Disclaimer: See chapter 1

Warnings: Themes of violence

Chapter 7

Tests

Margaret sat on a couch littered with paper while Donna paced and Toby read the legal papers she had received. Margaret needed a break from the constant tension so she looked around at Tobyís place. The living room was decorated with black leather furniture and a few pieces of political art. In the corner there was a CD player with impossibly tall stacks of CDís surrounding it. The walls were crowded with bookshelves that rose to the ceiling and were filled with books of all description and sheaves of paper bound in files, accordion folders, and just lying loose. As usual with Toby, the paper was everywhere. There were stacks of it on the shelves as well as piles along the hardwood floor, piles that she could tell had been part of the landscape for some time. Separate from his interesting dťcor, there was the paper metropolis he had set up on the living room floor on and around his coffee table. She assumed this was the trade bill he was working on. She took one more look at the overall effect and decided that she was glad that she wasnít the woman in his life. CJ, She concluded must have the patience of a saint.

 

"Thatís it then. Heís gone on the offensive. The time for secrets is over," Toby concluded when he finished reading the papers she had handed him.

 

"Toby, I still think that I can convince him to give us the disc," she reasoned.

 

"Donna, that horse has been beat into the ground. If he showed up with the disc right now, I would throw it. I wouldnít use one idea on it. Itís no good to us anymore. We have to assume they know everything."

 

"But TobyÖ"

 

"Donna, I understand your wish to save this bill, but this course of action is no longer reasonable. You need to start thinking about what you do for yourself. And we need to tell them where the disc has gone. We donít have much time and weíre going to need new strategy."

 

"I didnít want this to happen," Donna lamented.

 

"Donna, stop thinking about the bill. ThisÖperpetrator has accused you, heís made you the attacker. His plan is to ruin you. Right now heís somewhere thinking that he will have you run out of Washington inside a month. And he probably has about 37 lawyers conferring right now about how to get that done. This is where your head should be. The trade bill and the assault have become two very separate things and we need to think of them as such," Toby was reasoning with her softly.

 

"What do we do now?" she whispered.

 

"We need strategies for both of these things. And we need them now. Weíre going to need all the help we can get."

 

"Do you mean now! Itís 11:30 at night."

 

"Yes," he replied clearly.

 

She looked down at the ground for a long minute. She shook her head sharply once as if she was having an argument inside her brain. Then she looked up with frightened eyes. "Call them," she said in a soft whisper.

 

 

 

 

"Wait! Hold that elevator," Josh called to the man disappearing inside the doors. Josh saw a hand emerge and stop the door from sealing. Then the doors opened to reveal an impatient Leo McGarry.

 

"He called you too!" Josh said with a look of surprise.

 

"What the hell is going on that I have to be at Tobyís at midnight on a Monday night?" asked an irritated Leo.

 

"I have no clue. But I shouldnít be surprised. This has been the weirdest day." Josh leaned against the back wall of the elevator as the doors closed and their ascent began.

 

"Youíre telling me, Josh. Can you believe that I found Margaret lying in pain on Tobyís couch earlier today? Bonnie claims that Margaret hopped her way through the communications area and then fell through his door. She says that Margaret says one thing to him and he takes off running. What the hell could that have been about?" asked Leo with his arms in the air.

 

"I walk into my office this afternoon and find Toby in there with Donna. He was in foul mood and I swear to God, she was crying. Then they both get away from me as soon as possible. I donít have the faintest idea as to what is going on," Josh added shaking his head.

 

"What is he up to?" Leo said as the doors opened.

 

"And what does it have to do with our assistants?" Josh pondered as he knocked on Tobyís door. Toby answered and invited them in.

 

"Okay Toby. Weíre here. Itís midnight. What do you want?" began Leo without preamble.

 

"Well, itís a little complicaÖ" Toby was interrupted by a crash behind him. He winced at the sound of breaking glass. Clearly Margaret had not yet mastered the art of reaching for things while wearing a sling.

 

"Who the hell is that?" demanded Josh.

