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Tumbling into a Boy Sideways

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"Sam. Sam? SAM!"

At the sound of my name being yelled at somewhere near a hundred decibels I found myself jerking violently. Of course, because it’s me and I can’t seem to last more than half an hour without letting my inner-klutz roam free, the motion toppled my chair over and I ever so gracefully crashed into the ground. So here I was, lying on the floor of Congressman Fairchild’s office, watching as the pages of the speech I had been working on floated down to gently land on top of me.

“Holy shit Sam, are you okay?”

Moving my gaze away from the ceiling and over to my colleague Ben Dresden, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the mildly horrified look on his face. Honestly, it was like he had never seen a grown man fling himself from his chair before.

“Seriously Sam, I’m so sorry. I was trying to get your attention to ask you how the Congressman’s speech was coming along. He said he wanted to read through it in the next hour and I figured that I’d come over before I went to lunch to see how it was going. Jesus man, you just went flying. So is the speech done yet?”

Blinking a few times I allowed myself a few moments to take in what Ben had just said. Oh right, the speech. The speech that I had been working on. The speech that I had been concentrating on so intensely, I had apparently failed to notice Ben trying to get my attention until he decided to yell my name right into my left ear. The speech that was now scattered across both the floor and my body, which was currently doing an admirable impression of a starfish. That speech.

“Uh Ben, maybe you should actually help the guy up before asking him about the speech? Or I guess you could just leave him there but he may have some trouble making any changes you want from the floor.”

At the sound of a voice I definitely did not recognise, it occurred to me that it might have been time to extricate myself from the floor. Sensing movement to my left, I looked over just in time to see a pair of shoes head over in my direction before the owner of said shoes crouched down in front of me, holding out his hand to help me up.

And holy shit. I was so screwed.

Crouching down in front of me was one of the most beautiful people I had ever seen. It wasn’t even that he was that conventionally attractive. He was tall, with dark flyaway hair that was receding slightly. But as he made eye contact with me I found myself staring into dark eyes that screamed humour and intelligence, and as he reached towards me I could see dimples forming as a result of his amused smirk. A smirk that only seemed to get more pronounced the longer I sat there staring at him dazedly. A smirk that was slowly turning into a full blown grin as my face flushed red hot as I realised that I had just been sitting their gazing up at a complete stranger like he was a glass of water and I had just spent the last week roaming a desert. Outstanding.

“Um… hi. I’m Sam.” Eloquent Sam. It’s hard to believe people actually pay you to write them speeches.

“Hi Sam. I’m Josh. Do you want to get off the floor?”

Fuck. It’s at this precise moment that I fully comprehend my situation. My situation being me, on the floor, doing my best impression of a star fish as I ignore the hand outstretched to help me up in favour of making moon eyes at a complete stranger. A complete male stranger. Who, undoubtedly, is probably wondering if I suffered some form of brain damage as a result of my crash landing.

To be honest, at this point I would gladly take brain damage as an excuse.

“Yes, that would probably be for the best.”

Laughing softly at my statement, Josh reaches forward, gripping my hand and helping me clamber to my feet. Once I am standing and he seems to have assured himself that I’m not about to go flying again, he releases my hand and I am left with an odd tingling feeling, as if I am missing something I only just realised I needed.

“So Sam, the speech?” Oh right. Ben. I had somehow managed to forget about him. Sweeping my gaze across the floor I mentally sighed and ducked down to start scrounging around for the lost pieces of paper.

“I’m almost finished. Only have to polish it up and then I can bring it over to Congressman Fairchild if you want?”

“Yeah, that would be great man. Josh and I were about to go and meet some people for lunch so if you’ve got it all under control I’ll leave it to you.”

At the mention of Josh’s name I find myself looking up and over towards him, blushing again when we make eye contact. He’s standing there with his hands in his pants pockets, smiling slightly as he watches me collect the last wayward piece of my speech. From the way his eyes are lit up I am fairly sure that he finds my predicament at least mildly amusing. There is something about that smile though that makes his amusement somehow seem sweet rather than mean spirited. Then again, I could just be projecting. Maybe he is actually a ginormous asshole and it’s only his good looks that are convincing me otherwise. Wouldn’t be the first time it had happened.

Standing up again, I start looking through the pages and putting them in the right order. Taking my silence as assent, Ben nods once and wanders off into the hallway. Distracted by putting my speech to rights, I initially fail to notice that Josh has yet to follow Ben and instead is still standing close to my desk, hands in his pockets, small smile lighting up his face.

“So Ben tells me that you are new on the Hill. How are you liking it so far?”

“It’s great.” Well, on the days that I don’t end up lying on the ground and humiliate myself in front of unreasonably attractive men. “I’m fresh out of law school so it’s quite a big change but I am really enjoying working for Congressman Fairchild. What do you do here?”

“I’m Chief of Staff for Congressman Earl Brennan.” Well that’s certainly impressive considering he can’t be all that much older than me. Not wanting the conversation to end I try to think of something to ask him. For some strange reason, the idea of Josh leaving makes me feel uncomfortable.

“Do you like working in politics?” At my question, Josh’s small smile transforms into a megawatt grin, his curls bouncing as he nods his head. Holy mother of God, I am so screwed.

“Yeah, I love it. My dad’s a lawyer and I think he initially wanted me to go into private practice, but I’ve always wanted to be involved in politics so I was ecstatic when Brennan offered me the job.”

“It sounds like you are exactly where you need to be then.” At my comment, something in Josh’s eyes softened, amusement and pride giving way to something warmer.

“Yeah, I guess I am.” Smiling at me, Josh seems to hesitate for a moment before he looks down at my speech and then up at me again. “If you want, you should come to lunch with us. It’s just a couple of other staffers and I’m sure you could try to guilt Ben into buying you a muffin or something. Maybe play up a small back injury or something. If you want I mean. And have time. You know. ‘Cause of the speech...”

Somehow even Josh’s inarticulateness was endearing to me. Fuck. This was not good. The last thing I needed was to develop a crush on a staffer. A male staffer. A most likely straight male staffer. Life was difficult enough as it is without that sort of drama hanging over me.

“Yeah that sounds great.” Well, apparently my mouth had decided that it was going to speak without reference to my brain. Considering that wasn’t a rare occurrence with me I honestly shouldn’t be surprised. But seeing Josh smile again I couldn’t regret my impulsive agreement. Besides, it’s not like I was going to fall in love with the guy or anything.

I mean, I can be an idiot sometimes, but I’m not a fucking moron.

Chapter Text

“So I’ve decided that we should break up.”

Breaking off midway through the rant I had been delivering on the general stupidity of a Republican staffer that tried to push me into convincing Congressman Brennan to support a new anti-gun control legislation it took me a few moments to really comprehend what was just said to me. When it finally clicked, I looked over at my girlfriend of three months. This seemed like the point at which I was meant to say something but I couldn’t really think of anything to say at this time.

“Josh? Josh, did you hear what I just said?”

“You said that we should break up?” At my reply Hannah sighed loudly and slumped into the chair she was currently occupying. She looked up briefly and smiled when a colleague came past and greeted her before turning back to me, the smile vanishing in an instant.

“Yes Josh. That’s what I said. Honestly you can’t think it’s much of a surprise? I mean, I haven’t seen you at all for the past two weeks and when we finally meet up you avoid talking about anything to do with us and instead just start yelling about work. You’ve obviously lost interest so I don’t really see the need to draw this out any longer.”

“I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve been busy with work.” At my response, her lips twitch up briefly into a wry grin. She seems to take a moment to collect her thoughts, flicking an errant blonde curl that had fallen from her bun out of her face. God she’s beautiful. And smart too.

When I met Hannah Cox six months ago she blew me away. She had just started working of the D triple C and we met when she came to yell at me about… something. It’s weird but I honestly can’t even remember what I had done to warrant a visit from a very angry employee from the Congressional Campaign Committee. All I know is that the moment I saw her storming into my office I was hooked.

“I know you haven’t been avoiding me Josh. Well, not directly at least. You’ve lost lost interest. And that’s fine. Really. I’m not upset or anything. I just don’t see the point in us pretending that you are in this anymore. It seems… unproductive.”

I think about that for a few moments. Had I lost interest? I still think she’s beautiful. I still think she is smart, funny and amazing at her job. She can run rings around any of the idiots she interacts with at work and often times gives me a run for my money. And the sex is amazing. So is it possible I’ve lost interest? I suppose when I think about it, it is a bit weird that I haven’t seen her for two weeks. I mean, yeah, I am a busy guy but I distinctly remember hanging out with Sam at least three times since I last saw Hannah. In fact, I dragged him away from work just the other night and made him watch a Mets game with me even though Sam hates baseball. Thinking about it now, maybe I should have called Hannah instead. Huh.

“Unproductive?”

“Yes Josh. Unproductive. I mean, we are colleagues and I would like us to still be able to talk to each other without things being awkward. I figured if we left things much longer you would realise that you had lost interest and then make a mess of things as you often do by trying to get me to break up with you by starting a fight or something. So I figured I would end things now so we can still be friends.”

Well that seems a little unfair. I’m about to say as much when some staffer whose name I can’t remember comes up and says hi to Hannah, asking her about a budgetary meeting that they are both going to after lunch. Taking a moment to take stock of the situation, I can’t help thinking about what Sam will say when he hears about this. Knowing Sam, he will probably mock me endlessly while secretly worrying that I am hiding some deep-seated pain at the loss of my apparently now ex-girlfriend. He’s contrary that way.

“Okay well I’m almost finished lunch so I will come straight over to your office once I finish up with Josh.”

Hearing my name I jerk to attention just in time to see Hannah smile and wave to her departing colleague. When she turns back to me, this time the smile doesn’t disappear but takes on a slightly more self-depreciatory note.

“Worked it out yet?”

“Yeah, I guess I have. I’m sorry Hannah.” At my apology she shakes her head slightly, laughing softly under her breath.

“It’s okay Josh, no hard feelings.” I suppose it hurts my pride a little at how well she is taking my loss but then again, at least I don’t have to start diving into open offices in an attempt to avoid her in the hallways. No, this is probably better. Especially considering that avoiding both Zoe, my previous ex, and Hannah would have made my life infinitely more difficult. There are only so many open doors through which to throw one’s self, after all.

“Yeah, no hard feelings. I still have twenty minutes for lunch, so you want me to walk you to your meeting?”

“Nah, that’s okay. I’m a big girl. Good luck with the idiot Republican staffer.” As she stands up she flashes me a cheeky grin before reaching down to grab her bag and coat, then turns around and walks out of the diner we were having lunch in. It takes a few moments to realise that the cheeky grin was because she had left me with the check. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I counted out the bills for the check and tip on the table. It was a very Hannah thing to do all things considered and let me know that things were all right between us. It made me oddly happy to know that even though she was no longer my girlfriend we could probably still talk and hang out together. Huh. This really has to be a first. Usually my relationships end with a lot more screaming.

Walking back to the Hill, I can’t help the little spring in my step. Looking down at my watch I realise I still have fifteen minutes left until I have to be back so instead of heading straight for Congressman Brennan’s office, I take a quick detour towards Congressman Fairchild’s office. Sam would definitely get a kick out of how mature and adult I was being. It was rather impressive really. Yes, I should definitely let Sam know.

Strutting into Fairchild’s office my gaze immediately hones in on Sam working at his desk. His face is in what I call the Sam Seaborn Deep Concentration Expression as he madly writes across a yellow legal pad. I love Sam in Deep Concentration mode. He gets this funny little wrinkle between his eyebrows and I’m pretty sure a nuclear bomb could be set off within his near vicinity and he wouldn’t notice until the lights went out and he could no longer see the page in front of him. Thinking about the first time I ever saw him, sitting at his desk one moment then sailing through the air and crashing onto the ground the next, I can’t help but smile. The kid is kind of adorable. Not that he is that much younger than me, but there is something about Sam’s big blue eyes and naïve way of looking at the world that makes him seem far younger than I am.

Wandering over to his desk, I lean on the edge so I’m almost next to him, placing my hand on the back of his chair, before announcing my presence with a booming recitation of his full name. His reaction is predictably adorable, jerking violently and, but for the grace of my hand of the back of his chair, almost sending himself sprawling across the floor again. After a moment in which I am assume he is attempting to restart his heart, he sweeps his gaze up to meet mine, narrowing his eyes when he sees my self-satisfied smirk.

“You know Josh, one day I am going keel over from a heart attack and then what would you do?”

“Steal that first edition of Catcher in the Rye that you never let me touch?”

“Over my dead, rotting corpse, Josh.”

“Well Sam, wouldn’t that kind of be the case considering the heart attack and everything?” At this, Sam sniffs derisively.

“Not at all, Josh. I merely said you would give me a heart attack, I never said I wouldn’t survive said heart attack and exact my revenge upon you and all those you hold dear.” This is why I love Sam. All pretty much anyone sees is the kind hearted, naïve, sweet natured young man but chip beneath the surface and you find a weirdly twisted personality who refuses to take any shit from me and swears like a dockworker once you get a few drinks into him. It’s not really in my nature to believe in fate or crap like that, but I honestly think I was just waiting for him to pop up in my life. He just fits. No adjustments required. Sam just wandered, or in his case crashed, into my life and perfectly fit some weird Sam shaped gap I never realised I had. In the five months we had known each other he had become my best friend and I honestly wasn’t sure what I would do without him around.

“Well there is one less person to exact revenge upon, kiddo.” At my use of the nickname I gave him fifteen minutes after we first met, Sam’s lip twitched slightly down into a frown. Honestly, it said something about how much of an asshole I could be that I liked that Sam didn’t like his nickname. Riling Sam up was had quickly become one of my favourite past times in these last few months and I enjoyed the little unconscious twitch he got every time I reminded him that I was older and wiser than he would ever be. Sam, however, seemed to have gotten over his brief flicker of annoyance because worry was quickly filling his bright blue eyes.

“Is everything okay Josh?”

“Yeah everything’s fine. Hannah and I broke up is all.” Well Hannah broke up with me but is there really any need to tell Sam that? Surely Sam will be just fine not knowing that I was dumped in a diner on my lunch break. I would really prefer not to give him that kind of ammunition.

“So Hannah dumped you, huh?” Curse Sam and his stupid perceptiveness.

“In a manner of speaking, I suppose.”

“Oh god. What did you do this time? Please don’t tell me that you did the same thing as with Zoe. Josh, you can’t just go around picking fights with women in the hope that they will break up with you so you don’t have to do it.”

“Hey! First of all, there was no fighting. Just a mutual agreement that our relationship had run its course. Second of all, you are the second person to say that to me today. I do not start fights with women in the hopes that they will break up with me so I won’t have to.”

“You kind of do, Josh. Don’t worry though. I think that most women find your bumbling inability to actually conduct a relationship like a grown adult endearing for some odd reason. I suppose there is no accounting for taste.” My eloquent response to that comment is to huff loudly and level him with what I hope is a particularly vicious glare. Considering that Sam doesn’t seem very fazed though, I think either my glare is not working or he has built up some kind of tolerance over the course of our friendship.

“In all seriousness, though. Are you okay Josh? Is there anything you need me to do?” Looking into the concerned gaze of my best friend I find myself smiling softly. He really is a giant marshmallow.

“Nah, Sam. I’m fine. Probably too fine actually. Hannah said I had lost interest in her a while back and I suppose she was right.”

“Thrill of the chase I suppose?” From anyone else, I probably would have been offended at the implication that I was only interested in women as some expression of manly dominance or something. But I know that Sam would never mean it that way so I gave his comment a moment of thought. I suppose there is something to it. I enjoy the witty repartee that comes from the beginning of a relationship, the tension that permeates the air in the time before everything settles into some measure of coupled bliss. Huh. Trust Sam to figure that out before I ever did.

“Maybe.” After my soft agreement we sit there for a few moments just looking at each other. It’s weird but Sam has to be one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. I mean sure, he’s gorgeous. A blind person could see that. And I am definitely not blind. But it’s something else. He’s honestly a good person. He cares so much about everything that it often times hurts him, and when he decides that he cares about you he gives you his unending acceptance and understanding. Sometimes, like now for instance, that capacity for kindness takes my breath away.

Oh shit.

Fuck.

No. No, no, no, no, no.

God dammit.

I’m in love with Sam Seaborn. When the fuck did that happen?

Chapter Text

Sitting there staring at the TV in front of me I had to take a moment wonder how the fuck I got here. Here being sitting next to my straight, male best friend who I was hopelessly in love with, knowing that I could never tell him that. I mean, I don’t even like baseball. I should have figured out that I was monumentally screwed the first time he asked me to come over and watch a Mets game. I’m sometimes honestly amazed at myself and the pathetic levels to which I will sink to spend time with Josh Lyman.

Baseball for Christ’s sake.

Looking surreptitiously out of the corner of my eye I watch as Josh leans forward, elbows on his knees, staring avidly at the tiny figures on the screen. Something must happen to upset him because suddenly his brow furrows and releases a long groan that he will definitely never find out turns me on more than most porn. God I’m pathetic.

Turning my attention back to the screen I watch as one indistinguishable human blob does something with a smaller indistinguishable blob which then means that another blob starts moving across the screen in what I am going to assume is breakneck speed. This seems to upset Josh more if the continuing groans and moans my dreams are made of are anything to go by.

Fuck I’m going to miss him.

It was almost two years since I had met Josh and in that time he had somehow crawled under my skin and fused himself to my soul. I would almost be angry at letting it happen, but in the few periods of the day when I was actually honest with myself I know that I would take every second of pain of the last two years because I had Josh with me. Josh, who was the most aggravating, arrogant asshole I had ever met and yet somehow was also the thing that made my life actually make sense. He was the person that I called when I got promoted from lowly congressional staffer to slightly less lowly DCCC staffer. He was the person I talked to when my mother got pneumonia and I nearly went out of my mind with worry. He was the person I sought out when I was sick, or stressed about work, or upset about a breakup. Somehow in this wide-open world I found the one person that just made sense to me. And I would never be able to have him.

It took me quite a while to come to terms with that fact. Oh, of course logically I always knew that it was a pipe dream, but no matter how often I told myself that it was impossible, a last sliver of hope held out against the encroaching darkness of reality. So I pined, clinging onto Josh as my best friend all the while knowing that best friend wasn’t anywhere near enough. And in the course of pining for almost two years the sliver of hope endured and I fell more and more in love with the egotistical dickbag.

Of course, that last tendril of hope was nicely obliterated six months ago when Josh met Freya Carr, the floor manager for Congresswoman Holt and, to hear Josh tell it, the love of his life. Of course, Josh seems to believe that about any woman who is attractive and able to argue with him and win, so initially I wasn’t too concerned. As the weeks went by, however, I watched as Josh not only chased the girl (which was by the by for him really) and got the girl (which was also a depressingly inevitable conclusion, the stupidly attractive dingbat), but subsequently kept the girl. And didn’t that just blast my heart into smithereens?

There were three things I always knew about Joshua Lyman. First, he was one of the brightest political minds I had ever come across. Possibly the brightest. Which was something I would never tell him because I honestly would be worried about his head swelling to such an extent that it somehow interfere with Earth’s orbit.

Second, something had happened to Josh to make him so afraid of losing the people that he cared for that it made my heart ache for him. He had never told me and I had never asked but sometimes he would get a haunted look and I would have to fight tooth and nail to stop myself from reaching out, running my fingers through his hair, and kissing the lost look from his face.

Third, Josh was terrible at relationships. Olympic level terrible. He once explained to me that he never learned what you do after you think you like somebody and from watching him I have come to believe that. It was almost comical in a way. Josh meets girl, Josh falls for girl, Josh chases girl and annoys her until she inevitably loses patience with him and makes the first move, Josh then freaks out about the relationship and deliberately antagonises girl until she breaks it off. Rinse and repeat. And thus the cycle continues ending each and every time with him sitting on my couch, eating pizza and waxing nostalgic about the mysteries of the female species.

