Sam's desk was always neat. It looked less like the desk of a writer than it did like the desk of an army sergeant -- you know, the kind of guy who demands that people stand at attention and that the collars of their uniforms be starched as straight as their spines. It wasn't just his desk, either; Sam himself looked pretty unflappable most of the time, pretty damn *together*. Sam was the man whose suits somehow didn't wrinkle when he sat down, and who never slouched in his seat, and whose hair was never out of place. Sometimes I appreciated this about him -- like the times when I needed one of his files and he was always able to retrieve it in thirty seconds flat -- and sometimes it irritated the hell out of me.
Right now it was irritating the hell out of me.
"You know if you immediately put everything away all the time, it makes it look like you don't have enough work to do," I said, leaning toward him to punctuate my point. "Busy people have piles of things around that they're working on."
He didn't look up from his computer. "You know if you never put anything away, it looks like you're so disorganized that the President shouldn't be trusting you to play a major role in running the country."
I slouched down in Sam's chair and tried to get comfortable, putting my feet up on the seat of one of the other nearby chairs and wishing his office had a couch. "Oh, yeah, I'm *so* disorganized that I just managed to arrange and hold a meeting that got Dobson, Cumberland, *and* Johnson on board with the education bill, with seamless production and hours to spare." It had been a good afternoon, work-wise, my first truly good afternoon in -- God, a long, long time.
"That could easily be chalked up to luck. Hey, if you have to put your feet on that chair, at least take your shoes off first," he said crossly.
"A messy desk is a sign of a creative mind!" Taking my feet off the chair, I sat up straight, ready to launch into a rant, but stopped when I noticed that Sam was barely paying attention to me anyway. I'd been waiting nearly half an hour already, and he showed no sign of being willing to leave the office yet. I leaned back again in the chair, drumming my fingers on the armrest and glancing again at my watch. We were finally supposed to get some time together tonight, and he was wasting the entire evening away in front of his computer.
After the way I'd lost it just before Christmas, he'd been with me every evening for a week, and man, had I ever been demanding -- to the point that I'd seriously embarrassed myself more than once with the depth of my need. *Wanting* Sam was the most exciting thing I'd ever felt, and I embraced it with an explosive passion, but *needing* him was something else altogether. I hadn't exactly pushed him away after that needy first week, but I'd already felt helpless for long enough in the hospital without *this* knocking my knees out from under me as well. So I'd been vehement about being able to stand on my own two feet and, well, just not wanting to rely on him so much.
It was a lie, of course. I did want to rely on him exactly that much, and there were certainly plenty of nights where I felt shaky enough to need to do it. It had only been my own damn pride that had made me say that -- something I was feeling like a complete idiot for doing right now, because at this point it had been two weeks since we'd had a chance to be alone. Which, of course, given the clandestine nature of our relationship, had meant two weeks without so much as a kiss.
Work had been even crazier than usual, for both of us. First there'd been the leadership breakfast,
which'd had us all scrambling for at least five solid days, and then afterward there'd been the
political fallout from it, which had been the thing that had primarily occupied my time for a
while. We'd gotten back the monthly GNC tracking poll just before the leadership breakfast, but
after the chief of staff for the Senate majority leader had used her personal relationship with
Toby to make it look like we'd underhandedly ambushed them, we'd had to scramble to put
another internal poll together to measure the impact of the fiasco. The final version of the new
numbers wouldn't be due back until tomorrow morning, along with some focus group data, and
that at least gave me a moment to breathe tonight. But now Sam had this speech to write, this
speech that was just one big headache of a bad idea to begin with, but which had him all wrapped
up in this idealistic fervor that no one could break through, not even me. Certainly not something
as unimportant as firm plans to spend the evening over pizza and a long-awaited set of
conversations -- and, of course, each other.
It wasn't just about the sex, though I knew that was what Sam thought had me so eager to drag him out of the office tonight. And I had to admit that whenever we did finally get a chance to be together, the sex was always absolutely fantastic, a fact that still amazed me every single time. But there was something else, something more along the lines that we couldn't ever completely be ourselves together unless we were alone, and it was making me crazy to see him day in and day out without the tiniest chance for even verbal intimacy.
"It wouldn't be a problem for you to work so late if you'd stay the night," I said next. Because that was my line. It was a ritual, by now. I knew better than to think he'd take me up on the offer -- if he hadn't agreed to stay over after what had happened at Christmas, even with the worry in his eyes as he left every night, then he certainly wasn't going to stay over just because we hadn't had a chance to spend much time together lately. But I had to try.
"It would just make things so much easier." It came out whiny, which just annoyed me more. God, I sounded like a girl. And then he ignored me, and that made it feel even worse.
Sam's ridiculous 'no overnights' rule meant that we had to get out of the office early if we wanted a chance to have any time at all together in the evenings, and while that had been possible while the rest of the staff had been cutting me some slack right after Christmas, it had proven to be completely impossible to deal with on a normal work schedule. I actually didn't understand the rule in the first place. It wasn't as if there weren't other ways for us to make sure some media slob didn't see us leaving together in the mornings, and was it really all that that different from seeing one of us walk out of the other's apartment at one in the morning, anyway? It honestly seemed less about Sam's fears that we'd be caught -- which I'd always worried a lot more about than he had anyway -- and more about him trying to maintain some control over our relationship. It was a stupid way to do it.
I leaned forward again, trying to catch his attention. "You know, this GDC speech is a pretty bad idea in the first place."
"I'll be done for the night soon enough, okay?" Sam said wearily, still not looking up from the computer screen.
I bristled at his veiled implication -- the assumption that I was only saying that because I wanted to get him to leave. "Sam, there would have been plenty of sound political reasons not to go through with this. The timing is all wrong."
Sam sighed, removed his fingers from the keyboard, and finally looked in my direction, peering exasperatedly at me through his glasses. "Josh, come on. We've been looking for a forum to launch CARE for a while now, and a presidential address to the Global Defense Council's major annual conference couldn't possibly be more ideal."
"Tell that to the AFL-CIO, who's gonna look at this and think we made the whole South America trip up so we could go speak to environmentalist weenies instead. That's gonna look *really* good."
"The President is enthusiastic about this." The excitement danced in his own eyes as he talked about it. "He called me in twice tonight to ask me questions about the speech. He's totally involved. I haven't seen him this excited about anything in months."
"Okay, okay." I held up my hand to let him know that I wasn't going to argue with the President of the United States about something this minor, even if I was right. "But the speech isn't until Wednesday night, Sam. You've got plenty of time."
He sighed again, turning his attention back to the computer. "I just want to finish this section."
"You know, it's almost not worth it at this point for you to come over," I growled.
Sam glared over at me. "If you keep interrupting me, it really is going to take so long that it won't be worth it!"
"Well, maybe we should just put tonight off, then!"
"Fine." He looked coldly back at the screen.
"Fine." I sat there for a moment, staring at him, but his eyes continued to fix on his work. Fuck. Now the whole evening was out the window.
I stood and started walking out of the office, irritated at Sam, his rules, and the whole stupid situation.
"Hey." His voice sounded softer.
I didn't turn around. "What."
"Let's grab lunch together tomorrow instead."
