Josh prided himself on being able to get along with people reasonably well. Charming people was an important part of his job, after all. He rarely felt comfortable around anyone though. There was a small handful of friends that he could be himself around, like Sam and CJ and Toby. By now, at this point in his life, he’d mostly accepted that he naturally kept people at arm’s length. It was a little lonely but it made sense. That was just him.
That’s what ended up surprising him the most about her. Sure, it amazed him that Donna had walked into his office one day and pretty much made him give her a job as his assistant, but he was used to cocky upstarts in his line of work. It was a business just full of people that pushed (or tried to push) their way in. What really surprised him was how relaxed he became around her and so quickly. He didn’t feel like he had to fake it around her. In fact, on his early attempts to fake charm her, she seemed to see straight through it. As if she actually liked the real him that he occasionally let through, amongst the cocky attitude and brash behaviour.
In seemingly no time at all, they were in sync. Working towards a better future together, trying to get Governor Bartlet elected. Josh knew Toby was a little suspicious of how close they were becoming. An occasional glare whenever he put his hand on the small of her back, guiding her somewhere, or a slight roll of the eyes when Josh squeezed past her, when there really wasn’t any need, but he didn’t care. Neither of them were doing anything wrong, after all.
One late night on the campaign bus, Josh and Donna were sitting together near the back. No one was particularly nearby for once, so they could have spread out. They didn’t though. Instead, they were practically cocooned together. Donna with the window seat (she liked the view - even in the dark) and Josh right next to her. A pile of papers scattered amongst them as they quietly talked about plans for the next stop. As time wore on, conversation switched to more relaxed fare. Josh told Donna about stories of his college days, how he’d tried to charm a date by cooking dinner, but the kitchen looked like a disaster zone and the chicken was half raw. Donna laughed easily at this, seemingly charmed by his every word. It was cute, and he was starting to see why Toby was worried. She was too young for him, he knew. Not so much too young, but too naive and too new to this world. It wouldn’t be fair, but he still couldn’t resist talking to her like this. He enjoyed her company too much. Josh was relieved that he at least had the sense to see this couldn’t go further.
When the night wore on and the conversation gradually concluded, it wasn’t that surprising really when Donna’s head tilted down towards his shoulder. While she was exceptionally hard working, she hadn’t quite got used to the long, never ending days, and exhaustion had kicked in. Which is how Josh found himself being used as a pillow. He wasn’t convinced his shoulder was that comfortable for her. Wishing he could pull her down a little, so she could use his lap as a pillow. Maybe then he could gently stroke her hair. Almost as soon as he thought of it, he realised just how inappropriate that would look. He sighed. Deciding that Donna had the right idea, Josh tried to get some sleep too. His head leaning on top of hers, of course. He figured no one chose where their head rested mid-sleep, right?
Donna knew they were probably getting a little too close. Neither of them did anything more than the occasional hand brushing on the other for too long, while they passed things around, but it wasn’t the physical side of things that made her realise how much had developed between them.
When she’d found out that Josh had been shot and was in a critical condition, it had felt like she’d been shot too in some way. She hadn’t really stopped to think before just how important he was but she got it now. While she didn’t usually pray, that was all she could do while desperately waiting for him to survive the surgery. The moment he came around from the anaesthetic, it was like she’d just regained the ability to breathe again.
During Josh’s recovery period, Donna had a lot of time to think about their friendship. She knew there was nothing more here. It was just a harmless crush on a good friend, she figured. Any affection he was demonstrating was solely down to the power shifting to her for a little while, as he was so vulnerable. Once things went back to normal, it’d all settle down again, she told herself. Still though, she’d enjoy having him to herself while it lasted.
As he was effectively confined to his apartment, they got to spend a lot of time together. Invariably, she’d stay the night because it simply made sense. She’d be back in the morning anyway, so she should stay, he’d explain. Not that she ever complained. His apartment was nicer, better heated, and he was far better company than any roommate of hers. Of course, she’d stay on the couch, but the couch was inexplicably more comfortable than her bed. She was never sure if this was actually the case or if it was more a matter of the surroundings that made her like it so much.
