Abstract Thoughts And Logical Reasoning

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Title: Abstract Thoughts And Logical Reasoning
Published: 17 Dec 04
Character(s): Josh, Donna
Category: Friendship
Rating: Teen
Summary: After Donna injures herself, Josh does some thinking about their relationship.
Notes: Set early season six, after she's recovered but before she leaves him. My first ever WW fic - yay do a happy dance!


"Jerk."

"Fired."

"Impervious."

"Dr Anders to Exam Three."

"Jane Myer, you have a telephone call. Please report to reception."

"Jerk."

"Fired."

"Impervious."

Silence. I count the seconds. One, two, three, four... "Jerk."

"How much longer are we going to continue this?"

"How long do you plan on living?"

"Fired."

"Impervious."

Okay then. I like the way she says impervious, there's a tiny almost imperceptible lisp-like thing at the end. It gives her an air of innocence. That kind of makes me want to protect her. Just a little. It's a good thing though, because I often find myself wanting to slap the living daylights out of her.

"Donnatella Moss, Exam Seven."

Thank God!

"Are you coming with me?"

"What are you, five? I'm gonna get some coffee."

"This is your fault you know."

"You should have taken your heels off."

"Jerk."

"So you said." She hobbles slowly after the nurse and I go searching for a coffee machine. Yes, I am a jerk. Yes, it is my fault.

~~

"DONNA!"

"Whaaat?"

"I need the thing!"

"What thing?"

"The thing."

She appears in my doorway holding a stack of folders and gives me a dirty look, "What thing?"

"The... thing."

"Okay, there are lots of things in this big wide world, Joshua, you have to be specific."

"The thing about the thing."

"The report?" she prompts.

"Yes! The report on the thing that I need to read before the meeting tomorrow. Come on, you know what I mean."

"Josh, I try not to know what you mean because it would probably make me insane. However, I am guessing which report you mean because I'm extremely clever."

"That you are. It's up there." I wave a hand at the bookcase.

"If you know where it is why are you making me get it?"

"Because I'm sitting down."

"I was sitting down too!"

"You were standing up; filing."

"I could have been sitting down," she mutters and drops some files on the edge of my desk. "Which box is it in?"

"Could be that one," I point to the top shelf and she gives me a very dirty look - the 'I Can't Believe You're Making Me Do This' look - as she drags a chair over.

"You might wanna take your shoes off."

"Do I tell you how to do your job?"

"Everyday."

"Well, if I had your job I wouldn't tell you how to do mine."

"If you had my job, what job would I be doing?"

"I told you - mine. Coffee boy."

"You don't get me coffee now!"

"That's because I waste my time trying to figure out your secret language. 'Donna, get me the thing; Donna, I need the thing; Donna, where's the thing'." She balances on the edge of the chair and stretches her hands to grab a box.

"Not that one." She gives me another look. This one is the 'You're Kidding Me' look. I smile and she rolls her eyes and grudgingly reaches for a different box.

"Is it this one?"

"Could be." Oooh, here comes the 'You're A Moron Josh' look.

"You know," she grumbles as she paws through the box, "if you replaced all our security codes with the word 'thing' then we'd have the greatest unbreakable language in the world. Still, seeing as I'm the only one actually able to decipher it," she puts back the box and opens another, "perhaps not."

"Try the first one."

"You said it wasn't in that one."

"I could be wrong."

"You're kidding me." Out comes the 'Death Death Death' look. "I don't have time for this, Josh."

"It's what I pay you for."

"You don't pay me, the government does."

"I am the government."

"You can keep telling yourself that, but until you personally sign my pay checks I'm gonna keep saying I work for them." She continues rummaging through the box and I resist the urge to tell her that, yes I actually did sign her paychecks for a time on the campaign trail. Well, we couldn't put her on staff - for a while there wasn't enough money coming in. I only paid her out of my pocket until she was put on staff and I only did it because I didn't want her to leave.

"It's not up here, Josh."

"Oh, well try..."

"Are you sure you even have it?"

"Toby might have it."

"Josh."

"Yeah, can you get it from him?"

"If you knew Toby had it why did you make me climb up here?"

"You have nice legs." I give her my patented, infallible 'See How Cute I Am With My Dimples' look, which normally works on her but gets me 'The Dimples Are NOT Working, Buster' look. Hmm. She shoves the box in place, the chair wobbling as she stretches across.

"Be careful," I warn, but it's a little too late as the chair tips dangerously. She leans unsuccessfully to correct the tilt and I'm up out of my seat to catch her but I'm too slow. I can't get to her in time. She loses her balance and falls backwards.

"Donna?" I lean over her prostrate body, "Are you okay?"

"Ow."

"Donna?"

She opens her eyes. 'The Revenge Will Be Mine' look. Not good.

"You're not gonna get OSHA involved are you?"

"Jerk."

~~

I can't find a coffee machine so I settle for some soda. It's nearly midnight and the ER is still buzzing. She's been in there close to an hour now and it took her two hours to be seen. Not bad really for a Thursday night, then again, the discrete flash of my White House card probably got her to be seen a little quicker. I like a job with benefits. I don't, however, like this hospital. Brings back bad memories. I close my eyes and try to forget. Five years is a long time, but sometimes it's not long enough.

"Josh?" She's standing over me.

"Do you have to sneak up on people like that?"

"What, are you afraid I'm gonna give you a heart attack?"

"I'm afraid you're plotting revenge for my making you climb up on the chair."

"See that's where I think you overestimate your power over me. You can't make me do anything."

"You should have taken your shoes off."

"I like MY SHOES. Well, I did like them, before the heel broke during my spectacular gymnastic dismount."

"I'll take you shoe shopping."

"Josh, the last time you took me to buy shoes, we were in your office surfing the Barney's online catalogue."

"We were shoe shopping."

"It's not the same thing!" She gives me a 'Men!' look. "Can we please leave now?"

"Your wish is my command." We start walking to the parking lot. "What did the doctor say?"