As if that made up for it. I turned to face him. Well, he was at least looking at me, which was an improvement. "I've got Larkin at 11:30, and Hamilton at 1:00."
"We'll make time."
"Okay." A lunch wasn't an opportunity to be alone, but I'd get his undivided attention for at least half an hour, which I obviously needed to jump at the chance for, at this rate.
"And Wednesday night, after the speech is over, we'll get takeout and have dinner at your place."
I shrugged, turning to leave again. Why make plans if we were only going to cancel them? "Whatever."
"No matter what else comes up."
"No, Josh, I want to. Okay? No matter what else comes up." He sounded sincere.
I stopped in the doorway and looked back at him. He was looking up at me with almost pleading eyes. "Okay."
And then he smiled that brilliant smile, the one that always seemed to wipe away everything that was wrong, and suddenly I wanted to kiss him way more than I wanted to kill him.
The next day was one of those days where every time you think things can't possibly get any worse, they do. First my alarm clock interrupted me in the middle of a dream I really didn't want to have to carry with me for the rest of the day. Then I totally spaced my seven AM conference call and had to reschedule, grateful that they couldn't see my red face over the phone. After spending most of the rest of the morning kicking myself for being so stupid as to forget a meeting and wondering why I couldn't seem to survive even that first hour of the workday without Donna being there to remind me of every little thing, I decided I was probably wound up enough to try standing with my back straight against the wall and breathing deeply to relax, like the doctor had told me to do. And then Donna slammed a door in my face. Right before telling me that British maniac Marbury had been appointed Ambassador to the United States.
We got the final data back on the second internal poll late that morning as well, and of course
given the way the rest of the day had gone up until that point, I should have expected that the
news there would be bad too. The President's overall job approval had only gone down three
points, which was just within the margin of error, but we'd dropped seven points over the course
of a week in terms of personal characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness, and it seemed
pretty obvious that the leadership breakfast disaster was to blame. Worse still, they'd floated the
issue of possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2002 in the focus groups --
without mentioning any names yet, of course, because we wouldn't have wanted to cause any
self-fulfilling prophecies -- and the Senate majority leader's name had topped the list every time.
The guy had incredible name recognition, and he hadn't even officially declared his candidacy yet.
So I was sitting there at my computer desk, typing up notes for my 11:30 meeting and hoping all the wonderful little twists life was planning to throw at me that day had already happened, when Toby barged into my office. "Josh."
I looked up at him, annoyed. "Okay. What I need people to do is knock."
"I did knock."
"But you didn't wait for a response."
"Why would I?"
I stood, grabbed a file from my desk for Donna, and stepped toward him in the doorway. "'Cause I could have been relaxing by standing behind that door."
Toby looked at me as if I'd grown another head. "All right."
Remembering I was supposed to discuss the polling data with Leo before my meeting, I got up and followed Toby down the hall, noticing all the while that his mood approximately matched mine. I supposed a couple of days in Kansas City could do that to you. "How was the trip?"
"It was fine," he dismissed. "So we're pinch-hitting at the GDC conference." Toby sounded about as thrilled about that as I was.
I shoved the file folder I was carrying into Donna's inbox. "For the record, I didn't think it was a good idea, and I said so."
"And that seems to have helped."
I sighed, exasperated. Was I supposed to baby-sit Sam while Toby was out of town, make sure he didn't dig himself any holes? That wasn't part of my job description. "Look-"
"We can't appear to be at the beck and call of the environment!" he yelled as we stepped into the support staff's office.
"We could try insulting them," I joked, grabbing a file from the guy I'd asked to make a chart of the tracking data and preparing to take it down to discuss it with Leo.
"Yes." He pointed at me.
God, he was pissed about this. "We were invited."
I shrugged. Fine, this was his thing, not mine. "What do you have?" I stepped through the door, and he followed as we walked through the bullpen.
"Environmental terrorists burned down a ski resort and the GDC didn't comment."
I looked back at him as we stepped into the hall. "Why did environmental terrorists burn down a ski resort?"
"To save the lynx," Toby mocked.
"The Lynx?" All I could think of was my last golfing trip to Minnesota.
"Environmental terrorists burned down a ski resort to save a golf course?"
"It's an animal."
I looked back again at Toby as we passed through the lobby. Although I had to admit it was a pretty ingenious solution to the political nightmare this speech could have been for us otherwise, I couldn't imagine Sam going along with it. He was pretty fierce about his own environmentalism -- in fact, if activism rather than politics had called to him when he was younger I could have easily imagined him turning into the sort of person who could have picked up a torch himself. "Sam's gonna have strong objections."
"Yes, I know." Toby sounded vehement, and I realized how serious he was about this.
"All right, you want me to talk to Leo?" I asked, glancing at him again and rubbing my face distractedly as we walked down the hall.
"Uh, I'm going to talk to him -- I want you to talk to C.J."
"The Will Rogers dinner is going to ask Cornelius Sykes to host."
"You're kidding me." Sykes had made an incredibly tasteless joke about cops killing black men when he'd hosted a fundraiser for Bartlet during the campaign, and the press had hounded the candidate about it for ages afterward. Getting him to host an event Bartlet would be attending as President would undoubtedly bring up the whole issue again in the press, and man, would this ever be the wrong time for that.
Damn it, yet another fire to put out today. What were these people thinking? "He didn't laugh at the joke."
"Talk to C.J."
I sighed and turned back toward C.J.'s office. "Yeah."
"Why do you relax by standing behind a door?" Toby said dismissively.
I turned around to face him. "I'm not standing behind the door, I'm standing with my back straight against the wall so I can find-"
"I don't care," he said, his voice flat, as I watched him walk down the hall toward Leo's office.
I couldn't tell if it was Toby's infectious foul temper or the sheer stupidity of inviting Sykes to host another event aggravating my own bad mood, but suddenly I felt like I just wanted to hit someone. Though I'd have settled for screaming at someone. It seemed like it was just one little thing after another these days -- and maybe it always had been in this job, but right now everything just seemed so much more difficult.
Finding C.J. out of the building, I headed back to talk with Leo about the poll, getting there just in time to run into Toby again as he rushed out of Leo's office like a bat out of hell, still looking angry. "Toby's in a mood today," I said as I poked my head into Leo's office.
The Chief of Staff was bent over his desk, scribbling something onto a piece of paper. "It seems to be going around," he said without looking at me.
"Did he talk to you about slapping the GDC around a little?" I asked, walking in and sitting down, forcing myself to sit up straighter than usual as the uncomfortable chair aggravated the injury and sent a shooting pain down the left side of my body. I rubbed my eyes and suppressed an irritated sigh. I was so goddamn *tired* of constantly being reminded that things still weren't really back to normal, and that maybe they never would be.
Leo finally looked up. "Yeah. He wants to do a drop-in on the speech."
I raised a puzzled eyebrow at him. "Is it still considered a drop-in if it's already being planned before the speech is even finished?"
"It's still considered a drop-in if the speechwriter doesn't know about it," Leo said, his voice level.
"Toby's not going to tell Sam about this?"
"You got it."
