TITLE: Forgie a Hameless Loon
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORIES: Sam/Josh, AU, *deathfic.* Whoa, deathfic.
DISCLAIMER: "The West Wing" & its characters are the property of John Wells Productions & NBC. If they ever had belonged to me, they probably would've run away long ago. No money is made from this endeavor.
ARCHIVE: Yes to list archives, & to Shoshanna, who may link it from wherever she likes. Others please ask.
SUMMARY: "Ah, wind, forgie a hameless loon, wha cannae see for tears."
NOTES/WARNINGS: THIS IS NOT A HAPPY FIC. I mean it. I'm talking about people dying all over the frickin' place here. You've been warned. It's an AU based on that classic WW what-if: what if Josh hadn't survived Roslyn? And, though it's an AU, the universe it fell out of (in case anyone cares) is the one "7 Day Childhood" came from. I'm only posting a link here, rather than the whole fic, because of formatting concerns. Title and summary from Violet Jacob's "The Wild Geese." More thanks than I can count to Shoshanna Gold, whose betas not only make a fic better, but make a girl *think*. Thanks also to Nomi, who answered the same question twice & didn't seem to mind. This is for Marcie, for more reasons than I can count (I'm not much for the counting today, am I?).
Feedback welcomed, cherished, & treated better than many of my relatives treat me, so please do drop a line. But first, sit back & enjoy the ride!
Forgie a Hameless Loon by Julian Lee
"I swear, Sam, if you don't take a bite out of that sandwich in the next two minutes, I'm staking a claim on it."
"Are you going to plant a flag in it?" Sam slid his lunch across the desk, out of Josh's reach. "You know, Josh, I know you've never been in it, but you and I do have a kitchen, and there is a considerable amount of food in it."
Josh took a bite of his own sandwich that was more like a declaration of war against it. "Shut up," he said, mouth full, and Sam couldn't believe that he found something so disgusting so endearing. "After the day I've had--"
"Where did you disappear to this morning, anyway?"
Josh groaned. "I went jogging with the Vice President."
"You?" Sam lowered the hand holding his banana and stared. "Went jogging?"
"You went jogging with the Vice President."
"He kicked my ass."
"Do you have nothing better to do with your day than sit in here and make up funny stories to tell me?"
Josh snorted and looked at his watch. "Motorcade," he said, standing and grabbing for his suit jacket.
Sam swept up the detritus of their hasty lunch. He held out his untouched sandwich. Josh raised his eyebrows. "Go ahead," Sam said.
Grinning, Josh grabbed Sam's wrist and hauled him in. "You're too good to me," he said. The kiss was hasty - it was all they had time for - but it told Sam everything Josh needed to say.
"I know you only love me for my turkey on rye." Sam laughed and headed for the door.
Josh flicked off his office light on the way out. "What the hell kind of a name is 'The Newseum,' anyway?"
It was a beautiful service. The President spoke, and CJ, and Donna, and Josh's mother. But not Sam. Sam thought about it, even had something in his jacket pocket he could've read. But anything he really wanted to say couldn't be said in front of all these people, and anything he could say in front of all these people seemed hollow and redundant, and besides, he'd been crying so much in the last day and a half he didn't trust himself to get up there and talk. Which was strange, because he'd thought his tears would've been used up by now.
Paul approached him in the cemetery, awkward, not knowing what words to offer. "There's no headstone."
Sam looked at him slowly. In his childhood, Sam had imagined they were alien boys from two different planets, somehow dropped into the same human family. "There won't be for a year. Then we'll come back for the unveiling."
"Unveiling of what?"
"Of the headstone," Sam explained patiently. Paul meant well, but he never tried very hard, especially where Josh was involved.
"Sam?" Looking over his brother's shoulder, Sam saw their mother and Adele Lyman, Cassandra's hand on Adele's elbow to help hold her up. "Adele and I are going back to the house; do you want us to round people up?"
Sam rubbed the knuckle of his index finger over his forehead and looked around the milling crowd. "No, thank you, Mom. I'll do it. I need to talk to everyone anyway." Oh, God, how he didn't want to. He didn't want to talk to anyone. He wanted to shut himself in the bedroom Josh would never return to and scream, rail against God, and Fate, and West Virginia White Pride. He wanted to sit on the ground beside Josh's grave and cry until no tears remained. Until nothing remained. But there were all these people, and the Widow Seaborn had guests to think of.
Cassandra nodded. "We'll see you at the house, then," she said. Adele smiled shakily at him as his mother led her away. Sam watched them go.
Paul put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Is there anything I can do for you, little brother?"
He meant to say no. There wasn't a thing Paul could do for him now. But his eyes found his sister-in-law, holding her sons tight against her, as if afraid that one of Sam and Josh's queer friends would touch them and infect them with something, and he found himself nodding. "Yeah. You can tell your boys the truth."
Paul frowned. "About what?"
"About today." Sam gestured around the cemetery. "You and Linda have never told them about Josh and me, right?" Paul shifted guiltily. "But they're going to ask. Later tonight, or tomorrow during the flight home, one of them is going to ask who Josh was - who he was to our family - that you would fly halfway across the country for his funeral. And I'm asking you to tell them the truth. Tell them how he died, too - tell them about hatred and prejudice and a bunch of 17-year-old kids who couldn’t stand to see anyone happy. You owe Josh that much."
Squirming, Paul looked at his family. Linda smiled weakly, begging him to rescue them. "I don't know, Sam," he said uncertainly. "I don't think Linda would be comfortable--"
"The man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with is dead." Sam finally exploded. "Do you think I give a damn what Linda's comfortable with?"
"Sam?" Toby asked softly, appearing as if from the air. "Is something wrong?"
"Oh, go to hell, Toby." Sam stormed towards the cars.
Toby looked at Paul and shrugged. "It's a distinct possibility."
You can't set your watch by Donna. Not anymore. So when 9:00, the time Sam told her they absolutely had to be on the road by, comes and goes with no sign of her, Sam just turns another page in the world news. When, at 9:15, a full ten minutes before they really need to be on the road, she appears at the bottom of the stairs, a small whirlwind of apologies and last-minute touch-ups, Sam smiles at Kyle over the business section, and Kyle tries to hide his giggle in a spoonful of Corn Pops.
