Author: Jae Gecko
Summary: In the middle of a war between India and Pakistan and a nasty deposition, Josh shows up at Sam's apartment and they end up talking about their relationship.
Timeline: Takes place in January 2000.
Spoilers: Mild spoilers for "Lord John Marbury".
Notes: This is much shorter than the stuff I usually tend to write. It started as an experiment I didn't plan to show anyone -- basically just an exercise in writing first-person from Josh's point of view rather than Sam's -- but it ended up with more actual content than I'd intended, so here it is. First person, Josh's point of view.
Recommended pre-reading: Nothing essential, but "For Everything You Have Missed" provides the backstory.
Acknowledgements: Thanks are again due to Anna-Maria Jennings for her helpful suggestions.
Timestamp: Written January 2001.
Ghosts by Jae Gecko
It had been the worst day I'd had in a very long time. Actually, it had started the night before, when India had decided to invade Pakistan at around the same time I'd been subpoenaed to give deposition as a part of Operation Crush Leo McGarry. And it had only gotten worse from there.
In my car, I circled the block where Sam lived, looking for a parking spot. Even after those nine months with Mandy, I still turned to Sam when things around me started going to hell. Chalk it up to habit, left over from our all-too-brief campaign romance, but it really felt like Sam understood me better than anyone. We'd known each other for a long time, and at this point he was my oldest and best friend, completely aside from being a former lover.
We'd decided to break off our relationship just as Bartlet had been elected, after a whole series of obstacles had made it crystal clear that we'd never be able to pull it off while working in the White House in the same way we'd been able to during the campaign. Unlike the end of our previous attempt at a relationship twelve years earlier, it had been mutual in every respect -- mutually agreed upon, and mutually devastating. The only silver lining was that somehow, this time, we'd managed to stay not only friends afterwards, but close friends. Even if it hurt sometimes, it was more than worth it.
I finally found a parking spot, and walked the two blocks from there to Sam's apartment. It was a bitter cold January day, and when the wind blew I had to duck my face into my scarf and bury my gloveless hands in the pockets of my trenchcoat. Even the short distance felt too far to walk in this weather. At the door to the building, I quickly punched Sam's apartment number into the keypad that would activate the intercom system through his telephone, so he could buzz me in.
A busy signal beeped at me from the speaker, and I swore. Get off the damn phone, I thought up at him, and tried again. Beep. Beep. Beep.
As another gust of wind blew, I ducked even further into my scarf, cursing cheapass intercom systems. At least three more efficient ways of rigging an intercom to the front door occurred to me, and I went through each of them in my mind as I waited. They could have spent the extra money on a separate intercom phone rather than connecting it to the regular phone line. They could have included call waiting in the rent so the person upstairs could at least have the *option* of interrupting the phone call to buzz someone in. They could have rigged a light to appear on the phone upstairs whenever anyone at the front door punched in the code. But instead of any of those fine possibilities they had this stupid, inconvenient system. I tried again. Beep. Beep. Beep.
By this time I could barely feel my toes. I thought about turning back around, driving home instead, but I kept thinking that Sam would probably be hanging up anytime, and I really didn't want to miss him. I paced the length of the small front porch several times, and tried again. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Finally a man who apparently also lived in the building walked up to the door and took out his key. He eyed me suspiciously as he turned the handle.
"I work in the White House with Sam Seaborn. He's on the phone," I said, trying to explain why I was standing on the front step, freezing, rather than inside.
The man raised an eyebrow and held his hand against the door, as if he wanted to prevent me from following him in. "Look, it's cold, and Mr. Seaborn can't buzz me in because he's on the phone," I pleaded.
He shot me a look. I can't keep you from coming in, buddy, but I don't approve of letting in a stranger, it seemed to say. I cursed under my breath and followed him inside.
The warmth of the building was welcoming as I ran upstairs to Sam's apartment and knocked on the door. He opened the door a crack, and I could see him standing there, holding a cordless phone up to his ear. When he saw it was me, he smiled and opened the door wide.