Although it surprised me that Toby would decide to handle things that way, I understood it completely. I'd spent plenty of time with Sam while he was writing in the years I'd known him, and I knew how single-minded he could be when he was knee-deep in words. He wouldn't even have heard Toby's arguments -- he'd've been way too focused on doing what he saw as the right thing at all costs, almost like some superhero or something, wanting to change the world without any regard for the long-term political consequences. And then Toby, who was a lot more aware of what we were trying to do to plan for Bartlet's reelection campaign than Sam was, would have had to mop things up afterwards. It was annoying as hell whenever we were trying to convince him of anything, but it was just -- I dunno -- Sam. We all just knew to expect these things of him, the same way we all knew that the President would make long-winded speeches and C.J. would lob sarcastic comments at people. And though I'd never have admitted it to him in a million years, I kind of liked him that way.
As the meeting with Leo began, I rubbed my eyes and tried to concentrate on what we were doing. I opened the file and put the numbers in front of him, pushing away thoughts of the GDC speech, of Marbury, of Sykes and the Will Rogers dinner, and of these stupid problems I was still having and how they were affecting my work despite my best efforts to focus and forget about them during the day. Through all that, I have to admit that it only vaguely crossed my mind at that point then that Toby's plan would probably make Sam feel pretty awful. And as I went over the poll with Leo and watched his face fall, even those nebulous thoughts were temporarily lost to my currently sieve-like memory and my own worries about reelection.
Sam and I finally managed to get away for lunch just after two, and by then I was starving for more than just an hour of his attention. Most of the upscale restaurants near the White House had already closed until dinner or at least put away their lunch menus for the day, so we walked just a bit further up 17th Street to a diner for something a little more substantial and a little more casual. It was a good move; it made the time together feel less like a business lunch and more like -- oh, maybe something we'd have done back when we'd first met years ago as young twenty-somethings if I'd had the nerve to eat out with Sam in public back then. Comfortable, like our relationship was when we didn't have to play dress-up in expensive suits to go work in the White House. I felt almost good as we walked into the restaurant, and I smiled at Sam as we slid into the gray vinyl booth. It was great to get some time with him, even if it couldn't end with us lying, satisfied, in each other's arms.
Sam grabbed a laminated menu from the metal rack at the end of the table and ran his finger down it to follow the text. "Hey, is it okay if we cut out early?" he said, not looking up at me. "I've really got to get back to meet with Bonnie and Ginger about a couple of citations."
"Yeah, I figured as much," I lied, and suddenly everything clouded over again. I knew I *should* have figured he wouldn't have much time -- I mean, I'd spent day in, day out with Sam during the campaign and seen him obsess over speeches too many times to count. It wasn't as if I didn't know what to expect. I'd known, back then, that it was just an indication of how seriously he took the job, not of a lack of regard for me, and it hadn't bothered me at all. No, it was me that had changed, not Sam -- I was the one who had suddenly gotten all helpless and needy. I frowned into the air at no one in particular, resenting my own pitiful self for feeling like this.
Sam was obviously stuck in that writing-induced silence as we studied the menu, occasionally staring off into space with that glassy look in his eyes that I knew meant his mind was elsewhere. I ordered a burger and Sam decided on a chicken sandwich, and as we ate I watched him as he unfolded his napkin, as he chewed, as he wiped crumbs distractedly from the corners of his mouth. Sometimes I still couldn't believe that this incredible-looking guy was really with me. Suddenly realizing I was mooning over him when he was barely noticing I was there, I scowled, disgusted.
"So, you heard about Marbury?" I eventually said, trying to draw him out.
Sam blinked. "Marbury? You mean Lord John Marbury? What about him?"
It occurred to me that Sam probably *had* overheard someone saying something about Marbury's appointment, with all the buzz there had been about it, but at the moment nothing was getting through to him that didn't have to do with this damn speech. "He's been appointed British Ambassador to the United States."
"You're kidding me."
"Does Leo know?" Sam asked with his mouth half-full of sandwich.
"Yeah. I think it hasn't really sunk in yet."
"Do you realize that both Donna and C.J. seem to turn into drooling idiots around him? I mean, we already know the man's insane, but can you please help me figure out why he makes women act that way too?"
Sam smiled slightly. "Oh, I don't know, Josh, there *is* something about that smile, and that accent ..."
I felt my eyes widen in horror as the thought of Sam kissing Marbury flashed through my brain.
Sam's smile turned into a smirk, and he laughed. "I'm kidding, Josh."
I rubbed my eyes, coughing. Ugh.
"I'm kidding. Really. You can breathe." His foot pressed gently against mine under the table through my shoe.
"I *really* didn't need that mental image today, Sam," I said, glaring at him.
"Sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist. Bad day?"
I barely remember what it's like to have a good day, I wanted to say, but I knew it would come out in a whine, so I stifled it. The last thing I wanted to discuss in the middle of a crowded diner was how ineffectual I'd been lately, and the poll was only marginally better in terms of sheer desperation value. That left- "Oh, they're talking about asking Cornelius Sykes to host the Will Rogers dinner."
"Really?" Sam tried to sound interested, but it was an obvious strain. "Have they forgotten about-"
"I think they just don't care. Or aren't thinking."
"Probably," he replied, distant.
"Anyway, we sent C.J. -- Sykes is in New York now, and she's gonna be there anyway, they're gonna meet, she's gonna straighten it out. It'll be okay," I dismissed.
I looked across the table into his eyes as he picked up his pickle, and could tell he was a million miles away again. I sighed, knowing there was only one surefire way to get his attention. "How's the speech coming?"
"It's going to be great." He popped the pickle into his mouth, his face suddenly animated. "I've been working on this off and on for months, so the notes are solid, and the words are all just- right there. Effortless. I've got Bonnie and Ginger fact-checking -- I want to make sure we've got three sources for each fact we present."
"That's great," I said glumly.
"It's going to be airtight."
"I'm sure it will be."
Sam peered across the table at me, suddenly frowning. "You sound skeptical."
I shook my head at him. "No, no, I'm sure it'll be a great speech, it's just- have you talked to Toby?"
He shrugged. "Toby's not happy that we're doing it. He gave me hell for not including him on the meeting -- isn't that ridiculous?"
"He's right, Sam."
Sam looked dismayed. "He was in Missouri! What was I supposed to do -- get him to fly back into town to sit in on a meeting with me?!"
"Come on, he carries a cell phone. You could have called him."
"I have the authority to do this, Josh," he said coldly. "Do they make you run to Leo every time you have to make a decision?"
"There's a bigger picture to consider here."
Sam's eyes narrowed in a glare, and I realized I'd hit a nerve.
I backpedaled, trying to explain. "It's 2001 now. We've got an election year coming up, and we have to pay really close attention to every step we take. It makes the President look weak to step in at the last minute and give a little speech because someone else dropped out, and the last thing we need is to look weak right now."
"This isn't just a 'little speech', Josh, we're announcing CARE!"
Oops, talk about a nerve. "I know, I know." Holding out a hand in a gesture of appeasement, I tried to pacify him, but I'd already set him off.
"This is an important initiative! The U.S. is responsible for a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions! This could very well do for the environment what the New Deal did for the economy!"
"Climate changes have accelerated, glaciers are shrinking- oh, wait, that's good. Just a second." He grabbed a napkin with one hand and whipped out a ballpoint pen with the other and tried to scribble the sentence on the napkin, tearing it to shreds in the process. "Damn! I knew I should have brought my laptop."