Donna stops mid-flurry and backs into the kitchen, taking in the calm tableau. "You fudged the time," she says, somewhere between rueful and accusatory.
Sam nods and folds his paper. "I did."
"You always fudge the time."
Standing and tucking his newspaper under his arm, he replies, "But what you'll never know is, by how much."
Kyle finds this too funny to resist, but his laughter serves only to earn him maternal wrath. "Your Aunt Francie is coming at ten."
"Okay, Mom," he says, ever-cheerful, dumping his bowl and spoon into the dishwasher.
"And you don't let anyone in before that, do you hear me? No one."
"Jeez, Mom," he huffs. "I'm not a little kid."
"Answer me, Kyle." She's not budging on this.
"Fine." Kyle rolls his eyes. "No one comes in 'til Aunt Francie gets here."
"Good." Donna picks up her purse. "You know where the emergency numbers are?"
"The same place they've been the entire time we've lived here."
This is an old argument between mother and son. Sam agrees with Donna, and he agrees with Kyle, and as Toby says, he knows how that makes him crazy.
"Kyle Joshua Brickley, don't sass your mother!" Donna snaps.
Kyle's green eyes narrow, and his words are clipped as he says, "The emergency numbers are in the bottom drawer, in the blue plastic sleeve, under the phone books."
Donna relaxes. "Thank you." She gathers her purse, keys, and sunglasses. "I don't know when we'll be back. Behave for Aunt Francie."
"I will, Mom." Their argument that easily forgotten, Kyle stands on tip-toes to kiss his mother. Sam hopes Donna appreciates this; in two years he'll be taller than she is and disavowing all knowledge of her.
In the garage, Donna warms up the minivan and launches into a familiar diatribe against Kyle's flippancy. "He will not take this seriously!" she fumes. "He doesn't realize the danger we could be in."
"He's eleven, Donna," Sam reminds her gently. "Adam's his father. He doesn't understand what a restraining order is or why he should worry about his dad violating one."
Because Donna has always been a reckless driver, by the time they reach the station Sam has twenty minutes before they'll even start boarding his train. "Oh, I got you here too early," Donna says.
"I'll be fine," Sam promises, holding up his small bag. "I brought a book. And I didn't get to finish the newspaper before we left."
"Do you have your tickets?"
They rustle in his jacket pocket when he pats them.
"Hotel reservation confirmation?"
He rattles off a long string of numbers.
"Donna." Donna has made Sam a second son, or maybe she's substituted him for Josh. He tries to endure it at least as well as Kyle does. "I have everything. I'm set."
She smiles, but it's wistful. "I wish you'd let me come with you."
"I know." He pats her hand. "But this time, I have to go alone."
"Be careful," she says as he climbs out of the van.
"I will." He turns towards the station.
"Are you sure you don't mind the wait?"
Sam shakes his head and smiles at her. "I've gotten used to waiting."
Sam had gotten used to waiting.
President Bartlet came out of surgery with an excellent prognosis, and Sam waited for Josh to come out of surgery. The staff went back to the office, or home for a quick shower and a change of clothes before they went back to the office, and Sam waited for Josh to come out of surgery. Josh came out of surgery, and Sam waited for him to wake up. Josh's mother arrived, and they waited together for Josh to wake up. Toby started sending Sam's work to the hospital, and he sat in a chair beside Josh's bed and waited for Josh to wake up.
The days rolled on and turned into weeks. Sam spent more time at the hospital than at the house, and he hadn't spent more than three hours in the West Wing any day in the past three months. Still, he never once even considered the possibility that Josh might not recover until the day Dr. Fisher stood at the end of Josh's bed, his chart in her hands, and said, "We've seen no progress."
Sam put his glasses on the table and rose from the chair that was likely molded to the shape of his ass by now. Adele came to stand beside him, gripping his hand to lend him strength. All of his seemed to be gone. "I thought--" Sam cleared his throat of something hard and unyielding stuck inside it. "You were hopeful."
"We were." The doctor nodded. "But it's been three months without change, and it may be time to start thinking about turning off the respirator."
"No." Sam's voice barely had any sound to it. His world was collapsing, spinning out of control, black as a starless, moonless midnight. Adele might've held his hand still, but he felt nothing. Nothing at all. "No," he whispered again. "It is not time."
That night in the townhouse, Sam took a glass figurine of a ballerina, a beautiful, hand-blown in-joke of a gift he'd given Josh on their second anniversary, and flung it across the room as hard as his arm could throw.
"What are you doing to me?" he screamed, falling against the back of the couch and pummelling its cushions. "You promised me I would never have to make a decision like this!"
Josh had joked about clogged arteries and family history, and predicted a sudden, cheeseburger-induced heart attack. He'd sworn he wouldn’t do the lingering thing. He'd promised. It just wasn't fair. Of course, Josh lay in a hospital bed, neither dead nor entirely alive, so apparently whatever force drove this life didn't give a fuck about fair.
And so it was a decision Sam would have to make, despite Josh's promises. But not tonight. To expect him to make this decision today was, perhaps, least fair of all. He fell onto the couch at some point, wearied of battering it, and he slept there all night.
Sam woke to the weight of eyes staring at him. He cracked an eye open. "What?"
A shrug. "Just watching you sleep."
Sam opened his other eye and stretched. "You're Josh, right?"
Josh smacked his shoulder. "Funny man." He frowned uncertainly. "This is the first time we've slept together. I mean, the first time we've slept."
Sam nodded thoughtfully. "I think they'd frown on it in the hallowed halls of the Capitol Building."
"Probably." Josh chuckled and flopped onto his back.
They lay side-by-side, staring at Josh's chipped ceiling. "So," Sam said finally, tentatively, "what did you decide while you were watching me? Do I snore too loudly? Drool too much? Steal all your covers?"
"No more than I can steal right back." Josh turned his head to look at Sam, waited until Sam turned, too. "No, I was thinking I could get used to you waking up here more often. I could get to like it." He searched Sam's face.
Sam smiled and reached for Josh. "Good. Because I was thinking the exact same thing."
