"So...how do we do this, Josh?"
She looked at him with those big blue eyes that always sought out answers. Of late, he never seemed to have any, and he knew he owed her better. He had been the one to suggest they sit down and talk like two, calm, rational adults, but now that they were actually facing each other, side-saddle on the sofa, physically closer than they'd been in months, he hadn't the slightest idea what to say.
"Maybe we could start at the beginning?" he offered weakly.
"Josh, we've known each other for eight years. If we start at the beginning, we'll need three weeks."
"You have that many questions?"
"Well, don't you have questions for me?"
"Of course I do, but not that many!"
"So why don't we just start asking each other what we need to know?"
"Because I'm not too good at...you know, the *direct* thing."
She was giving him her 'you're a big baby' glare. It had been a long while since she'd gratified him with a glare, and he liked it.
"...maybe we could...you know, *ease into* some of the heavy duty stuff by starting with some of the lighter stuff..."
He made the argument sound reasonable enough, but, in truth, it was firsthand evidence of how well the truth serum worked that made him wary of going too far too fast. Who knew what he would say?
"It's impractical to start at the beginning, Josh," she
reasoned, "...remember? We have an assignment from the President
that we haven't even come close to starting. The President told us
to have the conversation that would have been inappropriate to have
when we worked in the White House. We were talking about what
happened after we left."
"The two are related, Donna."
"Then hadn't we better get to the root of the problem?"
He sighed and finally nodded his surrender.
"I would be willing to start with the light weight questions...",
she offered diplomatically.
"--but you need some guarantee we're going to get to the real stuff in case the truth serum wears off and I chicken out."
He could still read her. Or maybe it was the other way around, and he knew that she could still read him.
Both of them thought for a minute before Donna spoke.
"Why don't we each write down a few questions--a range, varying from easy to hard? I'll give mine to you and you give me yours and that way neither of us can back out of asking what's really on our mind."
Now it was his turn to nod. He reached past her cautiously, not wanting to threaten her with his proximity but also not wanting to seem like he was trying not to touch her. He picked up the note pad on the end table next to her and tore off five pieces of paper for himself before handing her the pad to write on, as well as the pen in his pocket. They exchanged a look that sealed their agreement, and then spent what felt like a long time writing their five questions. Intermittently, they stole suspicious glances at one another, each one wondering how far the other would take this. Josh, typically paranoid, felt nauseous as he imagined what Donna would finally force him to be accountable for. She was finished before him and laid out her neatly folded pieces of paper on the coffee table, numbered from one to five.
"What are the numbers for?"
"One is the easiest, five is the hardest."
"Oh...I'll be done soon."
"Okay. Do you want some water?" she asked awkwardly.
"Yes, please," he answered just as awkwardly.
She got up and took what seemed like deliberate time getting them two bottles of water from the mini-fridge. He finished writing his questions and folded them, numbered them, and lined them up in a row, just like she had. He hoped she didn't notice how his hands were trembling as he set the last question down. This was it.
"You first...read it aloud."
Josh unfolded the first piece of paper. She could see he was nervous, but she also saw his nervousness turn to surprise when he read the question.
"Do you really not know how to tie your own bowtie?"
By the time he finished reading the question, a dimple had emerged. She bit her lip to keep from smiling back too widely. She had missed the dimple.
"Well, do you?"
"Of course I do."
His eyes met hers, and his smile plus the fact that they were looking at each other unwaveringly made her blush.
"So...the whole Tony Bennett thing?"
"It was never him--it was you."
She nodded wordlessly, now blushing even harder, before picking up his first question and reading it aloud.
"Did I ever really yell at your roommate's cats, or did you just make that up to embarrass me in front of everyone at the office?"
She was surprised he remembered. She was glad he remembered. And when she looked up and saw from his more serious expression that he really didn't know the answer, she released the giggle from her throat.
"Sorry, Josh, but you really did yell at my roommate's cats.
Several times, in fact."
"I don't remember any such incidents!" he protested in halfhearted indignation.
"No kidding. You were drunk!"
He shook his head in further protest.
"At least admit that you told everyone to embarrass me!"
"I can't remember exactly how that little tidbit got around, but since we're being honest..."
He looked at her expectantly. It was terribly cute.
"...I can admit that I may have, from time to time, released a choice few Josh-stories for general consumption."
She looked up at him and smiled shyly.
"...but it was all in good fun."
He smiled back for a moment, before remembering something that caused the smile to fade.
"Did I--" he swallowed again "...is there anything else I did or-- you know--*said* while I was drunk?"
Her lips remained upturned, and when she answered, her voice was more gentle, reassuring.
"You say a lot of things when you're drunk, Josh...Nice things."
