TITLE: Men
AUTHOR: Sabine
ARCHIVE: Anywhere, drop a line: sabine101@juno.com
CATEGORY: J/S
RATING: PG
SPOILERS: Again, general through now, nods to ITSOTG and "Noel," and also "The Stackhouse Filibuster."
SUMMARY: "God give us men. The time demands / Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands."
DISCLAIMER: Whitford, Lowe. And Sorkin. Made these guys, not me. Whitford and Sorkin, the best men.
NOTE: This is the second part of a triptych that started with "Women" and will continue in a third installment. This story should be able to stand on its own merits, but should you want to read "Women," it's up at http://people.we.mediaone.net/sabine101/ourboys.htm
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Punk took the heavy stuff and drove the car. Also for Jae and Anna, who saw it coming. For august. And then again, for Dawn.

Men by Sabine

He's been having dreams, and they're about Sam.

His shrink thinks this means he's ready for more therapy, but his shrink also thinks he plays all the supporting characters in Josh's dreams, and Josh suspects that really isn't the case. Still, he considers coming in

twice a week.

"We've got about --" Stanley checks his watch. "Ten more minutes, so we should figure out what we're gonna do about next week."

"We're -- what?"

"You said you had a commitment."

Josh rubs his forehead. "Oh. Yeah. I have a thing, but I was just hoping we could push -- push back like an hour?"

Stanley shakes his head. "Unfortunately, I won't be able to fit you in next Wednesday at all," he says. "How's Friday?"

Friday seems worlds away. "Uh, Friday's fine. Noon?"

"I can do noon."

They sit in awkward silence. Josh uncrosses his legs, leans forward, leans back again.

"So we've decided you're not comfortable being with anyone who you feel is beneath you," Sam pulls a conclusion out of thin air. Josh squirms.

"I don't think women are beneath me," Josh says. "I've just been --" He wants Stanley to cut him off, but shrinks don't do that. Stanley doesn't do it either; he sits and waits. "I love women," Josh says.

Stanley nods. "I believe you," he says. "I also believe you'd have a very hard time opening up to anyone who didn't have his finger on the red button."

"We don't really have a red button," Josh says. "And even if we did, I wouldn't have my finger on it. I'm just -- I'm a politician. I offer a political perspective on issues."

"You make sure the President stays President," Stanley chuckles.

"Pretty much," Josh says. "I make sure he gets done the stuff he needs to get done."

"What about the stuff you need to get done?" Stanley asks. "It must be hard, trying to live out someone else's agenda --"

"We've talked about this --" Josh waves a hand. "It's my job, Stanley. It's what I get paid for."

"This is what I get paid for," Stan grins. "So tell me. We've got a few minutes. It's hard. You were shot for this job, in the line of duty. This job nearly killed you. And you spend your days carrying out the President's agenda. Don't you ever resent him for that?"

Stanley's trying to piss him off, and Josh knows it. "I don't -- you don't resent the President of the United States," Josh says. "I believe in this administration."

"Do you?"

"Yes," Josh says, a little too loudly. "Of course I do!"

"You don't even know if you like women, Josh," Stanley says. "How do you know how you feel about a congressional lobby?"

Josh sighs. "It's hard to explain," he says, and it sounds stupid, even to him.

And then it's time to go.

"Look, Josh," Stanley says, getting up to switch off the white-noise generator and open the door. "I think there are things going on with you that I can't help you with -- at least, not if you don't clue me in better about what your life is really like. But these guys, these men,

these friends of yours -- Sam, and Leo, and Toby -- they're tuned in to you in a way I can't be. And these aren't people you think are beneath you, right?

Josh shrugs.

"Use that," Stanley says.

Josh nods. "Yeah," he says. "I will."

Donna is in his office when he gets back.

"I'm a backseat dog, Josh," she says.

"Wha-?"

"Wind in my fur, bugs in my teeth, tongue hanging out -- I'm a backseat dog."

"Yeah," he says, worming past her and sitting down at his desk. "Well, I have no idea what that means, so --"

She sits down.

"No, no," he says. "Don't sit down. Go away. Go somewhere else, away."

"The White House is a Winnebago on a road trip to, like, South Dakota --" she starts.

"South Dakota?"

"Well, whatever," she waves a hand. "I was just thinking, you know, with all the big presidents?"

"You mean Mt. Rushmore?"

"I've been thinking about this a lot, Josh," she says. "You're all in a Winnebago to Mount Rushmore, and I'm, like, hanging out the window with kids driving past making faces at me. I'm a backseat dog."

"You're not a backseat dog, Donna," Josh says.

