"And I will understand
A whole new way I've got to be
A way of breaking free and letting go
The world I used to know
No longer exists
There must be something more than this...."

   -- Lowen & Navarro, "Something More Than This"

Part 5

Wednesday, October 29, 2002

"You didn't call, dammit!"

"And a gracious good morning to you, too, CJ."

CJ loomed over Donna's desk, wearing the expression that had sent more than one reporter racing for the hills. Her arms were crossed, her foot was tapping.... CJ Cregg was not a happy Press Secretary. "I stayed up until, like, 2 a.m. I called you three times and got your machine, and I was this close to driving over there and making sure you were still breathing!"

"So, why didn't you?" Donna asked innocently, looking up at her boss.

CJ looked away uncomfortably. "I might, possibly, have fallen asleep on the couch. In between tries. It was very late."


"Stop smiling. I was worried."

"I know." Donna made a valiant attempt at a straight face, and mostly succeeded. "I'm sorry, CJ. I went home and just passed out on the bed. I didn't mean to worry anyone. Else."

She couldn't quite control the guilt in the last word, and CJ sighed, settling her hip on the side of Donna's desk. "Don't worry too much about Sam, Donna. Frankly, I expected that particular screaming match to happen a lot earlier. About a year ago, in fact; now it has, and you'll both survive. But," she held up her hand to keep Donna from speaking, "that does not negate the fact that I wish you'd called."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah. Where are my numbers for the 8:00?"

Donna handed over a stack of folders. "Voter's Bill of Rights on top -- the good stuff is highlighted, if you need details, get with Toby -- but I haven't heard anything on 2461 yet. Is the President still going to New Hampshire next weekend? Dateline wants to talk to you about sending a camera crew."

"I'll get back to them this afternoon. Where's the latest--" Donna dropped the polling numbers Joey Lucas had faxed that morning on top of the stack and CJ grinned. "Thank you, ma'am. Coming to the briefing?"

Donna gave her a dubious look. "I wasn't planning on it. Why?"

"Because you should be there to revel in the fruits of your labor!" The room whirled as strong arms pulled her up from her chair and started dancing her around the bullpen, her feet barely touching the ground. Darryl was smiling hugely, surprisingly light on his feet as he waltzed Donna around CJ, Ginger, Carol and two very startled interns. "After three years, two filibusters, three trips through the House, two through the Senate, and more amendments than Congress has idiots, the Family Wellness Act goes before the House this afternoon, and we are going to slam-dunk it!"

"Tempting fate!" came a shout from the general direction of Toby's office. Darryl ignored him magnificently.

"We are going to spend a couple billion dollars on health care, people across the country will drink toasts to our names, and--" He bent her back in a dip that had the ends of Donna's hair dangling an inch above the floor and Donna herself giggling helplessly, "--I am gonna buy you the best lunch in D.C., because you and I put the final nail in the coffin. Liebowitz, Cooper and Henderson never knew what hit 'em!"

"Bad metaphor with the coffin thing," Leo said from somewhere above Donna. She tilted her head back and saw that his smile had almost buried his face in wrinkles. "Unhand that woman, Ellington; we're professionals here, dammit."

"This dude is no fun," Darryl observed, before sweeping Donna back onto her feet. "I'm serious; get with Kathy, tell her where you want to go, the eats are on me." He kissed her hand with a flourish, then wandered back towards his office, hands in his pockets, singing "Doctor, Doctor" at the top of his considerable lungs. A light patter of applause followed him.

Donna braced herself against her desk until she got her balance back; Leo steadied her with a hand on her shoulder. "He's right; you did a good job, kid. We're watching the vote in my office, 1:00, be there."

She nodded, not quite able to breathe past the last of her giggles yet, and Leo headed off towards Toby's office to rescue whomever Toby was shouting at now. CJ shook her head and gathered her files.

"Well, I'm off to face the press corps, who aren't going to be nearly as entertaining as the staff," she commented dryly. Donna blushed. "Set up a talk for me with Dateline, and get everyone together for a meeting at 10, please?"

"Okay." CJ left and Donna settled down to the task of sorting through the never-ending flood of email messages the Press Secretary generated.

