TITLE: Variations on Variations: The Era of Josh and Sam
AUTHOR: Julian Lee, email@example.com
CATEGORY: Look at the title again….There you go.
SPOILERS: Everything through the end of season 2, really
ARCHIVE: Knock yerself out. Just tell me where you put the boys
DISCLAIMER: The West Wing and all characters therein are property of Aaron Sorkin & John Wells Productions. No copyright infringement or disrespect intended.
SUMMARY: "And so the Week of Not Touching Each other culminates in the Night of Ripping Each Other’s Clothes Off."
Variations on Variations: The Era of Josh and Sam by Julian Lee
When people ask where it started — and they will ask — we’ll tell the story of the night President Bartlet announced his bid for re-election, of being drunk and horny in a bar in Georgetown and sharing a doomed cab home.
You’ll tell them that. I think it makes us sound tawdry.
I know it started before that. It started the morning I came to see you on my way to Nashua to hear Bartlet speak for the first time.
Oh, give up. It started the night 9980 passed and you know it.
Hey. Who’s telling this hypothetical story?
Both of us, I thought. Hypothetically.
All right, then, you tell it.
Josh and Lisa were the only heterosexual staffers at Yes 99 when I joined the campaign. Josh caught me checking out Lisa and assumed I was straight, too. That’s what I’d been saying since law school, anyway. I thought that’s what I had to be to make it in corporate law. Even the wonderful gay chemist who was my roommate for more than four years never guessed. Ironically, the only people who knew about the guys I’ve been with were my mother and her sisters. I try not to think about that much.
We were promoting the passage of Proposition 9980, a New York State statute that provided sweeping gays rights the likes of which had never been seen before. By today’s standards it didn’t go very far, but at the time they called us radicals. My first week at the campaign was Lisa’s last, but by the time she left we definitely had a thing going. We just weren’t sure exactly what it was. Meanwhile, in Josh I found a best friend, an ally, a traveling partner of the old style.
Leave me alone. I’m telling a story. No one expected the measure to pass. Not even us, some days. But somehow, it did. And the entire Yes 99 staff went out to celebrate. We got so drunk that night. And literally everybody at that table paired up with somebody else at that table. Josh and I were the only ones left. The moment oozed awkwardness; we sat there staring at each other like, "Do people expect us to hook up? Is this a thing we’re supposed to do now?" It wasn’t. Not then. Josh was straight, and he was, well, Josh.
You know what I mean. I was with Lisa, anyway. We laughed it off, took separate cabs to our separate homes. But we’d started something.
We don’t see each other much after the campaign. Sam and Lisa stay in New York; Sam rises higher and higher on the Gage Whitney ladder. I go to DC and jumped into the fray. I end up working for John Hoynes. The thing you've gotta know about Hoynes is—
Yeah. You never finished that thought.
‘Cuz you cut me off, like you’re doing now. I don’t know. Maybe there is no "thing you’ve gotta know about Hoynes." I thought he was a good man. I still think he is. Just not good enough. Leo McGarry comes by one morning and asks me to come to Nashua, New Hampshire to hear Governor Bartlet speak at the VFW. Hoynes is going to the White House. I’m going with him. What the hell do I care about another egg-head governor from New England? But Leo’s right: it’s what sons do for old friends of their father’s. Leo and my dad went through a lot of shit together. So I head to Nashua, and I stop in New York on the way to see my old friend Sam Seaborn. I’m waiting in his office, the woman goes to get him, and when he walks into the room — I shouldn’t have hugged him.
I hugged you.
I shouldn’t have let you. The spark — the one we didn’t realize we’d set off after 9980 — comes back with a vengeance. That hug speaks volumes about the things we’d left undone after the campaign.
Then he asks if I want a hot dog. What the hell? It’s 9:30. I now know that Sam eats when he’s nervous. Isn’t that cute? When I get nervous, I get queasy, and eating anything would result in me puking on somebody important. Sam packs away hot dogs like they’re antacids and claims they calm him. But how was I supposed to know my coming around was going to freak him out?
I had to break his heart. Both our hearts. It was hard enough having him standing there — and he’s right; the hug was…it was too much. But I had to tell him about Lisa — that Lisa and I were engaged. The look on his face was like I’d stabbed him in the back a dozen times. But I loved Lisa, I really did, and I’d made my choice. He went to Nashua.
