Title: Radiant, Chapter 15
Disclaimer: Alas, these characters are not mine.
Rating: This chapter is PG-13. Later parts will probably get to R. This does deal with some adult themes, although it is not at all graphic.
Category: Angst, romance, AU.
Feedback: Always appreciated.
Archiving: Please ask.
Timeline: January of reelection year.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Rick and Meg for all their help.
A/N: I've played with the timeline a bit, but it goes AU very quickly so it really doesn't matter. In my universe, Donna is Catholic, and has no close family, because it was easier for me to work things out the way I wanted that way. Also, Charlie and Zoey are still together.
"You're sure it wouldn't be a distraction if I go?" Donna asked.
"You belong there," Josh said firmly. "Now, did you find something to wear?"
"Yes. Thanks," she said a little shyly. After he'd realized that she was avoiding buying herself any decent clothes because she was saving all her spare money for the baby, Josh's Christmas present to Donna had been a shopping spree at a maternity store. "I may end up breaking the rule about not wearing the same dress twice, though," she continued. "It seems absurd to buy several formal maternity dresses."
Josh shrugged. "It's a dumb rule anyway. We wear the same tuxes over and over and no one cares."
"Yeah, tell me about it."
"You should be there. Please?"
"Okay." She smiled and gave in. She had put a lot of work into the bill whose passage was being celebrated tonight. It was a hate crimes bill that the administration had been working on for a while, and after a few Republicans made some unfortunate comments about the race-related murder of a teenager, Josh had realized that this was the perfect time to pass the bill. He was right. The Republican leadership was so determined to distance themselves from the controversy caused by some of their most vocal members that they had encouraged many of their people to vote for the bill, causing it to pass with true bipartisan support. Tonight, the President was hosting a reception in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for civil right leaders as well as those on both sides of the aisle who had helped the bill pass.
"Good." Josh grinned at her. "Now, let's finish up here so we can get there on time."
Several hours later, Donna came back to the office to meet Josh, Sam, and Toby before the reception. There had been a few nasty editorials about Donna earlier in the week, so Josh was worried about what people might say to her when he wasn't there to glare at them. But he also knew that he wouldn't actually be able to dance with her all night. So he'd asked Toby and Sam to keep an eye on her and try to stay close. Between the three of them, she wouldn't have much time to be alone.
As Donna took off her coat, Josh got a good look at her in her dress.
"Wow. You look – wow." The deep blue dress was stunning. It accentuated her chest – Josh would be lying if he claimed that he hadn't noticed the effect that pregnancy was having on that part of Donna's anatomy – and skimmed her curves, showing off her still-small baby belly without screaming "Look, it's a maternity dress." Josh wasn't sure he'd ever seen anything so beautiful in his life.
"Thanks," Donna said, but Josh saw her eyes filling with tears.
"What? What did I do?" he asked, panicked.
"Nothing, it's just – I'm all self-conscious and hormonal and emotional and – and you can't just SAY things like that."
Josh stepped forward and looked her directly in the eye. "I'm not just saying anything."
"Oh," Donna whispered.
Just then, Sam appeared in the doorway.
"Ready to go?" he called.
Josh reluctantly forced his eyes away from Donna's face and looked at his best friend. Talk about breaking a moment. "Uh, yeah. I think we're ready."
Sam stepped in and looked at them. "Donna, you're stunning."
"Thanks," she said.
Sam took her arm and led her out of the office. He turned around and mouthed "Valentine's Day" to Josh. Josh just groaned as he followed them down the hall.
A few hours into the event, Josh finally felt himself starting to calm down. He had danced with Donna as much as possible, given his obligations to dance with the various dignitaries in attendance, and when he wasn't with her, usually Sam or Toby or Charlie or even Leo was. The President himself had demanded a dance with "the mother of my godchild;" most of the staff had finally stopped trying to convince him to distance himself from Donna for political reasons, and he was determined to give her as much protection as he could by being openly supportive.
