What Must Not Be Said
by: Sally R.
Character(s): Josh Lyman
Summary: Josh examines his relationships with both Donna and Amy during the roadtrip from hell.
Author's Note:Set between seasons 3 and 4, at which point it veers drastically off-canon.
What must not be said
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
"To Be In Love" - Gwendolyn Brooks
Josh wasn't sure when it started, but if he'd had to name a place or a moment it would have been four weeks ago, standing in the freezing cold night air outside the gates of the White House.
He'd sent Donna out there in a vain attempt to sway the minds of the Flanders family the night Hartsfield's Landing kicked off the New Hampshire primary, and, after a minor revelation courtesy of Leo and the people of Taiwan, he'd gone out himself to stop her. She'd borrowed his coat because hers was ridiculously thin, and as he'd gotten off the phone to the Flanders she'd been watching him with an earnest expression which seemed to say 'you're crazy but I understand you completely'. His coat had been too large on her narrow shoulders, the collar pushing her hair up and sending loose strands drifting in the breeze. In the floodlights that illuminated the White House it had looked more golden than usual, stark against his black coat and the black night and right then, right there, he'd really, really wanted to reach out and touch it. He'd wanted to touch her hair, to run it through his fingers and see if it was as soft and silken as it looked.
The impulse had been so strong that for a moment he'd been left wordless, not least because only the night before he'd told Amy Gardner that he loved her. So why he should suddenly be sideswiped by an almost overwhelming desire to touch Donna's hair was a mystery. As they'd walked together back to the West Wing he'd managed to explain it away as a combination of euphoria due to his rediscovered faith in the democratic process, the lateness of the hour, and the fact that his relationship with Amy had unlocked a whole side of his life that had, frankly, been kept in the dark for too long.
It was a passing fancy, he'd decided. An aberration, a throwback to a time before Amy when the only women in his life had been CJ, Donna and his mom, and it signified nothing more than being on a personal high. He was happy, he was in love and sometimes those feelings spilled over. That was all.
It was a good explanation, it was plausible. And he'd believed it until the next morning when, as he'd been sipping his first coffee of the day, Donna had breezed into the office with the daily schedule and then turned to leave with a sort of flick of her head that had sent her hair swaying.
And there it was again, that tug in the pit of his stomach, the sudden tightness in his chest. It didn't make any sense! Amy was beautiful - she had gorgeous hair, soft, silky and touchable - he loved her, and they were having lots and lots of amazing sex. So, obviously, frustration couldn't be at the root of this strange, inexplicable fascination with Donna's hair. He didn't even like blondes. Not that Donna was your typical blonde, but he'd always preferred sultry brunettes. In fact, he couldn't remember one time when he'd ogled the obvious blonde instead of her more interesting, sexier friend.
None of which explained what the hell was going on. Therefore, as he so often did when faced with a complex personal problem, Josh decided that denial was the best strategy. Over the years, for various reasons, he'd become adept at filing certain truths or experiences away in one part of his mind and getting on with life without letting them bother him. It was a useful skill, and it served him well.
And so his insistent desire to touch Donna's hair was filed away, ignored and glossed over. Life moved on, his relationship with Amy continued and became more familiar, more relaxed and more complicated.
A lot more complicated. One might even say difficult. But they were still going, still trying despite the complications. And he was proud of that, proud of the fact that he hadn't given up. He hadn't run, despite - and he didn't think he was overstating the case - severe provocation.
He considered it a sign of the strength and maturity of their relationship. She'd almost brought down their flagship welfare reform bill, and if she'd succeeded… Well, Leo would probably have been the only thing standing between Josh and a forced letter of resignation. She'd played hardball, but so had he, and he'd played better and harder and in the end she'd been the one resigning.
A weaker relationship wouldn't have survived that, would it?
So, despite a rocky couple of weeks, they were still together. At least, he still spent half his nights at her apartment, they still argued and he still told her that he loved her. She said that she didn't believe in declarations of love, that it was a statement of possession and that love should be evident in actions not words. He thought that was BS, but didn't argue. If they didn't love each other, they wouldn't still be together. That much was obvious to him, but he wasn't going to beat her around the head with it. He was confident that one day she'd figure it out and say the words out loud.
That was how it had been for three weeks, three weeks since she'd resigned and almost immediately been snapped up by the National Organisation of Women. Her feet had, literally, not touched the ground.
He was hoping it would start getting easier now, that things would settle. To that end he'd made a decision, something to smooth the return to where they'd been before the welfare reform fiasco. They were going away, not to Tahiti but to Florida. To meet his mom.
It was a big step. It showed commitment, it showed her that he wanted a future with her. Or so he hoped. Amy had been somewhat under-whelmed by the idea at first, but he'd reeled her in with promises of hot sunshine and his mother's pool. They both needed to get out of DC, he'd reasoned, to leave it all behind and just be themselves for a couple of days. And he wanted his mom to meet her, he wanted to be the kind of guy who introduced his girlfriend to his parents.
Eventually she'd agreed. Donna had booked the tickets, and in the morning they would be gone for three days in the Florida sun. It would do them good, he knew it. And all he had to get through before they were sitting together in business class (only the best!) was Senator Stackhouse's Autism Society fundraiser. Attendance was mandatory, and he didn't mind that. As causes went it was a worthy one, and deserved all the publicity and cash the presidential seal of approval could convey.
What bothered him, however, was that this was the first time he and Amy would be seen together in public since the whole welfare debacle. It would be awkward. Not so much for Amy - she'd been doing her job and they all respected that - but for him. He couldn't shake the feeling that the staff thought he was sleeping with the enemy. No one had said as much, at least not to his face, but they all knew how Amy had gotten the heads up on the marriage incentives compromise. For them to show up at this together, so soon afterward, was definitely awkward. But what choice did he have? Amy Gardner wasn't the sort of woman you could hide in a closet; they were together, and everyone would just have to deal with the fact.
