Disclaimers: Aaron Sorkin owns any and all of the characters and I hope and pray I do justice to his infinite brilliance in using them.



Standing Outside the Fire.

"Today was one of those days when you have to eat manure. You choke on it but you still swallow, because what's the worst that would happen? It would just come out the same as it had gone in. Well I ate it and I choked but this time I spit it out and ran.
You always said, even in the beginning, that I could do this. When I was scared to death and in your office every hour, you never gave up on me and I got through it. I became the best I could be. I guess I wasn't good enough, not anymore.
I did something awful today. I walked away. I couldn't face myself and I couldn't face him seeing my faults, my insecurities, and my hurt feelings that he had found something better. So I came here looking for your approval that I did the right thing, but as I stand here I know I will never get it because it was wrong. I know that, but it's too late. Everything I worked for, everything that I cared about and everyone I loved. They are gone because I walked away."
* * *

"Damn it!"
"It's only the first out."
"That's not the point." Josh took another bite of his hot dog. It was covered with chili, hot peppers, onions and mustard. Donna crinkled her nose at the thought of the actual taste of the item. She watched Josh bite hungrily into it as it spilled onto his lap. The barrage of napkins he had laid down on his pants thankfully caught it. "You sure you don't want some?"
"No thanks." Donna replied smiling at him, chili covering his left cheek. "So why are we here again?"
"Because Leo insisted that I take a day off."
"Besides that, I mean why did you choose this game in particular?"
"Oh. The Mets are playing for a wildcard spot in the playoffs and if they win this game they will be only two games back." Josh explained licking his fingers as he reached for his soda.
"So if they win they will be the wildcard team?"
"No, they'll still be two games back. But the next two games they play are away games."
"So this is their last home game?"
"Not the last one, just the last one I will be able to see."
"Oh." Donna replied staring at the field. She was wearing a pair of jean shorts that showed off her tan legs and a plain white T-shirt. He hair was pulled into a ponytail revealing her curved neck. "Josh what's a balk?"
"Because they just called a balk."
"What?" Josh replied turning his attention back to the game. "Awww...Can you be anymore sloppy!"
"What's a balk?"
"Oh, it's a..." Josh replied sitting back in his seat in amusement. "It's any illegal act made by the pitcher while there are runners on base."
"What is considered an illegal act?"
"The pitcher, while touching the pitcher's plate, makes any motion associated with a pitch but then fails to pitch the ball. Or while touching the pitcher's plate, feints a throw to first base and does not complete the throw or while touching the pitcher's plate, does not throw towards a base before throwing to that base. Or makes an illegal pitch, such as a quick pitch, where a pitch is thrown before the batter is reasonably set in the batter's box. " Josh rattled off to her without a second thought.
"So what happened in this case?"
"Looks like he, after coming to a legal pitching position, removed one hand from the ball. Which you can never do except in the case of an actual pitch or throw to a base."
"Oh." Donna replied just staring at him as he continued to watch the game. "Josh how do you know so much..."
"About baseball?"
"My dad and my grandfather used to get into these philosophical debates about the parallels of life and baseball. I just paid attention." Josh replied hesitating a moment as the images of his father flashed through his mind.
"I'm sorry." Donna said realizing what she had stirred up.
"It's okay. I just miss him sometimes. Especially on days like this." Giving her a smile letting her know it was okay. "So how do you know so little about baseball?"
"Oh I don't know, my Dad was always reading or watching the news. He was never into sports. So I was never introduced to it." Donna replied shrugging her shoulders indifferently.
"What do you think?"
"About what?"
"Baseball, the national pastime of our country. An American tradition."
"It's been fun." Donna replied smiling. "I have to say the best part so far was watching you eat that hot dog."
"You want to walk around?"
"But we'll miss the game."
"Only an inning or two, it's early. I'll show you around the stadium. There's a lot of history contained within these walls." Josh replied as he stood holding out his hand. She hesitated a moment and then took it as he led her up through the stands.
Donna smiled at his enthusiasm and listened intently to his secret passion. He guided her around the building boasting all kinds of miscellaneous trivia about the game and the team.
"Well lookie here. We have happened to come upon the batting cages." Josh said raising an eyebrow to her in challenge.
"Oh no." Donna protested as he took her by the hand dragging her up to the ticket counter.
"Come on, it'll be fun." Josh insisted. He paid for the cage and ten balls. Josh walked over to the stack of bats picking up a few and weighing them mentally. He finally chose one and stepped up to the plate. The pitching simulator threw the pitch. He hit it and it was a line drive to second base, according to the computer announcer. Josh turned giving her an arrogant smile and then hit three more. Finally, he stepped off the plate turning to her. "You try."
"No, Josh I..."
"It's just a bat and a ball. You have hit a ball before." He waited watching for her response she looked away nervously. "Have you ever even picked up a bat before?"
She continued her avoidance of his eyes and he chuckled and shook his head. "Okay. It's been long enough."
Josh set down the bat he was holding and took her hand walking her to the choices of bats.
"Now when you are choosing a bat you want to pick one that is solid but not too heavy." Josh explained.
Donna stared at the bats a perplexity shining in her eyes. She hesitantly started picking up the individual choices and decided on one that felt solid to her but also light. Josh took the bat from her holding it and smiled.
"Good choice." He walked over to the plate and stood waiting for her. "Come on." He coaxed. She reluctantly walked to him and he positioned her in front of him still holding the chosen bat. "Relax." Josh whispered gently as he put the bat in her hands. "Now you want to hold the bat here and here." Josh said as he positioned her hands on the piece of wood. His hands remained on top of her; his body almost spooned behind hers. "When you swing you want to lead with your front leg and push with your back. Spread your legs a little." He said pushing her left leg forward. "Bend your knees."
Donna was feeling very awkward and a little uncomfortably but she went with it, listening to his instructions.
"Now bend your elbow and swing with your hip. You want to put the strength in your hip and back leg but the direction will come off your arms. Let's try one." Josh suggested. "Bend your knees, pull forward and..." Josh described as he moved her body like a puppet. His arms were strong and warm against hers. She could feel his breath on her neck. "Swing." He moved her arms through the swing and then stopped. "That felt good now let's try a pitch." Josh said as he moved her forward onto the base. He hit the button for a pitch and ball came soaring toward them. They moved their arms in unison as the ball approached. They missed by a mile and Donna laughed. "That's okay let's try another one." Josh said. "Ready?"
"Yeah." Donna replied with determination.
"Okay, here it comes."
The ball again came soaring toward them and their arms moved in unison as they made contact. They watched the ball fly up and hit the top back of the cage.
"Home Run!" Josh exclaimed joyishly. Donna jumped in glee as he said it; she grabbed him around the neck in excitement jumping in exultation. "You did it!" He hugged her back, picking her up and swinging her around. They found themselves locked in a gaze that spoke a thousand words. Josh slowly let Donna down, very aware of what had just happened, and he quickly moved on. "Now you try one on your own."
"No. One was enough for me." Donna replied smiling as she began to blush. "You finish up the round I'm going to head to the ladies room, all that diet coke is catching up with me."
"Okay." Josh replied smiling. "I'll meet you in out front?"
"Okay." Donna replied as she walked out of the batting cage.
Josh turned back to the cage calling up another pitch. His mind was focused but not on baseball.

* * *
Josh waited in front of the batting cages as she approached him smiling.
"What took you so long?"
"There was a line."
"Oh. Well while I was waiting, I stopped in the gift shop and..." Josh said as he pulled a bag from behind his back.
"Josh you didn't have to..."
"Hey you hit your first home run today. That's something to celebrate." He explained nervously as she opened the bag. She immediately smiled as she pulled out the Mets hat.
"Josh, I love it, thank you!" Donna said her face glowing at him.
"Your welcome." Josh replied smiling back at her. "Now this is no ordinary hat." Josh said moving next to her pointing to the emblem. "The Mets logo was designed by a sports cartoonist by the name of Ray Gatto on November 16, 1961. The shape of the insignia, with its orange stitching, represents a baseball. The bridge in the foreground symbolizes that the Mets, in bringing back the National League to New York, represent all five boroughs."
"Is that the New York skyline in the background?" Donna asked.
"It's not just a skyline, each building has special meaning. At the left is a church spire, symbolic of Brooklyn, the borough of churches. The second building from the left is the Williamsburg Savings Bank, the tallest building in Brooklyn. Next is the Woolworth Building. After a general skyline view of midtown comes the Empire State Building. At the far right is the United Nations Building. The Mets' colors are Dodger blue and Giant orange, symbolic of the return of National League baseball to New York after the Dodgers and Giants moved to California. Blue and Orange are also the official colors of New York State."
"That was quite impressive Joshua. I never knew there was so much meaning in a hat." Donna commented sincerely. "I will treasure it always."
"Put it on."
"Okay." Donna replied happily pulling the tag off the hat and discarding it. She pulled her hair out of the ponytail and let it fall loosely around her face. She scooped it back up into her hand as she put the hat on her head, pulling her long blonde hair through the back opening. She retied the scrunchie around her hair and smiled at him, realizing he was watching her intently.
"It looks good." Josh commented smiling. Suddenly they heard the crowd roar in a cheer and they both turned trying to see what was happening.
"Heads up!" Somebody called and the crowd looked into the air. The ball fell from the sky it was going to land about ten feet away and Donna turned seeing Josh break off in a run toward it. He dove to the ground reaching out his hand the ball landing within it. The entire crowd surrounding them cheered as he turned off his stomach holding up the ball triumphantly. Donna clapped and shook her head as she walked to him.
"That was impressive." Donna said holding out her hand to help him up.
"Thanks." Josh replied unable to wipe the huge smile from his face. He took her hand pulling himself up, wincing in pain.
"Josh, are you okay?"
"Yeah." Josh replied cocking his head, as his arm wrapped around her shoulder. "Just remind me never to do that again."

