Disclaimer: The characters are not mine.
Summary: You got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.
Author's notes: I asked for input and the vast majority of people said they wanted the story which took place between season 2 and 3, so here it is.
So Part One in this story would take place after 17 People, but before Toby tells Donna about the MS (18th & Potomac).
I have no beta, so all mistakes are mine. Feedback is very welcome
She wasn't expecting anyone to walk into the darkened room, which was precisely the reason why she chose it in the first place. Despite the lateness of the hour, the west wing was crawling with people, so she chose the one room where she thought she would be left alone. Since Donna was unprepared for the interruption, she was unable to completely wipe the tears off her face. She tried to turn her face away from the unwelcome guest in an effort to hide her red-rimmed eyes and blotchy pink cheeks. Damn alabaster skin.
"Donna? What's wrong?" He asked gently.
"Did you know that there is a swimming pool underneath where we are right now? This used to be a swimming pool and then it was changed over to the press room." She asked with a forced smile, it was a blatant attempt to misdirect the conversation and while it may not buy her much time, at this point she would take what she could get.
"Actually, I did know that for reasons best left unexplained at this point in time," the man explained sheepishly.
"I was thinking I could rip up a few of these tiles, Josh is always saying that I'm freakishly strong," involuntarily her voice caught on Josh's name, "Maybe drown myself in the pool, although there probably isn't any water left down there, anyway, if I was dead then I could haunt the west wing. People would talk about the over worked assistant who haunted all future Deputy Chief of Staffs…" she trailed off, lost in thought.
At this point an impasse of sorts occurred. Donna refused to offer any more to the conversation and the man refused to abandon a friend so obviously in need.
Finally, he spoke, "Donna, you know I am not going to leave you here crying alone in the dark, so the faster you accept that you are going to have to talk to me, the faster I can work at solving whatever problem has got you so upset," he concluded.
"Oh, Sam. It was so humiliating," her voice broke on a strangled sob as she threw her hands against her inflamed cheeks.
His heart almost broke to see her so upset. Donna was strong, she had put up with so much in the last year, what with the shooting and helping Josh with his long recovery, he couldn't remember ever seeing her breakdown during that time, so whatever had happened now must be pretty horrible. He was not a violent person, most people who knew him would say that he was too idealistic, too soft-hearted, but right now he felt a strong urge to find out who had hurt and Donna and make that person very sorry. Not wanting to upset her by showing how bothered he was by her crying, he decided to take a page out of her book and try some light banter. It always seemed to work for her and Josh.
"What happened? Did you drop your underwear in public again?" he joked lightly.
"Oh my god! I can't believe that I left my underwear in public and that is not even the most embarrassing thing that has happened to me this year." Fresh tears softly fell down her cheeks following the gentle slope of her face.
"Donna, please tell me why you're crying?
"I don't want to put you in an uncomfortable position."
"You're the one upset, why would I be in an uncomfortable position?" he questioned.
She hesitated slightly before answering, "Because he's your best friend."
Suddenly the pieces fell into place for Sam and he heaved a sigh of relief. It was just Josh. Josh was being a jackass, so acting exactly like Josh, and had obviously said or done something stupid to hurt Donna's feelings. This was nothing new. Although if Sam stopped to think about it, it probably wasn't a sign of a healthy working relationship if Josh being a bastard and making his assistant cry equated to normal operating procedure.
"Yeah, he's my best friend. But you're my friend too," he pointed out reasonably.
"I don't even know why I'm crying. I'm just so embarrassed. And when I get really embarrassed, I cry, but they are tears of frustration, you know?"
"Yeah." Really, he had no idea what she was talking about, it must be a girl thing because when he was frustrated he definitely didn't cry, but it seemed the wiser choice to simply agree with her, especially now when it appeared she was willing to open up about what was bothering her.
"It's just, you're gonna laugh..," she trailed off.
"I promise I won't laugh." He promised with sincerity in his voice.
"It's so stupid, I'm being stupid, I just thought that with him wanting me to keep the red dress, the philately comment, then the flowers and the not stopping for red lights and everything that Josh was trying to tell me something, you know, that he liked me liked me. God, I sound like I'm in middle school, which I guess is pretty appropriate since I'm sitting here crying like a child," she said with a wet laugh, tears evident in her voice. "So, I thought, 'hey, Donna he's trying to tell you something, he's so bad with women and he's waiting for you, you know?'"
Sam was trying to keep up with her, he really was. The flowers must refer to their (Josh and Donna's non-anniversary) although he had no idea what traffic lights and stamp collecting had to do with anything. Her ability to jump from one topic to another was usually endearing, a wonderfully unique Donna quirk, but at this particular moment, Sam really wished Donna would follow a linear thought process for once.