 

"Ahh,Ö that would be Donna and Margaret in my kitchen," Toby answered slowly. Josh and Leo stared at him for a minute and then transferred that look to one another.

 

"What the hell are they doing in your kitchen?" Leo asked precisely.

 

"Ahh,ÖWell knowing Margaret, I imagine she is looking for some tomato soup to heat up." Toby said realizing how ridiculous he must sound.

 

"Iím in the middle of a Kafka novel," said Josh to no one in particular.

 

"What the hell is going on?!!" thundered Leo. CJ and Sam appeared behind him.

 

"What have we walked into?" Sam inquired warily.

 

"Well apparently, Margaret and Donna are in Tobyís kitchen cooking up some soup because itís midnight so itís really nothing out of the ordinary," Josh said sarcastically and then he added. "I half expect Fitzwallace to pop out of the bedroom with a load of laundry. Or does he have the night off, Toby?" Toby took a deep breath. He had a feeling that this was going to be a very long night.

 

"I think it would be a good idea for all of us to sit down so this whole thing can be explained." Toby gestured to his couches and chairs all of which were still littered with his work.

 

"And then you are going to explain everything!" Leo warned more than asked.

 

"Well, no, not exactly. Iím not goingÖ" Toby began.

 

"Itís my story to tell." Donna announced as she and Margaret appeared from the kitchen interrupting Toby.

 

"Donna, I donít understand whatís going on? What are you doing here?" Josh looked at her with confusion.

 

"It would be so much better if I could just talk to you alone, first. You deserve that. But itís really too late for any of that. The whole thing has gotten out of hand." She saw only Josh when she said this.

 

"Okay, Donna. Whatever is going on, you have to know that Iím there for you, always," he replied sincerely.

 

"I know. But Iím going to hurt and disappoint you tonight. And I wish that there were some way that could be avoided. I would do anything. I guess I sort of have already. Toby says the time for secrets is over and I now know that heís right." Tears were falling from her eyes as she looked at the man who meant so much to her. "Iím so sorry, Josh," she added trying to swallow the sobs that welled up inside her. Josh stared at her for a moment with a mixture of apprehension and dread. He could tell that something very significant was happening in front of him. He shook his head violently to dislodge the fear that was gripping him. And then he strode forward, taking her into his arms. He didnít know what had happened to hurt her so deeply, but he knew enough to hold and comfort her.

 

"Margaret, do you want to fill us in?" Leo asked with not a little impatience.

 

"No," she replied never taking her eyes off Donna and Josh. She prayed that Josh wouldnít let go when the truth came out.

 

"Margaret!"

 

"Leo, calm down," she said sharply. "I realize that youíre impatient. I understand that. But this is Donnaís story and sheíll be the one to tell it." Leo looked surprise at this response. Margaret was leaning wearily against the couch, her foot throbbing in pain.

 

"Margaret, you look very tired," CJ said gently. She hadnít seen Margaretís injuries until this evening. There was something about the way that she looked that reminded CJ of a time long ago in her own life. She felt something deep in her gut that she knew the men around her might not understand. "Let me help you get situated on the couch." Margaret looked surprised by this offer, but allowed CJ to lead her over to a couch. CJ gave Toby a look of disgust as she swept his papers onto the ground and then she seated Margaret. Leo looked a little humbled by CJís kindness. He went over and stood behind Margaret as if to indicate that he would be the one to offer Margaret any further gestures of kindness.

 

Toby finally had corralled everyone into a seat with the exception of Josh and Donna. He seated himself and they all waited. Donna was finally able to pull away from his embrace. She looked at him for one long minute and then she turned to the group. Toby offered her a seat beside him and she gratefully took it. She would need his support and guidance if she were going to get through this. Josh saw this and found himself further confused by whatever connection Toby seemed to have with Donna.

Donna took a deep breath before she began. She looked at Margaret and Toby for support. Toby gave her a nod and Margaret smiled at her. Finally Donna began to tell her friends and colleagues about her terrible odyssey.