* * *
Donna stood silently staring at the desk. No one had touched it since...and she really didn't want to be the first person to have to start the process of moving on.
"Are you nervous?"
Donna turned seeing Charlie standing beside her, a somber look on his face as he took in the empty desk also.
"Yes, I mean no. I'm just..."
"Yeah." Donna replied. "It's only for a week or so until Mrs. Gould gets here and then I will be helping to show her around and how things work. I just..."
"Donna, the President was very adamant about you being the first person to sit at that desk. To lead the transition out of our mourning and into remembrance."
"No pressure there." Donna said quietly.
"You can do it. He needs you to do it." Charlie reaffirmed patting her gently on the back.
Donna took a deep breath and moved behind the desk carefully taking a seat in her chair. She looked over the desk; it was uncluttered with a single picture of a young man in uniform and a yellow ribbon attached to the frame. Just breath, she would be happy you were here.
Donna began moving things around and turned on the computer. She searched the desk for a pen, finding none she opened the side draw taking one out, noticing a box of Altiods in the tray. She carefully picked it up and opened it, the smell wafting through her senses.
She remembered how Mrs. Langinham always smelled of mint when she saw her and Donna had always wondered why. Now she knew. Donna took out a single mint putting it in her mouth. She smiled with the memory and closed the box replacing it in the drawer. She turned to the computer and got to work.
* * *
"Is she here yet?" Sam asked as he walked into Josh's office.
"Where is she?"
"I sent her down to legal."
"Oh." Sam replied looking mildly disappointed. "What's she like?"
"I don't know, I met her for like ten minutes." Josh replied picking up a document from his desk and walking out of the office. Donna was asked by the President to run Mrs. Langinham's desk until the new secretary arrived, in a week and a half. Donna couldn't turn it down and told Josh her friend just moved into town and was looking for a temp job until her full time job started. Suggesting that he let her friend temp for the time she was gone. The woman's name was Sara Hamilton. She passed the background checks and was definitely qualified, having worked for the Governor of Michigan full term. Josh agreed to the solution and she started today.
"There has to be some gut there after ten minutes."
"There is no gut. I don't know. Sam it's only for two weeks, it's not like I am going to be bonding with this woman." Josh replied as he continued his stroll down the corridor.
"So are you ready for this afternoon?"
"What? Cloning?"
"Piece of cake." Josh snickered. "Why anyone would want to clone another person is beyond me. Don't we have enough children going to therapy in this country already? No. I'm worried about the P.B.R."
"Tough board?"
"Yeah we've got Michelson, Wialans and Dwarth."
"Yeah he's from the 52nd."
"Dwarth. Interesting name." Sam commented as Josh stopped at the door of the conference room.
"Yeah tell me about it, I keep wanting to call him Darth and tell him the force is with him." Josh replied snidely, Sam laughed with him as he pushed open the door and disappeared into the room.
* * *
"Mr. Ziegler can I talk with you for a moment?" The woman said as she walked into his office. He didn't respond to her and continued rearranging his desk.
"I'm from Mr. Lyman's office and I just need to discuss with you the draft of the President's speech for the state dinner." The woman explained.
"What about it?" Toby finally replied, still not looking at her.
"It's not going to work."
"Excuse me?" Toby asked finally looking up at the woman. "Who are you again?"
"I am from Josh Lyman's office."
"I know everyone in Mr. Lyman's office and I don't recall you ever being a part of it."
"I'm sorry. I'm Sara Hamilton. I am filling in for Donna Moss while she is working in the Oval office, for President Bartlet."
"Oh." Toby digested standing. He walked around to the opposite side of the desk leaning against it staring her down. "And your problem with the speech is?"
"Well according to Mr. Lyman's notes it's not..."
"I am aware of what Mr. Lyman's notes say and the speech is fine."
"The speech is fine. If Mr. Lyman has a specific problem with it then I will discuss it with him not some piss ant little secretary that is temping for two weeks." Toby said in a straight and monotone voice.
"Mr. Ziegler, I understand that I am in this position temporarily but I have extensive experience in the institution of American politics. This speech is simply sending the wrong message. According to Mr. Lyman's notes the speech is to reflect the conclusive victory of the Patients Bills of Rights being passed by the House and Congress with full bi-partisianship. Your speech reflects only the Democratic triumph and completely ignores the contributions of the Republican Party."
"Are you a Republican?"
"Then what do you care?"
"I don't see the point..."
"You're completely right I don't see the point of this conversation either." Toby replied as he began to ignore her presence and walked back behind his desk. "So why don't you go back to your desk and do some research or something?"
"Mr. Ziegler..." Sara protested as Toby waved his hand for her to exit the room. The woman finally gave up storming out of the room. After a moment, Sam came to the door.
"Who was that?"
"Josh's Temp."
"That was her?" Sam replied looking down the hall trying to get a glimpse of her, unsuccessful he turned walking back into the office. "What was she like?"
"A piss ant."
"Ouch." Sam replied taking a seat on Toby's couch. "So I was reading over the State draft and I think we need to change it."
"Yeah, I know."
* * *
Josh walked into his office and found the temp sitting behind his desk on his computer.
"What are you doing?"
She turned to him smiling.
"I am just printing off the P.B.R. stats for your three o'clock. I hope you don't mind I couldn't find it on Donna's desktop."
"No. No problem." Josh replied feeling uncomfortable. He was used to seeing Donna sitting at his desk as he walked in and wasn't sure how to react. She quickly got up as he approached the desk.
"I see you're a Mets fan." Sara commented motioning to the picture of him posing with Mike Piazza.
"I was at the October 1999 game."
"The 17th?" Josh asked her comment getting his attention.
"Yeah. The Mets were down 3-1 in the National League Championship Series. Battling the Braves in a 15-inning game." She explained demonstratively. "In the top of the 15th inning, the Braves took a 3-2 lead. The Mets at the bottom rallied to tie the game at three. Robin Ventura came up to hit a grand slam to win the game."
"Except, the hit was ruled as a single after the on-field celebration prevented Ventura from advancing past third." Josh commented.
"Unfortunately." She agreed. "The final score was 4-3. They would be bumped from the playoffs after losing Game Six, 10-9 despite a five-run comeback. My Dad raised me as a die-hard Mets fan. It's in my blood, sorry." Sara apologized.
"Don't worry about it." Josh replied taking a document from his desk. He opened it and began to read.
"Is there anything you need?"
"No, not right now thanks." Josh replied smiling politely.
"I went over the draft for the state dinner like you requested and I tried to ask Mr. Ziegler about it."
"Well it doesn't coincide with your notes." She began to explain pulling the draft front the pile on his desk, placing it in front of him. "Needless to say he wasn't pleased with my observations."
"Don't worry about it. Toby isn't really pleased about anything."
"Ever." Josh replied smiling.
"Well that makes me feel a little better. I though he just hated me. Which didn't make much sense since that was the first time I had ever met him." Sara replied in relief.
"Yeah. We should go around and introduce you to everyone. People aren't going to react very positively to you unless they know who you are." Josh said absently. "I can take you around after lunch, okay?"
"Okay." Sara replied brightly smiling at him again and leaving the office. Josh's telephone rang and he quickly picked it up.
"Hey." He heard Donna say, she seemed so far away. Not a stroll down the corridor.
"Hey Don. How's it going?"
"Good. I just met the Prince of Uganda."
"I didn't know they had a prince."
"Neither did I."
"Did you get his phone number?"
"Too old and skinny." She replied as he laughed at her. "How are things there?"
"I sat in on cloning this morning, my brain hurts. Besides that everything is fine."
"And Sara?"
"She's great. She had a run in with Toby but she survived. I am going to take her around later and introduce her to everyone after lunch. Besides that everything is fine."
"Are you sure, you aren't just saying that to make me feel better are you?"
"No. Not at all." Josh replied smiling at her paranoia.
"Okay. I have to go. I'll see you later?"
"Yeah. Come by before you leave."
"Okay. Bye."
* * *

Nine days later...
"If you want to see the schedule for the next two months all you have to do is click here." Donna explained the older black woman. Her name was Oryden Gould. She was in her middle forties and the sweetest person on earth in Donna's opinion. Donna had been showing her the ropes since she arrived two days earlier and she caught on fast. Donna was more or less letting her run the desk; she was just there in case there were any unexpected problems. So far so good.
"When does he usually retire to the residence?" Oryden asked.
"At ten thirty but he is known to be in the Oval until as late as 2 am depending on what's going on." Donna explained. "You don't have to stay here that late. Charlie is always here and Leo. So when seven rolls around, and you are ready, just let President or Charlie know and take off."
"If there is work to be done I will certainly stay."
"You don't have any family to get home to?"
"No. My daughter lives in Massachusetts and my husband and I have been divorced for over ten years. Just me and my cat."
"My roommate has cats. I always complain about them, but when I get home at night and they decide to be affectionate I don't mind them so much." Donna commented.
"A cat can be a single girls best friend. You aren't married Donna?"
"No. I don't have any time working here."
"You work with Mr. Lyman correct?"
"Yes. I am his assistant." Donna replied proudly.
"From the shining in your eyes, I would say you enjoy your position."
"I do. It's challenging."
"Your job or Mr. Lyman?" Oryden asked watching Donna laugh at her intuition.
"Both." Donna replied smiling. "Well you seem fine here, so I am going to go down to the bullpen. If you need anything just page me. The number is on the little post-it on the computer okay?"
"Donna, thank you. I appreciate all of the time and energy you have put into making me feel at home here."
"You're welcome. It's been my pleasure." Donna replied smiling brightly back at her as she walked down the corridor down to the bullpen.
With the walk, the noise level of her surroundings increased ten fold. She never noticed the volume of chatter and sounds coming from and through the bullpen before. It was both unnerving and adrenalizing at the same time. Donna walked past the communications office waving to Bonnie and Ginger. She approached Josh's office and heard a roar of laughter emanating from the room. Donna turned the corner and found Josh, Sam and Sara sitting around chatting and laughing.
"Hey, sounds like a party in here." Donna said drawing their attention to her.
"Oh Donna..." Sara said the first to respond to her entrance as she hopped off Josh's desk walking toward her. "You never told me how funny Sam is!"
"Don't know how I would have forgotten to mention it."
"Sam was just telling me about the Stackhouse filibuster. Can you imagine reading from a cookbook for three hours?" Sara asked.
"Yeah." Donna replied smiling at her.
"How's the new kid doing?" Sam asked.
"She great. Really sweet lady, she's a wonderful addition."
"So when are you coming back?" Sara asked.
"Tomorrow." She replied suddenly feeling uncomfortable. "If the President approves."
"I'm sure he will." Josh said, standing up from his desk. "Sara could you get me..."
"I already put the stats for the universe launch in your backpack." She replied smiling. "You have five."
"Yeah." Josh replied pulling on his jacket, picking up his backpack and walking around the desk.
"Wait." Sara stopped him a moment as he headed for the door, straightened his tie.
"Thanks." Josh replied smiling at Sara. He waved goodbye and left the office. Sam stood and headed for the door also, turning to Sara.
"We still on at Houlihan's tonight?"
"I wouldn't miss it. Is CJ coming?"
"Yeah, she said she'd meet us there at ten." Sam replied leaving the two women alone.
"Okay." Sara replied as she turned to Donna. "How have you been? I feel like I haven't seen you in ages."
"Yeah, me too." Donna replied softly.
"I'm so glad you are coming back. I can't wait to work with you, see you in action I mean. You have quite a reputation of success in this office."
"Yeah...What?" Donna asked confused by the statement.
"Oh, Josh didn't tell you?" Sara said as she walked around to Josh's desk beginning to organize it. "Well, he's been so busy with the P.B.R. it's no wonder he forgot. I swear that man would forget his name if it wasn't on his desk."
"Yeah. What did he forget to tell me?" Donna asked again.
"Oh yeah. He asked me on Tuesday if I wouldn't mind sticking around for a while and helping. Between the state dinner, the P.B.R. and the gun law going up for bid we are swamped." Sara explained seeing Donna's concerned expression. "I hope that's okay with you. I mean I'd just be helping out for a while..."
"Yeah, if Josh asked you it's fine. I just don't want you to jeopardize your job downtown."
"Oh, that. I called them last week and they told me it's gonna be at least another two to three weeks until they can get me in so I have the free time. Are you sure you're okay with this?"
"Oh yeah, of course I am!" Donna said smiling brightly at her. "It's going to be fun."
"Yeah, just like old times."
* * *
Donna stared out the window of the office watching the trees blow in the wind. There was a pang in her chest she didn't recognize, jealousy. This was ridiculous she shouldn't feel this way. She wanted Sara to fit in, and she did, perfectly.
Donna heard the desk telephone ring and Oryden picked it up calling her name. Donna turned taking the telephone from the receiver.
"This is Donna."
"Hey it's me."
"Hey, what's up?" Donna replied smiling at the sound of his voice.
"Are you going to come tonight?"
"Oh, yeah. Umm..."
"Donna, you have to come. That is an order."
"Joshua, you can't give me orders. The President is my boss now."
"Only until seven o'clock this evening. And if I have to call you at seven o'clock and order you then, I will." Josh insisted.
"Josh I..."
"No excuses, I haven't seen you in..."
"Joshua you miss me?" Donna teased.
"No, I am just planning to get ripped tonight and I need someone to take me home." Josh replied sarcastically.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever."
"So you'll come?'
"Yes, I'll stop by after I get out."
"Good. Bye."
"Bye." Donna replied hanging up the telephone. She stared at it a moment getting lost in her own thoughts.
"Sounds like someone misses you." Oryden commented.
"Not really, I'm just his designated driver."
"If he needed a designated driver he would call a cab, don't you think?"
"Not Josh, he's..."
"He's in no way helpless, I mean, he is brilliant. He just needs someone to look after him when it come to...details."
"And that person is you?"
"Not only me, but I help out where I can. We're friends." Donna replied watching Oryden's reaction to the statement. "What?"
"I didn't say anything."
"No, you didn't but you wanted to."
"I have nothing to say."
"All I have to say is that from the look on your face when you heard his voice on the phone, you do a lot more than handle the 'details'." Oryden commented with a gentle smile making Donna blush.
* * *
Toby sat at the table, lit cigar in his mouth, stout in hand as Sam and CJ chattered beside him on the actuality of cloning. Josh had risen from the table to buy another round of drinks from the bar, the piss ant following close behind.
Sara giggled at Josh's every word, shoved his shoulder playfully at a statement he had made and continuously flipped her hair. God, she was throwing herself at him and he was clueless. Toby's gaze quickly turned from the nauseating display and focused on the door of the bar as it opened and Donna walked in, her eyes searching for them.
This could be interesting...
Toby smiled, cigar still in his mouth, and waved her over to the table.
"Hey Don. Long time no see." Toby said as he pulled out a chair for her.
"Yeah." Donna replied smiling at him. "Did Josh get tied up?"
"No, he's at the bar buying another round. You want something?" Sam replied as he stood.
"Yeah I'll have a Corona, thanks Sam." Donna replied getting herself settled into the chair trying desperately not to look toward the bar.
"Lime?" Sam asked and Donna nodded in response.
"So Sara is a friend of yours?" Toby asked.
"Yes. I met her when I was working for Dunab and Bradford. She was the admin to the BFO and my office was right next to hers." Donna explained as Josh and Sara finally rejoined the table.
"Hey Don. What took you so long?" Josh asked as he set the drinks on the table.
"I got tied up with the President."
"Oh yeah, Donna's got the inside scoop now. I'll have to tell the Press Corp to go to you if they need any information." CJ teased.
"Did the President okay you coming back to the office tomorrow?" Sara asked.
"Yeah, I'll just be on call for Oryden in case she needs anything."
"You want a beer Donna?" Josh asked as he stood back up.
"Sam already..."
"Oh Donna take mine. I'm going to take it slow tonight." Sara offered pushing the beer to her.
"Take it slow?" CJ asked.
"After the other night I'm going to take a break." Sara replied.
"What happened?" Donna asked as Sam returned with her beer, handing it to her and then retaking his seat beside Toby.
"Let's just say Sara can't hold her alcohol." Sam replied.
"Yes, I can. Just not that much of it." Sara replied as the group laughed and she smacked Josh on the shoulder playfully.
"What?" Josh protested. "I didn't force you to keep taking the shots!"
"Between Sam, Josh and Sara they finished off an entire bottle of 1800." CJ explained.
"And then we all went to CJ's house for some more!" Sara added laughing along happily.
"No. They didn't." CJ objected to Donna. "They all piled in my car because they were all too stinking drunk to drive and I let them all crash at my place. I figured it was easier that trying to deal with keys and dragging."
"In my own defense I got up early the next morning and went out and got bagels and coffee to thank CJ for covering our Asses." Josh commented. Sara hit him on the shoulder again.
"Liar! The only reason you got up is because I pushed you off the couch and you landed on the cat!" They group broke into a fit of laughter again. Donna took a long swig of her beer. The night went on with little stories and innuendoes about the past nine days and Donna laughed along with the group although clueless to any of the references being made.
Finally the bar was closing and Donna stood at the table gathering the garbage and glasses bringing them to the bar. She felt a heat on her back and turned seeing Josh standing behind her.
"Hey you." He said a dopey grin on his face.
"Hey yourself."
"Where have you been all night?"
"Sitting across from you silly." Donna replied smiling at his little sway.
"No. I mean where have you..." Josh asked her again slurring the words slightly.
"Josh you're drunk." Donna replied laughing at him.
"I'm not drunk. Donna I never get drunk!"
"You're right, usually you are in the bathroom puking after your second shot."
"You see, I'm not drunk. I would have been..." Josh replied losing his train of thought. "Sara is a smart girl. You'd like her."
"I'd hope so, she's been a friend of mine for a long time."
"She showed me this little trick of how to drink and not get sick."
"Yeah. Its called Pepto." Josh replied, "Dilute your stomach before hand and then it feels no pain during."
"So when you do puke it's a nice shade of pink." Donna replied taking his arm and leading him back to the table.
"That too." Josh finished sitting down in the chair she pulled out for him.
Sara walked up to him wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
"You ready?"
"What?" Donna asked looking at her in confusion.
"I thought I would take him home since it is on my way anyway. Josh conveniently only lives a few blocks away from where I am staying." Sara replied as she helped Josh to his feet. "Let's go tiger."
"Are you sure you are okay to drive?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow." Sara replied as she walked out of the bar Josh following, he turned looking at Donna.
"You okay to get home?"
"Yeah I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course. I'll see you guys in the morning." Donna replied waving to the two of them as they left. She sat there a moment and then stood gathering her things as Toby appeared from the bathroom, Sam and then CJ followed close behind.
"Did Josh and Sara take off?" Sam asked the words sounding odd in his mind.
"Yeah. Sara lives close to him so she offered to take him home." Donna replied trying to smile at them. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah." Sam said with CJ and Toby nodding in agreement. Abruptly the lights of the bar went out.
"I think that's our cue." CJ said as she led the rest of them to the parking lot. They all headed to their prospective cars bidding each other goodnight. Donna got in her car and pulled away from the bar turning up the radio. She didn't feel like going home but she didn't have anywhere else to go. Pathetic.
She had never been out of the loop before. It didn't feel good at all. She wasn't sure how to react. Sara was her friend and she was sitting here feeling threatened by her presence in her life. How idiotic was that?
She was Josh's assistant, not Sara. Sara was just here to fill until she could return to her position. Now Donna was returning and Sara was staying, at Josh's request. It bothered her. It shouldn't, but it did. It felt almost as if someone had come in and taken over her life.
However, somebody forgot to tell her.
* * *