"I mean he flirts with everyone," she continued, "I don't know why I thought I was so special, probably because we spend so much time together, which is stupid because I'm his assistant, I'm paid to spend time with him."
"Donna!" His shout startled them both, he didn't mean to raise his voice but he needed her to get back on track. "What happened with Josh?"
She took in a huge gasp of air, as though she was preparing to go without oxygen for a long period of time, which scared Sam, how much could she have to say?
"I thought Josh wanted to be more, um, more than what we are now, you know, more than boss and assistant and it turned out I was wrong. Really wrong," she finished, attempting to put a brave smile on her face to keep the tears out of her voice.
Despite Donna finally coming around and admitting what was wrong, Sam was more confused than ever. Of course Josh wanted more from Donna. He would bet his life on it. Some misunderstanding must have taken place.
"Donna, I think you're wrong -"
Donna cut him off before he had a chance to finish. "I'm not wrong, this is not one of those 'I thought I overheard something but I misunderstood moments', I was there, I know what happened", she explained.
"Well, can you humour me please, because I wasn't there."
"Please Sam," the tears that she had fought so valiantly to stop were starting to reappear; he could see her eyes becoming glassy. "Please don't make me talk about it."
He didn't want Donna to cry anymore, but he knew she was wrong. If they could just talk it through he was sure some sort of miscommunication must have happened.
Before he could prompt her to continue, surprisingly she offered the details herself. "I asked Josh if he wanted to go out, just the two of us together, like a date and he said -," she stopped talking abruptly, and just when he thought she wasn't going to finish, she spoke in voice so small that it actually did break his heart. "He basically said that I was a sweet girl, but he didn't feel that way about me."
"He what?" This time Sam did yell and on purpose because he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Josh didn't feel that way about Donna? Bullshit! "Donna, Josh loves you." Sam should have felt guilty revealing such personal information to Donna, but he was too pissed off at Josh to care.
"Of course he loves me, I know he loves me, the same way he loves you, and CJ, I am one of the best friends he will ever have, but that's all the feelings are, feelings of friendship."
"He said that? Those exact words to you?"
"I'm sorry Donna, but I am having trouble believing any of this. Can you please start right at the beginning? When did this happen? Where were you?"
"What does it matter, Sam? It happened, it's over and I came here to have a pity party of one, talking about it is not going to change what happened."
"Please Donna, just walk me through it one time and after you're done I will never ask about it again, I promise." He pleaded.
She looked at him, feeling torn, she couldn't imagine recounting the humiliating situation to another human being, she had already relived it so many times in her head, feeling a psychical pain each time. She knew Sam was only trying to help, but he was wrong, there was no happy ending at the end of this story. She was about to simply get up and walk out, surely Sam wouldn't follow her when she remembered how great Sam had been lately, helping her friend Stephanie with the Galt pardon, the least she could do was talk to him.
"Okay," she whispered. "But please just let me get through it, if you interrupt and ask questions and I have to stop and answer them, I'm not sure I will be able to start talking about it again."
*One hour earlier*
She was annoying herself, which was a pretty impressive feat. She hovered outside of his office door, walking back and forth between the short distance from her cubicle and his office. Luckily, his door was shut so he couldn't see the first hand evidence of her having gone round the bend. His door had been shut with more regularity lately, which was unusual. Most of the time, he liked being able to see the bullpen, watch his minions work he would joke. She could tell that something was up; most of the senior staff was a little more tense and little more quick with their tempers. Josh, however, was more introverted, shutting his door was just one example; he also didn't have time to mess around either. They hadn't laughed or joked since they had tried to find the funny for the correspondence dinner a few nights ago. The night of their non-anniversary. Which was precisely the reason why Donna was, to put it nicely, freaking out in the bullpen.
She had been arguing with herself for days: the flower meant something more. No, no, the flowers meant nothing besides a snarky reminder of her leaving. She had talked herself into and out of her decision hundreds of times since the idea first popped into her head a few nights ago; although, if she was honest with herself the idea was a lot older than that, it probably went back to New Hampshire.
'You can do this!' with that last final pep talk, Donna walked over to Josh's office and this time actually knocked while pushing the door open at the same time.
The room was dark, a small desk lamp providing the only light. Josh was sitting at his desk, hunched over reading a file of some kind. He had long ago abandoned his suit jacket and at some point had rolled the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows. He raised his head to offer a small greeting when he heard her enter the room.
"Do you need anything?"
"I said do you need anything?" She asked again.