Leo's office was crowded with people when 1:00 rolled around -- the senior staff, the assistants, the junior staff that hadn't gotten stuck with phone duty, and every intern with the nerve to try had wriggled into the room and were standing, sitting or sprawling in every available inch of space.

Donna stopped in the doorway and automatically looked for Sam. He was leaning against a wall on the other side of the room, talking to Ginger and Larry; when Donna hesitantly tried to meet his eyes, they skittered away.

"Donna! Over here!" Darryl jumped up from Leo's couch, gesturing Donna to the seat he'd abandoned. There was enough room both for her and for Kathy, who'd been following behind; Donna sat next to Toby, who was gesturing at the cell phone he was holding to his ear as if the person on the other end would be impressed. Darryl settled back onto the arm of the couch next to Kathy.

"How long until the vote?" Kathy asked over the bustle of voices.

Darryl grinned down at her. "They're wrapping up the debate on 4856; it should be any time now. The champagne is ready to go." The last was said rather loudly and in Toby's direction; Toby glared at him without losing the thread of his conversation and Darryl looked amused.

"Is it a recorded vote?" Charlie asked from behind Darryl's shoulder, juggling a stack of binders destined for the Oval.

"Wyatt's going to call for it. Anyone votes against this one, the world's gonna know."

"And the White House will make them pay," CJ grinned, leaning over Darryl's other shoulder.

"Damn straight." They gave each other a high five.

"Here it is!" Margaret shouted, turning up the volume on CSPAN, and the room abruptly hushed. There was the usual exchange of procedures and points of order, before the Speaker finally called for voting on H.R. 2461, a.k.a. the Family Wellness Act. Without the stem-cell rider, Donna thought with satisfaction.

Representative Andrea Wyatt stood and the camera focused on her. "Mr. Speaker, on that I request a recorded vote." Cheers broke out through the office, and someone shouted, "Go, Andi!" She got her recorded vote, more of the usual talking ensued, and Donna clenched her hands together as the Speaker finally called for the vote.

It passed. They'd find out later it was by a margin of almost thirty votes, but the celebration started as soon as they hit the magic 3/5 majority, the huge whoop of triumph drowning out the commentary from CSPAN. Someone started "Doctor, Doctor" playing on their laptop -- it had apparently become the theme song of the Family Wellness Act -- and Donna found herself being whirled around the room by Darryl again. He released her into Larry's arms, who passed her to Ed, who was gang-hugged by Zach, Bonnie and Simon, and even Toby wrapped her in a brief bear hug. A massive group hug of all of the assistants ended only when the champagne appeared. Donna downed her first glass in one gulp, and held it up for another; Zach, his face split by an enormous grin and his dark hair rumpled by a dozen hugs, obliged.

Leo finally managed to get everyone's attention with a very loud whistle. The music cut out and everyone tried very hard to pay attention, which was hard because of all of the hugging. Barely restrained giggles kept sneaking out.

"Good job, all of you," Leo told them, beaming hugely. "This is a hell of a bill, and it's a hell of a legacy for this administration to leave behind. We may be a one-term wonder, but let 'em wonder at how much we accomplished!"

He had to stop for the whistles and applause. "We're gonna take it back to the Senate next, and by god, signing this thing into law is gonna be the last thing Josiah Bartlet does, if I have to kick asses all over the Hill to make it happen."

"Make us kick asses!" Sam corrected him from somewhere in the crowd. Leo saluted him with his water glass as everyone laughed.

"Damn straight," he agreed. "I'm too old for this crap."

"That'll be the day." Many, many spines snapped straight, the room went magically silent as someone hastily turned off the music, and President Bartlett smiled beatifically at them from the door of the Oval Office. "Relax, everyone -- far be it from me to break up a party. Leo's already done most of my work, as usual, but I just wanted to tell you all how proud I am of you. Darryl, you did good work on this bill, and so did everyone who worked with you." He paused for renewed cheers. "And I understand Toby has berated Schaeffer's band of rebels into joining us on campaign finance, so he gets some attaboys, too. You all did good work, people, and it has been my honor to be able to watch you do it."