Her fondest times were when they’d wrap up some briefing notes earlier than usual, and they’d settle in for a movie. They took it in turns to pick the movie, each learning a little bit about the other through such choices. There was some teasing at times from both sides, but it was mostly fairly sweet. They were both quite willing to discover more about what the other liked. It was all a bit intimate, she had to admit. This was enhanced by the fact that they’d watch the movie, sitting on the sofa together. They were never too close exactly, but always close enough. Usually, their feet resting next to each other. Occasionally, Josh’s arm would be over the back of the sofa, but Donna always resisted snuggling closer to it. She was fairly sure he did it out of habit rather than as a move, but sometimes she wondered if there was more to it than that.
One time, Josh scared her a little. He somehow caught a nasty cold. It probably wouldn’t have been a problem normally, but he was still fairly weak and it wore him out fast. She knew it was irrational to worry too much, but Donna couldn’t help it. He looked so tired and pale again. When it came to picking a movie one night, he just didn’t seem that interested, so she took over, trying to cheer him along.
A half hearted smile from him went a long way to helping her feel better but he soon complained quietly of being too cold. He was visibly shivering a little and looked a distinctly sorry sight. Donna got up and grabbed a blanket from nearby, covering him with it, before sitting back down. He smiled softly at her in gratitude but she could see he was still shivering a little, so she pulled him into a hug. He might have been bigger than her but right this second he seemed so small, curling into her. The blanket up to his chin in a desperate bid to warm him up.
Eventually, the shivering faded and she realised he was asleep. By now, curled tightly up against her, her arms tightly around him to keep him warm, his head against her shoulder. Finally, he looked peaceful. With that weight off her mind, tiredness overtook her too, and she soon joined him, resting her head carefully against his. The movie quietly playing to itself in the background.
He knew he’d said too much earlier. He couldn’t help it. She really did look amazing tonight. Amazing felt like an understatement. She was radiant. She was wonderful. She was Donna. Ordinarily, he’d sigh at this despair. He knew he should just get over it but tonight? Tonight, he didn’t care.
Sure, their night didn’t go ideally. They managed one brief yet wonderful dance together before they had to be pulled away to get on with work, but at least there was that teensy sense that something might be changing between them. Just maybe. He knew it could be a scandal, but it wasn’t like he had to worry about a re-election campaign any more. He could dream.
It was late when they finished up for the night. Early really. That’s how late it was. There were only a few hours before it all started again, but he wanted to use that time to make sure that Donna got home safely. After all, she’d forgotten to take her keys, purse, or even her own coat when he picked her up. So, they shared a cab (and his coat) to her place, with a plan to use his spare key to get her safely home.
He didn’t mind one bit, even if it probably meant hardly any time to sleep by the time he got home. He was tired but he had no urge to end this almost magical night just yet, even if he knew it wasn’t going to end how he wanted it to.
The taxi ride was a more quiet affair than earlier, when it was a bustling hive of activity of Charlie lamenting his love for Zoey, Will trying to politely appease him, and Danny and Toby heatedly talking baseball. Josh appreciated this moment of quiet and he suspected Donna did too. While there was plenty of room this time round, she seemed perfectly content to stay close to him. Their inhibitions seemingly lowered by their exhaustion. There was hardly any space between them as it was, but she soon slipped her heels off, lifting her feet up onto the seat, leaning further into Josh.
He looked down at her and realised just how easy it would be to kiss her. How, right now, it felt like it’d solve more problems than it would create. Instead, he compromised with himself, kissing the top of her head very gently. So gently, he was almost hoping she didn’t notice. She did, looking up and smiling at him shyly for a moment. She burrowed down further into him, snuggling into his side. Josh liked this. It felt right and natural. How he wanted every evening drive home to end.
As he went to speak to her, he realised she’d fallen asleep. Snuggling down lower in her relaxed state, Donna soon ended up half laying across the seat, her head resting in Josh’s lap. He looked down at her and smiled, stroking her hair gently as she slept. Yup, he thought, this definitely felt right.
