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A Priori

by: Tahlia

Character/Category: Amy, Angst
Pairing: Josh/Donna
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: The West Wing belongs to Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Production, and other various companies that aren't mine. I'm just borrowing these characters; I swear.
Summary: This was the endgame. This was the final act. Standing there, I could feel there was nothing after this.

A priori [literally, from the former] - deductive; relating to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions; presupposed by experience; being without examination or analysis; presumptive; formed or conceived beforehand.

OK, so maybe what I just did wouldn't be called rational by many bodies of knowledge-- more likely, the word would be 'childish' or 'clichéd'--but I did it. And I think I can live with myself, too. Which, I must say, is the most important part of a decision: living with the consequences.

I can live with the fact that I walked out of his apartment and left a handwritten note explaining (quite concisely, I might add) why I was never coming back.

The first hole in our relationship was so glaringly obvious it almost hurt. I expected he'd give me a fight on the welfare bill--we're politicians, fights are what we do--and it wasn't that he disagreed with me. That wasn't what made me so angry. He made me angry because he went over my head and appealed to my boss. He fought the dirty game of politics, and I was the casualty.

That was our first hole, our first obstacle. It wasn't, however, my first indication.

*

I walked out of the Mural Room remembering how much I hated photo ops. All those cameras flashing over and over, and that grin plastered on your face for what seems like an eternity. John Tandy was a natural at it, the way he had grabbed me by the waist and pulled me closer to him while flashing a smile that, if you looked back on those photos, you'd think he was smiling just for you. It had drawn me to him in the first place, when I'd stand in the back of his campaign headquarters and he'd walk off the stage with his eyes seemingly locked only on me. Maybe that's why he was such a successful politician.

But that's not the point. I'm talking about Josh.

You could hear them whooping and shouting and laughing over the din of conversation and the small band who was trying desperately to ignore them. Their exclamations of delight were vaguely decadent and one could almost smell the collective odor of alcohol on their breath. Or maybe that was just imagination. It was possible, considering I hadn't exactly declined the various glasses of alcohol handed to me.

It struck me as mature frivolity, the way they were strutting and moving rhythmically (one could hardly call it dancing--it was a shame to the word in most cases) to rather juvenile music while still managing to maintain a drop of dignity. But only a drop. I won't push it on that topic.

And I wasn't the only one gawking at this strange display. A group of politicians and reporters had gathered to watch the President's otherwise composed Senior Staff (and respective aides and assistants, I noticed) let loose. Most were shaking their heads and smiling. Some, I noticed, were wondering if they could join in, too. They were, no doubt, having much more fun than the rest of us in there.

"Why are they..." I directed the question at no one in particular.

"Polling numbers," the man next to me said.

"Oh." I gulped my smile down. "I'm taking a wild guess here: they were good?"

The man laughed. "I guess so."

I found myself looking for him before I realized I was looking for him. I wanted to see him do something stupid and not see me see him doing this stupid thing. I wanted to see this said stupid thing so, later, I could tease him. I wanted to poke fun at his dancing abilities, or lack thereof, and remind him he hadn't lost that gawkiness I remembered in college. And that I didn't mind.

And when I finally did spot him, champagne or something alcoholic in hand, he was a prime target. Sure, if the song was right and slow enough his swaying could be interpreted as dancing, but no amount of fancy words could make up for what I saw. Somewhere in the world, a choreographer was having a heart attack. Sam Seaborn (someone I wouldn't deny had a few good looks about him, in a boyish kind of way) was egging him on, too. Oh no, Sam, I thought. Don't.

Josh seemed to be going up to random people--mostly women, I concluded--taking their hands and swaying them, hoping they, too, would join him in mocking the art of dancing. Some obliged him, but most simply appeased them, swaying when he paid attention to them and turning back to their respective partners once he passed. In one dramatic move, he even managed to pass CJ Cregg off to Sam with some semblance of grace; Sam, in turn, gave her to an eagerly waiting Toby Ziegler. Those crazy kids.

I'll admit the next display of drunken affection caused me much pain; or rather, jealously. Had I known this was typical behavior for Josh after only one glass of vodka I could have saved myself from the next few moments. But at the time I was in the dark, and the following incident ensued.

