TITLE: Waiting For the Big Boom
AUTHOR: Sabine
RATING: PG-13, language and innuendo
ARCHIVE: Anywhere, drop a line at sabine101@juno.com
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Liz stuck around to beta. YV stuck around to
read. And this is for Punk, august and Dawn, because everybody's
writin' West Wing now.

"Forty-seven back beats living in a big tree..."

Sam and Annika fit like a yin and a yang in the chilly Amtrak
vestibule, his back against one wall, her back against the other,
her arm draped over his shins and her sneakers squeaking on the
pitted metal by his head.

Between them, a boom box played "Wild, Wild West" and Annika sang
along, making up the words she didn't know.

"Forty-seven heartbeats beating like a drum, gotta live it up,
live it up, something's got a new one..."

"New gun," Sam said. "You know what's cool?"

"What's cool?"

"They mean the western hemisphere. The wild, wild, western

"It's just a dance song, Sam," Annika said, rooting around in her
backpack for something.

"No, it's not," Sam said. "It's very significant. 'Heading for
the nineties.' Living in the wild, wild western world. It's about
-- this is, the end of the eighties, it's, like, a pivotal time.
It's about America, and the new economics, and nuclear war, and
the end of the world. It's about being indulgent. It's about eat
drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. It's really very sad."

Annika emerged from her backpack with a tape, and she shut the
radio off. Some woman started singing, a cover of Dylan's "Hard
Rain's a-Gonna Fall," and Sam closed his eyes again.

It was 1989. Sam was 20. There was a republican in office. And
that year, back before cynicism was cool, Josh and Sam met in


The train from New Jersey pulled into Union Station at just past
noon, and Annika woke Sam up with a kiss on the forehead.

"We're here," she said. "Put your shoes back on."

She stood up, holding a fat wooden clip between her teeth and
corralling her mess of blonde dreadlocks into a ponytail. Sam
tied his shoes and watched her a little. She'd found out about
this rally, she'd told him about it, she'd bought the train
tickets over the phone using his credit card. She'd gotten in
touch with a guy named Boxer and she'd told him they'd meet him
at the Mall and they'd have a big blue sign. She wasn't wearing a

Sam picked up his backpack and stood beside the door, waiting for
it to open.

Outside, it was warm for October, warmer than in Princeton.
Annika had promised him it would be, but he'd taken a second
sweater anyway, making his backpack fat and lumpy and causing his
notebook to push through the nylon into his spine. Annika had
clipped the boom box to the bottom of her own backpack with two
carabiners, and it slapped against her ass when she walked. She
walked ahead of him anyway, turning a couple pirouettes and
waiting for him to catch up. He felt himself walking in a slow
caricature, just to piss her off.

"Don't be like that," she said at a stoplight. "I'm in a good

Sam shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'm not being like
anything," he said.

She looked at him sideways. "Good," she said. "If you want to
fight, we can fight later. Let's just do this thing."

Sam didn't want to fight. They'd been fighting for almost a
month, during which time they'd broken up twice but Annika hadn't
moved out. He was tired of fighting, particularly since, like
this time, he usually seemed to come into these conversations
halfway through. He'd spend all his time trying to catch up to
where Annika was, at which point she'd already forgiven him for
whatever it was he had or hadn't done, and then she'd cry and
he'd turn the computer back on and work on his thesis. When she
would crawl into bed an hour or so later he'd save his work,
climb in beside her, make love, and then lie there until she fell
asleep. Then he'd get back up, go to the computer and work on his
thesis again.

Annika was still looking at him. The light changed. Sam crossed
the street.

"Don't do that," Annika said, catching up, walking a little
bowlegged with the boom box flapping behind her. "I'm doing this
for you. You never even said thank you."

"Thank you," Sam said. She fell in beside him.

"I know how important stuff like this is to you," she said. "I
just want to be part of your life, Sam."

He knew. He didn't particularly care, but he knew. Annika
couldn't care less about politics, but she'd brought him here
because she knew this House vote was important to him, and he
fought his impulse to be embarrassed by her. Instead he held out
a hand to stop her, and turned her around so he could kiss her.
"I know," he said. She seemed appeased.