His apartment was immaculate, as always. Sam ran his fingers through his dark hair briefly, and I allowed myself to just admire him for a moment. I found it amazing that the man just kept getting more and more attractive as he got older.
"Well, actually, I'm not allowed to talk about that," he said to the person on the other end of the phone. "Mm-hmm. Yep, still saving the free world." Sam motioned for me to go sit down on the couch, and I complied.
He smiled distractedly into the receiver. "Oh, my God!" Another pause. "Lisa! I can't believe you!"
I felt my back stiffen as I realized who he was talking to. Lisa.
I had actually known her first, since the two of us had been hired on at the same time as paid staff on the Silverstein for Senate campaign back in '85. But Sam had volunteered for that campaign, and over the course of it they had become close. They still were close, in fact, even after all they'd been through. I envied him that, actually, since Sam was the only person I'd ever been in a relationship with who I could still manage to be civil to, and he and Lisa had even been engaged. He had told me many stories to illustrate just how great she supposedly was, but my most vivid mental image of her would always date back to the time during the Silverstein campaign when she'd threatened me in my office. Not that she wasn't justified, of course, but I had definitely gotten a different picture of Lisa that day than people usually got, looking at her surface projection of a tiny, cheerful, witty blonde woman.
Sam had just walked out on me at that point, and I was taking it out on anyone who happened to be around. The breakup had been awful, and rather than come and finish up the volunteer work he'd been doing, Sam had obviously decided he couldn't face me, and had left the campaign two weeks early. It wasn't until he'd already left, though, that we all realized just how much of the work he'd been doing. That in and of itself was embarrassing for me, since I was supposed to be in charge of the volunteers, and here I didn't even know what he'd been up to. I'd tried so hard to avoid him at the office back then, so afraid that I'd betray my feelings for him with a look or a catch in my voice, that I'd shirked my responsibilities in a job that meant everything to me. And on top of all of the other stuff that was going wrong in my life at that point, that really cut.
First of all, Sam had been asked to write a speech for a conference of primary school teachers, and when he left, no one knew for sure whether he still planned to do it. It turned out in the end that he'd already written it, and just hadn't given it to us yet, but we didn't know that. (The worst part was that I of course couldn't just call him and ask him what was going on, but it was impossible to explain to anyone else *why* I couldn't.) Then there was the bumper sticker order that never got picked up, since no one knew anything about it but Sam. When I couldn't find the folder full of all of our previous press releases after tearing apart an entire file cabinet, though, I just lost it.
I slammed a stack of folders down on the top of the file cabinet, and turned around to face the rest of the staff and volunteers who were working in the big room. "Did anyone else happen to ever talk to Sam about where the hell he kept the old press releases?"
I looked at the blank stares around me, and clenched a fist.
"How could he not have told *anyone*?," I bellowed. "God damn it, Sam, of all the stupid, irresponsible things you could have done!" I yelled at anyone who would listen. Frustrated beyond reason, I charged into my office.
As I was sitting down at my desk, I noticed that Lisa had followed me in. She shut the door behind her, looking positively furious.
"You've been storming around this office for the last week like you have a right to be angry. Well, you don't. So quit acting like a jerk."
"I have every right to be angry when every last one of our press releases has disappeared, Lisa, so lay off me."
"You have *no* right to blame Sam."
I let out an exasperated sigh. "He said he'd be here until the 25th. You might notice that today is the 19th, and he just up and dropped the ball on everything almost a week ago without so much as an explanation."
"Without so much as an explanation!" Lisa was shaking, her voice shrill. She began to hyperventilate, and I scooted my chair back to put some additional distance between us.
"You know only too well why he left this campaign early," she hissed. "Don't you *dare* pretend it's not your fault. It wasn't because of him being irresponsible, it was because of *you* being stupid. Don't you *ever* forget that."
I just stared at her, shocked speechless.
Her eyes were fiery with rage as she screamed at me. "And if you *ever* say one negative word -- one word! -- about Sam Seaborn again, Josh, I will make you regret it so fast that you won't even know what hit you." Shooting one final glare at me that made her look like she wanted to smash my face in, she spun around, opened the door, and left my office, slamming the door behind her.