Donna tossed and turned the whole night unable to sleep at all. She arrived in the office at 4:45 am and started in on catching up with events. She reviewed the schedule for the day. Seeing Josh was booked solid, having to spend the morning on the hill, lunch with Toby, late staff meeting and then the rest of the afternoon in P.B.R.
Donna started by typing the notes for Josh's meeting with Toby. She then printed out the documents for the day and gathered them together walking down to the dining hall. It was dark and quiet, few people were brave enough to start this early, and she chose a table and made herself a cup of coffee. Settling down into the chair, coffee hot and fresh in her hands she dove into the first document.
Within and hour and a half she had made it through the state dinner address, the cloning memorandum to the FDA and the initial report on NASA's new project, Universe. Last but not certainly least the Patients Bill of Rights. It took another hour to get through the draft and the notes Josh had made. It was almost seven when Donna headed up to the bullpen. She got to the office and found Sara and Josh going over some notes for the hill.
"Good morning." Donna greeted as she entered the room. Josh looked up smiling at her and Sara continued writing. "What are we working on?"
"P.B.R." Sara mumbled.
" I just got done reading the briefs on it." Donna replied, leaning against the side of the door.
"When did you do that?"
"This morning."
"You did?"
"I got here early and got caught up. You have staff in ten." Donna reminded Josh.
"Yeah. I need for you to finish the notes on the State speech and go over them with Toby." Josh said, not sure which one of them he should address.
"I already typed them up, I'll walk them over to Toby right now." Donna replied.
"Are you sure they are the right ones?" Sara asked her.
"They were the ones sitting on Josh's desk." Feeling a little annoyed that she was being questioned.
"Do you mind if I see them?"
"Sure." Donna replied walking out to her desk and handing Sara the report. Sara scrutinized it as Josh stood picking up the items he needed. He walked to Donna stopping as he faced her.
"Will you meet me..."
"In front of Leo's at two."
"And let me know how it goes with Toby. Leo is going to want a final by tomorrow."
"Don, I'm glad your back." Josh said as he headed out of the office.
"Me too." Donna replied as she watched him leave. She looked down at Sara waiting for the verdict. Sara stood stiffly and walked out of the office. Donna followed her to the desk.
"These are the wrong notes. I'll re type them fast and take them to Toby myself." Sara said.
"Sara I don't think that is such a great idea, Toby can get crabby when it comes to..."
"I know. Thanks though, I can handle Mr. Toby Ziegler just fine." Sara replied her voice confident and shrewd. "If you could just get together the files Josh is going to need for the NASA that would really help."
"Sure." Donna replied turning on her heel and walking away.
* * *
Josh returned from the Hill and headed straight to Leo's office, Donna met up with him mid stride and kept pace.
"How was the Hill?"
"Grueling." Josh replied handing Donna his backpack, she took it and handed him his briefing folder for the meeting with Leo. "What'd Toby say?"
"I haven't heard yet."
"You haven't heard yet? I thought you were going to walk the notes down right after I left?" Josh asked turning to her in annoyance.
"I was, but Sara said the notes you left me weren't accurate and she updated them and took them down to Toby."
"So what happened?"
"Josh, I don't know."
"Find out will you?" Josh snapped at her. Josh paused and then turned to her regretfully. "I'm sorry Don, the Hill..."
"Don't worry about it, I'll check on State right now."
"Thanks." Josh replied breaking off from her and disappearing. Donna walked into the communications office.
"Hey Ginger is Toby..." The sound of Toby shouting cutting her off. Ginger rolled her eyes and Donna smiled walking to the door and knocking. She waited, hearing Toby calling her in and opened the door to see Toby and Sara at opposite sides of the room.
"Yes Donna." Toby said very politely.
"Toby, Josh wanted to know what the word is on the State speech."
"It's done."
"No it's not!" Sara objected.
"What's the problem?" Donna asked.
"Josh and I made very specific notes on what things needed to be changed in the speech and Toby refuses to..."
"I don't answer to a piss ant. The speech is not..."
"Alright both of you stop!" Donna cut in. "Sara could you please step outside so I can speak with Toby in private?"
Sara gave Toby an icy glare and exited the room, slamming the door.
* * *
Donna walked down the corridor to Josh's office and found Sara inside. Donna closed the door and stood staring at her.
"Do you like making me look like a fool?" Sara snapped at her, continuing to work on Josh's computer.
"You did a good enough job of that yourself I'd say."
"I had it under control."
"No you didn't."
"Yes, I did."
"Sara do you know whom you were talking to? Toby Ziegler is the Communications Director for the President of the United States. Not just some schmuck you can kick around."
"He's an angry pig who wouldn't know compromise if it hit him in the face." Sara spat back at her. "Donna the changes were founded and clear. It's just a speech."
"Sara, it's not just a speech. It's a statement made to the American people by the President."
"It's my job to..."
"It's not your job Sara. It's not even my job." Donna corrected. "I know that the West Wing can be an adrenaline rush but there are certain ways we do things."
"Well this office is in dire need of some changes." Sara countered. "I think they've had enough of a mousy glorified secretary with a gentle hand. Maybe they need more." Sara said coldly as she finally met Donna's eyes. Donna didn't know what to say she was breathless. "Donna I have done more good here in nine days than you have in months. This isn't just a job you sit back and watch go by. You have to get in there, fight the fight, that's how things get done. You just don't have the backbone or the passion for this and I think Josh is starting to realize that, and that's why he asked me to stay."
"I..." Donna started as there was a knock on the door and Sam stepped in.
"Hey am I interrupting?"
"No Sam. Not at all." Donna said turning to him, trying to hide the hurt of Sara's words from showing on her face. "What's up?"
"Toby wanted to know if Josh is still meeting him at three?"
"Yeah, he'll be over right after his meeting with Leo." Donna replied smiling.
"Sure." Sara replied smiling at him also. "Hey Sam you headed to lunch?"
"Want some company?"
"Sure why not." Sam replied opening the door as Sara approached. "Donna you want to come?"
"No thanks. I have some work to finish."
"No problem, see you later." Sam replied smiling, following Sara out of the office.
"Oh Donna by the way, Josh called and said he wants you to meet him in the conference room before he goes into P.B.R."
Donna walked around to Josh's desk and took a seat. She sat there a moment still living the shock of what Sara had said. Donna didn't know what to believe. Sara was obviously doing a great job, especially if Josh asked her to stay. What about the way she confronted Toby? Lack of experience, tactlessness?
Donna needed to think about this, decide what she should do if anything at all. The words hurt; the past two days had hurt. Things had changed all of a sudden and Donna wasn't sure of herself anymore. Maybe she wasn't good enough. Maybe Josh did need more. Maybe he needed Sara.
* * *
"Hey Toby, sorry I didn't get here sooner. Leo's agenda was longer than I had anticipated." Josh explained as he took a seat on the couch. "So we set on the speech?"
"Good let's see it." Josh replied as Toby handed him the draft. Toby sat watching Josh as he read.
"Wasn't Sara supposed to leave when Donna returned?"
"Yeah but Donna wanted her to stay until everything is good in the oval. Just to be safe." Josh replied not looking up at him. Toby didn't reply right away and that got Josh's attention. "Is there a problem?"
"No, no problem."
"Good cause she's getting alot done. Besides, I think Donna likes to have her around." Josh replied.
* * *
"I need to talk with someone, I couldn't think of anyone else but you."
"Thanks I think."
"It's about Donna."
"What about Donna?"
" I think she's not..."
"I don't know if I should be telling you this."
"Then don't."
"But I don't know who else to turn to."
"He wouldn't understand."
"Sara what's going on?" CJ finally asked.
"It's nothing huge, she just hasn't been herself lately." Sara started, beginning to pace CJ office. "I think she hasn't dealt with everything that has happened lately and it is beginning to effect her work."
"In what way?"
"For example, she was supposed to talk to Toby about the State Dinner speech this morning and then I got a phone call from Josh who had just finished talking to Toby who didn't know anything about it."
"So she got tied up."
"But then when I went down to Toby's office. I found her and Toby screaming at each other. Thankfully there wasn't anyone in the communications office at the time." Sara explained her voice shaking. "I didn't know what to do, I tried to talk to her but she just went off on me saying that I didn't understand and to stay out of her job. This just isn't Donna, I want to help her but I don't know what else to do."
"Sara it's not my place to decided whether or not Donna is..."
"CJ, she's my friend and I think she's in trouble." Sara pleaded to her. "Please, I need your help."
"Okay, let me see what I can do and I'll let you know."
"Thank you so much, CJ. You don't know how much this means to me."