I had made it my job to learn her name: Donna Moss. Call it a fit of pre-relationship anxiety, but somehow that fact seemed very important to me. Especially now. She was there whispering in his ear before Tandy showed up, her proximity just a little too close for my comfort. He swore there was nothing between them and I believed him, but she was still a blip of my radar that warranted investigation. I noticed her before she noticed me. That kind of thing.

So anyway. The incident.

She was leaning against the doorframe to what I believe was his office--but I could be wrong, I wasn't an expert on the whole layout of the place--when he came around to her. And she must have enjoyed the attention, because she was one of the few women that obliged him. It became quite obvious she, too, wasn't exactly the most sober person in the room, though not nearly as much as Josh.

They were dancing a waltz to absolutely the wrong beat and tempo. Perhaps that was the point. They were horribly offbeat; they were stepping on each other's feet. Ridiculous was an applicable word. But then, perhaps that was also the point. Neither seemed to be trying very hard to maintain decorum.

At that moment, I wondered where was the President and would he approve of such a display? It was a strange time to think that, I know, but I'm chalking that one up to the alcohol as well.

They were laughing--everyone was laughing--and even from my distance the glee was apparent in their faces. Sure, it was doused in intoxication, but they were thoroughly having fun. They were comfortable in each other's presences.

And you know what? It bothered the hell out of me.

*

I tried to remember why I was there as I pressed his buzzer. It had something to do with the things he'd said about Tandy, and everything to do with how much I wanted to believe him. About Tandy, that is. And a small part of me wanted to make sure he hadn't lied to me earlier.

There was a noise uttered from the intercom that sounded vaguely like Josh grunting. All indications pointed to having woken him up.

"It's me," I said, wondering whether or not we might have a lengthy conversation about my being there right over the intercom. I hugged myself in preparation for the massive loss of body heat.

There was no protest however, only the sound of my being buzzed in. I counted that as a victory and eagerly grabbed the door.

He looked quite disheveled when he answered my knock--he had removed his tie and his shirt was untucked from his pants, but the wrinkles in his shirt indicated somewhere between the untucking and now he had fallen asleep. That, and the small wrinkle marks on his left cheek. And the fact that the bright lights from the hallway were, well, too bright for his eyes.

"Amy." His voice was a mixture of surprise and defeat. As if he hadn't recognized the person who he'd buzzed in.

"You were awfully friendly tonight," I said without preamble. He looked puzzled. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

He studied me for a moment, perhaps trying to find his mental bearings. "You were watching?"

"I hate to break it to you, J-man," I pushed past him, into his apartment, "but you drew a lot more attention than just me. You and your unique dance techniques were the highlight of the evening."

"Sure, you can come in," he said absently.

I visually surveyed the apartment. Not bad. I'll bet he never comes here. I found myself humming various bars of "I Could Have Danced All Night." I was enjoying myself--poking fun at him, that is--though there was that little hint of malice with each of my breaths.

"Amy, why are you--"

"He's not using me." Hey, with him, I felt like I had to hammer this point home. He was rather thick skulled in that department.

"OK." That was not Josh agreeing with me--one could only be so lucky--that was Josh not belaboring the point. I didn't say anything else, because I didn't know what to say. "Is that all?"

Well... so maybe there was more to say.

"You seemed to be enjoying yourself tonight," I said without missing a beat. "So did she."

"Who--"

"Your terribly attractive assistant, J."

He stared at me a moment, perhaps contemplating the veracity of 'terribly attractive'. "Donna?"

"Is that her name?" I lied.

"Yes." He sighed. "She is. She was." He shook his head. "Never mind."

Oh, but how can I pass this up? "Yes, she was enjoying herself, or yes, she's terribly attractive?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Can you even say that--'terribly attractive'?"

"I don't think that's the point, J-man."

I flopped down on his couch, not bothering to remove my coat. I wasn't planning on staying, not at the moment at least. I'll admit now I was only toying with him, taking advantage his drunken state. Not the best tactic, I realize that, but I had had a few drinks myself, so I didn't consider myself in the best of mental conditions.