"Nothing permanently injured. Except maybe my pride. And my shoes. Just a little bruising. Gonna be sore for a few days and I have to lie down a lot. No doing anything that might put strain on my spine."

"That's a relief."

"Glad I didn't do too much damage while you were gawking at my legs."

"Well, you must be okay if you're making jokes."

"Aha, that would be the pills talking."

"Pain medication."

"Got it in one. Lovely stuff really. Not feeling the pain right now. Come to think of it, not really feeling most of my body."

"Get in the car."

"Ow."

"I thought you weren't feeling pain."

"It comes and goes."

I start the car and pull out of the lot. "What time am I meeting with Senator Kiley tomorrow?"

"Eleven."

"Then what?"

"HUD for a lunch meeting. OEOB with Toby for the meeting about the thing at two." I look over at her, but she's looking out the window.

"Then what?"

"Josh, I'm really tired and my back is starting to hurt again despite the drugs. Can we do this tomorrow?"

"Take the day off tomorrow."

"Okay, the last time I took a day off you kept calling me every ten minutes because you couldn't manage yourself effectively."

"I promise not to call you tomorrow."

"That'll happen."

"You saying I can't survive without you?"

"You'd never survive without me. You can't get from one state to another without me. You can't even tie a tie without me."

"I like to make you feel needed."

"Oh, believe me, I feel needed when I'm around you."

I let the remark pass and we fall into silence. It's starting to rain again. What is it with all the rain this week?

"Ow."

"Look, I'm sorry."

"I know."

"Seriously. Come stay at my place."

"The secret plan emerges."

"My bed is softer. I don't understand how you can sleep on a futon anyway."

"My budget dictates my sleeping arrangements."

"Well, tonight your boss dictates you sleep in his bed."

"That's sexual harassment."

"Like you don't love it."

"And where will you be sleeping?"

"I have a sofa."

"Okay."

"Okay? You're giving in?"

"I know it must be a new thing for you to win an argument against me, but yes, I am giving in only because your bed is softer and it is your fault I'm in pain."

"That was a little too easy. You're not going to... I don't know... smother me in the middle of the night?" I glance over again and she's smiling at me. Good sign. Or maybe, bad sign.

"Only if you ask me to."

"You'd do anything I asked?"

"Have I ever not done anything you asked?" she says with mock offense.

"You always manage to attach little addendums, notes, issues, favors, codices, appendages, supplements, attachments..."

"Okay enough, Mr Michener. Are you actually trying to make a valid point?"

"Not so much."

"Drive, James."

I drive. It's pouring down and we're nearly at my apartment when she says, "Josh?"

"Hmm?"

"I don't have any clothes at your place."

"Yeah," I reflect, "you used to."

"That was when I had to."

"You didn't have to look after me."

"I wanted to."

I pause and then smile, "Yeah."

"Anyway, you got yourself all better."

"Thanks to you."

"And the doctors, and the physiotherapists, and Stanley."

"Mainly you." I turn into my street. "I didn't mind having your things lying about."

"I minded. There was no need for me to still be half living there after a year; I wouldn't want my boyfriend to have his assistant's underwear lying about."

"Amy wouldn't have cared."

"Right. Anyway, clothes?"

"You can borrow a pair of my jammies."

"You still call them jammies? That's so adorable."

"Okay, well now you're not getting them." I scan the street for a parking spot and back the car in.

"You're withholding from me the pleasure of wearing your jammies?"

"Yes."

"Fine, I'll sleep naked."

"Jammies it is."

She raises her eyebrows at me, "Afraid of seeing me naked?"

"What? No! It's still raining."

"Nice evasion. Umbrella?"

"What?"

"Where is it?"

"Oh... the office."

"Josh!"

"Well, I didn't have time to get it when you were screaming in agony. I thought perhaps I should get you to the ER as quick as possible."

"I wasn't screaming."

"I was trying to avoid the possibility."

"Did I cry? Did I scream? Did I act all girly about it?"

"You keep saying ow."

"Well, after getting smacked in the back by the sharp corner of a desk, you would too, but the point is... no umbrella."

"Make a run for it."

"Yes. Yes, that's what I'm going to do."

"'Kay."

"You make a run for it. I'll hobble behind and get drenched. Don't worry about me."

"Don't pull the guilty Jewish mother thing on me."

Donna changes tactics and switches into femme fatale, complete with honeyed voice and batting eyelashes. "Would you please go get an umbrella for me?"

"I would, but it's at the office. And I'm not falling for that one either."

"You only have one umbrella?"

"I only have one body to protect from the rain," I shoot back.

"Tonight you have two."

"I'll know for next time then."

"Okay, well next time we're caught together in the rain the problem's solved, but for now..."

"For now, we'll just have to get wet."

"Fine by me," She opens the door and slides out, emitting the occasional 'ow' as I grab my bag and hurry around to the sidewalk. The rain is pouring down and I hold my suit jacket over both our heads as we plod slowly up the stairs to the front entrance.

"Ow."

"Only ten more."

"Ow."

"You're not gonna 'ow' at each step, are you?"

"Ow."

"'Kay."

Several ow's later we arrive at the top and I unlock the security door.

"It's a good thing you have an elevator in your building."

"That's why you're spending the night with me isn't it."

"No, it's because I want to be your love slave."

"I could accommodate you on that."

"In your dreams."

"Sadly, yes."

She smirks, slightly disrespectfully, and we shuffle down the hall; she's leaning heavily against me and I can tell she's in more pain than she wants to admit, possibly because she doesn't want me to think she's weak. I think it's highly unlikely though, considering I've seen her at her worst. Plus, I've seen her in much more pain when she was stretched out on that operating table in Germany and she actually admitted she was scared. Okay I'm not thinking about then. It's not a pleasant memory for me. I guess right now she's not willing to admit she's in pain because she doesn't want me to feel guilty. Which I am. Very guilty.

I don't like hurting her. I've done it before, but it's usually mentally or emotionally. Normally it happens when I've been tired and I raise my voice a little too loud, or when I've been a little too forceful in my demands. Also when I tell her she shouldn't date someone because it would affect my job, and when I insult her taste in men and books. Last but not least are the snide comments I make about how she is just an assistant if she comes to me with valid and reasonable ideas about issues and I don't want to hear them because I'm too stressed.