* * *
Josh was beginning to get impatient. He had five minutes and still no sign of Donna. He finally gave up and ran down to his office. He threw down his backpack and began searching his desk. Abruptly Sara walked into the office.
"Josh what are you doing here? You are supposed to be in P.B.R.!"
"I know. Do you know where the updated version of the Bill is?"
"No, I'll print one out. What's your password?" Sara replied running to the computer.
"Nice choice. Give me two minutes and I will have it for you."
"Okay I'm going to head down. Meet me in front of the Roosevelt room." Josh replied heading out of the office and gating down the hall. He ran into Toby on the way. "Hey, you seen Donna?"
"Yeah." Toby replied as Donna ran up beside them.
"Josh you're late."
"No, I've been here. You're late." Josh snapped. "Where have you been?"
"Waiting for you I got a message from..." Donna tried to explain.
Toby watched as Josh stopped a flash of annoyance in his eyes, waiting just outside the Roosevelt room. Abruptly Sara walked up handing him the draft of the Bill.
"Thanks Sara." Josh disappeared into the Roosevelt room and Sara walked away leaving Toby and Donna standing in the corridor.
"What happened?"
"Huh?" Donna replied the look of confusion and hurt still evident on her face. "I got a message to meet him in the conference room before the P.B.R. I don't know..."
"He told you?"
"No I got the message from Sara." Donna replied losing herself in her own thoughts. "I need to go. Did you need anything Toby?"
"Okay." Donna replied beginning to walk away.
"Did Josh ask Sara to stay?"
"Yeah. Why?"
"Just wanted to know how much longer I will have to be in the same building with the little piss ant." Toby replied making Donna smile.
* * *
"The focus of HMOs and other managed care plans on cutting costs, and the emphasis of some on profits before patients' needs have undermined Americans' confidence in their health care." Josh stated to the room full of congressional representatives. Leo sat in the chair at the far end of the table listening intently.
"Over the past decade, the number of Americans in managed care plans has grown dramatically. It is estimated that by 2004, 85 percent of employees with employer-provided health insurance will be covered by managed care. In the 105th Congress, Democrats fought to provide millions of American families with quality health care as they worked to pass the Patients' Bill of Rights. This bill was supported by nearly 200 organizations representing doctors, nurses, patients' rights advocates, and consumer and labor groups."
"Unfortunately, the Republican majority refused to work with Democrats to pass strong, enforceable patient protections. Ultimately, they paid lip service to protecting patients, but proposed legislation that would create new loopholes to protect HMOs
despite the best efforts of the Republican leadership and the insurance industry to derail this legislation. This administration, as well as the Democratic Party as a whole, has been committed to keeping managed care reform at the forefront of Congressional
Debate. Through bipartisan cooperation, this Bill has been brought triumphantly to the table. You were asked here to go over it line by line. So let's get started." Josh finished as he led the room into the proposed document.
* * *
Donna sat in the corner of the dining hall; she picked at her lunch and finally decided she just wasn't hungry. Sitting back, she watched as Oryden approached the table.
"Hello Miss Donna, mind if I join you?"
"Not at all." Donna replied smiling. The woman took a seat across from her pulling out her lunch.
"Not hungry?" Oryden asked noticing Donna's barely touched salad.
"Not right now."
"Looks like you've got a lot on your mind."
"Want to talk about it?"
"Not really." Dona replied quickly changing the subject. "So how are things going upstairs? Your first day alone."
"So far so good. Hey they let me eat. That's a bonus in itself." Oryden replied as Donna smiled with her. "Donna I know it's none of my business, but is something bothering you?"
"I'm just beginning to wonder if I can do my job the way it should be done." Donna replied resting her head on her hand.
"What do you mean?"
"I just..." Donna started finding it hard to describe her feelings. So much had happened and she didn't know where to begin. "I'm not sure if I am the best person to be helping Josh anymore. He seems to need someone who is more willing to take chances and get involved."
"Has Josh ever said anything to make you believe that?"
"Has he ever been unhappy with your work?"
"Not that I know of."
"So what would lead you to believe that he isn't satisfied with your participation?"
"He just seems to need someone to pull out the guns beside him and back him up. I don't feel like I do that. I just keep him organized."
"Donna does this have anything to do with that friend of yours you hired to help Josh out while you were in the Oval office?" Oryden asked watching Donna's expression closely. "It does, doesn't it?"
"Sara is just so out there, in the middle of it all. She's inside the heat battling the flames and I feel like I am standing outside the fire."
"Donna from what I have seen, you are a valued and respected member of this staff. You may not go head to head with Congress, but you are an integral part of what keeps the West Wing running. You are there when and if you are needed and that is what's important."
"What if that's not enough?"
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"It just feels like it isn't anymore."
* * *
"The difference emerges over the court remedies available to aggrieved patients and their families. Plans can be sued if those services are denied or delayed, and the actions result in permanent injury or death." Congressman Bateman explained.
"The provision would have federal courts hearing only contract disputes; state courts would judge medical malpractice and related cases." Leo reaffirmed. "You are in essence getting the same thing either way."
"The GOP alternative allows state court lawsuits if a patient's insurer ignores a reviewer who recommends needed medical care. The Senate would allow punitive damages meant to send insurers a lesson up to $5 million; the House GOP will allow none." Congressman Dwarth explained.
"Congressman, the bill says there are no limits to pain and suffering awards; the House GOP caps such awards by a judge or jury to $500,000." Josh defended.
"With all due respect Josh, the delay to this Bill is widely attributed to the power of special interests. In my opinion, trial lawyers have controlled this for the Democratic side and HMOs and insurance companies on the other side, you have put us in a gridlock. And I have yet to see any change in their stance, bipartisan or not." Congressman Dwarth objected.
"Covering private and federal health programs, all of the patients' rights proposals would require health plans to pay for needed visits to specialists such as pediatricians, minimum hospital stays after mastectomies and access to clinical trials." Josh replied sternly. "Now how you can sit here and tell me that this Bill has been held up by special interest is obtusely insane. Unless you are classifying the American Cancer Society as a special interest group." Silence filled the room as Josh brought home the point.
"Let's move on." Leo suggested to the group.
"I would like to address the obvious concerns of the Congressman." Josh cut in. "This isn't about a pay off. We are talking about people's heath here. Hard working Americans who are paying their bills, health care or otherwise, struggling to survive. They are getting sick and ultimately dying because their doctors are limited in giving them a referral to a specialist because a bean counter in a side office with no window says it's too expensive. Do you not see something fundamentally wrong with that image? We are here today to possibly put a very large dent in the healthcare crisis of this country. Something that was started long before I stepped into this office."
"I understand your noble intent but, until this Congress has definitive proof that this isn't part of a large scheme of favoritism, I'm telling you now it will not pass through our doors." Congress Dwarth finished and stood abruptly ending the meeting.
Josh sat back, the frustration of the situation growing in his chest. Leo stood walking over to him.
"You did good." Leo offered. "We'll bring 'em around in the next round."