"You're sending me mixed signals here," I said. Partially true, I reassured myself.

"I don't understand."

I laughed. It was a laughable comment. "Do you want to go out with me, Josh?"

"You're seeing Tandy." He sat down on the couch, too.

"But you want to go out with me."

He ran his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture I came to recognize. "Yeah," he admitted.

"And, see, this is where the whole mixed signal thing comes in." I leaned back on the couch, and propped my feet on his table. They made this loud clunk that grabbed his attention.

"What are you talking about?"

"You really want to go out with me?"

"Yes," he emphasized.

"And the dancing, that's just--what?--a little extra on the side?"

That just tumbled out of my mouth into the space between us. I might have put it a little differently in another situation, but by then, I was beyond caring about appearances. It was a valid point in my mind.

He eyed me suspiciously, and he was suddenly more sober than I knew him to be. "What are you getting at?"

See! This was exactly what I meant when I said, "guys like him." He really needed to be hit on the head. I recognized this dance of his. Oh, he knew full well what I was insinuating, but unlike other relationships, what we had (or wanted to have, at this point) was not subtle. I had to come out and say it in plain and simple terms; I couldn't dance around it and expect him to understand. Josh lived like a racehorse in the Kentucky Derby--a permanent set of blinders affixed to his head.

"I need to know if you've got," I gestured for the appropriate phrase, "conflicting loyalties."

"You should talk," I heard him mumbling under his breath, but I didn't call him on it. It was a fair shot, albeit cheap. He let out a sigh. "We don't have a thing."

"Us?"

"Me and Donna. Donna and I." He shook his head. "I am not dating Donna."

"OK."

"Though I distinctly remember pointing that fact out already..."

I smiled wryly. "It just needed confirming."

It didn't take much to believe him. I had arrived at his apartment already believing him; in fact, only a sliver of doubt existed in my mind--a tiny, miniscule fraction of a sliver, in fact--that I wouldn't believe him. This was a game, and I was making my move. It just so happened my move involved his very attractive assistant. Pure innocence.

My last coherent thought of the night was of how natural Tandy's smile was in front of those cameras. And how much it reminded me of Donna's comfort in Josh's arms while they danced. So comfortable.

Yeah, my brain said as I was kissing him, just a tiny, little sliver of doubt...

*

I've filed the night of the State of the Union under "Alcohol-Induced (and Often Irrational) Doubts" and thrown away the key. At least, I thought I had thrown away the key, because somehow the cabinet keeps opening.

In goes the night Simon Donovan was shot, when I commiserated with scotch and wondered where Josh had run off to after he hung up the phone. There's an addendum to that file, too, when he stumbled into my apartment at seven o'clock the next morning and said he'd just gone to the office.

There's a well-beaten file, one that goes in and out, back and forth between this drawer and "Reasonable Doubt." It's when he told me he'd be spending Election Night at the campaign office, and that I couldn't join him. I've underlined his comment, "It wouldn't be proper," several times with my imaginary highlighter. Stuffed behind that is when I called his cell phone to offer my congratulations, and she answered his phone with a laugh laced with alcohol and, "Josh Lyman, God's gift to women."

Oh, but there's more. I have separate files for Christmas and New Year's Eve. I decided to condense the feeling I get every time she answers the phone at his office into one file, which I call "Hold, Please." The file "I've Got to Go" details all the times his cell phone has rung in the middle of dinner.

What's humorous about all these "files" is the identical opening to every one. "Josh loves me, or at least has strong feelings for me, and would never do anything to purposely jeopardize this relationship. He isn't seeing other women and he isn't thinking about breaking up with me. That being said, here's why I think he's seeing someone else and/or he wants to break up with me..."

What broke the bank--or rather, the imaginary hinges on the drawer in my mind--was the large and overstuffed file entitled "The Inaugural Ball."

*

I took an absent sip of my champagne and wondered when I had come to this realization. I couldn't remember the build-up, I couldn't remember feeling that first inkling that this was the end and there was no turning back, that he had begun moving on with his life. Everything was fine and then suddenly I was standing in the lobby and I realized we had been play-acting for months now.