She doesn't say it, and tries not to let me see it by going back to her work with a professional air even though each little thing must cut a tiny piece of her down. I don't know why I do it. She doesn't deserve it. She's so good to me. I shouldn't hurt her feelings so much - now I've actually physically injured her.

"Josh?"

"Wh..?"

"Have you spaced out? I've said ow like thirty seven times so far and we're standing in front of your door."

"Ah."

"Key?"

I unlock the door and we hobble in.

"Your apartment is freezing, Josh."

"That's because you're soaked."

"So are you," she yawns. "Sorry, tired."

I drop my jacket and our bags on the kitchen counter, "That would be the drugs."

"That would be the fact I've been up since five this morning."

"Five yesterday. It's after midnight."

"No wonder."

"Come on, let's get you out of those wet clothes."

"Warming up to the love slave idea?"

"A nice shower's gonna warm you up. I'm gonna find you my jammies - don't say a word - and then you're going to sleep."

"Okay."

"Okay," I wrap my arm around her shoulders and slowly guide her to the bathroom. Her gait has slowed considerably and I patiently match her speed until I balance her on the lid of the toilet seat.

"Fresh towels," I give her two proudly. "See, I can do laundry."

"Josh, you get a little Chinese lady to do your laundry."

"Well, it's my contribution to the economy. "

"Very noble of you."

"I try." I get my jammies - sorry, I was raised using the word and I can't shake it now, despite being the wrong side of forty - and give them to Donna. "They're clean, Lau Wing dropped them off yesterday." She watches me turn the faucet on and adjust the flow until it's toasty warm. "In you get."

"Josh?"

"What?"

"Maybe you want to leave now."

"You bet." I shut the door behind me with the sinking realization she's probably laughing at me and rip off my tie. I'm still wet, but all the towels are in the bathroom and there's no way I'm going back in there now. So I settle for a few sheets of paper towels to mop off the excess water and change into sweats, t-shirt and a thick pair of socks. CNN is going on and on about the new rail workers union package due to be voted on next week but all I can hear is the occasional ow, ow, ow from the bathroom.

Beer, I need a beer. Hmm, no beer. Okay then. I turn CNN a little louder and try to concentrate.

"ARGH!"

Okay that was a little different. I run to the bathroom. "Donna?"

The shower switches off. "What?"

"Are you okay?"

"Not so much."

"Do you need help?"

"My hands were slippery and I dropped the shampoo bottle."

"You didn't try and pick it up by any chance?"

"Maybe."

"Do you need help?" I ask again.

"Only if you keep your eyes on the floor, Lyman."

"On my honor."

"Okay then."

I open the door, torso lowered, keeping my focus squarely on the grey tiled floor and shuffle over to the shower area.

"I like your toenail polish."

"Josh!"

"My eyes are on the floor!" Her toenails are painted purple: rich, dark, royal purple. Her feet are wet and her ankles have stray soap suds sliding down.

"Shampoo please?"

I retrieve the bottle and wave it over my head.

"Thanks."

"Glad to help."

"You can leave now."

"Why purple?"

"Because I like the color." She wiggles her toes and then bangs me on the head with the shampoo bottle. "Get out."

"Fine, you don't have to get aggressive." I turn around and straighten up. "Ow, my back."

"Don't even think about it," she warns and I hustle out as quickly as I can in case she actually throws something at my head as she's been known to do. The shower starts up again and I go back to the kitchen, turn off the tv, dig my cell out of my backpack and dial.

"It's me - reporting in."

"How's Donna?"

"Nothing broken, everything a little bruised."

"You're an idiot."

"Yeah, I know." I feel on edge a bit and I don't know why. Maybe I'm hungry.

"I need to see you and Toby first thing tomorrow."

"Yeah?" Maybe I have a donut somewhere.

"Are you listening to me?"

How long has this cheese been in here? "Not really, no."

"You sound odd."

"My head is in the fridge looking for sustenance."

"Eat some fruit."

"Yeah, that's gonna happen."

"Night, Josh."

"Night, CJ."

"What did she want?"

I emerge from the sub zero and grin. "Hey."

"Hey yourself."

Her hair is wet, messily pushed behind her ears and she's wearing my jammies. The big floppy ones with red trim that used to be blue but have now faded to a soft grey. They're way too big for her, the sleeves dangling over her fingers and the cuffs dragging on the floor.

"You look good."

"They're a bit big," she waves a hand around to demonstrate and I grab her wrist.

"Here," I start rolling the sleeve up and she smiles.

"Thanks."

"They're my favorite jammies."

"That's because your mother bought them."

"No," I move to the other sleeve. Her hand is warm and I focus on making this side even. "It's because you're wearing them."

"Smooth."

"Hey I have to try all my lines on you before I release them onto the general female population."

"Well, the general female population would see through that line."

"Hey, it's a good one!" I exclaim and release her wrist.

"Thanks, and exactly how many times have you used that line with success?"

"Well, I've used it once and the girl responded by calling me smooth. So it could be considered a success except I think she was being sarcastic."

"You think?"

I shrug, "I'm taking it as a compliment though. I am a pretty smooth guy."

"You know what women want."

"Yeah, I don't want to brag."

"Know what I want right now?" Donna's eyebrows rise slightly.

"What?"

"C'mon, Josh," she coaxes.

"Uh." Okay what's going on here, I've lost the power of speech. I've lost it because she's standing so close to me looking right into my eyes and I'm feeling trapped for some reason.

"I want..."

"Yeah?" Okay good. Yeah is good. It's a word. Progress.

"I want to hurt you so bad so you can feel maybe one tiny speck of what I'm feeling."

Wait... what just happened here?

"Oh don't give me that look," she sighs impatiently and shuffles to the fridge. "No beer?"

"Fresh out."