My eyes burned. In that moment I realized not only that Lisa must know everything -- everything about me and Sam and just how badly I had blown it -- but I also realized that she, too, was in love with him.
I hated her that day. I hated her because I knew that she would now get to swoop in and save him, make him feel better, show him how to love someone else. And I hated her even more because I knew how right she was about me.
I shook off the memory and turned my attention again toward Sam. He was still on the phone.
"Listen, I've got to go. I've got someone here."
My eyes narrowed. Someone? I could have been the postman, with that sort of reference.
"Yeah. You shouldn't worry so much. Okay. I love you, too."
I bristled. What was this "I love you" stuff?
"Talk to you soon. Bye." He hung up the phone.
"Hey," Sam said, coming over to sit next to me on the couch.
"You okay? You look like hell."
I rubbed my forehead. "I had a shitty day."
"Yeah." Of the two major disasters that had happened that day, the deposition had actually felt strangely even more out of our control than the crisis with India and Pakistan. I was suddenly angry again, remembering. It had felt like I was the only thing standing between Leo and the vultures circling around him, and all I could do was wave my arms at them.
"It got pretty brutal. They asked a lot of things I couldn't answer, and I-"
"Did you say anything you shouldn't have? Did you taunt Claypool?"
I shifted uncomfortably and rubbed my right eye.
"Stupid question." Sam sighed. "Now do you believe me that you need to have a lawyer with you when you go back tomorrow?"
"I'll take care of it."
"I'll take care of it!"
"Josh, you went to law school. You *know* what a bad idea it is for you to be deposed without a lawyer present."
"Since you obviously know I went to law school, then doesn't it logically follow that there *was* a lawyer present?" I said through clenched teeth.
"Let me go with you tomorrow."
I rolled my eyes. "As if you didn't have better things to do than spend two hours watching Claypool try to bring down the Bartlet Administration!"
"Josh, I can spare a couple of hours in my day to make sure you don't get screwed over. To make sure we *all* don't get screwed over, for that matter."
"Do you really think it's appropriate to tell your ex-fiancée that you love her?" I blurted.
"What?" He blinked at the sudden change of subject. "Lisa? I do love her, Josh," he said matter-of-factly.
"Don't you think she's going to misinterpret what you mean by that?"
Sam's voice was tense. "No. I think she knows exactly what I mean by that."
I plowed on. "You don't think she'll hold out some hope that the two of you will someday get back together, if you keep telling her you love her?"
"What's this about, Josh?" he asked wearily.
"I just think you might want to find a more appropriate way of expressing what you want to say."
"Did you come over here to pick a fight with me?"
"No." I sighed, fiddling with the edge of the couch cushion.
"Well, good. Because it's not a good idea to piss off your lawyer on the night before a deposition."
I fixed my eyes on the floor.
"I don't get it. You've never gotten all weird about Mallory. You didn't get all weird about Laurie. It's just Lisa."
"I did get all weird about Laurie, Sam -- she's a prostitute, for God's sake."
"Call girl," he corrected.
"I mean you didn't get jealous of Laurie. Or Mallory."
"What makes you think I'm jealous now?" I said defensively.
"Because you get this instant scowl on your face whenever Lisa's name is mentioned."
"I had a bad day."
"I'm not sleeping with Lisa. I'm not *going* to be sleeping with Lisa."
"Forget it. It's none of my business who you sleep with."
"And I *did* sleep with Laurie."
"Thank you ever so much for that visual, Sam," I said sarcastically.
"Josh," he said gently. "What's going on?"
I closed my eyes and put my fingers on either side of the bridge of my nose. "I don't know."
He reached over and put his hand on my arm. "What is it about Lisa?"
"Lisa would never have had to stand outside freezing her ass off while you were on the phone, because she'd have had a key."
"What?" He sounded confused.
"Never mind. It's stupid."
"Tell me." He squeezed my arm.
I looked away, unable to meet his eyes. "Lisa got to wake up next to you every morning."
There was a short silence while he digested this. "So wait -- you're jealous of Lisa because she and I lived together?"