Sam sleeps on the train. When he jolts awake, the car is carrying him north and west, slicing across Connecticut.
A man in a sharp navy suit, Armani by the look of it, walks by, and Sam smiles, remembering the years he was a slave to suits just like it. But when the man smiles back, it's a different smile entirely, and Sam blinks in shock. He never can remember that he doesn't look as god-awful rundown as he feels; that if you don't see him walking, or late at night, or on a bad day, he looks fairly normal. And for God's sake, he's 45; that's the way he's supposed to look. Still, he schools his face into disapproval and crosses his hands so his wedding ring shows plainly, and the man moves on.
The world moved on. Sam couldn't see how, when his life had ground to a standstill, but out in the world beyond the hospital there was stock-trading and coal-mining and church-going and love-making. Billions of people all over the planet kept at the business of living and dying. Only Sam was stranded here.
Day after day Dr. Fisher gave him that look, the one that begged him to look at Josh and see what had become of him. Day after day Sam turned his head and pretended not to know what she was getting at.
His friends were no help. They wanted to be, but what could they say to help him decide that it was no longer time for his husband to live? Which of them had had to do something so cruel, so calculated, something that would enable them to offer anything besides platitudes?
Until one day, Donna, Josh's most faithful visitor besides the two who simply never left - and she was not trying to be consoling, or profound, wasn't trying to be anything at all - said, "He hardly looks like Josh anymore, does he? If you and Mrs. Lyman weren't in here, and his name wasn't on the door, I might've walked past this room and never known that was who was in here." She smiled apologetically. "Not the most hopeful assessment you've heard, I bet."
Sam staggered, hand over his mouth, stomach reeling. That wasn't Josh in that bed. A man who shared his name, and the rough outline of his features, but that wasn't Josh.
After Donna left he turned to Adele and said, "I think it might be time."
She fell back a step, her hand on the chair back to hold herself up. Sam reached out to steady her, but she jerked out of his reach. "What are you saying, Sam?" she demanded in a cracked voice that had never before sounded so old. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that Josh - whatever it is that makes Josh who he is - isn't in that bed, and maybe it's time we let him go."
"No." She shook her head violently. "I thought you understood." Her voice broke on every word. "I thought you would be the one person who would never give up, and we'd be here, you and I, until the bitter end."
"And when will that be?" He pointed to the bed. "There's been no improvement. His brain is all but shut down, and his body only deteriorates over time. He's getting worse, not better."
"He is still my son, no matter how bad he gets."
"No, Adele," Sam said sadly, shaking his head. "He's not Josh anymore."
"I feel it only fair to warn you," she said, drawing herself up straight, "that if you persist in this course of action, I will bring litigation."
Despite the hollowed-out feeling in the place where he was pretty sure his heart should have been, Sam almost smiled. Adele was the widow of a lawyer, and the mother of a lawyer, and the mother-in-law of a lawyer. She would not sue; she would 'bring litigation.' He moved to the head of the bed, stroking Josh's hair. "Please do."
And so she sued him. She took him to court and argued that, because his marriage to her son was not legally recognized, he had no rights in this matter. No right to decide whether Josh lived or died. Sam sat across the aisle and tried not to cry.
Adele's lawyer put up a good fight, but Josh had a living will, and Sam had power of attorney, and his rights in this matter were clear. It took less than a week.
When the judge ruled in Sam's favor, Adele came across the aisle and embraced him tightly, both of them at last allowing their tears to fall. "I want you to know," she whispered as she clung to his back as to a life buoy, "it wasn't anything personal about you. I would've done this to anyone who tried to take my beautiful boy away from me."
Sam smoothed her hair and held her closer. "I know. Believe me: a big part of me was rooting for you." He watched a tear fall from his face into her long silver hair. "A big part of me was hoping this would stop being my decision to make."
But now the suit was over, and Josh was unchanged, and all that remained was for Sam to do the hardest thing he had ever had to do.
They were all there, crowded into Josh's hospital room. Abbey and the President, who made his Secret Service agents stand outside; Charlie and Toby, stoic and impassive, trembling with the tears they couldn't shed; Zoey refusing to be touched by her parents or her lover; Mallory leaning in the doorway so she could escape if it got to be too much to bear; Leo with one arm around a weeping CJ and the other around a dry-eyed Adele. Sam and Donna supported each other as Sam leaned over, without a word, and flipped the switch.
They were waiting, he knew. Even Dr. Fisher, who understood the hopelessness of Josh's condition better than anyone. They were waiting for a miracle, for Josh to draw a shuddering lungful of air and begin breathing on his own, to begin spontaneously healing his ravaged body. They were waiting for the brown eyes to open, sparkling with mischief, and the smug voice to say, "Thanks, babe; I've been waiting for that."
Josh's breaths grew slower, shallower, more labored, and the beeps and bloops of the heart and brain monitors slowed inexorably. Sam grabbed Josh's left hand in his own, cold metal against cold metal, and Adele took the right. Sam wanted to imagine pressure, wanted to imagine that Josh squeezed his hand in those precious final seconds, but Sam was a rational man, and he could not bring himself to believe as the EKG and EEG flat-lined, and the last tortured breath rattled out, and, after close to forty years of ceaseless motion, Joshua Lyman at last lay completely still.
Sam stood back and let his colleagues say their good-byes. Leo kissed Josh's forehead, CJ his cheek; the President and First Lady gripped his lifeless hands and Charlie touched his shoulder with an affection whose fierceness seemed to surprise even himself. And as Sam watched, he realized that, despite Zoey's tears, despite Toby's grimly set mouth and Mallory's shaking hands, they'd been ready. They had been preparing themselves for this from the instant Josh's bleeding body was found on those stairs. They'd said their good-byes months ago. Only Sam and Adele had been unable to accept and be ready.
And at that instant, Sam realized how alone he was. Josh was gone. Forever. The room was so crowded he could barely move, and he'd never felt more alone than at that instant.