Sniffles sounded from several parts of the room, including Donna's, and the President smiled benevolently on them all. "Now that that's out of the way, I would like a glass of that champagne, and I'd like someone to turn the music back up. This is a party, after all!"

More whoops broke the air, some brave soul hit the volume control, and Toby won the privilege of getting the President his drink by the simple means of glaring all other comers into submission. CJ wrapped her arm around Donna from one side, Ginger and Margaret pounce-hugged them and each other, Darryl was heading their way with another bottle of champagne, and Donna was smiling so broadly it almost hurt. Robert Palmer ended and there was a mild scuffle by the laptop before very familiar opening music brought everyone to their feet again. Donna joined in the hands shoving CJ to the suddenly cleared center of the room, and she started "The Jackal" amid loud cheers and whistles.

Someone jostled Donna from the side, jockeying for a better view, and she tripped into Toby's back. He caught her with an hand at her elbow and set her upright, keeping hold of her and smiling as he puffed out a smoke ring from the cigar in his other hand. Larry and Ed were standing on the couch and Margaret was letting them get away with it, Darryl was huddled in a corner with Kathy and most of the Communications staff and god knew what they were planning, Bonnie, Ginger and Lianne from Operations were playing back-up dancers for CJ while Sam and Charlie cheered them on, and Leo and the President were leaning against Leo's desk with expressions of utter contentment on their faces.

They'd done something here. Today, they'd gotten a bill passed. Yesterday, they'd brokered a tenuous peace in the Middle East. In the yesterdays before that, there had been other bills, other peace treaties, other ways that they'd made the world a better place. There was still a lot to be done, but they'd gotten this far....

God, Josh would have loved this party.

Donna waited until "The Jackal" was over, contributing her own whistles and catcalls to the group's. And when CJ finished her bows and Darryl and his crew took over for a heart-felt, if terribly off-key, rendition of "We Are the Champions", Donna patted Toby's shoulder and wove her way through the crowd towards the door. The celebration would go on all day; there was something she needed to do right now.

The party had died down to a dull roar and moved back into the bullpens (Leo having kicked them unceremoniously out of his office and ordered them to go get some work done) before Donna got off the phone. CJ and Carol were huddled in CJ's office; they were trying to prepare for the 5:00 briefing, but had to keep stopping for bouts of what Donna suspected was champagne-inspired giggling. She watched from the door for a minute before either of them noticed her.

"Donna," CJ smiled, sweeping one hand out and almost knocking Gail II's bowl off the desk. "Come in, come in."

Donna shook her head and stayed in the doorway. "Are you seriously going to do your briefing like this?"

"Yes, I am," CJ proclaimed loudly, then laughed. "Relax, I only had one glass to drink. I am high on life, my friend, and I'll be over that by the briefing." She made a face at the piles of paper on her desk and Donna wrinkled her nose sympathetically.

Carol laughed and stood, gathering her own stack of papers from her lap. "Well, you may have to give a briefing, but I don't, and I bet Kathy's still bogarting some of that champagne. I'll have the statement from Toby for you in a few minutes, CJ."

"Thanks, Carol. So, Donna, what's up?"

Donna came into the room, slipping onto the edge of Carol's deserted chair. "I, um... I need to leave early today. Now, actually. And come in a little late tomorrow?"

"Oh?" CJ took off her glasses and leaned back in her chair, pushing it idly back and forth with one foot. "May I ask why?"

"I'm...." Donna ran her fingers around the edge of Gail II's bowl, remembering how desperately CJ had cried the morning they'd come in and found Gail I floating belly-up, two Christmas ago. She'd been more upset than seemed to be required for a goldfish, and hadn't been able to explain why. Gail II had appeared two days later, in a bigger bowl with a little Christmas tree in the bottom, and Danny Concannon was still swearing on his AP Stylebook that he hadn't done it. No one believed him.

"I'm taking a trip," she answered finally. "Just overnight. I'll be back tomorrow morning."

"Kind of last-minute," CJ observed blandly. "Where are you going?"

Donna blushed, looking down at her hands, twisted in her lap. "New York?"