"Well, if it isn't Josh Lyman!" The vaguely familiar voice floated across the room and Josh looked around to find its owner.
"Amy? I didn't know you were in town."
"Well, here I am, J. How've you been?"
"Oh, fine. You know. Busy. Running the country and all." Josh looked at his old law school friend. He had to admit she looked good, but then, she always had. And she knew it.
"How about a dance?" Amy suggested.
"Sure." Josh was used to dancing with anyone and everyone at these events, so he barely thought anything of it, and was surprised to find Amy dancing a bit more closely than he had anticipated. He struggled to make friendly small talk while not encouraging Amy in any more-than-friendly intentions. Luckily, it was fairly easy to keep her focused on catching up on news of mutual friends and on the legislation for which she was lobbying. After a few minutes, Josh let himself relax and enjoy the conversation. Discussing policy with Amy was certainly more interesting than the stultifying small talk with the senators' wives who were his obligatory dancing partners.
"Yes, of course I agree with you that we need to encourage women to be self-sufficient, but that doesn't mean we do it to the detriment of plans that would help everyone in that income bracket," Josh said as he tried not to sigh. Amy always had had a one-track mind. "This bill would help millions of women. You just don't like it because it would help men too."
"Men don't need any help, Mr. Harvard-Yale-Fulbright," Amy retorted.
"Oh, come on," Josh scoffed. "Even you cannot seriously be arguing that because I was lucky enough to have great opportunities, no men need assistance getting higher education. That's absurd. And anyway, you were right there next to me at Yale, so by that argument women are doing fine too."
"That's not the point."
"In fact, among several minority and disadvantaged groups, women are far more likely than men to go to college. And you must KNOW that, Amy, so I don't know how you think you're going to convince me. And why doesn't your plan include free daycare for students' children? That seems like an obvious way to help women stay in school, and if it's done right, it can even give a boost to the next generation and help break the cycle of poverty."
"Since when are you so concerned with kids?"
"Since – Actually, I think the question is why you don't seem to care about them at all."
Amy shrugged. "By the time a woman has a child, it's usually too late. We prefer to focus our resources on women who haven't already ruined their lives."
"Oh, come on! That's absurd."
"For example, we're working on an education plan to empower women in the workplace so that they can fight sexual harassment and avoid things like getting knocked up by their superiors."
It took every bit of Josh's self-control to maintain the facade of friendly dancing for the benefit of any on-lookers. "Amelia Gardner, if you're trying to accuse me of something, just come out and say it," he hissed.
Suddenly Amy laughed. "Oh, come on, J. Lighten up. I was just trying to see if I could startle you into saying something your handlers don't want you to say."
"I don't have - "
"You work for the President and you're in the middle of a sex scandal. Of course you have handlers. Anyway, they'd be very happy to know that you didn't slip and admit anything."
"I have nothing to hide," Josh said shortly. "But what's it to you?"
"You're a very attractive man, J," Amy said slowly. "And I just got back into town. Let's just say I'm trying to get the lay of the land."
"Well, now you've learned that accusing me of sexual harassment is not actually the way to get on my good side. I'm sure that must be a shocking discovery. Does that technique work on all the other men?"
"Please, J. I'm sorry. We've been friends for so long. Don't let one dumb comment ruin everything."
"Uh, sure." Josh wasn't sure he'd call someone he hadn't seen or spoken to in years a friend, but as he scanned the ballroom he realized he had much bigger problems right now. He took a deep breath to try to prevent himself from doing anything stupid and turned back to Amy. "Look, I've got to go. See you around," he mumbled.
She looked confused. "No hard feelings?"
"No hard feelings," Josh called back distractedly as he made a beeline for Sam and Toby, who were chatting with a few high-level Senate staffers. "Excuse me. I need to borrow these two for a minute," he said as he grabbed their arms and pulled them toward an alcove by one of the exits.
"What's up?" Sam looked at his friend. "Are you okay?"