"Here," I said, pulling out a business card and turning it over so he could write on the back.
"Thanks," Sam said distractedly, scribbling.
I know it sounds melodramatic, but I felt so completely abandoned just then. We were sitting there at the same table, eating lunch together, but talking more across each other than to each other. I hadn't even told him yet that Donna had been flirting with me again this week, and I certainly hadn't told him that I'd reciprocated a little. Or that my last therapy session had uncovered some pretty scary stuff about my sister's death, and it was still, several days later, keeping me up nights. Or that I was worried not just about myself, but about him and me, worried that we wouldn't be able to keep this up given these crazy jobs and the fact that we couldn't tell a fucking soul how much we cared about each other, worried that we were only two months into the relationship this time and it already seemed to be falling apart, as if it was following my lead.
I couldn't tell him any of those things, any of the *hard* things, if we never spent any time alone. And so we just sat there discussing Marbury and Sykes and the GDC speech and anything except the stuff that was really important. And it was pissing me off.
I should have probably told him then what the rest of them were cooking up. But Toby had specifically asked that he be kept out of the loop, and I knew Toby'd justifiedly kill me if I said anything to clue Sam in. It was between the two of them, anyway; it wasn't my business to interfere. Plus, there actually were enough sound political reasons not to tell him.
But really, I didn't tell him because I just didn't feel like it.
The next day was somewhat easier -- at least there was no danger of more disappointing numbers coming back or getting the news of yet another insane ambassador being appointed. It was as busy as ever, though, and given that the night before had marked my fifth straight night with no more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep, I was thoroughly exhausted from the moment I set foot in my office. If I was busy, though, then Sam was even busier, because I didn't see him for more than a couple of seconds in the hallway all day. The GDC speech was keeping the whole communications team hopping. I was looking forward to it being over.
By the time evening rolled around, I was starting to feel like I could fall asleep sitting at my desk. I sent Donna home at around 7:30, and an hour or so later I decided to knock off myself, thinking I might have a chance to straighten my apartment and maybe even catch a quick nap before Sam came over. I grabbed my coat and was just headed out the door when C.J. appeared in my doorway.
"Hey, where are you going?"
I shrugged. "Home, why?"
"You said I should stop by and debrief after I got back from New York." She looked at her watch. "8:30 on the button, here I am."
Closing my eyes momentarily, I gritted my teeth. Another two minutes, and that could have been another missed meeting. What the hell was wrong with me? "Yeah. Right. Come on in," I said, turning around and shrugging my coat off onto the desk chair. Rubbing my eyes, I sat back down and rested my fingers on either side of the bridge of my nose.
"You sure? You look like death warmed over," she answered, still lingering in the doorway.
I snorted. "Real sensitive, there, Claudia Jean."
"Just calling it as I see it."
Sighing, I gestured at the chair across from my desk. "Sit down, okay?"
C.J. looked me over in a long, scrutinizing stare and didn't budge from the doorway. "Seriously. If you're not feeling well, we can do this tomorrow."
She took a few steps forward so that she was just inside my office. "It's just that I've heard some things-"
"C.J., *please*," I begged, my voice cracking a little. She looked genuinely concerned, but her sympathy was honestly a lot harder to take than her sarcasm. I felt strangely as if the only thing that would be guaranteed to break me at this point would be someone recognizing how weak I was really feeling. "I'm fine, all right? Let's just do this so we can both go home for the night."
Taking one last long look at me, she finally sat down. "Okay. The gist of it is that Sykes is going to turn them down -- he says he doesn't want to hurt the President. He's going to tell them he couldn't get out of a booking."
"Good," I nodded, scratching my head. One less thing to worry about.
"That's the good news. The bad news is that he was kind of upset about the whole thing. Said we were being arrogant."
I sighed, realizing that I should have known it couldn't really be over yet. "So we've got a big name Hollywood supporter with ruffled feathers."
"How ruffled? Did you manage to smooth them at all?"
"Yes, Joshua." Her tone was indignant.
"It's just that you can be a little caustic sometimes."
"Well, maybe we should have sent you instead, then," C.J. said dryly. "That would have been a big improvement."
"So the press is off our backs, though," I responded, ignoring her dig.
"They'll ask someone else to do the dinner. It's a non-issue. The press never got wind of this."
"Have you talked to Toby yet?"
"Not yet. I think he's in with Sam, and given the mood Sam was in fifteen minutes ago, that could end up pretty explosive, so if you don't mind, I'm going to put that one off until tomorrow."
I sat up a little straighter. "Why, what's wrong with Sam?"
"He seemed pretty upset about how things had gone at the GDC speech, you know, with the drop-in? I guess the audience didn't take it too well. They didn't stand at the end -- you know how Sam gets."
I did know. "Ah."
"Anyway, I'm not sure how much Sykes really cared about this particular dinner, but he's still mad that we didn't defend him two years ago ..."
I blinked, trying to concentrate on what C.J. was saying, but my mind kept being drawn back to Sam. Of course he'd be disappointed about the speech not going well, but it occurred to me that if he'd crossed the line into 'upset', Toby might have let on that the drop-in had been planned in advance. Shifting uneasily in my seat, I allowed myself to think for the first time about how much that would likely affect Sam. It had taken him three days -- not to mention weeks of research -- to give birth to the thing, and all of that had been spoiled in thirty subversive seconds.
"... he quoted the 'Hollywood sleaze' line back at me-"
"Wait- wait." I cut C.J. off. "He was really upset?" I interrupted, needing to know.
"Well, it was two years ago, Josh, so he's probably mostly over it by now, but considering that, yeah, I think he's still pretty upset."
I shook my head. "No, not Sykes. Sam."
C.J. looked puzzled. "Sam? You mean when I just saw him? Well, he seemed pretty disappointed about the speech, but he only seemed to get really angry when I told him what Toby had said yesterday about admonishing our friends as well as our enemies-"
"How angry?" A sinking feeling began to form in my stomach.
"You know, angry," she said with a shrug. "Sam-style. Come on, you'd know a lot more about what that means than I would, Joshua. I'm sure the two of them will have it out, then they'll cool back down, and everything will be okay -- I'm just not too eager to go in to see Toby tonight, that's all."
Trying to ignore my concern for Sam, I forced myself to focus fully on C.J. and Sykes. "Okay."
"Anyway, it's not as if we could have done anything about it in the middle of the campaign anyway, but on some level he was right -- it really wasn't fair to hang him out to dry after being humiliated like that."
It wasn't fair to hang him out to dry after being humiliated like that. Sykes, sure, but Sam too. Shit. "Ah, sorry. I'm not sure I- did you just say that you told Sam the drop-in was planned in advance?"
"Planned in advance?" C.J. cocked her head quizzically.
"Yeah, ah- yeah. What exactly *did* you say to Sam?"
She raised an eyebrow at me. "Am I here to tell you about my hour-long meeting in New York with a prominent Hollywood comedian or my thirty-second encounter in the hall with your boyfriend?"
"C.J.!" My heart was suddenly racing so quickly that I shot out of my seat and leapt to my feet in response. As if by reflex, my eyes darted around to make sure no one else could have overheard. She couldn't just *say* things like that, especially not in the office! "God!"