I had been sick of pacing--my strappy sandals were barely cut out for dancing and my toes were protesting as I dug them in. Who knew you needed official clearance to enter the West Wing hours before an inaugural party? Josh had weakly argued to let me sit in the chairs while he ran to his office--and won--but I got that feeling. I hated that feeling. I felt like he wasn't putting all his energy into it. Maybe, I told myself, it was because he knew it was a non-point, that there was no way in hell I was going to get in. But still... I plopped myself back on the chair I had first occupied.

She came bustling past the guard and was already rounding the corner when she stopped to take notice of me. Her long black coat was dotted with the remnants of melting snow. I had, apparently, been in here so long it had started snowing again.

"Amy," she said, surprised.

I stood, putting my best foot forward. "Hey, Donna," I replied cheerfully.

"Is he...?" She moved to point down the hallway in the general direction of Josh's office.

I replied quickly, "Yeah." Almost too quickly.

"Oh." You're not supposed to be here, her eyes accused me.

I watched Donna sway back and forth on her feet, unsure of what came next. When she did, her coat fell open, and I noticed she was wearing a very lovely burgundy gown. It wasn't something one picked up off the sale rack--the cut, the fabric, the effort she took to hide it from the elements, screamed how much of her little salary she had spent on the number. It was nice, the small glimpse I got of it. Actually, it was stunning; it was stunning on her, the way the burgundy contrasted just right with her blonde hair. Gorgeous.

I suddenly felt somewhat inadequate in my little black off-the-shoulder number.

"He forgot the speech."

Her eyes shot up and a look of, well, a look of enjoyment crossed her face. "Sam's speech?"

"Uh-huh."

"For the Four Seasons?" she smiled.

"I believe so."

"He forgot Sam's speech," she stated incredibly.

How did Josh put up with this repetition? "That's what I said."

It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that they had had this conversation before. Not myself and Donna; Donna and Josh--about this speech. From our small exchange I could feel the excitement she got from knowing he had screwed up, that he had forgotten this speech.

I might have taken that moment to scream for Josh to hurry up if he hadn't already whizzed past us.

He was almost to the guard when he turned. I braced myself for the remark he was about to make, something about me holding up the party or him reminding me not to whine about having to make this stop. It was always the same.

"Donna, what are you doing here?"

OK, so that wasn't what I was expecting. I wasn't even aware I had changed my name to...

"Just making sure," she said with a smile.

"Of what?"

"That you hadn't forgotten the speech Sam entrusted you with." Her eyes drifted to the white piece of paper clutched in Josh's hand, but she said nothing else.

Finally, my presence registered on his radar.

"You told?" He made it seem like I had betrayed some secret covenant.

"I wasn't supposed to?" I asked incredulously.

Josh thought about it for a moment and fidgeted with his bowtie. The bowtie I had spent twenty minutes fighting with him about (he didn't want me to help, and I didn't want him to make an ass of himself by not wearing one) so I could tie it proper. Now he was making a nervous habit of pulling on one of the bows, and in my mind I saw my hard work going done the drain as I imagined the entire thing coming undone.

"We gotta go," he told me quietly.

I mumbled OK, looked to Donna to say goodbye without any words, and began walking towards the door.

"I'll see you later?"

I looked at Josh with confusion. After a second, I realized he was speaking over me, to Donna.

"Yeah," I heard. I didn't turn around. I didn't want to see the sugary grin I heard with her reply.

"You look,"--was he hesitating on my account?--"good. I just,"--or was my standing right next him not even playing into his mind?--"thought I should, you know, point that out."

I had become invisible. I heard her heels clicking on the tiled floor, and turned to see her standing in front of him. Donna studied him for a second, and then her hands were on his bowtie. Perfectly manicured fingers were straightening my handiwork. He was looking down at her, not saying a word. She seemed to stand there for hours, pulling and plucking to make it perfect.

Finally, she stepped back, wearing a look of satisfaction. "Thanks," Josh whispered.

"Thank you," and I wasn't sure what she was referring to.

The tension was very familiar, and all I could think of was a large glass of champagne, possibly two. I felt like Donna was standing in the crack that had been forming between Josh and I lately, pushing on the sides. Three glasses of champagne.

