Josh bursts into the office. “My assistant has been abducted by an alien.”
Sam looks up from his salad, his mouth still half-full of leafy greens. “I thought Donna was on vacation?”
“She is,” Josh says. “With an alien.”
Sam swallows his greens. “She’s on vacation with a man from Canada?”
Josh frowns. “You know what? I need to take this to someone higher up on the food chain.” He slams the door on his way out, and Sam flinches.
“I’m plenty high on the food chain,” he says, somewhat sulkily, and takes another bite of his salad.
Leo looks up from a stack of files, takes one look at the expression on Josh’s face, and says, “Think very carefully before you say whatever you’re about to say to me.”
Josh closes his mouth, almost twitching from the effort. “I’m thinking.”
“Good. Now imagine that you’ve said it.”
“Now imagine my reaction.”
Josh goes pale.
Leo nods. “Exactly.” He looks back down at his stack of files. “This was a nice chat, Josh. We should have them more often.”
“Yes, sir,” Josh says, and nearly sprints out of the office.
Margaret’s head appears in the doorway. “He was going to tell you that Donna’s been abducted by an alien.”
“Good for her,” Leo says, and turns a page. “I hear Mars is lovely this time of year.”
“CJ, you’re her friend,” Josh says. “Aren’t you worried?”
CJ does not look worried. CJ looks amused. “She’s on vacation, numbnuts. That’s a temp sitting at her desk, not a pod person.”
“It could become a PR issue.”
CJ sits back in her chair, a grin spreading slowly across her face. “A PR issue. Really.”
“White House staffer caught in flagrante with our first proof of extraterrestrial life? What if there are photos?”
“Hold on. Did she get abducted by an alien or is she dating one?”
Josh points a warning finger at her. “Don’t say that this is an irrational fixation fueled by jealousy and repressed sexual attraction.”
“I’m not saying that.”
“Good. Because that’s what Charlie said, and he’s clearly not as bright as we all thought he was.”
“You know that I have actual work to do, right?”
“I’m not sexually attracted to Donna, CJ. I’m not.”
CJ taps a fingernail against the surface of her desk, and it sounds echoingly loud in the small office. “Is this a conversation you really want to have with me? Ever?”
He pauses. “No?”
She sighs. “Josh, she’s on vacation. She’s coming back.”
“Right,” Josh says, his eyes on the floor. “Yeah, of course she is.” He stands and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I just thought I’d give you a heads up. In case there are pictures.”
“Of Donna and the alien.”
“Yeah.” He walks to the door, and then he turns back. “You think the temp might be a pod person?”
“Go away now, Josh,” she says, and he does.
“No, seriously,” Josh says. “Are you even an American citizen?”
“’Course I am,” the temp says, Britishly. She holds up a small piece of paper. “See? Here’s my birth certificate.”
The paper looks blank for a dizzying moment, and then resolves itself into a perfectly normal birth certificate. Josh rubs his eyes. “Wait. Your name is Donna, too?”
“Yes, yes,” Donna the not-British temp says, “what an amazing coincidence, will wonders never cease.” She shoves a few file folders into his backpack and tosses it at him. “You have that meeting in the OEOB in ten minutes, and if you don’t start walking now you won’t have enough time to participate in five meaningless, bantering conversations along the way.” She slips a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. “You’re ready. Go now.”
Josh lifts the sunglasses and peers out from below the lenses. “My assistant was abducted by an alien, Donna.”
“Abducted is a strong word.”
“Abducted or not, she’s gone,” he says. “Don’t you think I should do something about that?”
The temp frowns, considering. “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I think you should.”
Josh grins. “Really?”
“No.” She turns back to her – to Donna’s – desk. “You’re going to be late, Josh. You’re going to be very late, and when your assistant comes back from outer space she’s going to be very angry about you being very late, and she’s going to be mostly angry at you.”
“I think she’s going to be mostly angry that I didn’t try to rescue her from the evil clutches of Mork from Ork.”
The temp looks at him over her shoulder, a sly expression on her face. “Mork and Mindy got married in the end, didn’t they?”
“I’m going to be late,” Josh says, and stalks out of the bullpen, scowling.
“Josh,” Toby says, “why are you in my office?”
“Because,” Josh says, his voice muffled by a cushion, “my office doesn’t have a couch.” He lifts his head slightly. “I can’t wallow without a couch.”
Toby leans back in his chair and folds his hands over his stomach. “I am not going to talk to you about Donna.”
“Which Donna? The one who ran off with an extraterrestrial pimp or the one who always looks like she’s about to slap me?”
“Donna didn’t run off.”
Josh sits up abruptly. “She did, Toby. She was pissed at me about – God, I can’t even remember, some stupid thing I said or did or didn’t say or do – and she pretended to be angry and I pretended not to care and it was just like any other stupid day until I came back from the Hill and found this on my desk.” He pulls a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and slaps it down in front of Toby.
On the piece of paper, in Donna’s loopy, nearly illegible script, it says:
This is just a quick note to let you know that this afternoon I met a very nice man in the supply closet by the Counsel’s office (you know the one – where they hide the good paperclips) and found myself embroiled in a rather delicate situation involving some dodgy fertilizer, man-eating mutant slugs from the Rose Garden, and Oliver Babish’s gavel. It all ended well, of course – you would’ve noticed by now if it hadn’t – and the very nice man (who is an alien) and his very nice friend (who is very good with a gavel) suggested that I take a few days off to travel the universe.
So that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I’m due two weeks vacation time (don’t worry, I’m only using one) and I’ve straightened everything out with Leo’s office, so there shouldn’t be any problems – unless you’re the one causing them. My phone will be turned off and probably rendered completely anachronistic, and as I plan to spend a good bit of the week in Renaissance Italy you won’t be able to reach me by e-mail either. I’ve left you with an excellent temporary replacement; she’s eager to spend some time in the West Wing, and I’m pretty sure she can yell louder than you.
