“Joo-osh” Donna singsonged, tapping on the doorframe of his office for show before sweeping in. “Alarm clock, alarm clock!”
Josh tore his attention away from the vote-tally blackboard long enough to give her a sour look. “You have truly never been more annoying to me than you are right now.”
“It's part of my charm,” she told him blithely. “It's quarter to midnight, and we have to be on the plane by two-thirty. You need to go home, shower, shave, and get your clothes for California.”
“What I need to do,” he shot back, “is get one more damn vote on this ethanol tax credit bill, preferably yesterday.”
“Are you gonna get it?” she asked.
His shoulders slumped. “No,” he admitted.
She patted his shoulder. “Then you should go and get your clothes,” she advised. “You don't want to look like a hobo in LA, you don't make enough money to pull it off.”
“I hate fundraisers,” Josh muttered. “I hate LA fundraisers even more than usual. Swear to god, the only thing worse is Texas fundraisers, and at least nobody in Texas likes us! What about you?” he realized suddenly. “You're going too, you begged me for five straight days. Where are your clothes?”
“My roommate is bringing them,” she told him cheerfully. “You should get a roommate, they're very useful.”
“Your roommate nearly took my head off with a claymore for yelling at her cats,” Josh reminded her. “I think I'll be healthier on my own.”
“It was a prop weapon,” she lied patiently for the dozenth time. “Maya was very into theater and historical reenactments. Besides, she moved out, remember? This is the new roommate.”
“But you still have the cats somehow,” Josh confirmed.
“Yes, and you're still banned from yelling at them. They're sensitive.”
“Maybe your roommate could pick up my clothes while she's getting yours anyway.”
“Maybe you could get some actual food into your system and a beverage that isn't coffee while you're out.”
“Well that doesn't seem very likely, does it?” he scoffed, but he was moving towards his desk as he said it, stacking up a few files. “This is bullshit anyway. Hoynes is just going to have to put on his big girl panties and do his only actual goddamned job in this administration!”
Donna blinked. “That's quite a mental picture.”
Josh paused, blinked as well. “Yeah, forget I said that. But he's going to have to break the tie, because nobody's budging and I'm not giving up anything more for a lousy tax credit. He's a free vote, Donna! A free vote for our side, and we're hesitant to pull the trigger because he's not sure he waaaants to. It's bullshit,” he repeated, dumping files into his backpack.
Donna took the bag from him and began organizing the files while he pulled his coat on. “He'll break the tie if the President tells him to, right? So there's no point in even worrying about it.”
“Maybe I'll have Sam call some guys in the morning,” Josh ruminated. “Like, the really early morning, while we're on the plane.”
“Because that always makes senators more agreeable,” Donna pointed out, rolling her eyes.
“You said it yourself, we're not budging the vote on this one,” he reminded her with a grin. “I may as well have some fun with them.”
“And with Sam.”
“Well, yeah.” He took the bag from her and slung it up on his back. “You know, you could actually go home for a couple hours, you don't need your roommate coming in at midnight.”
“Got stuff to do!” she told him blithely. “I'll call you at two to make sure you haven't fallen asleep in your car.” He didn't even bother to respond to that, just waved one hand at her dismissively as he headed for the doors. Donna smirked as she turned back to her desk. It only took a few minutes to pack the bag of files and supplies she'd need for the trip, just in time for the desk to inform her that she had a visitor.
Dawn was waiting in the lobby with her scarlet A of a visitor's badge around her neck and Donna's luggage scattered around her feet. Donna looked over the collection anxiously while Dawn made exaggerated panting noises and shook the muscle strain from her tired arms. “Did you bring the sunscreen?” Donna asked.
“Yeah, all forty pounds of it,” Dawn sassed, pointing to one of the bags. “I thought this was a one-day trip! I thought you wanted me to bring you, like, an overnight bag, not my own weight in suitcases. How many outfits do you pack for one day?”
“A business outfit for the plane,” Donna listed off, grabbing hold of the suitcases like they were weightless. “A second business outfit in case I spill cranberry juice on the first one. A swimsuit and coverup because I am absolutely going to be tanning in the California sun from 2-4pm, no matter what Josh has to say about it.”
“Hence the sunscreen,” Dawn guessed.
“Hence the sunscreen. My dress and accessories for the fundraiser, which have to be wrapped extremely carefully because I have to return them to the store this weekend and they have to look like I didn't wear them. A comfortable outfit for the trip home. A spare dress shirt for Josh in case he spills mustard or chutney or anything else that can squirt out of a sandwich.” Donna led the way through the bullpen to Josh's office, Dawn tagging behind with one small carry-on and craning her neck around to see everything. “Plus my workout clothes.”