There were a good two hundred people on the Mall. Annika unrolled
the big blue posterboard sign and held it up above her head,
shaking it like thunder paper. White letters that Annika had
carefully stenciled and cut out and glued on guidelines read "NO
NUKES IN MY DEMOCRACY." She'd come up with the slogan, and Sam
didn't bother telling her it didn't really make sense. She'd left
little squiggles of glue all over his apartment floor.

"We're never gonna find this guy," Sam said. "There's got to be a
couple hundred people here."

"We'll find him," she said. "I have good karma."

Sam didn't know what karma had to do with anything. "Okay," he

Four guys with bongo drums took their cue from Annika's sign,
chanting "NO NUKES IN MY DEMOCRACY!" and playing an off-tempo
beatnik rhythm. The proximal crowd joined in, everyone keeping
his own time, and a couple of girls in skirts started spinning in
circles. Sam rubbed his eyes.

"I want to see how close I can get," he said, wiggling out of his
backpack and dropping it on the ground at Annika's feet. "Stay
here and try to find whatshisname and I'll be right back, how's

She gave him a weird look. "I'll come with you," she said,
lowering the sign. The drum circle seemed confused.

"No, I'll be right back," Sam said. "I just want to see who's up
there, if there's cops, what's going on."

"Are you coming back?" Annika looked like a four-year-old, and
Sam exhaled through his nose.

"I'll be right back," Sam said for the third time. But he dug his
other sweater out of his backpack anyhow and tied it around his
waist. Annika watched him, and he pretended not to notice. He
cleaned his glasses on the hem of his shirt and put them back on.

"Love you," Annika called after Sam as he pushed his way through
the crowd.

"Me too," he called back.

Sam crawled along the perimeter of the crowd and emerged at the
top of Capitol Hill, where there were cops. Of course there were
cops. The House was meeting, voting on a proposal to fund
research into the consequences of nuclear testing in space. Sam,
six months deep in a thesis on defense budget reallocation,
wished he'd brought his notebook.

He sat down on the bumper of a yellow construction truck and dug
around in his pockets, looking for something to write on.

"Can't sit there," a cop said, leaving the crowd to come loom
over Sam. Sam stood up.


"If you're with the protesters, you'll have to stay behind the
rope line," the cop said.

"I'm a student," Sam said.

"You'll have to stay behind the rope line," the cop said again.

Sam looked behind the rope line. Some more girls in skirts were
spinning, but the majority of protesters were crowded along the
police tape, shaking their signs and hollering anthems and
obscenities. Six or seven different radios were playing, at least
one of them playing "Wild Wild West."

The door to the House wing opened, and two men and a woman came
down the steps. They were in shirts and ties, the woman and one
of the men in wool jackets with laminated nametags clipped on.
Sam didn't recognize any of their faces, but he watched them
anyway. "I'm doing research for my thesis," he said to the cop.

"Don't see a notebook," the cop said.

"My girlfriend's supposed to meet me here," Sam said, and it
sounded stupid even as he was saying it. The men and the woman
had almost reached the rope line, but they'd stopped and were
talking, looking at the protesters, laughing. Sam was embarrassed
and backed up a little further from the crowd.

That was where he was supposed to be, he knew, on that side of
the rope line, coming out of the Capitol building, going to get
coffee, going to get lunch. Working late nights with like-minded
people who knew that terrorizing DC police officers was not the
way to get things done.

"I'm going," Sam said to the cop. "Sorry to interfere with you
doing your job. I know you're just doing your job."

The cop looked at him strangely, and Sam backed away, around
behind the construction truck and down the hill again toward the
road. The men and the woman were ahead of him now, and he stayed
far enough away so they wouldn't hear his footsteps. He felt like
a starfucker in Hollywood, stalking a TV personality at
Starbucks. He thought about Annika, and kept walking.

A bottle rocket went off about ten yards from where he was
standing, and he jumped and stumbled and covered his ears. A tree
went up in flames.

Shouting. Gunshots, maybe. Another bottle rocket. Footsteps, a
thousand footsteps, coming toward him.


He should have run when the crowd came pouring down on him,
should have kicked off and kept going and blended in and gotten
lost and found Annika later and gone home. Anyone with an ounce
of survival instinct would have, and later he cursed himself for
it, ashamed.