Donna - sweet, wise Donna, who always saw more than she got credit for - kicked the others out and gave a husband and a mother the last moments they needed. Adele pretended to rearrange flowers on the table. Sam sat beside the bed and took Josh's hand in both of his own. "Josh," he said, "I love you. I have always loved you, and I always will." He thought of saying more, but there didn't seem much point. "Good night, sweet prince," he whispered, kissing Josh's lips and both of his closed eyes one last time before leaving the room to Adele.
He didn't feel like crying. He didn't feel like screaming or throwing things or railing against God and Fate and West Virginia White Pride. In fact, as he sank into the empty chair between CJ and Leo, Sam realized he didn't feel like anything at all.
Sam had never expected a wedding. He and Josh had never seen any reason to mold their relationship to heterosexual conventions.
Illinois changed everything.
Leo approached Sam the instant he and the Governor came back from the airport. "You'll be on the flight with me tomorrow morning."
Sam blustered, "I couldn't just - the ball's rolling now, Leo. California--"
"Will still be there in two days."
"I really don't think--"
Sam turned quickly. "Sir?"
Governor Bartlet stood just behind Leo's shoulder. "Why aren't you on that plane?"
"The campaign, sir--"
"Go with Leo tomorrow morning."
Sam sighed. "Yes, sir."
Josh opened the door of his parents' house and stared at Sam. "What are you doing here?"
"Direct order from the Governor."
Josh scratched the back of his head. The circles under his eyes were wide and dark. "The campaign--"
"You want to take it up with Governor Bartlet?"
Josh's chest hitched. He grabbed Sam hard. "I am so glad you're here."
"I know." Sam stroked Josh's back. "I know."
The instant Adele saw Leo, she fell against him, sobbing. "He was better, Leo," she choked out. "He was better."
The funeral was sad, and strange. Sam and his father did not get along, but his father was still alive, and as much as Sam loved Josh, he simply couldn't understand what he was going through. So he offered himself as support for Adele, though her grief was alien to him, as well. He thought of having to go through that, with Josh, and he shuddered.
That night, after the last of the relatives had been shuffled out and the remains of the food packed away, Adele lay a hand on her son's arm and said, "I need for one good thing to come of this, Joshua." On the other side of the kitchen, trying to find room for one last wrapped package of leftovers, Sam frowned at the cryptic remark.
Josh shook his head. "This isn't the time, Mom."
Her eyes turned suddenly fierce. "It's the only time, Joshua. Never doubt that." Then she turned and left the room.
Sam crossed the kitchen and slid a hand up Josh's back. "What did she mean by that?"
Josh sighed. "Nothing."
"Josh." Sam turned Josh to face him.
"I don't want--" Josh shook his head. "I don't want you to think I only did it because she said--"
Josh slid his arms around Sam's waist, drawing him closer. "I told her, last night before you and Leo came...I said I'd been thinking of asking you to marry me."
Sam's eyes widened. "You - what? Since when?"
"Oh, since..." Josh waved a hand. "Since the day I met you?"
Sam laughed softly. "Well, that's a lie, but thank you." He smiled at Josh. "So, let's do it."
"Let's get married. Tomorrow. Before we leave."
All color fled Josh's face. "Sam, I don't think that's a good idea."
"Too soon." Sam nodded. "You're right. It's not the time."
Josh tilted his head to the side, and though Sam could never get him to admit it, he always believed Josh was hearing his mother's voice in his ear - 'It's the only time.' When he looked at Sam again, his eyes had that fire that no one else's could ever have. "We'll do it. CJ and Donna will kill us for doing it without them, but we'll do it. First thing tomorrow. We'll buy rings. We'll hunt down Rabbi Dave, and--" Rabbi Dave had just performed Noah's funeral.
They stood in that mourning house, and Sam held on as tightly as he knew how, letting Josh fall into as many pieces as he needed to.
When CJ and Donna saw the rings, they did look like they wanted to kill Sam and Josh. So did Toby - although for an entirely different reason. But Leo had been there, and Leo approved, and the governor said he approved, too, and everyone understood why they'd had to do what they'd done.
The circles under Josh's eyes were fading. For Sam, even the campaign was secondary to that.
Finding a cab at the train depot isn't anything at all. But when he gives the address, the driver balks. "That's a forty-five minute drive."
Sam takes his cash out of his wallet and fans it. Unnecessarily, dangerously, Donna would say, and Charlie would say, and Josh would've said, but he has to convince the hack to take him.
Like a cartoon character with dollar-signs in his eyes, the cabbie nods and puts the car in drive. Relief sweeps over Sam. He's too tired to fight anyone anymore.
The driver's eyes narrow angrily when he reaches the mammoth gates and Sam says, "Here. This is the place."
The driver crosses himself; it's a scared, superstitious, reflexive gesture rather than a religious one. "You didn't say it was no cemetery," he spits out.
"Would that've made a difference?"
The little dollar-signs come back as the cabbie recalls Sam's fan of cash, but he remains sullen. "Maybe."
Sam thinks of the long path to Section 4, but he'll never convince this man to drive him back there. "Drop me off here, in front of the gate, and come back in an hour and a half. Is that acceptable?" He should've negotiated this before they left the station, but it had seemed too great an effort.
The driver considers. Knesseth Israel's gates are over ten feet tall and obviously give him the willies. But Sam's fan of cash was very large. The driver sucks in air through his teeth. "My meter's gonna be runnin'."
Sam sighs, but he nods. "I had a feeling it might be."
"Hour and a half." The driver looks at his watch. "That's 3:15. Be right at this gate or I'm leavin' you here; I don't care how much cash you got."
"I'll be here." Sam climbs out of the cab. His door is barely closed before the tires squeal on the asphalt in the driver's hurry to speed away.
The walk from the gate to Section 4 would be pleasant for a healthy person. It used to be pleasant for Sam. He squares his shoulders, grateful beyond measure for the sun beating down on him, and starts walking.
The walk takes fifteen minutes. For him, for his condition, that's almost a miracle. He used to cover the distance in less than five, but for him, for his condition, it's almost a miracle.
Late May in New England, temperature in the mid-70s, and Sam is bundled as he would be for late October. He wishes he weren't so sensitive to hot and cold, but Dr. Beyer tells him it's common, and that the drugs that help it have too many side effects to be worthwhile.
