TITLE: Variations on Variations: Borrowing Trouble
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
DISCLAIMER: If wishes were horses, Josh and Sam would have four legs (that is to say, they aint mine)
SUMMARY: "'We own the world!'"
NOTE: Sequel to "Prayer for Reconciliation"
Variations on Variations: Borrowing Trouble by Julian Lee
In the four years Jed Bartlet had known Sam Seaborn, he'd only seen him scared twice. The first time was in a hospital emergency room, waiting to hear if Josh was going to wake up. The second time was now. "Thanks for coming back, guys," he said. Josh nodded; Sam could barely move. "Have a seat."
Sam didn't so much sit as collapse onto the nearest couch, and for a moment, Jed felt a stabbing guilt as he watched the conundrum this caused Josh. Instinct clearly told him to sit as close as possibly to Sam to comfort and perhaps protect him, but a sense of decorum and self-preservation demanded a seat on the other end of the couch. This was what he finally settled on, but the president noted the way he leaned forward, positioning himself between Sam and whatever shit was about to fly their way.
Jed leaned against his massive desk, folded his arms, and regarded the deputies with the faintest hint of a smile on his lips. He had no doubt what he wanted to say to these men, but part of the fun of being boss was getting to screw with your staff's minds a little. "So, Sam," he said, and the speechwriter nearly fell off the couch, "you made a joke just then."
Sam's face was eerily pale beneath his dark hair. "Y-yes, sir."
"You're not laughing at the recollection, Sam," Jed noted.
"It wasn't a particularly funny joke, sir."
"Oh, I don't know. I liked it. Kind of reminded me of something, though. Another joke..." He snapped his fingers as though it had just come to him. "That joke Josh makes about the rabbits." The deputies looked as petrified as rabbits. Josh, perhaps, saw that they were being toyed with, but Sam seemed to be cherishing a secret hope that Jed really hadn't caught on. "You know, this happens all the time with best friends. Hell, half the stuff that comes out of Leo's mouth are my lines." If Josh wondered what percentage of presidential utterances were actually McGarryisms, he wisely kept that wonder to himself. "Of course, it happens with married couples, too. Zoey swears she can't decide who's stealing material from whom anymore." The deputies hadn't budged the entire time this speech was going on, but beads of sweat were traveling down Josh's forehead, and if Sam squeezed the corner of the throw pillow any tighter the stuffing would burst out the other side. Jed paused to consider that image metaphorically, then continued, "So, how long have you two been pilfering each other's best gags?" And before Josh could prevaricate his way out of anything, added, "In an Abbey and me way, not a Leo and me way."
All the air leaked out of Sam. Josh rubbed his forehead. "Two and a half months, sir."
Jed sat heavily. Two and a half months. That was about what he'd guessed, but still it galled him to realize how out of touch he could be with his own staff.
"Mr President," Josh began, "we didn't have time to prepare letters of resignation, but of course we're prepared to--"
"No, you're not," he said firmly.
"Mr President, really--"
The president shook his head. "Save it. You're not resigning; I won't let you."
"Josh, in case you've forgotten who's office this is, you might want to take a look at that little seal in the carpet." He glared at Josh until the younger man grinned at him. "Now, I've thought and prayed hard about this, and my mind is made up. You are not leaving this White House. My only request is that you not run around making declarations. Just...live your lives, and if it gets out, it gets out. Okay?"
Josh looked ready to jump up and dance; Sam clearly suspected the axe was still to fall. "Okay, sir," Josh said. Sam at last found his voice. "Thank you, sir."
"So, how many people figured out the punch line before I did?"
"CJ and Mallory, sir," Sam told him.
Jed thought Josh shifted on the couch, looking almost ashamed, but he did not speak. "Just those two?" Jed asked incredulously. "Not Leo or Toby?"
Sam cringed. "God, no, sir."
"That's how we're still standing," Josh added.
"Well, let me know when the two of them catch on. Maybe I can sell tickets; raise some money for the DNC." The other men chuckled. "No kidding, guys," he said, his tone grave. "There are incredibly tough times ahead. Are you two sure of each other?"
Jed was rewarded with the first genuine smile he'd seen out of Sam all day, and Josh allowed himself to look at the speechwriter for the first time since they came into the office. Still looking at Sam, Josh answered, "Positive, sir." Sam just nodded, finally returning Josh's look.
Jed looked away, suddenly feeling like an intruder. "Okay," he said at last, "get back to work."
"Sir," Josh ventured hesitantly, "Tempting as it is for both of us just to walk out of here, we should probably discuss--"
"No, we shouldn't," Jed interrupted firmly. He could see the protest machine gearing up in Josh's brain. "Josh, we shouldn't. I've thought about this from every angle -- and don't say I've only known for ten minutes; I'm way smarter than both of you and I can do these things. I know the ramifications; I know the risks. And I'm telling you to get back to work. That's how we're going to avoid the ramifications -- you two keep doing your jobs, same as you've always done."
Sam jumped to his feet. "We understand, sir." Josh didn't move. "Don't we, Josh?"
Reluctantly, Josh stood. "We understand."
