TITLE: Comfortable Illusions
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORY: Sam/Lionel Tribbey; mid- and post-ep to “And It’s Surely to their Credit.”
RATING: PG-13 for language
DISCLAIMER: They are so not mine. They’d get more sex if they were.
SPOILERS: It’s a huge “AISTTC”-fest. Also a kind of tiny one for “Bad Moon Rising.”
ARCHIVE: List archive; all others please ask first.
SUMMARY: Sam sticks his head in the lion’s mouth. Very bad jokes ensue.
NOTES: Dedicated, with big squishy hugs, to the members of the West Wing slash list, who make life shiny, & who love Lionel Tribbey.
Comfortable Illusions by Julian Lee
“You can’t fire us!”
I can never remember which of them is Joyce and which is Brookline, but whichever one it is brings me up short when he says that. For the first time since I busted in here in a towering rage of righteous indignation (and for Ainsley’s sake, no less), I wonder: can I? I have no jurisdiction over the Counsel’s office, and my powers of hiring and firing have always been murky. I don’t let them see it, but I’m feeling a bit at sea.
“Oh, yes he can.”
My head jerks around. There’s Lionel, all six-odd imposing feet of him, leaning casually against the wall and not fooling a soul. The old thrill chases around my body a few times as he pushes himself away from the wall and stalk towards his staffers his *former* staffers. He says something to them about writing a book, but I don’t hear it, because I’ve just had a mind-blowing realization.
Lionel Tribbey backed me up. Without hearing Joyce and Brookline’s side of the story hell, without knowing what the story *is* he has fired two of his best associates. Just on my say-so.
Power like that could go to a guy’s head.
I look around and realize that Lionel’s gone. I can’t let I chase him into the hall, but once I’m standing there, I’m not sure what to say.
**I’m so sorry, Lionel.**
**It was all my fault.**
That last one is the most appealing, but I just can’t get it past my lips. “Lionel—“
“What are you looking at?” he asks, not unkindly for him.
“Nothing. I’m not nothing.” What is it about this man that makes me so incapable of...of *speaking* when he’s around? He looks at me like he knows I’m trying to say more, then he shrugs and turns away. “It’s from _Pinafore_,” I blurt.
Oh, Christ. I have now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, beyond all fear of competition, cemented my place in the annals as *the* geekiest Presidential aide in history. Faced with a man I once loved on an almost obsessive scale, faced with my first opportunity in a *year* to really talk to him, *this* is what I grab onto? Gilbert and fucking Sullivan? No wonder I’m still single.
But maybe it wasn’t the worst idea in the world. Maybe it’s a good starting place for wading through several years’ worth of crap that built up between us while we were running around thinking it didn’t matter. Before we ended up working here together.
Believe me; neither of us saw that coming.
“It’s from _Penzance_,” he insists, and I am still in love with the way one of the most formidable men in the federal government can pout like a three-year-old who’s dropped his ice cream cone.
“I hate to stick my head in the lion’s mouth—“ And this is an old, *old* joke from our days together, because back then I couldn’t think of any place I would rather put my head, “—but I gotta ask: were you the recording secretary of Princeton’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society for two years?”
My head. The lion’s mouth. You do *get* that, don’t you?
Okay, so it’s not funny, but it always ended with Lionel blowing me, and when we were together, I said all *sorts* of things to bring that about, because the man has a tongue on him that could make the angels weep.
He hesitates for just a second before firing back, “No, but then again, I’m not a woman.”
My entire body shutters up and shuts down. This, also, is an old joke of Lionel’s. It’s one of the main reasons we broke up. He has some extremely bizarre ideas about power dynamics and gender roles in same-sex relationships, and eventually I simply would not take any more of him 1) calling me a woman, and 2) saying it like it was the worst imaginable insult. From what I’ve been able to glean from Ainsley, his attitude towards women in general has gotten a little better, but I see he hasn’t changed at all when it comes to relationships.
Or maybe just when it comes to me.
So much for catharsis. “So, I’m just saying—“
“Little drinks I’m supposed to be having right now,” he snaps, holding up his hand to indicate a glass. “Umbrellas sticking out of them. Shish kebob.” And storms away.
Well, then. That went well.
At the end of the day, after we’ve sung to Ainsley and toddled her off to bed, I’m still sitting in my office, trying to make a speech that sucked at nine this morning, and sucked more at four this afternoon, sound good at eight at night.
No one’s around. Josh and Toby have been dispatched to some pointless meeting or other on the Hill; Leo’s arguing with the President about who-knows-what; and CJ, somehow, is on a date. With whom, she refused to say, but it hasn’t escaped my attention that Donna’s gone missing, as well.
Huh. Who knew?
I look up, startled. Apparently someone’s around after all. And when I see *who,* I snap my pencil in half. “Lionel.”
He comes into my office and hovers belligerently by my end table. For a moment, we’re suspended there, me behind the desk, he in front of it, not speaking, not moving, unsure what the hell we’re doing here at all.