So, yeah, when Freya came onto the scene I wasn’t worried. Sure it hurt. Seeing Josh fall for a woman always hurt, always picked at that last fraction of hope still in me that is screaming out why can’t be me? Why can it never be me? But my hope endured as it always did until I realised that something was different. She was different.

Because Freya Carr was kind of amazing. She took absolutely none of Josh’s shit, throwing back whatever he dished out to her ten times worse. It took almost two months for them finally go on their first date because she refused to let him off the hook. She made him work for every scrap of time and attention he got from her and didn’t let him skate on any of his usual courtship tactics. She turned Josh’s usual relationship dynamics on their head and it worked, because after four months Josh was still crazy about her. Still got this big goofy grin whenever someone mentioned her or she walked into the room.

So yeah, Freya Carr was amazing; intelligent, gorgeous, successful, kind to those around her, and above all else obviously in love with Josh. But she also broke my heart and with it the last ray of hope I kept locked away. So three months ago, when I got a call from a friend in Dewey Ballantine asking me if I would come interview for a job, I jumped at the offer.

Of course, I hadn’t told Josh about the interview yet. All he knew was that I went down to New York for a few days to visit an old college buddy. I also haven’t told him that they had offered me the job and that I accepted. He didn’t know that I have given my notice and will be moving to New York in a month. If I was painfully honest with myself I know the reason why I haven’t told him yet. When I tell him, Josh will be happy for me. Sure, he will miss working and hanging out with his best friend, but he won’t try to stop me. He won’t ask me to stay. Josh will send me off with a smile and a wave and call me every so often to catch up with things. Josh will be fine, and knowing that he will be fine, hearing him say that, will destroy a piece of me that I am honestly worried I will never get back.

Seeming to sense my darkening thoughts, Josh sidles up next to me and bumps our shoulders together.

“If you stare much harder at the TV it may just burst into flames.” Met with my continual silence, he seems to get slightly concerned. “You alright Sam?”

“Yeah, I’m great. Just thinking about some things.”

“’Some things’ huh? Got a girl on the mind?” Well there is that to be said for moving to New York, I probably wont feel this lancing pain through my chest quite so often. Shrugging slightly in response to his statement I decide to just rip the Band-Aid off.

“I got a job offer.”

“Oh yeah? That’s great! Where? How come I didn’t know about this?”

“It’s at Dewey Ballantine.” Dead silence greets my statement. Josh, who had just been poking my ribs with his elbow in what I’m sure he imagines is a congratulatory manner has gone completely still, the only proof that he is still in the room being his soft breathing.

“Dewey Ballantine. That’s in New York, right?”

“Yeah.” More silence. I should look over at him, but if I’m being honest, I kind of don’t want to. I knew he would be shocked at my sudden decision, considering whenever we talked about our futures it was always assumed that we would both stay working in Democratic politics. I also know that me not telling Josh about this until now will hurt him, because even though he doesn’t love me the way I want him to, the way I need him to, he does still love me as a friend. A brother. And me leaving is going to hurt him. So yeah, I’m a fucking coward, but I would prefer not to see that haunted look on his face and know that I am the one responsible for putting it there. So instead I keep staring blankly at the TV, hoping he will assume that I am interested in the game rather than trying not to breakdown and cry while begging him to choose me.

“So… New York. Wow. Um, when did you… I mean. Wow.” He clears his throat and then seems to find the words he was looking for. “That’s great Sam! You must be so excited! I have to say it is definitely unexpected but you always did love the law so I’m really happy for you. God it’s going to be weird without you. Who else will watch the Mets and eat pizza with me?”

The petty part of me wants to snipe that I’m sure his girlfriend would but I stifle that impulse almost immediately. It’s not Josh’s fault I went and fell for him. And it’s certainly not Josh’s fault that he is not interested in me. In an effort to be the best friend he considers me to be, I make an effort to shove the hurt down, and turn to smile at him.

“Yeah I’m pretty excited. And I’m not moving for another month so I think you have a couple more pizza nights left with me. Of course, my revenge for you making me watch all this baseball is that you are going to have to help me pack up my apartment, so you have that to look forward too.” Something in Josh’s eyes seems to harden when I mention that I am leaving in a month but as soon as it’s there it’s gone just as quickly, and I am left wondering if maybe I was seeing things because the next moment Josh is back to his usual joking self.

“Hey! How is that a fair trade? I allow you the honour of watching the Mets in all their glory while you permanently damage my spinal cord by making me move your couch. Seems like an inequitable trade it if you ask me.” Rolling my eyes, I bump my shoulder up against his.

“Fine. How about you come and help me move, and I supply pizza and beer. Fair?”

“Considering the permanent damage I may be incurring you are getting off cheap, but okay. I accept your terms.”

“Well thank God for that.” Shaking his head while smiling, Josh shifts his attention back to the game. Just as I think the conversation is over, however, he murmurs softly, “I’m going to miss you kiddo.”

At the use of the nickname that he knows I hate an explosion of pain is set off in my chest. Josh is only four years older than me but he worked out pretty quickly that nothing annoyed me more than him lauding his 48 extra months of life experience over my head. Of course, a part of me loved the nickname simply for the fact that Josh gave it to me. But that was a part of me that I liked to pretend didn’t exist because sometimes I prefer that my pride isn’t trampled into the dust. Taking a gulp of air and using all my strength to push the rising tears down, I pull my lips up in the semblance of a smile, hoping that it is either convincing enough to pass inspection or that Josh is too absorbed in watching the Mets lose to notice otherwise.

I wonder briefly if I am making the right decision. If I am leaving for the right reasons. Maybe I should try to stick it out? Maybe if I pretend long enough I will convince myself that I’m not in love with Joshua Lyman. Then again, maybe if I wish really hard Congress will make all firearms illegal and college tuition free for all those who want it. I need to heal, I need to forget. And I will never be able to do either of those things standing next to Josh, feeling every move he makes away from me as if I was losing a limb. I need to let him go, and I can’t do that if I have to keep on watching his life unfold in front of me like some sick Shakespearean tragedy. I refuse to be a spectator in my life, relegated to the brokenhearted side character that dies in the third act. Fuck that. So I will let him go and hope that in a few years I will be able to be exactly what he thinks me to be, his best friend.

“I’m going to miss you too, Josh.”

Chapter Text

What am I doing here? I mean, seriously what the hell am I doing here? This has to be one of the most monumentally stupid things I have ever done, and considering some of my life choices that is really saying something. Five years. It’s been five years since Sam left Washington DC. Left me. And here I am staring at the pictures of a beautiful blonde woman adorning his desk like a heart broken middle school student. Seriously what the hell am I doing here?

I think Leo is to blame for this. Leo and his “because that’s what sons do for old friends of their fathers.” Of course, Leo didn’t tell me to deliberately book a flight that had a four-hour layover in New York. No, that was all me and whatever masochistic love struck idiot suddenly took control of my body and decided that what I really needed, on top of everything else I had going on lately, was a giant, steaming pile of Sam Seaborn will never want you as anything more than a friend. Then again, considering that from the moment Sam left he has actively avoided seeing or talking to me, maybe I should consider myself lucky if he even still counts himself as my friend.

Maybe it’s this shit with Hoynes. God, I am tired. The all but assured nominee for the Democratic Presidential nomination and I’m pretty sure that the sky will turn bright green before Hoynes actually decides to stand for something other than winning the Presidency. I just about lost it during the meeting a couple of days ago and Hoynes knows it too. I know he won’t fire me because I’m the best and he needs the best, but part of me is honestly just sitting there wondering what the fuck am I even doing here? Hoynes is a political operative, but he will never be a statesman. He will never say anything that matters because sometimes the things that matter aren’t popular and don’t win you elections. And there is a part of me that is dying a little inside the longer I work on his campaign.

So here I find myself, standing inside Sam’s office in Gage Whitney Pace, uninvited and possibly unwanted staring at proof that Sam’s life has gone on just fine without me in it.

“Mr. Seaborn is in a meeting but I’ll go and find him and tell him that you are here.”

“Thanks.” Watching Sam’s secretary leave I turn back to my oh so casual perusal of Sam’s private life, or at least the private life he feels comfortable displaying on his desk. His girlfriend is pretty. And they look happy together. And I’m not entirely sure what to think about that. On the one hand all I want is for Sam to be happy. On the other hand I want him to be happy with me. God dammit. This was a bad idea. Over the years I have managed to put all things Sam Seaborn related into a nice little box that sits in a deserted corner of my mind. I had to, really. Him leaving and subsequently seeming to forget I ever existed hurt more than I would ever admit, even to myself, and it was a matter of survival. Putting Sam in a box that was wrapped in yellowing tape screaming CAUTION was really the only way I was going to cope.

So that begs the original question, of course, what the hell am I doing here? I suppose I could be here to get Sam to work on Hoynes’ campaign. He was one of the best speechwriters I have ever met and at this point I’m desperate. If Hoynes continues in his refusal to have any kind of genuine social agenda the least I can do is get Sam to manufacture the appearance of one. Great oratory can go a long way, even when the orator isn’t actually saying anything.

Okay, yeah, I can roll with this. I am stopping through New York on my way to Nashua (yes it is weird that the only flights I could get had a four-hour layover here, Sam. What a coincidence). While I was here I figured I might as well stop by and catch up with an old friend and see if he was interested in coming to work of my empty suit of a boss who, in all likelihood, is going to be the next President of the United States. God help us all. At least he was a Democrat…

“Hey!” At the familiar sound of Sam’s voice I whip my head around so fast I may or may not have heard something crack in my neck. Okay. Wow. Well then, it appears the photos on Sam’s desk did not do him justice. Dammit.

“How’re ya doin’?” Oh great, less than five seconds in Sam’s presence and I already have lost full command of the English language. This bodes well. Sam for his part doesn’t seem to notice my nervousness and smiles brightly as we hug each other in greeting.

“Hey, you look fit.” Choosing not to read anything in to that statement, I remember suddenly that I overheard two people talking earlier about Sam making partner.

“You made partner?”

“Next month. Listen I’m hungry, you want to, uh, go get a hot dog or something?” Well that was certainly a Sam Seaborn non sequitur special.

“It’s nine-thirty in the morning.”

“Yeah, they’ll be fresh. Come on.” God I missed Sam and his gloriously weird brain. I swear the man makes absolutely no sense. Every time I think I have a handle on him he springs something on me that forces me to re-evaluate everything I thought I knew about him. And while hotdogs for breakfast isn’t exactly a life altering revelation, it reminds me of all the little ways Sam used to surprise me, leaving me desperately trying to catch up and enjoying even minute of it.

“Ah-kay.” With Sam’s arm resting on my back he leads me out of his office towards the elevators, only removing his arm when he goes to push the down button.

“So how have you been, man? I haven’t seen you in years.” Before I get a chance to answer, the elevator arrives on our floor and we shuffle inside, Sam pressing the button for the ground level.

“Yeah, I’m good. Busy working on Hoynes’ campaign though.”

“I heard about you doing that. Congratulations man. Must be a serious amount of work.” Letting out a bark of laughter at that understatement I couldn’t help but reach over and grip Sam’s shoulder.

“You have no idea. I swear I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since I got the job. What about you though? Partner? That’s amazing, Sam.” At my praise Sam’s cheeks go a little red and he smiles up at me. Sam was always like that, uncharacteristically shy when it came to any sort of praise. Another contradiction that I could never get enough of.

“Thanks Josh. So w-” Whatever Sam was about to say, however, was interrupted when the elevator doors open and the man who entered saw Sam and immediately started asking him how the meeting was going and why he wasn’t in there. Sam, for his part, seemed to stiffen slightly and then started answering the man’s questions. Other than something about oil tankers I didn’t really get much of what they were saying, mostly because I was going over what I had to do for Hoynes once I got back from Nashua. Eventually, though, the elevator arrives at the ground floor and Sam put his hand on my back again, leading me out into the lobby.

“Hey, Sam, if you have a meeting to get back to don’t worry about me.”

“Shut up Josh. I haven’t seen you in five years, I duck out of a meeting for fifteen minutes while we catch up.” At that statement I couldn’t really stop the near maniacal grin that lit up my face. We exit the building and walk together, Sam’s hand still on my back subtly guiding me.

“So how’s Freya doing?” At the mention of my long ago ex-girlfriend my head jerks towards Sam meeting eyes that, somehow, almost look apprehensive.

“Freya? She’s good. She’s working as a staffer for Senator Williams and last I talked to her she had just finished drafting a new bill that Williams wants to put forward on paid family leave. She seems to be enjoying it although she constantly complains about the lack of dating opportunities.”

“Oh, so you guys aren’t together anymore?”

“Nah, man. We broke up a couple of months after you moved. We’re still friends though. She forces me to come out every so often and act as her wingman. I tell her that my natural magnetism would scare off her potential suitors but she insists I’m full of it.” This seems to momentarily throw Sam for a few seconds because he just looks up at me blinking those gorgeous blue eyes. God I forgot how blue they were. If I were a writer like Sam I could probably compare them to something beautiful like an ocean or something, but all my brain can ever come up with when he looks at me is the most perfect blue I have ever seen.

“Oh. Um, I’m sorry, Josh. I know you really liked her. I’m glad you’re still friends though.”

“Yeah me too. I swear, her and Hannah are the only two of my exes who can actually stand to be around me.”

“You still see Hannah?”

“Not so much these days. She moved to Seattle a few years ago but we catch up every so often when she is in DC.” Before Sam can answer we arrive at the hotdog stand and we both order our food. After finishing eating, we start walking back toward his office. I suddenly realise that unless I think of something else to talk about, I am going to have to ask Sam about the woman in the photos on his desk. And I really don’t think I can do that. Casting around for a topic of conversation I land on something that, while mildly embarrassing, definitely doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of risk in terms of emotional fallout.

“You know, I was going to call before I came here but then the strangest thing happened.”

“What?”

“I forgot the name of your firm.”

“Gage Whitney?”

“Yeah.”

“You couldn’t remember Gage Whitney.” Sam seems to find this more and more amusing the longer he thinks about it if the cheeky grin he is sporting is any indication. It almost feels like old times, hanging out, laughing about stupid things the two of us did at work.

“I know!”

“Second biggest law firm in New York.”

“I know.”

“Did the Shearson deal-“

“Yeah!”

“Bought TransCom.”

“I really do know Gage Whitney, I’m saying I’m just, um, um… I’m having a, uh, brain problem.” It’s as I’m saying this that I fully comprehend for the first time how tired I actually am, and it’s not even a physical weariness. I am emotionally drained. Somewhere along the way working on Hoynes’ campaign had started chipping pieces of myself away, and I’m only now realising how little of myself I have left. Sam seems to realise something is wrong because he immediately asks the important question.

“What are you doing in town?” I wanted to see you. I miss you and I didn’t even realise how much until I found myself standing in front of you hating the fact that you left, and it was so easy for you to forget about me. I miss your smile, the way you laugh when I say stupid shit. I miss how you never let me get away with not being the best version of myself, because for some strange reason you always expected me to be better than I ever required of myself. But of course, I don’t say any of that, because what the fuck would be the point?

“I’m on my way to Nashua”

“What’s in Nashua?” Thinking about Leo and Bartlet I can’t help but sigh.

“A waste of time. But listen, you know why I’m here?”

“You want me to quit my job and come work for Hoynes?”

“He’s going to win, Sam.”

“So what does he need me for?”

“A better campaign. Come do some speech writing.” It takes me a few moments to realise that Sam has stopped walking, and as I turn around he, once again, changes everything I thought I knew about him.

“Lisa and I are getting married in September.” My world stops. Literally stops. It’s like I’m having an outer body experience because even as my brain is screaming at me to say something, anything for God’s sake, all I can do is stand there with my mouth open, staring at Sam.

“Ah.” Well at least it was something I guess. Not my most eloquent of statements, but then again, I never really claimed to be eloquent. That’s more Sam’s thing.

“Yeah.” God he looks so happy, and there is a large part of me that wants to be happy for him too. But there is an even larger part that is screaming at me to get out, get out right the fuck now, because honestly what the fuck did you expect? He already left, he already told you louder and clearer than any words could ever have done that he doesn’t want you, so why the hell are you still putting yourself through this?

“’Kay.” Okay Josh. Maybe start moving onto words with more than one syllable. “Listen I shou- I got, uh, I gotta go. I should let you…” Okay that really wasn’t all that much better.

“I gotta get back to this thing.”

“It’s good seeing you again.”

“It’s good seeing you too. I miss you.” And doesn’t that just fucking burn. I know Sam, and I know that he doesn’t lie, so he really is telling the truth. But honestly, if he missed me so much, maybe he should have answered the fucking phone once in the half a million times I called him over the last five years. So I walk away. Or at least I start to walk away, but apparently my mouth is, as is usual, working independently from my brain because it takes it upon itself to try to delay leaving Sam in anyway it can think of.

“Hey, congratulations on the partnership.”

“Josh?” Oh god dammit. I shouldn’t have said that. I need to get out of here before the anger my hurt is fast condensing into spills over and launches itself at Sam. Sam, who definitely doesn’t deserve my rage just because he doesn’t want me back.

“Hoynes.” Oh another Seaborn non sequitur. Trust Sam to somehow know where to poke to compound my hurt exponentially. “He’s not the real thing, is he?”

“See, uh, the thing that you gotta know about Hoynes is-”

“It’s okay.”

“No I’m, um, saying…”

“Josh. What are you doing?” And isn’t that the question of the hour. What the hell am I doing? Why did I come here? What did I honestly expect to happen? Sam to leave his entire life in New York and come back home to DC with me to elect a man with about as much substance as an empty Tupperware container? God I just want this day to be over.

“I don’t know. What are you doing?”

“Protecting oil companies from litigation.” Sam seems to mistake my current emotional turmoil for disapproval over his career choices because he continues. “They’re our client. They don’t lose legal protection because they make a lot of money.”

“Can’t believe no one ever wrote a folk song about that.” At my awesome joke, Sam laughs and I find myself almost drowning in the wave of emotions that crash over me. I love Sam, but I will never have him. But I still need him in my life. Just looking at him laugh somehow makes everything in my life seem lighter, brighter. Maybe, just maybe, I can have him in my life. He won’t work for Hoynes, I knew that before I even thought about asking him, but maybe, if Bartlet is who Leo seems to think he is, I could keep Sam. Even just a small piece of him. Maybe that could be enough.

“If I see the real thing in Nashua, should I tell you about it?”

“You won’t have to.”

“Why?”

“You’ve got a pretty bad poker face.” That is kind of hilarious. Considering the fact that the entire time we have been talking I have been almost half second way from saying fuck it, throwing caution to the wind, and just kissing him there in the middle of Midtown, if Sam could read me as easily as he seems to think I doubt he would want to be within a hundred city blocks of me. But it doesn’t matter. I can do this. I can be Sam’s friend because not having Sam in my life hurts far more than I ever imagined it would, and I am willing to take the pain if I still get Sam in whatever way he is willing to give himself to me. I don’t know if Nashua will work out, and I honestly have my doubts, but it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m going to be a part of Sam’s life even if I have to pry myself an opening with a crowbar. I’m not going to let him leave me again.

“Okay. Take it easy.”

Chapter Text

I can’t stop thinking about Josh. And not in the mildly pathetic way I used to obsess over him, but in the definitely pathetic way that I am now questioning every life choice that has brought me to this conference room, listening as a bunch of rich oil executives place their financial interests over everybody else. Because even though Hoynes isn’t the real thing, Josh is, and Josh is still out there, trying to make a difference in the world in a way that will benefit more than just the wealthiest of Americans.

I should have known this would happen the moment my secretary told me Josh was in my office. Josh is like a hurricane, he blows through my life, uprooting long held beliefs and washing away whatever certainty I had about who and what I am until I am left with nothing but chaos and destruction in his wake. So here I am, standing in the wake of Hurricane Josh, wondering what the fuck just happened to me.