She started by talking about the fight she and Josh had last Friday. She talked about the blow to her pride that occurred when Josh had indicated that Grey had no real interest in her. Josh looked embarrassed as she told this to the group. She told them about her act of defiance by going out with Tucker Grey. When she talked about inviting him up to her apartment, her voice started to break. Josh seemed to sense that this story was going to end badly and he jumped out of his chair, pacing before them. She stopped for a minute. She wanted to ask him to sit, but she knew she shouldnít control his reactions.

She looked at Josh when she started to talk about realizing how he had been right all along and that all she had wanted in that moment was for Grey to leave. He tried to meet her eyes, but his apprehension was too great. She took a deep breath and told of the hole that he punched in the wall and how she had run into her bedroom. "He followed," she said in the softest whisper and yet everyone could hear it as if it were shouted from rooftops. Then she stopped and looked down. Nothing in the room stirred for a moment including Josh. He had halted his pacing at her words and was staring at her in shock. Toby looked at him and then reached over for Donnaís hand as if to role model for Josh what she would need from him. CJ was watching everything intently. Her breathing had gotten quick as the story progressed, and she let out a little gasp when Toby held Donnaís hand.

For Margaret, the tears had finally come. She had held so much inside believing that her only role was one of support. Now she let them fall unhindered. She could feel every ounce of Donnaís pain. And within it, she found her own pain reflecting back at her. Leo reached from behind the couch and placed his hands on her shoulders. She accepted his touch gratefully.

 

"I saw him today. He was at the West Wing. Was he being arrested? Tell me heís in jail, Donna," Josh burst out with wild eyes.

 

"Itís more complicated than that." She began.

 

"How, Donna? How can it be complicated?" Joshís voice was rising.

 

"Josh, listen to her. Thereís more to the story," Toby counseled.

 

"Why am I hearing this from you? Whatís your part in this whole thing? How did you become Donnaís new best friend?" Josh shot at him with anger.

 

"Please stop," Donna begged. Josh caught her eye in that moment and he held himself in.

 

"I just donít understand, Donna," he said softly.

 

"It got worse, Josh. It got much worse," she said looking at him sadly. She tried to begin again, but she was finding it hard to concentrate on everything. She started and stopped a couple of times, and then sat with her head down.

 

"Can I help?" Margaret asked gently. Donna nodded her head.

 

Margaret talked about their plan to meet and Donna turning up missing. She talked about going to the apartment and finding Donna after the assault. She said that Donna had been in shock and needed support.

 

"Why didnít I get a call? Where are the police in this story?" Josh interrupted.

 

"Josh!" Leo yelled. "Sit down now. We have to hear this thing through."

 

Josh remained standing for a minute finding refuge in his rebellion. Finally, his breathing slowed and he went to a chair. Sam sat on the edge of his seat looking for a way to offer something, anything, to fight the pain that floated freely about the room.

 

Margaret looked at Donna for a minute before continuing. She seemed to sense the permission to continue. And so she gave voice to the other big secret. "Josh, the reason that Donna was reluctant to involve the police was that he had taken from her apartment something that belonged to you. She wanted to find a way to get it back beforeÖbefore it was too late." Josh stared at Margaret. She continued. "Donna took your trade bill disc home with her. She wanted to edit and format it for you. She wanted to do this thing as a way of telling you she was sorry for the fight. Grey took the disc, Josh." Josh closed his eyes as the receipt of this information.

 

"How did you two think you were going to get it back, Margaret?" Leo asked incredulously.

 

"He showed up Sunday morning. Donna tried to reason with him. But heís notÖ heís a bad man, Leo. He started to threaten her and I didnít know what to do and so I attacked him."

 

"Heís the one that did this to you." Leoís temper was rising.

 

"Yeah. It happened really fast, Leo," she said as if to offer some consolation.

 

"Iíve met this guy," Sam added with awe. "We played rugby on the same team one weekend. This guyís about 6í2" and 200 lbs., Margaret. This guyís an athlete."

 

"I didnít know what else to do," she said simply.