* * *
"Where the hell were you!" Josh yelled at her as she stood in his office silently.
"Josh I received a message..." Donna tried to explain.
"You know what, forget it. I don't want to even know." Josh snapped. "What was Sara doing hashing the speech with Toby?"
"I guess you wouldn't know because you disappeared off the face of the planet." Josh roared at her again. "Damn it Donna! What the hell is going on, you haven't been here..."
"If you would just calm down and let me explain."
"There's nothing to explain Donna. You just weren't there, how much more could there be to it?"
"Josh I know it's..." Donna started and suddenly her beeper went off. She glanced at it and saw it was the Oval. "I'm sorry I have to go but I will..."
"Yeah whatever." Josh replied coldly as she left the room. Donna walked down to the Oval office and stopped seeing the empty desk. She turned seeing Charlie exiting the main office.
"What's up, I got a page."
"Nothing that I know of." Charlie replied looking confused.
"Where's Oryden?'
"She's in with the President taking a letter."
"Oh. Okay, umm just let her know I came by okay?" Donna replied her voice shaking a little.
"Donna you okay?"
"Yeah. Fine." Donna replied quickly leaving the office and walking back to Josh's.
Okay this was officially a bad day. Could it get any worse? Oh God, I just jinxed myself didn't I? As Donna thought it she literally ran in Leo.
"Cripe Donna..." Leo snapped at her as he readjusted the files in his arms.
"Leo, I am so sorry." Donna apologized, her face burning from embarrassment.
"Did you get together those numbers for me?"
"I'm sorry Leo, what numbers?"
"The numbers for the GC bid." Leo replied as she continued to look clueless. "The memo I sent you this morning."
"I never got the memo..."
"Did you check you email?"
"Yes I..."
"Whatever, I need the GC numbers five minutes ago. Get them for me now!" Leo snapped and Donna jumped slightly heading straight to Josh's office. As she walked through the bullpen she saw Josh talking to CJ in a corner. She continued down the corridor and quickly reached her desk. She went to her email and checked, not seeing any memo. She then quickly pulled up the numbers she had finished this morning printing them out.
"What are you doing?" Sara asked as she stood over Donna.
"Pulling the GC numbers from this morning."
"Why, what's up?"
"Leo sent me a memo this morning requesting them and I never..."
"Yes you did."
"I told you about it this morning." Sara explained.
"No you didn't."
"Sara I would have remembered." Donna snapped.
"Obviously not." Sara snapped back at her, at that same moment Josh walked by.
"Donna can I see you in my office please."
"I'll be right there."
"Donna, have you lost your mind. What were you thinking?" Sara said the accusations in her tone were definite.
"I need you to take this down to Leo McGarry's office right now." Donna said as she handed the folder to her, Sara grabbed the folder out of her hand and stormed down the corridor. Donna took a deep breath and walked into Josh's office.
"What's up?"
"I just talked to CJ and she said that you had an argument with Toby earlier?"
"Well actually..." Donna tried to reply when the phone rang.
"Lyman. Hey Leo, I...yeah." Josh began to look uncomfortable and he turned away from her. "Yeah okay. Bye." Josh hung up the phone and looked at Donna. "What happened with the memo?"
"I never got it."
"You never got it?"
"Josh, I don't know what happened, I..." Donna tried to explain, feeling the rise of emotion in her chest.
"I need to talk to you about something." Josh replied motioning for her to close the door. She did and felt a glimmer of hope that Josh realized what had been happening with Sara and wanted her to handle it. "Donna I know the past few months have been really rough around here and I want you to know I appreciate everything that you've done but..." Donna's heart began to sink. "Sara and I think that you need to think about..."
"Josh stop." Donna interrupted as she stepped forward and gained the strength to say what needed to be said. "I can explain everything that has happened today. If you'll just listen..."
Abruptly there was a knock at the door and Sara came into the office.
"Josh, Leo wants you to meet him at five to go over the GC numbers. They weren't updated from the recent numbers and I am running them now for him."
"Thanks Sara. Could you also go down and tell CJ that I am going to need her to go over the head count for the State, I need the numbers to..."
Donna felt suddenly suffocated and panicked, this wasn't happening; he wasn't talking like she wasn't even there. How had this happened? How had she lost control so quickly?
"I quit." Donna said first quietly and then with an overwhelming amount of strength. "I quit."
She walked out of the room hearing Josh call after her. She picked up her purse and continued down the corridor. It was everything she could do to hold back the flood of tears threatening to overwhelm her. Abruptly she felt a hand on her arm and she was turned around faced by Sara.
"Donna stop!" Sara ordered her. Donna snapped. She watched as her right hand lifted and slapped Sara on the face, hard. Donna stepped back as the woman looked at her with contemptuous eyes. Donna turned again, feeling the eyes of the office on her, and she disappeared out the doors to the parking garage.
* * *
Toby stepped out of his office and into the corridor just as Donna walked by, Sara came running down the hall after her. Toby stopped and turned wondering what was going on. As Toby turned, Sara grabbed Donna's arm turning her around, Sara said something and Toby watched Donna's face. She looked worn and broken. Like someone had just pushed her over the edge. Then it happened.
Donna had obviously had enough and slapped the woman hard across the face, the crack of contact echoing across the wall. Toby saw Sara reel backward and shoot Donna a despising look as Donna walked away. Josh then came running up beside Sara asking what happened. Sara promptly burst into tears he looked down the corridor for Donna but Sara threw her arms around him and he walked her back to his office. Toby waited a moment looking around as everyone stared.
"GET BACK TO WORK!" Toby yelled through the bullpen and everyone woke from their violent trance and got busy. Toby continued down the hallway stopping in CJ office.
"Did you see that?"
"See what?"
"What just happened?" CJ explained.
"No I missed it."
" I can't believe what just happened, if you would have told me that story I wouldn't have believed you."
"Toby I'm serious I can't believe I just..."
"What Toby, what!" CJ replied sharply.
"I need your help." Toby replied the shining seriousness glowing in his eyes.
* * *
"I'm so sorry I just don't understand what happened. Why would she..."
"Did something happen that I don't know about, did she say anything to you?" Josh asked her pleading for information.
"No, there was nothing. We were having a great day."
"There has to be something more, something must have happened. I'm going to go talk to her."
"No Josh you can't!" Sara suddenly objected.
"Why not?"
"Leo needs to see you in his office regarding the GC numbers remember?"
"Oh crap, yeah."
"Listen, Donna probably needs to cool off anyway. Let the dust settle and then go to see her, everyone will be calmer by then."
"Yeah, okay I will." Josh replied his face full of worry and concern. "Thanks Sara."
"No problem that's what I'm here for." Sara replied watching as he left the office. She waited a few minutes and then walked out to Donna's abandoned desk. Sara quickly pulled out a bag collecting all of the personal items together and walking them down the hall and dropping them into the garbage. She turned to go back to the office a brightly lit smile consuming her face.

* * *
They are all gone because I walked away.
He didn't come after me, not that I gave him the chance. I ran so fast, I could barely breathe. It just hurt so much. She was supposed to be my friend; I trusted her and she lied. He wouldn't even listen to me. It was almost as if I wasn't even there. Then I broke, I could feel myself snap in half. I said the words and ran from him and she followed. I couldn't even look at her I was so angry and confused about what happened. How I had failed.
If he would have just told me what he needed, I would have changed for him; I would have become the assistant he needed.
I could see it. I could feel it all slipping away. I was scared he didn't need me anymore. I was scared that everything that has happened was gone, forgotten.
I remember my grandmother telling me that if you love something let it go, and if it comes back to you it was meant to be, and if it doesn't it was never yours in the first place. I can't give up on him, not yet. I need to talk to him, away from everyone and everything, tell him what happened. I have to.
I love him.
You always knew that didn't you?
Even if he doesn't forgive me and it doesn't change things, I have to try right? Or else, I will never know if I made the right decision or if I wasn't supposed to come back.
* * *
"Did you find her?" Sam asked as Josh walked into his office.
"No. I went to her apartment and the coffee shop she goes to at night sometimes. She wasn't at either and no one has seen her." Josh replied beginning to pace.
"What happened?"
"I don't know, one minute I was talking to her and the next she was running out the door. Sara went after her but we all know what happened then."
"I've never seen her act like that before, it was almost as if something had pushed her over the edge." Josh rambled.
"You have no idea what brought any of this on?"
"No. I thought that maybe something happened that I didn't know about but there was nothing..." Josh replied as Leo walked into the office.
"You talk to her?'
"No, I couldn't find her."
"She'll cool down and show up. What the hell happened anyway, you two have a fight or something?"
"No, nothing!" Josh exclaimed continuing to pace. "Believe me I am as shocked by all of this as the rest of you!"
"I'm heading out, if you hear anything let me know." Leo replied turning and leaving the office.
"Night Leo." Sam said as Leo raised a hand in regards and disappeared into the darkened office. It was almost midnight and everyone had left for the day with the buzz of the 'brawl in the bullpen' heavy in his or her ears.
"What do you want me to do?"
"Nothing I guess, I'll just have to wait and see if she turns up."
"You going to go by her apartment again?"
"Yeah. I just need to pick up some stuff in the office."
"I'll walk out with you." Sam replied following him out of the office turning out the lights behind him.
"Did Sara leave early?"
"Yeah she left shortly after you did. She wanted to check around town to see if she could find Donna."
"I don't know how great of an idea that was considering Donna just about decked her."
"Yeah, where did that come from?"
"Beats me." Josh replied as they walked toward his office. "Everything about this day has surprised the shit out of me."
"Tough day?"
"Beyond the current crisis? Hellish."
"Sara seems like she has been a big help."
"Yeah she has, which is another reason none of this is making any sense to me." Josh remarked as he walked into his office and began searching for the document he needed. "I mean Donna asks me to keep her around until the President's new secretary is settled and then she turns around and decks her?"
"Maybe she was doing too good of a job?"
"Donna would never think that, she knows how much I need her."
"Does she?" Sam asked. "I mean you aren't the most empathic man in the world Josh."
"I realize I have my moments, but overall I would say I am pretty good at letting her know I appreciate her."
"If you say so, you would know."
"Right." Josh replied as he walked out of the office turning the light off after him. "But even if that were the case, Donna would talk to me first before she did anything rash. Wouldn't she?"
"I'd would have thought so but after today I'm not going to assume anything." Sam replied as he followed Josh out to the parking garage. "Let me know if you need anything."
"Yeah I will, thanks Sam." Josh replied getting into his car and making the trip to Donna's apartment for the third time today. Bethany, Donna's roommate answered it and told him that Donna hadn't returned yet, but she would call as soon as she did.
Josh decided to run home for a change of clothes and then would camp out in front of Donna's place. Being sure to meet her when she got back from where ever she had gone. He pulled up along side his street and ran inside the building, as he climbed the stairs he saw someone waiting in front of the door. It was Sara.
"Hey you." Sara replied looking anxious as he approached the door. "Any news?"
"No, not yet. I just came by to pick up some clothes."
"Oh, I just thought I would come by and see if you had heard anything." Sara said as tears began falling down her face. "I'm so worried about her Josh. I just don't know what to do." Josh put a consoling hand on her shoulder and Sara took the opportunity to throw herself into his arms. Josh just stood there awkwardly and then felt bad. Sara was just as worried about Donna as he was. There was no reason to be an insensitive jerk. He hugged her back and then she began to pull away from him. Josh smoothly rested his arm on the frame of the door as she looked weepingly into his eyes.
"Josh it means so much to me that you have watched after her all this time. I know she has appreciated it. I know you must feel awful that she has..."
"This isn't over, we're going to find her. She can't hide forever." Josh replied trying to convince himself that he would see Donna's smiling face soon.
"I just don't know what I could have done to make her hate me so much. I love her Josh. She's one of my best friends. I don't know what I would've done if she hadn't gotten me this job and let me be a part of her life here. I just feel so helpless..." Josh fell into the emotion of their joined concern for Donna. Josh ached to be next to Donna, telling her it was okay. Whatever happened was going to be fine.
Getting lost in his own thoughts while consoling Sara, she caught him in an unexpected kiss. Josh pictured Donna and then abruptly woke up, pulling himself away from the embrace.
"Sara I know..." Suddenly Sara's eyes widened and Josh turned seeing Donna's face just as she turned running down the stairs. "DONNA!" Josh called after her as he chased down the stairs after her. "Donna please, wait!" He reached the bottom of the stairs and the sidewalk was empty. Josh suddenly heard a car turning over and dashed toward it. She pulled away as he reached her, leaving him standing in the street.
* * *
Sara walked into the office silently handing Josh the documents he needed for the staff meeting. She had yet to mention the incidents of the previous night and Josh hoped it stayed that way.
After Donna left, Josh went back to his apartment seeing Sara had also left. He tossed and turned all night, unable to get the image of Donna's face in the stairwell out of his mind. He tried repeatedly calling her but there was no answer. He had even gotten up early and stopped by her house and the coffee shop before he headed into the office hoping to catch her.
It was as if she'd fallen off the face of the planet. Obviously she didn't want to see him, so Josh went to work to try and come up with plan B.
As soon as he entered the building that morning, flashes of memories began to hit him. Conversations, her infallible questions and answers to everything from the purpose of a thumb tack to the 17th clause of the Bill of Rights. Then Josh got to his office, passing her desk. It was empty. His heart sank further, the realization of her never coming back hitting him hard. It wasn't over, not now, not yet...
He looked up seeing Sam standing in the doorway waiting for him to respond to the calling of his name.
"You ready?"
"Yeah. Let's go." He replied standing and picking up the files from his desk walking out the door with his friend. Sara just sat quietly at Donna's desk as Josh walked by.
"So what happened last night?"
"Nothing, why?"
"Nothing? I wouldn't call kissing your temp outside your apartment nothing." Sam replied as Josh stopped and turned looking at him in shock.
"How did you know that?"
"It's all over the office." Sam replied.
"Who started it?"
"Who do you think?"
"Crap." Josh said rolling his eyes.
"Does Leo know?"
"No. But if Margaret does..."
"Then everyone does..."
"Is it true?"
"The kiss?"
"Yes and no."
"Yes and no?" Sam questioned. "It's either one or the other, it can't be both. Did you kiss Sara?"
"No. She kissed me."
"And what?"
"Did you kiss her back?"
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure!"
"Because I mean you have been..."
"I have not."
"Josh, yes you have..."
"You're nuts. I have not."
"Fine, but I am just going to say that it doesn't surprise me."
"What doesn't surprise you?"
"That she kissed you."
"Whatever. Sam this is so beyond what I am thinking about right now."
"What are you thinking about right now?"
"Stuff." Josh replied, suddenly becoming silent, as the walked into Leos office. Sam took a seat and Josh looked around seeing CJ but not Toby. "Where's Toby?"
"He called me earlier he had something to take care of."
"Isn't that what a lunch is for?" Sam commented.
"When was the last time Toby took a lunch?" CJ countered.
"Good point."
"Okay let's get started. Now beside the fact of Donna mysteriously quitting yesterday and a brawl in the bullpen..."
"It wasn't a brawl." Josh defended.
"And then our illustrious Deputy Chief of Staff is now reportedly making out in the stairwell of his apartment with his new assistant."
"Temporary assistant." Sam commented.
"Hopefully." Josh murmured.
"What else do we have on the table for this morning?"
"My point." Leo stated simply. "Look people I don't know what is going on here and to be blunt I don't want to know. This is the White House. And contrary to many of our predecessor's past beliefs I refuse to win an Emmy for best Actor for a goddamn Soap Opera! Josh what ever you did to piss Donna off, fix it and get her back!"
"Leo I..."
"Josh just do it!" Leo snapped at him and then turned to the others. "Let's start with the Universe project..."
* * *
Donna walked into the kitchen pouring herself a cup of coffee; her eyes were still puffy and swollen from crying and her heart ached as she remembered what she witnessed in the stairwell between Josh and Sara.
She walked over to the couch wrapping the blanket around herself sitting down. It was better this way, obviously she had gotten caught up in some romantic fantasy, and anything she had ever thought she had seen in his eyes was wrong.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. She looked at her watch and knew that Josh would still be in the staff meeting so it was fairly safe to answer it. Donna looked through the peep and saw Toby standing waiting for her to answer. Donna quickly opened the door.
"Can I come in?"
"Sure." Donna replied stepping back as he entered the apartment. "Toby if Josh sent you here. I apologize..."
"Josh doesn't know I'm here."
"Why are you here?"
"I need to talk to you."
"What about?"
"Governor Dwarth."
* * *
Josh returned from the Hill walking straight to Leo's office.
"I got it."
"All of it?"
"Most of it."
"What did we have to move on?"
"The claims cap."
"How much?"
"One million in the extreme. Seven hundred thousand for the majority."
"Great. Let's roll it out tomorrow and plan a vote for Monday."
"Why not Friday?"
"Leo they are ready to go now, if we wait..."
"Okay, I'll get them ready to send tomorrow morning."
"Good job Josh."
"Thanks." Josh replied as he walked out of the office. He should feel elated, like he conquered the world, this was a major block of history that he had helped create and he felt as if he had just bought a donut.
I just wasn't the same without her.
There wouldn't be thousands of questions. No smiles or giggles of jubilation. Just a desk filled with papers and files, words with no meaning and no purpose. Except to move on to the next Bill, the next battle. For which he'd most certainly struggle but would venture toward nonetheless.
Josh walked into his office and was tackled by Sara who hugged him enthusiastically. "I'm so happy for you!"
"What are you talking about?"
"P.B.R. you got it!"
"How did you know?"
"Congressman Dwarth just called to confirm the announcement tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah." Josh replied walking to his desk.
"Josh, what's wrong?"
"Nothing." Josh replied as he took a seat going through the files on his desk.
"Aren't you happy?"
"Yeah. Of course I am."
"You sure have a funny way of showing it." Sara replied as she walked toward him.
"Yeah well that's just the way it is I guess." Josh replied flatly. "I am going to need sealed copies of the P.B.R. ready to go for tomorrow morning."
"Okay, I'll start on it right away. Don't forget you are supposed to go to dinner with Senator Allan." Sara replied. "Margaret needs to know if you are planning to bring someone to State?"
"So you are?"
"I'm not sure."
"Okay so what do you want me to tell her?"
"Tell her I'll get back to her."
"Okay, but she needs to know by the end of the day."
"Yeah, okay." Josh replied as he logged onto his computer. He saw Sara waiting nervously. "What?"
"Donna's mom called from Wisconsin."
"She did?" Josh replied an edge of apprehension in his voice. "What did she say? Has she talked to Donna?"
"She said Donna left for Europe this morning..."
"She what?"
"Apparently she decided to go and visit her brother."
"Did she say where?" Josh repeated as he stood from his chair.
"No, she wasn't very specific. She just wanted to call and tell you so you wouldn't worry." Sara replied as she watched Josh's stunned face. He stood, walking out to her desk and began ripping it apart. "What are you doing?"
"There has to be something here. Her brother sent her letters to the office maybe there is one here that will tell me where they are."
"Josh she already took it all." Sara said to him. He stopped stepping back staring blankly into one of the side drawers. He picked up the familiar baseball he had caught and given Donna after the game.... "She must have come in early this morning and cleaned it out before anyone got here." Sara stepped forward and put her arm around Josh's shoulder in comfort. "You have to let her go Josh, this was her decision."
"Yeah." Josh replied his mind racing. He slowly picked up the ball, clutching it tightly in his hand and turned away starting down the hallway.
"Where are you going?"
"I need to do something. Call Sam if you need anything." Josh replied as he disappeared down the hall.
* * *
"Yeah I know. It's going to have to wait... "Toby said into the phone as Sam walked into the office taking a seat. "Yeah...it's just a few more days I promise.... Yeah I will.... Later tonight...okay..."
"Making late night promises you can't keep again?"
"Margaret needs to know if you are planning to bring a date to State."
"Yeah that you heard me, or yeah that you are bringing someone?"
"This is such a shock?"
"A female."
"What's the big secret?"
"No secret."
"So who is she?"
"Sam don't you have something to do?"
"So why don't you go do it?"
"Because I would rather bug you."
"You're cryptic genius is inspiring."
"Toby..." CJ started and saw Sam sitting on the couch. "You done with the thing?"
"Yeah, it's all set."
"Good, let me know okay?"
"See you then." CJ replied as she left. 'Bye Sam."
"So who are you bringing to State?" Sam started again.
"A friend of mine who needs a good time."
"And she is spending the night with you?" Sam replied as he started to leave the office.
"We still on for dinner?"
"Yeah." Toby replied as Sam left the office. Toby sat down at his computer and started an email to Donna Moss.
* * *
Donna sat down with the documents Toby had left with her, she'd read and re read them, her eyes staring to blur. If Sara was up to something it had to be here somewhere. However, there was nothing, all of the documents were clean. What would she go after, what would...
Maybe Toby was wrong and Josh had just made...But, Toby usually wasn't wrong. That was something Donna had learned for sure.
Maybe it wasn't here.
Toby had printed the documents off the local file; he couldn't get into the personal files. He didn't have her password. Donna wondered if she would still be able to get in, it had only been a week. MIS probably hadn't gotten to it yet. Donna stood, grabbing her coat and keys as she headed out to the White House.
She pulled in and parked without a problem. It was Midnight and little chance that very many people would be around to see her. If they did, she was cleaning out her desk.
Donna quickly logged into her computer searching the deleted emails. She found what she was looking for and printed it out. Then she went to the updated files and sent a link to Josh's computer, she downloaded the file she needed onto a disk and quickly began to leave.
As she walked by Josh's office, she paused as she looked in. His desk was a disaster. Several empty bottles of water and bags of chips lay next to the garbage and Donna carefully picked them up throwing them away. She walked to his desk running her fingertips over the smooth wood, breathing the smell of the office into her lungs. Conversations ran through her mind, his smile when he had won an argument and his growl when she was annoying him. Abruptly she heard someone approach from the outside of the office, she paused a moment and then saw Sara enter the doorway.
"Donna. What are you doing here?"
"I a..." Donna said searching for a plausible reason. "I came by to clean out my desk."
"How have you been?"
"How do you think I've been, Sara?"
"Donna look I'm sorry if Josh chose me over you, it was nothing personal."
"Obviously it was."
"Oh, you mean the other night, I wanted to explain that..."
"You don't have to explain anything to me Sara. It's none of my business."
"You are in love with him aren't you?" Sara asked, with the question Donna began to walk away from her and out of the office. "How pathetic. It never would have worked Donna. You are from two different worlds. He needs better breeding." Donna stopped a moment and then continued to walk away. Sara caught her by the arm and Donna quickly pulled herself free. "What are you up to?"
"You're paranoid."
"May be, but I'm also smart and I know you."
"Sara what do you think I am doing?" Donna replied coldly. "I am trying to move on! I did you a favor and welcomed you. What did I get in return? You took my job, my friends, and my life. So excuse me if I am not really forthcoming with the best friend routine it's kind of out of date."
"Donna this was your decision."
"You are right it was, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt."
"I'm sorry."
"Sara shove it up your ass." Donna snapped as she hurried down the corridor and out of sight.