"Great. Because of you my back feels like someone's used me for batting practice, I didn't finish the research on the spotted owl for the EPA, I'm gonna have a bad hair day tomorrow because it hurts too much to lift my arms up to brush my hair and there's NO BEER." She roars the last bit, which surprises me. She yells at me all the time but this is different, her voice doesn't have the general element of exasperation reserved for when I do Josh-like things - this is genuine frustration, mixed with... I don't know what. I look at her and she curves her mouth into a small smile.

"Sorry, I think the drugs are wearing off."

"Want some aspirin?"

"Yeah."

I go back to the bathroom and grab a bottle from the cabinet. I spot my comb lying by the sink. Hmm, I'm a genius. I remove the loose hair - at this rate I'm gonna be bald by the new year - and fill a glass with water.

"Here." I find her sitting on the sofa and hand her the aspirin and the glass. Why do I feel confused again? The next bit's not so hard. She's drinking the water down and I'm standing over here. I feel almost... nervous? Why?

"Thanks," she gives the glass back to me and I set it on the coffee table.

"Donna?"

"Josh."

"Do you want me to brush your hair?" She looks at me with slight uncertainty. "I mean, since you can't do it yourself and I don't want you to have a bad hair day."

"Okay," she smiles. I sit down, she turns her face away and I start to untangle the knots with my comb. I'm trying to be gentle as I hold her hair in one hand and draw the comb through with the other. Silence sits around us and I keep combing - long strokes from the top of her head. There's something amazingly soothing about brushing Donna's hair and I'm done all too quickly. I don't want to stop touching her hair so I drop the comb and let my fingers wind through the wet strands, up past the nape of her neck, around her head pressing my fingers slightly into her scalp and back down again.

"Mmm," she murmurs. "That feels nice."

"Yep." Oh, solid stuff Lyman, back to the monosyllabic Toby answers.

"You're good," she adds as my fingers twist through. "I may have to hurt myself more often just to get a little attention."

"You've always got my attention, Donna."

"Only when you want something from me."

"We should change that." Hang on, where did that come from?

"Yeah, we should." She lets her head fall forward slightly and I work my thumbs down to the base of her skull, pushing gently into the muscle on either side of her neck.

"Ohhhh," she sighs. "Yes."

"Do you like that?" Oh no, my voice has gone all deep and husky. I must be getting a cold. It's all the rain.

"Mmhmm," she breathes.

"Do you want me to do your back?"

Okay, that wasn't my voice... right?

"Oh yes."

Must have been. Huh, how about that? She's expecting something now. Oh right, back massage.

"Okay well, why don't you go take your top off and lie down on the bed. No wait, don't take your top off, I mean...sorry."

"Josh, you're an idiot."

"You don't want a back rub?" I ask, trying to keep the disappointment out of my voice.

"Oh, no I want one. It's the least you can do, really. I was just calling you an idiot."

"'Kay."

"Relax."

"'Kay." She rises and goes into my bedroom and I follow a little bit too quickly for my own liking. I'll have to think about that someday.

"Just... uh... lie down. I have... I'll be right back." I escape into the bathroom. Okay now I really am being smooth here. She's right - I am an idiot. I look at my reflection in the mirror over the sink. What's with me tonight? I feel seriously off balance for some reason. I must be getting sick - I definitely have a fever. I can't be feeling so warm for no reason.

"Josh?"

"Just a second!" I find what I need, step back into the bedroom and stop dead. She's lying on her stomach on my bed with my jammies on. The bad thing is - although I can't call it a bad thing, it's a good thing, no wait it's a bad thing, yes it's very bad - she's taken the top off and put it on backwards like a hospital gown. It's open. All the way. Her back is naked. On my bed. In front of me.

"Donna!"

"Yes?"

"You're..." She's resting her head on her arms, watching me as I stand like a stupid idiot. I hold up the bottle. "I have lotion." Oh well done, you lame moron.

"Is that mine?"

"No, it's mine."

"Since when did you start using lotion?"

"Well yeah, it was actually for you. I mean it's your brand right?"

"You know it is."

"It was on sale, I bought it as a present and forgot to give it to you," I'm such a big liar, I'm going to burn in hell.

"You bought it so you could have a little reminder of me around," she teases. Fine I can play along and pretend that what she thinks is a joke, really is a joke and not the serious truth of me liking the idea of having something of hers in my apartment.

"Yep, well I miss you so much at night that I like to have something that smells of you in case I get scared."

"Little baby Joshie scared?"

"Right, no massage."

"No, I'll behave." She looks up at me with those wide innocent eyes. "C'mon, my back is cold."

"I was going to do your back over your clothes."

"Josh, you know you wanted to do me naked, which is why you went racing off to get lotion," she deadpans.

Oh no, the speechless fool has made a triumphant return. Why did I get the lotion? I mean... hang on.... It was automatic. Yeah, that's it.

"Kidding. Would you close your mouth and get over here already."

"You bet." Okay much better. Words are still words, even if they're dim-witted ones.

She slides her arms down by her sides and nestles her face into the pillow and I approach the bed to try to figure out the best way to do this. Okay, I'll just sit next to her.

"Are you going to stand there all night or what?"

"Okay." Well, she's offering and you know what? I'm not going to argue with her. I climb onto the bed and swing one leg over her body, straddling her hips.

"I'm just gonna, um... hover like this, okay?"

"Sure," she agrees and I open the bottle of lotion and squirt a blob onto my hands.

"Good thing I got such strong thighs, otherwise I'd have to sit on you." I joke then jump in fright when I feel a hand fondling my right leg. "Donna!"

"I wanted to check for myself. You can't just make a comment like that and not expect anyone to check for themselves." She looks over her shoulder and grins mischievously.

"Okay well, you can stop touching me now."

"Only, if you start touching me."

"Right, yes, I was going to do that wasn't I."

"You were," she lets her head burrow back into the pillow and I rub my hands together to warm the lotion and gently touch the skin on her left shoulder.

"Mmmm."

I knead the muscle softly, working the lotion into her pale skin, slowly moving my hands across the span of her back.

"You're really stiff, Donna."

"Yeah, my boss works me too hard."

