"Ma'am, is this chair taken?"
Donna turned quickly from where she'd been scanning the side entrances of the room only to find yet another usher staring down at her, trying to take the seat she'd been saving. It was a White House wedding; one would think the intense over-planning would eliminate this kind of thing. Apparently with over 700 guests trying to find seats, there was no way around it.
And when exactly had she become a ma'am? She wasn't old enough to be a ma'am… was she?
She nodded her head and the usher moved on. You would have thought the fact that her purse was on the chair would have given him the hint in the first place. She'd chosen a spot on the aisle for easy in and out access. However, she was a little afraid he wouldn't see her when he came in; that's why she was trying to keep an eye on the entire room. Since Josh wasn't a stranger to the White House, he might not come in through the main doors, but instead try and slide in a side entrance.
Nervously, she fidgeted in her seat as she continued to search with her eyes. At the same time, she did try and look as nonchalant as possible so as not to attract any undue attention. She really needn't have bothered; with so many important guests, no one was paying her any mind.
Her stomach continued to churn as it had since he'd left her on the stairs. Something was brewing and it wasn't good. In the last 24 hours she'd fielded dozens of press questions about rumors of a campaign shake-up. A shake-up could only mean one thing.
The thought made her shiver and she wrapped her arms across her torso. She’d just gotten him back professionally; she couldn't stand the thought of losing him again so soon. But she shook off the notion; Matt Santos would never allow it to happen. This was just a bump in the road. She hoped.
Anxiously, she glanced at her watch; the wedding should have already started. She just wished she knew where he was. It struck her that this was the first time she'd been allowed to worry, or even try to take care of him, in a long time. For months she wouldn’t let herself, and then the divide of opposite campaigns made it impossible. They didn't and couldn't share that kind of intimacy then. But even in those months, she always wondered how he was doing without her. Donna had to admit that she'd hoped that he was good, but not too good.
She wished she would have said something, anything to make him feel better on those stairs. And she was pretty sure she really hadn't. Were they still so out of sync that she could no longer make him feel better? She hadn't seen him like this since the Carrick debacle. And if he was in a state-of-mind like that, she wasn't sure he was even going to make the ceremony. Donna also had to admit that even if he did make it, there were no guarantees he would elect to sit by her.
The truth was, he hadn't seemed too anxious for her company earlier. Donna hoped that it was because he was distracted and worried and not just because it was her. She honestly didn't think it was her. Because lately, the last week or two, it felt like they'd gotten some of their… thing back. Their thing… their mojo, their groove… whatever you call it, it was returning. Slowly. They seemed to be back to working and communicating with one another seamlessly. And there had even been some jokes and good conversation.
She tried to surreptitiously turn and stare at the entrance. Was he being fired right now? Did he need her? To do what, she wasn't sure, but she did know that if it was the worst she would be there for him whether he wanted her support or not. Which brought up a question, would she stay if he was forced out? She wasn't really sure. On one hand she'd worked damn hard to get where she was and to prove that she could do it without him. On the other hand, if Santos had lost faith in Josh, then she was pretty sure she would lose all faith in Santos.
Once again, she was twisted in her seat, trying to survey the side of the room without being obvious, when she felt someone lean over her again. Maybe she should just give up the seat; it seemed like the ceremony was about to begin.
By reflex she intoned, "I'm sorry, the seat is taken." Apparently, she wasn't ready to give up hope that he would make the ceremony.
"I was kind of hoping you were saving it for me."
Donna whipped around at the sound of his voice. "Josh! There you are." She grabbed her purse and scootched over one seat.
"Thanks," he sighed as he slid into the chair.
She watched him expectantly, but he just stared straight forward. He looked tired. She'd seen him look like this before, too many times. He was working himself to death, worrying himself to death and he certainly wasn't taking care of himself. She scolded herself for not forcing him to take better care of himself, before remembering that it wasn't her place these days. The thing that surprised her the most was how much she missed it. Back then she'd been so fed up with taking care of him as part of her job that she had forgotten that she had started doing it in the first place because she wanted to.