"It's not what you.... I need to do a couple of things up there, and it'll be easier in person."

"Ah. Things?"

"I'm... I can get my check in to NYU, but it has to be there today, before the Registrar's Office closes."

"Ah." Donna gave her an exasperated look and CJ finally smiled, leaning forward. "Sorry, couldn't resist. So, you decided, huh?"

Donna nodded, the motion getting firmer as she did it. "Yes. I decided."



"Any reason?"

"It's going to sound corny," Donna warned ruefully, pushing her hair back from her face.

CJ's smile broadened. "Bring it on."

"Well, I was sitting in Leo's office, waiting for the vote, and looking around at everyone else waiting for the vote, and it meant so much to all of us, you know?"

She looked up at CJ, who nodded. "Yeah. I know."

"And then we won, and it was... I'd forgotten what it feels like, when we win one. And it... We've done one good thing -- lots of good things, incredible things -- but we didn't have enough time and there's still things left that have to be done. And there's just not enough people doing them; I mean really doing them, the way they need to be done. The President said his only regret is that we're not going to be the people doing them, and he's wrong, because we can be. We are. And I want to keep being one of those people. I need to be. I can't just... walk away now. I can't."

She suddenly realized she was on her feet, pacing back and forth, and stopped short. A tentative peek at CJ showed the other woman on the verge of either laughing or crying, as soon as she decided which. "Sorry," Donna mumbled, sitting back down and carefully smoothing her skirt with both hands.

CJ shook her head, rubbing her eyes with her hands, her elbows propped on her desk as if to hold her up. "No, no. Nothing to apologize for. I'm just...." She let her hands drop. "My god, Donna. Do you have any idea how much you sounded like Josh just then?"

Donna chuckled slightly, shrugging with her head and shoulders. "Yes, I do. Scary, isn't it?"

"Terrifying," CJ said dryly. "If you start sounding like him any other way--"

"Immediate psychological intervention. Please."

"Yeah." CJ looked at Donna, Donna looked up from under her eyelashes at CJ, and they both started laughing at the same time.

"Okay, okay, get out of here," CJ finally said, wiping her eyes with her fingertips. "And be back by noon tomorrow, seriously -- we've got a lot to do before E-Day."

I will," Donna promised, getting up and smoothing her skirt again.

"And say hi to Dan for me," CJ added. Donna didn't have to turn around to see her smirk.

"I will," she said, and escaped while she still could.

It took her about half an hour to wrap up her work, and give whatever she couldn't finish to the other assistants. Finally, she shut her computer down and gathered her coat around her in preparation for the walk to the Metro. The celebrations had died down a little as the staff was absorbed back into the daily grind of the White House, but as Donna headed out of the bullpen, she could still hear random outbursts of laughter, and at least six computers playing either Robert Palmer or Queen.

The door to the Deputy Chief of Staff's office was open when she passed, but Darryl was nowhere in sight. Darryl's assault against the Senate had probably already begun, she mused, running her hand along the edge of Kathy's unoccupied desk. She wondered if they needed any help....

She wandered into the office without thinking about it, picking up one of the pictures above the computer. When Josh had sat here, it had been a family picture -- him at 5, his parents, and his sister. Beside it had been a picture from after the Inaugural Ball -- Josh and Sam sitting in a corner, their tuxes rumpled, their faces blissfully blitzed. Now, Darryl had his own family pictures -- wow, did he have a lot of siblings -- and a photo of himself standing next to President Bartlet. She gave the President's image a fond smile before putting it back and wrapping her arms around herself.

Darryl's diplomas were on the wall next to the bookcases, a USC jersey with his name on it behind the desk. Josh had had pictures there, black and white with black frames, and a target silhouette she'd never gotten him to explain. She was glad that was gone, and looked thoughtfully at the law school diploma that had replaced it, stealing a cookie from the donkey jar. The blackboard was the same, but Darryl had scribbled something exuberant and illegible over the current vote count, and he actually filed things instead of leaving them on his desk. Donna knew that if she opened the refrigerator, she'd find bottles of Gatorade, which Darryl claimed he actually liked, instead of Josh's beer, and the juice she'd always tried to make him drink instead.