And came back to Gage Whitney dripping wet with a mile-wide smile plastered to his face. I was in the middle of that godawful meeting that probably would’ve ended my career anyway. Sexual tension wasn’t the only thing Josh had revved up in me the day before; the idealism I’d chucked when I started at Gage Whitney came roaring back, and I was trying to sink the deal on the old, rickety oil tankers. The instant I saw Josh in the hall I knew I was going with him. Lisa already knew. She was terrified when she saw me looking up better ships. But Josh…standing there soaking the Gage Whitney carpet grinning at me — when I walked out of the conference room I thought he was going to grab me and kiss me.
Funny, I thought the same about you.
Instead we packed up and moved to Manchester to follow a brilliant man. Lisa left me. For the record, I would like to underscore that she did not break off the engagement because of money. Hell, she made more than I did. But she’d worked on enough campaigns to know what they do to a person. She knew that the instant I went to work for Bartlet, that was my life. Her father had been the same way. She couldn’t live through it again. We parted company on sad but amiable terms.
What a great opportunity, right? I was single; Josh was single; we were working together again — why didn’t we hook up then? Are you crazy? We were trying to get a man into the White House. Besides, who had time for a personal life? Josh did, apparently, because the next thing I knew he was sleeping with Mandy Hampton.
Getting involved with Madeleine Hampton is among the least brilliant things I’ve done. Not only because we make each other miserable, but because it sends Sam and me on this uncontrollable spiral of ill-advised relationships (or semblances thereof). Sam sleeps with a call-girl and tries many times, unsuccessfully, to date Leo McGarry’s daughter, Mallory O’Brien. I have a…a whatever I had with the alluring Josephine Lucas and a…what did you call my relationship with Donna?
Yes. I have a subtext with my witty and attractive assistant, Donnatella Moss. I want to make one thing very clear: we are in no way suggesting here that we didn’t actually want the women we pursued during those years. ‘Cuz, we wanted them. Man, did we ever want them. But the thing is that sometimes you — when you meet someone, it doesn’t matter — hell, I can’t say it right. I’m getting way ahead of myself anyway.
Then came Rosslyn. And Josh nearly—
Hey. It’s all right. I made it. I’m here.
But you almost — that was an unbearable time for me. Donna — when Toby told her Josh had been hit, I couldn’t look at her. Because she was allowed, and I wasn’t. Everyone expected her to stay at his bedside. She took him home from the hospital, wrote the rules, brought him soup. But I had a country to run, right? I didn’t have time to worry about my best friend, never mind the other screwed up feelings I had for him even then.
I kick myself sometimes. I spend weeks in that hospital bed, then three months in my apartment, and I convince myself I must be in love with Donna. I mean, I was, but — my first coherent thought after surgery is, "My God, I hurt." My second is, "Where’s Sam?" But I let myself get distracted...
Running the country?
Somehow we find the time to do both.
I have a lot of guilt about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I knew he was cracking. Cano — when Josh said they had the same birthday, I knew what he meant and what was going on. But I had this idea that to tell anyone what I’d noticed would give away what was happening between us. What that was at that point, I didn’t know, but the ground had started shifting under our feet again. Knowing I would have let him crash to save my own ass—
You wouldn’t have. You promised me there’d be no more guilt. Besides, that was then. If it happened again—
I’d drag Stanley from San Francisco myself.
And then, on the day we lowered his most loyal supporter into the ground, the man we’d given up our lives to follow stood at a podium and told the world he intended to do it again. There were three and a half million things to be done, but for one night we wanted to put it away. We went out. Everyone except the President and First Lady — even Leo, who doesn’t goes to bars anymore.
It’s a surreal evening. A wake for Mrs Landingham, maybe. We’re subdued but not somber. Donna says — and she is not being sarcastic — "Is this a celebration or not?" Everyone turns and looks at her.
"What?" Toby asks.
"He’s running again," Donna says, "and I’m not sure — are we happy about that?"
There was this long silence. We didn’t know the answer. We hadn’t processed — there was too much, you know? Then Charlie, whose loyalty to the President continues to humble me, smacked the table and declared, "You’re damned right we are. This is a celebration!" And just like that, it was.
This story would be very different if he hadn’t said that. If no one had answered Donna, and we were forced to admit we weren’t sure we wanted to run again, Sam and I would’ve been melancholy drunks that night and would’ve ended up in our respective homes crying into further beers.