It’s at this point that I feel a twinge of guilt. No, I can’t let Josh do this to me. I have Lisa and our life together to think about. We are getting married in September and I am ecstatic because I love her. When I was broken down, ripped apart by what I felt for Josh, fucking anything with a heartbeat in a misguided effort to numb the pain, it was Lisa that pulled me back together again. She helped me heal. She helped me move on. And I thank God for her each and every day.

She figured out pretty quickly that I left someone behind in DC. It didn’t even take her more than three months to work out that it was a man. But she didn’t care. She simply held me when it felt like the pain would break me apart. And it worked. I’m over Josh. Sure, seeing him in my office threw me for a few moments, and I may have felt the slightest bit of relief at hearing that he had broken up with Freya, but that was normal. Those were the inevitable twinges of a first love come and gone, and I can honestly say that being friends, and only friends, with Josh is something that I actually want.

Of course, that doesn’t exactly explain my impulsive decision not to shoot Josh down when he mentioned coming to get me if he found the real thing. That was definitely… ill advised. I have a life here in New York. Soon I'm going to have a wife and all the responsibilities that follow on from that, and I really can’t be entertaining the notion of dropping everything to follow Josh on some political campaign. It’s probably a moot point anyway. Josh usually has a good eye for these kinds of things and he was definitely not even remotely enthused about his trip to New Hampshire. And what the fuck is wrong with me that that thought gives me a sinking feeling in my chest?

Goddamn Hurricane Josh.

As another example of the apparent necessity of keeping Josh Lyman far away from my life, I still cannot believe that I just spent the entire of last night and this morning researching oil tankers. I also cannot believe that I am actually planning on saying something about this. In the meeting. With the clients. In front of my boss. After he just reamed me out for bringing this up earlier in the meeting. Maybe Lisa is right. Maybe I am too idealistic. But there is something about Josh that makes my idealism seem like realism or at least makes it seem like I should work to make my idealism reality. God I’m babbling. I only saw him for maximum fifteen minutes, and fucking Joshua Lyman somehow has me both internally babbling and ready to upend my entire career on the remote possibility that I might actually make a difference in the world.

So here I am, sitting in this shitty conference room, using every bit of my considerable self-control to stop myself from opening my mouth and getting fired. Because I have responsibilities. I have Lisa. I can’t drop everything to follow Josh on a political campaign. I’m hoping that if I say this enough times to myself I will keep my mouth shut and remain employed.

“Sam?”

“Hm?”

“Fifteen year pre-tax amortisation.” Staring at Lily for a few moments I can suddenly see my options with crystalline clarity. Bite my tongue and keep my job. Say what I think and keep my morals.

Goddamn Hurricane Josh.

“Eleven million extra dollars.” Predictably the entire room bursts into groans but something in me has obviously decided that it does not give two flying fucks because I am not stopping.

“Money is going to be spent, Mr. Locke. You can spend it now, or you can spend it later, but it’s cheaper to spend it now.” My boss tries to interrupt me but somehow I am still going.

“It’s also the right thing to do. Spend eleven million extra dollars.”

“Sam.” Oh great, that was my boss. I am definitely fired.

“Spend it on a better boat.”

“DAMMIT!” Hmm, he might even sue me.

“The Amoco Cadiz, 68 million gallons if crude oil off Brittany, France. Braer, a Liberian tanker, 26 million gallons off the Shetland Islands. I just pulled these off the internet last night. Exxon Valdez, the Aegean Sea. The Argo Merchant. Look it up.”

“I’m sure ther-“

“Spend eleven million extra dollars!” I wonder if I have gone crazy. This feels like I have gone crazy. I wonder if I can plead insanity when Mr. Whitney decides to sue me over this. There is probably precedence somewhere.

“Sam that’s enough!”

“You don’t want to pay for it, pass the expense on to us.” Oh great, I am now pulling money out of my wallet and babbling without any real thought. Jesus Christ I am so fired. Lisa is going to blow a gasket. Her brain might actually explode. How am I going to explain this to her? Oh hey, babe, I saw the guy I was hopelessly in love with for over four years yesterday and somehow his mere presence convinced me to drop a grenade into my career. I’m sorry?

It’s just as I’m thinking about the look on her face when she finds out about today and whether pleading temporary insanity would get me off the hook with her as well when I suddenly hear a knock to my left. And there, standing at the window to the conference room is Joshua Lymon, soaked from head to toe and I can’t seem to bring myself to look away. Seriously, fuck my life today. Suddenly everyone is calling my name but again and the client is talking to me but I can’t stop myself from looking back and Josh. Josh, who somehow manages to look beautiful even when he is doing an admirable impression of a drowned cat.

As we make eye contact again, he points up to his face and that’s when it clicks. Someone is talking to me, I think it’s the client, but I honestly would not notice at this point if he stripped down and began dancing the Macarena naked on the conference table. All I could see was Josh.

“Yeah. Yeah?”

Josh nods and that’s it. That’s literally all it takes. Josh standing there, stupid grin on his face, dimples on full display and I’m caught, hook, line and sinker. Because even though I may not be in love with Josh any more, and I am most definitely not because that would be pathetic and immature and a whole manner of things I refuse to be, I know exactly where I am going to be next week, next month or next year. Wherever the fuck Josh Lyman drags me.

Goddamn Hurricane Josh.

Chapter Text

“Soooo, what’s he like?” As always, hearing Lisa’s voice drag the ‘so’ out makes me smile. If someone had told me five years ago, hell even four years ago, that I would be in a relationship with a woman I loved and we has inside jokes I would have said they were delusional. I was so buried so deep in everything Josh Lyman that it seemed like I could never actually dig my way out into the sunlight. But that’s what Lisa was, the sunlight, the shovel and the friend who pulled me out at the end. She gave me my life back. Everything that I am now I owed to the foundations she helped me lay down.

“The Governor? He’s… interesting.”

“Interesting? That doesn’t sound good Sam.” Lisa can always see through my shit. Truthfully, I had been working on Bartlet’s campaign for almost two months and things were starting to get demoralising. Bartlet was an ornery bastard at the best of times, and at some point he appears to have decided never to learn any of his senior staffers’ names. And considering I once overheard him recite the entire Declaration of Independence, in Latin, from memory, it’s not as if remembering Josh, Sam, C.J., and Toby is particularly mentally taxing. It took me all of thirty seconds and that was taking into account that I had been distracted by Josh, who had decided to let loose and leave way too many of his shirt’s buttons undone.

So here I was, in New Hampshire, away from Lisa and our life together, stuck here with a Presidential candidate that seemed like he wanted to be anywhere else but on the campaign trail. Which did not inspire confidence, if I’m going to be honest about these things. It was equally demoralising that it appeared that I was not the only person thinking along these lines. Toby seemed to exist in a constant state of bemused resignation, C.J. looked about five minutes away from throwing in the towel, Leo spent the entire time trying to smooth things over, and Josh just seemed increasingly exhausted. I swear, if I didn’t trust Josh implicitly and if there hadn’t been moments when I saw what he apparently saw that night in Nashua, I would have already left. But every so often Bartlet lets us see who he really is behind his one-man show, World’s Biggest Asshole, so we all stay. Because, almost despite ourselves, we all actually believe in the son of a bitch. Go figure.

“Sam? You there honey?” Jerking back to attention, I realise I had gotten lost in my thoughts.

“Yeah, sorry. Lot on my mind. We’re in South Carolina now trying to beat out Wiley and the entire campaign is going at about a million miles an hour. I don’t think I can actually remember the last time I got more than four hours sleep.”

“God Sam. Make sure you take care of yourself okay?”

“You bet.” We talk for another five minutes or so until it eventually comes time for us to return to our lives.

“Okay, well I have to go. My editor wants this piece written up by tomorrow and I am nowhere near done.”

“You have a good night Lisa. And good luck with the piece. I would really love to read it once you’re done so remember to email it to me, okay?”

“You got it. Love you Sam.”

“Love you too.” After she hangs up I take a moment to breath before pushing myself off the building I was leaning against, and making my way back into the South Carolina campaign office. Once I get inside, however, I immediately wish I had stayed outside for a bit longer. The room is filled with the sound of Josh’s laugh and as I look around, I see him in conversation with his new assistant, Donnatella Moss.

Donna had popped up in the New Hampshire campaign headquarters, pretending to have been hired to work as Josh’s assistant and, Josh being Josh, he hired her. Overall she seemed like a wonderful, highly competent woman who actually somehow managed to put up with Josh, which in and of itself was a significant feat. So the fact that every time I saw her and Josh together I wanted to punch a wall confused me somewhat. I mean, I could understand why their relationship would have upset me five years ago, when I was still hopelessly in love with Josh and emotionally destroyed every time he so much as smiled at another human being, but things were different now. I was different now.

No matter how many times I tell myself this, however, seeing them together still feels wrong. It’s like an itch that you can never scratch so it just keeps on niggling at your mind until, eventually, you would give up everything you own just to be able to scratch it. And as weird as the analogy is, Donna is my itch. Every time she and Josh laugh together, smile at some inside joke, finish each other’s sentences or seem to communicate without saying a word at all, something ugly inside me shifts, leaving me feeling cold and cruel for the things I found myself thinking about a wonderful woman whose only crime was doing her job well and getting along with her boss. Add that to the drama with Bartlet and I was nearing boiling point. My daily calls with Lisa were really the only thing standing between me and exploding in the middle of the campaign office, and even then there was so much I didn’t want to tell her about Josh and Bartlet’s attitude that they were starting to lose their efficacy.

While I was thinking this, Josh seemed to have noticed my presence, giving Donna a quick smile and then bounding over to my side, stopping just short of coming into my personal space. It was weird, but ever since I joined the campaign, I have oticed that Josh seems to be keeping a certain distance from me. When we were in DC together we were constantly in each other’s personal space, touching, hugging, even just nudging each other with our elbows. Now, however, Josh almost never touches me, and if he did it was always with an air that projected upmost reluctance. It was weird, but I suppose that after five years apart it’s natural for our relationship’s dynamic to change.

“Hey Sam. How’s the speech going?”

“Hey Josh, it’s going pretty well. I just took a break to talk to Lisa.”

“Oh. Cool. And, um, she’s, uh, good?”

“Yeah. She’s got a piece that her editor wants tomorrow so she is busy with that but she seems pretty happy with what she has so far.”

“Great. Yeah, that’s, um, great Sam. I’m glad she’s going well.” Giving me a small smile, Josh suddenly casts his eyes across the room, briefly making eye contact with Donna who was on the phone. When she gave him a brief smile and a wave, Josh’s smile softened perceptively, looking far more natural than the strained one he had been giving me.

“So Donna is working out then?”

“Yeah, she’s great. Best assistant I’ve ever had but don’t you dare tell her that. We are going to go out for drinks with Toby, C.J. and a couple others tonight. You should come.” At this, Josh’s gaze finally shifts from Donna back to me, and he gives me an encouraging, almost challenging look. To be honest, the idea of watching Donna and Josh flirt all night sounds tedious, but C.J. is great fun, and nights out with the campaign staff always end with at least one person doing something unbelievably ridiculous so there should be plenty of distractions.

“Yeah. Sounds fun.”

*

It’s the night of the Illinois primary and I’m pretty sure I am so keyed up I’m about to vibrate out of my skin. The hotel room was chaos, there was food on pretty much every flat surface that wasn’t housing a laptop or printouts, you could barely hear yourself think over the cacophony of telephones ringing, and everywhere you moved there were at least three other people moving into the exact same space which, when you took my natural clumsiness into account, meant that I had already developed a close, personal relationship within the hotel carpet.

Having just told Leo that we got the 72-hour undecideds in the 14th and 15th I am riding high, victory so close I can almost taste it. Josh just finished a brief conversation with Leo and catches my eye, giving me the trademark Josh Lyman smirk. I grin back at him and for a moment it almost feels like we are back six years ago and my smile widens even more. Josh had been looking increasingly exhausted as the campaign has gone on and I am enjoying seeing him fully energetic and happy for the first time in almost a month. My brief moment of contentment, however, is cut short when Governor Bartlet storms into the room waving a bunch of papers in his left hand.

“Leo! What the hell is this?” Josh, who has suddenly gone from looking enthusiastic to exhausted again, unwisely chooses to answer the question instead of leaving it to Leo.

“That’s Sam’s draft of your victory remark-” Bartlet, however, doesn’t even seem to pay Josh any mind, cutting him off and continuing to yell at Leo and the room at large.

“‘I congratulate my opponent on a well fought campaign in Illinois’?” Leo, if anything, seems slightly amused by the unfolding events.

“You don’t want to congratulate hi-”

“Yes, I want to congratulate him, but I’d like to call him by his name! Are were back to this crap again?”

“Governor we-” For the second time in the space of thirty seconds, the Governor cuts Josh off and I watch as his shoulders drag down even further. Seeing Josh look so defeated hurts something inside of me. It’s a bit like the itching feeling whenever I see Josh and Donna together but somehow worse. The Governor, however, doesn’t seem to notice the downtrodden senior staff member standing right behind him and instead continues yelling.

“Leo I want to go over this whole thing with you.”

“Excuse me.” As Leo follows the Governor out of the room, Bartlet’s yelling continues to fill the room until Leo shuts the door behind them “It’s the exact same crap all over again. It’s amateur hour! The damn student…”

Everyone in the room seems to let out a breath when the Governor’s voice finally fades and I watch as Josh starts talking with Abbey Bartlet, who is definitely my favorite Bartlet. As the conversation continues between the two, Josh seems to share my respect for Dr. Bartlet, although I probably wouldn’t have called her husband a son of a bitch to her face. Abbey Bartlet is somehow even more intimidating than her husband at times. Deciding, however, that staring at Josh may not be the best use of my time, I wander over to the closest TV and seeing what’s happening immediately call Toby over. I vaguely register both Toby and C.J. yelling something but my whole focus is on the news anchor who is about to announce the results for the Democratic Illinois Primary.

“With seventeen percent of the precincts reporting, we are now ready to call the Illinois primary for former New Hampshire Governor Jeb Bartlet.” The anchor doesn’t even get to Bartlet’s name before the entire room erupts into cheers and clapping. As someone turns on music, I find myself looking over at Josh who immediately catches my eye and points at me, dimples on full display and I watch all the exhaustion and tension melt from him in the face of his excitement. Looking at him I can’t help but mouth thank you to him, not only for bringing me here, but for also coming and finding me in the first place.

Almost giddy with excitement I am soon dancing with C.J. in the middle of the hotel room, both of us doing a truly terrible robot impression and then swinging each other across the room. With all the excitement, it takes me a few moments to realise that Josh and Donna are standing stock still in the middle of the room staring at one another. From where I am I can’t see Josh’s face but Donna looks so sad her expression borders on horrified and I’m suddenly terrified about what’s happened.

Extricating myself from C.J., I wander over, looking at Josh’s face when I pull up next to him, and suddenly I can feel my heart just about breaking. Josh has that haunted look that he gets sometimes but it’s somehow worse because it is mixed with pure devastation. Not even really noticing what I am doing, I reach out for his shoulder, and Josh all but sinks into me at the first touch of my hand. Suddenly I find myself with my arms full as they prop up Josh’s weight.

“Josh? Josh what happened?” When he doesn’t answer I turn to Donna who has tears in her eyes and has her mouth covered by one shaking hand. “Donna? What’s happened?”

“His father. Josh’s father died.” Hearing her say that I tighten my grip on Josh, pulling him closer to my body as if I can somehow shield him from his father’s death. I remember how close they were. I even had dinner with Noah a few times over our two years in Washington and I remember how much Josh looked up to his father. Knowing that Josh wouldn’t want to be seen this upset, I put my mouth close to his ear and begin softly murmuring to him.

“C’mon Josh. Let’s go somewhere quieter. We’ll call you mother and Donna will work on getting you a plane back to Connecticut.” Josh didn’t answer but he did nod, so I began to lead him out into the hallway and into one of the many rooms booked by the campaign. Once we got in, I went to sit Josh down on the closest available surface, an armchair, and Donna went to the desk, picked up the phone and immediately started to work on getting Josh a plane ticket home.

“I called home earlier. I wanted to tell him about the exit polls and see how his chemo went. No one answered.” Something in my soul broke in the face of Josh’s pain and I immediately cupped his face in my hands wiping away the tears that had begun to fall.

“You’ll be home soon, Josh. I promise. Do you want to call you mother?” Josh seems to think about that for a few moments before shaking his head.

“Not yet. If I call now she’s going to know about all… this.” He jerks his hand towards his face and I infer that he doesn’t want to add his grief onto his mother’s, the selfless idiot. We sit in silence like that for a few minutes until Donna finishes with her call and walks over to us. I suddenly realise that I am still holding Josh’s face in my hands and quickly drop them, remembering his recent aversion to touching me.

“I’ve organised a flight for you that will leave in two hours.” In response to this Josh takes a breath and then nods, suddenly standing up and walking over to the phone that Donna just finished using. It appears that he does get in contact with someone at the Lyman household this time and Donna and I try not to listen as Josh speaks to his mother. After about ten minutes, Josh says that he’ll see her soon, hangs up and turns to us.

“I’m going to catch a taxi downstairs and head over to the airport, okay?” Both of us nod and Josh goes to move past us. Before I can really think about it, my hard shoots out and grabs his arm, stopping him from walking past me. Turning to face me, all I can see is that haunted look in his eyes, and I suddenly realise that I was kidding myself this whole time. I’m still just as in love with Josh Lyman as I was the day I left DC. Maybe even more so because now I know what it is to live without him. The revelation nearly takes my breath away but I quickly stamp down on the rush on emotions. Josh needs stability right now. He needs someone that he can lean on. And there is no fucking way I am not being that person for him.

“I’ll come with you in the taxi, okay?” At my pronouncement the haunted expression shifts slightly, gratitude and affection briefly breaking through. And although it quickly disappears, I have to believe that Josh will be okay.

Chapter Text

“Leo!” Bursting out of my office, I quickly dodge around various different staffers, making my way towards Leo who had just entered the campaign office. I briefly take a moment to smile at Donna when I almost crash into her, while she simply rolls her eyes and steps dramatically out of my way. After almost running into two more people I finally make it to Leo, who appears to have been content amusing himself with my struggle to traverse the room.

“Good morning, Josh. How are you this fine morning?” I blink, instantly suspicious of his good cheer. We were only twenty days away from the election and most of the staffers had surpassed the human capacity for stress, leaving most of us twitchy and downright unpleasant to be around. In an environment such as this, such obvious delight was highly suspect.

“Well you’re in a good mood this morning. Care to share with the class?”

“It’s a beautiful morning Josh. A friend of mine from the Washington Post just tipped me off about a poll that’s going to be released today that has the Governor up by 2 points.” I blink as the full magnitude of that statement hit me.

“Really? Two points?”

“Yes, Josh. Two points. But don’t start celebrating too early. This race is still neck and neck.” By this point we had reached the door to Leo’s office so he turned around to face me. “So, what’s up?”

“Uh, Sam and Toby wanted to get you to sign off on their debate answer on Social Security. They think they have it nailed down.”

“Excellent. Get Toby to come over now and I’ll review it.” Nodding enthusiastically, I turn around and prepare myself to face another treacherous room crossing. By the time I make it over to Toby’s office I have tripped over three power cords and almost had hot coffee spilt on me twice. Stumbling from the chaos of the outer office into Toby’ slightly less frenetic workspace, I quickly sit down on a chair that Sam seems to have vacated in favour of marching around the office, waving his hands as he rhapsodises about the importance of not equivocating on their answer to questions about gun control. From the look on Toby’s face, I figure it’s a pretty safe assumption that this argument has been going on far longer than Toby was currently equipped to deal with. Considering I was currently within range, I figured I would head off the Toby explosion and quickly interrupted Sam.

“Hey guys, sorry to interrupt. Toby, Leo wanted you to come and show him the answer you guys have worked out for Social Security.” The look Toby gave me was honestly the closest I have ever seen him get to grateful. It was sort of weird the way that the stress of the final leg of the campaign was affecting people. Toby looking grateful was about as rare as seeing Halley’s Comet. Following my statement, Toby proceeded to collect his things and leave the room so quickly I am honestly surprised I didn’t see a Looney Tunes-esque dust cloud left in his wake. Same also seemed slightly taken aback at the sped of Toby’s departure because he sat there staring at the door Toby just walked out of for a few more seconds than was probably necessary. Thinking I should probably drag him back to the land of the living I decided a distraction was in order.