A few seconds later Donna started to get light headed, and realized she'd been holding her breath since he sat down. Letting it out with a soft whoosh, she asked, "So… is everything okay?"
Josh didn’t respond; in fact, he didn’t even turn to look at her. He was still a bit shell-shocked after the events of the day. Right about the time she decided he hadn't even heard her, he answered in a low throaty whisper. "They want to replace me with Leo."
"What? You're kidding. Who?"
"They. Them. Everyone."
"Not everyone, maybe Goodwin and Montgomery-" Donna started to protest, but Josh cut her off.
"The Congressman." It hurt is throat to say it.
In shock, Donna sat stock-still for several seconds. What in the heck was going on? Finally, she found her voice. "Did anyone tell the Congressman that Leo is a little bit busy carrying the bottom of the ticket?"
Josh let out a humorless laugh, but continued staring straight ahead.
"I can't believe this." Donna shook her head and slumped back in her chair. "The Congressman would be getting ready to move back to Houston in a few weeks if it wasn't for you."
"No, how dare he!" Donna hissed as quietly as she could, but there was still venom in her whisper. With defiance she sat up straight and turned slightly towards him. "You did this, Josh. You got him here. Practically by yourself. How could he even think of replacing you, let alone do it? I don't understand."
"I made a mistake. I should have-"
"You should have what? Called the psychic chat line? Read the tea leaves? Consulted a fortune teller? Was everyone else predicting that Illinois would be in play and you ignored all the signs?"
"No buts. If the Congressman has lost faith in you over media buys then… then-"
"Then what?" Josh actually glanced over at her.
"Then I've lost faith in him. I quit." She folded her arms angrily across her chest. Apparently, the decision wasn't as hard as she thought it'd be.
Stunned by this announcement, Josh felt his mouth go dry and unexpectedly his stomach jumped and turned inside out. It was truly a day of unpredictable turns. In the last few weeks he'd found out that the President didn't believe in him, that CJ didn't believe in him and that Toby didn't believe in him. Today it was half of the Democratic Party, pundits and the people he worked most closely with. But still, all of that paled in comparison with the betrayal he'd felt when Donna had left him to go work for Russell. But now here she was, threatening to quit in support of him. He didn't know whether to cry, hug her or strangle her. But suddenly things felt lighter. The pressure on his chest started to dissipate and the air around him that had felt suffocating only moments earlier was now miraculously less stifling. Not to mention the full weight of the campaign he'd been carrying recently. It, and everything, felt… lighter.
"No, Josh, I already worked for someone I didn't believe in, I'm not doing it twice."
"You're not quitting," Josh said firmly, finally turning all the way to look at her, but at that moment the music changed.
"I am," Donna responded firmly. "Now shhhhh… the ceremony is about to begin." She turned toward the aisle in order to watch the attendants go by.
But Josh paid no mind to the attendants walking down the aisle. Instead he watched Donna out of the corner of his eye. It felt good to be sitting next to her again. Having her support him again. Hell, just being able to look at her again, even if it was in his peripheral vision.
When the music changed again, Donna rose to her feet and turned towards the back. Josh followed, but now he couldn't take his eyes off of her and he didn't disguise it. He knew he wasn't being replaced, but she didn't. He still couldn't believe she would support him unconditionally like that. After everything that had happened. Sure, things had sort of been getting back to normal between them lately, at least on a superficial note. They worked well together and brought the banter, and he was enjoying it, but he hadn't thought they were at a place where she would not only support him, but sacrifice her job for him. He had refused to hire her and now she was pledging solidarity. Josh didn't know what to think.
"Doesn't she look beautiful?" Donna whispered as the President and Ellie started down the aisle.
Josh's eyes were trained on Donna next to him and he didn't spare a look for the bride before he responded, "Yeah, she does."