He brings the rocks out now, from the depths of his jacket pocket. The first one for Yocheved Yehudit, the sister he never knew but likes to believe would've liked him, accepted him as her brother-in-law. "I took the best care of him I could," he tells her. He always tells her. He's not sure if it's enough, but it's the only thing that seems appropriate to say to a twelve-year-old girl. Josh thought of Joanie not as the child she was but as the woman she might've become, but to Sam that seems cruel, to dream of a future she could never have. So he treats her as he might a favorite niece, honoring always that hers was the prior claim on Josh's love.
Sam moves on to Noach Yaakov, the gruff, kind, brilliant man he still admires so much more than he can his own father. Josh never knew that Sam and Noah stayed in touch all the years Sam was in New York, all the years he was with Lisa. "Schmuel," he would say, "that woman is no good for you. Josh, he is good for you." The morning after he and Josh decided to make another attempt at their relationship, Sam called Noah and said, "I'm calling from Josh's hotel room." Noah chuckled and said, "Of course you are, my boy. Of course you are. He's good for you." Josh never knew of the call, and Noah acted suitably surprised when Josh told him and Adele two weeks later that he and Sam were back together. Two months later, Noah was dead, and Sam has always felt that this was the greatest last gift he and Josh could have given the old man.
"You were right, Noah," Sam says, and right on cue the tears prick at his eyes. "He was very good for me." He gives a watery smile. "I think I was good for him, too. And, oh, I still miss him so much. But I think you must understand that." He looks at Joanie's headstone. Beloved daughter. "I think you must."
And now, now though it kills him, he must turn to the last stone in the family plot, must place the last white rock and trace his fingers over the engraving. Yehoshua Yosef. Beloved son, brother, husband; striver for justice. Sam's fingers return to 'husband,' and he laughs softly. Even after twelve years he gets a chuckle thinking of that fight.
The rain beat hard against the sidewalks of New York, but around Sam and Josh there seemed to be a circle of sunlight. Or maybe it was just a trick of Sam's eyes. Because certainly he felt the droplets striking against his head and hands, and in about ten seconds he was going to be as soaked as Josh.
They stood there, grinning at each other, feeling exhilarated, feeling stupid.
"You just--" Josh twisted, looked back at the imposing face of the Gage Whitney building. "I mean--" He turned back to Sam. "Your whole life!"
"I know!" Sam laughed and tilted his head back. The water slid down his face, down his collar. "If Bartlet's not worth it, Josh, I'm kicking your ass."
"He is, Sam." Suddenly earnest, Josh reached out and put his hands on Sam's shoulders. "He's worth it." They grinned at each other some more. Sam's hands rose, gripped Josh's for a minute, let go. Josh dropped his arms.
"We'll go back to the apartment, and I'll get some things together." Sam started walking toward the subway. "Think your assistant or whoever can get an extra train ticket for me?"
Josh blushed. "Already done."
Sam just laughed again, harder this time. "God, I hope Lisa's not home."
Josh's smile faltered a quarter of an inch. "Maybe she'd want to come with us? Toby's always looking for writers."
"Ziegler. Media relations." Josh stopped walking. "I should warn you that he's always looking for writers because he's scared off about a dozen already."
Sam laughed and grabbed the lapel of Josh's coat. "I just walked out on Jack Gage. I can handle your media guy." Then Sam stopped walking, and Josh plowed into him. "Did you just ask if Lisa would want to come with us?"
Josh blinked the water out of his eyes. "Yeah." He stared at Sam. "We might not get along, but she is a good writer, and--"
"Josh." Sam shook his head. "This is what Lisa has feared most from me from day one. If I do this, it's over for us." He stared into Josh's eyes. "If I do this, it's you and me."
Nothing in the world seemed more natural than having Josh's rain-slicked hands suddenly grabbing his arms, pulling him in, Josh's rain-slicked lips pressed against his own. Sam surrendered himself to the way it should've been all along. When Josh released him, the not-a-poker-face grin was back, even broader than before. "You and me." He nodded. "That's as it should be."
At least Adele had been on his side for the fight about the headstone. Noah had an older sister, and to her, tradition was everything. She was appalled when she learned that the plot beside Josh's has been purchased for Sam. "You cannot put that--" She swallowed her epithet in the nick of time, but everyone knew what she meant - "that man next to Joshua! In the same plot as my brother!"
"Why not?" Adele asked, with a calm of which Sam was glad not to be on the receiving end.
Sarah was tight-lipped. "It simply isn't right."
Sam decided that the since the most of the older generation of the family already hated him, he might as well get on with it. "As Josh's husband, I have the right to be buried next to him."
Sarah drew up haughtily, as offended as if he'd slapped her. "Husband! Young man--"
"Our government doesn't recognize it," he said quietly, "but Josh and I were married - by a rabbi. In a month, we're going to unveil a stone that says 'beloved husband,' and the husband of whom he was beloved damned well intends to be buried next to him."
Sarah took to her bed for a week. She rallied relatives to lobby Adele against Sam's actions, but now that the lawsuit was a memory and nothing could be done for Josh, Adele was pouring her thwarted mothering into the man she had come to look on as the only child she had left. "I left the epitaph to Sam," was her serene response to all comers, "and I trust him implicitly."
In the end, he felt he did not disappoint. The quote at the stone's base made it astronomically expensive, but this was the final marker of a great man given to grandiose statements, with a flair for the dramatic. How could his tombstone fail to reflect that?
The unveiling was not as heavily attended as the funeral. Individual cultural differences aside, funerals are universal, and universally understood. Many people simply could not grasp the concept of the unveiling (though it seemed straightforward enough to Sam) and chose to stay away rather than risk doing or saying something inappropriate.
Sarah boycotted; Aunt Naomi and Uncle Joe looked disapproving; and Cousin Randall gasped. But Leo and Toby laughed out loud when the covering was removed; CJ smiled and looked a little misty-eyed; and Donna pressed her face against Sam's shoulder and murmured, "Oh, Josh." Sam knew he'd chosen well
Carefully, and with no small worries about getting up again, Sam lowers himself to the ground. He cherishes these times, his 'chats' with Josh. He joked to CJ, once he could joke about it, "Finally, he can't talk back."
