Word Count: 2,850
Summary: "Yeah, look, the trade deal—it's, uh, looking a little beat up right now."
A/N: This sorta' fits into the cracks around 5.19 (Talking Points) and before 5.20 (Crash). I may be taking minor liberties with the timeline; it's hard to tell from canon.
Donna was in early, but Josh had gotten there earlier. She hoped he hadn't slept there; he was wearing a clean shirt, at least, and he might have actually shaved.
He looked up as she stood in the doorway. "Hey."
She smiled. "Hey. Do you need anything?"
"Nah, I'm fine." He paused. "Wait - there's a, uh, file for the Brussels thing on your desk; I need you to go through it and find me all the, uh, stuff for the thing."
Some days, Donna was just glad she spoke Josh. "Sure."
He looked up. "And hey, listen, be nice to Toby today, okay?"
"I'm always nice to Toby."
"Yeah, but Andy's going on this thing soon, and ... " Josh shrugged, vaguely. "You know."
She got it at once. "Nice to Toby. Sure." She put a document wallet down on the desk in front of him. "Here's the information you wanted for Brussels."
He looked kinda sleepy; maybe he had slept in the office. Josh stared at the wallet for a second. "You did it already?"
He absorbed this. "Okay."
She smiled at him. "I'm outside if you need anything."
"Okay." Josh yawned and redirected his attention to the policy documents on the desk.
Donna walked back to her desk. Her bag for Brussels was tucked underneath it, and darned if she was going to give Josh a reason not to take her along.
CJ arrived back at work late morning, after her hairdresser's appointment, and met Toby coming in at the same entrance. She fell into stride beside him. "Isn't it a beautiful day?"
"I wouldn't call it that," said Toby, evenly.
She smiled, unflustered. "And a very good afternoon to you, Toby."
He sniffed loudly and peeled away towards his office.
Josh appeared. "He's sorta' cranky today."
"Is he?" CJ treated him to one of her sunniest expressions. "I honestly hadn't noticed."
He glanced sideways at her as they walked. "Hey—you look good today, by the way."
She did look good. Ben was good for her ego, and that was good for her appearance. CJ didn't question why that was; she just appreciated it. "Why, thank you, Joshua." They arrived at her office; CJ hung up her coat and bag. "For being so nice, I'm going to let you bathe me in asses' milk."
Josh stared. "Asses ...?"
Josh grinned. "Yeah, sorry, I just had this mental ... picture."
She stared at him, exasperated. "Asses as in mules?"
CJ sat down behind her desk. "So what can I do for you?"
Josh grinned boyishly. "Well ... there's this paper on Cleopatra I wrote in junior high that probably needs some revision."
He schooled his features. "Yeah, look, the trade deal—it's, uh, looking a little beat up right now."
"But you're still in the game?" CJ demanded. " 'Cause I've got to go out there and ..." She'd do what she always did: make it sound damn good. But she'd need something to work with, and Josh wasn't making it sound like much.
He sighed again. "Yeah—No, it's fine." He gave her a quick glance. "But, uh, we're gonna need to spin it so I don't come out looking like a Republican sleeper agent."
CJ narrowed her eyes; she could feel the sunshine starting to evaporate. "A Republican sleeper agent?" Determined to remain upbeat, she fluttered her eyelashes. "Why Josh, are you going to tell me you've been playing for the other team?"
Josh blinked at her. "That's ... that's not a euphemism we're going to use about me from now on, okay? If anyone asks, I'm a very athletic, red-blooded—"
"—Nobody's asking," CJ said.
"Well, tell 'em anyway!" It came out a whole lot louder than Josh had probably intended.
There was a short pause, then CJ gave him a sympathetic smile. "They got to you, huh?"
He sat down across the desk from her, frustration evident in the movement. "They just—they screwed us, CJ."
She nodded. "Yeah. Listen, I'm going to come and ask you some questions about it in a while, okay?"
"Yeah," he said, dejectedly.
He looked up. "What?"
She regained her poise, became the wide-eyed ingenue again. "Are you a Republican sleeper agent?"
Josh ran fingers through his hair again. "It's ... actually kinda hard to say at this point." He stood. "I gotta go see Leo."
Halfway to the door, he remembered something and turned around. "Hey, I heard you're introducing the Vice-President at the Correspondents' Dinner."
"Yes. Yes, I am," CJ said, trying to sound more enthusiastic than she felt.
"Well, knock 'em dead," Josh said, and disappeared down the corridor.
"I'm sure it'll be great," CJ called after him.
Left alone, she closed the door and sat down again behind the desk, suddenly tired. "It really was a beautiful day," she said aloud, to nobody in particular.
Early afternoon, Donna found time while Josh was in a meeting to take Ryan aside.
"Sit down." Donna perched on the edge of the desk beside a stack of manila folders.
Ryan sat. "Okay ..."
Donna gave him a stern look. "You're driving him crazy."
"I'm sorry, I don't—what?"