In different, blocky handwriting, it says: Bit of advice: when you make her angry, turn your head with the slap. It takes some of the sting out of it.
He’s just kidding, Donna writes. She won’t slap you. Probably.
See you in a week,
Toby sits back and scratches his fingernails through the short hairs of his beard. He stares at the note for a long moment. “Okay,” he says. “I’ll make a couple of calls.”
A week later the building is quiet, the offices dark, and the dim lights of the bullpen cast long shadows on the carpets, and on the glass. In the distance there is the sound of a lone vacuum cleaner.
Josh sits alone in his office, his chair turned to the window, and watches the night sky.
“I’m actually right behind you,” Donna says, “but I appreciate the poetry of the tableau.”
Josh spins in his chair. “You’re back.”
Donna steps into the doorway, her hair a pale halo in the low light. She smiles. “Of course I’m back. My vacation’s over.”
He opens his mouth, then closes it again with an audible click. “I might have freaked out a little while you were gone.”
“Really?” Donna says. “How unlike you.” She walks into the office and leans against the edge of the desk, looking down at him. “Toby called UNIT on me. It caused a bit of an international incident.”
“I’ll explain later.” She reaches over and straightens the knot of his tie. “I left you a note, Josh. I told you I was coming back.”
“You told me you were going to Renaissance Italy with an alien you met in a supply closet.”
“Yes, and it was lovely. Thanks for asking.”
He stands. “Donna, you don’t understand. When I read the note I thought you’d either finally gone completely nuts or—”
She lifts her chin. “Or what?”
He looks down, his face lined and tired. “I didn’t believe you, not until I saw the Rose Garden.”
“We wrecked it.”
“To be fair, the man-eating mutant slugs deserve some of the blame, too.” She looks away. “I was always going to come back, Josh.”
“Yeah,” he says, “I know.”
“You obviously don’t.” Her jaw tenses, and she meets his eyes again. “You know I love my job.”
“That doesn’t mean—” He stops, rubs his hand over his face. “Donna, if I were a time-traveling alien and you helped me bludgeon mutant slugs to death with a gavel I don’t think I’d ever want you to leave.”
Donna smiles, and her eyes shine in the meager light. “Oh, Josh. You have to call them man-eating mutant slugs – otherwise it just sounds like we were being cruel.” She kisses his cheek, softly. Her lips are dry and uncertain, and her hands hover over his shoulders, her fingers brushing cloth. “I missed you. Idiot.”
He rests his hands on her waist, just for a moment, and lets himself hold on.
A strange sound echoes through the halls of the West Wing.
The President looks up from his book. The strange sound grows louder and stranger for a moment, then slowly fades. The President stands and walks to the door to Leo’s office. He opens the door a crack and peers through. “Leo, did you hear that?”
“Hmm?” Leo says. He looks up from his work. “Hear what, sir?”
“The sound like a piano going through a blender.”
Leo grins. “You think Donna’s back from her vacation?”
“Either that or someone in the kitchens is in the middle of a very odd experiment.” The President comes into the office and sits in one of the comfier chairs. “Admit it, Leo. You’re a little jealous.”
“Of Donna?” Leo chuckles. “We’re a bit old to go off gallivanting through time and space again, don’t you think?”
“Speak for yourself, old man. I’m fit as a fiddle.”
Leo sits back in his chair, smirking. “Mr. President, you could barely keep up the first time. If I hadn’t been there to drag you away from those robot turtle things—”
“Chelonians, Leo, Chelonians. I remember that – I was just about to begin armistice negotiations with one of their generals when you swooped in, threatened to blow them all to bits with a fake bomb, and pulled me away by my collar.” He pauses, frowning. “Not one of our more dignified moments.”
“But we didn’t die.”
“No,” the President says. “We didn’t.” He rubs his hands together and looks down at the carpet. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he didn’t stop by to say hello.”
Leo’s expression softens. “Not his style.”
“No. Of course not.” He stands. “You know, I think I’m going to go ask Donna what she thought of Leonardo da Vinci.”
“Ask her what she thought of his cooking.”
“Because I don’t care how many times you tell me he was a genius, the genius of all geniuses, the man couldn’t boil a damn pot of pasta without ruining it.”
The President grins. “You, Mr. McGarry, are a sourpuss.”
“I still can’t eat linguini. I have flashbacks.”
“I’m going to go talk to Donna now, and bask in the wellspring of optimism that is her youth and charm. You sit here and be a grump.”
“I think I can manage that.”
The President returns to the Oval, still smiling. He closes the door behind him, and Leo’s office falls silent.
Leo turns to the darkness outside his door and says, “Checking up on us?”
The shadows shift and a thin man in a pinstripe suit slips into the room. “If I wanted to do that, I’d read a newspaper.”
Leo nods, slowly. “You look younger.”
“I figured.” Leo taps his fingers against the arm of his chair. “You knew about all of this, didn’t you? The presidency, Rosslyn. His MS.”
Some brief and unreadable emotion ripples across the thin man’s face. “There was nothing I could do to change any of it.”
“Yeah. I know.” Leo clears his throat. “You should probably leave now.”
“Probably.” The thin man reaches out and rests his hand lightly on Leo’s shoulder. “I can’t tell you how things end, Leo, you know that. But I can say—” His mouth twitches in something like a smile. “When I first met you, all those years ago, I nearly asked for your autograph.”
The Doctor squeezes Leo’s shoulder, once, before walking out the door and fading again into the shadows.