They shared a long, silent exchange before he finally broke their gaze and picked up her second piece of paper, reading aloud.
"What did you see in Amy and what the hell is it with you and brunettes anyway?"
He looked up at her with alarm.
"That's your question??" he screeched.
"I really want to know."
She shrugged, and he could see she was trying to downplay her curiosity. Sure, the way she'd phrased the question was cute. But he saw the question behind it clearly: why Amy and not me? He groaned inwardly. This was supposed to be an easy question?
"Donna..." he began, and then stopped.
She was now studying her hands, fiddling slowly with some invisible trinket, as she waited for him to speak. As he considered how to spin his answer (not that he was trying to lie, he told himself—just to make it more palatable!), he realized the drug would allow for no spin.
"...I like women who are smart...who aren't afraid to talk back to me, and who challenge me, and Amy was all those things. At first, everything fit...there was mutual attraction, and she was one of very few people I could date without causing a PR scandal."
Donna continued to study her hands, though Josh was attempting to give her a pointed look at that last part.
"...the more I got to know her, the less I liked her, but..."
"If you didn't like her, why did you keep going back to her?"
"Because I was lonely. Because there's some...weakness in me she preys on to always get me back."
"I always thought it was because you loved her."
"I never loved her, Donna."
She finally looked up at him.
"...we fought about it, actually. She told me she loved me one day and I couldn't say it back. She confronted me...about where we stood. And I didn't lie to her."
Donna still didn't say anything.
"...that was why we broke up, the first time. I let everyone else think there were other reasons, but that was it."
"...the other times, it looked like we were dating, but there wasn't much there. We went to events, and we were sleeping together, but that was it."
She nodded again.
"What about the brunette thing?", she asked finally, big blue eyes looking back at him.
If he hadn't been so nervous, and if she hadn't been so serious, he might've allowed himself to smile.
He thought he might've seen the hint of a smile.
"Thank you…for answering that."
She reached for his second piece of paper and read the question.
"Did you mean it when you said I was your best friend? What do I have to do to be your best friend again? Or is it too late--do you hate me?"
She let her hand fall to her knee, still holding the paper, and looked up at him, wondering how he didn't know the answers to all of these questions. She hadn't even spoken, and he was already almost wincing in anticipation of bad news. She considered ribbing him about the fact that he'd asked three questions instead of one, but reconsidered when she saw his fear. He came off as more raw than she'd ever seen him, and it made her startle a bit to acknowledge how the truth serum really was changing their dynamic. Her voice was gentle.
"Of course I don't hate you. I don't like how we've been treating each other lately, but for the majority of the time we've known each other, you've been an amazing friend *and* mentor. You've given me so much, Josh. I would be the most ungrateful person in the world if I could find a way to hate you."
He still looked unsettled, and she could see the wheels turning in his head as he chose his words.
"Thank you for that, really...but...just because you can list off a bunch of reasons you shouldn't hate me, doesn't mean you don't. So I guess I'm asking whether...even if you can't justify it, do you feel it? Do you feel like you hate me?"
She sighed, seeing what he was getting at.
"For a brief period...I did try to hate you. I was angry with you and I thought it would be easier if I could convince myself that you were all bad. But it didn't work, Josh. I tried to feel it and...it didn't fit."
Josh's eyes were suspiciously shiny, and he was uncharacteristically quiet in his response. She spared him any obligation to respond.
"...and, yes, I meant it when I said you were my best friend. And I want us to be that close again, but I don't know what we have to do to make that happen."
Her heart raced as she provided the first indication of her feelings. Not wanting to make too much of it, she reached onto the coffee table and handed him the next piece of paper. He seemed to get the hint, and cleared his throat before reading it aloud.
"You've told me twice that you miss me. What is it you miss?"
He took a deep, shaky breath, not taking his eyes off of the paper even as he began his answer a long minute later.
"I miss your smile. And your laugh. And the little faces you used to make at me--especially the pout..."
This made him smile a little, and finally look up at her.
"I miss eating takeout with you. And asking your advice. I miss the phone ringing and it being you on the other end. I miss being in the same place as you every day and seeing the real you and knowing you're okay. I miss looking out for you, and hearing you call me by my full name. I miss--"
His voice caught, and he looked back down at the paper.
"...I miss touching you. I miss the way you smell. I miss noticing how your eyes change color depending on how you're feeling. I just...miss you."
On his last words, which came out as a whisper, he blinked his eyes back up to hers, and twin tears fell down his cheeks. A lump was firmly lodged in her throat and without making a conscious decision to do so, she reached out to wipe away his tears. As her thumbs slowly, tenderly, grazed his cheeks, he brought his own hands to hers, gently wrapping his fingers around her wrists, returning her touch. His breathing was shaky, and his eyes revealed a depth of feeling more nakedly than they ever had.