Feeling abruptly resolute Josh closed down his PC and rummaged in his drawer for a tie. Amy would be here soon and he didn't want to keep her hanging around the bullpen while he got himself together. She hated to wait almost as much as he did. One of the many things they had in common.
Tie in hand, he wandered out in search of Donna. She was, as usual, hovering close to her desk compulsively tidying files away. It was a little ritual at the end of the day, and probably went a long way toward actually keeping the office functioning. Donna Moss's ability to lay her hands on any file, at any time, was legendary. And that reminded him…
She turned, glanced once over his tux, and said, "Yeah?"
"Did the plane tickets-"
"They're in your bag." She turned back to the filing cabinet. "So's the car rental agreement. It's Hertz, by the way."
With a soft thud the cabinet drawer slid shut and Donna turned around. Her gaze fell on the tie dangling from his hand, and with a slight roll of her eyes she came over and took it from him. "So you're back on Tuesday?" She flipped his collar up and passed the tie around the back of his neck. Her fingers briefly touched his skin and he was surprised at how cold she felt.
"Yeah," he nodded. "If you need to call on Monday…"
"I'll try not to bother you," she said, her gaze fixed on the tie she was knotting.
"No, do. I mean, you know, if it's urgent."
"Okay." Her attention was still fixed on the tie, and standing this close he found it hard to keep his eyes from her hair. It was loose, hanging straight down like a golden curtain, swaying slightly as she moved and brushing across her bare shoulder in a way that was distracting and-
Bare shoulder? He was pretty certain that Donna didn't usually have bare shoulders at work. As she finished with the tie his eyes investigated further and he realised, with surprise, that she was dressed for a party. "Are you coming to the fundraiser?"
Donna smiled, dusting her hands across his shoulders like a proud parent - or something… "Yes. Yes, I am."
His eyebrows climbed. "I didn't know."
"I didn't think- I'm sorry, I didn't realise the assistant grade had been invited."
"We haven't," she said with an arch look. "Josh, are you afraid I'm going to lower the tone?"
"Yeah, Donna, that's exactly what I'm afraid of…." Then he smiled, "So you're gate crashing? I won't tell."
She smiled back, and he thought he could detect a hint of triumph in her eyes. "Actually," she said, "Sam's taking me."
"Sam?" There was a strange pressure, right in the centre of his chest. "Sam's taking you?"
Donna turned away, her hair swinging across her face. How did it move like that, as if it were made of silk, or-
"Like a date?" It came out on the crest of a nervous laugh.
She froze where she stood, her face half turned from him and half hidden behind the curtain of her hair. "Why do you think that's funny?"
"I don't." That was the truth, and perhaps he should have stopped right there. But, typically, he didn't. "I think it's a really bad idea."
Turning, she lifted her chin and stared at him. "Who for, Josh? Because, I gotta tell you, Sam's a very attractive man…"
Oh no, nononononono... "Donna, you can't. I'm sorry, you can't. You're an assistant, and he's Deputy Chief- I mean, Deputy Communications-"
Her eyes went wide. "He is? Sam is? How have I worked here for three years and not realised that? Thanks, Josh, I-"
"Donna! Seriously, think about it. After the call girl thing…"
"Oh my God." She was staring at him now as if he had lost it entirely. "The call girl thing? Josh, I swear, if you're comparing me to-"
"What's the call girl thing, J?" Amy's timing was, as always, impeccable. Turning slowly Josh saw her watching them with the hint of a smile playing in her dark eyes; it looked like trouble. "Anything I should know about?"
"No. I was talking about Sam and- Forget it, it's ancient history."
She accepted it with a shrug that meant he'd be hearing about it later, and sauntered toward them. "Hey Donna," she said. "That dress looks great on you. I remember it from the First Lady's birthday thing."
Donna smiled, but it was a tight smile. "Thanks, Amy." She cast a cool glance at Josh. "We lowly assistants can't afford a new dress for every party. Perhaps if I was a lady of the night…?"
She smiled brightly. "Time I went to ruin the reputation - and quite possibly the career - of my date. I'll see you guys later."
With that she turned on her heel, her hair swinging behind her like something out of a shampoo add. Soft and silken and shining like sunshine… God, he really, really wanted to touch it.
"She's an odd one," Amy said, her voice cutting across his thoughts as he watched Donna weave her way through the desks. "I should offer her a job, I like her style."
"She's already got a job."
"Yeah, but I heard her boss is a bastard."
"I heard that too." Silken, soft, glittering like spun gold... Shaking himself, Josh took Amy by the arm and determinedly started moving them toward the ballroom. "I need a drink."
"Yeah, I can see you're really in the party mood."
He glanced at her sideways, at the compressed lips and world-weary expression, and wondered if she'd always looked like that or if he'd done it to her over the past three weeks. "I'm sorry, I just… I had a weird conversation with Donna. It's nothing." He slipped his hand from her arm to around her waist and pulled her closer. "It's nothing. And tomorrow we'll be on a plane, heading for the sun."
"At your mom's."
"She'll love you." He squeezed her tight. "Just like I do."
Even as the words left his lips he could feel her stiffen, as if each muscle had suddenly contracted. "Josh…"
"I don't mean it in a possessive-"
"How about we don't talk about it again, okay?" She pulled away from him until his arm dropped from her waist. "Let's just party for once."
"Okay." Suited him. Suited him just fine. A couple of vodkas on ice and perhaps that strange pressure in the centre of his chest would ease up… Except every time he thought about it, about Donna and Sam, his stomach tightened in a way that made him nauseous. Or maybe it was something he ate? Perhaps the vodka would sort that out too…
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Epilogue
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