She was so lost in her study that she didn't hear the footsteps until he spoke quietly from the door. "Donna?"

"Hi, Sam." She finished her cookie, looking at the big 42 on the back of Darryl's football jersey, as Sam wandered in the other door, his hands shoved in his pockets.

"I, uh... Are you looking for something?" he asked carefully.

"No," she said, then, "Yes. Kind of."

There was a ghost of a smile in Sam's voice. "You're going to have to pick one, there."

"I was...." She turned to looked at him. "I was wondering where Josh's Mets jersey is. You know, the old one, that he kept saying he was going to hang in here?"

The slight smile faded. "It's, ah.... I've got it. At home. Adira told me to.... I've got it."

"Oh." She nodded. "Okay."

"Did... Do you want it? Because I can--"

"No. Or, maybe. I don't...." She gave up and smiled, helplessly. "Ask me in a few days, okay?"

"Okay." Silence. "I, ah.... You're going to New York." His voice was very noncommittal.

Donna pressed her lips together, but stood her ground. "Yes. I need to go to NYU to get my acceptance check in." She debated mentally before continuing, "And I, um, really messed up a dinner with a very nice man a couple weeks ago. I'd like.... I need to see if I can get it right."

Sam didn't meet her eyes for a long moment, but he finally nodded. "How are you getting to the airport?"

"I was going to call a cab from my apartment." She was holding her breath, she realized, and kept holding it.

"I could... Would you like me to give you a ride?"

Her breath came out in a long sigh. "I would like that a lot. Thank you, Sam."

He shrugged, then finally looked at her. "The best thing Josh ever did was keep you. You know that, right?"

She had to fight back tears, but these were the good ones, the ones that thawed the ice inside of her instead of building it up. "Maybe I kept him, did you ever think of that?"

"Oh, yeah. Pretty much all of us thought that." His grin was faint, but real. "You ready to go?"

"I need to stop at home."

"Okay. You know," he added casually, "I understand NYU has a very good law school."

She looked at him for a long moment, then walked up against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I really love you, Samuel Seaborn."

His arms closed around her shoulders. "I really love you, Donnatella Moss," he whispered into her hair.

They clung to each other for a long, long moment. "You do understand," Sam said finally, without lifting his face from her hair, "that if this guy hurts you in any way, shape or form, I'm going to fly up there and kick his ass."

Donna laughed and pulled away, wiping her face on the sleeve of her coat. They'd have to talk later -- a lot -- but for right now, this was good. "I'm pretty sure he can take you, Sam."

Sam lead the way out of the office, his own eyes suspiciously moist. "Well, obviously, I'd have to bring some help with me. I'm just saying...." They headed down the hall as Donna firmly closed the door of Darryl's office behind her.

"Smiley faces?"

"Out, Natalie."

"I know, it's just... smiley faces?"

"Get out, Natalie."

I know, but--"

"Get out, Natalie!"

Casey had joined Dan in the last yell, and Natalie jumped. "Okay, okay," she grumbled, sweeping out of the office. "Geez, you'd think a guy wearing smiley faces on his underwear would be in a better mood."

Dan rolled his eyes at her retreating snit and continued proofing the final copy of Casey's script, as Casey did the same to his. "Did you mean to write Oklahoma instead of Oakland?"

"No, I did not." Dan threw the script to his partner from the couch; Casey made the change, then threw it back. "Okay."

Dan fielded the script with one hand and went back to reading. And talking. "So, I really think it's a conspiracy."

"I heard you the first five times, I'm just saying that I really don't think so."

"And I'm saying I think it is. This is the third time in three weeks we've ordered pizza for dinner, this is the third time in three weeks I'm sitting here without any pants."

"Accidents happen," Casey offered with great indifference.

"Accidents, yes, but these... These are not accidents," Dan intoned, lifting a finger. "First, Dana trips -- over your feet, I might add -- and I wind up with anchovies on my knees."

"And on Kim and Elliot's," Casey pointed out, without looking up. "You're not the Lone Ranger here."

