She’s outed during the first campaign. A person she thought was her friend goes on national television and proclaims that Samantha Norma Seaborn is a lesbian. Sam grits her teeth and bears the media attention, the stupid questions, the invasion of her privacy. She deals with the betrayed look on Josh’s face and the cold calculation in Leo’s. She deals because she’s not going to let this stop her, and if Bartlet's people don’t want her dragging their campaign down, fuck ‘em.
The Governor puts a stop to that train of thought immediately, when he takes to the airways with righteous anger and shames the nation back on topic. Gays and lesbians, the Governor reminds, have worked among them for centuries. The American people have better things to worry about than who one of his speech writers falls in love with.
It shouldn’t work, and it almost doesn’t, but within a week the media have turned their microscope back to the Republican candidates and their affairs.
Josh avoids her for one long, long month. CJ treats her no differently, and if Sam didn’t watch her wrangle with the press almost every day, she’d wonder if their press secretary had missed the scandal entirely. But, it turns out, she just doesn’t care. Toby doesn’t care either, which is a relief, because if Sam were straight, she would have a huge embarrassing crush on Toby. As it is, she’s definitely in love with his words and the way he arranges them just so. Leo is gruffly affectionate, and the Governor starts making an effort to remember her name.
But Josh, her best friend, is avoiding her.
“Toby, it’s really none of your business--”
“Shut the hell up! Now, you’re either a hypocrite or the worst friend on the planet. Get your ass in there and talk to her!”
“She doesn’t trust me!”
A loud bang. “Stop thinking this is about you, you selfish bastard!”
Josh comes into the tiny closet they have set up as her New Mexico office space and closes the door. Sam blinks and peers at him over her glasses. The place is burning up; Sam can feel the sweat trickling down the back of her neck. Josh looks awkward and grim-faced, like a warrior fighting for a cause he’s not sure he believes in.
“Look, Sam, I’m sorry,” he says. His eyes dart around, skating on her blank white walls instead of landing on her. “I’m just-- I’ve been avoiding you, and I’m sorry.”
“Josh, you got me into this campaign, remember?” Sam sighs. She takes off her glasses and rubs the bridge of her nose. “You came and got me in New York. I told you I was in a serious relationship.”
“I just didn’t know it was with a woman!” Josh exclaims, throwing up his hands.
“And why does that matter?” Sam asks levelly.
“Because I--” Josh starts. He stops himself and takes a deep breath. “It doesn’t. Okay. It shouldn’t. But we’re in politics and--”
“And we’re done,” Sam says decisively. She points her pen towards the door. “I have to finish the Governor’s speech about immigration. The exit is a foot and a half behind you. I’m sure you can find it.”
Sam’s emotions are always there, simmering underneath the surface. She hardly ever lets the negative ones show. Her own personal battle with herself, the fight she’ll never win. Everything she feels, she feel strongly. Right now, she feels anger. Hurt. Betrayal.
Josh shows himself out.
It’s all but forgotten when they win. They win. Somehow, despite their best efforts, they’ve won the White House. Governor Bartlet is the President-elect of the United States. Sam lays aside her doubts about her position in the administration and just lets herself float, just for one night.
Her candidate won, and she was there to make it happen.
She’s surprised when Leo calls her in the next morning. Not that she expected him to let her down gently over the phone; she just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. They still have to write the horde of speeches and remarks for the various social functions and official events the Bartlets will attend leading up to the swearing in. Leo is a nice guy, very fatherly; maybe he’s found another job for her.
The President-elect is in Leo’s office, leaning on his desk. “Ah, Miss Seaborn,” he says easily. He looks tired and happy and lost and determined all at once, and she’s filled with pride that she wrote his speeches, that she handed out fliers, that she stood behind him as he tore the homophobes and bigots a new one for focusing on the wrong things.
“Why don’t you take a seat?” her President suggests. He waves to the empty chair beside Leo. Sam sits and crosses her legs nervously. She resists the urge to fiddle with her glasses.
“Sir…?” she asks, trailing off at the serious looks on the men’s faces.