 

"Heís walking free right now, is that correct? He raped Donna. He beat you. And he has stolen White House documents. But he walks free. Maybe this makes sense. Whenís his birthday? We should plan a party for the guy." Leo was red with anger. Margaret closed her eyes and tried to block out the rage filled energy in the room.

 

"Toby," CJ asked quietly. "Whatís your part in all of this?" It was something of necessary distraction as they all turned their eyes to him.

 

Toby told about his encounter with Donna in the West Wing that night.

 

"It ate at me, CJ. There was something about her eyes. And I was so wrapped up in my own life that I wasnít paying attention. I couldnít get it out of my head. So I went over to Donnaís to check on her Sunday morning before we were supposed to leave. I thought it would help me concentrate on our time together." He looked at her through this explanation searching her face for a reaction. But CJ revealed nothing.

 

"They told you everything?" Sam asked.

 

"It was obvious. I came not long after Grey had assaulted Margaret." Toby explained.

 

"And your plan, once you learned everything, was to sit on your ass and do nothing?" Josh inquired sarcastically. Toby took a deep breath. It would do no good to try and reason with Josh just now.

 

"Yeah, Toby, it seems that Josh has a pretty good question," Leo added.

 

"I didnít want to take over. They were already so powerless. It didnít make sense to do anything until they were ready," he offered.

 

"Okay, but Donnaís in shock and Margaretís just been beat. You think they know the right thing to do?" Leo countered.

 

"Leo, I donít know what to say. It seemed like the right thing to do. Donna wasnít ready to do the things I wanted her to do. I had to respect that. And before you get started again, I want you to know that I realize that Iím about the last person in the world a person goes to for support. But I stumbled into this thing and Iíve been trying to feel my way through it ever since." CJ was staring intently at him throughout his explanation.

 

"He was at the West Wing today," Josh remembered. "Did he try to hurt you again?"

 

"He was trying to get a deal out of me. He said he would give me the disc in exchange for affidavits from Margaret and I stating that he had done nothing to us." Donna was spent. Her voice was hollow. "Toby got there before I could agree."

 

"My God. I canít believe all of this," Josh stated incredulously.

 

"Josh, I wanted to fix things. I know what was on that disc. I know what that could do to the Presidentís trade bill vote. It was my fault that he had it. I took it from you without permission. I know you should fire me for this. I screwed up and I didnít want you to pay for that," Donna blurted it out. Josh shook his head in amazement.

 

"You canít possibly think that disc is any good to us now, Donna," he said.

 

"No, I held onto to that idea too long, Josh. I understand that," she answered him quietly.

 

"Grey sent someone to serve Donna this evening at Margaretís home. Heís suing her for defamation and slander. He has all the resources he needs to destroy her," Toby added.

 

"Is that all?" Leo burst out sarcastically.

 

Toby looked back at him in silence. Everyone in the room sat silently for a while trying to process all of the information they had received in such a short time.

 

"Josh," Donna said hopefully.

 

"I donít know, Donna. I really donít know."

 

"What are you thinking? What are you feeling?"

 

"How can I know right now? Have you dropped all of your precious gems yet or not?" CJ winced at the sarcasm that came out of Josh in that moment.

 

"Thatís everything. Iím so sorry. I just wish you could say something so I could know. Iím going nuts here."

 

Me too, Donna. I donít know what you want me to say." CJ wanted to grab him and shake him.

 

"Youíve got this look in your eyes. When you look at me, JoshÖ," she persisted.

 

"How could I possibly have a look, Donna? I canít even think right now. How could my face know how to look at you?" Donna breathed in sharply at this. Josh saw it but he couldnít feel it right now. He couldnít respond.

 

"I need to think and I need some air," he said getting up.

 

"Josh, letís talk," Donna pleaded.

 

"I donít know how to talk about this right now. Itís too muchÖI just need to think for a while. I want to do this, but I just canít." Josh turned and fled the apartment. Donna dropped her head into her hands. Sam grabbed his coat and chased after him.