"That time." Dan lifted another finger. "Second time, someone who shall remain nameless starts a football game in the middle of the bullpen and a pass mysteriously lands right on my plate, which lands in my lap. Do you continue to claim innocence?"

"Yes, Your Honor, I deny having anything to do with the condition of Dan's pants."

"And third--" Dan was really getting warmed up now. "Tonight, I'm sitting peacefully at my desk, in my office--"

"Our office; you lost that fight almost a year ago. Give it up." Casey tossed Dan's script at him. "Christner, not Christensen."

"Thanks. In my office--" He made the correction, tossed the script back to Casey, "--when Natalie comes busting through to tell me something of absolutely no importance, and slams the door right into me and my pizza."

"And I'm waiting to hear how that was my fault."

"No, you're not."

"No, I'm not. But I'm going to anyway, so let's get it over with."

Dan opened his mouth to enlighten him, then closed it again. "Actually, I haven't figured it out yet. But I'm going to, my friend!"

"I'll sit here and shake in terror until you do. Why are we reporting on the scores from Ipswitch?"

"Because some people actually watch soccer." Dan leaned his head back on the couch, stretching his black-sock-clad legs out across the floor. "Seriously, Case. Wardrobe thinks I'm doing it on purpose, and I gotta tell you, I'm scared of that Monica chick."

"I'd be more scared of wearing smiley-face boxers on the air."

"Don't even joke about that. You've got an extra z in Kzyn... Kzyn... That Polish name that you're the only who can pronounce it, but you can't spell it."

"It's TV; as long as Graphics gets it right, all I need to know is how to pronounce it."

"Fair enough."

"Excuse me?" Both men looked up at the hesitant voice at the door of their office, and Dan shot to his feet as soon as he realized who was standing there.

"Donna," he said blankly. "Hi. You're here."

She smiled hesitantly, tucking her hair back from her face. She was wearing dark pants and a deep blue shirt, and looked beautiful. And nervous. "Yes. I am. Your producer -- Natalie? -- she said it would be all right if I just came back? I can..." She stopped, her eyes drifting downwards, and Dan suddenly remembered the whole thing where he wasn't wearing any pants. He closed his eyes as a flood of heat washed up his neck, and mentally wished the worst blind date in history on Natalie. Then he wished for the floor to open up under him.

It was too late to hide, so he opened his eyes and toughed it out. "Sorry about the lack of pants thing. There was a little incident involving pizza and a conspiracy."

Her forehead wrinkled adorably. "There's a pizza conspiracy?"

"Please do not get him started," Casey begged. "Hi, Donna, nice to see you again."

"Hi, um, Casey," she said shyly. "I didn't want to interrupt--"

"Nothing," Dan interjected hastily, with a significant look at Casey. For once, Casey got the message and stood, grabbing his script and his jacket. "You are interrupting nothing. Believe me."

"Nothing at all," Casey agreed. "I'm gonna go... take the scripts to Carol. Which I should do. Right now."

"Yeah." Dan waved Casey out, then had to face Donna again. Smiley-face boxers and all. "Look, I've got pants around here somewhere, just let me--"

"Dan, it's okay." Donna was laughing a little, and trying to hide it. "It happens all the time. CJ went on Capital Beat once without pants, because she sat in paint. Mark Gottfried was flipping out the whole time. And then there was Josh and the hip waders...." She smiled quickly at some memory. "Anyway, it's fine."

"Well... okay. Have a seat." He gestured towards the couch, but she shook her head and stayed standing. "So, ah, what brings you to my neighborhood?"

She took a deep breath. "Well, I need a favor. Or, actually, two."

Favors. Yeah. Right. 'Cause what else is Danny for? He crossed his arms and tried to look casual -- not easy in a dress shirt and tie, camera makeup, and no pants. "Shoot."

"I, um..." She stopped to lick her lips. "I need the name of your therapist, the one you said helped you? Because I think I'm going to be seeing a lot of her when I move up here to start law school."

Dan looked at her for a long time, and she fidgeted, not quite returning his gaze. Without speaking, he crossed the room to his desk, and pulled out Abby's business card from where he'd left it the night before. He looked at it for a second, tapping it against his hand, before he handed it over to Donna with what he hoped was a noncommittal expression.