"You should demand a pay rise."

"Nah, he's a Scrooge," she mutters. "But I love him anyway."

Huh? She does?

"He doesn't deserve you." I slide my hands down the bones of her spine, taking care not to press too deep.

"He wouldn't know what to do if I left."

"He'd probably go into mourning, and walk around the office all day looking depressed."

"We have someone called Toby who does that already."

"Well, your boss will have to become the office crazy person then."

"He is the office crazy person."

"Ahh, then his work is done." I stroke the smooth creamy skin in the small of her back and she tenses.

"Sorry, did I hurt you?"

"No," she admits.

"Are you ticklish here?" I circle my fingers around the curve and she stiffens again.

"No," she squeaks out and I grin.

"You should never admit to being ticklish," I admonish and run a finger back and forth over her skin just above the waistband of the pajama bottoms. There's a succession of snorting noises from where she's pressed her face into the pillow to hide the giggles. Her body is shaking from laughter and I can't help continuing, sliding down further. The pajama bottoms, because they're so big, are yielding easily to my fingers and I don't realize how low I'm getting, mesmerized by the delicate shudders of her body until her hand grabs my leg again.

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Stay above the equator buster. There will be no going south for the winter tonight."

"Oh, sorry."

"You have to earn it. Keep doing my back."

"Right." I move my hands to a higher location and continue kneading her flesh. I honestly didn't realize I was so low. Honestly.

"Tell me if I'm too hard okay?"

"Oh, Josh, I'm sure you're the first person to know when you're hard."

"You'd be the second."

"Hmm." She falls silent again and I continue to manipulate her skin. Her skin is so soft and pale. I like it a lot. Her back is really nice too. It's a nice shaped back. I like that too.

What am I saying?

I'm now a babbling fool. At least it's in my head. Wouldn't want to say it out loud, though.

"Your skin is really soft." Damn. Okay distraction. Distract her. Come on, Josh.

"Thanks," she says, sounding surprised. "Your hands feel good. Where did you learn to massage like that?"

"Uh, around." What is this? Where's my wit gone? Where are my clever responses? Hello, are you lost? Come back to me, I can't do this alone.

"You have magic fingers, my friend. Magic Fingers Lyman."

"I'm in demand."

"Keep telling yourself that, buddy."

"You don't think people are lining up for my touch?"

"I thi- owww!"

"Did I hurt you?"

"Oh no, that was good. Do it again."

"Where? Here?"

"Up a bit... yes there. Do me there."

I press my hands into the muscle and she groans.

"Oh yessss. Mmm."

I push a little deeper and the noises continue.

"Oooh."

A little harder.

"Ohhhhhh, Josh, yessss," she sighs the last word and I suddenly can't breathe. Air. People need air.

I can't breathe!

I wrench my hands away and cry, "Okay, okay stop it!"

"What?"

"You can't just make... noises like that."

"What noises?" She looks over her shoulder and regards me with confusion.

"Sex noises. You just can't make sex noises when I'm on top of you like this. It makes me very uncomfortable."

"Okay, first of all, relax please. Second, they weren't sex noises, they were wordless, appreciative praises and third," she raises her eyebrows in amusement, "you don't want me making noises when you're on top of me?"

"No! I mean yes! Yes, don't make noises when I'm on top of you."

"What if I was on top of you? Would you want me to make noise then?"

"No, Donna!"

"What?"

"Why are we even talking about this?"

"You raised the issue."

"Nothing's being raised here. Nothing," I repeat emphatically. "Look, I'll do your back but you gotta stop moaning like that. Please."

"Okay you big baby, I'll be quiet."

"That's all I've ever asked."

"Shut up."

"You shut up."

"You."

"Donna, the magic fingers are gonna find something else to do."

"Shutting up now." For once she actually does and I continue to massage the wonderful softness of her back. The rain is hammering against the window and shadows line the walls of my bedroom and I can't get enough of touching her skin. It's addictive somehow and I go into a weird daze like thing until I realize her breathing has slowed and she's close to sleep. Any feeling in my legs has long gone, leaving me in danger of collapsing on top of her.

"Donna?"

"Hmm." Her voice is low and thick with sleep.

"I'm stopping now."

"Mmm." I take that as a thank you and painfully slither to the other side of the bed. Ow. Dead legs. I stretch them out and look over at her. Her eyes are half closed and she's smiling a soft dreamy smile that makes me feel sort of... odd.

"Thanks." Her hand slides over to clasp mine and she gives it a little squeeze.

"No problem."

She smiles again, slowly and languidly, the kind of smile that women smile when they're completely relaxed. It's the smile that a woman smiles when she's been... satisfied.

Okay, I shouldn't be thinking like this at all.

How would I know what she looks like when she's been satisfied? I don't know. I don't want to know. Not my business.

She's still holding my hand though. She has a small hand, it fits nicely into mine and I curl my fingers around and squeeze back. This is okay. Friends hold each other's hands.

It's normal.

I sit there holding my friend's hand and watch as she drifts off to sleep. It's slow and gradual and almost hypnotic watching her body droop into the bed, her breathing gently rhythmic. I've never actually watched her fall asleep before. I like it. It makes me feel... protective I think. Her hand has gone limp now, she's off with the fairies so I reach over and carefully button up the pajama top. I feel vague regret when the last button has been closed and I can no longer see the lovely paleness of her skin. I reluctantly climb off the bed as gently as I can and pad into the bathroom to brush my teeth. Her damp clothes are lying in a heap on the floor and I think perhaps it'll be a nice thing to hang them up so they won't crease too much.

I'm a nice guy.

I shake out her shirt and try to smooth the wrinkles. I like this top, it's a sort of purply pink thing with little sleeves and the neckline is low but not too low. I like that she can dress so neat and professional but still look so casual. The fabric smells a bit like her perfume although I know it's not perfume, it's an aromatic spray thing that I bought her last Christmas instead of taking her to Hawaii. So that's why I like it. It has flowers and coconut and something tropical - I don't know what - but it's nice. It smelled okay in the bottle and it reminded me of her so I bought it. It smells different on her clothing though. I breathe the fragrance in.