"No. That," Josh managed, and nodded his head to show Sam and Toby where to look.
"Oh God," Sam said, following his gaze to the middle of the dance floor, where Donna was dancing with Bart Williams. She was clearly trying to hid it, but they could all tell that she was upset. Sam and Toby each grabbed one of Josh's arms.
"Do not go over there," Toby hissed. "You'll cause a scene and she doesn't want that."
"I know, but - "
"We'll take care of it," Toby said firmly. "Sam, get CJ and Charlie."
The next few seconds were some of the longest of Josh's life. He wouldn't let himself look at Donna because he knew any signal from her would lead him to do something they would all regret later. He couldn't even pace because of the grip Toby had on his arm. Soon Sam returned with CJ, and Charlie quickly followed, holding Zoey's hand.
"Good," Toby said briskly. "CJ, I don't think you've had the pleasure of dancing with the Senator yet this evening. Why don't you and Sam go over and cut in. Sam, dance with Donna and try to keep her calm. I'll wait a few minutes and then come tell you both that I need you to help with a crisis."
Sam and CJ nodded and headed across the dance floor, trying to look nonchalant.
"What about us?" Charlie asked.
"Charlie, take Josh back to the office. Try not to let him do anything stupid." Toby turned to Josh. "You need to pull yourself together. She's going to need you."
"I know," Josh managed.
"Zoey, do you think you can get your mom out of here without making a big deal of it?"
Zoey rolled her eyes. "I'm a teenage girl. People expect me to make emotional scenes."
"Good. Okay." Toby nodded as Josh and Charlie left the room and Zoey went off in search of her mother.
Across the room, Sam had managed to extricate Donna from Williams. He was glad they were dancing, because that way it would be less obvious to onlookers that he was all but holding her up.
"It's okay," he whispered. "I've got you. Toby's going to come get us out of here in a few minutes. We figured it would be less obvious that way."
Donna nodded. "Josh?"
"He's with Charlie. Toby sent him out of here so he wouldn't make a scene. We'll take you to him soon."
She just nodded again.
"Are you okay?"
Donna just shrugged. "I guess. I just want to get a way from here."
Sam nodded and wished desperately that Toby would hurry up. The song ended and another began. Finally Toby appeared next to them.
"Something's come up. I need you guys back in the office," he said in his usual brusque manner. But his hand on Donna's arm was gentle as he steered her through the crowd. Once they had gotten out of the ballroom, they let her catch her breath for a minute before heading back to the West Wing.
"Thanks, guys," she said. "I didn't know what to do."
"Shh," Sam said. "We can talk later. Let's just get you back to the office before Josh does something drastic."
Josh's office was empty, but they soon found Josh and Charlie waiting for them in Toby's office. Donna immediately threw herself into Josh's arms. He just held her for a minute, and then looked up over her head and mouthed "Thanks" to Sam and Toby.
"I figured your office because it's bigger," Charlie told Toby. "And since you're going around saying you need people to work, it would look less suspicious if we were all in here."
Toby nodded at him as Josh got Donna settled on the couch and pressed a mug of tea into her hands. "Are you okay?" he whispered.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"What?" She looked at him. "It's not your fault."
"I should have been paying more attention to you. I was talking to someone and got distracted . . ."
"Shush." She leaned against him and closed her eyes. "It's not your fault, and you feeling guilty isn't going to make me feel any better."
"Okay," Josh whispered as he put an arm around her. The other guys turned away to give them some space, and Donna tried to let the sound of their familiar voices soothe her. A few minutes later, Zoey and her mother blew into the room, soon followed by CJ.
"How are you feeling, hon?" Dr. Bartlet asked as she sat on the couch and took Donna's wrist to check her pulse.
"Okay. Just – shaky."
"Your pulse is racing. You have to try to calm down a little. It's not good for the baby."
Donna nodded. "I'll try."
"Speaking of which, while I'm at it – " Dr. Bartlet grabbed Josh's wrist and was quiet for a few moments. "Yours too. We don't need any heart incidents right now, you hear?"