She couldn't quite tell whether Ryan was confused or indignant—but then she supposed it didn't really matter either way. She bit the inside of her lip; Donna hated giving bad news, even to interns. "You're driving him crazy. He needs to focus on the trade deal, and you're distracting him." It was true; Josh had been kinda snappy all day.
Ryan frowned. "I—"
Donna pressed on. "Josh has a very important job, Ryan. He has 27 things to do today and I have to find space in his schedule for the 28th through 43rd." Donna's face assumed a faintly martyr-like quality. "This is what I do: I juggle."
Ryan sighed, exasperated. "I get that, I—"
"It's a very delicate balancing act, Ryan."
"And we're going to help Josh without talking to him, okay?"
He nodded. "Okay."
Her smile was entirely genuine. "Okay, great. Here, you can put these on his desk."
He stood, perhaps trying to reassert himself a little. "Sure, I'll just—"
Ryan nodded and gave her a resigned smile. Walked into Josh's office with the files.
She kept an eye on him after that, though she was careful not to let him notice.
It was late afternoon when CJ found herself at the Vice-President's office.
Will looked up and saw her loitering outside his office. "Hey, CJ."
"Oh, hey, Will."
"What are you doing over here?"
CJ tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "Oh, you know, nothing."
Will nodded. "Okay."
When he looked up again half a minute later, she was still there. "CJ, is there ... something I can do for you?"
CJ stuck her head through the doorframe. "Well, since you ask ... I mean, since I'm here ... "
Will smiled. "Come in." He waved her into a chair and waited.
CJ fiddled with her outfit and looked around the office. "So, is the Vice-President all set for the Correspondents' Dinner?" she began, conversationally.
"Sure, I guess." The Vice-President had run through the speech that morning, but Will was still polishing the language. He supposed he never really finished tweaking speeches until they'd been given. Sometimes long after that, actually.
CJ smiled winningly. "Is it funny?"
Will shrugged. "You'd have to ask the Vice-President."
CJ didn't really look as if she were listening. "Yeah. The thing is—"
"The thing is, the Vice President invited me to introduce him at the dinner ..."
Will smiled and nodded. "And you want me to help you with some material?"
She tilted her head. "I mean, obviously you have a very large mental repository full of your best, funniest, sharply-honed wit, tailored specifically for the Vice President ..."
He shook his head in habitual self-effacement. "Well, that's kind of you, but I'm sure I can—"
CJ leaned in, and in a low, desperate voice, said "I'll take anything."
Will couldn't help himself: he leaned in, too, feeling oddly conspiratorial. "Um, CJ, I'm not sure how to tell you this ... ?"
She looked alarmed. "Tell me what?"
"Well, don't let word get around, but you're actually pretty funny without my help."
She viewed him suspiciously through narrowed eyes. "You're not talking about my height?"
"You have height?" Will asked, evenly. "I really hadn't noticed."
She sat up, injured. "See, this is exactly the kind of thing I meant: let's all point at the funny tall girl."
Oh god. Will's hands flew up. "CJ, that's really not what I—"
"It was a beautiful day, goddamn it!"
It was hard to not to notice the anguish in her voice, though he didn't even pretend to understand why, so Will did what he usually did: he shrugged and looked apologetic. "Look, CJ ... you get up there on that podium every day and you're funny! You're a natural; I'm just not sure you need my help."
CJ shook her head. "I need it, buster. At the dinner, there's going to be a couple of guys from Murt Media whom I may have, well, inadvertently alienated."
"How exactly did that happen?" He flinched immediately at the indelicacy of the question; he probably shouldn't have asked.
"It's really not a big deal," she said, offhandedly, fingertips smoothing an eyebrow, but she wasn't looking at him, either.
Will decided to take this information in stride. "Okay."
"The fact is—" CJ asserted, suddenly, "What happened was— I may have referred to their newspaper as a weapon of mass delusion."
He gave her a wry smile. "Well, I'm not sure that qualifies as inadvertent, and it's certainly not Oscar Wilde, but—"
"It's not funny, Will. It was a cheap joke thrown out in the heat of the moment, and now they're going to make me pay for it." CJ sat dejectedly in the chair, hands pooled in her lap.
"Okay, so ... what do you normally do when this happens?"
"Well, first of all," CJ said, firing up, "leaving aside for a moment the implication that this is in any way normal for me—"
He winced; nodded. "Noted."
CJ subsided again with a helpless gesture. "—I usually flirt."
Will nodded. "So why can't you, you know, charm them?"
"Well, because one of them is basically Oscar the Grouch."
"Okay ... " He had a good idea who that might be. "The other one?"
CJ shrugged ruefully. "Gay."
"But CJ, you're practically a gay icon." Oh god, and now she was going to ask him how he knew that—Will found himself rehearsing several sentences that were all trying very hard not to sound like denial or self-justification.
But CJ just sighed. "That's as may be, Toodles, but I honestly don't think Ted Butterman cares." She got to her feet. "Look, I have to go right now—Josh is going to explain to me why we're suddenly the toast of New Delhi."