She stands up again. "I am," she whines. "I want to do more. You should let me do more."

"Absolutely," Josh says. "Tell you what. I've got this meeting with the Domestic Policy Council, but I'd really rather figure out why my car is making this strange hissing sound. So you take the meeting, I'll go to the auto shop, and when you come back, we'll start working on your

presidential campaign."

She snorts. "Josh! I'm serious."

"I know," he says, more gently, suddenly wanting her out of the room. "You're not a backseat dog, Donna. You're very important to us. To me. You're definitely at least a front seat dog. Like, like a golden retriever or something."

"Hmpf," she says, finding two blue folders in a pile of other blue

folders. "You have staff today, don't forget."

He had forgotten. With Leo out of town, he's running the staff meeting today and tomorrow, and he hasn't prepared. He hasn't even thought about it. "What's on the slate?" he asks.

"You haven't prepared? Josh!"

"No, I've -- I've prepared. I just want to look over --" He sighs. "Talk to the assistants. I want to know every meeting, every piece of paper. And call Margaret. No, don't call Margaret. Just get me the slate."

She smiles with one side of her mouth, tipping her head to the side. "I suppose I'm indispensable, now," she says. "I'm not looking so much like the backseat dog anymore."

"Right," he says. "Get me the thing, Donna."

She leaves with a little nod, like a salute. He thinks she's mocking him.

He's done this once before, run the staff meeting, but it was early in their freshman year and he'd bumbled and they'd laughed about it. He's not going to bumble today, and he thinks that might make things worse.

"It's not finished."

Sam is working on Bartlet's speech for the Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, and halfway through the meeting Josh makes the mistake of asking about it.

"It's not finished. And when it is, Toby will look it over. I'm fine, Josh." Sam sounds insulted.

"Yeah," Josh says. "I'm sure it's great. Pretend I didn't ask."

His office is too small for this meeting, Sam and CJ and Toby crowded around the doorway with nowhere to sit. Josh stands facing them, and they look a little like a firing squad, a tall, well-dressed firing squad waiting for him to finish that cigarette so they can strap the blindfold on. He thinks they can sense his mediocrity, they can smell it on him like predators.

He brought them here. He wonders when it happened that they surpassed him. He thinks he may have been in the hospital at the time, reading theoretical physics and feeling the universe expand around him.

He clears his throat. "And Toby, you've got --"

"I'm gonna go talk to Hoynes this afternoon," Toby says. "There's some stuff coming out of his office on the oil thing and I want to make sure it gets here."

Josh isn't sure that's a good idea, and he's suddenly aware of the fact that Toby makes more money than he does. If Leo had been here, Josh would have spoken up. "You sure you wanna do that?" he'd have said. He feels his eyebrows raising, he's making the face he would have made.

He wishes Leo were here. Leo's been down in this hole before, he knows the way out. And on top of all that, when Leo's here, Josh doesn't have to take the reins. And his hands are numb and he can't feel the reins, today, and he wonders where this horse is going.

"Don't worry about it, Josh," Toby says. "We'll steer it right."

"No, that wasn't --" Josh begins, and then stops. "Let me know as soon as you get back," he says. "CJ?"

"Light day," CJ says. "I'm getting some questions on 677 and that Women's Outreach thing, but I think we're covered."

"You're telling them schedule conflict?" Josh looks at her.

She smiles. "Figured that one out all by myself, there, Joshua." He's embarrassed.

"Good," he says. "What else?"

"Do you -- how's Duquesne?" Toby asks.

"I'm working on 677 all day," Josh says. "I'll have some stuff for CJ when I get back from meeting with him on the hill. I have to go into the Oval this afternoon and --" he stops. There's no reason to tell them this. "I'm good," he says. "You guys can go."

"Thank you, Mr. Lyman," Toby says, clearing his throat. "Class dismissed."

"I'll tell you where we're at after the 4:00," CJ says, holding open the door so Toby can leave past her.

"Good," Josh says.

"I was talking to Toby," CJ says. Josh sighs. "Make sure you fill me in when you get back from the hill, Josh."

"Yeah," he croaks, sitting down.

Sam's still there. "You okay?"

Josh rubs his eyes. "I -- I haven't really been sleeping so much," he says.

"Well, you don't look like you've been sleeping at all," Sam says.

Josh thinks about the dreams. "Not well, anyway," he says. "Whatever. I gotta do this thing, so --"

"You did well," Sam says. "Just now. You did fine. In case you were worried."

"Yeah," Josh says. "And Leo's back day after tomorrow."