 

"Well that was lovely," Leo said.

 

"Leo, we need to figure this out. We need to plan a new strategy for the bill. And we need to figure out what to do about Grey," Toby began.

 

"So now you want help, huh?"

 

"Leo." Toby looked at him intently.

 

"Forget it, Toby. We are not doing anything tonight. I canít get over how you handled this. I can understand their confusion, but you should have known better. This whole thing is a bungled mess and Iím blaming you for it," Leo retorted.

 

Toby sighed. There was no point in trying to make his case any further tonight.

 

"I want everyone in my office at 8 a.m. sharp," Leo said. "That is except for you two," he added looking at Donna and Margaret.

 

"LeoÖ" Margaret began.

 

"I donít want to hear it, Margaret. The two of you are not safe right now. Iíll call Butterfield and heíll arrange a place."

 

"No," Margaret shot back

 

"This is not a discussion."

 

"It sure as hell is, Leo. Since we got here, you have been treating Donna and I like weíre children. Toby should know better, but a mess is what you would expect out of the two of us."

 

"Thatís not what I meant."

 

"It sure was. Weíre emotional, unpredictable. We need protecting. Iím tired of it. Iím not going to your safehouse, Leo." She said to him her eyes flashing in anger.

 

"Okay, so your plan is to stay out there so that Grey can do whatever he feels like, when he feels like it."

 

"Weíre not idiots, Leo. Toby has extended an invitation for us to stay here." Tobyís eyes widened.

 

"Well thatís great. The three stooges together again. Iím loving this."

 

"Thatís enough." Shouted CJ at them. "Tobyís place is no good. Have you seen his guest bedroom? It looks like the archives at the New York Public Library. There is no place for you here. I want you to come home with me, both of you."

 

"Thank you, CJ." Margaret looked relieved.

 

"What are you talking about? If he can find you at Margaretís, he can find you at CJís," said an exasperated Leo.

 

"Weíll be fine as long as people know how to keep a secret," Margaret countered. "I know Toby has that ability. How about you, Leo?" Leo was encountering a Margaret that he had not expected. He was at a loss as to where to go next.

 

"Leoís right, you two. You shouldnít come to work tomorrow. Youíre exhausted. You need to rest. And you need a chance to think. Donít worry about any of this other stuff. Nothing happens to him without you being a part of it." CJ was taking over and Toby was grateful.

 

"I gotta go," Leo said and then he looked at Toby. "8 a.m. sharp, Toby. We have a lot to talk about, my friend." He turned to Margaret and searched for something to say, but nothing came. So he nodded at her, turned, and left.

 

"Well, letís get you over to my place," CJ said to the two women.

 

"I spilled some soup, CJ. I gotta go clean it up," Margaret said and before anyone could protest, she and Donna disappeared into the kitchen.

 

Toby looked at her in silence and she returned his gaze. Finally she said, "Toby, you know that I love you and I always willÖ"

 

Toby jumped in before it could go further. "Please CJ, donít say anything right now. Take some time to think about this. I didnít know what else to do. I canít lose you right now. I donít think I can lose you ever."

 

"Toby, I think you are under a mistaken impression. I donít want to break up with you," she told him softly. "I want you to know that youíre my hero."

 

"What?" he was breathless.

 

"Thank you for what you have done," she returned. He was speechless. She walked over and put her arms around him. He buried his face in her neck. They stayed this way for some time, rocking back and forth together. Another crash in the kitchen broke their reverie.

 

"What are they doing in the kitchen, Toby?"

 

"Believe me when I say this, CJ. Itís worth your time to stop at a grocery on the way home. Pick up several cans of tomato soup. Leave them on the counter. Leave the opener beside them. Put a pan on the stove. And then you should be fine." He would put a finger to her lips to prevent another question. And then he returned to holding her tightly.

 

 

 

 

Sam had to run two blocks before he finally caught up with Josh. He received such a hard look from his friend when he reached him that he wondered if it had been a good idea to chase after him at all. He stood for a minute as Josh walked off again. Then he trotted after him.