"It's just that you suddenly seem a lot more interested in talking about Sam than about Corey Sykes," she said with a smirk.
"Will you just tell me what you said to him?!" I shouted at her, gesturing with both hands in the air.
"I said he didn't laugh at the joke."
"To *Sam*, C.J.!"
"Oops, sorry. It's just becoming increasingly unclear exactly what I'm supposed to be debriefing you on at this point," she chuckled, the smirk of amusement spreading to her eyes.
"God damn it!" I yelled.
She threw her arms out to her sides. "*What*, Josh? I just told him what Toby said last night. You know -- the President has always spoken out on moderate groups not taking responsibility for extremism, the environmental lobby is no different, friends are honest with each other. And then he asked me if I'd spoken to Toby since the speech, and I said I hadn't."
As I watched C.J.'s teasing expression turn to one of comprehension, I began to realize that the sick feeling that had formed earlier in my stomach had begun to spread to my face.
"You want to go talk to him," she said matter-of-factly.
"Yeah, ah- I- ah- I probably should."
"Suit yourself," she shrugged. "Just don't blame me if you get a little singed."
"Are we done here?" I sighed.
"Sure," she answered, standing and walking to the doorway.
My thoughts were racing. The more I reflected on what had happened, the more it sank in that
Sam would have been totally blindsided by all this. He'd be feeling betrayed -- by Toby, but also
by the rest of us. By me. I rubbed my forehead distractedly and shifted my weight to my other
leg, the exhaustion beginning to overtake me again.
I looked up at C.J. "What?"
"Get some sleep, okay? You really do look bad."
I almost snapped something sarcastic at her, then, but the sincerity in her eyes made me bite back the words, and I looked away, embarrassed. "Yeah. Thanks."
It wasn't until later that I found out Sam had just tried to get in to see the President. It's probably a good thing that I didn't know, too, because I would have panicked much earlier in the conversation if I had, and that would have almost certainly meant that things would have turned out even worse than they actually did. I knew that there was only one thing that could make Sam want to go into the Oval Office when he was angry, and it certainly wouldn't have been to reprimand the President of the United States for the drop-in. It would have been to resign. He'd only go in there angry if he wasn't ever planning to come back.
Luckily, though, I didn't already know about the aborted meeting with the President when I arrived at Sam's office -- all I knew for sure was that Sam was livid. I stood in the doorway for a moment, watching him. His lips were pressed together in that icy expression that only crossed his face when something had gone seriously wrong, he was typing furiously at his computer, and I couldn't help but shiver. It was as if a cold wind had blown through the room, bringing the temperature down ten degrees.
I leaned up against the doorframe, trying to look casual. "I heard what happened. At the speech."
Sam snorted, not looking up from his typing. His expression was intense, as if he couldn't see anything past the words that were flowing from his fingers.
"What- what are you doing?"
"Getting the hell out of here," he snarled.
I shook my head, confused. "What?"
He still wouldn't look up. "Attacking the environmental lobby for no other reason than political gain, Josh? There's a cynicism there that I want no part of."
I recognized that tone. I'd been accused of having a temper that could always flare up at any second, but Sam, imperturbable as he was, rarely blew up at anyone. I knew, though, that when that quiet cold fusion anger seeped into his voice, he was filled with a rage that rivaled anything behind even the most massive of my outbursts. It was the same tone I'd most recently heard him level at Ainsley Hayes when she'd thrown the President's gun control policies in our faces only a couple of months after the shooting. He'd been defending me, then, though -- and now he was defending something that cut even deeper.
"Nobody's the slightest bit interested in CARE now," he went on, finally looking at me. "We could have spent an hour and a half talking about basket-weaving instead of the most important piece of environmental legislation since the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the seventies, for all of the attention this is going to get."
"Aren't you exaggerating just a little bit?"
Sam shook his head vehemently. "You weren't there, Josh. You should have seen the look on the face of the chairman of the GDC. He was so disappointed in us, which, in this case, meant that he was disappointed in *me* -- and I had to regurgitate Toby's *ridiculously* transparent line about friends being honest with each other as if I agreed with it, as if I'd had any *fucking* idea he was going to ruin my speech that way-"
"Sam." I didn't know what to say, but I had to interrupt him -- his voice was getting more and more shrill by the word.
He scooted his chair away from his desk, looking like he was too agitated to stay still for long. "We're going to lose the environmental lobby. Do you understand that? We're going to *lose* the environmental lobby. They say they're thinking seriously of backing Seth Gillette for a third party bid in 2002. And where the hell does that leave us? Nowhere, all over again."
"It was just thirty seconds!"
"Thirty seconds that have now lost us the support of a group that's backed us since day one. No, wait, pardon me. Since *before* day one."
"They're not really gonna go that way, Sam," I said, trying to sound reassuring. "He was just pissed off. Come on, Seth Gillette?" Gillette was nothing but a pompous windbag, as far as I was concerned, and one with unrealistic ideas to boot.
"Don't knock Gillette, Josh -- I could almost support him myself at this point," he responded, his words clipped and precise.
I almost laughed. "Be serious."
Sam gripped the arms of his chair, his eyes flashing. "I just can't believe the unmitigated gall that it took for Toby to put me in that position. He set me up. He set me up, and then left me to clean up the mess when it inevitably exploded in our faces. I can't work for someone like that."
"I can't work here anymore, Josh." He scooted his chair back toward the computer and grabbed his mouse.
A shiver ran down my spine as what Sam had been saying since I'd walked into his office finally sank in, and it hit me that he was planning to quit his job. Oh, God. "Wh- what are you writing?"
"My letter of resignation. And boy, is it ever going to be a good one."
I just stood there like an idiot, not knowing where to even begin to talk him out of this.
Sam scrolled in the document on his screen. "What do you think -- does this sound too dramatic? 'If there is an ethical limit to the depths to which this administration will sink in order to secure itself four more years of existence, I definitely do not want to be around when it is reached.'"
I studied him, and the determined look on his face proved that he meant every word. "You're serious."
He glanced up from his computer and looked me squarely in the eyes. "I have never been more serious in my life. I can't wait to put this on Toby's desk." His voice was level, but the rage behind those eyes was chilling.
Hearing those words, seeing that expression, I felt a sudden sense of dread. Sam was meticulous, a planner, and under normal circumstances he'd never make any drastic moves without considering every step in advance. He was only this impulsive when some deep principle was involved, such as when he'd walked out on his job at Gage Whitney to run off with me and join the Bartlet campaign. And that was exactly what was going on here -- we'd all violated the hell out of the deepest of his principles.
I propped myself up against the door frame, my exhaustion returning. "What- what are you going to do?"
"Who knows? There are plenty of people in this town who'd actually have some idea of how to use my skills instead of just abusing them. Hell, maybe I'll go work for Gillette."
"Gillette's a buffoon, Sam," I said, trying and failing to make my tone sound light.
"I'd rather work for a buffoon than a back-stabbing son of a bitch like Toby Ziegler."
I almost gasped as I heard his words -- Sam *idolized* Toby. I shook my head. "Sam, Toby- Toby just knew that if you knew about it ahead of time, you would contest it. He just wanted to see this go through with the least amount of hassle."