“I would like to offer you a position on my staff,” the President-elect says. “It won’t be an easy road for you, and I understand if you wouldn’t prefer not to take such a high profile gig. If you don’t take it, there are some other options we have in mind. If none of those appeal to you, Abbey has some suggestions as well.”
“Um,” Sam says. She blinks furiously, trying to catch up. “What position?”
“We want you to be our new Deputy Communications Director,” Leo says. He smiles. “It’ll be hell, but we think you’re the girl for the job.”
She could continue writing for the President. She could stay on. She could join them in the White House. She could have an office in the White House.
“Is Toby going to be--”
“Toby’ll be your boss,” the President-elect interrupts. “Although you will, of course, ultimately answer to me. If you’d rather not work for that old grump, you can always join the First Lady as her Chief of Staff. That’s her offer, by the way.”
She could write speeches for the President. She could be the First Lady’s Chief of Staff.
“You’re not afraid of the backlash?” she asks in a small voice.
“We can take ‘em,” the President-elect says confidently, and that’s when she realizes that she’s going to serve this man as long as he’ll have her.
“I’d be honored to accept the job, sir,” she says. She seals her fate. No turning back now, no running away.
The Secret Service red flags seventeen death threats against her in their first week. She hasn’t even begun unpacking all of her boxes yet. There are hurried meetings with the President and Leo and some rather terrifying FBI agents, and somewhere along the way, a protection detail is assigned to her despite her protests.
“I’m just a speech writer!” she says as Leo glowers at the wall. “I’m not important enough for this kind of paranoia.”
“Samantha,” Leo says. He only uses her full name when he’s about to say something meaningful. “You’re the most high profile homosexual in the White House. You’re the speech writer to the President of the United States. You’re a member of this staff. You will always be important enough for this kind of paranoia.”
Sam leaves Leo’s office with a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach and an armed guard trailing behind her every step.
The Christian Right are afraid of Sam. She’s the devil in modest business clothing. She’s the opposite of everything they want her to be, of everything they want her to represent: She’s tall and willowy and beautiful. She wears tastefully tailored pantsuits. She ties her hair back in a bun when she goes up to the Hill. She speaks eloquently and often. She represents a gay agenda not masked in stereotypes and coated with casual hate. She is a smart, capable woman who loves other women.
They hate her because she’s not scary. She’s just a woman, and they’re just frightened bigots.
Laurie is a mostly pleasant speed bump in her life, despite the political ramifications, right up until Josh opens his big mouth.
“Wait, I thought she was a call girl?” he asks when she admits what had happened.
“But she slept with you,” Josh says. He looks like he genuinely doesn’t understand it. “How can she be a call girl but sleep with a woman? Does she only, ah. Service women?”
“Okay,” Sam says tightly. She holds her anger close to her heart, where it can smolder until it reaches critical mass. She may be mixing analogies. She doesn’t care. “Okay, first of all, bisexuals exist. Second of all, you don’t have to be attracted to men to sleep with them.”
“Huh?” Josh’s clueless expression might be cute under other circumstances, but as it is, all Sam wants to do is stomp on his foot and poor his coffee onto his crotch.
“Josh, I’ve slept with men.”
Josh’s face changes entirely. There’s a weird flicker of emotion in his eyes, like hope and shock and disbelief tangled together and fought to the death in just a tiny moment. Then he masks it with a false, fractured smile. “Wo-ow, Sammy, when were you gonna tell me about this?” He wags his eyebrows suggestively.
“Go to hell,” Sam snaps.
“My people don’t believe in hell,” Josh snarks back, that stupid smile still fixed in place.
It isn’t until she slams the door to her own office that she realizes what he was hiding. Oh.
Josh Lyman is in love with Samantha Seaborn. It takes Sam a moment to wrap her head around it, because she’s never thought of Josh in that way. She still can’t. He’s her best friend, her brother, her comrade. That’s it. There’s no physical attraction on her part, no lustful thoughts in the middle of briefings and galas. He’s just Josh to her.
But he’s in love with her, and for the past year and a half, he’s known that he hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell.
Sam wishes it could be different. She wishes she could fall in love with Josh; it would make her life a lot easier, for one. But she can’t.