He assumed the underlying terror would fade eventually. Since he’d heard about the explosion, it had been there the whole time, festering in the back of his mind. It was worst, of course, when he was on the flight and had no idea what was happening. It eased a little when he was there, in front of her, seeing with his own eyes that she was safe, but it reared its head all over again when he bounced in, proudly holding a bunch of flowers for her, only to find that he’d looked away for an hour and everything had changed for the worst.
When she came around from the anaesthetic and she said his name, Josh’s heart broke a little. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so relieved before or as happy to hear his name. He didn’t want to let her out of his sight again. Just in case. That didn’t correlate so well with sleeping, but both the nurses and Donna’s mother seemed to accept this. At least for tonight. He had no idea where Colin had gone and he really didn’t care.
Staying as close to her side as possible, he held her hand gently, watching as she drifted in and out of consciousness. The doctor had told him that this was fine. She was just resting and that, really, Josh would be wise to go get some rest too. They could always let him know if something came up. He didn’t risk it.
That was how he found himself gradually leaning lower and lower as he stuck by her side. He probably should have leant the other way, back into the chair, but that would have made him more distant from Donna. Instead, he ended up slumped forward. His head awkwardly resting on the side of the bed, next to her upper arm. Exhaustion having finally kicked in and leaving him resting deeply enough that he wouldn’t consider how sore this was going to make his back or neck until morning.
That was how Donna found him. Sometime around dawn, she woke up enough to see the sight before her. Josh’s hand clutching hers, while his head remained on the side of her bed. She used what little energy she had to move her other hand across to stroke his forehead, her fingers mingling with his hair. A small but contented sigh was her reward as she noticed a glimmer of a smile cross his face. Everything hurt right now, but that tiny smile helped her more than any painkiller could have. She smiled to herself as she closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
Tonight shouldn’t have been how it was. They should have been celebrating. Santos was President and they were finally together. It was everything he’d wanted for so very long. But, somebody somewhere had obviously decided that life couldn’t go perfectly for him or the people he loved. Which is how he found himself mourning the loss of a father again, amongst the bittersweet joy that the day brought him.
In some kind of idyllic fantasy, Josh would have wanted to have spent the night celebrating with his friends, drinking (but not too much) before spending the most romantic evening he could imagine with Donna. His heart just wasn’t in it any more, although he knew it was only Donna that he wanted to spend any time with.
When he’d retreated away for some quiet time, she’d known to follow him and wait. That’s why he felt safe to fall apart around her, crying openly as she hugged him tightly. She’d always been the one he could be himself around, after all. She’d known all along that he had feet of clay, especially when it came to the people he loved.
After a short time faking it at the victory party, Josh made his excuses and slinked away, wanting to retreat to his hotel room until the pain went away. He told Donna his plan, explaining that she should stick around at the party. She’d earned a fun night and she really didn’t need to suffer him like this. She frowned at the very thought, before gently berating him, explaining that she didn’t want to just be there for him during the good times. That he really didn’t have to worry about faking it around her. She just wanted the best for him, as he wanted for her, surely. She had a point.
Once they’d retreated to his hotel room for the night, they talked more on the subject. Lying side by side in bed, almost nose to nose, hand in hand. Josh explained how he wanted to protect her from such misery and suffering. The kind that seemed to follow him. How he felt guilty that she had to pick up the pieces so often. She pointed out how many times he’d picked up the pieces for her in the past. She kept having good points like this. The talk switched to Leo but there really wasn’t much to say yet. It was all too numb and raw right now, so they cried quietly together instead.
Eventually, the exhaustion became too much. The last 24 hours were a whirlwind of emotions, even compared to what they were used to. They snuggled in closer. Donna a little lower than Josh so she could tuck her head under his chin, with Josh’s arms clutching her closely to him. He kissed the top of her head before closing his eyes, waiting as he felt her gradually fall to sleep, still holding her hands to his chest. He was upset and ecstatic and devastated and so many things he didn’t fully understand. Yet this gave him peace. Donna gave him sanctuary from the madness of the world.
On a day where so little made any sense, Josh felt comforted in the knowledge that this thing - whatever it was between them - had always made sense to him. To both of them.