John Tandy used to slip his arm around my waist at photo ops and pull me closer. It was so natural, like breathing or a heartbeat. Such was Josh, as his hand rested on the small of my back. Suddenly, I was the center of his attention again.

"We gotta go," he repeated.

Four glasses.

*

There were lobbyists in front of me--lobbyists that on any other day I would have made a point to know. After all, my career had been teetering on the edge of disaster since May. But now their words were silent to me; they were slipping in one ear and out the other, as I sipped my champagne and pretended to be interested.

She tied his bowtie in front of me. In front of me. She had some nerve...

We had danced when we were obligated to dance--Tony Bennett singing "The Best is Yet to Come," when the President asked Josh and other Senior Staffers to join him--and only once when we weren't. He was shmoozing with friends and laughing with fellow politicians who had gotten Bartlet elected and re-elected; after a while, I stopped following him around. I allowed myself to let former colleagues distract me. I stood still and watched him moving away from me.

This was the endgame. This was the final act. Standing there, I could feel there was nothing after this.

I allowed myself to fall back into the conversation in front of me. It was the least I could do when my arms could no longer reach far enough to keep him next to me.

"I'm not saying what they're doing is proper; in fact, it's a disgust to word 'humane.' But we can't just go in and arbitrarily shut down clinics!" Her name was Sydney--at least, she looked like her name should be Sydney. I had met with her on a few occasions; she shuttled her politics between the WLC and Amnesty International.

The other man shook his head. "The Kemp-Kasten Amendment prohibits the United States from providing funds to a country the President determines to be providing involuntary abortions or sterilization. I don't see what choice Bartlet has--" To be honest, I didn't know who the hell this guy was. I hadn't exactly been completely undivided in my attention when Sydney was introducing him.

"What about all the clinics that provide legal abortions? If you shut down all the illegal ones, then the dominos are going to fall and suddenly you've got some Republican senator calling for a reversal of Roe vs. Wade!"

"Don't they do that already?" I snickered into my champagne.

"Amy," Sydney said with surprise, "you've decided to join us."

I ignored the comment--it was often what one did when they spoke with Sydney--and continued. "It's a long way from China's one-child policy to criminalizing abortion in America."

The other man smiled; it didn't take long to see he had been trying to make this point for some time.

Sydney pushed ahead nevertheless. "If we pull back our UNFPA funding, we're depriving Chinese women the right to get a safe and voluntary abortion." She sighed. "It's Mexico City all over again."

My eyes tried to find the man we were here to celebrate tonight. "It should be noted that Ritchie did not win the past election."

Sydney shot me a look of contempt--I doubted she was used to being the odd woman out in any argument--but the other man just chuckled a little into his champagne, trying to be discreet.

Behind me, someone laid a hand on my bare shoulder. I had lost track of Josh ten minutes ago, and when I turned, I half-expected him to be standing there. But it wasn't him; someone's assistant--she was familiar, but I couldn't place her--leaned in close and whispered that the President's party was departing soon and that I should begin wrapping things up. I nodded. After a second, I began to mention that I would let Josh know, but she was already departing and I doubt she had heard me.

I downed the last bits of champagne still clinging to the sides of my glass.

"I hate to just abandon you, but..."

Really, I didn't mind; but then, I had to be nice.

Sydney was nodding sympathetically. "We understand." She stole a sly look at the man standing next to her. "You're just so important," she gushed.

I wish.

There were hundreds of dancing couples behind Sydney. Swirling and twirling, they seemed to fade into one another. They ceased to be individuals; instead, they became one dancing mass. They were an image in my peripheral vision. Occasionally, someone would catch your eye--the President and his wife, for example, or perhaps the statuesque figure of Bartlet's press secretary sweeping past you. Except at that moment, as my gaze drifted over Sydney's shoulder for a brief moment, they seemed to be in the middle of everything. Their presence was pulling my eyes to them.

If tonight was the final act, then the curtain was suddenly falling down on me quicker than I had time to move. Yet at the same time, everything seemed to be slowing down.