The first time someone tries to kill her, it’s just after Josh insults Mary Marsh on national television, angering hate-mongering Christians everywhere. Someone fires a gun at the car the Secret Service use to drive her to and from work. The windows are bullet-proof, but the glass shows fine spiderweb cracks where the projectiles hit. Sam doesn’t stop shaking until they have in her in Oval Office with her head between her legs and the President’s hand rubbing gently across her back.
Josh bolts into the room, sweating profusely and panting. His eyes are wild with fear.
“Are you okay?” he demands, jerking her upright so that he can stare at her. She nods shakily.
“She’s fine, Josh,” the President assures him, although Sam can hear the barely controlled rage in his voice. This was an attack on one of his people; this was an attack on one of their unofficial little family.
“Who did this?” Josh snarls. His hands clinch compulsively. Sam thinks of that night that he got really drunk and told her about his sister and the fire. Without thinking, she reaches forward and takes his hand in hers. It’s enough to hold him back form the edge.
“Our guys got them,” Leo says grimly from the doorway. “CJ’s briefing the press right now.”
Sam takes the rest of the day off. Her security detail is increased, leaving her with an entourage to rival Leo’s. It’s a long time before she can stop shaking at the thought of spiderwebs.
Mandy wants her to disappear. It’s not personal, and it’s not, strictly speaking, because Sam is a lesbian. It’s because she makes Mandy’s job harder. She’s their PR person, and as enlightened as she is in private, she has to consider what the broad spectrum of the American people think.
Sam is getting unexpectedly tired of thinking about the American people. Fuck the lot of them.
“We’re talking about these women.”
“We can’t get over these women.”
“Look at CJ. She’s like a fifties movie star, so capable, so loving and energetic.”
“Look at Mandy over there. Going punch for punch with Toby in a world that tells women to sit down and shut up. Mandy’s already won her battle with the President. The game’s over, but she’s not done. She wants Toby.”
“Mrs. Landingham. Did you guys know she lost two sons in Vietnam? What would make her want to serve her country is beyond me, but in fourteen years, she’s not missed a day’s work, not one. There’s Cathy, Donna, and Margaret.”
“And there’s Sam.”
“Ah, Samantha, our Samantha. Strong and brave and so determined to do the right thing. The best side of idealistic. She has guts, our Sam, and the stubbornness to see it through. Her position puts her in a lot of danger; she even got shot at! But she’s never backed down, not once, and it’s to her credit.”
Laurie is at the state dinner. Sam is there, wearing a red Alexander McQueen evening gown picked for her by the First Lady. The conversation is tense, and even more so when the First Lady herself joins in. She raises her eyebrows at Sam when Laurie isn’t looking, implying a gesture that the First Lady really shouldn’t be seen making.
They don’t let her within sixty yards of “gay issues.” Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell gets passed off to Josh, the latest discrimination lawsuit goes to Toby, and the hate crime legislation stays firmly in CJ’s grasp. It’s not that she doesn’t trust these people, or that they don’t trust her. It’s that everything is looked at through a political scope, and they don’t need her sexuality mucking the waters.
It still hurts. It hurts on a deep level that goes beyond logic. She understands why they can’t let her handle these issues. They try to make up for it; they hand her the environmental stuff whenever they can. They let her get a Supreme Court Justice on the bench. They invite her to the cool kids table at every party, especially the ones full of people who won’t talk to her.
But it hurts because there are some things they can do, things that don’t even merit comment, that she can’t. CJ and Donna can go for lunch without a photographer assuming it’s a date. Josh can hold a door open for a guy without everyone in the vicinity thinking that he’s checking out the guy’s ass. No one thinks that Toby is going to spy on them in the men’s locker room.
They don’t even notice the looks, most of the time. The comments, the sneers, the snide asides whispered to another. Sam keeps her mouth shut about it, because there’s nothing anyone can do. She’s an out lesbian. This is what her life is like. They don’t understand.
