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"Chances" pt. 2/3 by Cindy

"Damn."Sam swore quietly as he plucked a kleenex box from the nearby coffee table and offered it to Donna as he knelt.

Donna's tears had dried for the moment but she didn't acknowledge either Sam or Caitlin as she stared straight ahead at he staircase.

Caitlin glanced at Sam with concern before she sat down next to her friend gently touching Donna's shoulder. "Donna....it's Caitlin....please talk to me."

"I've lost them."Donna whispered sadly.

"No, Donna you haven't."Caitln replied anxiously. "Nothing's been decided yet."

Sam sat down on the other side of Donna. "Caitie's right, Donna. Nothing has been decided yet. I can even help your attorney out....make sure everything's ready by Thursday."

"I've lost my baby."Donna stated quietly still not responding to her friends presence.

Sam looked over at his wife worry shone in his blue eyes. "What should we do, Caitie?"

Caitlin shook her head sadly. "I don't know, Sam. Let's get her over to the sofa and I'll call my Mom."

*******

After Leo's phone call Josh knew he had to get out of that hotel room. He knew Leo had meant well but some of the older man's points had hit too close to home. Causing Josh to remember things he didn't want to remember at that moment.
So Josh had left the hotel and started walking combining soul searching with a little sight seeing. Now he stood at the observation deck of the Sears Tower watching the city lights start to appear as night fell.

When he and Donna had first moved to Chicago Josh had felt like his life was at it's lowest point....professionally anyway.
He had been happy for Donna when she had gotten the great opportunity to work for Congresswoman Shultz.
And after everything that had happened with Hoynes and losing the election Josh had been more than ready to leave D.C.

When Josh had chosen politics as a career his father hadn't been pleased. His father had always planned on Josh coming to work at his firm. But even though Josh had graduated from law school with high honors he had wanted to make a difference in people's lives.
More of a difference than he could make as a lawyer. So Josh had worked his way up the rungs of Washington making valuable contacts along the way. But as Josh's career soared his relationship with his father, which had always been strained, started to deteriorate.
Josh sighed, one thing he'd never know was if his father would've been proud of his only son working in the White House.

But then Josh knew his father hadn't really forgiven him for Joanie's death.

Joanie.....

Josh startled at the thought as he leaned heavily on the railing. He wondered what Joanie would think of the mess her little brother had become. In a relatively short span of time Josh had failed a lot of people.....

Hoynes blindsiding them causing the fall of the Bartlet administration.....
Pushing Donna into another man's arms, which destroyed his family....
Josh shook his head as he stood as if that single motion would keep the memories at bay. As Josh glanced to his right he saw a couple standing a few feet away. The young man's hands were on the woman's waist as he held her close.
Obviously so much in love that they didn't see anything but each other.

Josh quickly looked away and headed toward the elevator but it was too late. Memories came flooding back of a time when Donna had looked at him that way.


'Do you Joshua Tiberous Lyman take Donnatella Marie Moss to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

Josh stared at Donna's beautiful face. Even hidden by her veil he could see the happiness and love that shown in her blue eyes.

'With all my heart.'Josh replied firmly hoping his voice wasn't shaking.

'Do you Donnatella Marie Moss take Joshua Tiberous Lyman to be your lawfully wedded husband?'

'With all my heart and soul.'Donna whispered. 'I know pronounce you husband and wife. Mr. Lyman you may kiss your bride.'

------------

Josh closed his eyes against the memory as he leaned against the wall of the elevator car as it sped downwards. How the hell had his life gone from perfect bliss to misery?

*******

"Is she asleep?"Abby Bartlet asked as she sat down on the living room sofa.

Caitlin shook her head as she glanced over to where Sam was covering Donna with a blanket.

"No."Caitlin replied worriedly as she pressed the cordless phone closer to her ear. "I've never seen her like this, Mom. It's like she's shut down."

*******

Wearily Josh returned to the hotel just after seven. He sat heavily down on the bed for a moment before reaching for the phone. He pushed the number for room service and ordered an over priced cheeseburger very well done. It was only when he hung up that he noticed the blinking message light.

The message was from his attorney Steven Burnel telling him that the custody hearing had been moved up to Thursday at ten.
Josh hung up without bothering to call Steven back.....he'd see him at the court house soon enough.
Josh picked up the television remote and flipped on an all news channel hoping that something there would distract him from his whirling thoughts and emotions.

********

Sam came to stand next to his wife as Caitlin hung up the cordless phone. "What did your Mom say?"

Caitlin blinked back tears as Sam slipped an arm around her waist drawing her close. "She said that Donna will probably snap out of this on her own."

"Did your Mom think it was a break down?"Sam asked worriedly as he looked back at Donna.

Caitlin shook her head. "No, she said Donna was probably just in shock....everything finally hitting her at once. Mom wanted me to call her back if Donna woke up disoriented."

Sam pulled her into an embrace and rested his head lightly on top of hers. "She'll be okay, Caitie."

Caitlin moved away from her husband and walked over to the kitchen counter and leaned her back against it arms folded protectively across her chest.

"How could this happen to them, Sam?"Caitlin asked in a whisper. "Josh and Donna had one of the strongest marriages I knew outside of my parents."

"They'll pull out of it."Sam promised as he walked over to her pulling her close. "I don't know how I know that but I do. What they have is too special to be destroyed by a misunderstanding."

Caitlin leaned her head against Sam's chest. "How are we going to fix this by Thursday, Sam?"

Sam shook his head as he tightened his arms around her. "I don't know, Caitie, but we will. For their sake and for Rachel."

Caitlin pulled away. "Maybe I should go talk to Josh again."

Sam shook his head as he gently reached over and caressed her left cheek. "Why don't you let me do that? It'll make me feel like I'm doing something to help Donna."

"Okay."Caitlin replied with a loving smile as she kissed him. "I love you."

"I love you too, Caitie."Sam replied before turning briefly to look back at Donna who wasn't asleep yet. "Do you two need anything before I leave?"

Caitlin shook her head. "No, we should be fine."

Sam nodded before he leaned down and kissed her quickly. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

********

Amazingly Josh only had to return his burger once before room service cooked it the way he wanted it. Josh tipped the waiter and took the tray over to the bed and sat down balancing the tray on his lap. Josh took a bite of the burger not really tasting it wondering why he had bothered to order it in the first place. Donna was the only one who could cook a hamburger the way he liked it.

Josh angrily tossed the sandwich down mad at himself for thinking about her again. Donna had, to choose a bad metaphor made her own bed and now she had to lay in it. He picked up the remote and started to flip through the channels and eventually landed on a really bad spy movie.

As Josh set the remote aside and returned his attention to his meal there was a knock on the door. With a sigh the former deputy chief of staff pushed the tray aside and stood walking over to answer it. Somehow he wasn't surprised to see Sam Seaborn on the other side.

"Sam."Josh stated hollowly before turning and returning to sit on the bed.

Sam closed the door behind him as he took a deep breath. He used to write speeches for a living but now he was finding himself not sure of how to start what he had to say.

"Josh.....you're destroying your life, your wife and yourself....it has to stop."Sam replied bluntly as he moved to stand in front of his friend.

Josh sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck wearily. "Sam, I'm sure you have much better things to do than lecture me and I really don't have the energy to fight you right now."

Sam grabbed a chair from the small table by the window and dragged it over and turned it around so he was straddling it. "No I don't and we're going to sit here until we get this settled. Josh your family is too precious to destroy it over a misunderstanding."

Josh glared at his friend. "We did this already and it got us nowhere and what I saw with Collins and Donna was not a misunderstanding."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "How do you know, Josh? You never gave her a chance to explain anything."

"She was wearing a robe, Sam!"Josh shouted as he leapt off the bed. "I don't need that explained to me. Why else would my wife be in a hotel room at ten in the morning wearing only a robe?!"

"She's not Joey."Sam replied calmly as he turned to face his friend. "Just because she was in a robe doesn't mean anything happened. She told Caitie that she got caught in the rain and was soaked."

"And of course you two believe her!"Josh snapped ignoring the jab at Joey. Josh had been hurt when he had discovered that Joey had gone back to Keifer yet again during one of her frequent trips to California. And then after the chaos of the shooting their relationship had fallen apart.