"Good luck on the hill," Sam says. "Don't let Duquesne get you talking about gays in the Boy Scouts again. That's, like, his pet political black hole."

"I know," Josh says. "I'm not gonna let him fuck around. He knows it, too. This is a courtesy call."

"Good," Sam says. "Good." It looks like he wants to say more, but instead he turns to leave. Josh doesn't want him to go.

"Sam?"

There's this moment in a recent dream where Sam's in a car that doesn't have a passenger's seat. Josh is on a street corner, he's on his way somewhere or he's just come from somewhere, and he needs to get in the car. Something about eggs, or snakes, something about the apocalypse -- it's fuzzy in his brain now. But the part that he remembers is the part where he's standing on the street corner in the dark, and Sam just drives on by.

"Yeah, Josh?" Sam is standing in the doorway, one hand on the jamb. His shirt's pulling out of his belt a little where his pager's clipped, and Josh almost wants to come over and brush him off, tuck him in.

"Nah, never mind," Josh says. "I gotta go do this thing. You'll tell me -- nah. No, no, never mind."

"If you really want to read the PECASE speech, you can," Sam says. Josh shakes his head. "Okay," Sam says, and leaves.

677 is not going to pass, ever, and Josh is proud of himself, for the first time in weeks. It was an easy victory, but it was his, and for an hour he thinks he might not be a hack. He comes back to the West Wing and there's a phone message for him.

"Lauren called," Donna says. Josh doesn't know who Lauren is. "Here."

She hands him the pink carbon message, and he looks at it, trying to see if the number looks familiar. It doesn't.

"Yep," he says to Donna, picking up the phone and punching in the numbers. Donna stands there and watches him. "Uh, yeah," he says to the phone when a receptionist answers. "Lauren, please. This is Josh Lyman."

"Silverman?" the receptionist asks, and the word is meaningless to Josh. "Lauren Silverman?"

"I guess," Josh says.

"Joshua Lyman!" a woman's voice picks up, and he remembers. Lauren Silverman. He'd dated her in law school. She was skinny and scary and wore a lot of black, and she had rhinestones in her glasses. He remembers that she gave great head. He cups a hand over the mouthpiece of the phone.

"Scram, Donna," he says, and she does.

"Lauren," he says. "Hey. Long time."

"I'm in town," she says. "I was thinking about you."

Josh sinks into his desk chair. "Yeah?"

"What have you been up to?" she asks, and he thinks it's a stupid question.

"Well, I was shot in the chest," he says. "So there's that."

"Yeah," she says. "I saw that on TV. I was gonna call."

"You did call. You're calling right now." He has no idea what she wants from him, what she could possibly want, and he doesn't particularly care.

"How you feeling?" she asks.

"Ah, look, Lauren?" He leans back in his chair and closes his eyes. "I've got this incredibly busy day over here --"

"I just wanted to say --" she coughs, several times. "Sorry. I just wanted to say I've been thinking about you ever since you guys won --"

"Two years ago."

"I'm really proud of you guys. I think President Bartlet is terrific. And I just -- I always knew you'd do great things, Josh. I think -- I mean, everybody knew that. And now you are. So that's great."

"Yeah," Josh says, rubbing his face with a hand. "Okay. Thanks."

"Anyway, I'm in town," she says. "Just for three days. I was hoping we could have drinks, I could buy you a drink. I'd like to buy you a drink, Josh."

"Mmm," he says, stalling. "Maybe. I'm really, I'm really busy over here, Lauren."

He's remembering her better now. He's remembering why he broke up with her, and why they got back together four times even after he'd left school. It was ten years ago, but he wonders how he had forgotten at all.

"Man," she says. "I've got this case now with these union reps -- it would have been right up your alley -- you'd leave me in the dust. I'm glad I talked you out of practicing law."

"You didn't talk me out of it," Josh laughs weakly. "I was always gonna go into politics. You just wanted me to open a practice with you and I said no and then you pretended to agree with me."

"I spent far too much time telling you how brilliant you were, is what it was," Lauren laughs back. "It went to your head."

"Yeah," Josh says. "That must be it." He remembers all the times she talked him back from the brink. He thinks she's singularly responsible for his ego, and he wonders where that ego's gone. Just talking to her now embarrasses him, makes him feel nostalgic and old and inadequate. He's not that guy anymore.

Someone's knocking on his office door.

"Come in," he calls. And then says, "look, Lauren, I gotta go. I'll -- I'll call you back."

"Sure," she says, and it doesn't sound like she believes him. He hangs up. Sam walks in, holding his speech.

"How'd it go with Duquesne?"