The second time someone tries to kill her, they set fire to her apartment building. The Secret Service agents get her out within minutes, and the fire department is there almost immediately. All of the residents, all of her neighbors, get out safely, but she rides to the White House with their lives weighing heavily on her heart. Someone could have died because of her. Not a Secret Service agent, not someone who trains for these situations. A civilian.
Some random person who just happens to live two apartments down from the lesbian Deputy of Communications.
After the President and the First Lady have been woken up and told of the situation, President Bartlet insists that she sleep in the residence until she can find somewhere else to stay. People are sent to find her clothes for the next day, and Dr. Bartlet checks her lungs one more time to make sure that she didn’t inhale any smoke.
She’s in perfect physical health, but when she finally drifts off to sleep, she dreams of fire and spiderwebs.
“Yes -- John?”
“Is it true that the Secret Service is forcing Samantha Seaborn to move into the residence because of the threats against her life?”
“First of all, the President is the one doing the forcing; he has a great deal of affection towards his favorite speech writer. Second of all, while yes, Samantha Seaborn is currently recuperating from her ordeal in the residence, I would like to emphasize that this is a temporary solution, and one that would be offered to any staff member who found themselves in such danger.
“And third, these are not threats against her life. These are attempts. These acts are fueled by ignorance and hate. This isn’t because they didn’t like where she put the commas in the President’s weekly address. These acts are hate crimes, even if the current laws, such as they are, do not include sexual orientation.”
“You went a little heavy on the homophobia angle,” Sam says mildly later that day. She’s sitting on the President’s couch with her bare feet propped up on the coffee table and the TV turned to a mindless soap opera. She’s been forbidden from going down to her office to work on anything. Apparently nearly being killed means that you have to take downtime.
“Yeah, well, the near murder of one of my friends hasn’t exactly put me in a light mood,” CJ says. She rolls her head back and extends her long, long legs so that they’re right next to Sam’s on the coffee table. Their feet brush.
“I’m just saying,” Sam says. Her fingers itch for pen and paper, but the First Lady has forbidden her from writing. Sam’s pretty sure she's ordered the Secret Service agents to tackle her if she tries anything frisky, like highlighting excessive prepositional phrases. “They're going to make assumptions.”
“Let them,” CJ says with a toss of her hair. “I can take ‘em.”
They try to drag Leo down into the dirt. Leo, her Leo, who stood by her when her own father didn’t. Leo, their Leo, who ordered her protection details and sat with her for ten minutes as the reality of the fire set in and left her sobbing.
She and Josh stand shoulder to shoulder, ready to defend this man. They prepare for a war, and they’re ready to fight one.
The backwater county cop recognizes her from the papers. As she and Toby stare coldly at him, waiting for the watch commander to show up, he mutters under his breath, glaring at her.
“Dyke,” he hisses resentfully. Toby twitches, ready to step in and defend her. She pins him in place with a glare over the rim of her glasses. She doesn’t need a knight in shining armor.
“I work in the White House,” she says flatly, adopting the same expression she wears when she passes by hateful protests in the street. They’re usually protesting her. “I know missile codes.”
The cop backs down, but probably not because he’s intimidated by her. It probably has more to do with the armed Secret Service agents arrayed behind her and Toby’s terrifying stare.
“Just give us Mendoza,” she says. She feels exhausted and strung out. She can’t wait for this night to end. She can’t wait for this week to end.
“Did you hear?” Josh asks as Sam walks back to her office. There’s a pile of memos in her arms, and she has to read them all before noon. Somewhere along the way, she’s lost her hair clip, and her hair has subsequently decided to run wild. It hangs down her back in waves, running out tentacles that catch on every little thing.
“Hear what?” She scans the first memo and almost runs into a door. Josh takes her arm and steers her the rest of the way to her office. He closes the door.
“You know how Zoey and Charlie have been getting hate mail from those wannabe Nazis?” She nods. “The President wants them to cancel a date.”
“Shit,” she says, rocking back on her heels. The President’s family is very high profile; they get threats all the time. It comes with job. For the President to feel the need to step in--
“Is this going to leak?” she asks, chewing the inside of her cheek. That would be a disaster. Not only would it encourage the white supremacist groups and their actions, it would also alert the media that something is wrong. There are things that need to be kept away from the American people’s eyes. This is one of them.