“Wow, the White House is kind of more cramped and dingy than I imagined,” Dawn remarked, looking at the inside of Josh's office. “I was envisioning more grandeur and gold plating.” She ran one finger over the desk. “Is this plaster dust?”
Donna looked up at the ceiling. “Probably. There's kind of a thing with the plumbing. And the wiring. And some of the walls.” She shrugged at Dawn's incredulous look. “It's a very old building that nobody is ever going to shut down long enough to renovate, what do you want?”
“A little love and understanding in the world?” Dawn asked plaintively, plopping down in Josh's chair. It squeaked loudly. “Why do you need workout clothes if you're going tanning?”
“Those are for tonight,” Donna explained. “Gina's freaking out over meeting the President on the plane tomorrow. I told her I'd go a round with her if she thought it would help and she said maybe. Still haven't heard back, though.”
“Sounds like punchy good fun. So where's your boss at?” Dawn began fiddling with the tape dispenser, which was already broken after a particularly long day of Josh's incessant fidgeting. Donna rescued it anyway. “Isn't he coming along on this thing?”
“He had to go home and get his stuff, since he doesn't have a helpful roommate who likes visiting the White House.”
“Single, that's good,” Dawn muttered, nodding as thought marking off a mental checklist.
“What?” Donna demanded.
“Nothing, just figuring that if he hasn't got anybody to bring him clothes and you're the one whose couch he sleeps on, he's probably available, and that's good.” Dawn folded her hands and rested her chin on them, all innocence. “I was hoping he'd be here, though. I'm supposed to find out his intentions towards you.”
Donna narrowly refrained from yelling “What?” again. “His intentions?” came out as a bit of a sputter, though.
“Yeah, after the way you were talking about him nonstop at Christmas, we figured we'd better check this guy out. Not that we don't trust you, but you do have a little bit of a history...” Dawn made a see-sawing motion with her hands, making her head rock side to side.”I mean, anything's better than the guy who let the dragon out, and it's not like any of us are going to match Buffy on the totally regrettable exes hall of fame, but still!” She leaned back in the chair and looked around. “He does have kind of a weird interior design- whoa!” The chair gave an alarming lurch, and only Donna's quick reflexes kept Dawn from falling over backwards. “Let me guess, the chair is an important historical artifact too?”
“No, it's just a piece of garbage. I keep meaning to call somebody to get it fixed.” Donna pulled Dawn to her feet and away from the offending furniture. “Anyway, it's not like that with Josh and I. If I talk about him a lot, it's because dealing with him is ninety percent of my job here, and my job is pretty much my whole life right now. He's my boss, and he's my friend.”
“I might believe that if you weren't blushing so hard,” Dawn told her, tongue in cheek.
“I have sensitive alabaster skin!” Donna insisted, resisting the urge to feel her own face. “Anyway, who's we? I can't imagine anybody but you thinks my romantic life is interesting.”
“No way!” Dawn told her, obviously suppressing giggles. “You were very persuasive in your argument that Josh Lyman was not only the sole architect of the entire presidential campaign and the linchpin of the administration, but he also had the cutest dimples in DC. And hair, obviously.”
“I was not!”
“We were pretty deep in the wassail at this point, you might not remember,” Dawn told her. “But I was trying to explain how extremely attractive my future boyfriend Sam is, and you practically shouted me down! And then Faith and Andrew both agreed with you instead of me, which was demoralizing, and then Vi tried to argue that CJ Cregg looks better than either of them, and then Buffy told us we were all nerds and I think after that Faith tried to dump her in a snowbank. It's a little fuzzy.”
Donna stared at her for a moment, then rubbed her temples. “I don't even know where to start with any of that,” she admitted, “but I'm never drinking anything Andrew gives me again.”
“You should've tried it with the toast in it,” Dawn advised. “Really soaks up the liquor.”
Donna ignored that. Anything else would cause her head to explode, she was fairly sure. “Josh is my friend,” she said again, “and he is not here, and you will absolutely not, at any time now or in the future, be asking about his intentions. Anyway, you want the ten cent tour?”
“Do you even have to ask?” Dawn demanded. “I need you to show me every secret place that nobody gets to see on the tours.”