“So, Sam. How are you this fine morning?” I almost laugh out loud when I see the same suspicion I had felt when Leo gave me the same greeting colour Sam’s features.

“I’m well thank you Josh. You seem awfully chipper this morning.” Suddenly his eyes narrow even more and he skewers me with a knowing look. “What have you done, Joshua?”

“Nothing! Leo got some good poll numbers and was in a good mood. Thought I would try to spread the cheer.” Sam still continued to look suspicious so I cast around, looking for a new topic of conversation.

“So, how are things with you and Lisa? Wedding plans going okay?” It still hurt, thinking about Sam getting married but I was dealing with it. I figured I had made the adult decision to be friends with Sam despite my feelings, so the least I could do was try to show an interest in his fiancé beyond finding myself occasionally fantasising about her falling into an open manhole. Besides, after what Sam did for me the night of the Illinois primary, I promised myself I would be a better friend to Sam. At my mention of Lisa, however, Sam’s entire body locked up, going so stiff that I was honestly worried a limb would snap off.

“Everything okay there, Sam?” At the sound of my voice Sam’s posture loosened marginally and he made eye contact with me again, rather than staring at a point just to the left of my face as he had being doing before.

“Lisa and I broke up.” I blink a few times in an effort to restart the cognitive functions that has ground to a halt at that statement. Huh. Not really sure how I feel about that. Not even really sure how I am supposed to feel about that.

“Uh, are you, I mean, of course you’re not but are you, um, okay?” Sam seems to take a minute to think this question through before answering.

“Not really. I mean, things had been getting tense lately since… well since the Illinois primary. I guess it was really just a matter of time.” Internally wincing at the reminder of the Illinois primary I try not to remember that night and the following days.

“I’m really sorry Sam. I know how much she meant to you.” Something about my statement seems to amuse Sam because just before he breaks eye contact with me, I get a brief glimpse of wry humour flashing through his eyes. Well that’s just confusing. Just as I’m about to ask Sam, however, Toby comes back into the room.

“Well Leo says that the answer is fine but we need to re-work the language for the Governor’s stance against the death penalty. So I suppose we have to find wherever that answer is in the mountain of paper currently sitting on top of my desk. Do you remember what we wrote in support of the estate tax by the way? I can’t seem to remember the exact wording and it’s driving me crazy. Sam? Are you listening?”

Finally breaking eye contact with me, Sam responds by turning to Toby’s desk and starting to sort through the papers that covered its entire surface. Taking that as my cue to leave, I mumble out a “see you later” and leave the room, making my way back to my office at a far more sedate pace than earlier in the morning. Looking up, Donna seems to notice my mood, because she quickly gets up and follows me into my office and shuts the door.

“Everything okay Josh?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I’m a bit worried about Sam through.” At the mention of Sam’s name Donna’s expression immediately grows concerned and she learns forward on the chair she had sat down on.

“Sam? Is everything okay?”

“I guess not. He broke up with his fiancé.” At this, Donna’s expression lightens somewhat.

“Oh. And how do you feel about that?” Well that was a weird question, even by Donna standards.

“Um, worried about my friend? What am I supposed to feel?”

“I just figured you would be feeling a bit conflicted about things considering your feelings for Sam.” Dead silence greets Donna’s pronouncement. If a gun was being held to my head, I’m honestly not sure I could have actually said something. Staring at each other the seconds tick by until Donna eventually realises that something in my brain has malfunctioned so I will not be contributing to this conversation anytime soon.

“Josh, you don’t need to worry. I’m not going to judge you for it, and I’m certainly not going to tell anyone. I just want to make sure that you are okay.”

“How?” Oh, at least my brain has resumed operations to a limited degree. Honestly though, it’s kind of hard to form a coherent thought over the sound of panicked screaming that seems to be echoing inside of my head. Donna, however, just smiles not unkindly and continues on as if I am not about to have a stress-induced aneurysm.

“How did I know? Well I noticed something almost from my first day here. I thought maybe I was imagining it, but when I came back from my… break, the time away just made it all so much clearer to me. And then there was the way you two interacted when, um, well the night your father died.” She seemed to notice my growing panic and immediately guessed what was going through my mind. “I don’t think anyone else has noticed, Josh. Especially Sam. I don’t know, for some reason I just find it easier to see through the fronts you put up. And once I noticed how you felt about him, it just became more and more obvious. Josh, you are eventually going to have to say something to me though. Maybe take a few deep breaths? Oxygen is a thing that the human body needs, you know?”

At the familiar gentle ribbing, the band of tension constricting my chest seems to loosen somewhat, allowing me enough oxygen for a couple of breaths. Seeing that her boss is not going to keel over dead, Donna also relaxes somewhat, leaning forward to take hold of one of my hands, squeezing it gently in comfort.

“So, how are you feeling about Sam’s news?” It was weird to consider talking about this with anyone. I had spent the last almost eight years actively hiding everything I felt for Sam. The idea of suddenly actually saying this shit out loud was surreal. But then again, if this was ever going to be said, it was going to be Donna that dragged it out of me. Somehow, over the last couple of months on the campaign she had become my best friend, because, while I still loved Sam with everything I had, we had five years of pain on the one hand and ignorance on the other separating us. While, Sam is still the person who fits with everything I am, Donna is the person who knows everything I am. Even, apparently, the stuff I haven’t told her.

“I’m not really sure how I feel. I mean, on the one hand I’m happy that he’s not getting married. That he’s not, um, leaving me. On the other hand that kind of makes me feel like a selfish asshole. Then there’s the fact that just because he didn’t marry Lisa, doesn’t mean he won’t get married to someone else eventually. And I am worried that that will somehow hurt worse because I’ve had more time with him. And then I feel bad because it feels like I am hoping that Sam still stay alone forever which would make him miserable and can I really live with myself if my happiness comes at the cost of Sam’s?” I breathed deeply for a few moments, momentarily stunned about what had just come out of my mouth. The further I had gotten into my explanation, the more the words just came tumbling out more of their own volition than any conscious thought on my part. In a way, they were news to me almost as much to Donna.

“That seems pretty normal to me Josh. I would be kind of worried if you weren’t conflicted. Also we both know that you are far too self-sacrificing to ever place you happiness above Sam’s so lets throw that worry into the trashcan right now. Have you thought about what you are going to do?”

“Do…?”

“Joshua Winston Lyman, you better not be planning on never mentioning this to Sam.”

“You know that isn’t my middle name right?”

“Considering the fact that I organise most of your life, yes, Josh I am in fact aware that your middle name is not Winston.” At this, she gives me a look that clearly questions how I ever earned my Ivy League education before continuing on. “That, however, is beside the point. Are you ever actually planning on telling Sam about this, or are you just hoping that it will eventually go away? If that is your plan, I have some bad news for you. Considering the fact that you have known Sam for nearly eight years and good as I can tell you have loved him the whole time, I really wouldn’t hold your breath for the whole ‘maybe it will go away on its own’ thing working out.” At this speech I am once again rendered silent, gaping at Donna in a way that I am fairly sure is reminiscent of a fish. Donna seems to work out the root cause of my current state almost disturbingly quickly.

“Josh, have you ever actually admitted that you are in love with Sam, you know, out loud?” She seems to expect an answer but faced with my continual fish impression, quickly moves on from that pipe dream. “Going by your continued silence I am going to assume no. Also you may want to close you mouth before something crawls inside it.” At this my jaw audibly snaps shut, something that Donna looks far too pleased about. Taking in her almost smug expression, I suddenly feel the need to defend myself.

“It’s not as if there were a lot of opportunities for me to discuss this before now, Donna. I mean can you really see my going up to Leo for a nice heart to heart about how I have been secretly pining over Sam Seaborn since pretty much the first moment we met?”

“No Josh. I do not expect you to have this conversation with Leo. Maybe just start with Sam and see where things go from there?”

“No freaking way. Not even if I had a gun to my head. Not even if I was about to be dropped into a tank of sulfuric acid. No. No, no, no, no, no. Sam will never find out because I am not going to tell him and neither at you. Ever.” Rolling her eyes, Donna clicked her tongue a few times before answering.

“Honestly, Josh. Maybe dial down the dramatics a bit. You would think the world was going to end or something.” My world, maybe. I had five years without Sam and they did not go well. If Sam ever found out about my feelings and refused to ever see me again, I’m not entirely sure how I would recover from that. I mean, okay, I’m scrappy. I would get through it. I’m just not certain I would like the version of Josh Lyman that would emerge from the ruins of such an event. Donna seemed to somehow sense my maudlin thoughts if her exasperated glare was anything to go by. However, just as she was opening her mouth to say something else, there was knock on my door, which was quickly opened to reveal Leo and Sam on the other side.

“Are we interrupting anything?” It takes a moment for my admittedly still stunned brain to catch up to what Leo was implying as his gaze swept between myself, Donna and then down to where Donna was still holding my hand. Both Donna and I seemed to realise what he was alluding to at the exact same moment, our hands springing apart in unison like some strange choreographed dance move.

“Not at all, Leo. Donna and I were just discussing some things. Which were are no longer discussing. Any more.” It is times like these I really wish I could somehow absorb some of Sam’s rhetorical prowess. Being able to say something articulate in situations such as these would really be a very useful skill. Leo, for his part, seems to have moved on, launching into a discussion about debate preparation and plans for a mock debate this afternoon.

Sam, however, still seems to be upset from our discussion about his breakup with Lisa. His eyebrows are drawn together in that look he gets sometimes when he is trying not to show how upset he is. My focus is, however, drawn away from Sam when Donna suddenly stands up, straightening her skirt as she starts making her way out of the room, throwing me a significant look over her shoulder just before she leaves that clearly says ‘we are not done with this discussion Joshua Winston Lymon.’ Leo also seems to catch the look, although he seems to read something different into it that I did.

“Josh.”

“Uh-huh?”

“Is there anything we need to discuss? Because I was having a good morning until about two minutes ago.” Looking at Leo, I can feel heat begin to rise to my cheeks as he looks at me all too knowingly. Fabulous. My boss thinks I am sleeping with my assistant when the person I actually want to sleep with is standing not two feet behind him looking at me like I just ran over his puppy.

“Nope. Nothing to discuss. Just a friendly chat between coworkers.”

“Right. Well, Sam and Toby want your input on debate prep so how about a little less chatting and a little more working?” With that both Leo and Sam walk out of my doorway leaving me free to repeatedly bang my head on my desk in the vain hope that maybe I will erase the past hour from my mind.

Chapter Text

I’m lost. I’m standing in a corridor, in the White House, staring at a map and I am completely lost. It says something about the nonsensical way that this place was designed that a map even needed to be made. It also says something about whoever made this map that I have it and still have no idea where the fuck I am. Maybe I can ask someone. Looking around though, everyone else seems just as confused as I am.

I swear to God, there isn’t even a room WW-160 on this map. There is a WW-159 and a WW-161 but nowhere is there WW-160. You would think, logically, it would be somewhere between those two but no, not for this mapmaker. No, when the son of bitch who drew this map sat down to draw this monstrosity, they obviously decided that nothing could be more amusing than fucking with some poor White House staffer by drawing every other room in this damn building but room WW-160. I swear to God, if I ever find out who made this map, I am going to eviscerate them.

I suppose it could be worse. Toby could be here. Toby who five days ago, may or may not have come across me jumping up and down in my office like a five year old on a sugar high. Of course, he chose to enter at the exact moment when I caught my foot on my desk and subsequently went crashing to the ground. Only, because my office floor was littered with boxes, I ended up lying prostrate across a box labeled IMPORTANT SHIT: DON’T LOSE. So there I was, face smashed into the ground, my abdomen resting oh so gracefully on a box, and my legs spread-eagled, thinking that while this was unfortunate, at least no one was there to witness my abject humiliation, until I suddenly heard someone clearing their throat. And low and behold as I looked up, there was Toby, my boss, looking at me as if I was some rare, exotic creature that he wasn’t entirely sure was real or not. Of course, there was only one question to ask.

“How much of that did you see?” Toby had taken a moment to ponder that, eyes once again sweeping up and down my mangled body.

“Enough. Leo wants to see everyone for a strategy meeting about the Rooker confirmation. Probably best not to jump around like a teenage girl at a rock concert once you get there.”

Just remembering his gloating expression as he left my office doorway made my cheeks burn with embarrassment. Of course, Toby being Toby, there was no way we were going to keep that little incident as a secret among colleagues. Sure enough, as soon as I stepped into Leo’s office, C.J. and Josh burst out laughing.

So yes, I may be lost. I may also be contemplating the kidnapping and torture of a complete stranger. But at least Toby isn’t here.

“You’re going to this meeting?” Motherfucker. Of course. Of course Josh would find me. I swear, I have been cursed to always come across Joshua Lyman in the exact moments I would never want to see him. And standing in the middle of the West Wing, useless map in hand and utterly lost is definitely a moment that really didn’t need Josh Lyman sprinkled on top.

“Yeah.” No Josh, I just enjoy standing in random hallways, staring at evil maps. I find it soothing.

“WW-160, you been able to find it?” No because the asshole who made this map was an evil genius who stumbled upon the perfect way to screw with people from beyond the grave because I am betting that someone who was this much of a dickbag did not live very long.

“I don’t even know where I am right now.” Josh seems less than impressed with my answer and has begun to wander slowly away from me. Oh well, at least I now have company while I go on this epic quest to find WW-160. Tolkien would be so proud.

“I’m looking on this side again.”

“Do you mind if we talk while we walk?”

“Well, we may as well get used to having meeting in the corridors from now on. It may be our only hope. I now know why they made the Oval Office a special shape.” Josh starts walking away again so I follow a step or two behind. I honestly do actually need to talk to Josh about this whole Cornell Rooker cluster-fuck. I tried to warn them all, I really did. I remember, just before the President called Rooker to ask him to accept the nomination, standing in a meeting room telling Leo, Josh, Toby and C.J. that Rooker was not the right guy, he was too conservative and nominating him for Attorney General was a mistake. But no, everyone decided to ignore my portents of doom and destruction and now here we sit three days after a reporter mentioned to C.J. that Rooker was the “first African-American man I've ever heard make sense on racial profiling.” And now everyone seemed content to try and pretend this wasn’t a problem. How is this not going to turn into a monumental fucking problem?

“Six editorials- NAACP, The Urban League, La Raza…”

“NAACP doesn’t want to see a black Attorney General?”

“No, I think they do, but they also stand for the ones who get pulled over for having too nice a car.” By the end of my sentence we both look up and see that we have somehow manage to find ourselves at an exit rather than WW-160. Simultaneously, we both decide to turn around because while I am seriously beginning to doubt the existence of this cursed room, I think both Josh and I are in silent agreement that it certainly is not going to be outside of the West Wing.

“Thank you.”

“Intergovernmental’s also…”

“I’m talking to intergovernmental.” Josh really doesn’t seem to be listening to me, which makes me want to bash his head into a wall. Josh shouting at the room at large, however, brings me out of ruminating on that mildly satisfying image. “Does anybody know where WW-160 is?! Hi. I’m Josh Lyman. You all work for me. Does anybody know were WW-160 is?”

The only response to Josh’s very loud, very Josh-like query is a woman who walks past us, kindly offering a “I haven’t seen it.”

“That one hasn’t seen it. She’s, you know, uh, she’s keep an eye out though.” Deciding that Josh has calmed down enough to maybe hear my point about Rooker I plough on, saying the exact same thing I have been saying for the past three days.

“I don't think he's going to be confirmed. I think the first thing that's going to happen to us is we're going to lose the confirmation battle, and spend the next four years with two outs and a full count. If we pull him out now, it's a story for a day and a half, until we announce the next guy. If we wait a week...”

“This is the guy. This is the story.”

“Good.” Josh seems momentarily startled by my acquiescence, obviously not picking up on the deep layers of sarcasm I am currently employing. He seems less pleased as I continue on, however. “'Cause you know why? 'Cause hubris always wins in the end. The Greeks taught us that.”

Just as I finish saying this there is a whistle and Josh suddenly grinds to a halt then begins walking through the doorway we were just passing. Following him, I see Leo, Toby and C.J. standing together in the corner of the room, which I am about eighty percent sure is Leo’s office.

“We were looking for West Wing 160.”

“Yeah, I think it's in the Kremlin. Let's just meet here.” Leo’s reply to Josh’s statement makes me feel somewhat better. If Leo too has fallen prey to the evil mapmaker then my failure to find the room is far less embarrassing. The meeting, however, proves to be an exercise in futility. I spend the entire time trying to convince Leo to convince the President to drop the nomination but for all the good my arguments do, I may as well have been standing in the corner of the room singing ‘Hold, Monsters!’ from The Pirates of Penzance.

Once the meeting ends, I wander back over to my office, trying not to imagine all the ways that this Rooker fiasco is going to come back and bite us all on the ass. While I am considering the best way to say ‘I told you so’ to Josh and considering how long I will laud this over him, I hear a loud female wail, proclaiming herself “too stupid to live!” Looking over I see Josh and Donna in a heated conversation, standing close to each other as they both lean against a filing cabinet. Seeing them together makes something in my chest jerk, the feeling located suspiciously close to where my heart is supposed to be.

God I’m in idiot. Somehow I have put myself in a situation where I have allowed my life to implode, all because I realised that I’m still in love with Josh, only to have to sit back and watch as he falls in love with someone else. I mean, the universe gave me a pretty clear fuck you when, not twenty minutes after I told Josh about Lisa and I breaking up, I walked into his office with Leo and stumbled upon Josh and Donna holding hands in what looked to be a very intimate moment. Can’t get any clearer than that. I tell the love of my life that I have broken up with my fiancé (unbeknownst to him because I realised that he was, in fact, the love of my life), and he decides that right after is the exact time to put the moves of the woman he has been virtually obsessed with since the moment he came across her in New Hampshire.

Lisa told me I was making a mistake and she was right. When I called her a few days after the seemingly inevitable revelation that I was in fact still, and probably would always be, in love with Josh Lyman, she knew immediately that something was wrong. Of course, when I tried to explain that I didn’t think it was fair on her for us to continue the engagement she realised what had happened pretty quickly.

“It’s him, isn’t it?” There really wasn’t any point in pretending not to know what she was talking about so I had resolved to at least give her the courtesy of the truth.

“Yeah, it is.”

“So when did you meet him again?” And here was the sticking point, because even though Lisa had known about Josh she didn’t ever know who Josh was, and I had been lying to her by omission for years.

“On the campaign.” She seemed to have taken that in for a few moments, and I had practically heard the cogs in her brain whirring, setting out all the facts and drawing the inevitable conclusions.

“Jesus Christ it’s Josh, isn’t it?”

“Yeah… It’s Josh.” By this point I just felt exhausted which I suppose is the reason why my brain and mouth filter let slip the next part. “It’s always been Josh.” At this pronouncement I could hear Lisa take in a rapid breath, holding it for a few moments before loudly exhaling. She had taken a few moments to come up with a response to that that statement, and while waiting for her to speak all I could think about wasn’t my fiancé, who I still loved, just not enough, but the look on Josh’s face when he had left that taxi. Just before he went to wander into the airport, he has turned around and just looked at me, as if somehow the only way he was going to get through the next few days was by memorizing my face. And while that was obviously just wishful thinking on my part, I still couldn’t get that moment out of my head, even four days later.

“You know you are making a mistake, right? Sam, you love me. I know you do. And what we have together is rare, it’s special, and you are just going to throw it all away for some guy who will never want you back and will never know what you gave up to be with him? Sam, we love each other. Don’t do this to us.” And there was the sticking point. The point I had wrestled with for the past five days as I had tried to convince myself over and over again not to do this, not to break Lisa’s heart and take away my best shot at happiness all for the sake of an unrequited love. But as Josh had always teased me but seemed to not so secretly enjoy, I’m an idealist at heart, and in an ideal world you don’t marry someone in the hopes that it will make you forget that you are in love with someone else.