Yeah different somehow, but better I think. Softer and warmer. It's a girl thing. Girl skin always makes things smell different. I drape the shirt over the towel rail and shake out her trousers and lay them next to the shirt and realize in doing so her underwear is now lying on my bathroom floor. Top and bottom. She's wearing no underwear right now. I was right there, on top of her - well sort of - and she was wearing no underwear.

Hang on, she's in my jammies with no underwear.

I have to sit down. Ah, blood rushing away from the head and into other parts that it should not be rushing to.

Okay relax Lyman, relax. Deep calming breaths. Think of butterflies, little kittens. Okay not working. CJ, Leo, Margaret, Ginger... Toby! Yes, Toby.

Okay focusing on Toby. I am under control, I am in control.

Excellent.

Well what to do now? One thing at a time. I pick up her bra. It's a nice bra, with colors and... oh who am I kidding? I can cope with holding her bra. It's a bra. It's not as... intimate as the other thing and I don't quite understand what's going on here. I mean, I've held her underwear before, once actually and it was years ago and only because she'd been a klutz. So why am I having a problem now? Not so much a problem as a... reaction. Am I... am I... no! That's silly. Okay business face, get this done. I can't leave them lying there abandoned. Okay pick them up and... then what? Okay bag, I can put them in a bag.

Genius, Lyman, you are the cleverest ever. Bag!

I saunter into the kitchen, grab a paper bag previously used for fruit or groceries, oh who cares, and saunter back to the bathroom. Casual is the way to go here. Okay I have the bag, bra goes into bag.

Easy.

Okay next bit, not gonna be so easy and I don't know why.

Why? Why can't I just pick them up and put them in the bag. I'm an adult here, I'm like third in command of the entire White House and the country and I cannot pick up my assistant's little cotton underpants. Why?

Okay, well what's needed here is a pow wow. With myself of course, but honestly I'm usually the only one with any good responses in a pow wow so yes, this should be easy.

Right.

Well okay then, I've handled her underwear before, and Sam was right next to me, and Donna was watching me. It was in full view of all. I was making fun of her and I wasn't this nervous. I'm not nervous now. I'm... actually really aroused.

Wow.

That was unexpected.

I mean, obviously the physical reaction my body is having is definitely due to seeing a woman's underwear for the first time in... too long for me to even admit. But it's now caught up with my brain that it's her underwear doing it and I am... seriously turned on by my assistant.

I feel sort of seedy saying it like this so I'm gonna try it another way.

I am turned on by Donna.

Donna turns me on.

What am I - a light switch?

Donna makes me feel like a man? Okay well that just makes me seem weak and effeminate. I don't want to think of her like that though. Do I?

I mean, do I really want to be sexually attracted to Donna? How on earth can I work with her? And she's my best friend, she knows everything about me. Except this of course because I only just figured it out. Not that I've figured out anything! But, how should I act around her now? Is this something that might last awhile? I'm so confused here.

Okay let's look at this from the beginning. I've known this woman for eight years and can I honestly say I've never been attracted to her?

No.

I have.

She's not ugly.

Her hair is really long and it's always so silky and shiny. She has a great body and her eyes are so big and wide her mouth is full and her lips always look so soft. Right! Well, okay: physical things aside, I'm going to deal with this when I remove the underwear from my line of sight because it's just sitting there, mocking my ability to be an adult. And the floor is cold.

I can do this.

One... two... three... Success. It's in the bag. I laugh to myself and then realize that I'm truly a crazy old man. I creep into the kitchen because maybe if I do some work it'll take my mind off things. Donna's bag is still lying on the counter, its long handles tangled in the straps of my backpack. As I pull them apart, her wallet falls on the floor. It's nice: a soft red leather thing. Lots of pockets. Women like pockets in their wallets. I open the clasp and skim through. She has a photo of her family, and one of all of us taken at the first Inauguration.

Wow, look at all my hair. What a shame.

I pull the photo out of the sleeve to examine my hairline and reveal another photo that was hidden behind. It's of the two of us, taken... wow I have no idea when this was taken. We're looking at the camera but it's not a posed shot; she's leaning against me, my arms are around her waist, her head is snuggled in to the crook of my neck and we're both grinning like maniacs. I can't remember when this was taken. She looks so energetic, happy and bursting with joy. I look exactly the same. It's a good photo of us, a really good one actually. She's got it hidden behind another one in her wallet.

I wonder why.

If I had a photo like this I'd stick it in a nice frame and put it on my bedside table so I could look at her at night.

Hmm.

I'm looking at things differently here. I've never actually thought about her in any way other than assistant. And best friend of course, but this is different. What I'm feeling is... bizarre.

I replace the photos and wallet and close her bag. I don't want to work now. I want to go back and lie beside her; I want to watch her sleep. I want to sleep with her... but I don't want to sleep with her. I turn off the kitchen light and tiptoe back into the bedroom. She's still in the same position, flat on her stomach, head nestled in my pillow, breathing softy. I climb gingerly back onto the bed and lie on my side, facing her. Her hair is fanned out across the pillow, contrasting with the dark blue fabric. She really is very beautiful. I have to figure this out because I sure as hell don't know what's going on here.

I like that she's wearing my jammies.

Even if she's naked underneath.

Okay, not helping.

I mean, sure she's beautiful. I've told her before - many times - how good she looks, especially when she dresses up. But it's always a secondary thing, you know? Like I won't notice what she's wearing right away, I just see her, and then I see what she's got on. So obviously, I'm not shallow. But then, doesn't that make me... I don't know... oblivious?

The first few times - okay the first many many times she appeared in my office doorway, the bull pen, a function thing - anywhere requiring something slightly more dressy - I was always surprised she could look so good. I mean, she always looks good. But, more so.

What am I trying to say here?

I'm trying to say ... wait a second... all those times I was astonished because she looked... desirable.

Yep.

There it is.

All those double takes were because I was... seeing her as another person? Not an assistant but... a woman?