* * *
Two a.m.
Toby sat in the bar smoking a cigar as CJ walked to the table.
"Did she say what she had found?"
"No." Toby replied. He had gotten an urgent call from Donna and Toby immediately called CJ.
"How did you know that Sara was up to something?"
"I didn't like her."
"Toby you don't like anyone. That's not really something to base a suspicion on, there had to have been something more to it."
"There was a lack of consistency."
"How so?"
"When I first found out that Sara was going to stay I asked Josh why. He responded that Donna had asked for her to stay so she would be able to watch after the Oval."
"And what is strange about that?"
"When I mentioned to Donna that Sara was staying she said it was because Josh asked her to because of the P.B.R." Toby began to explain. "When Sara came to talk to you, she mentioned the State Draft didn't she?"
"Yeah. She said she got a phone call from Josh that he had talked to you and Donna had never spoken to you about the draft."
"I never talked to Josh and Donna did speak to me about the draft."
"She did?"
"After I went round with Sara for an hour."
"So you had been arguing with Sara not Donna?"
"Donna stepped into the office, very politely asked Sara to step outside and then she and I finished it up."
"You are kidding me."
"Nope." Toby replied taking a sip of his snifter of B&B.
"Toby, it sounds like Donna didn't quit, she got pushed out."
"Doesn't it?"
"So you think Sara has had an agenda from the beginning?"
"It would make sense." Toby replied as Donna entered the bar and walked to the table. CJ stood up giving her a hug. Donna sat down next to Toby and pulled two documents from her purse, laying them out on the small table.
"What is this?"
"The Patients Bill of Rights." Donna paused a moment looking uncomfortable.
"And the other one?"
"The Patients Bill of Rights."
"Why are there two?"
"This one is the one that was taken from the public profile off the computer." Donna explained as she pointed to the one on the left. "This one is the I pulled off of the personal allocation folders."
"What's the difference?"
"At first sight nothing." Donna replied as the waitress approached and she ordered a beer and a shot of tequila. "I read the copy on the right once when I first returned to work and then again when Toby gave it to me yesterday. I had gone through everything and found nothing unusual. Then I remembered that Toby had gotten it off the desk top and not the personal files which is where notes and changes are tracked."
"So, I went to the office and downloaded the personal files from the past month. After going through them, I still found nothing unusual. So I printed the most recent draft of the PBR just out of curiosity. I read trough the updated version and found numerous adjustments and changes that had been made."
"Couldn't that just be the adjustments from the negotiations?"
"No." Donna replied sternly. "The only negotiation that had been left open was the judicial compensation caps on settlement. The GOP was worried that the Democrats were pushing the high range of compensation as a payoff ticket to trial lawyers and special interest in the Social Security Administration. Upping the lawyer's rates and lowering the SSA's compensation claims."
"Because it would be easier to sue the HMO than to try and sue the federal government." CJ replied.
"Right. The changes I found, though maybe minor, are a definite and bold stab at the GOP, basically saying that we are pushing though the higher claims whether they approved it or not."
"So why sneak it in? It won't pass, someone will catch it before it goes to vote." CJ asked.
"The President's speech of bipartisan leadership at the State Dinner added to these apparent changes will be a slap in the face to both the GOP and the Democrats and make us look like swindling con-men. Turning the Congress on their ear and making it impossible to get anything done over the next two years." Toby explained.
"As well as extinguishing any chance the President has of running for a second term." CJ added.
"That would explain Sara's insistence that the speech be bipartisan based."
"Is it too late?" Donna asked.
"Not yet."
"When does it get rolled out?"
"Tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow?" Donna exclaimed as she stood with them putting on her jacket.
"Donna if I get you a new draft, do you think you can put together two hundred packages together by 5am?" CJ asked her as they walked out of the bar.
"Good, let's go."