Sam stood. "This isn't about sides, Josh! It's about truth.....Donna loves you.....has since the first time she met you."

"Sam...."Josh protested as he shoved his hands into his pant's pockets.

"Josh, use your head for once."Sam began hoping that he was making headway. "Donna has been the only woman to stay by your side all these years. Joey couldn't do it, Mandy ended badly as well. Do you really think Donna would betray you now?"

Josh walked over to the window. "You sound like Leo."

"I'm glad I called Leo....it sounds like he was able to get you to listen when Caitie and I couldn't."Sam replied quietly.

Josh shook his head as he turned away from the window. "You shouldn't have dragged Leo into this, Sam. Now Donna has one more ally on her side."

Sam blinked in surprise. "Ally? Josh will you listen to yourself? We're all here for you both...always have been always will be."

"Let me guess Donna knows about the custody hearing being moved up and she sent you over here to talk me out of it."Josh replied bitterly.

/You have no idea how far off you are, Josh./Sam thought sadly as he remembered Donna's earlier collapse.

"Yes, Donna knows about the hearing but she doesn't know I'm here."Sam said quietly.

"This is what's best for Rachel."Josh replied softly as he moved back toward the bed sitting down on the corner. "She needs a stable home."

Sam turned around. "And by ripping her away from her mother and the only home she's known she's going to gain stability?"

Josh glared at him. "Donna nearly killed her in case you forgot!"

Sam shook his head. "I haven't forgotten, Josh, but that was an accident and there wasn't even any flames."

"Not that time."Josh replied fighting to keep his voice from shaking as memories from that awful night came flooding back. "But there could've been....in seconds I could've lost everything."

"Don't you see Josh that you have?"Sam stated as he moved to stand in front of his friend. "You're blaming Donna for something she couldn't have prevented and you feel that the only way you think you can take revenge against her is by taking Rachel away."

Josh blinked in surprise. "You think this custody hearing is my way of getting revenge?"

Sam nodded. "It's the only thing that makes sense. Josh, you know Donna's not a bad parent....she'd rather lay down her own life than let harm come to that little girl and so would you."

Josh shook his head firmly. "She got distracted by Collins and that nearly cost us Rachel. I won't let that happen again."

Sam sighed as he started toward the door, knowing he wasn't getting anywhere with Josh.. "Josh, do you really want Rachel to grow up without really knowing her mother? I know what that's like and it's no way for a kid to grow up."

Josh glanced at his friend....he had forgotten that Sam's parent's were divorced. "This is entirely different than what happened with your parents."

"How? Because my father left us when I was nine?"Sam shook his head firmly shutting out any painful memories that threatened to surface. "Being a child of divorce is the same no matter what the age or what the situation. Don't let Rachel grow up that way, Josh. You're a terrific father....but she needs the support of both parents....support of a family. That won't happen if you raise her on your own no matter how much you love her."

Before Josh could reply Sam turned and left without a goodbye.

*********

Caitlin had left the door unlocked so Sam quietly let himself into Donna and Josh's house. A single lamp lighted the living room as Sam closed the door behind him. As he stepped into the room Sam saw that both women were asleep.....Donna on the sofa clutching the blanket to her chest as if it were a protective barrier and Caitlin curled up in a nearby chair.

Sam quickly took a multi-colored afghan from the back of the sofa and gently covered Caitlin with it. She had been through so much the last few years and Sam knew that the strain between Josh and Donna was taking a toll on her as well.

Caitlin stirred and opened her eyes just as Sam stepped away from the chair. "Hi, when did you get back?"

Sam smiled as he knelt next to the chair. "Just a few minutes ago."He replied in a whisper. "You were both sleeping so soundly I didn't want to wake you."

"How'd it go?"Caitlin asked quietly as she glanced over at Donna.

Sam sighed as he shook his head. "I thought I had finally got through to him Caitie but he slammed the walls back up."

Caitlin reached over and squeezed his hand. "If anybody could make Josh listen it's you."

"I used to think that."Sam replied softly. "He's like a brother to me, Caitie and I hate seeing him in that much pain and not be able to do anything about it."

Caitlin turned in the chair and let go of her husband's hand as she reached up to touch Sam's face."Being there for him is helping him, Sam, even if Josh is do stubborn to realize it right now."

"I hope so."Sam replied as he glanced over at Donna's sleeping form.

"What time is it anyway?"Caitlin asked as she squinted at the clock on the nearby VCR.

Sam looked at his watch. "Almost nine thirty."

Caitlin nodded. "Nine thirty and I was asleep....must be getting old."She replied with a grin.

Sam caught her hand in his as he stood and gently moved her over. "Scoot over."He replied as he sat down and pulled Caitlin onto his lap holding her close. "I am so lucky to have you."Sam whispered as he gently brushed Caitlin's hair away from her face. "Promise me that no matter how bad the fight is that you'll never leave angry."

Caitlin looked up at Sam and found herself drowning in his beautiful blue eyes. "I promise as long as that works both ways."

Sam nodded as he cradled her face in his hands. "I love you, Caitlin Seaborn."He replied huskily."And you are never going to lose me."

*********

Caitlin awoke the next morning around eight and headed downstairs letting Sam sleep. She tip toed past the living room and went in the kitchen in search of caffeine. It was only after that she grabbed a can of soda from the refrigerator that she saw the living room was empty.
Figuring Donna had moved upstairs to her room when she woke during the night Caitlin opened the can of soda and walked upstairs.

Once upstairs Caitlin gently opened the door to Donna's room and peeked inside. A frown crossed Caitlin's face when she saw the bed hadn't been slept in. She walked farther into the room and saw the bathroom door was wide open and the room beyond dark.....no sign of Donna.

Going back to the guestroom Caitlin found that her husband was already awake.

"You okay?"Sam asked with concern as he sat up.

Caitlin shook her head as she crossed over to the bed. "I can't find Donna."

Sam sleepily glanced at a nearby clock. "Maybe she went for a walk."

"Maybe."Caitlin replied distractedly as she placed the untouched soda on the dresser.

Sam tossed the covers off and stood grabbing a pair of jeans and a red t-shirt. "You stay with Rachel. I'll walk around the block and see if I can catch up with her."

Caitlin smiled some of her worry leaving her face. "Thank you."
Sam crossed over to his wife and gently pulled her to him. "She's my friend too."

Caitlin kissed him before pulling back and reaching for her clothes on a low-backed chair.

Sam walked out of the guestroom and walked down the hallway. As he passed Rachel's room he back peddled wanting to check on the little girl.
As he opened the door a crack he saw Rachel wasn't in her crib. Alarmed Sam pushed open the door all the way and saw Rachel curled in her mother's arms in the corner near the window.....both sound asleep.

"Caitlin?"Sam called his voice barely above a whisper.

"Yeah?"Caitlin replied her voice muffled as she pulled a shirt over her head.

"Come here."Sam stated his gaze never leaving the pair before him.

Caitlin pulled on a pair of jean shorts and walked out of the guestroom. Seeing Sam standing outside of Rachel's room hand still on the doorknob Caitlin rushed over to him.

"What's wrong?"Caitlin asked worriedly.

Sam shook his head as he placed an arm around his wife's shoulders. "Nothing, I just found Donna."

Caitlin followed her husband's gaze and saw Donna sitting on the floor with Rachel in her arms both sound asleep.

Not having the heart to separate Donna and Rachel, Caitlin reached over and gently closed the door.

*********

Donna awoke around ten to find Caitlin and Sam in the living room watching tv. Donna walked downstairs and placed Rachel in her playpen.

"How are you feeling?"Caitlin asked with concern as she rose to meet her friend.

Donna smiled slightly. "Like I slept on a bus. I'm sorry for causing you guys worry last night....I didn't mean to fall apart on you."

Sam stood and crossed over to them as he gently touched Donna's shoulder. "No apologies necessary. I'm just glad you're okay."

"Your attorney called while you were asleep."Caitlin said quietly watching her friend closely. "She wants to meet with you in her office around three to go over some last minute details before the hearing."

Sam nodded. "I offered to help her with the proportion so I'll be there with you if that's okay."

Donna glanced over at Rachel as she replied quietly. "That's fine. I appreciate everything you guys have done.....dropping everything to come out here and hold my hand."