"No- yes. I guess so." I rubbed my eyes. There was more to it than that, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I thought back to the confrontation with Lisa so many years ago in my office at the Silverstein campaign. She had seemed so threatening to me then, simply because any relationship she could have with Sam would have a certain ... legitimacy I could never offer him.
I swallowed hard. "I don't really care who you sleep with. Okay, I do wish it was me, but since it can't be me, I don't mind so much if it's someone else instead. But Lisa- Lisa got ten years more of being with you -- *really* being with you -- than I'll ever have. It just feels sorta ... unfair."
I looked back over at Sam. He was grinning. "What the hell are you smiling about?" I growled.
"Sorry." He forced a straight face. Then, almost instantly, the grin returned.
"I just never knew you even wanted any of that, that's all."
"Any of what?"
He gestured around the room. "To live with me. Domestic bliss. All that."
Sam was still grinning.
"Okay, maybe I do. Did."
His grin grew wider.
God, was he ever irritating sometimes. "Would you *please* stop that?"
He leaned back against the couch. "It's just ... kind of sweet."
"It's pretty irrelevant now," I snarled.
"Not to me."
I looked at him, just sitting there with this big wide grin across his face, and felt lower than I had in a long time. Why was he so okay with this? How was it that we could decide we couldn't be together, and then Sam would just ... cope? How was it that talking about might-have-beens actually made him happy when it made me feel like I was getting stomped on? I didn't want him to hurt; I just wanted him to be a little bit sad about the whole tragic story. At least sometimes.
I must have looked pretty pathetic, because Sam suddenly threw his arms around me in a tight hug. And finally, I felt the misdirected anger evaporate as I was able to relax. I don't know what it was about Sam, but I felt safe with him in a way that I never felt with anyone else.
"I'm sorry you had a bad day," he said, soothing.
"I miss you," I said, my face in his shoulder.
"I'm right here, Josh."
I pulled back to look at him. "You know what I mean."
*Now* Sam looked sad. Funny, it didn't make me feel any better.
"Stay here, tonight," he said impulsively.
I sighed. "We can't. You know that."
"It wouldn't *be* just tonight. Then before we knew it, there would be more threatening letters, and we'd be screwed. And in the process, we'd drag Bartlet down with us."
"We're in office now, Josh. We won. They can't hurt us in the same way anymore."
I shook my head. "Sam, we're vulnerable right now. All the bullshit with Claypool and Leo. They're closing in. We can't risk any more scandals."
"There's always going to be something that makes us vulnerable, though," he complained. "It's not just now. There's always going to be something that makes this impossible."
"Yeah, there is," I said sadly. "You're right."
For a long moment, we just stared at each other. Sam's face was twisted in pain. I felt like a complete jerk for bringing all of this up, yet again. I wanted to reach out to him, touch him, but I was afraid it would push us both over the edge.
"Someday I want to tell him, Josh," he said hoarsely. "When this is all over, and he's retired and living in some country house in New Hampshire with Abbey, tending his garden or whatever the hell he'll be doing by that point, I want to tell him what we gave up so he could be President."
His words were like a knife in my gut, and I knew I had to leave. "I should go," I said, standing.
"Wait." Sam stood, walked over to the kitchen, and rummaged in the top drawer by the stove. I heard the clink of something metallic, and he walked back over to me.
He held out his hand. "In case you ever need it," he said, handing me a key.
I looked down. It was the key to his apartment. It was such a thoughtful, romantic gesture, but so inadequate at the same time. I knew I would never use it.
I cleared my throat to get rid of the lump in it. "Thanks," I said, pocketing the key. "Sorry I've been such an asshole tonight."
"I'm coming with you tomorrow," Sam said quietly. "Are you going to let me?"
I nodded slightly. "Yeah, probably." I cleared my throat. "Or maybe India and Pakistan will blow up the world and I won't have to go."
Sam forced a smile. "Now that's the Josh I know. Always looking on the bright side."
"See you at the office." I opened the door.
"See you tomorrow," he said, closing it behind me.
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