“I know we love each other, Lisa. And I’m so sorry for this, you deserve far better than what I’m doing to you. I love you, but I love Josh more.” Once again, Lisa was silent for a few moments and then the silenced had continued indefinitely as she hung up the phone.

So here I am, standing here watching as the man I left my fiancé for continues on his merry way, playfully bantering with his girlfriend about… something about lights and a desk. What the fuck is my life? It is at this point, however, that I realise that Donna, who has ended her conversation with Josh, has become aware that she has an audience.

“Hey Sam.”

“Hey Donna.” And because I apparently have a masochistic streak a mile wide I don’t just leave it at that. “Everything alright with you and Josh?”

“Yeah. I did a monumentally stupid thing and Josh was just mocking me for it. I’ll get him back though, wait and see. Bambi-esque my ass.” See, that’s the annoying thing about Donna. In spite of myself, I actually like her. I really think everyone likes Donna. There is just something about her that is intrinsically endearing. I can’t even fault Josh for taking such an interest in her. But, then again, that might just be the reason why Donna and Josh’s relationship gets to me to such an extent. I mean, when Josh had that brief fling with Mandy during the campaign I didn’t mind all too much. Okay, fine, it hurt like a bitch, but I knew that Mandy being Mandy and Josh being Josh, it would blow over fairly quickly. And it did. Donna, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game. Donna and Josh fit in a way that Mandy and Josh never did, and every time a see them together it feels like a piece of my heart is stripped away.

“So, how are you doing Sam?”

“Me? I’m fine. Why?”

“You have seemed a little down lately. Just wanted to check in.” See, this is why no one can dislike Donna. She’s just genuinely a nice person. But no matter how nice a person she is, there is no way I am going to tell her the truth. I can only imagine how she would react if I told her that I was down because I was in love with her boyfriend and often times found myself wishing that she would disappear into the ether.

“Nah I’m fine. Just a little concerned about the potential fallout from Rooker’s nomination.”

“Josh seems to think that he will sail through.”

“Josh is wrong.” At that, Donna burst into laughter. And I couldn’t help but return her smile.

“It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Damn. I really wanted to be able to hate Donna.

Chapter Text

I think I just entered the Twilight Zone. That or I’m still asleep and today has all just been a dream. Or maybe I’m dead and this is some weird purgatory that I will be trapped in for all eternity. Any of those options though would be better than this actually being real life. Because if this is real life then I am done. I’m out. I am calling it quits and moving to Antarctica where I can live with the penguins and never have to actually deal with what Sam just said to me.

“Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you want to maybe close the door?”

“Yeah.” While Sam turns and closes the door, I try to use these few moments to somehow bring a small level of order to the chaos my mind has just descended into.

“You slept with a call girl?”

“Well no, I... well, yes. Yes I did.” Holy shit. I’m done. Antarctica here I come. I am not equipped to deal with this. Last week I was almost fired for saying something so monumentally stupid I cannot believe I actually let it come out of my mouth, I had to have lunch with Mandy who is grooming Lloyd Russell to challenge the President in the next Democratic Presidential primary, and Donna spent all weekend over at my apartment trying to annoy me into telling Sam how I felt. I am not equipped to deal with something of this magnitude. Trust Sam to somehow find the only way to make him sleeping with someone else worse. I think my body has just shut down, my mind on autopilot as I continue conversing with Sam.

“Did she know who you are?”

“No, I didn't reveal my secret identity, Josh.” No. Sam does not get to make this into a joke. Not only do I have to hear that he is back in the dating game after his break up from Lisa, but out of the millions of women living in DC he chooses to sleep with a call girl. Seriously, fuck today.

“I'm asking some questions here.”

“Yes. She knows I work for the President.”

“You don't think that she-”

“No.”

“Let me finish!”

“No, I'm saying no, she wouldn't say anything.” I think I am having a stroke. This definitely feels like I am having a stroke.

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.” Sometimes I really wonder what the hell I was thinking falling for this imbecile. Something about Sam’s expression gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realise where this is going.

“You want to call her again, don't you?”

“Look, I really like her, and she's not what you think.” He likes her. He really likes her. A call girl. Sam really likes a call girl. I did not think this could get worse but apparently it can, because of course Sam likes her. Of course Sam has fallen for her because that’s who Sam is. Sam is sweet, naïve, and wears his heart on his sleeve and somehow that equates to my heart being regularly ripped out of my chest and ground into the dirt.

“The only thing I know about her is she's a call girl. Is she a call girl?”

“Yes.”

“Then so far she's exactly what I think.”

“I just think I left abruptly. I think it was rude.”

“Oh, you're gonna try and reform her, aren't you?”

“No.”

“You are.” Of course he is. It’s Sam. Stupid, beautiful, amazing Sam who has no clue what this conversation is costing me.

“I just didn't say a proper goodbye that, you know, shows a little respect.”

“Sam…”

“You know what, you'd like her if you met her, Josh.” Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Not happening. Not ever. I don’t care what I have to do but there is no way I am going anywhere near Sam’s real life Pretty Woman moment.

“You got to promise me this is never gonna happen, Sam.” Before Sam can answer, however, there is a knock on the door and Donna pokes her head in. Sweet Donna, my own personal guardian angel, come to liberate from the hellscape I am currently trapped in. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see her.

“You're with the Energy Secretary in five minutes.”

“Thanks.” Donna seems to take in the scene, and it’s only when her face lights up that I realise how close Sam and I are actually standing. And suddenly Donna and I are having two conversations, one spoken out loud and the other an unspoken language that we have somehow managed to develop over our time together.

“What's going on?” Did you tell him?

“Nothing.” No.

“Really?” So something else is happening?

“Yes.” Yep.

“You're lying?” Are you keeping secrets Joshua Winston Lyman? Because I will find out what you are hiding.

“Yes.” I’m sure you will.

“So I should get out?” I will be back to discuss this Josh.

“Yes.” I’ll be here.

After our conversation is over Donna quickly closes the door and I regret sending her away almost immediately. “Look, whatever quest-”

“It's not a quest.” I am getting really sick of Sam interrupting me. I need to get out of here. I know. I’ll send Sam to Toby. Toby can deal with this shit. I’m done. I’m going to go find C.J., tell her to keep the Hoynes crap away from Leo then go back into my hopefully Sam free office and try to permanently erase the past five minutes from my memory.

“Whatever! You're playing with fire here. Just talk to Toby before you do anything.”

“Toby?”

“Yes.”

“There's no way that I can do this without talking to Toby?” Well, no way that keeps my sanity intact so lets go with no.

“No.” As I open the door I suddenly see C.J. walking past me and I literally jump at the opportunity to escape my current predicament. “Ooh! Ooh! Hang on there. C.J.!” Realising that I probably should say something to Sam before I run off leaving him with his problems I turn back but can’t really think of anything to say that may help him.

“Just talk to Toby. Just Toby.”

“All right.”

*

It’s been about a week since The Incident, which is what I have come to call those god-awful minutes with Sam in my office. Donna knows I’m hiding something from her and it is driving her insane. She has spent pretty much every moment since interrupting Sam and I talking trying to wheedle it out of me, and the more I shut down, the more insistent she gets. I sometimes worry that one morning she is going to wake up and decide her life will be infinitely easier if she just bugs my home and office. Sometimes I wonder if she hasn’t already, because her ability to know exactly when I walk through the front door is almost spooky.

“C.J.'s looking for you.” Well that’s a weird way to greet her best friend.

“Huh?”

“C.J.'s looking for you.”

“Donna?”

“Yes?”

“‘Good morning, Josh’ is a pretty good way to start the day.”

“Good morning.” Ah Donna, the only person I have ever met who is able to make ‘good morning’ sound like ‘fuck you’ and still sound polite.

“What's up?”

“C.J.'s looking for you.”

“Tell her I'm in the office.”

“Josh, I'm saying C.J. is looking for you.” As I fully comprehend what Donna is saying, my journey to my office comes to an abrupt halt and I just stare at Donna, horrified. Shit. C.J. is looking for me. Not good. Definitely not good.

“What did I do?” Donna gives me an evil little shrug and I can just tell that she is not going to make this easy on me. I really should have let the good morning thing slide.

“How would I know?”

“‘Cause you know everything.”

“I do know everything.” Oh god. I think this is why people say that you shouldn’t become friends with your employees. Having my best friend also be my assistant creates an unfair power dynamic where she gets to routinely roast me over the fire for shits and giggles. If she wasn’t so good at her job I would definitely fire her…

“Donna!”

“I'm saying, you say that now, but every time I want to make a substantive contribution…”

“You make plenty of substantive contributions.”

“Like what?”

“This! This could be a substantive contribution.”

“I need a raise.” Oh now I know that she is just fucking with me. This is revenge for not telling her what happened with Sam, I just know it. The last couple of days she has had that look in her eyes that usually means that she is planning on extracting vengeance against me and obviously the perfect revenge has just fallen into her lap. The last time I saw her enjoying herself this much was the fake missile under the White House thing. She still calls me Bambi.

“So do I!”

“You're my boss.”

“But I'm not the one who pays you.”

“Yes, but you could recommend that I get a raise.”

“Donna, she's looking for me! Do you really think this is the best time to talk about a raise?” Donna seems to have gotten me exactly where she wants me because suddenly the faux desperation gives way to smugness

“Hmmm… I think this is the best time to talk about a raise.” At this, she smiles broadly and I know she has had her fun.

“Donna, you're not a very nice person.”

“You got to get to know me.”

“Donna?” Giving an exaggerated sigh, she finally beings to explain.

“The best I can cobble together from the small shards of information I've been able to overhear in the restroom and the Danish cart-”

“Donna.” The looks she gives me for interrupting her communicates pretty clearly her opinion of my rude behaviour, and considering that C.J. is looking for me, I decide it might be wise to shut the hell up.

“Is it possible that there's a situation involving Sam, a woman, and C.J. being denied information about something?” Oh yes, this was definitely revenge for me not telling her what was going on with Sam. A concerned Donna is a pissed off Donna and obviously she has managed to string together enough information to at least have a vague understanding about why I have been so upset for the last week. I probably should have just tol-

Oh shit.

OH SHIT! C.J. knows. And C.J. knows that I know. Which means that C.J. is going to kill me. Well first she is probably going to castrate me but then she is definitely going to kill me.

“Ok. Here's what I'm gonna do.”

“Hide in your office?”

“No! I'm not gonna hide in my office. I'm gonna go into my office and devise a strategy. That is what I do. I'm a professional. I'm not a little boy.” Donna gives me a look that communicates pretty clearly her rather low opinion of my professionalism.

“Hmm. That's the spirit.”

“But if she calls, I'm at the dentist. I'll be back in an hour.”

“Got it.”

Opening my door I enter into my office and just about piss my pants when I see C.J. sitting at my desk, legs propped up on my desk, reading a newspaper. I may or may not have screamed as well and I can only imagine how much shit I am going to get from Donna for that. C.J., ever the classy woman, doesn’t even seem to startle from my manly yelling. She instead dramatically lowers her newspaper and begins what I am guessing is going to be a world-class ass kicking.

“Wow, are you stupid!”

From there is just gets worse as both C.J. and I get angrier and angrier at each other, eventually culminating in us crossing the line, yelling insults right into each others’ faces. By the end I am not only exhausted but also embarrassed and riddled with guilt. C.J. didn’t deserve any of that but somehow every negative feeling that has been growing inside of me since The Incident just launched itself at someone who is, for all intents and purposes, a completely innocent bystander. And the things I said to her were both hurtful and completely untrue and I just want to take it all back and apologise to my friend for hurting her. It’s not even C.J. that I’m angry with. I’m angry at Sam for being stupid enough to sleep with a call girl, and I’m angry at myself for being pathetic enough to let it hurt me this much.

Of course, this being the White House, I don’t really have time to process any of this before I am listening to Toby rant about the President’s behaviour and then sitting in a meeting in Leo’s office. I try to mask my unhappiness with various quips, even at one point earning a nudge from C.J. for a particularly funny one, which makes me feel marginally better about our earlier conversation. Once the meeting ends, I make my way back to my office, unsurprised the find Donna already waiting for me inside, leaning against my desk.

“Okay Josh. Spill. I heard you and C.J. yelling at each other. There is no way that nothing is going on.”

“Donna…”

“No Josh, you are going to tell me. Right. Now.” Resigning myself to the conversation, I wander over to sit next to her, bumping our shoulders together when I am settled. Because I’m me, though, I give skipping out on the conversation one last shot.

“I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know C.J. was in my office.” Donna’s mouth suddenly twists into an evil little smirk, laughter in her eyes.

“You were keeping secrets, Bambi. Besides, it was pretty funny.”

“I think you shaved five years off my life.” At this Donna flicks her hair off her shoulder looking pretty please with herself.

“Good try changing the topic. Now spill.” Deciding this will be easier if I don’t have to look at the inevitable sympathy in her face, I affix my eyes on my closed door and concentrate on making my voice even.

“About a week ago Sam came into my office and told me he accidentally slept with a call girl.” Dead silence greets my revelation and after almost a full minute, I finally turn to look at Donna whose expression is a comical mix between stupefaction and horror. “Yeah, that was pretty much my response.”

“And how does one ‘accidentally’ sleep with a call girl?”

“Apparently he didn’t know she was a call girl when he met her. It must have been her night off.” At that unkind remark, Donna elbows me sharply in the ribs.

“No need to be rude Joshua. It’s not her fault Sam’s an idiot. So who else knows? I’m assuming C.J. just found out.” Her eyes narrow for a moment and then she snorts inelegantly. “Toby knows too, right? He’s been giving Sam weird looks all week.”

“Yeah. I kind of pawned the whole thing off onto Toby because I really didn’t want to deal with it.”

“Yeah, I can imagine. What’s the big deal though? Of course, duh it’s a big deal, but it was just a one-time thing.” At my pointed silence Donna’s eyes widen in shock. “Are you telling me that Sam is still seeing her?”

“I don’t know, Donna! I do know that when he told me he said he really liked her and he wanted to see her again. Obviously I told him not to but this is Sam we’re talking about! If anyone was going to try and reform a call girl, it would be Sam.” Another snort greets this statement, which I am going to take as agreement.

“You’re not okay, Josh.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You will be though.” At this I reach my arm around her, bringing her in close and placing a light kiss on her temple. She relaxes in to my hold and for a few minutes we just sit there together. It’s the most peaceful moment I have had in months. Eventually we pull apart and stand up smiling at each other softly.

“You have an appointment in ten minutes. You are vetting a candidate for the President’s new body man.”

“Thanks Donna.”

Chapter Text

“Sam? It’s the middle of the night, what are you doing here?” Josh is standing at the door to his apartment, wearing nothing but pyjama pants riding low on his hips and I am suddenly finding it very hard to think of anything but licking his chest. This was a bad idea. This was a very bad fucking idea.

“Hi Josh. I wanted to talk.” Josh just stares at me for a few moments, an adorably stupefied expression on his face.

“It’s two o’clock in the morning and you want to talk?”

“Is it? I really didn’t notice the time. I was walking around and kind of found myself near your neighbourhood and I figured we had some things to discuss about today so I just sort of wandered over. The door to your building was left open by the way. You should probably look into that. It really can’t be safe to leave that open at ni-”

“Sam? It’s two o’clock in the morning. Could you maybe get the point soon so I can go back to sleep?” At this, Josh runs a hand over his face and then into his hair, making it stand on end. Fuck he was adorable. Even sleep deprived, standing in nothing but some ratty pyjamas, with his hair looking like a rat’s nest, Josh Lyman was still the most beautiful man I had ever seen.

“I wanted to apologise.” Josh seems to wait for a moment, probably hoping that I would clarify this point, and when I didn’t he closed his eyes and shifted so he was leaning heavily on his doorframe.

“Apologise for what, Sam?”

“For a lot of things, I guess. I know you and C.J. got into a fight over Laurie and I, so that first off. Then there was how I spoke to you in Charlie’s interview. I was upset and I took it out on you and I never got a chance to apologise with the whole retaliatory strikes thing happening.” As I finish talking Josh finally opens his eyes and the relief that I feel when I see humour in them almost makes my knees crumble.

“You came here, in the middle of the night just to apologise to me?”

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

“That’s kind of ridiculous, kiddo.” At Josh’s use of the long ago nickname if feels like my heart bursts, flooding my entire body with a warm, happy feeling. I haven’t heard Josh call me kiddo since I moved to New York and hearing it now made me realise just how much was different between our relationship now and then. Sure, we are still close and we make an amazing team at work, but there is a strain that underlines all our actions, something that formed sometime between when I decided to leave DC and Josh came to New York to find me. But hearing Josh call me kiddo, it somehow feels like all of that tension has been swept aside, even for just a moment.

“I don’t think there has ever been a moment when I could pretend to be anything other than ridiculous, Josh.” In response to this, Josh lets out a huff of laughter, smiling at me in a way that I am just now realising I haven’t seen in years. How the hell didn’t I notice that before now?

“I think you just about scared the crap out of Charlie. I’m pretty sure he is convinced that the entire West Wing staff is made up of a bunch of lunatics.”

“Isn’t it? I mean, did you see Tribbey racing through the halls the other day? I actually thought he was about to rip out someone’s jugular with his teeth.”

“Lionel’s a pussycat compared to C.J.. I actually screamed like a little girl when I saw her in my office today. Well yesterday.”

“I might have heard about that actually.” Josh groans in response to this, lightly knocking his head against the doorframe a few times.

“How long until I live that one down, do you suppose?”

“Considering how pissed C.J. is at us? Quite a while.” We fall in to companionable silence for a few moments and I have to fight down the urge to run my fingers through his hair. I’m distracted from this urge, however, when Josh speaks again.

“I miss hanging out, Sam.” This startles me somewhat and I don’t really know what to say.

“We see each other every day.” At my response, Josh’s smile turns a little sad, his eyes shuttering, all amusement disappearing in an instant.

“Yeah, at work. But we don’t hang out like we used to. I miss it.” Suddenly, the urge to run my fingers through Josh’s hair shifts into a compulsion, and of its own volition my body starts moving closer to him, my hands reaching out to cup Josh’s face the same way they did the night of the Illinois primary.

“Josh, there’s something I have to tell you. You probably aren’t going to like it and I really hope you can forgive me, but I need to tell you. Josh, I-” Whatever I was about to say, however, is cut off by the sound of my pager beeping. Both Josh and I jerk apart, although we are still staring at each other. I eventually pull my gaze from his and look down, reaching for my pager so I can see the number.

“Is it anyone from the White House?”

“No, it’s Laurie. She probably wants to talk about something.”

“Oh.” At the sound the ice in Josh’s voice, I jerk my focus away from the pager only to find that the soft, sleepy Josh of a moment ago has disappeared, leaving a more alert and aloof Josh in his place. My heart twists for a moment before I fully comprehend what I was about to do.

Holy shit. I was about to tell Josh everything. I was about to tell Josh I love him. I was about to lose Josh to the inevitable awkwardness and probable disgust that would suffuse our relationship in the wake of my revelation. What the fuck was I thinking? Josh isn’t gay, and while I know he doesn’t believe in discriminating against people based on their sexuality, there is big difference between an intellectual and moral stand point and actually finding out your best friend sleeps with men as well as women and has been in love with you virtually since the moment you first met. It would be taken as a massive betrayal of trust. He would hate me. What in ever-loving fuck was I about to do?

I have to get out of here, fast, before I somehow do something even stupider. Not that I’m really sure that’s possible, but at this point I’m not willing to take any chances. Josh interrupts my rising panic, however, by asking me something so completely left field it takes my brain a minute to catch up.

“Is that what you wanted to tell me? That you’re still seeing Laurie?” Josh waits a second for my answer before continuing when he is greeted with my continual silence. “If so, I had already figured it out so you don’t need to worry. Just don’t do anything stupid, like get caught by anyone in the press.”