Josh nodded meekly.
"So what happened?" Dr. Bartlet asked briskly.
"I was dancing with Chad Muller from Senator de George's office," Donna started. "And Williams came and cut in. He didn't make any reference to knowing me or anything, just said that he hadn't gotten a dance yet with Lyman's pretty little assistant. If I'd refused, Chad and a bunch of other people would have heard and thought it was weird. So I just went along with it. I didn't know what to do."
"Shh, it's okay," Josh said, rubbing her back. "Did he talk?"
"He – a little. Not much, and nothing obvious, but it was creepy. The way he was looking at me - " Donna started to cry. "I was so happy to find a dress that looked decent, and Josh and Sam said I looked good, but after that I feel like I was just inviting people to think things about me."
"No," Dr. Bartlet said firmly. "You weren't inviting anything. I really think you both should talk to someone."
Josh nodded, resigned. "I already called Stanley. For both of us. He'll be here tomorrow."
"You did?" Donna looked amazed.
Josh shrugged. "When Charlie dragged me back here so Sam and Toby could rescue you, it was the only concrete thing I could think of to do to help."
"Hey hey hey," Sam interjected. "You're the one who realized something was wrong. We were just helping out."
"They were afraid I would punch him or something," Josh told Donna.
"Would you have?"
Donna smiled. "Then I'm glad you let them come after me instead. But thank you."
"Okay. Josh, why don't you take Donna home?" Dr. Bartlet suggested.
"Won't it look weird if he doesn't go back to the party?" Donna asked.
"If anyone asks, we'll just say he's working on – well, whatever it is that Toby was supposedly calling you all back here to work on."
"A sudden development in one of the Congressional races in Wyoming," Toby supplied.
They all looked at him in confusion.
He shrugged. "I figured that would be boring enough that no one would ask for details."
"Right. So Josh and Donna are researching this issue, and since it's a Saturday night they're working from home." CJ turned to them. "You do that often enough anyway that no one will think it's weird. Well, not any weirder than they already think you are."
"Thanks," Josh said sarcastically.
"But seriously, thank you all," Donna added. "I don't know what I would have done without you."
"That's what we're here for," Sam told her.
"Make sure you both get some rest," Dr. Bartlet instructed. "Come in late tomorrow if you have to. If Leo doesn't like it, he can take it up with me."
Josh and Donna collected their things from Josh's office and headed for the car. As they were leaving the White House, they ran into Amy.
"J! Leaving so soon?"
"Donna, this is Amy Gardner, an old friend from law school. Amy, this is Donna Moss."
"Nice to meet you," Donna said.
"Well, I'll be heading out soon myself," Amy said. She handed Josh a card with her cell number on it. "I assume you're being chivalrous and taking your assistant home, but if you feel like stopping by on your way home later, give me a call. I'd love to . . . finish catching up."
"Uh, thanks." Josh stuffed the card into his pocket. "But it's been a long day. I'll see you around, Amy."
Donna was silent until they were in Josh's car. "I'm sorry I ruined your evening," she said softly.
"You didn't ruin my evening," he said automatically. "Your place or mine?"
He was staring straight ahead, and Donna couldn't quite get a handle on what he was thinking.
"You don't have to stay," she offered.
"I know." He finally looked at her. "I guess I figured you'd want me to, after that. But if I'm just being a pest, I'll go."
"No, I want you to," she said quickly. "But – this is what I mean about ruining your evening. That woman – Amy? - she was so obviously coming on to you that even you can't have been completely oblivious."
"So – you could be going home with a beautiful woman right now. You don't have to stay and take care of me. You could drop me off and then call her."
Josh raised an eyebrow. "From where I'm sitting, it looks like I AM going home with a beautiful woman right now. If we ever get out of this parking lot. So. Your place or mine?"
"Yours." Donna smiled, a little shyly. "I feel safer there."
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