"What? No, you can go home," he said, then immediately went back to reading the file in his hands.
"That's okay; I have a few things I could finish up. You almost done?"
"Hmmm, yeah, almost, you go, it's fine, I'll be out of here soon too," he promised.
"Now why do I get the feeling that you're lying and that if I leave now you will actually spend all night here?"
"Because you're tuned to me," he threw at her with a small smile, the first smile she had seen from him in a while.
"Hey, that's my line," she smiled back at him. 'Okay,' she thought, 'smiling is good, smiling is a good sign, do it now!' 'Oh, shut-up heart, don't rush me'.
She took a deep breath and stepped further into the room, softly closing the door behind her. If he was surprised that she had shut the door, nothing registered on his face.
"So," she began, "I thought we should get out of here. Everyone is so stressed, and I know you can't talk about it," she said while waving a hand at him to stop him from interrupting her, "that I thought we should go out and get a drink, maybe have some pizza or something," she finished rather lamely.
Josh rubbed a hand over his face in a futile attempt to focus, "Is everyone else going?"
"No," she explained slowly, "I thought this could be something, you know, for just you and me, some drinks, some dinner..."
"Like a date?" he asked with a sharp laugh and a smug smile.
"What? No, of course not, it would be nothing like a date," she paused briefly, "except that it would be exactly like a date." She ended on a nervous laugh.
"Donna...," his whole body language changed in an instant. Before he had been slouching over his desk, now his posture was rod straight as he sat up in his chair. She could practically see the look of fear in his eyes.
"If you can't go tonight that's fine, maybe tomorrow night or when I get back from Wisconsin-"
He cut her off gently, "Donna, you know I think you're great right?"
Donna had a horrible feeling she knew exactly where this conversation was headed.
"Donna," he continued slowly, "I just, you're a great girl, you're nice to everyone, even Republicans, and I will never been able to thank you enough for all the things you do for me on a daily basis – all the things you have done for me this past year, but, ah, I just think that, you know, we're friends and..."
Finally she took pity on him and more importantly herself, he wasn't used to direct confrontations with women she reminded herself, he was used to bumping into women sideways and waiting for them to end things with him.
"Don't worry about it," she said with a small shake of her head, "it's not a big deal."
She needed to get out of this room before she started crying. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She turned around and opened the door, but before she could exit, she heard him call her name.
"Donna, I, um, I don't want this to turn into a thing. You're one of my closest friends."
"It's fine Josh. It's not a thing," she didn't give him a chance to say anything else. She walked through the bullpen passed her cubicle. She needed a place where she could be alone. The ladies' room was too much of a risk, too many people still working who could walk in. She stared off into the distance, looking down the empty hallway. Ah, the pressroom, that would be perfect, CJ had already done her final briefing so everyone should have gone home by now. With a destination now in mind, Donna practically ran down the corridor.
If she had stayed only a moment longer, she would have heard the sound of a ceramic mug smashing into a million pieces after it was hurled against a wall coming from Josh's office.
Although Sam prided himself on his ability to find the right words for every occasion (he had written one of the best birthday card greetings in history as well as an address for trout fishermen), for once in his life Sam was at a complete loss for words.
"Donna, I don't know what to say, I thought – we all thought, really, that Josh and you, one day in the future, would be together -"
"It doesn't matter, really Sam, I just needed a minute to feel sorry for myself. I guess I just feel so stupid, you know? I don't want things to be awkward, he's my friend and, oh god, my boss," she said suddenly and if only remembering that she was the Deputy Deputy to his Deputy Chief of Staff.
"There is absolutely no reason why you should feel stupid. You are a smart, caring, beautiful woman and if my jackass of a best friend is too blind to see it, then forget him." He said with more enthusiasm than what he actually felt.
"Thanks Sam, but it's not your job to cheer me up."
"No, it's not my job, but I want to. You're my friend, Donna. Friends cheer each other up."
"Thanks. You know what? I'm feeling better, so I'm just going to go gather my things and head out for the night."
"Yup, I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow?"
"I'll see you tomorrow. Then you're off to Wisconsin for the wedding right?"
"Yeah, my sister's wedding. I'll be back here Monday morning."
"Okay, good night, Donna."
"Good night, Sam." She said, turning to give him a small wave before exiting the room.
He watched her walk out of the press room, despite her insistence that she was fine he could see that her shoulders were slumped in defeat.
Sam didn't know what was going on with Josh, but he was damn sure going to find out.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Sam demanded as he barged into Josh's office, not bothering to knock, "What the hell happened here?" Sam continued, noticing the shards of a ceramic a mug as well as droplets of coffee littered across the floor.