"I put the fear of god in him," Josh says. "They're gonna stick it in a drawer for nine months and by then we'll have passed 901 and 911 and there won't be any money. He knows it, too."

"Who was that on the phone?" Sam sits down.

"Eh -- old girlfriend," Josh says. "She's in town, she wants to -- whatever." He doesn't want to be telling Sam this.

"So you're --" Sam sits down. "You're dating again, then."

Josh shakes his head. "Nah," he says. "But I've been so busy."

"You should -- good," Sam says. "That's good. That's very good."

Josh doesn't know if it's good that he's not dating, or if it's good that that he's suggesting that he would be dating if he weren't so busy, though that last part's a lie and he's pretty sure Sam knows it.

"Yeah," Josh says. "Hey, Sam?"

Sam looks around, though he's the only other person in the room. "Me?"

"Yeah," Josh laughs. "Eh, nothing."

"What is it?"

"What are we -- what are we doing here?"

Sam checks his watch. "Well," he says. "It's ten of five, the President comes in at seven and you've got to brief him on Duquesne, I'm still working on the --"

Josh shakes his head. "No, no," he says. "I mean, what are we doing -- what are we doing here for the -- for the country? Do we even know anymore?"

Sam looks at him blankly. Josh stands up.

"677 wants to set aside money for religious groups, right? Church and State says no, Duquesne tells me a story about a kid from South Philly whose minister got him out of a gang and helped him start a, a, what's-it-called, an after-school group, and they're, like, painting murals on 2nd street and I'm telling him no way that bill's gonna pass." Josh rakes his hands through his hair. "What the hell is going on, Sam?"

"Duquesne didn't mention that half the money goes to photocopying hymnals," Sam said. "He didn't mention that Timmy in South Philly is a Methodist, and he goes to school with a kid named James who's a Baptist and who's still hanging out on 2nd street, but he's not painting murals."

"Yeah," Josh says, sitting down.

"Duquesne didn't mention Jacob Cohen or Josh Lyman either," Sam says, more gently. "677 is not going to pass. There are better ways to do it, Josh."

"Yeah," Josh says again. He's tired. He watches Sam, and Sam's eyes areglinting, and in the yellow of the office fluorescents, he's beautiful. Josh feels his stomach knot.

"Let me read you something," Sam says, flipping open his speech and scanning down a couple of paragraphs. He clears his throat. "In the second century, Claudius Ptolemy looked up at the heavens and wanted to understand them. Gone were the thoughts of a century before, when Pliny the Elder said that to inquire what was beyond the reaches of our knowledge was 'no concern of man,' that the 'human mind' dare not 'form any conjecture concerning it.' No, Ptolemy said, I don't accept that -- and with pen and paper he went to work to explain Mars' apparent leaps in the sky. This was the time of geocentrism, remember, back when we were the center of the universe --" Sam looked up at Josh. "Here he breaks for a laugh."

Josh nods. He's almost afraid to move.

"Anyway," Sam says, looking at his speech. "With his model of Mars' epicycles, Ptolemy was able to account for the motions of heavenly bodies within the standards of observational accuracy of his day. And we believed him. And we rested easy, for twelve hundred years, comfortable in the fact that we knew all there was to know about the motion of the stars. Until Nicolas Copernicus, in the sixteenth century, showed up with his telescope and said 'hey, wait a minute. We're not the center of the universe after all!'"

The speech takes a beat. Sam takes a beat. Josh holds his breath.

"The world only spins forward," Sam reads on. "At least, now, we're fairly confident it does. Um, another break for a --"

"Keep going," Josh says.

"The world only spins forward," Sam reads. "I'm here to present you, young scholars and poets, with the 2001 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. Because of your passion and dedication, America will remain at the forefront of scientific capability. We will not rest on our accomplishments, nor will we believe, as so many have before us in centuries past, that there is nothing left to learn. Today, in this room, looking out at all of you, I see answers to questions we have not yet even begun to ask. I see theories, and ideas, models and infrastructure. I see cures for disease. And with this --"

"Sam," Josh cuts him off. Sam puts down the speech.

"Yeah?"

"You write -- you write the President in the first person."

Sam nods. "Of course I do," he says.

Josh stands up on wobbly legs, comes around the desk to where Sam is sitting. He leans on the edge of the desk and looks down at Sam. "I guess that makes sense, I guess, I just never thought about it before. I never -- I never heard it in your voice before."

"Actually, it's interesting," Sam begins. "When I first started, I mean. It was a little weird. But I'm better able to get into his head now. And it's easy, things like this."

"Because you believe it," Josh says.