"Hi, Josh. Been a while, huh?" This is always the first thing he says, no matter how long it's been. "I miss you. Sometimes I still miss you so much it's hard to breathe." He always says this, too, though he feels guilty about it. Sam's pretty sure he doesn't believe in an afterlife, but on the off chance there is one, he shouldn't burden Josh's like this. "But I do okay. And lately, just getting through the days gives me something besides you to focus on." He grins wryly. "So Toby finally gets his wish, I guess."
"They didn't stand."
Josh sighed, ran his hands through his hair. "Sam--"
"The President of the United States was speaking, Josh, and they didn't stand."
"Toby did what--"
"Toby did what he decided was best. Without telling me. Without giving me the common courtesy of--"
"He knew if you found out, you'd talk him out of it!" Josh dropped onto the couch, his legs informing him that they were too tired to hold him up a moment longer. "Do you still not understand how much respect he has for you? How much you influence what comes out of the Communications department?"
"Influence?" Sam snorted. He moved around the living room, straightening piles of newspaper clippings and policy folders with compulsive, agitated motions. "So much influence that he put a drop-in into a speech he'd claimed to have given me total control over."
"He knew you wouldn't do it." Josh tried to catch Sam's hand when he came past the couch, but he was moving too fast, too erratically. "He knows your principles - you couldn't have done it. And that's what we love about you, but it's also what...it's what Toby's there for. To be the asshole."
"Yeah." Sam paused by the window, staring at Josh. "He's got that down." He turned to the window. "I don't know if I can work with him anymore, Josh," he said quietly. "I don't know if I can trust him. Not if he doesn't trust me."
Josh jumped off the couch and crossed to him. "Don't say things like that, Sam. Don't say things you don't mean like that."
"I do mean it, Josh." He continued staring out the window. "Maybe it's time for me to be doing something else."
"No way." Josh gripped Sam's shoulder, hard, until Sam turned to face him. "You got smacked on one speech. Yeah, Toby was a shit, but the thing needed to be said. It was one speech, and you can't leave. We need you there too much. I need you there too much. You have too much to do."
"What do I have to do?" he asked, cursing himself for being warmed by Josh's pretty words.
Josh took his hands. "You have to save us from ourselves."
"You're getting your wish, Toby." Sam dropped the last pen into the last box and ran the packing tape over the lid.
Scowling, hands plunged deep in trouser pockets, Toby grunted. "I never wished you gone, Sam. I - I wished you'd stop writing like a lawyer; I wished you'd stop writing like Dickens; I wished you'd stop being so damned young and idealistic. But I never wished you gone." His dark eyes skittered to the photo of Sam and Josh that Sam wouldn't put in any box. "And sure as hell not like this."
A lot of people expected Sam to resign the day after the funeral. But he came back after less than a month, the bare minimum required to see to Josh's estate and make sure Adele was safely returned to Connecticut. He came back and threw himself into his work with all of his former energy but none of the old fire, the passion, the relentlessly hopeful idealism that made him maddening and indispensable all at once. He did his job efficiently, excellently, and soullessly.
Bad enough when Josh's post remained vacant, his empty office a gaping wound that wouldn't heal properly. But Leo finally admitted that he couldn't go on without a deputy. Spence was courted, and won, and vetted, and hired, and he moved into Josh's office, and it wasn't Josh's office anymore. Which would have been fine - well, not fine, but understandable, acceptable - had Spence not been overheard saying, "I feel for their loss, but the whole Wing is like a shrine to a dead man." Spence was quietly shuffled out the back door and replaced by Emery, who was more insidious about insinuating himself into the senior staff. He even impressed Sam - marginally. Still, one night Donna when was playing Pictionary with her new husband and his friends, she picked up the tiny hourglass and said, "This is how we're measuring the time Sam has time left with the administration."
Donna bounced all over the White House. They annexed her to Leo's staff, where she was less than useless, since Margaret ran that ship tighter than a hermetically sealed pickle jar. They stuck her in Communications, but the proximity to Sam brought them both to tears more than was healthy, or productive. She was working for the First Lady when Spence hired on; he demanded she be returned as his assistant, but she had his number before anyone else and refused. Emery she liked even less but respected too much to deny when he approached her with an offer that included a substantial pay hike. The night before her first day back in the West Wing, Donna put away the hourglass. Sam tendered his resignation the next week.
"I'm having lunch with Toby next week," Sam tells Josh. He pulls a blade of grass out of the earth and spins it slowly between his fingers. "That's, what, four times in six months? We're almost friends again." He shakes his head. "Any messages for him?" Josh has none. "Well, I'll at least tell him you said hi."
After six months without any messages from Sam, Toby grudgingly - and because CJ threatened him with bodily harm if he didn't - called and invited him to lunch. Sam accepted only because he couldn't think of anything pressing to say he had to do instead.
Toby took one look at Sam, unshaven for several days, slouched in jeans and a much-abused Princeton t-shirt, and demanded, "What the hell are you doing?"
Unfazed, Sam shrugged, drank more water, fiddled with his butter knife. "Living off our savings. Recovering. Hiding. You choose."
"Well, cut it out."
Sam realized Toby wasn't kidding too late to stop his laughter.
"There are people," Toby began, and Sam tried not to look like he was already dismissing whatever Toby had to say. "I know people who would sell their left leg to have you working for them."
Nodding, Sam had to agree. "Jack Gage says if I've recovered my senses, I can have my old job back."
"There you go." Toby speared a potato as though they'd settled something.
"But if that life was wrong for me five years ago," Sam mused between mouthfuls of curried shrimp, "think of what it would be like now."
Toby put down his fork, exasperated. "Sam, I could give a damn who you work for. Go campaign for Seth Gillette for all I care. Just do something. Anything that gets you out of your house."
"I am out of my house."
"You can't make a living off having lunch with me."
"Toby." He was touched, really, that Toby cared enough to get on his ass, but Toby couldn't understand what Sam's life was now. "I'm happy the way things are. Or, no, not happy, because I'm not sure if I'll ever be happy again. But I'm...content. Okay, even. I have plenty of money, for now. And I'm - I'm rebuilding a life for myself. Which is harder than it sounds."