"Please come right on in, Sam," Josh muttered, sarcasm dripping from every word.
"I know that you can be a jackass, but it's not like you to intentionally hurt someone you care about."
"Thanks for the psych 101 assessment of my personality. Now, if you'll get the hell of out my office I have a lot of work to do and I am not in the mood," Josh fired back.
"What did you say to Donna?" Sam demanded, seemingly not bothered by Josh's lack of welcome.
"Nothing that is any of your business." He looked back down at the papers he was reading, effectively dismissing Sam.
"It is when I find her crying in the press room."
That definitely caught Josh's attention as his head snapped back up; a look of concern flashed quickly across his face before he schooled his features back into one of neutrality.
"Is, um, is she okay?"
"She will be," Sam answered vaguely.
Unwilling to let the conversation get away from him again, Josh decided it was time to lay down the law. "Look, you have obviously talked to Donna about what happened earlier, I'm sorry that she is upset but it's better this way."
"How is this better? How is you lying to her better?" Sam demanded.
Apparently Sam didn't get the 'this conversation is over memo'.
"I'm done talking about this." Josh spit out.
Having been friends for a long time, Sam knew that he wouldn't get anything else from Josh tonight. But he wasn't going to leave without getting the last word.
"I don't know what you were thinking, but you've made a huge mistake. That woman is one of the greatest people you will ever meet, and for some reason she likes you. And instead of falling on your knees and thanking the heavens you pushed her away. You're an idiot and you don't deserve her." With that last comment, Sam jerked open the door and stomped through the operations' bullpen.
His hands stroked her alabaster skin; leaving trails of fire wherever they touched, and even though she had her eyes closed, Donna could feel him leaning down to kiss her. She could feel his body pressed against hers, bare chest to bare chest. He had never let another person see his scar before now, but with her it was different, everything between them was different. They had a unique bond, a special bond that would never be broken. He drew his hands lightly across her face, his strong sensual lips parting, hovering just inches above her own. Just before he pressed his lips to hers, he spoke in a low husky whisper; he spoke words of love and devotion, words of promise and future, words of -
She jerked up in bed, startled by her name being bellowing by some unknown voice. It took her a moment to find her bearings. Where was she? She looked at the light purple coloured walls, down at the four poster bed she was laying in and suddenly it all came back to her. She was in Wisconsin. She was in Wisconsin for her sister's wedding. She had gotten tired and overwhelmed by her family so she had snuck upstairs to rest for a while and she must have fallen asleep. She had had the same dream again. She had been having the same dream or a variation of it, for the last 3 years. Usually she enjoyed the dream, it made her feel beautiful and loved, but given what had happened two days ago she felt angry. She was angry that her subconscious would betray her and force thoughts of him in her sleep when she spent every waking moment banishing him from her mind.
"DONNA!" The door to the bedroom flew open and her sister bounced into the room.
"There you are! I'm been looking for you everywhere. Get downstairs, people are asking about you. They want to hear all about your super secret life in the white house."
"I don't know any secrets, and if I did I wouldn't be telling them to anyone if I want to continue to work in the white house."
"Stop being a downer and get downstairs," her sister called back as she ran down the stairs, "be happy, I'm getting married tomorrow!"
"Yeah," Donna murmured less than enthusiastically.
She was happy for her sister, she really was, but given her own pathetic love life, it was hard to see someone so happy, like staring at the sun, it seemed like a good idea until it burned your retinas.
Donna lumbered down the stairs and stood at the entry to the living room. It was after dinner and the guests were mingling.
Donna swallowed a sigh and forced a smile on her face as her Aunt Susan approached her. Donna knew what was coming.
"Donna, so good to see you. You never make it home anymore. Too busy with your exciting political life."
"I'm not actually a politician, Aunt Susan. I work for the Deputy Chief of Staff," she explained for what must have been the millionth time.
"Well, that must be interesting," she said, although the tone of her voice let Donna know that she didn't think it was interesting at all. "Aren't you happy for your sister? They make such a nice couple."
"Yes, they are a lovely couple," Donna said automatically, it was her go-to phrase to help expedite these mind-numbing conversations.
Her aunt placed her hand lightly on Donna's arm. "I'm sure your mother is happy, now she finally has a wedding to plan. She thought it was going to be you and John, but that didn't work out. I bet your poor mother was worried that she'd never have the chance again. It's so great that your sister came through for her."