Will nodded sympathetically. "Yeah, I heard about that." He stood, hoping he looked reassuring. "I'll send some remarks over later, okay?"
"Thank you," she said, with evident sincerely, and left.
Will watched her go, and then went back to staring at his notes for the speech.
Josh had been pacing up and down the bullpen a lot anyway, so Ryan figured Donna couldn't harrass him for actually walking into Josh's office and making conversation. What she didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right? He sat down in the chair nearest the door. "So, uh, are you gonna come to this thing, or what?"
Josh looked up. "What thing?"
Ryan affected a casual expression. "You know, my leaving party."
Josh gave half a laugh. "No. I mean, I don't have time right now, okay? Donna wants to go on the Brussels trip, and ..." He trailed off.
Oh, so that was how that went. He totally knew it. Ryan held up a hand in fraternal apology. "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't realise you and Donna—"
"We're not—" Josh said, quickly. He frowned at Ryan. "I'm not—This isn't the kind of place where we have Date Your Co-Worker Day, okay? It's not just, like, some big frat house stunt or something. Work goes on here."
"I know that," Ryan said, miffed. Josh could be kind of an asshole.
"It's just—" Josh foundered "—There's a— You're upsetting the delicate— There's a balance, and—"
Ryan shook his head and smiled. "It's cool, man. I get it. You're into Donna, I won't stand in your way. I can be the bigger man here, Josh. I'm totally hands-off, you know what I'm saying?"
"Uh, not really," Josh said, distracted. "Look, I have this thing now, so ... " He stood.
"But I'm there for you, okay?" Ryan remained sprawled in the chair. "I'm gonna be your wing man—"
Josh gave him a look. "Get out."
"Okay," Ryan said, meekly, and left.
Josh sighed. "Donna!"
She poked her head around the door. "Uh huh?"
"I'm gonna be in with him for a while."
"Okay." She paused. "You're not going to Ryan's leaving party?"
He gave her an amused look. "No."
"You should go. I think he actually kind of looks up to you," she offered.
"You wanna know something funny? 'Cause ... I just remembered I'm not talking to you," Josh said, and strode off down the corridor towards Leo's office.
Donna stuck her tongue out at his retreating form. It was pretty juvenile, but it made her feel better.
Josh came across Toby in the communications bullpen, apparently mesmerised by CNN. "Wow. You really ate it on the trade deal."
"Yeah." Josh ran aggravated fingers through his hair. "They pretty much sold us down the river."
Toby grinned, humourlessly. "That's ... that's an interesting expression you picked there, considering the average wage for a manual labourer in India right now."
"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure they'll be jazzed about three million more jobs." Josh hesitated. "Does India have minimum wage?"
"You, uh, you might want to find that out," Toby said, his face sombre once again.
Josh nodded absently, and sighed. "Sure. I mean, seeing as they'll probably be voting for us from now on." He looked at Toby. "So ... Andy's going on this Gaza thing ... you okay with it?"
Toby gave him a tight smile. "Why ... why would I not be okay with this?"
"Uh, nothing," Josh said. "I'm just asking."
Toby looked around, then back at Josh. "She thinks she can just drop everything and go into one of the world's most dangerous places, and what ... what exactly is it that I'm supposed to tell Huck and Molly? That their ... their mother isn't there, because she's too busy playing pin the tail on the, on the suicide-bomber?"
Josh gave him a grim smile. "You, uh, know she's an elected representative of government, right?"
"Shut up," said Toby, quietly.
They fell silent, attention drawn back to news coverage of the trade deal.
"So ... I was thinking about sending Donna along on the Gaza thing," Josh said.
Toby turned to look at him, his face unreadable.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I just thought ... I dunno. She's just ... I ... I want her to be able to grow in this job, you know? I mean, Donna's never complained ... she never said anything about not getting to go on the other trips. I thought it might be good for her. She could report back to me about, you know, everything."
"Okay," Toby said, leaning his chin on his hand, and went back to watching CNN.
"So, uh, CJ tells me you're a dangerous sleeper agent," said Toby, after a while.
Josh's attention was still on CNN. "Huh?"
"Did they offer you dental?"
Josh averted his gaze from the television and stared at Toby, blankly.
"I mean, for this, I would think, the usual incentives ... more money than you make here, a company directorship, maybe a little, uh, villa in Goa ...?"
Josh gave Toby his best sarcastic grin. "Nah, just dental. But I don't think they're gonna need someone else who could totally screw us on the trade deal. I think the ship kinda sailed on that one already."
"Listen, you, uh, you don't think, the thing with Donna—?"
"She should go," Toby said, a little sadly.
"Yeah." Josh nodded. "Yeah, I'm gonna—I'll see you later, okay?"
"Yeah," said Toby, quietly, and went into his office.
Josh beat an absent-minded tattoo on top of the filing cabinet, said "Yeah" to nobody in particular, and went to find Donna.