* * *
Josh walked out of the restaurant, his dinner with the Senator went well, although Josh doubted he could remember a word that had been said during the two hours. He stepped onto the sidewalk as a light rain sprinkled on his face and hands. The street before him was long and had a silver sheen. He stared at it a moment, taking a single step onto it, his shadow disrupting the illusion. He continued, feeling the hardness of the wet ground beneath his feet. It was solid and true, the same everyday and every night. One long stretch of road that interweaves itself in and out of the life of countless souls; they sometimes followed it to it's length and other times they twisted and turned through it's mix of frolic and farce. Expecting to find the new and unseen, finally realizing that the road never changed, just their destination.
I think I've already lost you,
I think you're already gone.
I think I'm finally scared now...
The rain was heavier now as it cascaded down his face; he didn't push it away, he let it release the emotions that had been buried deep in his mind.
You think I'm weak- but I think you're wrong
I think you're already leaving
Feels like your hand is on the door...
His mind saw her face, heard the silver smoothness of her voice. She was with him now in the rain as he walked down the road he had been so scared to take.
I thought this place was an empire
Now I'm relaxed- I can't be sure.
I think you're so mean- I think we should try.
I think I can need this in my life
I think I'm just scared- I think too much
I know this is wrong it's a problem I'm dealing...
She had waited. She was the patient one. He had needed to focus, he had needed more than he could ever hope to get. He wanted it all, nice and neat. Wrapped in a package, no problems, and no obstacles. Just there, waiting.
If you're gone- maybe it's time to go home
There's an awful lot of breathing room
But I can hardly move
If you're gone- baby you need to come home
Cuz there's a little bit of me
In everything in you...
There wasn't enough time; he didn't realize the clock was ticking. He had missed his one chance at true happiness. He had been blinded by his own ambition and fear of losing control.
I bet you're hard to get over
I bet the moon just won't shine.
I bet my hands I can stay here
I bet you need- more than you mind...
He felt the pain welling up from the deepest caverns of his heart. He couldn't stop it now, no matter how hard he tried. She wouldn't be there tomorrow; she wouldn't be there to straighten his tie, to laugh at his jokes. She wouldn't be there to remind him he still had a heart.
I think you're so mean- I think we should try
I think I could need this in my life
I think I'm just scared- that I know too much
I can't relate and I that's a problem
I'm feeling...
Through his raged mind, he began to feel the breaking of his heart, the splintering of his soul. He heard it crack and tear as the images drifted away. The dreams of a future beyond this moment, he's had those visions when he watched her hair fall around her face. Why had she gone, what drove her away?
If you're gone
Maybe it's time to come home
There's an awful lot of breathing room
But I can hardly move
If you're gone- baby you need to come home
Cuz there's a little bit of me
In everything in you...
He stopped and stared at the starless sky. The blanket of clouds had covered them; the fog of a gentle rain had quietly extinguished something bright enough to burn a thousand years away.
It wasn't massive or dramatic. They simply vanished from sight. The injury was to those who lost the image of their beauty, sparkling and clear. Never really gone, just unnoticed and taken for granted that they would be there when we choose to look upon them. He had done that, he had forgotten to look before the rain came and now the image was illusive.
The stars shone beyond the rain into warmth of remembrance that he felt he could touch. His mind called for them but they were silent, unable to respond because he had forgotten he had let them disappear without seeing them.
He wanted it back. He needed it back.
He couldn't live without her, in this world full of rain.