Donna accepted it with a nervous smile, looking everywhere but at him, and tucked it away in her purse. "Thanks."

"No problem." He tried to stick his hands in his pockets, remembered he didn't have any, and crossed them over his chest again. "So, um, second favor?"

Surprise made her meet his eyes at last. "Excuse me?"

"You said two favors. That was one, so...." He made an encouraging gesture with one hand. What was it going to be -- apartment hunting? Job hunting?

"Oh. Yes." Donna's hands were in constant motion, fiddling with her purse, then clasping each other, then dropping back to her purse. "Okay, so, this is pretty awkward."

Dan shrugged without uncrossing his arms, then realized that probably looked pretty forbidding, and let them fall to his sides. "Just spit it out." And yeah, that was suave.

But she smiled once, quickly, and took another of those deep breaths before speaking in one rush of words. "Okay, the other favor is that I need a second chance to have dinner with you."

Oh. Well.

"I know that's probably, you know, the last thing on your list of things to do, but I'm moving up here for law school and I really don't know many people in the city, which is actually one of the reasons I'm moving up here, and I really did have a good time when we went out and I promise not to have any kind of breakdown this time and--"


She'd been on a roll, and it was almost funny to see how fast she stopped babbling, her mouth snapping shut. "Sorry," she said after a moment. "I'm talking too much. Old habit."

"Not a problem." He straightened from where he'd been leaning against his desk, and walked over to her. "We can do dinner, on two conditions."

She bit her bottom lip. "Okay."

"We have to wait until after the show, because I'm supposed to be on the air in, like, 15 minutes."

"Yes. Okay." Still chewing on the lip. "The second condition?"

"I have to get at least three smiles."

Donna blinked. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me." Dan grinned, starting to enjoy himself. "You have to smile at least three times. And I want real ones, not those polite political ones."

She blinked again, but she wasn't biting her lip anymore, and the sick nerves in her eyes were starting to fade. "Okay."

Dan pushed his luck. "One of them right now. Down payment."

Her lips curved in confusion, and she breathed out a helpless laugh. "I'm just supposed to--"

"Yeah, like that." He leaned forward and kissed her, and he swore she stopped breathing entirely. But she didn't move away, and after a second, her hands came up to rest on his shoulders. There were no fireworks and no tongues, but her body was warm where it touched his, she tasted faintly of champagne, and it was a pretty good kiss, all things considered.

Someone cleared their throat pointedly from the doorway behind Donna. Dan looked up reluctantly to see Maureen from Wardrobe waving his clean-and-ironed pants carefully in one hand. "I was going to bring these back to you, but if you've got better things to do...."

Dan blushed again, matching Donna's, and stepped back quickly. Maureen gave him an extremely knowing look and passed him his pants. "Ten minutes to air," she reminded him. "Might want to put those on real quick."

"Yeah. Thanks." He caught the distinct sound of a snicker as she left, probably to spread the story, and made a mental note to spill pizza on his pants for the next several nights in revenge. "Um, can you....?"

"Oh. Yes." Donna turned around and Dan shoved his legs hastily into his pants, then sat on the couch to put on his shoes. "Okay, all clear."

She turned around and either wasn't laughing at him, or was doing a really great job of hiding it. "So, I'm going to be on the air for about an hour," he said as if he got dressed in front of women in his office every day, tying his right shoe and picking up the left. "You're welcome to wait here, or you can come sit in the studio if you'd like."

"In the studio? Are you sure that would be okay?"

"Sure. People do it all the time. You just have to be quiet when we're on the air and stay out the way of the cameras. Oh, and don't trip on any cables--"

"Dan," she interrupted, "I've worked for the White House Press Secretary for 2 years."

He stopped in the middle of putting on his suit jacket. "You've probably done this a few times."

"A few."

"Okay, then you know the drill." He straightened his tie as he walked towards her, and started to escort her out of the office. "Oh, wait."

She looked (not very far) up at him with those blue eyes. "Yes?"