“Too late.” I’m not entirely sure what exactly it is that I am saying at this point, all I know is that it is not me falling to my knees and begging Josh to love me back so I really wouldn’t care if I was reciting random lines from H.M.S Pinafore.

“What?”

“Danny Concannon found out.”

“Shit Sam! Is he going to print it?”

“No. C.J. fixed it.”

“C.J. fixed it? Wow. You owe her a really nice gift Sam. Maybe a lifetime supply of Goldfish crackers. God, she must have shit herself when Danny said something.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Josh finally seems to have noticed my odd air of detachment because his eyes suddenly grow concerned.

“You okay Sam?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just tired. I figure I’m going to head home, try to get some sleep.” Josh seemed to hesitate for a moment before finally responding.

“If you want, you can sleep on my couch. Might be easier than heading all the way home. You have a change of clothes at your office right?” That is a spectacularly bad idea. That is possibly even a worse idea that the one that got me here in the first place, if that is even fucking possible.

“No, man. I’m fine. I’m just going to call Laurie and then catch a taxi home.” The moment Laurie’s name is out of my mouth Josh’s posture stiffens again and he takes a small step away from me.

“Okay Sam. You do that. Have a good night. Try to get some sleep.”

“You too, Josh. Sorry about waking you up.”

“No problem. What are friends for, right?” Josh then moves into his apartment and shuts the door. I wait a few moments and listen to the soft sounds of him shuffling back to bed, before I sigh and begin to walk down the stairs to the building’s entrance. I should call Laurie but I really can’t bring myself to. Honestly, all I want to do is to collapse into bed and go to sleep. Hopefully Josh will put my strange behaviour down to stress and lack of sleep, and forget about it all by the time I see him at work.

God, I really hope that’s the case.

Chapter Text

“So this morning I was given a card.”

Donna, who had been in the middle of telling about a congressional aide that had just asked her out, stopped talking and looked at me curiously. We were standing together in the corner of the room, leaning against the wall facing out towards our colleagues and friends. We had all just eaten the President’s chili and everyone was talking amongst themselves, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Donna had come over to stand next to me a few minutes ago and it had taken me all that time to screw up my courage and actually start the conversation Stanley had told me I needed to have. For some strange reason, he thought it was important that I tell someone about Joanie and I couldn’t really think about telling anyone else but Donna. Well, I guess if things were different with Sam I would possibly tell him, but considering how strained things had been since that night he turned up at my apartment, that wasn’t really an option.

“And is this card the reason why you had an emergency appointment with your psychiatrist today?”

“How did you know about that?” In the face of this admittedly stupid question Donna just raises her eyebrows, silently signaling for me to answer the question. “It was definitely part of it, yes.”

“And what exactly was it about this card that sent you back to a psychiatrist that I know for a fact you have been avoiding for the past ten months?” I stop myself before asking the equally stupid question of how she knew how long it had been since last I saw Stanley because, really, Donna knows everything. I sometimes think she is omniscient.

“Do you remember my appointment with Jonathan Lacey from the NSC this morning?”

“Considering the fact that I was the one who told you about it, yes.”

“Donna…” Seeing my serious expression Donna’s playful air suddenly dissipates, her eyes filling with concern.

“Josh, what’s happened?”

“Nothing. Really. He just gave me a card.”

“Jonathan Lacey gave you a card?”

“Yeah. It was a card that told me where to go in the event of a nuclear attack. It would tell me where to go so I was safe, and no one else got one. I gave it back though.”

“You gave the card back?”

“Yeah, I gave it to Leo just a little while ago.”

“Josh.” I look over at her and see that she has angled her body to face me so I do the same. “Why did you go and talk to your psychiatrist today?”

“I guess getting the card brought back some memories.”

“Memories?”

“Yeah. About my sister, Joanie.” When I stop talking, Donna reaches over and squeezes my hand to prompt me to continue. “She was babysitting me. I was eight. There was a fire and she died. I ran out of the house and Joanie didn’t get out and she died.”

Suddenly my arms are full and Donna has me wrapped up in a tight hug. And even though it will always hurt to think about Joanie, maybe Stanley might have been on to something when he told me tell someone. Because even though it’s not by much, everything hurts a little bit less with Donna’s arms wrapped around me.

Chapter Text

Laurie is extremely pissed. I have deduced this from the fact that we have been sitting at our usual table in our usual diner for fifteen minutes and 26 seconds and she still hasn’t said anything. Instead, she is just sitting opposite me, arms crossed across her chest, glaring. In fact, the only time she stopped glaring was when the waitress came to ask us for our orders and then she resumed glaring as soon as the waitress left.

Not that I can really blame her for being pissed, of course. The way I acted the other night was unacceptable. No matter how shocked I was at seeing her at the White House, I should have never said what I did. Which is what I told her the moment she arrived and sat down opposite me. Which leads me back to the justified glaring. Oh look at that, it’s now sixteen minutes.

I wonder if I’m allowed to eat now? Earlier, when the sandwiches arrived, I went to go and pick up the pickle and Laurie’s glare had somehow intensified, so I had taken that as a clear message that I was not allowed to eat until she gave me express permission. Which, of course, is mildly pathetic on my part but considering how much I hurt her the night of the State Dinner I figure it’s the least I could do. So here I am, sitting in a diner in total silence, staring longingly at the pickle on my plate as my stomach rumbles piteously.

“Oh for Christ’s sake Sam! Just eat the fucking pickle already!” Jumping from the scare her outburst gave me, I immediately do as she told me and start eating. This seems to break whatever reverie Laurie has been in because she soon sighs and uncurls her arms, leaving her hands to rest on the table in front of her.

“What the hell are we doing here Sam?” Of course she asks this right as I take a large bite out of my sandwich so she is left the release another aggravated sigh as she motions for me to chew faster.

“I was apologising to you for what I said the other night.”

“No Sam I meant in general. What are we,” a violent hand gesture encompassing both of us, “doing? Are we friends? Are we together? What are we doing? ‘Cause I don’t have a clue and I am getting really sick of all the fucking ambiguity.”

“I would like for us to be friends.”

“I know that Sam, but I also get the distinct impression that you would also like us to be more than that.” This is not exactly untrue. My feelings for Laurie were complicated to say the least. The night I met her in that bar, I was brooding over accidentally walking in on Josh and Donna hugging in Josh’s office. Josh had explained it away as Donna trying to comfort him after the whole Mary Marsh fiasco but I didn’t believe him. So there I was, sitting in a bar, trying to forget about Josh Lyman and then a reporter came up to me and all he wanted to do was talk about Josh. So although I’m not proud of it, when I caught Laurie’s eye I fell back on the past habit of using random hookups to fuck the pain away. And yeah, it had worked for all of three hours until I realised that I couldn’t start this up again. So, when Laurie asked to me stay over, I took her up on the offer, as much to prove to myself that I am not the same guy that I was when I first moved the New York, than as the result of an actual desire to spend the night with her.

Of course, I then found out that she was a call girl and that just made everything even more complicated. For one, I had to tell Josh, and wasn’t that just a special experience? Seriously, telling the guy you are in love with all about the woman that you randomly hooked up with one night and seeing that he doesn’t even care is not my idea of a fun time. In some weird way I’m pretty sure that my initial insistence on starting up a friendship with Laurie was motivated in part because some part of my brain seemed to think that it would look slightly better in Josh’s eyes if I actually cared about her, rather than just hooking up with the wrong person. So, yeah, my initial reasons for being friends with Laurie were not exactly noble. But then a funny thing happened. The more I hung out with her the more I liked her. So what began as a misguided attempt to salvage a situation turned into an actual friendship.

And, yes, I am sexually attracted to her. I’m not blind. And, if it wasn’t for her night job and Josh wasn’t in the picture, I would definitely want far more from her than friendship. But even with those two caveats in play, I have still developed some measure of feelings for her that go beyond friendship. Not enough to even come close to what I feel for Josh. Not even enough to come close to what I felt for Lisa. But enough to affect my behaviour and for Laurie to notice. So I can understand why she’s confused. Fuck, I’m confused and I’m the one who created this whole mess.

Adding to my confusion, of course, is the whole mess with Mallory, who invited me on a date to see the Chinese Opera of all things and whom I subsequently abandoned to write a birthday message. A birthday message. And yes, even I am self aware enough to know that I am not really interested in Mallory. Which really just makes me feel worse about the whole thing because I am leading her on. Definitely leading her on when you consider the thing that popped into my head right after she asked me out was the image of Josh and Donna embracing during the President’s chili night. So a perfectly nice woman asked me out and I said yes in order to try and use her to forget that the man I was in love with loved someone else, and at the end of the day I ended up staying in the office working on a birthday message. What the hell am I doing with my life these days?

So in my misguided quest to bury my feelings for Josh I have fucked around with two innocent bystanders who had no idea what the hell they were walking in to. Which pretty much makes me the biggest asshole this side of the Atlantic. Given all this, I figure the least I can do is try to fix things with Laurie.

“I know I’ve been giving you mixed signals, and that was unfair of me.”

“Yeah, it was.”

“I also know that the other night I treated you terribly and I will never be able to tell you how sorry I am for what I said.”

“You hurt me Sam.”

“I know and I’m so, so sorry.”

“Why did you do it Sam?” And isn’t that the nine million dollar question? Why indeed? I mean, sure, I was shocked when I saw Laurie there. And I was definitely jealous. But the anxious, unsettled feeling that prompted my little outburst had been building for weeks, ever since that night I had almost told Josh everything.

When I arrived at work the next day, it was initially like nothing had happened. Josh acted the exact same, joking around and happily working together with me. But as the days went by I realised that something missing. It was like a he had built a wall between us, and even if the way we acted hadn’t changed, there was a distance, some insurmountable breach that Josh had put in place to keep me from getting too close. And I’m pretty sure that the reason for this separation is because Josh knows how I feel, or at least suspects. Which was just a fucking depressing conclusion to this whole saga.

So the night of the State Dinner, everything just came to a head. I was already miserable, and then in walked Josh and Mandy, doing that banter-flirting thing that they consider foreplay. Josh, of course, took my breath away because that was the kind of pathetic romantic idiot that I was, and I tried to diffuse the nervous, almost nauseas feeling I had seeing him dressed like that by making a joke about us looking good. Then Josh fixed my tie and Many made a joke about us wanting to be alone and suddenly all I could think about was the fact that Josh and I hadn’t actually been in a room alone since that night. I hadn’t really even noticed until that moment but Josh had been avoiding being alone with me. Which just compounded all the hurt already churning in my gut. So when I saw Laurie there at the dinner, everything that I had been feeling over the last few weeks just exploded, and she just happened to be unlucky enough to be caught in the blast radius.

“I don’t really have a good reason for how I acted, Laurie. Which I suppose makes it worse.”

“Sam?” At the sound of my name I look up and make eye contact with her again, shifting uncomfortably at the hurt I can see written large across her face.

“Yeah?”

“Why did you do it?” Jesus Christ, I’m going to actually have to tell her the truth aren’t I? This is not going to go well. This is not going to go well at all.

“There’s this…person.” Huh. Not really sure where to go from here. I’ve never really explained Josh to anyone. Lisa just kind of pulled bits and pieces out of me, one at a time, until she was left with enough puzzles pieces to form a coherent picture. No big explanation required. There is also the fact that I’m not entirely sure how Laurie would react to my being bisexual. After all, it’s not exactly considered normal. In fact there is a considerable portion of the population that would consider me a perverted freak. Lisa didn’t care that I was bisexual because she was too. Which I’m sure made the whole ‘my boyfriend was in love with a man’ thing considerably easier to accept.

It was strange, but because I am also attracted to women I have never really dealt with any type of targeted homophobia. Other than Josh, I have never actually had any real feelings for another man, and the only times I have ever been with other men sexually were anonymous one nightstands. So there has never really been much need for me to advertise the fact that I find men just as sexually attractive as women. Given this, I am not exactly sure I am mentally prepared to officially out myself for the first time. Laurie, however, seems to give about two shits about my internal dilemma because she knocks her knuckles on the table as a signal that I should get on with the explanation.

“I met them when I was a congressional aide…” I stop for another breath, which seems to just annoy Laurie more.

“Oh my God Sam just get the fuck on with it. I would like to finish this conversation sometime before I die of old age.”

“Right. Of course. Um… Well, uh, so I met them when I was a congressional aide.”

“You already said that Sam!” Okay, deep breath. Maybe if I just say it all really quickly it will be slightly less painful?

“SowemetandIfellinlovewiththemandneverreallygotaroundtofallingoutoflovewiththemandtheydon’tlovemeback.”

“Sam, I don’t actually think that was English.” Okay, maybe a little slower.

“I’m still in love with them and they don’t love me back and I was in a bad mood over it the night of the dinner and that’s partly why I snapped and said those things to you.” At this, Laurie sits back and resumes glaring at me. Oh joy, we are back to this again.

“So let me get this straight. You were a complete asshole to me, made me feel like a cheap whore, all because some guy you have a thing for doesn’t like you back?” At that last part my head whipped around, checking that no one in the diner had overheard Laurie’s comment. Turning back to her I couldn’t help the angry hiss that coloured my reply.

“Keep your voice down! And I never said it was a guy!” By now, Laurie just looks amused at my antics but she does heed my request and lowers her voice.

“‘Person’, Sam? Do you think I am an idiot? You really have to work on a more subtle way of talking about this if you don’t want it getting out that you are gay.”

“I’m not gay.” At my lightning fast response her eyebrows rise so far up her forehead they nearly touch her hairline.

“You’re in love with a man but you’re not gay?”

“Not that it’s particularly any of your business but I’m bisexual.”

“Huh. And here I thought you were a square geek. Then again, my mother did always tell me it’s the boring looking ones you have to watch out for…” By this point I could hear a tenor of wry amusement in her tone and I relaxed incrementally, taking this as a sign that she was not about to storm out of the diner yelling about how I was a sexual deviant.

“Are you done?”

“Not quite. So how many guys have you been with, Sammy?”

“Okay, you’re done.” By this point she is actually laughing out loud at the uncomfortable look on my face. I almost want to get mad at her for being such a bitch, but then I remember everything I have done to her and I come to the conclusion that she is owed this.

“Oh god Sam, your face! You look like you are about to face a firing squad.”

“Can we perhaps take this a little more seriously?”

“Okay, okay. Sheesh. So serious. Is this mystery man straight?”

“Undoubtedly. He also has a girlfriend.” Laurie gives a sympathetic wince and continues on.

“That sucks. Though I don’t really think leading me on was an appropriate response to the situation.” Well she has me there.

“No, it definitely wasn’t.” With my agreement we both fall into silence. Luckily, this silence is less tinged with hurt and resentment and almost resembles something companionable.

“So, where do we go from here Sam?”

“I think considering what I’ve put you through, I’m going to let you decide that.” In response to my answer Laurie looks out of the window and nods once.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m pissed as hell with you. But you never made me any promises either. Give me some time, okay? I’ll call you in a few days and let you know where we stand, alright?” I nod in answer and Laurie turns back to me and smiles before grabbing her bag and shuffling out of the booth. “I’ll talk to you soon, Sam.”

“Yeah. Have a good day Laurie.” Her only response is to wave over her shoulder as she walks towards the exit. From the window next to me I watch her walk towards the road and disappear around a corner.

Chapter Text

I have this really bad idea that I can’t get out of my head. I have tried to ignore it but it just sits there, in the back of my mind, festering, laying there in the background, just waiting to be acted upon. It’s not moral and it will certainly put me in both an ethically and emotionally compromising position, but I have pretty much reached the point where I don’t care.

I want to talk to Sam’s call girl and get dirt on her Republican clients.

Lillienfield’s holding an axe over Leo’s head and I owe Leo far too much to just sit back and watch it drop. And while the mere thought of what I want to do makes me feel slimy and wrong, the fact Lillienfield is willing to use confidential medial records against Leo is also slimy and wrong, so I figure in the grand design of the universe, these things balance out. Leo, of course, told me to drop it, but the thought is still sitting there, ever present, growing in size every time I see the strained expression flash across Leo’s face.

Of course, having Donna looking at me like I’ve killed her hamster really isn’t helping me ignore the insidious idea. And every word she says about what Leo would put on the line to protect one of us certainly isn’t helping either. I know she is not accusing me of anything, I know Donna too well to think that. But it feels like she is, and I’m betting that a lot of that feeling stems from the guilt I know I would feel if I don’t do this and Lillienfield drops the political equivalent of an atomic bomb onto Leo’s head.

So here I am, wandering the halls, realising that I am actually going to do this. And to do this I am going to need to talk to Sam. Alone. Something that I have been carefully avoiding since that night he showed up at my apartment to tell me that he was dating Laurie. The call girl. And I made a complete and total ass of myself by going on about how much I miss him. Because apparently somewhere between the time I went to sleep that night and was woken up by Sam knocking on my door, my self respect went on a nice vacation. So, yeah, I’ve been avoiding being alone with Sam and all the abject humiliation and emotional upheaval that comes with it.

But apparently this isn’t an option anymore. Leo needs me. Leo who was my father’s friend, who wrote me a recommendation when I applied for my first job on the Hill, who rescued me from my soul crushing work on Hoynes’ campaign and gave me a candidate I could actually believe in, and who somehow brought Sam back into my life. So I am going to suck it the fuck up and do this.

“Sam?”

“Hey.”

“You got a sec?”

“Yeah. 83 degrees in Bermuda.” Ginger hands Sam some messages and he continues. “Just me, some sun tan oil and 655 pages of briefing memos.” It is a sign of the amount of stress the current situation has me under that the idea of Sam covered in sun tan oil barely distracts me.

“I need to ask you something.” As we walk into Sam’s office I pull the door shut behind me and then continue speaking. “I need to ask you about your friend.” Oh right, there is also the distinct possibility that Sam is going to hate me for this, for using his girlfriend for in some twisted political power play. I had forgotten about that possibility.

“What happened?” Sam’s instant reaction of concern claws at my heart but I choose to ignore it and plough on.

“Nothing! Listen. Uh, you would describe her as, I'm sorry, what was her name again?” As if I didn’t memorise her name the first time Sam ever said it and it doesn’t routinely haunt me.

“Laurie.”

“She's expensive?”

“Josh, I assure you, I would have no way of knowing-”

“I understand but-.”

“Yes.”

“Yeah?”

“Very expensive.”

“She's elite?”

“Yes. Why are we talking about this?” This is not going to go well. I can just see it now. If Sam was protective of Laurie before he knew what I wanted from her, I can only imagine what he is going to say when I tell him my plan. In for a penny, I suppose.

“Sam, I need to know if she would divulge the name or names of any influential Republican members of congress that she might have-”

“No way!” Fuck this sucks.

“Sam.”

“I'm telling you no way, Josh!”

“Sam.”

“Josh!”

“There's a thing that's gonna happen!”

“What?”

“Lillienfield knows that Leo's a recovering alcoholic.”

“Everyone knows that Leo is a recovering alcoholic.”

“Yeah, but they don't know that there were pills. There was Valium. He was in rehab.” Judging from the shocked expression on Sam’s face, he at least seems to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

“When?”

“Six years ago.”

“He was Secretary of Labor six years ago.”

“Yeah.”

“He was high when he was running the Labor Department.”

“Yeah.” Sam just seems stunned. He has broken off eye contact and is just staring at the floor as if that will somehow give him the answers about how to deal with this situation. Welcome to the club, Sam. This is how I’ve been feeling all week.

“And Lillienfield knows this?”

“I'm fairly sure that's why he started this in the first place. Lillienfield's going hunting.” Apparently this is all a bit much for Sam and he slowly lowers himself into his chair. I want to give him a moment to process, and I really wish I have never had to come to Sam with this request. Sam is idealistic. The idea of playing on this level will eat at him from the inside, and that is the last thing I want. But really, it all boils down to one thing.