Something in the tone of his whisper made Donna look over at him. Her breath caught in her throat when she met his eyes. His gaze was intense, but in a different way than it had been when he'd been berating himself earlier. He looked less upset. And less lost. And there was something else there.
"You're not quitting." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Shhhh… I am." And with that Donna turned her attention back to the wedding.
When the priest told everyone they could sit, Josh obeyed. And he used the time to think, but not about Illinois and not about campaign strategy. He thought about the woman who was sitting beside him. This beautiful woman from whom he'd been separated for nine long months, but who was back now, and who still had his best interests at heart. How could so much, and yet nothing at all, change at the same time.
When the ceremony was finally over and all the guests had risen to leave, he grabbed her hand, slid out into the aisle, and headed in the opposite direction than the exiting guests. "Excuse us. Sorry," he apologized as he pulled her into an empty row and toward the side of the room.
"Josh!" Donna hissed. "Where are we going? We're supposed to exit through the back."
"I used to work here, remember? I know my way around." The next thing Donna knew, they were slipping out a side door and into a familiar corridor. Seconds after that, he was pulling her into a familiar closet.
"Is our relationship about to change, Josh?" She tried to joke, but her voice had a catch in it. She had no idea what was happening, but she did know that her heart was beating a mile a minute and she was acutely aware of the way he was holding her hand. She really liked the way he was holding her hand. It felt intimate in a way that was surprising for such an innocent gesture.
Josh shut the door and suddenly they were face to face. The new and acute proximity made his palms begin to sweat. He was nervous. He had no idea why he'd brought her to this closet. But he needed to talk to her in private and it was the first place he thought of. Probably because it was the first place he saw once he pulled her out of the main hall.
When he finally had his bearings he took a deep breath and met her eye. "You would quit your job for me?"
His voice was more breathless than he would have liked.
Donna's eyes went wide. "Well… sure. It's not fair and it doesn’t make sense. You built this campaign, I watched you do it-"
"From afar," Josh added unnecessarily, and chastised himself the moment the words were out of his mouth. They would never get past the past if he kept bringing it up like that. He vowed not to do it again.
Donna felt a twinge in her gut at his comment, but thankfully, didn't take the bait. "Yes, from afar, but still I watched. Who better to run it than you? If Santos can't see that, I'm not sure he-"
"You can't quit."
"Josh, I don't want to work-"
"If you quit, who am I going to find to be spokesperson?"
"Well, I…" She paused and looked at him curiously. "Who are you going to find to be spokesperson?"
He nodded slowly. "I'm not being replaced."
"What? But you said… what about Leo… and that meeting?"
"Leo's going to go over the map with me at the reception and give me some input. But he's not taking over."
Relief flooded over her and she smiled brightly at him. "Really?"
The smile made him a little weak in the knees. "Yeah."
"Input is good."
Still trying to steady himself he nodded. "Yes."
She furrowed her brow. "What about the Congressman?"
Josh averted his eyes before he replied. Even if he wasn't losing his job, he hated that Donna knew the Congressman had lost faith in him. "I don't know. I… uh… I haven't talked to him about it yet."
"Well, all I can say is that he was just saved from making the biggest mistake of his career. Because you're the man."
That made Josh chuckle. "I'm the man," he repeated and tried to believe it. It was a whole lot easier to trust that it was true when he was looking into crystal blue eyes that truly believed the words. Eyes that truly believed in him. He cleared his throat. "I can't believe you were going to quit your job for me."
"Well, I did it once before," Donna answered without thinking.
Josh just looked at her in confusion.
What was she saying? It was true that she'd had many reasons for leaving her job with him. But it was also true that in the back of her mind one of them had definitely been the fact that their relationship never had any shot of changing while she was his assistant. And if that were true, then it was true that she'd quit so that he would see her as something besides an assistant, both personally and professionally. It was why she'd wanted to work with him again. The plan had always been to work with him again eventually, after she'd proven herself. But she didn't say that. "What I mean is, I would have."