"I just wish we could do more."Caitlin replied softly as she stepped toward the kitchen. "Are you hungry? I think I can manage to cook eggs or waffles without burning them too badly."

Donna laughed recalling her former roommate's cooking skills. "Caitlin, you burned spaghetti which I didn't think was possible."

Caitlin giggled at the memory. "That wasn't my fault!"

Sam glanced at his wife not having heard this story. "You burned spaghetti?"

"I only overcooked the noodles."Caitlin protested.

Donna grinned as she entered the kitchen. "If you only overcooked the noodles the people downstairs wouldn't have called the fire department."

"It wasn't all bad."Caitlin replied defensively. "One of them asked you out if I recall."

"That's true."Donna replied as she recalled the well-built black haired fireman who she went out with twice after that. "Even though he neglected to tell me he was engaged."

Just as Donna pulled the tray of eggs out of the refrigerator the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it."Sam offered since he was the closest.

"Josh."Sam greeted with surprise as he opened the door.

"Sam."Lyman replied quietly as he stepped into the living room. He knew he was taking a risk coming here. But he needed to spend some time with his daughter before things got crazy tomorrow.

Donna quickly put the tray of eggs on the counter before walking over to face her estranged husband. As she took in his drawn and pale face Donna could tell he slept about as much as she had. Why were they doing this to themselves? Where had it gone so wrong that they acted like strangers toward each other?

"What do you want, Josh?"Donna demanded as she folded her arms across her chest. She kept her voice neutral not wanting to upset Rachel.

Josh saw the anger and hurt in his wife's eyes and winced inwardly knowing he had put it there. But things that had occurred in the last six months had to be dealt with.

Josh glanced behind him to where his daughter sat in her playpen. "I was hoping I could spend some time with Rachel.....an hour or so."

Donna's eyes narrowed sharply. "Have you forgotten what's happening tomorrow, Josh?"

"No."Josh replied quietly as he shoved his hands into his jacket pockets.

"How dare you come over here now and ask to spend time with her!"Donna countered her hands clenched into fists as Sam and Caitlin stood by awkwardly. "You're asking a Judge to take her away from me and now you want to take away more precious time? Get the hell out."

Josh was about to reply when a tiny voice interrupted.

"Da!"Rachel squealed as she turned around in the playpen to face her father.

Donna closed her eyes briefly. There was no way now that she couldn't deny Josh's request now that Rachel had seen him.

"Hey shorty."Josh replied his voice catching as he knelt next to the playpen reaching in to ruffle his daughter's hair. "How's my little girl?"

Sam glanced between Josh and Donna and back again before moving to stand behind Josh. "Josh...."

Josh didn't break his attention away from Rachel. "Don't start Sam. You stated your opinion quite clearly last night."
Caitlin moved to stand next to Donna. "You don't have to let him, Donna."She whispered feeling very much like she was caught in the middle.

Donna swallowed hard as she watched Josh with Rachel. "I have to, Cait. Rachel's seen him....how could I tell her that she can't spend time with her father? She's too little to understand this."

Donna walked over to Josh. "Have her back by one. I don't want her so wired up that she won't lay down for her nap."

Josh nodded as he stood and picked Rachel up. "Thank you."

Not being able to watch Josh and Rachel any longer Donna turned and quickly walked upstairs.
A few minutes later everyone gathered in the living room heard the bedroom door slam shut.

*********

Twenty minutes later Josh was pushing Rachel in her stroller through a small park a few blocks away. With schools starting back up the following week the park was crowded with kids of various ages. After dinner if it was still light enough he and Donna would bring Rachel here and walk the bike path and mainly just enjoy each other's company.

Josh sighed as he glanced down at his daughter.....those days seemed like a life time ago. Pushing the memory aside Josh spotted a bench a little ways down the path. He pushed Rachel towards it and then sat down and unhooked the stroller's safety belt so he could pick Rachel up.

As he sat Rachel on his lap the little girl reached up to grab his tie. Josh gently caught the tiny hand in his and stared at his daughter for a long moment.

"I hope some day you'll be able to understand what I'm doing this for."Josh said quietly his voice nearly strained to the breaking point. "You're far too precious to me to risk you being hurt in any way."

Rachel squealed in delight and tried to grab a passing monarch butterfly. Josh pulled her close before she toppled.

"I know you'll miss your Mama."Josh whispered as he rested his chin lightly on her head. "But I promise you everything is going to be fine....just the two of us.....we'll make it work."

*********

Half an hour after Josh left Caitlin tapped on Donna's door a plate of two waffles in one hand. "Donna?"

"I'm okay, Cait."Donna replied as she put the dust rag down on the dresser and moved to open the door.

"I thought you'd be hungry."Caitlin said as she glanced around the room at the various cleaning supplies. "You're cleaning?"

"You know I clean when I'm upset."Donna replied as she took the plate from Caitlin and sat down on the corner of the bed. "I needed a way to vent my anger and cleaning was the first thing I thought of."

Caitlin closed the door behind her before sitting next to her friend. "It'll work out, Donna."

Donna stared at her friend incredulously. "How? We're facing a judge tomorrow morning to find out if Josh will be able to take Rachel away from me. Caitlin if that happens.......I don't know what I'll do without her."

"That won't happen, Donna."Caitlin replied firmly. "Josh will come to his senses.....he has to. You two love each other too much to let this break you apart."
"I wish I could believe that."Donna said softly as she poked the fork at the waffles moving them around the plate.

"Remember what you felt when Josh asked you out for the first time? When he proposed? Remember the look on his face when you placed Rachel in his arms for the first time?"Caitlin asked quietly.

Donna nodded tears clogging her throat.

"Hold on to that."Caitlin replied in a whisper. "Josh will come around and when he does he'll realize what an idiot he's been."

********

Josh returned shortly before one and quietly handed Rachel to Donna as they stood in the front doorway. There was so much Donna wanted to say to him....wanted to shout at him for causing all this heartache to their family but no words would come. So she silently shut the door and handed Rachel to Caitlin.

"Thanks for watching her, Cait."Donna said softly as she started for the stairs. "I don't think we'll be at Marilyn's office long....."

Caitlin smiled at Rachel as the toddler squirmed. "Take your time."

After Donna went upstairs to change Sam watched Rachel and Caitlin for a long moment.

"What?"Caitlin asked after several minutes noting the far away look on her husband's face.

Sam smiled as he moved closer to her placing an arm around her waist. "Nothing....just picturing what our child might look like."

Caitlin grinned. "Is that your subtle way of telling me you'd like to start a family of our own?"

Sam touched her face tenderly. "I'm game if you are."

**********

Promptly at three Donna and Sam stood outside a law office on the twentieth floor of a Michigan Avenue skyscraper.

"You don't have to do this, Sam. I'm fine on my own."Donna offered as they stood to the side of the plushly carpeted hallway.

Sam shook his head as he placed a reassuring hand on Donna's right arm. "I'm just glad I can help in some way. I just wish things hadn't progressed this far."

Donna nodded sadly. "Me too."She replied in a whisper as they entered the large law office.

A woman in her forties with dark brown hair smiled warmly as she approached the pair from the right of the office.

"Donna, glad you could make this appointment on such short notice."Marilyn Nagy stated with a smile as she shook Donna's hand. "Who's your handsome friend?"

"I'm sorry."Donna replied sheepishly. "Marilyn Nagy this is an old friend of mine Sam Seaborn."

Marilyn blinked in recognition. "An honor to meet you Mr. Seaborn, your reputation proceeds you."

Sam laughed softly as he shook the older woman's hand. "I hope you don't believe everything you hear."

Marilyn chuckled as she ushered them through the foyer and to her corner office. "I wouldn't have lasted this long in this business if I had, Mr. Seaborn."

"I don't want to step on your toes."Sam began as he and Donna sat down in a pair of wing backed leather chairs. "But I'm here to offer whatever help I can. Josh and Donna are like family to me and I hate to see this happening to them. But furthermost I do not want to see Rachel taken from her mother."

"That we're in agreement, Mr. Seaborn."Marilyn replied as she sat down behind her desk. "I'll be glad to take whatever help you can offer but to be frank with both of you this is going to be a difficult hearing to win."