“Sam, we owe Leo everything. I mean everything.” And from his expression I know he knows this too, and I know that he will do it, even if he hates himself, even if he loses his girlfriend, because it’s Leo, and we owe him everything.

“I'll call her, and we'll go see her together.” I suppose this was never going to be easy. To be honest I was kind of hoping that Sam would talk to Laurie alone. I remember thinking the day that Sam told me about her that I could never meet her and stay sane. But this is for Leo, and if this is Sam’s price I’ll pay it.

*

Sam and I drive to my apartment together and then walk a few blocks before catching a taxi and giving the driver an address five blocks away from Laurie’s house. Paranoid? Yes. But there is no way I am risking compounding the Leo situation with a story about two senior White House staffers visiting the house of a call girl together. Sam refuses to talk to me the entire time, maintaining a stony silence that communicates pretty effectively how not okay he is with what I’ve asked him to do. Then again, considering how much I am also struggling with this decision and the emotional fallout I am expecting from actually meeting Laurie, I’m pretty okay with silence.

As we walk up the steps towards her front door Sam gives me a look that clearly tells me not to say a fucking thing and let him do all the talking. I nod, and seemingly satisfied he knocks on her door. As he does, I shift myself behind him and move into the shadows, hoping that maybe if I make myself as inconspicuous as possible the awkwardness of the situation will somehow be lessened. No such luck though because as soon as she and Sam go over their initial greetings, her eyes immediately shift straight to me.

“Hi.” Well that didn’t sound weird or awkward at all.

“This is Josh Lyman.”

“Hi.” Laurie certainly does not sound very happy to see me there. Of course all I can think of is to say hi again which probably does nothing to put her at ease.

“Come in.”

“Hi.” I actually want to smack the back of Sam’s head. I swear if one more person says ‘hi’ I am going lose the tenuous grip I have on my emotions and just let them fly.

“Well, like I said on the phone, I only have a few minutes.”

“Right,” Sam suddenly looks towards me before finishing the rest of his sentence, and I wonder what he was hoping I would offer him. Support? Comfort? A way to back the fuck out of this god-awful situation? “We'll get right to the point.”

“Please.”

“Right.” From the look on Laurie’s face she obviously knows whatever is about to happen is not going to be good. She also looks like the type of person who doesn’t take anyone’s shit, so I suddenly have the distinct impression this is not going to go well. At all. Sam, however, continues on and begins to explain our presence here.

“Here's what's going on. A guy we work with is in some trouble. We believe a congressman is about to expose something about his past that's gonna be damaging to him. And doing what you do in the universe in which you do it, we though that maybe-”

“I could give you a name of an influential Republican who likes to have kinky sex so that you could scare Lillienfield into shutting up?” As they continue talking I try to draw as little attention as possible, highly unwilling to interfere in what I am increasingly convinced is going to be a fight of near epic proportions.

“I never said that it was Lillienfield.”

“Is it Lillienfield?” It’s weird though. As I watch her and Sam argue there is something so familiar about her. It’s like I’ve met her before, but surely I would have noticed if Sam had introduced me to his call girl girlfriend before. That’s the sort of thing that would stick in one’s mind.

“Yes.”

“This is for real? This isn't a joke of some kind?”

“This is for real.”

“Then get out and we'll pretend that this never happened.” Deciding that now may be a good time to interfere before she kicks both of us out of her house, I say the only thing that comes to mind other than ‘in my darker moments I have almost found myself wishing you dead.’

“Hey, haven't we met?”

“Yes we have.” Well that’s confusing.

“Where?” Sam, turning slowly to face me, seems to have decided to answer that question for her.

“The White House. She came to the state dinner with Carl Everett.” Well fuck me. I really can’t believe I woke up this morning thinking this was a good idea. This was not a good idea.

“Who raised about five million dollars in the mid-west for Bartlet. Did you think that only Republicans pay for sex?” Oh great, now I am being lectured to by a call girl. This was definitely not a good idea.

“Laurie, this really isn't about-”

“I can't believe you. What, did you get this out of a book?” God I can’t believe I did this. Not only have I stooped lower than I ever thought I was capable of, but I am singlehandedly ruining Sam’s relationship with his girlfriend. And while a small, petty part of me rejoices at such an outcome, the part of me that loves Sam enough to want him to be happy even if it’s with someone else can’t stand by and let that happen.

“It was my idea.”

“Oh! What are you, the brains of the outfit?”

“Yeah, I am. And I got to tell you, I could care less about your indignation right now. A man has left himself open to the kind of attack from which men in my business don't recover. Now if our tactics seem less than civilized it's because so are our attackers and in any event I don't feel like standing here taking a civics lesson from a hooker!”

“Josh!” I swear this wasn’t my intention in coming here. Sure, I am worried about Leo, but the things that are coming out of my mouth aren’t about that. No, the poison that is currently spilling past my lips has nothing to do with my maligned boss and everything to do with the fact that this woman somehow got Sam to love her. Something that in all these years of knowing Sam, I have never, will never, be able to do. And honestly? I am at my fucking breaking point. This is why I never wanted to meet Laurie. I knew I would never be able to hold back, and I knew that Sam would hate me for the things I would say.

“We don't need your cooperation, Laurie, one of your guys wrote you a check and the I.R.S. works for me.”

“Get the hell out of my house.”

“Just give me a name. What do you want? Money? I'll give you money!”

“Oh fine, I'll give you a name, and then I'll hope back into the shower and you can leave the money on the nightstand. How 'bout that?”

“I don't think he meant-”

“Yes, he did!” What the fuck am I even doing here? This wasn’t what I wanted. I honestly cannot believe the things that just came out of my mouth. Donna is going to kill me. Nothing gives me the right to speak to her this way, especially not my jealousy over Sam.

“No, I didn't. In fact I'm sorry. I apologize. That was very rude.”

“We wouldn't have asked Laurie, but this person means a lot to us.” God I love Sam. Even now, knee deep in this giant mess, he is still fighting for Leo, and I love him for it. Laurie, however, is not swayed.

“You're the good guys. You should act like it.” After telling us she needs to get dressed, she walks off, leaving Sam and I standing in her entranceway. Sam just stares after her for a few moments before turning around, pushing past me, and walking out the front door. He walks down the steps and stops, and when I come up beside him he refuses to look at me. Instead, he simply continues to stare off into the middle distance before finally seeming to decide what to say.

“Don’t ever ask me to do anything like that again, Josh.” He then turns around and walks away from me, never once looking back.

Chapter Text

I was supposed to be unreachable this weekend. I was supposed to be on a boat, with no pager and no cellphone, just the fish, my wet weather gear and me. Instead I had to answer the phone. I feel that this weekend has been a very important life lesson: never answer the fucking phone.

There is also another life lesson to be found in this cluster-fuck: fuck Bobby Zane. Bobby Zane, who made high school hell for me. Who called me a faggot, stuffed me into lockers, shoved my head into toilets, and told all the girls in school that I hid in a locker in the girl’s locker room and masturbated. Seriously, fuck Bobby Zane.

Of course, seeing Josh the morning after his bachelor part was a brief ray of light in the otherwise terrible weekend. And sure, it may be petty to take some vindictive enjoyment in his suffering, but considering his starring role in this craptastic weekend of hell and his subsequent ruining of Monday, I honestly don’t feel even a little bit bad.

This entire weekend was a giant waste of time. I chose to stay at the White House in the hope that I could actually save a life, actually make a difference, and instead I had to sit back and watch as Leo and the President let the clock run out. A man died today. A man died today and I we could have saved him. I could have saved him.

And then, to compound matters, I come in to work this morning, knowing that less than nine hours ago a man was murdered by the state, and I have to tell you as an employee of the state that is not a good feeling, and all anyone seems to be talking about is Josh and Joey Lucas. Joey Lucas, who I practically shoved in front of Josh because I thought I was going to be spending the weekend on a boat. Instead, I spent all weekend yelling into the wind while Josh apparently found a new plaything.

Honestly, considering how busy everyone is, you would think the White House would be exempt from typical office gossip, but in over a year here I have found that to definitely not be the case. Which means that every time I leave my office, or even leave the door to my office open, I am greeted with discussions of screaming matches and constant verbal sparring. To anyone who doesn’t know Josh as well as I do, my concern would be confusing. However, I do know Josh, and I know how he operates and what types of women attract him. And a beautiful, intelligent, politically minded woman who seems to hate him and is perfectly comfortable spending most of their time together yelling at him is Josh’s version of catnip.

And I’m not even upset because I’m worried Josh will start dating Joey Lucas. He has Donna and everyone can see how much they mean to each other. It’s just that I know for a fact that single or not, Joey Lucas caught Josh’s eye. And in almost an entire decade of friendship, Josh hasn’t looked my way once. Which I shouldn’t still get this upset about but I’ve had a bad couple of days so, just for today, I am giving my moroseness a pass.

Of course, Laurie is only too happy to laugh at me. We are currently sitting in a park near her campus, having an impromptu picnic while I am on an extended lunch break which, considering the fact that I worked all weekend, I kind of feel I deserve.

“So let me get this straight. The guy you are interested in has a girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“And he just met another girl that you know he would be interested in if he was single because she spent the entire weekend yelling at him?”

“That about sums it up.”

“You, Sammy, have seriously questionable taste in men.”

“No arguing with you there.”

I’m so happy that Laurie agreed to us continuing to be friends. Even after the Night That Is Never Spoken About, when I somehow let Josh convince me into thinking it was a good idea to ask Laurie to divulge the names of her clients, Laurie still stood steadfast on her decision to remain my friend. Which has meant a lot over the last month or two as I was left scrambling to try and rebuild Josh’s and my relationship after the damage done by my almost midnight confession and then our visit to Laurie. In the last couple of weeks though we have actually managed to find stable ground, the awkwardness gradually disappearing as we not only acted like everything was back to normal, but we also started to feel it too.

On my end, Laurie was a big part of that shift. Being able to actually talk about the shit with Josh, even if I never told her who exactly he was, really helped. It was like a release valve, allowing me to siphon off some on the tension and pain a little bit at a time so I could maintain functional levels. Laurie also got to release some of her tension, talking about law school, her job, and issues she had with her family. It was an arrangement that worked well for both of us, especially now that we had decided to just be friends.

“Speaking of terrible love life decisions, how are things going with the boss’ daughter?” Laurie, of course, found the whole situation with Mallory hilarious. Something about my boss’ daughter kissing me right in front of the man I was on love with spoke to the sick, twisted portion of her sense of humour.

“Things are going well, I suppose.” If well can be considered a never-ending parade of mixed signals and dates charged with sexual tension that culminated in us falling into bed together, which really only made the mixed signals even more confusing.

“And what in the world is that supposed that mean?”

“We went out to dinner the other night.”

“And did your dinner have a happy ending?”

“Jesus Laurie!”

“I’m going to take that as a yes.”

“Fine. Yes. We had sex. Are you happy now?” Laurie, in fact, appears to be very happy with this development if her sleazy grin is anything to go by.

“Look at Sammy boy, getting it on with the boss’ daughter.”

“I cannot believe I am having this conversation right now.”

“Lighten up Sam, jeez. Where’s the sex maniac you told me about from your New York days?” I swear, ever since Laurie and I decided to just be friends, she has taken it as her personal mission to make me lose my goddamn mind. You would think she would maybe take pity on me considering my horrible weekend, but no, here she is, once again entertaining herself with testing the limits of my sanity.

“I was never a sex maniac.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But you can’t prove that and I find my life to be so much more enjoyable with that mental image.”

“How did I never realise that you are kind of a horrible person?” At this question, Laurie flicks her hair off her shoulder and gives me her best come hither look, a look that I distinctly remember seeing the night we first met at the bar.

“My blinding good looks mask the deep-seated evil within.”

“I can actually believe that.” We fall into silence for a few minutes after this, each of us working our way through the sandwiches that we brought along. It was almost enough to make to hope that the Mallory topic was dropped, but almost as soon as the thought popped into my head, Laurie is once again speaking.

“So is it getting serious with Mallory?”

“Define serious.”

“Are you guys allowed to see other people?”

“Are you offering?”

“Ha!” Laurie’s bark of laughter is loud enough to attract a few stares from those around us, but she continues on, “you wish Seaborn. Sorry to break it to you but been there, done that. Now answer the question.”

“We’ve never really discussed it one way or the other. It’s one of the things that makes all this so confusing. Mallory doesn’t seem like the type of person to want a casual relationship, but she has never really indicated that she wants us to get serious.”

“Would you actually want to get serious with her though?” Trust Laurie to hit the nail on the fucking head. No. I don’t want to get serious with Mallory. And not just because of the Josh thing. Of course, it would be both monumentally stupid and cruel to enter into a serious relationship with Mallory, knowing all the while that I was in love with Josh, but it’s not only that. It’s also the fact that she’s Leo’s daughter, and I love my job and respect my relationship with Leo too much to enter into a serious relationship with Mallory that I know is not really going to go anywhere. Because if I couldn’t marry Lisa, even with how much I loved her, then I already know how any real relationship between Mallory and I will end. And that in itself as depressing as all fuck.

Okay, maybe it is about the Josh thing.

“Getting serious with Mallory would definitely be ill-advised for a whole number of reasons.” Laurie seems to consider this for a few moments before replying with uncharacteristic care.

“Well maybe she knows that? I mean, if you say she’s the type of girl to want something serious but she isn’t asking that of you, maybe she knows that anything serious between the two of you will just end in fiery wreckage. I mean, it would make some sense when you think about it. If I was going to look for a guy to have a casual fling with,” this is said with a pointed look thrown in my direction, “I would probably choose someone who I know is emotionally unavailable so as not to risk any feelings developing on either side.” I blink a few times as I absorb this. That would actually make a certain amount of sense.

“Huh. You might actually be right.”

“Maybe, but then again I could also be blowing smoke out of my ass. Who’s to say? Regardless, my advice to you is this: enjoy it. You can’t sit here pining over mystery guy and let good things pass you by as a result. I get if you don’t think its fair to get into anything serious while you are in love with someone else, but that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore your options. Who knows? You might actually stumble across someone better than your star-crossed lover.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Chapter Text

Another day, another woman glaring at me at an eating establishment. I suppose I should probably address the fact that my love life if such a mess that I can now recall multiple instances of being on the receiving end of a stony glare while a waitress drops off my food but to be honest, after what I was just told, I really don’t think now is the time. Deciding that is probably best to get this over and done with, I hang up my phone and turn back to face my dinner date.

“I’m really very sorry about this, Mallory but I have to go.”

“Work?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Mallory’s eyes narrow even more as she seems to mull that over. Finally she seems to deflate in front of me and gestures towards to door.

“Well, be free I suppose. Say hi to my father for me.”

“Will do, Mal. You have a good night. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Bye Sam.” Having been summarily dismissed, I race towards the restaurant’s coat check, already dialing Josh’s number. As always, it only takes two rings before Josh answers the phone. I swear the man must have the thing surgically grafted to his hand.

“This is Josh Lyman.”

“Hey Josh, it’s Sam.”

“Hey Sam! How are things going to night? Doing anything fun?”

“Yes actually, I had dinner plans with Mallory.” There is almost a too long moment of silence after my answer, but when Josh starts speaking again, I assume that I was imagining it.

“Well that sounds fun. Are things going well between you two? Stick your foot in your mouth yet?”

“Well I don’t know, Josh. I haven’t told her about my super secret plan to fight inflation so things are going pretty well, all things considered.”

“See you think you’re funny Sam.”

“I know I’m funny.” By this point the coat check guy had finally managed to locate my coat that, judging by how long it took him to find, was obviously somewhere in Narnia. Nodding my thanks and handing him a tip, I put on my coat and race out of the restaurant, hoping that I will get lucky and a cab will come by soon.

“So why are you calling? Or was it just to update me on your love life and mock me?”

“It’s about Mendoza.”

“Oh holy mother of God! What the hell has he done now?” Josh did have a point. Mendoza was arguably one of the most infuriating nominees I have ever worked with. I’m pretty sure Toby is one day away from a full-blown mental breakdown. Thinking about it, if the situation wasn’t so serious, it would be kind of funny, if only to see the inevitable Toby Ziegler meltdown.

“He was arrested.”

“What're you talking about?”

“He was arrested.”

“For what?”

“Drunk driving, resisting arrest, and I think disorderly conduct.” That part hadn’t exactly been clear when I got the call telling me what had happened.

“You think?”

“This thing's about 30 minutes old, Josh. I don't know exactly what happened.” Where are all the taxis? Why is it that whenever I really need a taxi, every cab within a five-mile radius suddenly decides to drive away from wherever I am standing?

“What do we know?”

“Mendoza doesn't drink.” Something that I know for a fact because in the course of vetting him I found out that he has chronic persistent hepatitis which has left him unable to process alcohol at all. So the question is, of course, what the fuck happened? I really hope this is not a race thing. If the next Supreme Court justice was pulled over and arrested because he was Hispanic shit is going to get real, and fast. Mendoza is not the type of guy to let this sort of thing go, and while he is Toby’s responsibility and not mine, in the end it’s me who has to deal with Toby’s every worsening moods.

“He's arrested for drunk driving.” It’s almost definitely a race thing. Fuck.

“Roberto Mendoza doesn't drink, Josh.”

“How much does the press know?”

“They don't know anything.” Which really was a minor miracle I am thanking every deity I can think for. If the press gets a hold of this, the level of cluster-fuck this situation will descend into is almost too frightening to contemplate.

“The cops haven't leaked it?”

“I swear to God, I don't think the cops know.”

“They don't know that they've arrested Roberto Mendoza?” Finally! I was beginning to worry that every taxi in DC had suddenly slipped into an alternate dimension.

“They don't know it's that Roberto Mendoza.”

“I've got this thing now.” Oh right. Josh is at that Majorie Dupont thing. Well he is certainly in for a fun night.

“I got a cab.” Ducking into the taxi I quickly give the driver the destination, before turning my attention back to Josh. “I'll let you know what's going on.” I then hang up and lean back against the headrest with my eyes closed, trying not to think about how long tonight was going to be.

*

“Hey Sam.” At the sound of knocking on my office door and my name being called, I look up and see Josh standing there smiling at me.

“Hey Josh. What’s up?” Josh walks in and moves towards my couch, throwing himself across it once he gets within range.

“Nothing much. Just thought I would come say hi. See how things are doing.” The fact that Josh’s and my relationship has gotten back to the point where we are once again comfortable just coming over and saying hi to each other is something that I am eternally grateful for. It means the world to me that I have gotten my best friend back, even if having him around comes with some accompanying heartache.

“You’re bored.” It was the evening after the whole Mendoza debacle and today had been weirdly quiet so I could kind of understand where Josh was coming from. I mean, you know it’s a slow day when I am contemplating going home before 8:00 PM. I was even hoping to get more than four hours of sleep tonight because I have been struggling after having to travel to Connecticut and back in one night.

“I’m not bored. I'm… unstimulated.”

“That’s not a word Josh.”

“Yeah? Well it should be.” Josh has found one of the red balls that Toby likes tossing at the window that connects our offices and is now throwing and catching it above his head while lying down across my couch.

“So, what’s up?”

“Donna’s on a date.” At hearing Josh’s oh so casual statement, my head jerks up so quickly my glasses somehow fly off my face. Josh, who is still busy playing with the ball, doesn’t seem to notice that he suddenly has my undivided attention. He also doesn’t notice the slack jawed expression that I can feel taking over my face.

“A date?”

“Yeah, with a guy called Ben who she met at the gym. Which I told her is never a good place to meet people but she didn’t believe me. She’s stubborn that way.”

“Okay?” This is a seriously weird conversation. Did Josh and Donna break up? Are they in an open relationship? What in the ever-loving fuck is happening here?

“Yeah, so knowing Donna’s terrible taste in men, I give it about half an hour before she calls me asking to pick her up and it got me thinking. You know men, right Sam?”

“Men?” At this point I am honestly not sure I’m capable of any form of speech other than monosyllabic parroting. This conversation is surreal.