"Oh…" He crinkled his brow. "Thanks."
Taking in his confusion, she bit her lip before diving in. "I'm on your side, Josh. Even when I wasn't on your side, I was on your side."
Josh stared at her long and hard before the corners of his mouth tugged upwards. "That makes no sense."
"It makes perfect sense and you know it."
"Hardly." But he smiled at her. A real honest-to-goodness, heart-felt smile. And she smiled back.
The next thing he knew, her arms had impulsively twined around his neck and pulled him towards her. She was hugging him. It only took a second for him to respond and relax into her. Wrapping his arms tightly around her tiny waist, he tugged her even closer. With a long sigh, he felt even more tension whoosh out of his body. Even if he wasn't getting his pink slip… today of all days, he needed a hug. He sort of loved that she knew that.
A few seconds later she mumbled into his ear. "We're getting it back… right?"
"Getting what back?" he asked, still focused on how it felt to hold her. They hadn't done this for a long time. In fact, as the seconds ticked by and they didn't let go, he realized they had never done this.
Since her chest was pressed against his she could feel the vibrations of the words as he spoke. She liked it. In fact, she really liked being this close to him.
She propped her chin on his shoulder. "I don't know… our thing."
"Our thing?" There was a trace of a chuckle in his voice.
"Yes, our thing. The thing that makes us, us. You know… our groove."
"Oh… our groove."
"So… are we getting it back? Because lately I feel like we've been getting it back. At least a little bit."
"Donna, we're in a White House closet during the political social event of the year and you're hugging me."
"So that means?"
"I think it means that if we haven't gotten our groove back, then we're definitely on the right track."
She pulled away, but her hands were still propped on his shoulders, and his were still cinched behind her back. She surveyed him, trying to figure out what she should say. But his arms were around her and he looked dangerously handsome in his tuxedo and her mind was whirring with the knowledge that they were finally back to being them. Almost.
So instead of something profound and relationship-changing, she said, "You were hugging me back."
"I was," Josh agreed with a quirk of his lip.
"I just wanted to make sure you knew that."
"I knew it." He smiled before reluctantly letting go of her and putting his hand on the doorknob. "I better go find Leo. I still don't know where I'm getting the money for Illinois."
Donna corrected him, "You don't know where we're getting the money for Illinois. You're not in this alone."
Josh bit his lip as a comforting feeling washed over him. He let his eyes roam up and down her. Or as much up and down her as they could see in the small closet, before they found hers again. "You look really, really great tonight."
Her cheeks colored and her heart lurched, but she regrouped and rewarded him with a 1000 watt smile. "Thank you for noticing."
He bobbed his head twice and glanced to the floor before meeting her eye again. His voice was a little rougher this time. "Thank you for being on my side."
"Always. That's one of the laws of the groove. We're always on each other's side." She smiled shyly as he opened the door and she exited in front of him.
"Laws of the groove?"
"Sure," Donna replied confidently as they started walking towards the reception.
"Okay… I think I really like that law."
A lump formed in her throat and she felt heat rise behind her eyes. She didn't succumb, but her voice was low and a bit raw when she said, "Well I really like the groove."
"Me, too," he responded quietly.
A few seconds later he glanced over at her with a hopeful quirk of his eyebrow. "Save me a dance later?" He waited a beat before adding almost shyly, "Maybe we can work on getting our groove back some more."
"I'd like that." Donna pressed her lips together to stop herself from grinning like an idiot. A moment later they reached the entrance. Stopping, she patted him on the back. "Now go find Leo."
At her urging he started across the room, but only made it a few steps before he turned and asked, "Later?"
"Later." Donna nodded and watched him walk across the room in search of Leo. She smiled to herself, feeling happier than she had in ages. Yup, they were definitely getting their groove back.