He straightened his tie again, which it didn't need, but which made a good excuse for not looking at her. "It's kind of cold in the studio, so Casey and I don't fry under the lights. You should have a coat."

"Oh." Her forehead wrinkled again. "Um, Natalie took mine somewhere...."

"Not a problem." He walked behind his desk to grab the jacket he'd draped over the back of his chair when he'd gotten back after lunch. "In the spirit of cooperation between... press types everywhere, I'm willing to loan you mine."

"Just so I'm properly equipped?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.

He grinned. "Exactly."

Donna thought about it for a moment, then turned to let Dan put the jacket around her shoulders. She slipped her arms into the sleeves and he put a hand at the small of her back, escorting her into the bullpen.

Even in the hectic stream of pre-show preparations, they got a few curious looks; Dan saw money changing hands more than once and was too high on that kiss to be upset, but he did make a mental note to find out who'd been running the pool so he could demand a cut.

Casey smiled broadly at them when they walked into the studio. "Hey, we've got a live audience tonight."

"Yeah, I'm gonna get her some tomatoes to throw when you screw up."

"Beats turkeys," Casey shrugged, as Dan found Donna a chair over in one corner of the huge room, behind the cameras.

"You'll be okay here?"

"Yes, this is fine," Donna confirmed, settling onto the chair and pulling Dan's jacket a little closer around her. His hand lingered on her shoulder and she touched it quickly with hers. "Go on, do your thing."

"Yeah." He walked over to the desk, seating himself to Casey's right and clipping on his mic as Angela blotted his face with powder and Casey slid his script pages over to him.

"Thirty seconds to tape," Brian, tonight's director, announced.

"Coming to the studio in 90 seconds," Dana said through the mic. Dan looked over and both Natalie and Dana gave him a thumbs-up through the control room window. More money changed hands between Elliot, Chris and Kim. These people needed to get lives.

"So, does she still count as one of the broken ones?" Casey asked under the noise around them, his hand over his mic.

Dan considered. "Yeah. But I think this one wants to fix herself, you know?"

"Excellent." Casey stacked his pages.

"Roll tape," Brian announced, and Casey's prerecorded voice came over their earpieces. "Casey, Dan, you're on in sixty."

They waved acknowledgement, and Dan flipped through his script. "Dana, the teleprompter's wrong."

"We're putting the changes in now," Dana assured him. "Keep your pants on, Danny."

There was a round of snickers from everyone on the mic circuit, and Dan nodded in resignation. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Isaac come into the studio and give Donna a significant look; Dan shrugged back innocently. "Yeah, yeah, everyone enjoy yourselves at Dan's expense," he told the studio at large.

Isaac shook his head, then wandered over to pull a chair up next to Donna's, as Natalie shot back, "Don't we always?"

Donna smiled hesitantly at Isaac, and he held out his hand, obviously introducing himself. When Casey and the cameramen laughed at Natalie's comeback, and even Dan chuckled, Donna looked over at him and lifted her other hand in a tiny wave, her smile warm and unshadowed.

"Good show, guys," Natalie's voice said in their ears.

"In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..." The red light came on and Casey faced the camera.

"Good evening, everybody. From New York City, I'm Casey McCall alongside Dan Rydell. Those stories, plus we've got the Chicago Fire burning to take on the Galaxy, the Broncos bucking the city of Denver, and the Rangers taking aim at the Mighty Ducks."

Dan picked up his cue, stacking his pages with a flourish. This was his job, this was his show, and he was going to have dinner with Donna Moss after it. "And we'll take you to NFL headquarters, where the commissioners still can't get a lock on the new divisions. You're watching Sports Night on CSC, so stick around."

Damn, it was good to be alive.


why are you weeping
yes I still love you
we fight and fall down
and mend

here drink some water
soon you'll feel better
I know we have all my love

whatever it was is lost
whatever you said forgotten

why don't we lay down
talk in the morning
don't cry just close your eyes
and mend

whatever it was is lost
whatever you said forgotten

why are you weeping
yes I still love you
we fight and fall down
and fall down
and mend

Jann Arden, "Mend"


Afterword and Acknowledgements