“I'm not allowed into most of the secret places people don't see on tours,” Donna pointed out, “but I know some stuff. Come on.” Leaving her luggage behind, she walked Dawn around the West Wing, showing her highlights like the bullpens, the mess, and the blessed spot in the lobby where Mandy had slipped on a clot of tinsel at Christmas and fallen on her ass.
“Can we see the Oval Office?” Dawn finally asked, after they'd made their way through the Roosevelt Room and the Mural Room. “I mean, is it allowed?”
“Not usually,” Donna admitted, “but sometimes when the President isn't in the West Wing, we take a little peek.” She steered Dawn into Mrs. Landingham's alcove and pointed out the large windows. “See, there's no secret service detail outside the windows, so he must have gone up for the night.” Going to the door, Donna gently, gently pushed it open, still feeling like an interloper-
“What are you doing?”
Donna and Dawn both jumped and yelped, spinning towards the hall. Margaret was standing in the office doorway with an armful of files, watching them quizzically. Donna took a breath and tried to will her racing heart to slow. “God, Margaret, you scared the life out of me! I didn't think you were going on the trip, what are you still doing here?”
Margaret's face said that the answer was clearly “sulking,” but she hefted the armload of files. “With everybody gone, I have a bunch of extra work to do tomorrow. I'm trying to get ahead of it, because you know Leo isn't going to cut me any slack just because the office is practically empty.” She smacked the files down loudly on Mrs. Landingham's desk and turned to face them, her eyes wide and slightly chartreuse in the dim light. “So you'd better not be planning on stealing any state secrets, or it's going to be a lot of extra work for me tomorrow and I'm definitely not explaining that one to Josh.”
“No secrets, I swear,” Donna protested, raising her hands innocently. “This is my new roommate, Dawn, the one who speaks ten languages and knows feng shui, remember? She came to drop off my luggage for me, and I'm giving her the tour. We just wanted a little peek,” she wheedled.
Margaret rolled her eyes. “Why does everybody want to see the Oval Office, anyway? It's just a room with a lot of windows that's extra hard to vacuum. It doesn't even have the ghosts. You're interested in feng shui, huh?” she asked Dawn, switching subjects without a pause. “We should talk sometime when I'm not doing the work of four people. This place could use a lot of chi improvement.”
With that, she swept right back out again, her heels clicking on the tile floor of the hallway. Donna quickly opened the door to the Oval and let Dawn look through before anybody else could come by. Neither of them actually went so far as to step into the room, but Dawn was suitably impressed by its roundness and high ceilings. After that, Donna felt it was probably prudent to wrap up the tour.
“So that was Margaret,” Dawn began, back in the safety of Josh's office. “She seems a little edgy.”
“She's not normally like that,” Donna promised. “She's really disappointed that Leo decided not to go to California, and not to send her along anyway. We're all a little desperate for some warm weather and relaxation.”
“Yeah, I feel that,” Dawn agreed. She hesitated. “So, you did notice...”
“That she's probably something like a quarter Sadeki demon?” Donna finished with a wry grin. “Yeah, I picked up on that during the campaign when she always knew what was going on half an hour before anybody told us. She can also find anybody, anywhere, at any time. The weird thing is, I'm not sure she actually knows. Her eyes do the thing sometimes, but she just keeps talking about her persistent jaundice.”
“Soooo...” Dawn pressed. “Is she evil?”
“No!” Donna exclaimed. “Definitely not evil. Sadekis are neutral by nature, you know that. And when they break bad, it's pretty noticeable. If somebody around here starts ordering random missile launches or stabbing people in the corridors maybe I'll revisit that, but Leo would be really upset with me if I had to slay his assistant. Plus she's my friend,” she added, a little defensively.
“Hey, I'm not saying you should slay her!” Dawn protested, “I was just asking! I mean, it's DC, right? Everybody's always saying politicians are evil vampires.”
“Haven't met any of those yet,” Donna told her. “But there's a first time for everything. Most of the vampires around here like to hang around the college bars and get late night snacks, but the other Slayers take care of them. Plus Gina, now, if she makes it onto Zoey's detail.”
As though summoned, Gina Toscano appeared in the doorway, knocking lightly on the frame. “Hey Donna, are you busy? Oh, hi Dawn!”
Gina and Dawn had met during Gina's month of training at Slayer Camp, which Donna was a little sorry she hadn't been around to see. To hear Dawn tell it, there had been a learning curve involved in figuring out how to teach Slayer-style tactics to someone who was much less gifted than a Slayer, but much stronger and better trained than the average Watcher. The curve had apparently involved Gina getting thrown into some walls, a country-fair style test-your-strength game for Slayers using the giant troll hammer, and somehow the return of puffy-suit Xander. But the Secret Service agent had acquitted herself well, and now there were a couple more young field agents in for training. She still had one last test to pass: meeting the President during the plane ride to California.
