All We Didn't Want to Say
Character(s): Josh, Donna
Category(s): Angst, Romance
Disclaimer: Aaron Sorkin is my hero. Say You're Leaving belongs to NovaKane.
Summary: "I don't think it's ego to say that Donna and I lost the most when we lost the White House. We lost our second chance."
Spoiler: up to 2162 Votes
It's so quiet now
We've said all we want to say
And all we didn't want to say
And I don't feel any better
What was it we were fighting for anyway?
I'm having trouble thinking
With no time for my head to clear
You say you're leaving...
We're strangers now
Stranger to think that I ever knew you
And I don't feel any better
So this is how it's supposed to be
And this endless anger in me
Won't set me free
You say you're leaving...
There was a time when I believed that she was my life.
For so many years, she was the first person I thought of when I woke in the morning, and the last person that drifted across my tired mind as I fell asleep at night. I had leaned on her for so long that I could barely remember what it was to stand on my own. Even when she left in that last year, she wasn't gone entirely. There were still the late night phone calls, the chance meetings in hotel lobbies that were initially awkward and gradually evolved into something remarkably like what we had shared before. Somewhere along the way, I started to believe that it was only a matter of time and patience. Admittedly, it's not a quality I profess in abundance, but this was too important to let that get in my way. I was sure that if I waited long enough for her, she would come back to me.
I was a fool.
That night was supposed to be the greatest success of our professional lives, and in some dark corner of my mind, I was convinced that it would be a night of personal victory for me as well. The last state would be counted, the numbers would roll in, a hush would fall over the room as the TV anchors stalled, and then everything would explode as they announced Matthew Santos as the next President of the United States. Champagne bottles would be popping, the staff would be dancing and yelling and clapping each other on the back, and I wouldn't care the slightest bit about any of it because I would be far too busy kissing Donna Moss.
It was a nice dream.
Sometimes life has a funny way of tipping all out of balance in the space of a few seconds. Sam told me once about something Will Bailey said to him all those years ago in California...something about there being a moment between when you cast the die and when it hits the table, and if you breathe wrong it'll change how it lands. I think I might have breathed wrong somewhere along the way.
I can't tell you when it started coming undone. I guess there might be an argument to be made that it wasn't any one thing that sent it all to hell. It probably started years ago with some tiny detail that started chipping at the enamel of our relationship. Maybe it was Rosslyn, or Amy, or Cliff, or Commander Wonderful, or Gaza. Maybe I just made one too many comments about her gomers or her ridiculous attention to detail or some other wisecrack.
Maybe I just needed her too much.
But honestly, I kind of like to blame Vinick. Really, where's the fun in anything if you can't blame it on a Republican? Not that there's any fun in this at all, Vinick or no. But it really is the easiest course of action, the simplest explanation. Because if we had won the election, there would be more time. There would have been four more years, maybe eight, where we were working together again, doing the business of leading the country, and doing a damn fine job of it too. Of course, there would be the added bonus of her not being my assistant anymore. Actually, she wouldn't have been working under me at all, since she was going to be on Leo's staff. It would have been perfect. There would have been time for us to work things out again, to fix the cracks that had begun to ease their way between us.
That night, we lost everything. Everyone in that room lost something, and it was devastating for them all, but I don't think it's ego to say that Donna and I lost the most when we lost the White House. We lost our second chance.
We lost each other.
The stunned silence that filled the room for those moments after the anchors announced the winner was deafening as the realization sunk in, and it was so terrifyingly different from the scene I had imagined. It was Helen starting to cry that finally broke through the hush, and then everyone started talking at once. Donna was still by my side, clutching my hand, looking dazed. It had been such a close race, but we had been sure that we had it in the bag. I remember a weak smile crossing my face as I remembered Toby's admonishments about the whatever high atop the thing. We had tempted its wrath, and it had struck us down.
The rest of the night is a blur to me. I remember people coming up to me, Leo, the Congressman, others, and telling me what a great campaign I ran. I nodded and smiled and shook hands and accepted hugs, all the while thinking that if I really had run a good campaign, we would have won and none of their words would be necessary. I remember the call of course, I sat there in the room with Helen and Leo as the Congressman made it, and up until that moment, it was probably the hardest thing I had ever done. By the next morning, that was no longer true.
It was late when she found me. I laughed at her when she tried to tell me that I should get some sleep. There was too much for me to do, I told her. I couldn't sleep tonight. She looked at me then, shaking her head, and it was the expression in her eyes that suddenly hit me with a force I had never before felt in my life. It was true, it was all true, and it was over. "There's nothing left for you to do, Josh," she told me, and she took my hand and led me upstairs to my room. It wasn't until I made it inside that I started to cry.