"You can't tell me you're content doing nothing." Toby threw up his hands. "You - you can't look at the world and say, 'There's nothing I want to do to fix that.'"
Sam sighed. He was so, so tired. "Yes, Toby, I can. Because the person I thought I was making the world better for isn't here to need it anymore."
They spent the rest of the meal discussing little things awkwardly - Donna's due date, CJ and Leo's wedding, the Final Four.
What followed was a decade of silence between them.
Sam yawns silently. "Sorry. I get tired pretty easily these days." But he doesn't dare fall asleep, because the driver will go back without him, and he doesn't have a cell phone to call another cab. He's stopped carrying a cell phone. At this point it shouldn't matter, but the last thing he needs, on top of everything else, is a brain tumor. Though maybe that would make this be over faster, and the way he's feeling, that's an appealing option.
Two years ago, he beat this thing. He became a hyperactive participant in his treatment, which Dr. Beyer said greatly improved his prognosis. He studied; he researched; he cut down on his consultations (which he'd started after eight years of unemployment because his savings weren't inexhaustible after all) to have more time to study and research. He knew the names of the experimental drugs and how the mice that took them were faring. When Dr. Beyer said 'hemoglobin,' said 'IGM,' said 'Phase 1,' Sam knew exactly what that meant. He took the Retuxan, he did the chemo. 'Remission' was the sweetest word in his vocabulary.
His tenacity in holding onto life surprised everyone, himself most of all. Here was God, or Fate, or an accident of nature, handing him an opportunity to check out, to escape the wounds that Time had not, it turned out, healed at all. It wasn't as if he had much to live for. He was a legal consultant for progressive nonprofits. He was an uncle to James and Alex - though from a distance, since Linda still wouldn't let him near her children - and an honorary uncle to Kyle and Thomas and Tal.
Josh would've loved the kids. Thomas and Tal were dead ringers for CJ and acted exactly like Leo - which made them two damned tall, damned solemn kids. Josh would've laughed at the two preschoolers who never smiled, but he would've respected their gravity. These were children of substance.
Kyle he would've spoiled rotten, taught him all the things his father was too busy being an abusive asshole to have time for. Josh would've taught him American history, and politics, and how to throw a curve ball. Not that Kyle needed help in that direction; he was already one of the best first-basemen Sam had ever seen; someday every scout in the country was going to have his number. Sam sometimes feared he was the only voice of reason in Donna's life, and he had dedicated himself to convincing her that Adam's increasingly paranoid, possessive behavior was not going to improve, and that, far from staying with him for her son's sake, the best thing she could do for Kyle was get him out. Kyle Joshua Brickley was the closest thing Sam had to a cause anymore.
Because nothing moved him as working for Jed Bartlet had. Since the end of the administration, the staff had gone on to do further great things - CJ to do Toby's old job when Joey Lucas was elected to O'Dwyer's old Congressional seat; Toby to restore the Anti-Defamation League to glory; Donna to run the lives of two more Democratic Presidents. Sam couldn't bring himself to care, couldn’t even bring himself to campaign for Charlie, when that time came. Whatever spark had drawn him to the White House had apparently been carried in Josh's body, and without one, he'd lost all fire for the other.
And he was still, after a decade, single. There had been set-ups - any number of set-ups by well-meaning friends. And there had been advances - at obligatory holiday parties, at tedious fundraisers, on trains. But Sam wore his bereavement like a badge - even, when none of his friends were present to be mortified, continued to refer to himself as 'the Widow Seaborn.'
And so there was not much that tied him to life. Yet he held to it fiercely, fought death with drugs, and herbs, and big pointy sticks when necessary.
But two years later, there was to be no beating it. Sam sat again in Dr. Beyer's office and learned words like 'recurrence,' 'unresponsive,' 'metastasized.' And the ugliest phrase he'd heard since 'no progress' a dozen years before: 'nine months, maximum.'
The next day he called Donna and accepted the offer she'd been making since the day her divorce was finalized: "Yes, I'll come live with you and Kyle for a while."
At lunch with CJ, Sam pushed wilted lettuce around his plate with his fork and called the diagnosis a blessing.
"Bullshit," she said simply.
"No. I have this time-frame, now. I know how much time I have to get things done. Put things in order." He looked out the window. "Josh didn't have that chance."
CJ got it then, and nodded. Leo hadn't had that chance, either. An aneurysm three years ago. No warning at all.
"I need to talk to Toby."
She scowled over the top of her wine glass. "I'm not sure you want to do that."
"Oh, I'm sure I don't want to do that," he said, smiling ruefully. "But I need to."
And CJ, who understood perfectly that sometimes dealing with Toby was all about needing to do things you didn't want to - who had ended up marrying him last spring for that exact reason - pushed a business card across the table and said, "I don't know why, but he's less likely to hang up on you if you call the cell."
Sam called, and Toby didn't hang up, and though they would never get their relationship back to what it was, at least there would be no more years of silence. Which was good, because Sam didn't have any more years of anything left.
So there was this recurrence, and this timeline, and Sam decided there had to be some purpose to it. He wanted to know what that purpose was, and he'd always thought better in writing. So one day he sat down at his laptop and just started typing. By the end of the day he was writing a biography of Josh. Not the first, not the longest, not the slickest, but the most definitive, the most moving, the best, and probably the last for years, because once the man who knew Josh best was done writing out his life, what more could anyone else add?
"Someday," Josh said breathlessly, "when you write your memoir of our years in the White House, please - oh, God, do that again - please leave this part out."
Sam grinned wickedly and did a slow grind against Josh's hips. "Sex sells, Josh."
"Oh, fuck, Sam." Josh slid his hands under Sam's shirt, looking pleased when Sam hissed. "I don't need the world to know how much sex we had in the West Wing."
"I wouldn't give a blow-by-blow account. Oh! Right there."
"Please don't say 'blow' right now, Sam."
Sam's wicked grin widened. "I'm sure we can work something out." He started to slide off of Josh's lap.
"I'm not sure that's - Sam, the chair's none too--"
The wood creaked underneath Josh. Sam couldn't hear anything but his heartbeat thundering in his ears. He moved back slowly, his pant legs against Josh's creating an unbearable friction that he wanted to go on forever.