********

By the time Sam and Donna returned home three hours later she was exhausted. Marilyn and Sam had spent most of that time prepping Donna for what could happen when she got on the witness stand. It had been grueling and humiliating and that had only been the practice run. On top of that Marilyn had broken the news that she still hadn't' been able to track Dan down.......not the news Donna had wanted to hear.

"How'd it go?"Caitlin asked as she handed Rachel to Donna as the trio stood in the living room.

Sam shook his head grimly. "It was intense but I think we're as ready for tomorrow as we're ever going to be."

Donna paused at the foot of the stairs. "I appreciate everything you guys have done I really do. But if you don't' mind I'd like to spend this evening alone."

Caitlin frowned remembering her friend's emotional state the night before. "Donna, I don't think...."

Donna shook her head. "I'm okay, Cait, really. I just want to spend as much time as I can with Rachel. I'll call you tomorrow and we can meet for breakfast before going to the court house."

"Okay."Caitlin replied softly as she reached for her coat, which was draped across a nearby chair. "You know where we are if you need anything."

"I'll be fine."Donna said as she shifted Rachel to her other arm. "You two go have fun, relax, forget about my problems for awhile and enjoy each other."

*********

The next morning Sam and Caitlin met Donna at a fifties type diner a few blocks from the court house.

"Mrs. Dismuke next door agreed to sit for Rachel until we know...."Donna trailed off and seemed to be studying the menu intently.

Sam cleared his throat as he glanced around the crowded restaurant. "Have you been here before, Donna? What's good?"

Donna shook her head as she looked over the top of her menu. "No I haven't but several friends have. They're known for their pancakes."

"That sounds good."Sam replied as he placed the menu on the table and glanced at his wife. "What about you, Caitie?"

"Denver omelet."Caitlin said with a smile as she looked across the table at Donna. "Did you get any sleep?"

Donna shook her head. "An hour maybe."She replied wearily before glancing at Seaborn. "Did you see Josh this morning?"

"No."Sam stated quietly. "I knocked on his door before we left but there was no answer."

The waitress arrived at that moment to take their orders ending the conversation.

********

As soon as Donna stepped out of the elevator onto the third floor of the courthouse at nine thirty she spotted Josh instantly.
He was a few feet away talking to his attorney.

At the ding of the elevator Josh turned and saw Donna,Sam and Caitlin step out. At their united front Josh swallowed his hurt and turned his attention back to what Steven was telling him. Josh had always thought of Sam and Caitlin as family but they had obviously chosen their side....no point of dwelling on it.

Donna stepped away from the elevator just as Marilyn Nagy approached her the woman's high heeled shoes echoed loudly.

"Marilyn."Donna greeted quietly. "This is Sam's wife, Caitlin."

"Nice to meet you."Marilyn replied as she quickly shook Caitlin's hand.

"Nice to meet you too."Caitlin commented before she and Sam moved a few feet away allowing them a few minutes of privacy.

"I hate this."Caitlin whispered as Sam pulled her close.

"I know."Sam replied quietly his gaze traveling to Josh. "So do I.....all we can do now is be there for them."

"I just checked the schedule and we were lucky enough to get Judge Templeton."Marilyn explained as she and Donna walked toward the courtroom. "He's been in family court for over twenty years so he's seen just about everything. Which makes him fair but a little jaded."

"That doesn't sound like it helps us."Donna replied worriedly. "Especially without Dan here to back up my word."

Marilyn flashed her a reassuring smile. "Remember Josh brought the case so it's up to him to prove it. We just have to stay calm and state the facts."She glanced through the open courtroom doors. "Let's get seated looks like things are about to start."

"Josh?"Steven called gaining his friend's attention. "I know we talked about this before but I just want to make sure you're ready for what's going to happen in there."

"I listened to you the first time, Steven."Josh replied more sharply than he intended.

"In order to prove our case we're going to have to lean on Donna pretty hard."Burnel replied ignoring Josh's attitude. "Are you prepared for that?"

Josh saw Donna and her attorney enter the courtroom and turned to follow. "I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to protect Rachel's future."

********

Everyone stood as Judge Julian Templeton entered the courtroom. He was in his early fifties with graying brown hair and green eyes.

"Be seated."Templeton ordered as he sat down.

The bailiff approached the bench calling the case. "Lyman v. Lyman case no. 55834 in the matter of sole custody of the minor child."

"Mr. Burnel."Templeton began. "Are you ready to proceed?"

Josh's attorney stood. "Yes, Your Honor."

"A reminder to the Court."Templeton stated as he folded his hands in front of him. "This is a hearing not a trial so there is no jury. I will not tolerate theatrics in my courtroom."

"Understood, Your Honor."Both attorneys said in unison.

Templeton nodded. "Very well, Mr. Burnel?"

"Mr. Lyman is here today to prove that he has the best interests of the minor child at heart. We call Caitlin Seaborn to the stand."Steven Burnel stated as he leaned on the small oak conference table.

Caitlin glanced at Sam in surprise as she stood. They had both realized they could be called as character witnesses but she hadn't expected to be the first one called.

Sam squeezed her hand as she passed him and stepped into the isle. Caitlin walked briskly up the isle toward the witness stand but she paused between the two attorney tables and looked from Donna to Josh and back again.
Caitlin still couldn't believe they were all here in this courtroom.....after everything they had been through since they had met during the campaign....had it all really led up to this point?
Donna had been matron of honor at Caitlin's wedding.....Josh had been Sam's best man.

Realizing all eyes were on her Caitlin swallowed hard and walked toward the witness stand. As she sat down the bailiff asked her to raise her right hand.

"Do you swear to tell the whole truth an nothing but so help you God?"

Caitlin nodded. "I do."

Burnel walked around the table. "Mrs. Seaborn, can you state your full name for the record?"

"Caitlin Bartlet-Seaborn."Caitlin replied as she folded her hands and rested them on her lap.

"You are the middle daughter of former President Josiah Bartlet, correct?"Burnel continued.

"Yes."

"How long have you known Mr. Lyman?"

"We met nearly ten years ago during my father's campaign for the Presidency."

"And you worked with Mr. Lyman once your father took office, correct?"

"Yes, but I assisted the whole Senior staff. I wasn't just working through Mr. Lyman's office."

"So you were there when Mr. Lyman and Mrs. Lyman first met?"

Caitlin shook her had. "No I started working on the campaign a few weeks after Josh hired Donna."

"But you were there at the beginning of their relationship?"

"If you mean the beginning of their friendship, yes. They didn't become romantically involved until three years later."

"Were you present when their daughter was born?"

"Yes."

"And you kept in touch with them after they moved to Chicago?"

"Yes."

"Did Mrs. Lyman confide in you about her extramarital affair?"

"There was no affair."Caitlin stated looking over at Josh and catching his gaze.

"I'm not asking for your opinion, Mrs. Seaborn. I'm asking if Mrs. Lyman told you about her relationship with Dan Collins?"

"She told me of their friendship yes."

"Did she tell you of the reasons why Mr. Lyman split from her?"

"Yes."

"So she told you about the affair?"

"No, but...."Caitlin replied but was cut off by the attorney.

"Thank you Mrs. Seaborn, no further questions."

Judge Templeton turned to Donna's side of the courtroom. "Ms. Nagy, redirect?"

"Yes Your Honor."Marilyn Nagy replied as she stood and approached Caitlin.

"Mrs. Seaborn, you and Mrs. Lyman were roomates?"

"Yes, from when I started working at the White House until she and Josh got married."

"During that time did Mrs. Lyman ever mention Dan Collins?"

"Only in the context that he was a high school sweetheart."

"And that was the last you heard of Mr. Collins until Mrs. Lyman phoned you last week?"

Caitlin nodded. "Yes."

"Did Mrs. Lyman tell you why Mr. Collins had contacted her?"

"He was in town for a few days and wanted to catch up. He was going through a nasty divorce and needed someone to talk to."

"And in your opinion as an old friend of Mrs. Lyman, would it be like her to drop everything when he asked?"

Caitlin glanced at Josh. "Yes Donna has always been very giving and loyal to her friends."

"Thank you, Mrs. Seaborn."Nagy replied as she turned and walked back to her table. "No further questions."

"Mrs. Seaborn you may step down."Judge Templeton ordered.

"Ms. Nagy you may call your first witness."Judge Templeton said as Caitlin retook her seat next to Sam.