I was staring; I was distinctly aware of this fact and didn't really care. I noticed his hand resting rather tenderly on her lower back--much like Tandy's had been months earlier; I noticed the intense gaze they shared. I saw the way her shoulder briefly brushed against another couple, and they seemed too engrossed in one another to notice. I observed for the first time the low back to her gorgeous burgundy dress, and the way her straight blonde hair matted itself against her creamy white skin. I noticed how perfect and radiant she looked; I noticed how utterly enthralled he seemed to be of her.

Once, I thought, Josh had thought of me that way. Below me, the thin floor of our relationship was crumbling.

They had lost that distinct drunken swagger I remembered about them; tonight they were full of grace. They moved with the correct tempo, with the correct beat. Before they had seemed impulsive and juvenile; tonight, they appeared calculated and very mature. The two incidents were so drastically different in every way except for one.

Donna was smiling sweetly and it struck me how comfortable they were, how natural they seemed to glide across the dance floor, around the other couples. It took work for Josh and I to achieve that comfort, even in the high point of our relationship; to them, it was second nature, like breathing.

The world suddenly picked up again when they broke from one another, when the song ended, when I saw him making his way towards me. His smile betrayed the revelation I had come to.

His loyalties, it would seem, were indeed conflicted.

*

He pressed a few solitary kisses to my face when we returned to his apartment, but as we shed our respective eveningwear, we both knew this was it. I tucked myself under the covers; after a few minutes, I felt him behind me, his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. This was not Josh oblivious to the situation in front of him; this was Josh trying to end it on a positive note.

The next morning I extricated myself from his covers and his grasp one last time. I tiptoed quickly across the floor, in the brusque air pulling on pants and a sweater. A small, dull pain was already forming in my head from the champagne, and I tried to ignore it.

I gathered my dress on its hanger, found the two strappy shoes scattered on the floor and placed them in a bag. In the bathroom, I gathered the jewelry I had worn that night and the various pieces of makeup that had accumulated there over the months. I opened the closet door quietly--it creaked, and I didn't want to wake him--and took my sweaters off his hangers; I removed two pairs of jeans from his dresser. In the living room, I took what CDs I knew were mine. Everything fell into the overstuffed bag with my shoes. I hadn't intended on coming tonight and never returning.

I saw her straightening his bowtie in the lobby, and wondered how much of her was in this apartment.

I thought about starting a pot of coffee for him. I did it every morning, since the man seemed incapable of making decent coffee. It would be the last reminder of me he'd have. I began to lower my bag to the ground when I snapped it back up. He didn't deserve that kind of luxury; he didn't deserve me taking time out of my day to make him coffee.

I knew, by noon, my phone would be ringing and he would want to work things out. He'd want to explain himself; no doubt he'd call me crazy for thinking I saw something. I wish I still had a secretary to deflect his calls, to lie and say I wasn't in.

It took twenty minutes to collect myself from his apartment; when I was finished I was more angry and irrational than when I had risen.

It would explain what I did, what I wrote.

J--

I imagine 'Fuck you, Josh Lyman' would be an appropriate sentiment for what I feel right now. It was nice while it lasted, which--you have to agree--was when we should have cut it short. I'm not playing this game anymore; there are too many players, and you seem to have broken all the rules. So this is goodbye and I really shouldn't ask you not to call, because I know you, Josh Lyman, and I know you'll call anyway. Try not to sound so pathetic. Goodbye, again.

                                                                       -- Amy

PS:          (1) Congratulations on keeping your job.
              (2) If you want to make her happy, learn to make your own damned coffee.

Outside, the beginnings of a sunrise glinted in the falling snowflakes. I wondered if it had been snowing nonstop since last night. Gingerly I took each of the front steps--no one had thrown a free batch of salt on the ice yet.

When I reached the sidewalk, I took one final look up at the building. Josh's bedroom was still dark, and I imagined the alcohol in his system would knock him out for a while. I realized this was the last time I'd stand here. Suddenly, I couldn't help remember standing in here in snow before, kissing him for the first time on these very steps.

A cab whizzed behind me, and pulled me from my thoughts. Quietly, I sighed, turned, and made my way to my car.

THE END.

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