Donna forced a small chuckle and looked around the room, desperately searching for someone to save her from another round of poor spinster Donna. She was 26 years for god sakes, yet her family was acting like she should just get herself a bunch of cats and give up now. Just because it was her younger sister getting married, everyone was looking at Donna as though she was about to have a nutty. Everyone kept bringing up John, that it was such a shame things didn't work out with him, as though she had forgotten who he was. Everyone seemed to forget that she was the one to break up with him, it was her choice. 'Yes, family I was going to get married and then I didn't, it's not the end of the world, it is possible for me to find someone else', she felt like screaming.
Seeing no rescuer in her future, Donna was forced to continue talking with Susan. "Can I get you something to drink?" That might do it, offer to get her a refreshment, and then conveniently forget to come back.
"No, I'm fine."
Okay, time to think of a new plan. Photo albums? Hmm, maybe that would work for a while, or if she could find her grandmother that might help...
"It's just such a shame because you're such a pretty girl. Thin. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. It's just your personality. It's just too much. Men don't like it when women know more than them."
Donna was speechless; she couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"I think if you were a little less like, well you, you would be able to find a husband." Aunt Susan continued.
Donna had to get away from this hateful woman. Did she think she was being helpful by telling Donna to change everything about who she was in order to find a husband? Holding back tears Donna fled from the living room, she knew the upstairs bedroom wouldn't do as a hiding place the second time around, so she ran to her father's study. She jerked open the door and stumbled into the room.
"What's wrong sweetie?"
Donna gave a little start; she hadn't expected this room to be occupied. "Hi, Daddy. Nothing's wrong."
"Don't lie to your daddy, Donna."
"It's nothing important, just Aunt Susan being Aunt Susan."
"She said, actually, you know what, I am not going to give her the pleasure of repeating her mean words."
"No, Dad, don't 'oh, Donna' me. I don't know why everyone can't accept the fact that I'm happy. Why can't mom start by telling everyone, 'this is my daughter, Donna, she works in the white house', instead of 'this is my oldest daughter, Donna, she's single."
"Your mother is proud of you," he said honestly, "she's just thinks you would be happier if you were married."
"I wouldn't have been happy with John, Dad. If I had married him, I would have been miserable."
"I'm not saying you should have married John, but surely it is possible to work in the white house and be married."
"I haven't seen evidence of that so far." She mumbled.
"Nothing. I know I shouldn't let Aunt Susan get to me but..."
"I know. Why don't you hide in here for a little while and come back out when you're ready. I'll run interference with your sister and mom, so don't worry about them," he said, then placed a soft kiss against her forehead.
"Thanks Daddy, I love you."
"Love you too," he said and exited the room, leaving Donna alone with her thoughts.
She sat for while listening to the sound of laughter echoing in from the rest of the house.
Suddenly a thought came to her: What if?
What if she had a different life? What if she had a different personality?
'You need to stay true to yourself' a voice inside of her heart screamed.
But, she had followed her heart and had finally asked out Josh and look what that had got her? Nothing but pain and humiliation that's what. Josh was her best friend and even he couldn't fall in love with her based on her current personality. While he may find her attraction, even she wasn't blind enough to not notice the way his eyes followed her, but he didn't care enough about her to want anything more.
She thought about her most recent dates and what did she have to show for them? Nothing. She could blame her lack of a social life on her crazy work schedule, but the truth was even before she joined the Bartlet for America campaign she didn't exactly have a winning track record when it came to men. Dr. Free Ride being the prime example. Maybe the problem was her. Her personality to be specific. While she certainly didn't want to get married any time soon, it would be nice to be in a real relationship. What if she lived a life other than the one she had now? She loved working at the white house, but the truth was the main reason for her being there had just broken her heart and while she did love the actual work she was doing it was very possible that her job might not exist a year from now. Shouldn't she have a back-up plan? It was the responsible thing to do, she told herself.
What would be the harm in taking a leap? Finding a new job? Playing the field? Obviously she wouldn't try anything too dangerous, and while she was working at the white house she wouldn't do anything to ruin her reputation or tarnish the administration.
She stood, slightly unsteady, a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of completely changing her life. What would she do if she could change it all? Would she stay in DC or just get in her car and drive? There was so much to be decided, and she knew she couldn't do it all now. She needed to start small. Once she got back to DC she would look into finding another job, discreetly of course. Then she would make more personal time for herself; figure out what she really wanted from a relationship. This would mean laying down the law with Josh, she would give him a definite time frame when she would be available to work (baring a natural disaster or emergency of course) and stick to it. No staying until all hours of the night and coming in the weekend to work. No, she was going to take control of her life. She was tired of sitting back and letting things happened to her. She was taking control.
And she would start as soon as she returned to DC.
End Part 1