"We call Joshua Lyman."

Donna stiffened and swallowed hard as she watched the bailiff swear Josh in.
A memory surfaced that Donna didn't really need the reminder of at that moment.

'Donna, time to toss your bouquet.'C.J. Cregg exclaimed as she approached the newlyweds.

Donna grinned as she pulled away from her husband. "Think you can live without me for a few minutes?'

Josh pulled her close and kissed her. 'No, but I'll manage. I love you Mrs. Lyman.'

'I love you, Mr. Lyman.'Donna replied with a smile as she moved to join C.J.

'Okay.'C.J. called gaining everyone's attention.'Single ladies to the center please.'
Soon a small group was forming behind C.J. The red haired woman glanced at the giggling group before turning toward the other guests.

'That means you too, Caitlin.'

Caitlin laughed as she glanced at Sam who was talking with her father.'I'm not single, C.J.'

C.J. looked pointedly at Sam.'You're not married yet either.'

'Good point.'Caitlin replied with a wicked grin as she joined the other women.

'Caitie!'Sam protested in mock hurt.'Does this mean I have competition?'

'You never know, Sam.'Caitlin teased with a laugh as Donna moved to stand in front of her friends.

'Everybody ready?'Donna asked as she looked over her shoulder.

'Ready!'

Donna met Josh's gaze as she threw her bouquet into the group.

Several giggling minutes later the crowd untangled themselves and Donna saw it was Caitlin who had caught the bouquet.

With a grin Donna turned to face Sam. 'I think that's a hint, Sam.'

Sam nodded a smile crossing his face as he watched Caitlin laugh with the other women. 'My bachelor days may indeed be numbered.'

--------------
"Mr. Lyman, what do you do for a living?"Marilyn Nagy asked jerking Donna's attention back to the present.

"Currently I give political lectures to college and universities."

"So you travel a great deal?"

'Yes.'

'Mr. Lyman, where were you on August 3rd, 2003?"

Burnel stood. "Objection relevance.....what is this a bad Perry Mason impersonation?"

"The relevance will become clear, Your Honor." Nagy replied.

Templeton nodded. "Mr. Lyman, you may answer the question."

Josh shook his head. "That was two years ago. I don't remember."

"That was when your daughter tried to stand for the first time."

"I remember."Josh snapped. "I just don't recall the exact date."

"That's because you were in Oregon giving a lecture. Isn't it true that your schedule caused you to miss a lot of your daughter's milestones?"

Josh met the woman's gaze forcing himself not to glare. "Donna understood."

"Did she?"Nagy asked as she placed her hands behind her back. "Were you doing the lecture tour when you got married?"

"No, we were both still working at the White House."Josh replied not being able to keep his gaze from locking with Donna's.

"Didn't the White House have a policy against interoffice dating?"

"Yes."

"But being the Deputy Chief of Staff you thought it didn't apply to you."

"That's not true. Donna and I didn't look for this relationship it just happened and when it did neither of us were willing to give it up just because we worked together."

"You were her boss that was a little different than working together."

"We kept our personal and professional relationships separate."

"So Mrs. Lyman never felt her job was threatened?"

"No! It was nothing like that. Donna knew she kept me sane and my professional life from falling apart....if anything she had the power over me. My office would've been useless without her organizational skills."

"So Mrs. Lyman never felt threatened at all? Even when you hired your ex-girlfriend Madeline Hampton as a media consultant?"

Josh was beginning to feel like he was back being grilled by Claypool and his cronies. "Donna and I weren't romantically involved at that time."

"Objection! What does this possibly have to do with the custody petition?"Burnel asked as he stood.

"It goes towards character, Your Honor."Nagy replied.

"I'll allow it for now, Ms. Nagy but watch yourself."Templeton admonished.

"Yes Your Honor."Marilyn replied as she continued. "Yes you were involved with a Josephine Lucas. How long did that relationship last?"

"About six months."

"And how long after that did you and Mrs. Lyman start dating?"

"Our first real date was eight months later."

"So it's safe to say that your two year old marriage is the longest relationship you've had?"

"No."

"I'm talking about your adult relationships, Mr. Lyman.....high school doesn't count."

Josh glared at the dark haired woman. "My dating record or lack there of has nothing to do with how well I can take care of my daughter."

"On the contrary Mr. Lyman, it has everything to do with it if you want to give your daughter a stable environment."Nagy replied as she glanced over at the Judge. "No further questions, Your Honor."

Templeton nodded. "Redirect, Mr. Burnel?"

Steven nodded as he stood and walked around the table. "Mr. Lyman, what is your wife's current occupation?"

Josh forced himself not to glance at Donna. "She's an aide in Congresswoman Shultz's office here in Chicago."

"So she doesn't have a nine to five job?"

Josh shook his head. "No. Several nights she wouldn't come home until nearly ten."

"And when is your daughter's bedtime?"

"Seven"

"Do you employ a nanny?"

"No."

"A regular sitter?"

"A neighborhood girl but she's not always available."

"Then your wife would leave your daughter with various strangers when you traveled?"

"Objection!"Marilyn Nagy stated as she started to stand. "Character...."

Burnel met her gaze as he turned away from the stand. "Withdrawn, no further questions."

"Mr. Lyman, you may step down."Templeton ordered.

Templeton turned toward Josh's attorney. "Mr. Burnel, your next witness?"

Steven nodded. "We call Sam Seaborn."

Nagy stood. "We object to this witness, Your Honor. Mr. Seaborn will only recount what his wife testified to."

Burnel shook his head. "Mr. Seaborn and Mr. Lyman have been close friends for nearly a decade. His testimony should be heard."

Templeton looked at his watch then at the attorneys. "Mr. Seaborn will take the stand after we break for a one hour recess for lunch."The Judge replied as he lowered the gavel.

Everyone stood as Templeton left the courtroom.

After Josh and his attorney left the courtroom Donna turned to hers as they stood.

"Josh's testimony really hurt us, didn't it?"Donna asked anxiously just as Caitlin and Sam approached.

Marilyn Nagy shook her head as she placed a reassuring hand on her client's shoulder. "He did some damage but nothing that can't be taken care of when you take the stand later this afternoon. It'll work out Donna, I promise."

Sam cleared his throat. "You up for some lunch, Donna? I know we can do better than the hot dog stand outside."

Donna knew she wouldn't be able to eat much her stomach was in knots but she forced a smile for her friends' benefit. "Just give me a minute. I want to call home and check on Rachel."

********

Twenty minutes later found Donna, Caitlin and Sam sitting at a table in the small diner where they had breakfast earlier.
Caitlin tried to hide her concern as Donna picked at her chicken salad. She and Sam had tried to engage Donna in several different light conversations but to no avail.

Donna set down her fork and glanced at her wedding band. The simple diamond ring instantly conjuring up memories of one of the happiest night's of her life. The blonde woman swallowed hard and began to take the band off her finger.

-----------

They had been dating for nearly six months when Josh had surprised her not only with a full night off but with a candlelit dinner as well.
As they entered Josh's apartment around seven that night Donna found a small table set up on the balcony.

'Oh Josh."Donna exclaimed as she took in the beautifully set table. 'It's beautiful but you didn't have to go through all this trouble.'

Josh crossed over to her and pulled her into his arms. 'I figured we deserved it after the hellish week we've had.'

They stepped out onto the small balcony and Josh held out the chair for Donna. She smiled at him as he walked around to the other side of the table and sat down.

Josh was amazed he kept his hands from shaking as he filled their wineglasses. He set the bottle back on the table and fingered the small box in his suit jacket pocket.

'I thought I could make it through dinner to do this but I can't.'Josh stated as he stood and walked back over to her. He took Donna's left hand in his as he knelt on one knee.

Donna's breath caught in her throat as she realized what was about to happen.

'Donnatella, you've been by my side for a lot of years. You've gotten me through some difficult times that I don't think I would've gotten through without you. I love you more than I thought I could love anyone and I can't picture my life without you in it. Donnatella Moss, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?'

Donna's eyes filled with tears as she nodded. 'Yes, Josh.'She whispered. 'Yes I'll marry you.'

With a wide smile Josh slipped the ring on her finger and stood pulling Donna to her feet. Josh gathered her in his arms and twirled her around.