 

"Sam, youíre really not getting the message here," Josh shot back at him looking over his shoulder.

 

"Maybe youíll want to talk in a little while," Sam reasoned.

 

"I would doubt that, Sam. I just want to be alone."

 

"Iíll be quiet."

 

"Youíve never stayed quiet in your entire life, Sam."

 

"Watch me."

 

"Suit yourself."

 

"You just think or whatever youíre doing. And then Iíll follow along as kind of a bodyguard. Even for a guy, itís not the safest thing to walk the streets all night. So you just do your thinking and Iíll watch your back, okay."

 

"Shut up, Sam."

 

And he did. For the next hour, he followed Josh as he walked through the streets of DC. Josh headed for the mall near the Washington Monument and Sam wasnít at all surprised. Sam knew Josh to be a sentimental guy and the majesty and history of the monument never failed to touch him. In the middle of his second lap around the reflecting pool, Josh finally stopped. Sam waited.

 

"Do you know where Tucker Grey lives?"

 

"I think so."

 

"Tell me."

 

"No."

 

"Tell me, damn it."

 

"No." Sam stood his ground quietly standing before Josh.

 

"SamÖ"

 

"No, Josh, I think that this situation has already seen more than its share of freelancing."

 

"I walked out on her when she needed me most."

 

"So youíll beat up Grey. This will prove your support to Donna?"

 

"I donít know. It seems like the most reasonable to do right now."

 

"You need more time."

 

"I donít know what to feel. She didnít trust me. She lied to me. Why?"

 

"She was trying to protect you."

 

"SamÖ"

 

"Josh, did you hear her? She let him back into her apartment. She let the man who raped her back into her apartment so that she could help you. Do you understand that?"

 

"How could she thinkÖ"

 

"Whoís thinking? Are you thinking when you say you want to go and beat his brains out?"

 

"She still should have come to me."

 

"Yeah. Instead, she took a page out of her bossís book and decided to handle it herself. She was going to make sure that no one else had to suffer in the way she was."

 

"I donít know."

 

"I do. I hope that one day there is someone who looks at me the way she looks at you. She would jump off a cliff for you. And I know you would do the same for her. I donít know what that will turn into for the two of you, but I do know that every time I see it between you, I feel like I am missing out on something special in my own life."

 

"I should go to her."

 

"Yes, you should when youíre ready. Go to her when itís not about you. Go to her when youíre ready to listen. I doubt she has any room in her for any further disappointments." Josh stared at him speechless when Sam had finished speaking. Sam took a breath and continued.

 

"Youíre the one who thought I needed a dose of humanity. Youíre the one who set me up with a room full of teen-age girls. I read their book. I listened to their stories. I saw them as victims. They showed me they were survivors. I never anticipated the strength that I encountered in their words. Josh, what Iím saying to you is that you heard one story tonight from Donna and I heard another. I heard her trying to protect you. I heard her feeling incredible anguish at the thought of failing you. And I heard her be willing to risk herself with a monster in order to fix things. You heard a story of betrayal. That story seems secondary to me and it seems to be more about you than it is about her." Sam took a deep breath at the end of this soliloquy. He hoped that Josh would understand what he was trying to convey.

 

"So you think Iím selfish?"

 

"No, I think youíre human. Youíre no different than anyone else. But I know you. You donít want to hurt her anymore than she has already been hurt. And until you confront this within you, youíre no good to her."

 

"You figured all of this out from one afternoon with a group of adolescent girls."

 

"Well, I guess I just exist on a different learning curve than the rest of you mere mortals."

 

"Iím going to go home now." Josh appeared a great deal more relaxed than he had a few minutes earlier.

 

"Josh, sheís gonna need a very good lawyer. Iím going to talk to Freida tomorrow. Sheíll know where to start. Let me work on that. You concentrate on Donna, okay." Josh thought for a minute and nodded. He started to say something, but then he shook his head and walked away into the night.

 

Feedback appreciated- sheila

 

Standing Tall - 8

 

 

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