I took two steps into Sam's office. "You *know* you would have put the whole staff through a million more revisions. He was just trying to avoid that. It was a political move, Sam -- he certainly didn't mean it as a personal slight."
"You're talking as if you knew about this all along." His voice was level.
His words stopped me in my tracks. Shit.
Sam's eyes flew open. "Oh, my God. You did know."
I opened my mouth to say something, anything at all that would make sense to him, that would calm him down, but nothing came to mind. I just stood there helplessly, frantically, watching an incredibly varied series of emotions flash across his face, ranging from stunned shock to betrayal.
He stood up from his seat, and I could see his fists clench. "When did you decide I wasn't important enough to be informed about this little plan?"
I rubbed my forehead, my head suddenly spinning. "It's not that I thought you weren't important enough, Sam, I just-"
"How long have you known?" His voice sounded like his throat had been pinched partly closed.
I stared at his desk, unable to meet his eyes.
"How. Long. Have. You. Known."
"Leo told me yesterday morning," I mumbled.
"God. We- God." Sam took a step backward from his desk. "We sat there together at lunch yesterday for a whole hour, and you listened to me going on and on about the speech, and it never occurred to you to tell me about this?"
I rubbed my eyes again as I watched him stride across the room and grab his coat, and I took a step back to lean against the wall for support. "I've had a lot on my mind-"
"I don't want to hear any empty excuses from you." He walked stiffly to the door, coat in hand, his eyes shooting daggers in my direction as he passed me.
"Come on, don't leave," I pleaded, reaching out to him and grabbing his arm.
Sam shook off my touch like it was a dirty rag, and his answering words were the coldest thing I'd ever heard come out of his mouth. "Just leave me alone, okay? I really don't want to have to look at your face right now. Just leave me the fuck alone."
I closed my eyes as he breezed past me, storming out of the room. And I feared, with the chilling dread of a guy who'd screwed up time and time again and knew he couldn't do a thing to make it better, that this meant he was also storming, once again, out of my life.
I guess if I'd thought about it rationally, I'd have known that Sam wasn't coming back to the office to get me, realized that his soft 'No matter what else comes up' of Monday night hadn't covered *this*. But something kept me sitting there at my desk anyway, hoping, until well after midnight. After all, Sam was nothing if not reliable.
I rubbed my hand across the entire length of my face. I'd spent the whole day almost too exhausted to move, and I knew I should at least lie down on the couch and try to sleep here if I wasn't going to go home, but at this point I was too wound up to even consider it. I kept remembering Sam's anger, that chilly, distant anger -- and the fact that the only times he'd ever turned it on me, it had been immediately preceding Sam being gone, like a lightning bolt, from my life. Whenever things turned upside down for us, he ran. It was a pattern with us -- I would screw up, and then Sam would give up. Every single time.
I tried not to remember, but the memories flooded my mind against my will; my mind wasn't my own, these days, anyway. I remembered everything, down to what Sam had been wearing that day when he'd sat on the couch in my tiny studio apartment in Manhattan back in the eighties and told me I wasn't good enough for him. I remembered his pale blue oxford with the button down collar, long sleeves rolled up to his elbows, revealing the perfect skin of his forearms underneath. I even remembered his haircut, longer back then, feathered a bit in the style of the day, and how he had brushed it back as he'd turned, pain on his face, and run out the door. And I remembered, too, what I'd thought at that moment, what I'd felt -- that he'd been right, that I couldn't argue with him, that someone so genuine deserved someone way better than me.
I remembered- I remembered that morning on the campaign trail ten years later, after we'd found our way back to each other again, a scared, sick feeling in my stomach as C.J. and Toby had found us coming out of my hotel room far too early to have been doing anything other than what I never, ever wanted them to find out about. I remembered shutting down, petrified at the thought that either of them might know. I remembered Sam coming to see me a couple of hours later, hurt, and I remembered how I'd turned away from him then, panicked and irrational, not wanting anyone to see us together even at work. And then I remembered how he'd practically sprinted out of my office, how only the desperation in my voice had brought him back, how even then he'd stood with one foot out the door and his hand glued to the doorknob, ready to run again if I screwed up even once more.
Finally, I remembered a hot, sticky fall day in Tampa, sitting at a flimsy card table under a tent that had kept out the sun but not the humidity, listening to Sam telling me that we had to break it off, in this calm, rational voice which had just made it hurt all the more. He had said that the threat of being exposed by the media was too great, that the warning letter we'd received had made things too dangerous, that it was too late to do anything but give up, that our loyalties had to be to Bartlet, not to each other. Somehow, that time had been the worst, with his reasonable, emotionless argument that I couldn't possibly have countered. And the situation had only deteriorated when he'd started to cry.
It had taken me almost getting killed to get him back after that. If I lost him again now, it would take nothing short of a fucking miracle to fix things.
Hearing a sudden noise from the hall, I sprang to my feet and walked quickly over toward the door, but as I looked out through the transparent walls I saw that it was only a janitor dragging a bulky vacuum cleaner behind him. Sighing, I stretched, rubbed my eyes, and went on my sixth nonchalant saunter down to the communications bullpen to see whether Sam might have come back.
My heart began to beat a little faster when I approached the bullpen and saw that a light had been turned on since my last trip down there, but as I rounded the corner and turned into the room, I recognized that it was Toby's light, not Sam's. I closed my eyes and tried to fight my disappointment, turning to walk back down the hall to my office.
"You're here late," Toby called out through the open door leading into his own office.
I poked my head in. He was sitting at his desk, staring at a stack of papers and typing. "Yeah. So are you."
"I didn't have a chance to look over those numbers you gave me earlier. You know, the speech-"
"Yeah," I interrupted, cutting him off with a wave of my hand as I stepped inside his office. I really didn't want to talk to Toby about the speech.
"So." He looked up at me. "I guess the leadership breakfast dinged us pretty bad." I could see how angry he was with himself, and I knew I wasn't the only one fighting my own personal demons tonight.
"Yeah," I said, sitting down on his couch.
"It'll get worse before it gets better," he said darkly. "It always does."
I nodded, too tired for more than one- or two-word answers. "I know."
"I don't want Bartlet to be a one-term president, Josh."
I nodded again, thinking of all of the things we would no longer be able to accomplish if we were limited to four years. It sounded like a long time, but it wasn't, not for the big things. Not even for the little things, most of the time.
Toby sighed, and I examined his face, seeing his pained expression and the dark circles under his eyes. "It was such a hard road to get here. Sometimes I wonder if we have it in us to do it again."
"We did it once -- we'll manage it this time too." If I said it enough times, maybe I would believe it myself.
"Sam was really upset tonight."
I pressed my eyes shut, remembering Sam's icy glare and parting words. I really don't want to have to look at your face right now. "Yeah."
"He should have involved me in the decision about the speech," Toby said defensively, almost as if he expected me to be angry with him on Sam's behalf.
I ran my fingers through my hair and scratched my head. I couldn't disagree. "Yeah."
He sat up straighter in his chair. "He doesn't get it, Josh. He doesn't understand what we're going to have to do to get reelected. The climate's changed. The people have changed. I don't know how I'm supposed to tell him that."