Instead the party grows boisterous — giddy, even. And I get drunk. Though I hate her for it, Donna’s right when she says I "can’t drink with any of them." I’m not as drunk as most people think I am, though. As soon as I notice Sam and I are having trouble keeping our hands to ourselves, I stop drinking. I don’t want — I know what’s finally coming, and I don’t want it to be only the alcohol.
As for me, I thought I was going to explode before we could get out of there. We had to wait until other people were leaving so it looked like we were turning in with the gang. All I could think was, "Finally." I hadn’t realized how badly I’d wanted...
We don’t look at each other in the cab; you never know when your driver’s a poli sci major Republican at GW or a fledgling reporter looking for the "the big story." Would I be right in calling it the longest cab ride of our lives?
Oh, yeah. That night was the first time in nearly a decade I’d kissed another man, let alone — well, our hypothetical audience doesn’t need the details of our sex life. Suffice it to say I’ve had my share of sexual encounters, but none felt so...I just can’t get over the fact that I’ve got Josh in my bed.
I know none of this when I wake up the next morning. I wake up first, and I don’t move a muscle. I don’t want Sam to wake up before I think it all through. I don’t regret what happened, and I’m not ashamed, but I am a little panicked. Forget Sam’s decade; this is my first time ever with another man. I’m not sure what happens now. And what’s Sam’s reaction going to be when he wakes up? Shame? Anger? Too blitzed to remember? This is why I pretended to be drunker than I was. If Sam wakes up in a rage or in denial, I’m prepared to say, "Hey, man, I know what you mean. I was completely tanked last night." I would never have forgiven myself, but I would’ve said it.
Then he wakes up. I sense it more than see it. When Sam’s asleep, you could march the Minutemen past the bed and he’d never notice. The instant he’s awake, he switches into "go" mode. Conquer the world or die trying. I can almost hear him replaying the night before. I’m so tense you could bounce pennies off me. Then he rolls over, drapes his arm across my chest, and kisses me. "Any new disasters to avert?" he asks.
I fumble for my pager; no new messages. "If there are, they haven’t asked for me."
"Good enough for me. Want coffee?" Like I’ve been there every morning for years.
Which, in a way, you had.
And this, to me, is also scary. Has Sam been in love with me all this time? Fantasizing about me? I’m stand-offish; I figure Sam’s about ready to kill me, but I can’t help it. I haven’t got a fucking clue what I’m doing.
I understood that. It hurt, but I didn’t want to rush him. The last thing I wanted was to jeaopardize our friendship, even if we couldn’t be lovers.
Sam goes out to get the paper. Of course the headlines (yes, he gets three different papers) say, "President Bartlet to Seek Re-election Despite Illness." At which point we remember who we work for and what we have to do today. Thus begins, by mutual agreement and for safety’s sake (and so I don’t completely lose my mind), the Week of Not Touching Each Other.
I take this opportunity to study Sam. With a lover’s eyes, rather than a friend’s. And man, do I like what I see. The way he stands up to Toby. His idealism (how he holds onto it, in spite of everything, I will never understand, but thank God for it). His ass. That right there is enough to make a man sell his soul. By the next Tuesday, I have reached an epic decision: I Want Sam Seaborn. I’m thinking of having cards made.
And so the Week of Not Touching Each other culminates in the Night of Ripping Each Other’s Clothes Off.
Right. Well, how does that sound? Hypothetically, of course.
It sounds great. Hypothetically.
I’m not saying I’m ready to pledge my undying love to Sam. I can’t promise I’m not going to freak out and bolt without warning. I can’t promise I won’t deny it all if someone finds out. I’m a schmuck that way, and there’s nothing I can do about it, at present. But I’m here. I want to take this thing as far as I can before my head explodes.
We’ll be good. It’s not like I’m going to grab you in the middle of the bullpen and kiss you.
But if someone makes a reference to one of our inside jokes, or if the banter — oh, God, what if we have banter? Donna and I have banter. She’ll figure it out.
Let her. A new time has begun, my friend. The Era of Josh and Sam. We’re going to change the world, together. And anybody who doesn’t like it can...go away.
You’re a speechwriter, yes? Oh, don’t give me that look. "The Era of Josh and Sam," huh?
I kind of like that. Please don’t say it around the office. Ever.
I thrive on feedback of all kinds, even the (constructively!) negative.
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