She stopped at the door, and turned to look at me with something like alarm in her eyes. I turned away from her, sitting at the edge of the bed, and praying that she would just leave. She had never seen me like this, and I didn't want her to. The only times I had ever cried in front of her had been in the aftermath of Rosslyn, those nights when I would wake screaming and she would come running in from the couch to hold me until I could fall back asleep. But this was different. These were not the tears of a traumatized and broken man. They were tears of frustration, and of anger, and of complete and utter helplessness.
I didn't want her to see those things in me.
But when I felt the bed sag with her weight and I felt her arms wrap around me and I heard her soothing voice as she whispered comfortingly into my ear, I didn't care anymore. This woman had seen me at my best and at my worst, and if I gave her one more memory of a defeated and useless Josh, well what difference would that make? So I turned into her embrace and she laid her head on my chest, and we lay there, wallowing in our defeat until sleep claimed us in merciful oblivion.
It was the feeling of her waking that made me open my eyes the next morning. I'm not sure how I felt it. She didn't move at all, but something about her breathing or her heartbeat against mine changed, and it slowly pulled me out of my foggy haze. I absently twirled a strand of her hair between my fingers for a few minutes, fighting off the memories of last night and trying to enjoy this moment. But she finally stirred, and pulled away from me to sit up, and I was shocked to see tears streaming down her face.
She started to talk then, sitting at the edge of this hotel room bed with her arms wrapped around her legs as if they could protect her from the outside world, from me. She told me that she couldn't do this anymore, that the last eight years of her life had been about me, and she needed to have a life of her own now. She had tried over the years, first to fight the feelings she had for me, and then to get me to return then, and finally she had found herself fighting to get those feelings back. Things had changed. We weren't the same people we had been during the campaign, during the first term, during all those years. Maybe, she said, it was her fault for giving up and leaving to join the Russell campaign. Maybe it was my fault for needing more than she could give me. Maybe it was no one's fault.
She told me then that she had gotten a job offer in Boston, and she had been hoping to be able to turn them down if we won the election and she went to work for Leo. She had been hoping that even if we lost, she might have a reason to stay. But if she stayed now, it would be for me, and not because she still loved me, but because I needed her. And that wasn't fair, not to me, and certainly not to her.
She told me she was leaving.
She asked me not to come after her, not to call. Her tears had begun to slow down, but they fell harder as she told me that she didn't think she could go through with it if I tried to stop her. She wanted to stay, more than anything else she had ever wanted in her life, but she knew she would never forgive herself if she did. So she asked me to let her go.
I said I would.
She unwound herself then from the ball she had curled into, and she leaned over to wrap her arms around me. I held her, and her tears soaked into my shirt, and I didn't care. She turned to me, and her lips met mine, briefly and spectacularly, for the first and last time. I used to laugh at people in those sappy movies she would make me watch when they said they felt like their hearts were breaking, but as she kissed me and I tasted the salt of her tears on her lips, I actually felt a physical pain engulf me. I pulled away then, gently, to look into her eyes, and I saw my pain mirrored there.
I don't know how long we sat there like that, staring into each other's eyes, but it was too soon when she stood, gathered her coat and purse from the chair she had draped them on last night, and made her way to the door. I called her name softly, and an overwhelming terror washed over me that she wouldn't stop, that she would walk out the door without letting me tell her. But she paused, her hand on the doorknob. She didn't turn. I bit my lip, knowing that I shouldn't say it, but knowing also that I couldn't let her walk away without hearing it.
"I love you, you know."
She let out a noise that may have been a laugh or a sob, and at this point I don't think there was any line between the two. "I know," she whispered, and then she left.
She walked out the door and I stayed there in that hotel room, curled around a pillow that still smelled of her, and I watched her go. I imagined a million different scenarios of running after her and catching up to her and convincing her to stay, but I acted out none of them. Instead I lay there, and let my tears soak the pillow, and then I got up and began to live a pale imitation of the life I had once led.
There was a time when I believed she was my life.
Weeks passed, and when the postcard arrived a month later, the pain still tugged at me, but I was able to think of her once in a while and smile before I was overcome by sadness. It was progress. And as I looked at the sparkling cityscape and flipped it over to find the nearly illegible writing scrawled across the back, I did smile. It was not a long note. In fact, I had never received a shorter one. But it said all it needed to. That was the way of us...to say more by what went unspoken than by what was actually said.
I love you too, you know.
She had left, and I had let her. Not in spite of the fact that I loved her, but because of it.
"I know," I whispered, and in my broken heart I finally said goodbye.
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