“I'm not busy,” Donna assured her, gesturing to the suitcases. “Just getting packed up. How are you feeling?”
Gina took a deep breath. “A little nervous,” she admitted, then hesitated. “A lot nervous. This is his youngest daughter, and I'm going to be her chief daytime watch...”
“You'll be fine,” Donna promised. “The president is very protective of his daughters, he wants the best for them. Ron has already told him that's you, and he's right. You've got great instincts and great training, and you can throw a stake into a vampire at twenty feet, which hardly any unenhanced people can pull off. You can't tell him that part,” she acknowledged, “but you know it's there. Just be respectful and polite, but stand up for yourself. He likes people who aren't afraid of him.”
“No fear, got it.” Gina ran her open palms down the legs of her pants, obviously trying to wipe away the sweat. “I really need to punch something,” she finally blurted.
Donna laughed. “All right, fine. But no hits above the collarbone, neither one of us needs to be explaining a black eye on the plane.” She slung her gym bag over her shoulder. “You coming, Dawn, or have you seen enough?” She suspected that for Dawn, who had grown up watching the world's finest Slayers beating each other up on the regular, watching a skilled human fighting against a Slayer with just enough conditioning to keep her alive wouldn't be too thrilling.
“I got class tomorrow, I've got to get home,” Dawn told her. “Thanks for the tour, though. Hey Gina,” she added, “if you see Josh Lyman, ask him about his intentions, okay?” She strolled out cheerfully, leaving Donna blushing again behind her.
“Do not ask Josh anything!' Donna insisted, nearly snapping the strap on her gym bag by accident.
“I wasn't going to!” Gina replied quickly, raising both hands and stepping out of the doorway as they headed for the gym. Her Secret Service deadpan was fully in place as she added, “I mean, there's no point, his intentions seem pretty clear to me.”
Donna glared. “You're lucky that I'm such a peaceful and nonaggressive person at heart, so I'm just going to smack you around a little bit instead of a lot.”
Twelve hours and a transcontinental flight later, Donna smeared herself thoroughly in stupidly expensive sunscreen and stretched out on a chaise lounge to bake to a very careful light golden brown. On the other side of the pool area, she could hear Josh on the phone, trying to corral a rogue congressman in the brief respite between flag-burning town hall and glitzy fundraiser. She deliberately did not look over to see whether he was checking her out while he argued. Really, she decided, if she was having any weird thoughts about Josh today, it was entirely Dawn's fault. Josh was an attractive man, and very charismatic when he wasn't melting down over someone being wrong in politics. Women were attracted to men like Josh, it was only natural, and given that they spent nearly all their waking hours together, surely some sexual tension was all but inevitable. She liked working with Josh, liked how she could anticipate his needs, and maybe even liked the way he was just a little bit helpless without her to handle the details. She liked listening to him talk and following the sometimes convoluted patterns of logic that could lead to genius or madness with equal ease. She liked arguing with him, liked stealing the french fries off his plate when they ate together, liked how on long plane flights he didn't care if she sometimes used him as a pillow...
Donna stared up at the dull green leaves of the palm tree over her head. She absolutely would not, could not, must not fall in love with her boss. That was probably the worst thing she could possibly do for about a hundred different reasons. She'd done the power-differential relationship before, and it had sucked. She was done playing Eliza Doolittle for any guy (even if the little voice in her head insisted Josh wasn't like that.) And if she'd thought dating her Watcher had caused her trouble at work, she suspected the professional calamity of dating her direct supervisor at the White House would dwarf those difficulties, dragons and ancient witches excluded. Not to mention that any infatuation was almost surely one-sided on her part. Josh liked little brunettes who were mean to him, and Donna really didn't fit that bill. Nursing a one-sided crush would just be painful, not to mention embarrassing.
She flipped over onto her stomach to hide her groan. The answer was simple and obvious. She just wouldn't fall in love with Josh, no matter what lusty badwrong thoughts Dawn might have encouraged to creep into her head. Josh was her friend, probably her best friend, and she liked it that way. Thinking anything else was just likely to ruin her brief and precious moments of vacation, and that was unacceptable. The last time Donna had been in LA, she'd had to stay in a demon hotel that hadn't been renovated since the forties and spend her nights learning to slay vampires. She was going to enjoy this visit a lot more.