Mallory is curious. Sam can see it in her eyes, in the way she watches Sam across the room. She’s curious, and she wants to explore.
In college, Sam was used to being someone’s experiment. The dark tale they whisper to their friends some drunken night -- “The Night I Slept With A Lesbian.” She’s not sure if she wants to return to that role, but Mallory is smart and pretty and passionate, and Sam wants to give it a go.
While Toby meets with military officers and congressmen to discuss DADT, Sam is sent to help Josh with the Federal Election Commission.
She pretends not to mind.
After all, she serves at the pleasure of the President.
The third time someone tries to kill her, they come at her through a crowd. She’s distracted at the time, and her agents are caught up trying to keep the people back. They don’t see the guy with the knife until he’s too close.
“Bitch,” she hears him snarl, and then he jerks forward in a lundge made awkward by the close quarters.
Sam doesn’t feel it, at first. Then, suddenly, she’s falling, and there’s a sharp arc of pain through her body, and the ground almost meets her. There’s shouting, and a gun firing, and then she closes her eyes and doesn’t open them again for a long time.
“Was this another attempt at Miss Seaborn’s life due to her sexuality?”
“No, Sarah, for once someone tried to kill her for completely different reasons. Jake Frankson, the man who stabbed Sam Seaborn, is a member of the radical right; several posts that he made on an anti-government forum online indicate that he wanted to, quote, ‘take away the President’s voice.’ He didn’t care that she’s a lesbian, which is more than I can say for most of the radical right. I’ve printed copies of his remarks and links to the relevant websites, which you should be getting now.”
“Sam is being protected by Secret Service agents -- how did he get so close?”
“Secret Service has a policy of not commenting on these matters. That’s all I have time for at the moment; I’ll update you every hour until on her condition the President leaves for Rosslyn, Virginia, where he’ll be addressing the locals in a town hall meeting. Again, Sam Seaborn is alive and fighting, and doctors are hopeful that she’ll make a full recovery.”
When she wakes up, the world is in chaos. There are nurses rushing through the halls, shouting in the wards, and her agents look agitated. Paul, the one assigned to her most often, is pacing in front of her door. The television in her room is muted. She must make a noise of some kind, because Paul turns to her and immediately calls for a nurse.
“Miss Seaborn,” he says soothingly as she instinctively thrashes against the IVs and monitoring systems. Her entire body feels like a temple of pain. Her side is in agony. A ragged shriek forces its way past her throat as her insides seem to seize, and then there are nurses and doctors and the sweet bliss of unconsciousness embracing her again.
(When Josh wakes up, he asks after Sam. He’d been thinking about her all evening, about her being in the hospital while he was forced to accompany the President. He dreamed of her, after everything went blurry and began to twist around him. He’d dreamed about going to New York, about seeing her there with her soulless suit and her hair in that severe bun. Her eyes, how blue they looked when she saw him standing in the window, dripping wet and smiling.
He dreamed about how broken she looked when she was outed, when the news outlets started hounding her and the threats began to roll in.
He asks after Sam, but no one tells him anything.)
Toby holds off for the first week of her mandatory rest before marching up to the residence and dumping a pile of assignments in her lap. She plows through them gratefully, losing herself in the complexity of language. Her return to the business side of the White House two weeks later is met with fanfare. The President calls her to the Oval Office, where he hugs her without shame and kisses her on the cheek.
“Glad to have you back,” he says warmly, even though he saw her at dinner last night. He nods towards the side door. “Leo wants to talk to you.”
She heads over, moving gingerly. She went out to see Josh before she came to work; Donna was already there, limiting the number of files he’s allowed to get worked up over. Sam had clapped Donna on the shoulder and wished her luck. She would need it. Now Leo wants to see her. If it’s just another welcome back, he would have been in with the President, or he would have waited until the staff meeting. This is something else.
“Sam,” Leo says. He smiles at her affectionately, coming around from behind his desk and giving her a rare embrace. “It’s so good to see you back where you belong. Here, have a seat.” He motions her onto his couch.