'I love you.'Josh whispered hoarsely.

'I love you too, Joshua. Always and forever.'Donna replied softly as she buried her face in his chest.

-------------

Donna could barely control the tears as she finished pulling off the wedding band. After looking at the ring for a long moment she handed it across the table to Sam.

"Give this back to him."Donna stated angrily. "I never want to see it again."

"Donna....."Sam replied hesitantly as he reached for the ring. He had been there when Josh had been to nearly every jewelry store in D.C.

"Sam, please."Donna pleaded as she dropped the ring in his hand. She turned to Caitlin. "I need to take a walk. I'll meet you guys back in the courtroom."

Before Caitlin or Sam could reply Donna quickly grabbed her purse and left the restaurant.

*********

As Sam and Caitlin stepped off the elevator Donna's wedding ring felt like a lead weight in Sam's pocket.

"I can't give it to him."Sam stated quietly as he spotted Josh at the end of the hall.

"Right now it's what Donna wants."Caitlin replied softly as she squeezed his hand.

Sam turned to face his wife. "If I give it to him, Caitie, he'll know that Donna's shut the door. We won't be able to help."

Caitlin sighed. "I hate to say it, but I think it's up to them now."Caitlin replied sadly. "All we can do is be here when they need us."

Sam leaned over to kiss Caitlin quickly before saying. "Love you. I'll see you inside."

Caitlin nodded. "I'm going to see if I can find Donna."

*******

"Sam I don't really want to talk right now."Josh stated wearily as he pushed himself away from the wall.

"Then don't."Sam replied quietly as he reached into his pocket. "Donna wanted me to give this to you."

Josh glanced at his friend and swallowed hard when he saw Donna's wedding band in Sam's outstretched hand.

Seaborn shook his head sadly as he handed Josh the ring. "You had everything, Josh."

Josh was about to reply when the bailiff stepped out into the corridor announcing that court was back in session.

********

Once everyone was seated Judge Templeton turned to Josh's attorney.

"Mr. Burnel, you may proceed."

"Thank you, Your Honor."Steven Burnel replied. "We call Sam Seaborn."

Sam glanced at Caitlin as he stood. She smiled at him reassuredly.

Josh watched his longtime friend be sworn in and something cold settled in the pit of his stomach. Sam had always been like a brother to him so when Sam and Caitlin had gotten married Josh had been ecstatic. Not just for his friends but Josh realized that in a way he was gaining the family he had lost when Joanie died all those years ago.
But in this courtroom the sides were clearly chosen. Josh had not only lost Donna but he'd lost Sam and Caitlin as well.

Burnel walked around the table and stood in front of Sam.

"Mr. Seaborn, state your occupation for the record."

"I'm an attorney in private practice mainly dealing with corporate clients and a few probate cases. I was Deputy Communications Director during President Bartlet's administration."

"Is that how you met Joshua Lyman?"

"Yes, during the campaign. I was one of the last staffers brought on board."

"Were you at the Lyman's wedding?"

Sam nodded. "Yes, I was Josh's best man."

"So you and Josh are close?"

"Yes he's like a brother to me. Always there when I need him."

At Sam's statement a dark memory slipped into Josh's thoughts. A memory of a night where Josh had nearly lost those he held most dear.

---------

At the first sound of gunfire Josh Lyman raced toward the metal fence that blocked him from his friends and colleagues headed toward the motorcade.
Before Josh could get a look at anything three Secret Service agents pried the Deputy Chief of Staff away from the fence and pressed him hard against the ground.
No matter how Josh struggled they wouldn't let him rise until the gunfire had stopped. So Josh was forced to do nothing but wait and wonder what had happened.
It was a mixed blessing of sorts that in the position he was Josh could clearly hear every transmission over the Secret Service's radios.

'Who's been hit? Who's been hit?!'

'Bookbag! Who has Bookbag?'

'Flamingo's down!'

Josh blanched....../Oh God, not Claudia Jean...../

'We need ambulances STAT! Flamingo and Princeton are both down!'

Josh squeezed his eyes shut...../Why was this happening? Why were his friends being shot down right before his eyes? Sam, hang in there./

********

The first person Josh saw when he stepped into the waiting room at George Washington University Hospital was Caitlin Bartlet flanked on either side by a shattered looking Charlie Yong and a tear stricken Zoey Bartlet.

Caitlin practically tackled Josh in a bear hug. 'Thank God you're okay.'She pulled back slightly to appraise him.'You are okay?'

Josh nodded. 'Yeah, just a sprained ankle.'He looked past Caitlin to the others. 'How's Sam?'

Caitlin swallowed hard and struggled to keep the tears back but failed. 'They just took him up to surgery, Josh.....h-he's been shot in the stomach and lost a lot of blood......I'm so scared, Josh......'

'Ssssssh.'Josh replied soothingly as he drew her into an embrace. 'Sam Seaborn is a fighter. He's not going to leave you.....'

After a few minutes Josh glanced at Charlie. 'Do we know anything about the others? How's the President? I heard CJ was hit.....'

Charlie swallowed hard and reached out to squeeze Zoey's hand. 'The President's fine so is Leo. A bullet grazed CJ's right side and she got a concussion when she hit the ground. The doctors are keeping her overnight for observation, Danny's with her. Toby has several bruised ribs and a shattered collarbone they're keeping him here too.'

Josh pulled Caitlin closer as he closed his eyes resting his chin on the top of her head.

'Everything will be okay, Caitlin.'Josh whispered as he watched Charlie pull Zoey into his arms.'It has t be.'

------------

"......Donna had a very rough delivery when Rachel was born."Sam was saying when Josh forced his attention back to the present. "We nearly lost her during the c-section. Josh stayed with her the entire time. Due to the amount of blood loss Donna suffered she didn't regain consciencous until twenty-four hours later. Josh was a wreck."

Josh swallowed hard and fingered Donna's ring in his jacket pocket. He had been so afraid that night....more afraid than he had been during the shooting. Rachel had come through the birth fine but Donna had hemorrhaged......the nurses had tried to get him to leave so they could try to control the bleeding but Josh hadn't budged......Donna was his life and he wasn't leaving her.
Josh quickly slammed the door shut on those memories before they could overwhelm him. Now was not the time.....he had to concentrate on the hearing and Rachel's future.
That was all that mattered now.

"How much time did Josh spend with his daughter?"

Sam grinned. "Every second he could. His lecture schedule had him traveling sometimes two to three times a week. But when he was home, he was home. Josh would call me and say that he took Rachel to her first Cubs game or a pony ride."

"Would you say that Josh was reluctant to file these proceedings?"

Sam glanced at his friend. "Yes. I've never seen him happier than he was during his marriage to Donna and then when Rachel came along it was just added bliss."

Burnel nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Seaborn, no further questions."

Templeton turned to Donna's attorney. "Ms. Nagy?"

Marilyn stood and walked around the table. "Mr. Seaborn, being so close friends to Mr. Lyman I'm assuming that he called and told you that he was filing for divorce?"

Sam shook his head. "No."

"Didn't that come as a surprise to you?"

"Yes they were very happy the last time we saw them."

"This was before the incident of June 22nd?"

"Yes."

"On that night the fire department was called to the Lyman's home even though there was no actual fire found. Mr. Seaborn can you enlighten the Court as to why Mr. Lyman reacted so violently?"

"He thought his daughter was in danger."

"There's more to it than that, isn't there, Mr. Seaborn?"

Sam glanced at Josh before replying. "When he was little Josh's sister Joanie perished in a fire."

"So would you say that losing his sister has affected his mental state?"

Sam's eyes narrowed sharply. "As a loss of a sibling would affect anyone."

"If I recall the investigator's report correctly, Mr. Seaborn, Joanie was babysitting Josh, so they were both alone in the house."

Burnel stood. "Objection! What does a thirty year old event have to do with this proceeding?"

"I'm trying to establish Mr. Lyman's mental state."Nagy replied crisply as she met Templeton's gaze.

"In case opposing counsel has forgotten Mr. Seaborn is not a psychiatrist."Burnel stated as he leaned on the table.

"A valid point."Templeton replied. "But Mr. Seaborn does have some unique insight. Ms. Nagy you may continue. Objection sustained."