“Yeah, nice single men. For Donna. I mean, everyone I know is either married or an asshole so I figured I would ask you.”

“Me?” At this point, something has tweaked for Josh and he realises that I am not a hundred percent present for this conversation because he stops throwing the ball and tilts his head so he can make eye contact with me.

“Sam. You okay?”

“I think?”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause you kind of look like your favourite pet just died.”

“Josh.”

“Yeah?”

“Why are you trying to set your girlfriend up with another guy?” At my question, Josh’s entire frame freezes for a few moments before he bursts out into nervous sounding laughter.

“What?! Donna is not my girlfriend. I’m her boss! And she’s my assistant! And she’s Donna!”

“Oh.” Well this changes everything. Come to think of it, Josh always did say that they were just friends. But everyone thinks that they’re dating. Leo thinks they’re dating for fuck sake. I know because after the handholding incident during the campaign I overheard him muttering about inevitable sexual harassment suits.

“What made you think Donna and I were dating?” Josh is still laughing which is making me feel more and more embarrassed.

“It’s not just me! Everyone thinks so.” This brings Josh up short, his laughter ending abruptly.

“Everyone?”

“Yeah, everyone. Jesus Josh, there is an office pool on how long it takes you to propose.”

“Really?”

“Yeah!” I actually am part of that pool, betting on five years with Donna being the one to pop the question because even though Josh was obviously in love with Donna (or at least I thought it was obvious that he was, and isn’t that a kick in the head?), it’s still Josh, the man who elevates being terrible at relationships into an art form.

“Huh. Well that would explain why Mandy gave me that weird look when I mentioned going out to a bar the other night.” The idea of Josh going to a bar and picking up a random woman to fuck should have hurt, but in the face of the sudden revelation of Josh’s apparent singlehood, my mind was a bit too overwhelmed to process anything else. Wait. That means that I hated Donna for months for no reason. Well, not that my petty jealousy was ever actually a good reason, but the point still stands. Fuck I’m an idiot.

“So you and Donna are not dating?”

“Nope.” Popping the p, Josh seems to contemplate the current situation he has found himself in. “Am I going to have to tell people that Donna and I aren’t dating?”

“Well you might want to let Leo know. I think knowing that the White House is not going to get slapped with a sexual harassment suit if things ever went south between you and Donna would do him a world of good.” Hearing this, Josh suddenly goes pale and springs up, letting the red ball fall from his fingers.

“Yeah, I’m going to go do that right now. Thanks Sam.” Seeing as how Josh is already halfway out the door as he finishes saying this I don’t reply. Instead, I sit at my desk, swiveling my chair around, and stare aimlessly out of the windows for the next half-hour, contemplating everything I just found out.

Chapter Text

“So, Sam looked good tonight.” Expelling a loud sigh, I find myself wondering if anyone would notice if I ‘accidentally’ left Donna here in L.A.

“Sam always looks good, Donna. That’s half the damn the problem. Besides, stop checking out Sam. It’s creepy.” At this, Donna reaches up for one of the pillows just above our heads and smashes it into my face. We are currently both lying on the bed in my hotel room, processing the events of the last 24-hours. Well I was processing, Donna was evidently ruminating on how good Sam’s ass look in his suit tonight. Well, maybe not that exactly but then again, who knows?

“Like you have a leg to stand on. I saw you checking out his ass.” Busted. I smile up at the ceiling and let Donna’s observation go, deciding that there really wasn’t much I could say to such an accurate assessment of my behaviour. Donna soon shuffles over and rests her head on my shoulder, staring up at the ceiling with me in companionable silence. The silence, however, is not very long lasting.

“So what happened with Joey Lucas?” I can’t help but let slip a long groan. Freaking Donna and her weird obsession with Joey freaking Lucas. She was like a damn dog with a bone. I swear if I have to hear about gathering rosebuds one more time I will actually leave her in L.A.

“Nothing happened.”

“And why was what?” At this question I decide that having this conversation lying down on a bed is far too uncomfortable so I gently move Donna’s head off my shoulder and shuffle of the bed.

“‘Cause nothing happened. End of story.”

“Josh what are you doing?”

“I have to pack.”

“Only you could spend fifteen minutes total in a hotel room and somehow manage to unpack everything you brought.” She kind of has a point, I suppose. Looking around, it was kind of impressive the amount of things that had gotten out of my bag is the few odd minutes here and there that I had actually managed to spend in the room.

“Josh?”

“Donna?”

“What happened with Joey Lucas?”

“She came to the fundraiser with someone.”

“And?”

“And nothing. We were talking,” flirting, “and she told me that she was with someone and I left.” As I say this, I walk into the bathroom and start picking up all the toiletries I had somehow managed to strew across the bathroom. I may also gather up all the hotel shampoo, conditioner and soap in a little basket for me to take home, but really, who would ever know? Donna, however, does not seem to be done with the conversation if the sound of the dulcet voice floating in from the bedroom is anything to go by.

“That was it?”

“Yeah.”

“Just because she said she was with somebody?”

“She said she was with somebody.”

“Oh, Josh!” Leaving the bathroom for a few moments, I grab my jacket and tie from the closet and walk back to the bedroom to fold them into the bag that Donna and evidently placed on the bed when I mentioned I was going to start packing.

“Donna, she's with somebody!”

She could have just been saying that.

“Why would she just be saying that?”

“For the allure.”

“Oh.” I really don’t get the way Donna’s mind works. From the moment we first landed in L.A. this morning, Donna has been singularly focused on smashing Joey Lucas and I together. When I asked her about it before heading off to meet with Ted Marcus, she gave me some speech about wasting my life pining over Sam and how she was sick of seeing me miserable and trying to drown my sorrows in work and meaningless one night stands. Apparently Donna’s solution to what she saw to be my poor life choices was Joey Lucas.

“Go see her before we leave.”

“It's one in the morning.”

“Go knock on her door.”

“I'm not going to knock on her door at one in the morning.” Thinking about inappropriately timed visits made me think about Sam and that night he had shown up at my apartment and how all I wanted to do was just grab him, drag him inside, and fuck him against my door. Which would have then undoubtedly been followed up by making love in my bed and snuggles, because I am secretly a romantic sap.

“Yes! Because you're whisking away to Washington, and you had to see her one more time before you left, because God knows what fate awaits you when once you get there.” Okay Donna may have officially lost it. Poking my head around the wall, I see that she has moved from lounging on the bed to kneeling, her face set in a exaggerated dramatic expression.

“Are you okay?”

“Gather ye rosebuds, Josh.” That’s it. She can walk back to DC.

“Donna, I am not going to knock on her door.” Thinking the conversation over, I duck back into the bathroom to collect the backset full of hotel bathroom goodies, only to suddenly hear the sound of Donna clucking like a chicken. What are we, five?

“Were you just clucking like a chicken, is that what that was?”

“Yes.” Maybe Donna has a point. Maybe I should go knock of Joey’s door. I mean, if she is seeing someone, then she would obviously not expect anything between us to be serious. Besides, she is the first woman in a while to capture my attention so completely, so maybe it will be good for me to actually give this a shot?

“I couldn't knock on her door if I wanted to, I don't have her room number.

“Yes, you do.” Donna then proceeds to wave a message slip around while doing that weird thing she started doing three weeks ago where she sing-songs “Phone Message! Phone message!”

“Okay, first of all, don't do that thing anymore with the phone message! Phone
message!” I accompany this with frantic hand waving in imitation of Donna.

“And?” I take a second to think this through. Yeah, I’m going to do this. I’m going to go knock on Joey Lucas’ door. And while I do it, I am not going to think about Sam knocking on my door, because that would be moronic. I am going to knock of Joey’s door and say goodbye to a beautiful woman who I actually like and want to get to know beyond the hour or so it takes me to get her to bring me home. Yeah, I’m going to do this.

*

Well that went spectacularly badly. Seriously, I think the image of Al Kiefer in a bathrobe has been permanently burned onto my retinas. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion, you know exactly what is going to happen but you are powerless to stop it. The expression on Joey’s face when she saw me standing at her door, the knowing, sympathetic was she looked at me just about made me want to crawl out of my skin.

So here I am, sitting on Air Force One, feet up on the table in front of me, feigning sleep as I contemplate the train wreck that I was just a part of. It would actually be pretty funny, really, if it wasn’t so unbelievable mortifying. Sighing, I hit my head on the seat behind me a few times before opening my eyes. Once I do, however, I find myself looking into the blue gaze that haunts my every waking moment, and most of the sleeping ones too.

“Hey, you’re awake.” Sam smiles softly in reply, shuffling his body a little in an effort to make himself more comfortable.

“You okay?” Am I okay? I really don’t know how to answer that question. I mean, the Joey Lucas thing sucked but that isn’t really the underlying cause of my current melancholy. No, the real reason for my oh so wonderful mood is sitting right in front of me, his feet almost brushing against mine on the table in front of us, somehow looking just as beautiful as the first day I met him, sprawled across Congressman Fairchild’s office floor. And isn’t that my exact problem? Since the moment I met him, Sam Seaborn has owned everything I am, and there is nothing I can seem to do to change that. In all honesty, I’m not even sure that I would change it if I could.

“Yeah, I guess. Had a bit of a thing happen with Joey Lucas before we left the hotel.” Sam’s eyebrows shoot up when he hears this, the question clear in his face. “Donna kind of convinced me to go see her before we left as, you know, some, uh, big romantic gesture or something.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, I knocked on the door and Al Kiefer answered it in a bathrobe.”

“You saw Al Kiefer in a bathrobe?”

“Yeah.”

“Condolences.” We sit together in silence for a few moments, the quiet of the plane disturbed only by the soft sounds of Toby’s snoring and the hum of the engines. It was peaceful in a way, almost intimate despite the fact that our colleagues surround us. It’s a weird glimpse into what my life would have been like if Sam actually returned my feelings, which really only makes the whole situation hurt that much more.

“So you and Joey Lucas, huh?”

“I think it would be more accurate to say Joey Lucas and Al Kiefer with me standing next to them like a schmuck.” Sam huffs a soft laugh at this, repositioning himself again so that this time our legs are touching on the table.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Josh.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. It was more the distant hope of something rather than any kind of real possibility, so I haven’t really lost anything.” Sam, however, looks unconvinced, so I continue. “Seriously, Sam. I’m fine. Go to sleep. We have a busy day tomorrow, uh, today. You know what I mean.” Sam nods and resettles himself one more. Following his example I try to get as comfortable as I can before closing my eyes. After a few moments, though, I open my eyes again when Sam calls my name.

“Josh?”

“Yeah Sam?

“I’m here for you if you ever need to talk or anything, you know that right? It doesn’t matter what it is, or if you think it’s stupid, I’ll always be here, okay?” I look over and see the sincerity of the words filling his eyes, and my heart is suddenly being gripped by a plethora of emotions ranging from love and gratitude to soul crushing longing. Gently nudging Sam’s leg with mine, however, all I say is, “night Sam.”

Chapter Text

“So, it turns out you were wrong.”

“Trying to study Sam.”

“That may be the case but I feel it’s important that you know that you were wrong about Mallory.”

“I have class in an hour Sam. I need to get this down before I walk in there.”

“And I’m saying that I understand that, I just think you should know that you were wrong.”

“Sam!” Accompanying her frustrated exclamation, Laurie slams her book shut and proceeds to employ her well-used Sam Seaborn is a fucking idiot glare. She really has gotten quite a lot of opportunities to break that thing out lately.

“What Sam? What could possibly be so urgent that you need to talk about it right this moment?”

“Mallory wants to get serious with me.”

“And I care about this, why?” Laurie pairs this rather cruel question with a single raised eyebrow.

“Well I did just give you excellent advice on how to deal with your mother pressuring you to settle down.”

“You told me to tell her to fuck off, Sam.” Yes, probably not my soundest advice, but no reason to let her know that.

“Exactly! Sound advice from your wiser elder.” Laurie’s only response to this is to mumble something that I can’t quite make out but sounds vaguely like fucking moron and something about beating someone with a torts textbook.

“You’re not going to let me finish working on this until I listen to you bitch about your not-girlfriend, are you?”

“Probably not.” At my answer, Laurie groans audibly but moves her textbook off the diner table and onto the seat next to her.

“This better be good, Seaborn, or you are not going to like what I do to you.” I elect to ignore this not very subtle threat, and begin.

“So I went out on a lunch date with Mallory two weeks ago.”

“Was this the one where your version of foreplay was arguing about school vouchers like the weirdo that you are?” Well, when she puts it that way, my decision to sit there and argue with Mallory for hours on end about a position I don’t even hold on school vouchers does seem a little odd.

“Yes, that would be the one.”

“Uh-huh. You going to actually get to the point of this story, Sammy?”

“Right. Of course. Well, we had lunch-”

“Yes I think we’ve established that.” I choose to ignore her interruption and continue on with my story.

“And then made plans for getting together a few days later-”

“By which you mean you had sex.”

“Are you going to let me finish?” Laurie waves my righteous indignation away with a swat of her hand while leveling me with another look that clearly says to get on with it, fast.

“So anyway, we spent the night together and I didn’t hear from her for over a week until last night she called me.”

“And…” By the way that her glare had lost most of its bite and her body leaned forward unconsciously, I could tell that she was at the least marginally interested in what Mallory said to me, despite her attempt to present an affectation of boredom.

“Well, she told me that she felt it was time that we started to ‘possibly consider actually getting serious about things between us.’”

“I’m not entirely sure I know what that means exactly.”

“Yeah me too. When I asked her though, she said that she wasn’t a hundred percent sure if we should get serious but she wanted to know my thoughts on the matter.”

“Huh. So what did you say to her?”

“Nothing actually. I told her I would give it some thought and get back to her.” Laurie seems to take a few moments to let this sink in before she bursts out laughing. Well I’m glad I’m at least a useful source of entertainment if nothing else.

“You totally freaked out didn’t you? Oh God I can just imagine your face! I bet it looked exactly like the one you get every time I make you watch Alien and the baby alien bursts out of the guy’s chest right onto the kitchen table.” But this point Laurie has dissolved into uncontrollable laughter at whatever mental image she has conjured up and I am left to face the curious glances of the diner’s other patrons. After about a good minute and a half, Laurie finally calms down enough to choke out a question.

“So what,” another fit of giggles, “are you going to tell her?”

“You really are no help, you know that right?” This seems to set her off all over again, so I decide to delay my answer until she decides to behave like the adult she purports to be. Eventually Laurie calms down marginally, either employing some actual maturity for once or just running out of oxygen. Knowing her, probably the latter.

“I’m considering giving it a go.” Well that shut her up.

“What about mystery guy?”

“What about him?” At my cavalier response, Laurie’s eyebrows shoot up and her eyes bore into mine, as if she is trying to somehow read my thoughts through them.

“So you’re letting him go?” Hearing that said out loud, I can’t help but sigh deeply. Was I actually considering this? Was I actually considering letting Josh go once and for all? I used to think it wasn’t even possible but over the last year or so everything just seems to be pointing to the futility and foolishness of actually putting my entire life in stasis because of my feelings for him. Look at what I had lost already. Lisa, Laurie and possibly even Mallory, depending on how she took my abruptness over the phone last night. Was it time to stop giving up things in the real world just so I could maintain my fantasy one?

I have never actually tried to give Josh up before. I thought I had, when I chose to move to New York, but that wasn’t really what I had been doing. What I had really been doing was running away and hoping that time and distance would break whatever hold over me Josh Lyman had somehow established from the first moment I saw him. So yes, separation dulled the pain, and afforded me the illusion that I had healed, but from the moment he turned up in my life again it was only a matter of time before the illusion I had forged during our time apart crumbled into dust.

And yes, when Donna had come onto the scene I convinced myself that I was fine with just being friends and nothing more. But that wasn’t really moving on from him. I simply incorporated the fact that I loved Josh but could never have him into my worldview and went on from there. Sure, I resigned myself to never being with Josh, but I never actually made the decision to try to fall out of love with him. Or at least to stop loving him quite so much.

So maybe it is time to let Josh go. Maybe it was time to let go of Josh years ago but I was too stubborn to actually do it? Either way, I spent all last night and this morning going over this question again and again and it’s the only solution I can come up with. The only thing I haven’t tried. I have to give up on Josh because not doing so is going to destroy me.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that this is going to be easy. This is definitely not going to be fucking easy. I’m not even idealistic enough to think that things with Mallory are going to work out even if I am successful in letting Josh go. Trying to stop loving Joshua Lyman is going to take a lot of time and effort, and it would be unfair to string Mallory along during all of that.

But maybe, if it works, I will meet someone else, someone new, and I will actually be ready to be with them in the way that they deserve. They will actually get all of me, rather than whatever spare bits I can cobble together that aren’t wrapped up in Josh. Maybe I will even be able to one-day talk to them about Josh, my first love, and we can laugh about it together? Well, maybe not laugh. That might be a bit too optimistic. Regardless, I think this is what I need. I need to let Josh go because I will never be with him, so I need to work out who I am outside of him.

“Yeah, Laurie. I think I am.”

Chapter Text

The President is on fire tonight. Watching him up on that podium reminds of the first night I ever saw him in Nashua, taking to a bunch of bored people who had no clue what the hell he was even saying, defending an unpopular political decision because it was the right thing to do. It reminds me of what I saw that night, a true statesman. And it makes me so proud to serve at the pleasure of this President.

As I am listening to the speech, Sam sidles up next to me, the excitement on his face mirroring my own. This is what we came to Washington for. To actually do good. To change the world. And now Leo and the President are letting us. My entire body is filled with adrenaline as I watch the President’s speech build, a war cry that the Bartlet administration is no longer going to cower in the corner in fear of political backlash. Look at that, I’m so excited I am bordering on poetic. Sam would be proud. Speaking of Sam, he seems to be saying something.

“You're about to get a call.” Don’t I know it? I’m actually disturbingly excited about it. For the last couple of months the hits have just never stopped, and the idea of actually being able to enter the ring and fight back has me almost giddy. I push the excitement down though, wanting to at least maintain the appearance of calm indifference.

“Yeah.”

“Big call.”

“Yeah.”

“Powerful guy.”

“Yeah.”

“I'm just saying you're probably rocked back from your meeting last week.”

“A little.” I think Sam is trying to psych me up for when the Majority Leader inevitably calls. It’s kind of sweet actually. Lets me know that he cares.

“They threatened you with a legislative agenda.”

“Yeah.”

“They made you feel powerless and you're a little off your game.” Then again it could just be Sam being a dick. He seems to delight in that sort of thing.

“Yeah.”

“A little gun shy.” Oh yeah, he’s definitely fucking with me. Toby, who has just walked up to us, seems to notice this as well and admonishes Sam, telling him to leave me alone. Just then though, I notice Donna’s phone ringing. I’m trying to focus on the speech, however, so I ignore it, although Toby and Sam’s bickering is making giving the President my undivided attention rather difficult.

“Guys, I'm trying to watch the speech.”

“Josh.” Suddenly Donna is walking over to me, handing me the phone.

“The call?”

“On the cell.” I take the phone from her and stare at it a moment, gathering my thoughts. I’m not entirely sure what I am going to say to the Majority Leader, although the words fuck you have been floating around my head for the past few days with alarming tenacity. Toby seems to pick up on my momentary hesitance, offering a last minute gesture of support.

“Josh, if you need us, we're standing right here.” Oh well, here goes nothing.

“Hi, Senator. Why don't you take your legislative agenda and shove it up your ass.” Having said my piece I close the phone and turn back to look at Sam, Donna and Toby, all of who are wearing shocked expressions of various degrees. I let my inner drama queen have her moment by casually tossing the phone at Donna while offering an oh so casual, “turns out I was fine,” all the while watching Sam’s reaction. And okay, yeah, I was showing off a little but the look on his face was totally worth it, because Sam is looking at me as if I hang the moon. And all I can think about in this moment is that I need to tell him that I love him, because if there is even the remote chance that he feels the same way, something that his current expression seems to suggest, I can’t waste any more time being scared.