“Thank you, sir,” she says, feeling a bit lost. She wants to retreat back to her office and Toby’s gruff kindness. That she can deal with.
“Now, I want to talk about your living arrangements,” Leo says, turning serious.
“I can’t continue staying in the residence,” Sam sighs. “I mean, it’s nice and all, but I’m basically living with my boss.”
“Well, I’m afraid my solution isn’t much better,” Leo says with a raised eyebrow, “but it all you got.”
“What is it?” she asks wearily.
“Come live with me,” he says. “Jenny's moved out, so I have the place to myself again. Neither of us ever go home anyway. Live with me, so that when you are there, you’ll have double the protection, and you won’t have to worry about running into the President of the United States in your bathrobe.”
Sam blushes. It’s hard to maintain any semblance of dignity when one is recovering from a knife wound while living with the First Family.
“I don’t have much of a choice in this, do I?” she asks, resigned.
“Nope.” He places his hand over hers. “It’s just for a little while. Until everyone gets themselves sorted. We’ve been through a lot.”
“I know, sir.”
“At least I’m not making you live with Josh,” Leo says with a wink.
“Thank God,” Sam breathes.
Ainsley Hayes is a breath of fresh air. Sam can feel the attraction simmering underneath her skin. She’s smart (if wrong) and funny and beautiful in such spades that Sam’s mouth goes dry in her presence. And now she’s going to be working here, with Sam. Ainsley Hayes even seems excited about it, and she seems to forget that being seen in public talking to Sam would be a strike against her with the conservatives. Of course, so is taking a position in the Bartlet administration.
But between Josh’s insurance problems and her own, as well as her rising anger against the Ku Klux Klan, she doesn’t have much time to reflect on how Ainsley will be accepted here at the White House. It isn’t until she sees the dead flowers and the note, that damn note, that she knows anything is wrong.
Sam’s emotions have always been there, simmering, and when she sees those damn flowers and that fucking note, the rage rises until it washes over her.
Bitch, the note says.
Bitch, the man snarls as he stabs her.
Bitch, the lawyers say as they leave the meeting.
Bitch, the note says, and then the next thing she knows, she’s throwing open the door to Brookline and Joyce’s office, her fury as her shield and her pen as her sword.
“You know what, guys?” she shouts, drawing the attention of everyone in the vicinity. She doesn’t care. “When I write something, I sign my name.”
They stare at her in shock.
“Here, I’ll show you.” She sweeps everything off of Joyce’s desk, scattering papers and notebooks onto the floor. Memos float through the air as she flips Joyce’s oversized notepad and scribbles the end of their career.
“Sam!” Joyce protests, like he has the right to address her. Like he has the right to even look at her. (Bitch, the note says; bitch, the man snarls.)
“It’s not even about the giant harassment suit you just exposed us to,” she says forcibly. “She just-- She works here. I work here. CJ works here.” She narrows her anger to a fine point and drives it home. “We’re all bitches, but we work here, which is more than I can say for either of you.”
She holds up the notepad.
You’re fired. -- S. Seaborn.
“Sam!” Josh shouts as he passes her in the halls. “I heard you took care of business with those clowns.”
“Damn straight I did,” she shouts back. They share a grin.
“Sam, do you like me?” Ainsley asks bluntly one evening. Sam finds herself blinking for a moment, trying to cuss out any deeper meaning behind the words.
“...Yes?” she answers hesitantly.
“I mean, do you really like me?” God, she feels like she’s back in high school, prison-like walls and everything.
“Of course I like you.”
“Then let’s go out. Have dinner, catch a movie. Argue about the plot or the vote tomorrow.” Ainsley lowers her voice, even though they’re in her hole in the wall office and there’s no one to overhear them. “Then we can go back to my place and argue some more.”
“Wow,” Sam manages to choke out. “Wow. Um. Yeah. Yes. I’d like that.”
That night it’s just Ainsley, Sam, and Sam’s Secret Service detail in a mostly empty theater, watching a terrible romantic comedy that neither of them can resist making fun of. It’s a good night that only gets better.