I nodded, knowing he was right. Fighting to keep power was fundamentally different from fighting to gain power. We couldn't play the role of the saviors anymore, the ones who would come in and change the world, and the real problem was that the savior role was the one Bartlet understood best. The one *Sam* understood best, too.
I turned my head to stare out Toby's window at the blackness outside. In the letter of resignation Sam had thankfully left before finishing, he'd written about this administration's ethical limits. Ethics. I hadn't heard that word from anyone other than Sam in a long time -- probably not since law school -- but I knew how much he cared about it. He was the one who was just innocent enough to want to demand a 'permanent revolution' in education, the one who wanted to stand up and fight against the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy on gays in the military even when it wasn't prudent to do it, the one who had even been outraged over the very idea of running attack ads during the campaign. We were all here because we wanted to do something good, but Sam was the only one who always managed to keep 'doing the right thing' in mind as the one constant goal.
I never consciously thought about ethics unless Sam brought them up first. Sometimes I wasn't even sure I knew what they were.
"Was it wrong?" I finally said.
"The drop-in. Was it wrong?"
Toby shrugged. "It pulled our asses out of a fire Sam had built completely on his own. And now there's less pressure for us to move to the center as 2002 gets closer."
"Yeah, but was it *wrong*?" I repeated, looking over at him.
Toby raised an eyebrow at me. "We can get more done this way, and that's why we're here in the first place. We can't govern if we don't win. It was a sound political decision."
I looked away again, out toward the hall, though I wasn't really seeing anything that might have been out there. "Sometimes I don't know where the political part ends and the human part begins, though, you know?" It came out as a low whisper, but I was too exhausted to cover up the raw emotion that I couldn't stop escaping from my voice. "That scares me, a little. I can never tell whether what we're doing is *wrong*. I think I used to be able to tell, but I can't, anymore. I can tell if something is a bad idea, but that's not quite the same thing."
Sam could always tell. He always knew when we were doing something that was just plain wrong. And I needed that. I needed him. I closed my eyes and rubbed them, propping my forehead up with my fingers.
"He's not coming back to the office tonight, Josh." Toby spoke with a soft, gentle voice I'd never heard him use before.
I opened my eyes and looked up. "Who?"
"Sam. He was off getting drunk -- I put him in a cab. He's home, and probably sound asleep by now."
My mind was whirling. "I don't- why are you telling me this?"
"So you don't have to sit here waiting for him."
My first reaction was shock, and a moment later came the panic. Toby sounded so matter-of fact, but it was obvious what he was referring to. He sounded almost ... *advisory*. Like he was giving a friend tips on the problems in his love life.
All at once I felt short of breath as I fought the pressure that was suddenly squeezing my chest. This was it. This was what I'd always been so afraid of -- that the expressions on my face would tell everyone a story I didn't want them to know. This was it. I forced myself to focus my eyes again on Toby, afraid of the look I might find on his own face, but he had already turned back to his computer. As if he had said something completely ordinary. As if he hadn't just practically told me that he knew Sam and I were sleeping together.
"Ah- yeah. Okay." I looked away from him again, confused and flustered, and stood. "Thanks."
"See you tomorrow," Toby said without looking up.
I'm not sure I consciously knew where my feet were taking me when I walked out of Toby's office. By the time I stopped back at my own to grab my coat, though, I knew I was going to Sam's apartment. This time, I wasn't going to let him go without a fight.
It wasn't difficult to find parking on the street right outside Sam's building in the middle of the night. Not that I'd ever arrived there in the middle of the night before, but it was something I'd taken note of many times as I'd left, resenting having to walk six or seven blocks to my car when spaces had opened up right out front since I'd arrived. I pulled the key out of the ignition and looked up at the building. He'd be asleep by now, for sure. He won't even hear me come in. I looked down at the key ring in my hand, fingering the key Sam had given me -- before the shooting, before we'd gotten back together, in what now seemed like another life.
My hands shook a little as I turned the key in the lock, letting myself into Sam's apartment for the first time ever, and I opened the door to find the living room completely dark. I stumbled to the bedroom and found Sam sprawled out on the bed, sound asleep, the moon lighting up the room through the window, past the curtains he hadn't bothered to draw. His face was buried in the pillow, and he was still wearing his T-shirt and boxers, his body only barely covered by the sheets. Stepping quietly over beside the bed, I wrapped him up in the blankets, smelling the lingering scent of beer as he buried himself under the covers without waking up. I walked quickly to the kitchen to get him a glass of water, realizing that he would probably need it if he did wake up, given the sheer amount of alcohol he'd likely drunk tonight. Heading back to the bedroom, I set the glass on his nightstand before kicking my shoes off and climbing into bed with him.
I didn't touch him, but he still rolled over when he felt the indentation my body had made in his mattress, and was instantly awake. "What the hell are you doing here?" he growled, turning over partway to look at me.
I was suddenly frozen with fear at the edge in his voice, but my vocal cords, at least, didn't fail me. "I had to make sure you weren't going to do something stupid, like quit your job."
"I don't wanna talk to you," he said, turning back over onto his side. The alcoholic stupor had transformed the clipped way he normally constructed his words into a shapeless mass of fluid consonants and vowels, and it sounded ridiculous enough on him that I would have laughed if I hadn't been so scared.
"Okay. Don't, then."
As if to contest a point, his hand shot out from under the covers and turned on the light, and
suddenly he was sitting up. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair was sticking up in all
directions, as if he had fallen asleep with it wet. It had been a long time since I had seen him
looking so disheveled.
He glared at me as he spoke. "It wouldn't matter if I left anyway, given just how valuable my colleagues apparently find me. You all treat me like I'm some naive idiot who doesn't have anything decent to contribute unless he's being mal- manipulated into it by someone else. It's not just today, Josh, this happens all the damn time. You all used me to get Tom Jordan, and then you used me again to get rid of him. And you all used me -- pretty conspir- conspiratorially, I might add -- in one *major* fucking way tonight. And I know you're gonna say 'that's politics, Sam, that's just the way things are', but you know, I'd understand that a hell of a lot better if you people didn't pretend to be my friends day after day. And if *you* didn't pretend to love me. Friends are honest with each other, my ass. In this White House, friends lie to each other and stab each other in the back on a regular basis."
I marveled at his ability to form coherent sentences through the beer-induced haze, but cringed inwardly at his harsh words. "I thought you didn't want to talk to me."
His eyes narrowed. "Fuck you."
"There's a glass of water on your nightstand," I said, gesturing over at the table next to him. "You might want to drink it."
"I don't need your help."
I sighed. "Just drink the damn water, Sam."
He grasped the glass and pulled it to his mouth, taking a sip, and then one big gulp, draining the entire thing. Pointedly not looking at me, he set it back down on the table and turned away.
"You're welcome," I said.
He made a noise that sounded halfway between a grunt and a snort, but otherwise didn't respond. I just sat there, awkwardly, knowing I should say something, that I should apologize or at least explain, but I didn't know how to begin. I had never seen him this angry, not even the times we'd split up.
It was Sam who ended up breaking the silence. "Why do people still treat me like the junior staff member who doesn't know anything?"