"Thank you, Your Honor.""Marilyn replied before turning her attention back to Sam. "Mr. Seaborn, according to the investigator's report Joanie and Josh were alone in the house when the fire started."

"Yes."

"When one sibling escaped the fire and another didn't that had to have some affect on the Lyman family."

"From what Josh told me about the tragedy his mother never got over the loss. His father retreated from the family."

"So on June 22nd when Josh returned home and saw the smoke coming from a dark home would it be safe to say that he over reacted?"

"No."

"Mr. Seaborn this is not the time to....."

"It was his worst nightmare coming true."Sam replied angrily forgetting for a moment that he was interrupting an attorney. "All he knows is that his daughter is inside helpless and there's smoke. Josh doesn't know that there aren't any flames. In his mind even with how young he was Josh couldn't save his sister....he wasn't about to let his daughter suffer the same fate. I wouldn't call that over reacting."

"Even when he blamed his wife for a situation that she couldn't have prevented?"

Sam shook his head. "Donna understood better than anyone what Josh was going through that night."

"Which is why they had a solid marriage before this incident. To the best of your knowledge Mr. Seaborn, was Rachel ever away from her mother for more than a few hours?"

"No."Sam replied with a shake of his head.

"So Donna is an attentive mother?"

"Yes, very."

"Mr. Seaborn, to your knowledge has Donna ever hurt Rachel?"

"No. Donna would never ever hurt her."

Nagy nodded as she stepped away from the stand. 'Thank you, Mr. Seaborn, no further questions."

Judge Templeton turned to the witness stand. "Mr. Seaborn you may step down."He turned toward Donna's attorney. "Ms. Nagy, you may call your next witness."
"We call Donna Lyman."

Donna stood and nervously walked to the witness stand where the bailiff swore her in. As she met Josh's gaze a part of her still couldn't believe that things had come this far.
That Josh could lose all trust in her was one thing, but to think that she would endanger their daughter was quite another.
The bailiff finished and Donna took her place just as her attorney approached.

"Mrs. Lyman, how long had you been married when you found out you were expecting?"

"Three months."

"So this wasn't a planned pregnancy?"

Donna shook her head. "No, but Josh and I were ecstatic."

"Mr. Lyman wasn't surprised?"

"He was but then we both were. We were still newlyweds."

Josh watched Donna as she testified. She looked tired, sad, but determined. Unwillingly a memory surfaced.
'I don't know you any more, Josh.'

"Mr. Lyman stated earlier that you decided to move to Chicago when you got the job offer."

Donna nodded. "Yes. The opportunity to work in Congresswoman Shutlz's office couldn't have come at a better time. There were a lot of bad memories in D.C."

"What was the state of your marriage at the time of the move?"

"It was good. Josh was upbeat about the move. He had been wanting to leave D.C. for awhile."

"While you got settled in your new job did Josh take time off to take care of Rachel?"

Donna shook her head. "No. Even with the prestige of being a former Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House Josh was still a rookie on the lecture circuit."

"So that left Rachel in daycare?"

Donna nodded. "But she was only there for a few hours at a time. My job was really good about letting me spend my lunch hours with Rachel. Even if I had to stay late I'd still pick Rachel up at three and drop her off with one of our neighbors."

"How often did you have to work late?"

"Working in a political office is a different world. There's never a set schedule. My working late would vary depending on what was going on. But a normal day I'd leave by six."

"Do you work weekends?"

"Only if the Congresswoman has a PR event and those only last two to three hours."

As Donna testified Josh glanced down at his folded hands and realized that without thinking he had brought out her wedding band and was rolling it between his hands. Josh glanced from Donna to the ring and back again and a happy memory worked its way into his thoughts.

---------

Christmas music played softly on a stereo as Josh handed Donna a glass of eggnog before sitting on the sofa next to her.
They had decided during Donna's pregnancy that they would celebrate both holidays and when the child was old enough he/she would decide her own faith.

Donna snuggled back against her husband as she glanced at the pile of presents under the tree which was positioned by the bay window. 'Rachel's only eight months old.....her favorite present is going to be the bow.'

Josh laughed as he pulled her close. 'I wasn't the only one who made two trips to the toy store, Donnatella.'

Donna grinned.'We still have stuff in boxes, Joshua. I just wanted to make these holidays special for her.'

'The house is a virtual Santa's village, luv, how could a kid not like it?'

They sat there in companionable silence for several minutes watching the light snow fall. Then Josh gently disentangled himself from his wife and stood.

'Which reminds me....I wanted to give you your present tonight.'Josh stated with a grin as he knelt by the tree and began to dig through the brightly colored boxes. Finding the one he wanted Josh stood and retraced his steps to the sofa.

Donna took the small square shaped present from Josh as he sat down next to her. 'I'm sorry, Josh. I still haven't wrapped yours yet.'

Josh met her gaze as he reached over and tenderly brushed a stray blonde hair away from her face. 'You've already given me the best present I could ever ask for.'

Donna felt tears of joy begin to flow down her cheeks. 'Josh.......'

Josh smiled as he reached over and gently wiped her tears away. 'Open it.'He urged as he sat back against the cushion.

Donna sniffled as she began to tear away the gold paper. Inside she found a small velvet jeweler's box. With slightly shaking hands Donna lifted the lid.

'Oh Josh.....'Donna whispered as she took the silver bracelet out of the box. 'It's beautiful.'

Josh smiled as he watched Donna touch the tiny charm that was attached to the bracelet. He'd gone to three jewelry stores before he saw the bracelet. As soon as he did Josh knew it would be the perfect gift.

Donna traced the charm, which was a silver figure of a mother and child entwined in each other's arms. Between the mother and child was two stones...one Rachel's birthstone the other Donna's.

Josh reached forward and tenderly placed the bracelet around Donna's right wrist. With fresh tears in her eyes Donna enveloped Josh in a hug.

'I love you.'Donna whispered.

'I love you too, more than you'll ever know.'Josh replied quietly as his lips captured hers.

------------

Josh angrily shoved the memory away.....after all he wasn't the one who destroyed their family.

"Are you able to get days off?"Marilyn Nagy was asking as Josh returned his attention to the court proceedings.

Donna nodded. "It's a large office so somebody's usually always able to cover for me."

"What about overnight trips?"

"I'm office based so I don't accompany the Congresswoman on trips."

"No further questions."Nagy stated as she turned and walked away from the stand.

Donna glanced at the clock on the wall.....nearly three o'clock. She wondered if they would be able to finish the hearing......Donna didn't know if she could stand a whole weekend of not knowing.

"Mr. Burnel, redirect?"Templeton asked.

"Yes, Your Honor."Steven replied as he stood but remained next to Josh.

"Mrs. Lyman, you mentioned that you took care of Rachel first even when you worked late. If that's true why did Rachel have to spend the night at your neighbors on more than one occasion?"

Donna's eyes narrowed. "That only happened once."

"Was that before or after Mr. Collins resurfaced in your life?"

"After but the stay over was work related. The Congresswoman didn't get back from D.C. until eleven thirty and then we still had two more hours of work to do. I didn't get home until nearly one and I didn't think it was right to wake Rachel only to shift her from one bed to the other."

"How many times were you home to cook dinner for your daughter?"

"Ninety five percent of the time."

"Isn't that being a little optimistic?"

"No....some weeks Josh didn't travel at all so it worked out."

"Let's go back to Mr. Collins.....what does he do for a living?"

"He's a pediatrician at a hospital in Boston."

"Is he married?"

"Separated....they're going through a nasty divorce."

"Did you keep in touch after high school?"

"No."

"So this was just a chance meeting?"

"Yes."

"Since the beginning of June when this chance meeting occurred how often did Mr. Collins come to Chicago?"

"Twice."

"Twice including that original visit or twice after?"

"Twice after."

"Both trips were business related?"

"Yes."

"He's a pediatrician Mrs. Lyman, that narrows down the scope of his business trips. Was he here for seminars? Conferences?"

"I assumed they were seminars."

"But you don't know for sure?"

"No."

"On the night of June 22nd were you out with Mr. Collins?"

"Yes, we met for dinner downtown."

"Why did you get a sitter instead of dropping her at your neighbors?"

"The Dismukes were out of town that week."

"So you got Becky Haskel to baby-sit?"

"Yes."

"How old is she?"

"Fifteen."