An actual living breathing red-blooded woman, in the very biblical sense of the word.

So okay then, I've figured out that Donna's a woman, and that I'm attracted to her, which is why I can't pick up her underwear without having an extreme male reaction. But I've known her for so long. I've seen her at her worst and she's definitely seen me at my worst. Then why am I now seeing her as a desirable woman? A woman I really, really desire.

Maybe I'm desperate.

Well, okay I'm not gonna admit that because that really is desperate. I'm not desperate, I can get a woman.

Well, no, not so much really. And I certainly can't hold onto them once I get them. Yet, I managed to hold on to her for eight years, even if it was just a boss and employee relationship.

But it's not.

It's more than that, when did it stop being more than that? She is my best friend - when did I start thinking of her like that? When did I start calling her into my office for stupid things? When did I start making her climb up on chairs to retrieve reports I knew weren't there just because I wanted to have her near me?

I admit it, today's - yesterday's really - debacle was just to have her near me.

I am a sad, sad man.

Our relationship has been so casual for so long, maybe not casual, maybe I mean relaxed. We'll share the same bottle of beer, she steals my fries, she finishes my sentences and I finish hers and sometimes we don't even have to say anything. She anticipates what I want and she'll have things ready for me even before the words are out of my mouth. How can she know me so well and still put up with me? How can I know her so well and only now be seeing her as... more?

It's still raining, noisy splatters echo against the windowpane but she doesn't wake up. She just sleeps, completely trusting, completely relaxed. I never sleep that well. Not for years and years. I had to study hard in college, and assignments in law school, followed by campaign trails and all the wheeling and dealing. And well... The White House Deputy Chief of Staff doesn't have a lot of time to sleep. He's too busy helping to run the country and doesn't have time to stop.

She made me stop once.

Well, quite frankly a bullet made me stop. Donna wanted to keep me locked up for three months with no access to the outside world, and absolutely no wheeling and dealing. I managed to whittle her down with the dimples - my mother was right when she said no woman would be able to resist my smile. Donna's fairly good at resisting it, though. Then she manages to somehow turn it back on me with those big Bambiesque eyes.

I wonder if her mother told her no man would be able to resist those eyes. When she turns them full force on me it's like a tractor beam. I'm putty in her hands. Of course, I can't let her know that, so I have to be fairly resistant and make her do something for me in return - usually something useless and ridiculous - just so she knows who's boss.

I'm the boss.

But the eyes turn me into putty.

I draw my legs up and curl onto my side so I can keep looking at her. I can't believe how beautiful she looks lying here in my bed. It's almost... natural.

Weird.

I don't think she's actually slept in my bed before. We've certainly fallen asleep in the same room while on the campaign trail. We've fallen asleep on each other's shoulders on Air Force One. She's often fallen asleep in my office while sitting in a chair, feet stretched over the other. And, of course, I've crashed at her place countless times because of my stupidity in not knowing just exactly how much not to drink before I become a bumbling idiot.

She takes care of me. I guess she thinks it's a job requirement, but it's become so much more than that. It was always more than that for me, I think, right from the start.

I don't know.

She evidently doesn't do it because she gets paid to do it, because of course she doesn't! She barely gets paid enough to cover everything that she does do, partly because I make her do so much more than I should and partly because she's worth so much more than anything she could be paid.

What I mean is - she's priceless.

I remember suddenly, how during my recovery so long ago, I'd be lying in bed, my body tight with fear about something I couldn't articulate and all it would take to help me relax was to hear Donna moving about the house. All the tension would leave. I'd stagger painfully to the kitchen to get a glass of water and I'd see her sprawled on the sofa working on some stupid bit of research. The minute she'd see me she'd leap up scattering papers everywhere, lead me back to bed and get whatever I wanted. She'd sit with me and hold my hand and stroke my forehead until I fell asleep again.

I want to hold her hand and stroke her hair now. I want to comfort her, like I wanted to in Germany but couldn't because of Colin. She needed the man she loved not her boss. I'm not thinking about it, I'm not thinking about how... jealous I felt when I saw them together.

Stop it, focus on something else.

Focus on tonight: she must have really hurt herself and it was my fault. I feel so stupid. I have to make it up to her.

Why does she put up with me? I'm not an easy person to be at the beck and call of. And yet she's stuck with me for eight years, minus the few weeks that I try to forget. It doesn't matter that she left, it only matters that she came back and stayed. I want her to stay with me.

It's the longest personal relationship I've ever had with a woman - apart from my mother - and it's comfortable. It's secure, safe, warm, and relaxed. It's full of funny moments, joy, peace - but it also has pain and anger, which we always manage to get through. She's such a part of my life - more so than I would want anyone else to be, more so than anyone else could ever be. I don't want to lose her.

And now I don't understand how this late night soliloquy originated from trying to figure out why I was so turned on by her underwear. It has now taken on a life of its own and segued into act two of a three act play.

I shift my body a little closer and stretch my hand out to touch her cheek. Why, I don't know. I just want to see if the skin on her face is as soft as on her back.

Yep.

Soft.

Okay I have to stop rubbing it.

Stop it.

Now.

Good boy.

But I don't quite want to remove my hand from her body and I slide it to her hair, her beautiful golden silken hair. Wow, it's even softer than her skin if such a thing is possible. I mean, I knew she had soft hair because I just brushed it. I also knew she had soft skin because I've danced with her. I've hugged her and I've touched her occasionally - all very innocent. And of course, she's held my hand and stroked my forehead and we've crashed into each other countless times in the hallways of the West Wing. So it's not as though I don't know what she feels like. Right now, though, she feels amazing. Soft. She feels comfortable, I think. Kind of warm and maybe a little bit cozy. Very familiar.

I stroke her hair away from her face, brushing it back. It's dried off now and while it looks a little disheveled, I'm finding it really sexy somehow. She's really sexy with rumpled hair.

So okay, I think she's sexy now. Progress is always a good thing. Let's see what I've figured out so far. I'm turned on by her, I'm attracted to her, I think she's beautiful, I think she's sexy, I'm comfortable with her, I know everything about her and I want her to stay with me. Hmm.