"Come on, nobody thinks of you that way," I said, shaking my head, but he still wouldn't look over at me.
"Is it because I didn't spend years trying to claw my way here, like most of the rest of you did?" His voice was a mixture of anger and despair.
"That never even crosses anybody's mind anymore, Sam." I tried to sound comforting, but my fear had lent a tense edge to my own voice as well.
"I think I've been a valuable member of this team, Josh," he said, his eyes still fixed on the wall at the other side of the room. "I wrote speeches that helped win Bartlet the election in the first place. I helped Leo when they were after him about the drugs, and I made sure Mendoza made it to the Supreme Court intact. I crafted at least half of the President's universally-lauded State of the Union address last year -- though since Toby's taken almost complete charge of this year's, I suppose maybe I should take that as a hint. But I've done my share, and I've done it well."
I nodded. "I know."
"I'm sick of all of you not recognizing that. I think I deserve a little more credit than I ever get, from any of you."
I tried to respond, but no words would come out; it was almost as if the thoughts were spinning around in my mind too wildly for me to be able to voice any of them aloud. Thoughts about how the only reason Sam was left out of the loop about these things was that of all of us, he was the noble one -- the one with unbending principles and an idealism that was yes, naive, but at the same time positively inspirational. It meant that sometimes Sam just couldn't be involved in a decision when we were thinking about doing something borderline, because none of us wanted to watch that marvelous inspiration disappear as Sam became jaded and warped by Washington. The inspiration that was the reason everybody loved him. Hell, it was one of the main reasons *I* loved him. Someday, even if he didn't know it yet, he was going to make a damn fine Senator -- and all because he'd managed to retain that special something that the rest of us had long since lost, if we'd ever had it at all. Maybe he'd even be President someday. I saw so much of Bartlet in Sam; so many of the same qualities made both men great.
But I didn't know how to tell him any of that. Coming up with the right words was Sam's thing. "Sam, you can't resign," I said helplessly.
"I won't." His words were barely audible.
"I'm not gonna resign, Josh, so you can go back home now," he snapped, the antagonistic tone back in his voice.
I felt the early beginnings of a sense of relief, despite the fact that he still sounded so angry. If he wasn't going to quit, I knew everything would be okay, somehow. Sam and I were a team -- even though this job and this life had been my dream, not his, I wouldn't have wanted to do any of it without him. "Good."
He reached out and snapped the light off again, sinking down under the covers and turning on his side, his back to me. "Pardon me if I don't walk you to the door. I'm not sure how mobile I am right now."
"You don't have to walk me anywhere." I turned on my side and scooted closer to him, my body just inches away from his. I felt desperate to reach out and touch him, but held back, afraid of being rebuffed.
"You had all the same arguments for me that Toby had," Sam mumbled. "Did you two plan that in advance, too?"
"No," I sighed, knowing he wouldn't believe me. At least he didn't argue.
Suddenly I thought of Toby's gentle tone of earlier that night, and of how he had looked at me as he'd told me that I shouldn't sit in my office and wait for Sam. Toby had figured it out -- he knew about me and Sam. I didn't know exactly when we'd slipped enough for him to realize it, but somewhere along the line he'd figured it out. I was surprised to find that there was no longer any pressure on my chest at the thought. "You know, I think Toby knows about us."
There was a ten-second pause as Sam digested this information. "What?"
"I think Toby knows about us," I repeated, my voice level and calm -- which was astonishing, come to think of it, given what I was saying. But somehow, right now, it just didn't seem important.
In one movement, he sat up and turned on the light again, staring at me. "I must be even drunker
than I thought I was, because I thought I just heard you tell me that you think Toby knows about
"Yeah. I think he does."
Sam's eyes widened in shock, and he raised his voice, his throat tight. "And you still came over? Hell, you're still around at all? I've got to be hallucinating."
I looked away from him, feeling horribly ashamed. I had hurt him so much, so many times, and I knew it wouldn't have been fair for me to expect him to just forget about all of that, but I couldn't help but want him to. I had nothing to say, though, nothing that would have made any sense. I couldn't say a thing to make him trust me in the way I wanted him to, and I hated myself for that.
"What makes you think he knows?"
I shrugged and forced myself to turn back toward him. "Oh, I dunno. Just the way he knew I was waiting for you tonight at the office. He told me you'd gone home, so I didn't have to sit around waiting for you to come back."
The look on Sam's face was incredulous. "And that doesn't bother you?"
"Yeah, it bothers me, but it's not like it's a big deal," I said defensively, feeling a creeping irritation that he wasn't giving me any credit for not freaking out.
"Who are you, and what have you done with Joshua Lyman?"
"Aw, jeez, Sam." I brought my fingers up to my eyes and pressed them into the corners on either side of the bridge of my nose. "So what if he knows? He's probably been figuring it out for a long time, maybe even since the campaign. He was with C.J. that time she saw the two of us coming out of my room in the morning, so maybe it was then. Who knows. If he hasn't told anyone else by now, he's not going to."
Sam was still staring at me, astonished, not saying a word.
I looked pointedly down at the bed, unable to meet his eyes. "Besides, I'm more worried about you right now than I am about that."
By the time I could bring myself to look back up at him, the shocked look on his face had melted away into something that looked almost like affection. He was obviously moved, and I felt a combination of relief and embarrassment wash over me.
"How is it that whenever your prime asshole tendencies explode all over everything and make a big fucking mess, you always manage to cover it all up by doing something really wonderful?" he said, his voice cracking. "I've never been able to figure that out."
"Must be the killer combination of my dapper good looks and infinite charm," I tried to joke, feeling a sudden need to lighten the mood. The look in his eyes intensified, though, and now he looked like he was going to cry. I'd only seen Sam cry a couple of times, but that had been more than enough. I couldn't deal with it -- it made me feel like all of the emotion was being violently pressed out of me with some sort of huge orange juicer or something.
"Turn that light back off," I snapped, pointing at the lamp on Sam's nightstand. "You need to get some sleep or you're gonna feel like hell tomorrow morning."
With the slightest hint of a smile, he reached over and turned the light off again, settling back down underneath the covers. I reached out to him tentatively with the tips of my fingers, and although he flinched a little, he didn't pull away, and when I put my arm around him, he settled into my embrace.
"You know, this is starting to feel suspiciously like an overnight." His tone was resigned, but no longer angry.
I drew in a deep breath and finally felt myself begin to relax, knowing the crisis was over. "I'm not spending the night. I'm coming to see you in the middle of the night, and then staying until morning. There's a difference."
"I'm still pissed as hell at you," he tried to grumble, but it came out sounding weary instead.
"I know," I said, stroking his chest through his T-shirt.
There was so much to say, so many things I usually let the writhing of my body say for me in the heat of the moment. But even I could tell that wouldn't be appropriate right now, and the stupid words just wouldn't come. So I just lay there, my arm draped across his chest and my body pressed up against his through the sheets, listening to his heart beat and his breathing slow as he relaxed again, closing my eyes and smelling stale beer and sweat and Sam.
"I do love you, okay?" I managed to get out, finally, my words slightly muffled by the back of his neck as I pressed my lips lightly to his skin. "I'm not just pretending."
Sam squeezed my arm in response, pulling me closer to him.