Sam registered the panic in Josh's eyes a blink of time before he heard the wood splinter beneath them. "Shit!"
They collapsed to the ground, pieces of Josh's chair shooting across the room. Sam lay sprawled across Josh, waiting for the room to stop spinning.
"Josh!" He scrambled to sit up. "Are you okay?" He needed a minute to work out that that wheezing sound Josh was making was laughter. "We broke your chair," he said, feeling a chuckle coming on, himself.
"Our wild gay monkey loving has destroyed the White House, Sam." Josh laughed harder and held out his hand. Sam grabbed it and helped pull Josh up. He beamed at Sam. "Good for us."
"They want my book for the Bartlet Presidential Library," Sam adds, shredding the blade of grass with his fingers. They look like a much younger man's fingers, and this surprises him until he remembers that, no, he's not as old as he feels. "I'll probably tell them yes. I mean, it's the President's library, right? How could I not want my book there? Of course I want my book there. It just feels strange. They don't have the other bios of you. Maybe I'm different because I was on his staff, too. Or maybe it'll be worth more, be more befitting the dignity of a Presidential library, once I'm dead."
There. He's said it out loud. For the first time, he's told Josh that he's dying. It shouldn't matter at all; Josh is twelve years dead and can't hear him, but saying these things here has never seemed right.
On impulse, Sam slides over so he's sitting on the patch of ground where his coffin will be lowered. Slowly, he stretches out, head beside Josh's headstone, hands folded on his chest as Josh's were. "Just a little while longer and I'll find out what all the fuss is about." He turns his face to Josh's grave. "You'll be waiting for me, won't you? If there's anyplace to go, you'll come take me there?"
It's a beautiful service. Everyone comes. CJ speaks, and Toby, and Kyle, standing in for his mother because she breaks down five minutes before the funeral and sobs, "It's too much like all the others. I can't do this."
Afterwards, Donna, more composed now, approaches Paul, standing at the grave looking perplexed. "Did you need something?" she asks.
He waves at the plot. "There's no headstone."
"Not yet. We'll come back in a year for the unveiling."
"But--" Paul squints as though this will help things make sense. "Sam wasn't Jewish. Was he?" He is alarmed to think that he was so removed from his own brother that Sam might've converted and he wouldn't have known it.
"No, but Josh was, and Josh's family is, and this is a Jewish cemetery, and Sam was clear that he wanted to respect this custom." She looks towards the path. "Your mother is going in the hearse with Mrs. Lyman, if you'd like to ride with them."
"I, uh, no. My sons are here, and I--" Indeed they are, both of them, grown and out of their parents' house, Alex with a wife of his own, a slip of a woman with gigantic blue eyes who never met Sam but sniffled though the whole funeral. Paul startles as though waking up. "You're Donna, right? Josh's old assistant?"
She nods. "That's right."
"Sam...Sam lived with you for a while?"
"Almost a year." She points at Kyle. "My son and I. Sam was a godsend after the divorce."
Paul nods slowly. "I'm recently divorced, myself." He looks at the three grave markers and the grave unmarked. "Poor Adele," he murmurs. "No one should have to bury their entire family."
"We'll be here for her next," Donna says, and there's no way he can miss the agony in her voice. "Soon."
"It occurs to me," Paul says, "that you and your son probably knew my brother better than I did."
"Probably," she agrees, but there's no judgment, no recrimination in the word. "If you want to ride to the house with us, we can tell you all about him."
He smiles and holds out his arm gallantly. She takes it. "I'd like that," he says.
Before they walk out of Section 4, Donna turns to look at the final home of her two dearest friends. It's fitting; their home has always been wherever the other one was. She raises her free hand. "Good night, my darlings," she says.
The only sound that broke the silence was the scratching of Sam's pen across the legal pad. This was the only place, anymore, where he could be assured of being able to work uninterrupted. That worried him. He should've been developing an ability to work anywhere, under any circumstances, but lately, even his own apartment seemed like a hostile environment.
Sam heard footsteps and tensed. An interloper in his sanctuary? His fingers tightened around his pen as a man, maybe about five years older than he was, came around the corner and stopped abruptly. "Oh. Uh. I didn't expect anyone else to be here."
Sam put down his pen. "No one usually is. Besides me."
"You're the first person I've ever seen down here." The guy pushed a hand through tangled brown curls. "A law library is one of the most deserted places in the Beltway. That's disturbing."
Sam nodded. "I've thought of that a few times."
The guy smiled and hitched his backpack higher on his shoulder. "Well, uh, I should go, then. Let you get back to work. I'll find...some other place." He didn't look confident with his odds.
Sam debated for half a second. "You're here to work, right?"
He nodded. "I have a position paper to write by tomorrow morning."
"And you're not going to blast 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' while you write it, right?"
He shuddered. "Please. I do work for the House minority whip. I have my pride."
Sam grinned. He liked this guy. "Then stay."
He frowned. "What - here? Are you sure?"
"I don't mind sharing my secret hiding place with someone who's actually going to let me get some work done."
A blinding smile pulled up the man's mouth. Sam clutched at the edge of the table. "Thanks, man," the guy said, pulling out the chair across the wide table from Sam. "That's great. You won't even know I'm here."
Sam watched his new companion bend down to pull out notebooks, textbooks, and pens, admiring the long line of his back. 'No hope of that,' he thought.
His table-mate straightened up, dropped a last law text on top of the pile with a thud of protest, and grinned again. "Thanks again."
Those eyes and that smile spelled Sam's destruction. He was sure of it. "No problem," he replied faintly. Then he shook himself. "I'm Sam, by the way. Sam Seaborn." He held out his hand.
The other guy shook. "Nice to meet you. Josh Lyman. You down here a lot?" Even as he asked, Josh was opening one of his notebooks and two of his textbooks and starting to scribble notes.
Sam stared at him for another long moment. 'After this?' he thought with a snort. 'Every night for the rest of my life, if necessary.'
Josh looked up again, a hopeful expression on his face. "You don't have any food, do you?"
Sam grinned at him. "Not on me, but I know a place with great sandwiches."
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