"Excellent. Oh, and, guys?" They looked at him expectantly. "Congratulations." He could only imagine how great a relief that must have been for them, but Josh's smile nearly blinded him, and Sam looked so much lighter Jed thought he just might float away.
"Thank you, Mr President." They headed toward the door.
"Sam," Jed called. Both men paused. "He's an idiot. You know that, right?"
Sam grinned and ducked his head. "I wouldn't have it any other way, Mr President."
Jed looked at them, sleep deprived and panicked, and he thought of everything they'd come through already. **Leave it to the two of them to choose the hardest road to anywhere.** "I don't suppose you would. Tell me if there's any news about your mother." Then they were gone, leaving Jed to contemplate the precise degree to which everything in his administration had gone spectacularly awry.
Josh wanted only two things out of life at the moment. He wanted to whoop, and he wanted to kiss Sam. But they were standing in front of Charlie and Nancy, so he settled for an exultant, "Hey, Sam, come help me with the new Treasury report." Sam shrugged and allowed himself to he dragged.
The instant they were in his office, Josh slammed the door and did the hopping jump-step that passed for dancing in his world. He grabbed Sam's arms and kissed him ferociously, too elated to notice that the other man didn't respond. "Jesus, Sam!" he crowed. "We own the world. The whole goddamn world! What should we do? Mess up Henry Shallick? No, too small. I've got it! Let's pass the ERA. For Ainsley." He finally registered Sam's deflated posture, slumped against the wall with his arms dangling limp at his sides. "Sam, Sam, you're not dancing!"
"Dancing? No, Josh, I'm not dancing. We screwed up big-time today."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"I am not," Sam said, his voice heavy and flat.
"Sam, President Bartlet just called us into the Oval Office *and didn't fire us.* We own the world."
Sam clenched his fists. "We're getting careless, Josh. We slipped in a very large way."
"So you stole my joke. Really, I was flattered. No one but CJ and the President caught it. And then he *didn't fire us.*"
"But it's not just today," Sam said, fighting away the little black dots swimming in front of his eyes. "It's Mallory's party, and the hospital, and -- what if Leo connects what happened at Mallory's with what happened today?"
Josh sank into his chair. Suddenly he wasn't feeling nearly so victorious. "Leo has *so* many better things to do with his time than play 'spot the screwing staffers.'"
"Or what if Toby meets with Rayanne and she mentions that she and Betsy hang out with us?"
Josh drummed his fingers on the desk. "I know. Isn't that *always* coming up in discussions of childhood immunization?"
"What I'm trying to say--" Sam closed his eyes and let the little dots win. "I'm saying we're taking unnecessary risks with the administration."
The room was instantly cold, and the air weighed a thousand pounds. "'Unnecessary risks,'" Josh repeated, his voice as fragile as blown glass. "Did you -- are you calling *us* an unnecessary risk?"
"No!" Josh allowed himself the momentary victory of Sam's indignation. "I would never say that. I just...at least one of us should consider resigning. Seriously consider it, not in the last-minute half-assed way we did this morning."
Josh flipped a pencil onto his desk. "Well, okay, Sam, but as you may recall, we tried that already this morning. There was a minor complication involving a short economist in a round office who refused to listen to us."
"If we talk to Toby or Leo--"
"Do you *want* to quit, Sam? Is that what you're trying to say? 'Cuz I gotta tell you, it's going to take more than one bad joke about wildfires, even for Toby and Leo." His eyes hurt. His teeth felt funny. Hadn't this been a good day five minutes ago?
"Sam," he said firmly, standing and planting his hands on Sam's shoulders, "do you know what my grandmother always said to me?"
Sam shrugged. "'Someday your face is going to freeze like that'?"
Josh gave a short laugh and dropped his arms. "She said, 'Don't borrow trouble.' Don't borrow trouble, Sam. We'll deal with Leo and Toby if and when they become a problem. In the meantime -- in the meantime, the President has given us his approval. Don't you know what that means? It means if Toby and Leo have a problem with us, they can pretty much go fuck themselves. It's like...it's like having the Pope's blessing!" His eyes wandered to his window and beyond what he saw there. His voice softened. "It's like having my father's blessing."
Josh felt the instant the fight went out of the younger man. "I don't want to borrow trouble," Sam said quietly.
Josh shook his head. "No," he said. "Just don't. It's that easy. We overcame a massive hurdle today. We're still standing; we're still employed; it's been a good day. Maybe tomorrow's going to suck--" He checked his watch. "Hell, maybe the rest of today's going to suck. But that's later. Right now, everything's fucking fantastic."
Sam smiled. It was a tight, tired smile, but it was still a smile. "Fucking fantastic," he echoed. He pictured a future of avoidance and solipsism and Josh. He could live with that. "Okay, so what do you want to know about the Treasury report?"
Josh reached behind them and locked his office door with his left hand while his right went to work on Sam's tie. "What Treasury report?" he asked blandly.
Sam grinned and leaned his back against the wall while his fingers skipped over the buttons of Josh's shirt. "Fucking fantastic," he said again.
It's been a good day.
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