I'm missing something here and I don't know what.

She makes me laugh.

Yep, all the time, and not just because of the dopey things she does or says. She makes me laugh because she always has stupid bits of information that she tries to waste my time with and while I truly don't have time or the interest, I really love it that she still wants to share things with me. She makes me laugh because she won't let me get away with things and I know she won't, yet I still try because it's so much fun to play with her. I remember all the jokes we used to pull, the banter, the word play, the quick back and forth bounce off each other. It's slowed down so much this past year. We lost the rhythm somewhere, somehow.

I want it back.

I want to blame the recent pressures of work. The last few months have been so odd, so much change and shift in everything and I want to talk to her about it. I want to sit down with her and really talk it through, so she can impart the wisdom she's always shown, so I can understand why I'm so out of touch with everything.

I can't.

I can't talk to her and I don't know why, I just can't do it. How can I tell her that I feel overlooked? Brushed to the side. People are leaving me out of things because they think I'm gonna screw them up. I should be able to ask for her advice because I know she used to feel that way. Hell, I was the one that mocked her when she did something silly, something girly, something blonde. And I didn't know it hurt her so much until I started feeling it myself so I sent her overseas to make her feel helpful and look what good came of that. She nearly died, and the guilt and the fear nearly killed me. I was afraid she was dead and then when I was at her bedside I was afraid she was going to leave me for a photographer. Stupid Colin. Stupid Irish stupid man.

Oh yeah, I'm good with the insults.

I want to give her more to do, I want to make her feel what... indebted to me? No. Valued? Well she should know she's valued. I mean, I don't tell her but surely she knows.

Right?

No wait...

I just figured it out. I don't want to give her more responsibility because she might be too good at it. She might find a better job. Someone might see how brilliant and clever and smart and witty and beautiful she is and they might take her away from me. She is too good for me. Her skills and abilities far exceed the position she's still in and I've kept her there.

Because I don't want her to go.

Well, of course not, I mean it'll take me too long to break in a new assistant and honestly where could I find someone willing to put up with me. Someone who knows how I like things, who is willing to stay late at work until all hours just to keep me company so I don't fall asleep or do something stupid like set the place on fire. Someone who will nag me to eat salad but still bring me fries smothered in ketchup - even though we both know she's going to steal them. Where am I supposed to find someone who will listen to my ranting when I call her at 3am because I've had an epiphany and need to be talked down from hyperactivity.

Donna's really good at doing that.

I don't want to go through the hassle of finding someone else, so I'm keeping her. Same job, same pay, same bastard for a boss.

I'm a bastard.

I am so undeserving of someone like her in so many ways and I want to tell her this but I don't know how to say it. I don't know how to tell her I need her.

I'm really tired now. I lie there watching as she shifts in her sleep and her hand flops palm side up near mine and I reach over and trace a finger over her thumb. She doesn't react so I follow the curve of her knuckle; up over her wrist and back round down to her palm. She's beautiful, she's so beautiful my chest hurts and for a minute I can't breathe. Why haven't I seen her this way before? What's so different about tonight that I can now feel her inside me? I want to touch every part of her body, run my hands over her creamy skin, have her watch me as I explore, have her want me to explore. I want to be inside her and I want her to be inside me. I want to love her and have her love me.

Wait.

What was that?

Back up there, Lyman.

I want to love her? But... I already... do love her. I do. She's my best friend; of course I love her. Best friends can love each other. No law against it. There's no law against falling in love with your best friend.

Wait.

Back it on right up there again partner.

There's no law in... falling in love...?

In love? Not just love, but in love?

I'm in love with her.

Hmm.

This is an interesting development. I try it on again for size. Experimentation is always a good thing.

I'm in love with her.

Donna.

My assistant.

Donna.

Moss.

Donnatella Moss.

Donnatella Lyman.

Okay, I went too far.

Donna Moss.

Better.

The woman I've known for nearly the last decade. The woman I've seen every single day almost. The woman I miss terribly when she isn't around. The woman who I share my lunch and dinner with and most often breakfast, who takes care of me in all the little ways without me even asking. The woman who took care of me for months when I was hurt. The woman lying next to me right now in my bed. She looks good. I like seeing her lying here. I want her to stay lying here.

I'm scared.

I'm suddenly scared witless. I don't know what to do, I don't know anything. It's all changed all of a sudden. I didn't see it coming. She's so beautiful, I can't stop thinking how beautiful she is and it's not what she looks like, it's what she is inside. I want her to be part of my life. Really part of it. In the non boss assistant way.

Maybe I can...

"I'd ask if I ever thought you'd say yes," I whisper.

"I'd say yes if you'd only ask."

Wait.

Oh, no. Not good. Her eyes are still closed and her breathing still steady. Maybe I'm imagining it.

"Josh?"

Nope. "I thought you were asleep?"

"Who can sleep with all that racket?"

"What racket?"

"You seriously have to stop thinking so loud."

"My thoughts keep you awake?" I have to distract her. For some reason I have to start the banter again. I have to take things back to where it's safe - where I feel safe. I'm in love her but I just can't... it's too soon.

"Josh, the mere thought of you keeps me awake."

"I didn't know I scared you that much." Banter, c'mon Donna banter. She opens one eye and looks over at me.

"Josh?"

"Yep."

"We'll talk in the morning, I'll be here." She closes the eye and I watch her as her breathing slows again; her back, encased in my faded blue jammies, rising and falling in perfect rhythm and now I know it. Now it fits. The words have been written. The book is complete. I can't - won't - deny it anymore.

I'm too old to be playing games now, especially with her. I wasn't denying it before you know; I just hadn't quite realized. It hadn't quite hit me over the head. I hadn't seen it coming. I hadn't seen my future was actually my past, my present, was lying right now next to me sleeping in my jammies.

She's definitely asleep again but I need to ask, need to vocalize what I want, what I need. It isn't too soon, it's not soon enough.

"Forever?" I whisper.

"You bet," she replies and smiles.



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