Title: Distillation
Author: Mirabehn
Rating/warnings: PG-13. Extreme angst, uncertain fate of a major character, possible drug-abuse.
Characters: Josh and Sam.
Disclaimer: *So* not mine. :)
Archive: Yay, go ahead! If it's for a non-Big Block of Cheese site then do let me know you're doing it (mirabehn @ livejournal.com).
Website: http://www.fluffhouse.org.uk/mirabehn/library.html.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Ixwin and EvilNick for helpful comments, and Yvesilena for general encouragement.
Notes: I was listening obsessively to Ani DiFranco's "Two Little Girls". Finally realised I had to write this story.
Feedback: Would be much appreciated (e-mail me at mirabehn @ livejournal.com).

Distillation by Mirabehn

So while we wait I'm going to tell you a story.

I started to compose it on my way over here. I'm… well, I'm not a good writer. And it's your story, not mine. But I hope you won't mind me being the one to tell it.

Many things have changed since you left Washington. Distracted months in California and Madrid and London have brought a harder edge to you. You have a scar on your left temple that wasn't there before, and your hair is greying and longer than really suits you. The men were a change too, and I'd be lying if I said we weren't surprised. Mind you, I suppose the women were a surprise too, and neither were as surprising as how open you were about them all in your e-mails. Even to Leo. That was strange, though kind of brave too, I suppose.

And it was all less of a surprise, less of a shock than the hard and simple fact that you never returned to us at all after you lost Orange County, that you refused promotion and more influence, a bigger share in the fights we had ahead, to go off and do your own thing. I never saw that one coming, and I find it hard not to blame myself for being so blind.

The years have wiped the sheen from you. You seem a little more human now. A little more like one of the rest of us. Just an ordinary, rather pretty middle-aged man among hundreds like you in this vast city. Not the shining light that you were when we first met and you were so brilliant and so beautiful that if I were ten times straighter than I am, I would still have lost a little of my heart to you that day.

Yeah. Okay. Let's pretend I didn't say that.

So there were the men, and your work for that human rights law firm in Los Angeles, and then the travels around Europe and your short- lived career as an environmental activist. For which, three years ago, I would have mocked you, but you know I'd have admired you for it too. This time the laughter stuck in my throat and I can't respect it because although if anything you became even more of an idealist after President Bartlet got elected, I also know now that you've long ceased to believe that there is anything you can do about it. It's despair that drives you now, not passion, and that's probably not fair on the people you protested with.

Since you moved to England there have been fewer and fewer e-mails, and the ones I've had have been rather off-color. No job of any kind, that I could discern, living off your savings. This time you're with a woman again, and I know that she isn't good to you. I knew that before we came out for the President's trip to the UK, knew it before I phoned to check your address and could hear that she doesn't think that much of this American lawyer she's shacked up with. But perhaps I shouldn't blame her. You won't let anyone wreck you. Even after everything you're still too strong for that. But that frantic drive you have won't let you slide out of control of your life either. You plunge towards self-destruction as energetically as you once plunged towards success, only this time you're all too capable of using someone else to help you do it.

She left you just after my first evening here, didn't she? I wonder why. Perhaps she noticed the way I noticed the tension in your eye, the cuts on your arms, the blueish mark high up on your left cheekbone, almost covered by hair that could really use a wash. The way you held yourself around her like you'd never won an argument in your life. But if that was the reason then she got it wrong. I wasn't about to save you – did you know that? I wasn't going to give her a hard time. I wasn't about to take you aside and give out wisdom or pretend that I understood. I wasn't about to ask if you were letting this woman who's clearly lacking several kilos on you slap you around (not that the weight would matter, I know - I read all those position papers on male victims of domestic violence too even though I told Donna I hadn't so she'd continue to nag me about it). And I definitely wasn't going to ask if the bruises on your arms were from something you were taking intravenously. In any case I couldn't make out if you were drugged up or just high on desperation and adrenaline. You were pale and chattering and your flustered moments that I once found lovable were somehow charmless when they took over the whole conversation and just made you incoherent. Anyway, I didn't care. I wasn't about to gallop off with you on my shining white charger. I was mad at you. Mad enough that I was able to pretend for a while that I didn't care, that if that's what you wanted to do with yourself then why the hell should I get involved?

Sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to squeeze that hard.

I like London, you know. I like the anonymity. I've had a lot of free time on this trip so I've been walking about as I choose. I like the Thames. I like the Underground, I like the monuments and the tourists and the grand messiness of it. But I can see how it can get inside your head and charge in and never leave. There's something about the place that could easily drag me down. Something about the blank commuter crowds, about the tangle of old and new, of a city that still doesn't know quite what it is. Something, not about the elevators at the tube stops where the conversations are all French and Arabic and Urdu and Ndebele, but about the English men and women around them, resenting it with that loud kind of silence at which they seem to excel. At our most patriotic we Americans can be megalomaniacs – well, you know, so megalomaniac that we call ourselves "Americans" even though that makes our country sound like it's the whole of two pretty big continents. And I know that's kind of a problem and it makes us unpopular and sometimes I wonder if maybe we shouldn't tone it down a little. But at least we wear our arrogance with grandeur; we're never churlish about it. I've been here for three days and already I can't stand the English patriot.

Okay, I'm getting off the point. One of my little rants. Um, could you just tip your head forward for a moment? I need to shift my shoulders about for a second. Yeah, that's better. You can lean back again now. Thanks.

I wasn't needed at all this morning so I went and lost myself in Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square. I thought I'd go to the National Gallery and then I stopped to buy a bag of bird seed. I walked along sprinkling it behind me and cooed at the pigeons. Then one landed on my arm and that freaked me out, so I pretended to be Tom Lehrer and that they were eating cyanide-covered peanuts which kind of helped. I'd just drawn level with Pall Mall and my bag was empty and I was looking for a trash can of some kind, and then I got the call through from Donna. I had this moment of disorientation, forgetting you should be anywhere but among the presidential entourage or speech-writing at the hotel. As if I'd momentarily mislaid Will's existence. "What do you mean, Sam needs to go to ER?" I asked. "What's he been up to now?", like it was the time you went swimming and slipped on the edge and fell on a hand-rail and got concussed and Toby was so annoyed at you being off work that he shouted at Bonnie and Ginger for two days solid.

So yeah, it took me a little longer than it should have done to get my ass over here. I'm really sorry about that, Sam. I'm sorry about the door too, but I think that if you have a chance then you will forgive me for breaking it down, and if you don't have a chance and that woman doesn't come back, then I suppose it won't matter anyway. When the ambulance arrives I'm going to clear up this mess on the bathroom floor, as I don't suppose they'll let me go with you. It's really quite chaotic in here, Sam, and that's another thing you never used to be. The ambulance should be arriving any time now. In fact I almost hear it, though I don't know, my powers of observation where sirens are concerned aren't what they once were.

Please don't give up on me, Sam. You did exactly the right thing in calling Donna, and that's so good. I'm proud of you. But I need you to do more now and hang on with me here, I need you to stay knowing that you're here, resting against me while I crouch with my back against your bathroom wall and my hands gripping the mess you've made of your wrists and the blood soaking through the improvised bandages and running on to my shirt and staining my pants. I'm going to stop talking now because I'm tired, but you know I'm still here, I'm here listening to you breathing. I'm going to get you through this.

Don't cry, Sam. I can hear the sirens.

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