myself into a sitting position. "Let me make it clear that there was no groping."
"And let me make clear that I'm going to kill you if anyone finds out about this," CJ said.
The way I was feeling, she wasn't going to have to kill me. And I really shouldn't have sat up so quickly. Sam took a good look at me and jumped into action.
He got the wastebasket in place just in time.
I hate Christmas.