"Do you know how much babysitting experience she had before that night?"

"From what I've heard she had been babysitting since she was twelve. The Dismukes recommended her highly."

"Had you used her before that night?"

"No."

"What did the Fire Department say the official cause of the fire was?"

"There wasn't an actual fire."

"But you did call the fire department that night, did you not?"

"Josh did."

"So you didn't arrive home until after?"

"Yes."

"Despite the strain on your marriage your relationship with Mr. Collins stayed platonic?"

"Yes."

As his attorney continued to question Donna, Josh found himself not being able to concentrate. What Sam had said to him two days before echoed through his mind.

'Don't you see Josh that you have?"Sam stated as he moved to stand in front of his friend. "You're blaming Donna for something she couldn't have prevented and you feel that the only way you think you can take revenge against her is by taking Rachel away.'

Josh blinked./Was that what he was doing? Could he really have turned into the kind of person that he swore he would never become? Like his father.....never giving a person the benefit of a doubt? Never giving them a second chance?/

'Being a child of divorce is the same no matter what the age or what the situation. Don't let Rachel grow up that way, Josh. You're a terrific father....but she needs the support of both parents....support of a family. That won't happen if you raise her on your own no matter how much you love her.'

/Could what Donna had been trying to tell him really be the truth? Could she really just have been in that hotel room taking a shower after getting caught in the rain? Donna had never lied to him before...../

"Not even a kiss for old times sake?"

"We were both married, Mr. Burnel."

"If you were both so devoted to your marriage what were you doing in his hotel room before nine in the morning on August 20th?"

"I wanted to catch Dan before he left town. I needed to apologize. He got caught in the middle of a huge fight Josh and I had the night before."

"You needed to apologize to him without your clothes on?"

Donna glared at Burnel. "I had clothes on."

"That's right, my mistake, you had the hotel robe on."Burnel replied as he walked around the table and started toward the stand.

Donna blinked back the tears that threatened to flow. "Dan let me borrow the shower."

"After you had sex?"

The tears came as Donna remembered the hurt in Josh's eyes. "No! Dan and I never slept together!"

"You expect us to believe that, Mrs. Lyman? You were in his hotel room at nine in the morning and all you did was talk?"

'This isn't about sides, Josh! It's about truth.....Donna loves you.....has since the first time she met you.'

Josh sank back in the chair as Sam's earlier statement hit him like a ton of bricks. Donna loved him like no one else had.....she never had an affair with Collins.....how could he have ever doubted her? And how the hell was he going to fix the king sized mess he had made out of his life?

"Its the truth!"Donna nearly shouted forgetting her attorney's earlier orders to remain calm."No matter what Josh thinks.....I would never betray him! My marriage....my family means the world to me."

"Come now, Mrs. Lyman are you telling us that even in the darkest times.....during your worst fights....you never even considered hopping into Collins bed?"

"No!"

"Not even to get revenge against your husband? After all the pain he's caused you?"

"I would never betray Josh."Donna repeated firmly the tears having slowed.

"But in a way he betrayed you, didn't he? He was never home. Never there in the middle of the night when Rachel awoke from a nightmare. Never there when she took her first step or said her first real word.....never there...."

"Stop it!"Josh shouted as he slammed his fist against the table instantly drawing everyone's attention. "This has gone way too far!"

"Josh...."Steven hissed warningly as he turned to face his client.

"Mr. Lyman, you are out of line."Judge Templeton began tersely.

Burnel looked back at the Judge as he made his way over to Josh. "Your Honor, I'd like to request a ten minute recess so I can confer with my client."

Templeton glanced over at Donna's attorney. "Any objections, Ms. Nagy?"

Marilyn shook her head. "No, Your Honor."

"Very well Mr. Burnel, the court will recess for ten minutes."Templeton replied as he brought the gavel down.

As Josh and his attorney walked out of the courtroom Caitlin glanced at her husband.

"What do you think that was all about?"Sam whispered as he looked at Donna.

Caitlin grinned as she reached over and squeezed Sam's hand. "Call me a hopeless romantic, Sam, but I think Josh is finally realizing what a huge mistake he's making."

**********

"Josh, do you realize what you've done?"Steven whispered harshly as the two stood at the end of the hall near the window. "With your outburst it'll be easier to freeze hell than to win this custody hearing."

Josh shoved his hands into the pockets of his suit jacket effiectively replacing Donna's ring. "Weren't you listening in there, Steven? I don't want to win this."

Burnel blinked in surprise. "Since when? You were fired up when we went in there this morning. What changed?"

"I finally came to my senses."Josh replied quietly as he looked out the window at the busy Chicago street below. "I know I've blown whatever chance I had with Donna but I won't allow Rachel to grow up in a shattered family. I know what that's like and I won't let that happen to her."

Burnel nodded. "Okay so we drop the custody petition. Do you still want to continue the divorce?"

Josh tore his attention away from the window. "Let me get through this first, Steven then I'll figure out what to do with the divorce."

Burnel glanced at his watch. "Our time's up....let's head back in."

**********

When they reentered the court room Josh saw that Donna had retaken her seat next to her attorney. He met her gaze briefly before joining Steven at their table.
Their marriage.......their relationship had survived so much in the past Josh couldn't believe that there wasn't at least one last chance left in it.

"Mr. Burnel, are you ready to proceed?"Judge Templeton asked.

Steven nodded. "Yes, Your Honor. My client wishes to drop his petition for full custody and allow the child's mother to be the primary custodian."

Templeton glanced at Josh. "Are you aware of what this entails, Mr. Lyman?"

Josh nodded. "Yes. I filed the petition because I was hurt and jealous. If Donna wants me out of her life after this I don't blame her....but Rachel won't suffer for my mistakes. She needs both her parents."

"Very well, Mr. Lyman. The Court acknowledges that the custody petition is dismissed."

Donna shakily rose to her feet along with everyone else as Templeton left the courtroom. As soon as the Judge left Donna quickly sat back down her legs not being able to support her full weight.

Marilyn glanced at her client with concern just as Sam and Caitlin approached. "Donna, are you alright?"

Donna nodded weakly. "Yeah, just need a minute to take this all in."

As Josh and Burnel passed then Caitlin stepped past her husband intent on following her friend. Sam placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"Give him a few minutes, Caitie."Sam urged gently. "He's just done a hundred and eighty degree turn in less than an hour.....it's gotta be a lot to deal with."

"Okay."Caitlin replied quietly as she turned her attention back to Donna. "We can stay here as long as you need, Donna."

Donna shook her head as she stood. "No, I'm okay, Cait. I just don't believe it.....what happened to make Josh change his mind? Yesterday he was all set to take her away from me."

Caitlin glanced at her husband. "Sam talked to him beforehand."

Sam shook his head. "I didn't say anything that good. When I left Josh was still determined to go through with the hearing."

Nagy snapped her briefcase shut and turned to face the Seaborns. "Whatever it was we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying goes. Donna I'll meet with you in a couple days to finalize the paperwork."

Donna shook her hand. "Thank you for everything."

Marilyn smiled."My pleasure, Donna. I'm just happy that everything worked out as it should."

********

It was nearly eight thirty before Caitlin and Sam were able to return to their hotel room. Donna had seemed almost back to her old self when they had picked up Rachel.

"You want to get something to eat?"Sam asked as they sank down onto the corner of the bed.

Caitlin wearily nodded. "Only if its room service, Sam. I'm too tired to go out."

"Exactly what I was thinking."Sam replied with a tired smile as he stood and walked over to the phone."Pizza, okay?"

"Fine."Caitlin replied as she flopped back onto the bed resting her right arm across her closed eyes.

"It'll be about twenty minutes."Sam reported as he hung up the phone and moved closer to his wife.

"We should check on Josh."Caitlin commented as she sat up.

"I saw him in the lobby when I went down there earlier to get a package from Peter."Sam replied quietly."He saw me but didn't approach......there's definitely still some hurt feelings all around."

"Which is exactly why I need to go talk to him."Caitlin said as she turned to face Sam. "We need to let him know that we're still the three musketeers."

Sam reached up and tenderly caressed his wife's left cheek. "He knows that, Caitie. Tomorrow will be soon enough to talk to him.....Josh took a big step today dropping the custody petition but there's still a lot they need to work out."


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