"I miss you, too," she managed finally.
Now his fingers stroked the back of her hands, softly, tentatively, and she wanted nothing more at that moment than to crawl into his lap and cry in his arms. At one point, he opened his mouth as if to speak, then shook his head and closed his eyes. Another tear escaped. Just as tenderly, she wiped it away.
Donnatella Moss had just wiped away his tears, Josh thought disbelievingly. Eight years of trying to be strong enough for her— strong enough for both of them—and a tiny vial of bitter liquid breaks him down.
"So I guess we've crossed over to the hard questions", he said, making a feeble attempt at a joke.
She smiled graciously and nodded, not removing her hands. He knew that if she kept touching him, kept being so tender, he would *really* lose it.
She nodded again, and, he hoped, reluctantly removed her hands from his face.
"What is the worst thing I've ever done to you?"
She looked back up at him, an apology in her eyes for what she was about to say. He braced himself again.
"You didn't take the meeting. I could tell...you knew what was coming. It was a choice, and you chose to ignore me about the most important decision I've ever made. I know we've already talked about it, but...it was a big slap in the face. After Gaza, I thought things between us had changed. I thought we were closer. I thought we were beyond that. But when you wouldn't take the meeting, it made me question everything."
He'd suspected this would be the answer, but hearing it didn't make things easier. Part of why he'd asked was because he was so guilty for all the mistakes he'd made with her that he wanted to punish himself. Maybe if he suffered enough, he reasoned, he would earn the right to love her.
"Gaza did change things between us, Donna. Maybe that made me even more terrified of losing you..."
"I get that."
"But I'm sorry. And I hate myself for doing it. And...there are very few things I regret more."
She nodded again.
"That ties into my next question," she said, handing him the paper,
which he read promptly.
"If you could do any one thing over when it comes to our friendship, what would it be?"
He set the paper back down and looked her squarely in the eye, his voice strong once again.
"In Gaza...it would've been me. I never would've sent you. It would've been me."
His eyes clouded over as he flashed back to the image that still gave him nightmares--the memory of finding Donna's empty blood- stained hospital room.
"It wasn't your fault, Josh."
Her hands were on his again, and he knew that he was once again coming close to the emotional edge.
"Donna...please. I'm not blowing you off, but...I don't think I can handle talking about Gaza right now. Just...you wanted to know what I'd do over, and that's it."
She squeezed his hands.
She picked up the next piece of paper. When she read it, it tore him out of his reverie.
"Have you ever wanted us to be more than we were to each other? If so, why didn't you ever tell me?"
Upon reading this—the only question that mattered—Donna closed her eyes. This was the big white elephant in the room; the one thing that would have been inappropriate for them to talk about. This is what Jed Bartlet had sent them there to discuss. And now that she had to give the answer--an answer that was so simple--she couldn't figure out how to say something that would do it justice. She was silent for a long, long time before opening her eyes and beginning.
"Josh...from day one, I have felt a connection to you that I don't feel to anyone else in this world. And it didn't take me long to figure out that I wanted everything with you. But by the time I was really ready to admit it, we'd been in the west wing for a year--the thing with Sam and the call girl happened, then I watched CJ and Danny dance around it…and I came to understand how dangerous it was, and how inappropriate, and how, even if by some miracle you felt the same way...nobody else would understand what we had."
She was somehow out of breath, and took a deep inhale and a sip of water before continuing, all the while looking back and forth between her hands and Josh's eyes.
"...and as time passed, and different things happened...Rosslyn, the
MS, then Cliff, then Amy, then reelection, then Amy again, later on
there was Colin and recovering from Gaza...the timing was never
right. And it was only half the time that I dared to let myself
think you were even interested, so...there just never seemed to be a
time when it all came together. If I was sure you felt the same
way, I would've--"
"Read my next question," he interrupted.
With a shaking hand, he reached and grabbed the folded square labeled with his '5' and pressed the piece of paper into her hand. Now both their hands were shaking. She looked down at their shaking hands for a long moment before gathering the courage to unfold the paper. A strange sensation washed over her, of deja vu, and things going in slow motion. She read the words once, twice, three times-- just to make sure--but could not find her voice to say them aloud.
*Do you love me? Because I still love you.*
She looked back up at him. His eyes were shining, and he looked nauseous, terrified. Completely unable to speak, or breathe, she nodded an emotional 'yes'.
As he pulled her into his arms and crushed her against him, he let out a little sob. She felt his heart pound wildly in his chest, and was overwhelmed. She let the silent tears of vindication fall, and remained in his fold until well after they had both calmed.