* * *
The three of them had worked into the wee hours of the morning. Toby and CJ put together all of the evidence and documentation together, while Donna put together the packets replacing the Bill.
"All finished, they are waiting in the couriers bin to go out at five." Donna reported as she came into the office and took a seat on CJ's couch. Toby had disappeared to his office.
"You are the bomb." CJ commented smiling as she continued to type on her laptop. She saw Donna's worried and guilt ridden expression "Donna, you do know that none of this is your fault."
"Whether it was fault or not it doesn't really make much of a difference now does it?"
"Donna, Josh wants you back."
'Funny. I haven't heard or seen Josh since the..." Donna replied as she trailed off remembering what she had witnessed in the stairwell. " It doesn't matter anymore. Josh has obviously made his choice and now we all have to live with it."
"Donna, Josh doesn't know what is going on, and there is a very distinct possibility that Sara has been severely misleading him."
"What do you mean?"
"The day you quit, Sara came into my office claiming to be concerned by your mental state."
"She said that you had been acting strangely and overly emotional. She told me that you were the one who got into an argument with Toby. That you said that it was none of her business. She also said that you were the one who never went to see Toby in the first place and that she had to basically clean up your mess."
"That's not what happened at all!"
"I know that now, but if she said that to me you can imagine what she has told Josh and the rest of the West Wing as well."
"Which is why it was so important to keep you out of sight for a while until all of this blows over." Toby added as he re entered the office. "It's not only to help us stop whatever is going to happen before it starts, but to protect you. We don't want Sara to try and pin any of this on you."
"Toby is going to tell Leo what is happening in the morning, but we think it is going to be better to keep Josh and Sam in the dark until just before we drop the bomb."
"So as to not tip your hand."
"In lite of that fact, I'd better go before everyone starts rolling in." Donna said abruptly as she stood and began to walk out of the room.
"Night Donna." CJ said smiling. "Thank you for everything you've done."
"I serve at the pleasure of the President." Donna replied sadness flickering in her eyes. "Night."
* * *
The next afternoon Toby walked into Leo's office, information in hand.
"Okay Toby, what's up?"
"We have a situation."
"We do?"
"We did, its taken care of now. Thanks to Donna."
"Donna? I thought she was in Europe?"
"You were misinformed. We were all misinformed." Toby began the long story of the inconsistencies and suspicions and led up to Donna's help in finding out the problem and solving it.
"The P.B.R?"
"And you are sure it was Dwarth?"
"Positive. When we came back last night, I had Donna double check the email and there is a variety of correspondence between the two parties."
"Okay, how do you want to handle it?"
"I want to take the two of them outside and put them in front of a firing squad."
"Preferably something legal Toby."
"Tell them after the President's speech so they have no time to react."
"Okay, set it up."
"Everyone." Leo replied as he began to pick up the phone. "Have you talked Donna into coming back?"
"No. She's convinced Josh has made his choice."
"You have to convince her otherwise. Especially now." Leo stressed to him. "She saved our Asses and this isn't the first time. We need her here. I want her here tonight."
Toby nodded in response and turned to exit the room as Margaret entered in a flurried rush.
"Leo..." She said as she approached his desk.
"Josh just called."
"Yeah, and..." Leo replied as Margaret hesitated, struggling with her words.
"He's at the airport."
"He's what?"
"He's at the airport, he is going to Europe to find Donna."
"Oh God." Leo sighed as he grabbed his keys and his jacket hurrying out of the office. "Toby, take care of the arrangements for tonight." Leo turned back to Margaret. "How long ago did he call?"
"Just now."
"Okay. Try and find out where he's going or what flight he is on and call me!" Leo replied as he ran out of the office and through the side door.
"Good Luck!"
* * *
Josh sat in the airport terminal waiting for his plane to begin loading. He didn't know how and he didn't know when, but he was going to find Donna and make her listen to him. Leo was probably pretty pissed at him right now for spontaneously disappearing but he would have to understand. Besides, Leo was the one who gave him direct order to bring her back, and that was exactly what he was planning to do.
Josh dialed his cell phone again, trying to reach Donna's mother, he was hoping he could convince her to tell him where she was. It repeatedly rang with no answer, and Josh hung up. He stood from the plastic chair and stretched. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder and he turned seeing Leo.
"Leo, what are you doing here?"
"What the hell do you think I am doing here?" Leo replied as he looked at Josh's stress filled face. "Josh you can't just disappear and expect it to be okay. This is a huge night for the President and he needs all of his staff present. There is not an option here."
"Then I resign."
"You heard me, I resign." Josh replied with a solid confidence in his eyes.
"Josh look, I know you..."
"No Leo, you don't know. Neither did I until last night."
"You love her don't you?"
"Yes, I do." Josh replied a deep sadness in his eyes. "And it took her leaving and going halfway across the world for me to realize it. But now that I have..."
"I know she is a big part of your life..."
"She's not a big part of my life. She is my life. I have to find her."
"How? You have no idea where she is, where to begin."
"I don't care, I can't just sit here while she still thinks that I don't care. That all of it was a lie."
"I understand." Leo simply said.
"You do?"
"Yeah. If I had what you have, I would chase it with every ounce of strength in me. But Josh you're chasing it." Leo replied as Josh stared at him blankly. "You work at the White House, you have access to the biggest database of information in the world." Leo started. "Look, what I'm saying is, if you really do want to find her then, let me help you."
"You're going to help me find her?"
"I have a few favors to call in." Leo replied smiling. "On one condition."
"That you go, fully dressed to State." Leo said. "Josh, I realize that this is rough for you but you have responsibilities and Donna will kick your ass when you do find her if you don't live up to them."
"Yeah." Josh reluctantly agreed.
"Tomorrow morning I will call in a few of those favors and you should be on a plane by Sunday morning." Leo replied, watching Josh's relieved expression. "Now let's get out of here, before the President kicks my ass."
"Yeah." Josh replied chuckling as they headed out of the airport.
"Besides Josh, I have a feeling State isn't going to be as boring as you think."
* * *
"Congressman Dwarth, it's so nice to see you tonight." Toby said as he shook the man's hand. The State dinner had just begun and the guests were beginning to filter in. Toby smiled his most genuine fake smile as the Congressman began the conversation.
"I wouldn't miss this for the world. It's been a long time coming to see such a definite representation of cooperation within these old walls. The proof I read through today was impressive, Josh Lyman is quite a negotiator."
"Yes, he is."
"Speaking of which, where is Josh? I'd like to say hello to him."
"He's in meeting with Leo McGarry but he will be arriving soon." Toby explained. "Congressman, we are planning a little after dinner celebration in the Roosevelt room. The President was wondering if you might be interested in attending?"
"Yes, of course. You can count on it." Dwarth replied, an arrogant smile sliding across his face.
"Great. Enjoy the evening." Toby replied with sugarcoated ease. He walked away back to the bar as CJ joined him.
"I haven't seen you schmooze that well since before the primary." She commented to him.
"It's fun when you are holding the ace."
"You are enjoying this way too much." CJ replied as she laughed at him. "Have you seen Josh?"
"Not yet. Margaret said they got back about half an hour ago."
"Good." CJ replied as she watched Sam enter the room with Sara. "Heads up, the piss ant is wearing red."
"All the better, then we won't have to worry about the blood stain on her clothes drawing to much attention after Josh kills her, and we have to drag her body out of the ballroom." Toby replied getting another laugh from CJ as they approached.
"Hello Sara." CJ said to the woman who was draped in red satin.
"CJ you look lovely." Sara replied as she gave the woman a gentle hug.
"Is this your first State Dinner?"
"Yes, and I have to say I am a little more than nervous."
"There's nothing to be nervous about. You're around friends." Sam replied cheerfully.
"Friends." Sara repeated as she looked around thoughtfully. "Yeah I am. I just wish Donna was here to enjoy it as well."
"Maybe she will be."
"Why would you say that?" Sara suddenly snapped and then pulled back smiling.
"I dunno, just a feeling."
"Well unless her mother lied to me this morning, Donna is far away from here and not thinking of returning anytime soon." Sara stated. "It's too bad, I really miss her."
"So does Josh." Toby swiped quietly. Sara's eyes went wide for an instant hearing him. Sam turned to her handing her a drink and her smile quickly returned.
The night proceeded uneventfully. Toby and CJ watched as Sara threw herself at Sam in the absence of Josh and were debating on whether to warn him or not. Finally, Toby agreed to break into one of their dances so CJ could talk to Sam.
"CJ, I don't believe we have ever danced."
"Neither do I Sam." CJ replied suddenly becoming very aware of the problem resting in her mind. "Sam I need to tell you something..."
* * *
Josh walked into the Dinner in all its grandeur and shine feeling a heavy weight upon his chest. He walked to the bar, saying hello to those who greeted him with a smile. He ordered a straight scotch and scanned the room for his cohorts. He found CJ and Sam in deep discussion on the dance floor and Leo talking with the Vice President. Then he saw it and his jaw dropped, Toby was dancing with Sara and he looked like he was actually enjoying it. Josh stared a moment and decided something was up. His eyes moved back to CJ and Sam who were walking off the dance floor and to the side of the ballroom.
Josh quickly downed his scotch deciding to see what was up. He made his way through the crowd but was suddenly halted by a group of congressional representatives, congratulating him on the success of the Bill. He was stuck.
Josh laughed with the group of men and began the usual shoptalk of who's and where's and obsolete opinions. Out of the corner of his eye, Josh continued to watch CJ and Sam as they talked. Sam's expression was beginning to become very agitated and tense. Josh politely excused himself heading toward them when he felt a soft hand on his back. He turned seeing Sara standing there, smiling at him.
"Hey you. Nice Tux."
"Hey, yeah thanks."
"Did it fit okay?"
"Yeah fine." Josh replied as Sara quickly looped her arm through his. He stiffened slightly and then relaxed not wanting to embarrass her.
"I don't know where you went this afternoon but it looks like you are a little more cheerful." Sara commented as they walked through the crowd to the bar. "I'm glad. I thought we might have a problem."
"No. I'm fine."
"Good cause I want you to know I don't just kiss any guy who comes along."
"Sara I..." Josh started as she put her fingertip to his lips.
"I know that you are having difficulties with the whole boss thing but I think we both know..."
"Sara I think we need to talk."
"I was thinking the same thing." Sara replied as she led him out of the ballroom and down the corridor. They walked into one of the empty offices and she closed the door behind them. She turned to him and began playing with the collar of his shirt. "Josh I have..."
"Sara when I said we needed to talk I..." Josh said sternly as he took her hands bringing them away from him and to her sides. "I meant we needed to talk."
"Josh what's wrong?"
"This isn't going to work. I'm sorry if you got the impression that I have some feelings for you other than professional but I..."
"Yes it can, we will just have to..."
"No it won't because I don't have any feelings toward you."
"I don't understand, the other night..."
"Sara it was something that just happened it didn't mean anything and I apologize..."
"It didn't mean anything? How could it not mean anything Josh! There is something between us, you can't deny that!"
"No, there isn't Sara." Josh stated as gently as he could. She stepped forward toward him and he stepped back silently. "Sara, don't." Josh reaffirmed as she tried to approach him again. He watched her expression go from confusion and hurt to a welling rage, as she finally heard what he was saying.
"This is about her isn't it?" Sara said the realization suddenly dawning on her. "She's not coming back you know? She's done. I made sure of that myself."
"What did you just say?"
"Besides, what has that little whore ever done for you? She is an uneducated, stupid little bitch who probably screwed her..."
"Sara what do you know about why Donna left?"
"I told her you wanted me instead of her." Sara replied, a huge smile crossing her face. "I told her that you'd had enough of her mousy attitude and needed someone stronger. That was me."
"How...Why..." Josh stumbled unable to comprehend what he was hearing. "You are supposed to be her friend."
"She was never my friend, I just used her to get here." Sara professed to him still smiling. Josh began to pace the room trying to put the pieces together. "Just like I used you."
Josh turned taking her roughly by the arms.
"What have you done?!" Josh shouted at her, she continued to smile through his rage and began to laugh.
"It's too late. It's all over."
"What, what are you talking about!"
"The patient's bill of rights. I added some little addendum's to the final draft." Sara began to explain. "It went to every congressman's desk this morning. It will be reviewed and realized, that along with the rest of West Wing's current agenda of problems, that Bartlet administration likes to sneak in things that have not been approved or discussed."
"It was really easy really. You gave me everything I needed and then it was just a matter of pushing Donna out of the picture. I knew if anyone would catch the changes it would be her. She was stubborn and way too efficient, so I planted a few thoughts, faked some stories and bang she was gone."
"This was all a set up...everything..." Josh repeated hearing his own words as the events of the past weeks began to blend and fit together.
"Thus shattering the dream of the democrats' reality of true bi-partisianship and a second term for President Bartlet, even with the sympathy vote. Your fate and the fate of this administration was sealed last night along with two hundred envelopes."
"You're fired." Josh said as he raced out of the room.
* * *
The President's speech had begun and Josh had disappeared along with Sara. Toby scanned the room finding Sam standing next to CJ at the bar downing a stiff drink. Toby walked up with a smile as Sam downed another shot.
"When are we going to do it?"
"There has been a private celebration party planned following the speech in the Roosevelt room." Toby replied.
"And the firing squad?"
"Immediately after."
"Good." Sam replied with a smile. "Does Josh know yet?'
"Not yet." CJ replied. "We were afraid it would..."
"Strike that, I think he just found out." Sam said to them as he watched Josh approaching the bar in a panicked rush. "What do we tell him?"
"The truth." Toby replied, as Josh finally reached them.
"We have a huge problem."
"We know." Toby replied to him quietly.
"What do you mean you know?" Josh asked him.
"Let's head outside." Toby suggested as they headed toward the balcony. CJ took a slight detour disappearing into the crowd.
The warm air hit them as the door opened and they stepped out. Sam stepped off to the side deciding to let Toby explain.
"Okay, what do you mean you know?" Josh demanded.
"CJ and I found the problem last night."
"How..." Josh replied hearing the door of the balcony opening behind him.
"It doesn't matter..."
"Yes, it does." Josh objected becoming frustrated with his avoidance of the question "How did you find it?"
"I found it."
Josh turned seeing Donna standing beside CJ in a midnight blue gown. His heart stopped as he took her in. He was breathless and couldn't speak.
"When Toby first became suspicious of Sara, he went to Donna for help." CJ explained as she watched Josh continue his unbreakable gaze at Donna.
"I did some research and found the inconsistencies."
"She found it in time and we were able to change the Bill before it went out in the morning courier."
"So what happens now?" Josh asked, tearing his eyes off of Donna.
"There will be a private celebration in the Roosevelt room with Congressman Dwarth and..."
"Dwarth? I don't understand."
"Congressman Dwarth used to be Governor Dwarth from Michigan." Sam explained. Josh's eyes went back to Donna who tried to avoid his gaze.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked the group locking Donna eyes.
"We didn't want to alert Dwarth or Sara to the fact that we knew so we thought it would be better to keep you and Sam in the dark until..."
"I want to do it." Josh replied turning to Toby, a stone coldness in his eyes.
"Josh I don't think..."
"Frankly Toby, I don't give a shit what you think. You either let me do this or I walk right now." Josh threatened as he watched Toby turn to CJ and Sam. They nodded in agreement and Josh finally exhaled.
"The speech is almost over. We'd better get back inside." Sam suggested.
Josh stood silently just staring at Donna. She felt like her heart would break, he hated her. Whatever trust or feelings they had for each other were now gone, destroyed.
Josh walked back into the ballroom leaving her on the balcony and straight to the bar. Josh downed two shots as the President's speech ended with a wave of overwhelming applause. Toby had disappeared as they watched Leo, he nodded and CJ Sam and Josh headed to the Roosevelt room where a small buffet and champagne was waiting. CJ handed Josh the bogus copy of the Bill and Josh looked it over as the group waited anxiously for the blaze to begin. Leo entered the room followed by the Congressman. At the same moment Toby entered through the side door with Donna at his side and they waited silently in the back of the room.
The Congressman's face went from happy exultation to annoyance as he saw Donna while he also surveyed the tone of the room.
"Congressman I would like to congratulate you on the success of the Bill." Josh said as he slowly approached the man, a fire burning in his eyes.
"Its success has yet to be had until the vote on Monday."
"That's where you happen to be wrong.'
"Really, and how is that Mr. Lyman?"
"Well you see, I was just given a very interesting document that on almost all counts resembles the Bill that was sent out this morning. Except it has a few little additions that were made by my temporary assistant Sara Hamilton." Josh began, the silver slicing of his tone slicing through all doubt of his control of the situation. "I believe you know her, she used to be your personal assistant while you were the Governor of Michigan?"
"The name sounds familiar but..."
"Doesn't matter because she is no longer a part of my staff. After having been released, Ms. Hamilton was more than forthcoming in explaining her part in this elaboration. Back to the point. Congressman, your deliberate attempt to sabotage this bill and this administration is more than clear."
"Mr. Lyman you are out of..."
"Fortunately the members of this staff are smarter than you and Ms. Hamilton are, and caught the replaced document before it reached the hands of every member of the House. Preventing the torpedoing of the Bill as well as this administration."
"It wasn't my intent to..."
"I don't care what your intent was sir!" Josh snapped, the tone of his voice rising slightly. "It happened and now we have to come to decision about what we are going to do about it." Dwarth stood silently evaluating his options in the situation, he finally sighed looking at Josh.
"I'm sure that we can come to some agreement that would rectify the situation."
"I'm sure we can." Josh replied.
* * *
Leo took over the conversation with Dwarth and Josh excused himself from the room, he silently took Donna's hand leading her out of the room.
"Josh, where are you taking me." Donna asked as he practically drug her down the corridor toward his office. "Josh please say something." Donna pleaded with him as they continued to walk. They reached his office and he pulled her into it closing the door behind them. "Josh you're scaring me, please say something..."
Before she could finish, Josh captured her delicate face between his hands, smothering her lips with his in a demanding urgency. Donna's blood pounded in her brain, leapt from her heart and made her knees tremble. It ended slowly as he began to pull away, but kept being drawn back to her soft lips. He caught her eyes as they filled with tears.
"Don't ever do that to me again." Josh demanded with a whisper.
"What?" Donna replied softly.
"Leave me." Josh replied as he searched her liquid eyes. The clouds had finally cleared and he could see the stars as they shone in her eyes. His lips feather-touched hers in tantalizing persuasion before devouring hers again. There was a dreamy intimacy to the kiss now and they became lost within each other's breath not wanting it to end...
* * *
The sun was warm and bright as it bounced off the metal of the stadium. Josh looked up as Donna and CJ returned with the food the group had requested. Six chili cheese dogs with everything and two salads. Josh stood as CJ made her way carefully past him, Donna handed him one of the trays of drinks and took the seat just inside next to him. The women handed out the food and drinks to Toby Sam and Leo. Donna handed Josh napkins first and then his hotdog and soda.
"Thanks." He replied kissing her softly. She smiled at him, placing her own soda on the ground beside her feet.
"Josh are you sure this won't kill me?" Leo asked as he surveyed the hotdog.
"If it does you are going to heaven." Josh replied as he watched the game intently. The Patients Bill of Rights passed through Congress without incident. After his conversation with Josh, Congressman Dwarth had campaigned for it heavily and something good had come out of the whole mess. Sara hadn't been seen or heard from since Josh fired her, but it was rumored that she never got the job she had been expecting and was forced to move back home to her parents house in Michigan.
Leo and Toby had explained Donna integral part in the uncovering of the plot to Josh as well as the President, and Donna came back to work the next day with a raise. The Wing was running as smoothly as it ever had and Leo had arranged a day at Shea Stadium in celebration.
The batter hit a line drive to first and the play ensued with a runner on first. Josh silently cheered taking another bite of his hotdog, as he heard CJ and Donna talking about men, baseball and fashion. How those three things fit together were beyond him. The second batter came up and swung feebly at the ball.
"Check!" Josh, Toby, Sam and Leo all exclaimed together, as they watched the play.
"You see what I mean, what was that?" CJ said to Donna.
"A check-swing is when an umpire rules that a batter did not strike at a pitch even though the batter may have partially swung. There is no official definition in the rules of baseball that defines a check-swing. Rather, it is entirely the decision of the umpire of whether or not a pitch was swung at. Generally, factors such as whether the bat passes the front of the plate or the batter pulls his wrists back are considered in making this decision." Donna explained to CJ. Donna and CJ went back to their salads and then noticed the dropped jaws of the four men. "What?"
"Donna how did you know that?" Josh finally asked her.
"I did some research during my time off. I guess I caught on." Donna replied simply. Josh threw his hotdog down wrapping his arms around her crushing her into a kiss. "It's official, the hotdog finally killed me. I've died and gone to heaven..."

The End.

I hope you enjoyed my latest piece of fan fiction. I am always interested to hear what you think and any comments you may have. Please email me at lilymaid172002@yahoo.com.












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