Sam nods. "Yes," he says.

"That's why we're here," Josh says. "This is why -- oh, god, Sam." Josh

is shaking, he buries his face in his hands.

He wants this man, this beautiful man who writes POTUS in first person and believes it. This man who has his finger on the red button, who carries out an agenda, who cares.

It was never women. It was never supposed to be. It was always Sam.

Sam stands up, rests his hands on Josh's shoulders. "It's okay, Josh," he says.

"I didn't -- I didn't get it," Josh says. "I worked here, I've been working here two years and I didn't get it, not until just now."

"We've got sixty kids," Sam says, very close to Josh's ear. "Sixty kids who are about to start their careers in science and engineering. Sixty kids who are going to change the world. That's what we're here for, Josh. Not Duquesne, not religious splinter groups that want to tell you things their way. But kids who say 'I don't know what all the answers are' and want to figure it out."

Josh leans forward, stands up, wraps his arms around Sam. "Thank you," he murmurs to Sam's collarbone.

Sam hugs him back. "Sure," Sam says.

"This is why I never called those girls back," Josh says. "I've been -- ever since the thing --" he means the shooting, and Sam knows, and Josh knows he knows. "Ever since the thing it's been very weird. I need...something else in my life. I need to get it. I need someone who --" Josh peels away, and Sam's looking at him.

"Yeah?" Sam asks, with wide eyes.

Josh lets Sam's shoulders go. "This is very weird," he says.

"No," Sam says, quietly, seriously. "It's not that weird. There aren't that many people in the world like us, Josh. And we found each other. It's an amazing thing."

"Bartlet did it," Josh says. "Bartlet brought us all together."

Sam shakes his head. "Nah," he says. "You did it."

Josh feels seasick. "No, I --"

Sam touches him on the chest, gently. "You got us here, Josh. You brought me here, you got all of us here."

"Leo --"

"Not Leo, Josh," Sam says. "You. You saw it. You left Hoynes, because you knew. You made it happen."

"I'm just a politician," Josh says.

"You're a scholar and a poet," Sam says. "We're gonna change the world."

Josh takes a breath.

He's been having dreams, and they're about Sam. And in them, sometimes Sam kisses him.

This time, he kisses Sam first.

It's exploratory, quick, a buss on the cheek, and then Josh laughs, embarrassed, and leans his forehead into Sam's shoulder. "Yeah," he says.

"Yeah," Sam says. "Josh?"

"I can't do that again," Josh says. He's not sure if he's referring to the kiss, or something else.

"Okay," Sam says. He looks at Josh for a long minute. "Can I?"

And this time Sam kisses him, and it's not at all like the dreams, where Sam's quiet and faceless and blue-eyed and beautiful. Here it's weird, and clumsy, and real. And Josh is kissing the man who writes the President in the first person, and believes it.

It's not like the women, and it's not like the dreams, where he wakes up alone.

He's scared. He pushes Sam away. He swipes at his face with both hands. "What does this -- ?"

Sam smiles, picking up his speech. "It means you're not alone, Josh," he says. "You never were."

"That's a great speech, Sam," Josh says. "I'll come -- I'll come to the thing. I want to hear him read it."

"Kick some ass in the Oval tonight," Sam says. "Let me know how it goes."

Josh looks at the floor. "Are you -- " He stops. "My shrink says I need to talk some more," he says. "Are you -- ?"

Sam smiles. "Find me after the meeting," Sam says. "I'll buy you a beer."

Josh nods. "Uh-kay," he squeaks.

"Kick some ass," Sam says again, heading for the door. "Duquesne's wrong. You're right. It's an easy sell."

"Yeah," Josh says, and a breeze from somewhere cuts across his chest where Sam's not there anymore. "I know."

"It's like the speech," Sam says, stopping in the doorway and turning around. "It's easy when you believe what you're doing."

"Thanks, o wise one," Josh says with a snicker, but really he means it. "I pretty much know that. Now."

"I know," Sam says. "Find me when you're done."

And with that he turns and leaves the office.

Josh sinks back against the desk and rubs his forehead with the back of his hand. Outside, someone's hollering for CJ, and he figures the 5:00

briefing must be over, and he wonders how it's gotten so late. He has a position paper to finish, he has calls to make, he has work to do.

"Donna!" he hollers, and he sits down.

***

"God give us men. The time demands

Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands;

Men whom the lust of office does not kill;

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men who possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honor; men who will not lie;

Men who can stand before a demagogue

And dam his treacherous flatteries without winking;

Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog

In public duty and in private thinking."

-- Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1881)

Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page