Finally, Lionel sighs, and from a man his size, that’s a lot of air rushing around. I hold my ground and wait, suspecting he’s about to say something a little bit life-altering. “Earlier, when you I really am supposed to be on vacation.”
I nod. “I know.”
“But now, Ainsley Hayes—“ He waves his hands around like that’s supposed to mean something. “Going to be very good at her job. Very frustrating for me.” He shakes his head, and, his tendency to talk like Yoda when distressed notwithstanding, this makes sense to me. Lionel Tribbey has based his entire professional existence on a few unshakable principles, among them that Republicans are arrogant, incompetent, and possessed of hideous physical deformities. Working with Ainsley is really going to take it out of him. “But I didn’t mean for you to—“ He crosses his arms again a protective gesture. “And then. You made the joke.”
Ah. I tilt my chair back to get a better angle. “I did.”
“Right there, in the middle of the hallway, you made the lion’s mouth joke, and I wanted to—“ He takes a step backwards, but suddenly I’m feeling like he’s right on top of me. “God. You have *no* idea what you still do to me, do you?”
I narrow my eyes. This is all wrong. Lionel and I were never like this. Sure, he liked me a lot maybe he even loved me a little but when we were together, there was never any question of where the power lay. He had pretty much complete control over me not in a manipulative way, you understand, but in any relationship, one person has the power, and with me and Lionel, it was always him. Questions of what *I* did to *him* never came up.
“Sometimes I sit in my office and think about the fact that you’re just down the hall, and I have no idea how I get any work done, some days.”
I snort. He also has a propensity towards the melodramatic. “Lionel.”
He lets his arms fall to his sides. “Okay, fine. Maybe it’s not that bad. But, today you were *down there,* Sam. In my territory. And I was not okay with that.”
Territory. Yes. Lionel was very territorial. Pieces of space, pieces of himself, where I was never allowed. Yet another thing that tore us apart. Because as much as I understand the need for personal space, I also feel it unnecessary to go into screaming histrionics if your lover accidentally trespasses that space.
I sigh. “We work in the White House, Lionel. You couldn’t have expected—“ I freeze, realizing that that’s *exactly* what Lionel expected. Sure, we’re both in this building, but I see now that he’d hoped we could work for the same President for the next five and a half years and never see each other. Now that *that* plan has been blown to hell, how’s he going to react? Call it a fluke and retreat back to his fortress, hoping that running into me in the halls of the West Wing was a one-time aberration, and that we can now go back to avoiding each other?
Or will he be unable to maintain the fiction, now that the wall between us has been broken?
Unbidden, I find myself reciting the litany of failed Counsels. **Solomon, Corcoran, and Gates. Solomon, Corcoran, and Gates.** Will Lionel Tribbey’s name be joining them soon?
I wonder if I’ve been avoiding him.
I push my chair away from my desk and stand. “You should go on your vacation, Lionel.”
He jerks, startled. “Sam?”
“It will be you should go on your vacation. Be...away...from the White House for a few days.”
He takes another step backwards. “I see.”
I shake my head and come around my desk. “I don’t think you do. Because we’ve been we’ve created a comfortable illusion around ourselves, pretending that we weren’t right down the hall from each other. Today, for the first time, that illusion was challenged, and it seems clear that we’re not dealing with it well. So perhaps it’s best that we have a few days of not seeing each other.”
“To reconstruct the illusion.” His eyes have narrowed.
I shrug. “Or to put something better in its place.”
Thoughtful for a minute, Lionel finally nods. “All right. I’m going, then. I just wanted to damnit. I don’t know what I wanted. Except I don’t mean to take my problems with that perky little pest of a Republican out on you.”
“She’s not—“ I smile. “She’s not that bad, once you get to know her.”
“Hopefully,” he says, snorting, “I’ll never get that far.”
Grinning, I turn back to my desk. “Have a good vacation, Lionel.”
“Oh, I intend to.” I hear him cross my office. Then I hear him pause at the door. “Come with me.”
I whirl to face him again. “*Lionel*!”
He grips the door-frame, leaning on it slightly for support both physical and moral. “Little drinks with umbrellas. Shish kebob.” His eyes take on a misty tint that wigs me out slightly. “Long beaches. Tropical breezes.”
I perch on the edge of my desk, smiling at him, though I feel the wistfulness at the edges of that smile. “You’re a credit to the tourism board of the U.S. Virgin Islands,” I say, “but we both know I can’t come with you.”
“All right.” He sighs again and pushes off the door-frame. “I know. I tried. All right.” Lionel takes a step away from my office, pauses, and turns back to me. “I’ll be back in a week. And in a week, Sam Seaborn, I *will* find you. And we will...talk. Eat lunch. Something.”
I’m back in my chair, thinking that the speech doesn’t suck as much as I remember. “You know where to find me.”
He nods and heads back towards his office. “And have for quite some time.”
I watch Lionel’s broad back retreat down the hall and shake my head. We can never put back together what we had. All the problems that drove a wedge between us before would be exacerbated a hundredfold by the secrecy and sheer enormity of life in the West Wing. It’s not the old days.
But it’s the truth.
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