But he wanted to know where the Capitol people were, the men and
the woman, and his only other thought was that he'd left his
backpack with Annika with half a year's research notes inside.
And he didn't move, not even when a hundred people had pushed
past him and off into the streets, throwing their signs in the
air, huge sheets of cardboard getting caught up in the inferno in
the trees.

And then someone was pulling his arms across his back, pushing
down on the top of his head, shoving him into a police van.


At the station, someone down the hall was pitching a fit. Sam
only caught about every fourth word as the police copied down his
driver's license number and took his prints and had him empty his
pockets and shake out his shoes, but whoever it was was even less
happy to be here than Sam was and was showing no signs of
shutting up about it.

From somewhere, a radio was playing "Wild Wild West." Five
college-age kids, also corralled from the rally and definitely
stoned, were sleeping it off in a holding cell, but Sam they sent
to go sit in an orange plastic chair with a handful of other
unhappy-looking protesters.

The shouting guy was still going, and the police brought him back
into the main waiting room where Sam was and told him to sit down
and clam up. Sam recognized him now as one of the guys who'd come
out of the House wing before the fireworks, the one without the
suitcoat, without the nametag. Sam opened his mouth to say
something but the cop shot him a dirty look and he closed his
mouth again.

With a groan, finally, the House guy sat down, propping his
elbows on his knees and holding his face in his hands.

The police left. Sam moved to across the aisle from where the guy
was sitting.

"Didn't you tell them you worked in the Capitol?" Sam asked.

The guy didn't look up. "No. I'm an idiot. I should have thought
of that."

Sam nodded. "Right."

"Look," the guy said. "Don't you people realize that setting
Capitol Hill on fire can't *possibly* be productive?"

"I agree," Sam said. "I had nothing to do with it."

The guy exhaled. "Whatever. I've just got to get out of here."

They sat in silence for a while.

"How's the vote going?" Sam asked, at last.

"How the hell should I know? I'm stuck here with you."

"Right," Sam said again. He cursed himself, silently. Right here
with an inside man during one of Congress's most terrifying and
ridiculous decisions, and Sam had nothing to say.

"Were you with the protest, then?" the guy asked.

"I'm writing a thesis on defense budget reallocation," Sam said.
"I was doing research."

The guy laughed. "Defense budget reallocation? I wrote my thesis
on why it's a good idea to save the whales."


The guy laughed again, wryly. "Of course not, you numbskull. Man,
I forgot what it was like to be a starry-eyed college kid who
really thinks he can change the world."

Sam swallowed. "You don't think you can change the world?"

"Not if I can't get out of THIS hellhole!" the guy hollered,
slapping his fists on his knees and staring up at the ceiling.

Sam held out a hand. "Sam Seaborn," he said. "Princeton, class of

"Good for you," the guy said. He didn't shake Sam's hand, and Sam
reached up and adjusted his glasses.

The guy turned to him and smiled weakly. He had deep dimples, and
his eyes were tired and his curly hair stood out in six
directions. "Sorry," he said. "I'm in a shitty mood."

Sam smiled back. "Understandable."

"Josh Lyman," the guy said. "Floor manager for the House Minority
Whip. On an extended lunchbreak. Oh, and, uh, Yale, '84."

"It's a real honor, sir," Sam said. Josh snorted.

"Don't call me sir, ever," he said. "Don't call me Mr. Lyman
either, in case you were moved to that fall-back position. My
dad's Mr. Lyman. I'm just a dumb kid like you are, and you should
call me Josh."

"In that case, you can call me idiot, or numbskull, whatever
suits your fancy," Sam shrugged.

"Sorry about that," Josh apologized again. "Man, is it cold in
here, or what?"

The air conditioners were going, probably more for the white
noise than to actually cool the place, but the environment was
crisp and dry and frigid. "It's cold in here," Sam said, untying
the other sweater from his waist. He weighed it in his hands a
moment and then handed it to Josh. "Here."

Josh looked at it a minute, then took the mess of blue cableknit
and pressed it to his face, which Sam thought was a little
bizarre. "You wear Drakaar? You'll outgrow that one real fast."

"I probably wore it once at a party," Sam said, embarrassed,
thinking of the bottle of Drakaar Noir on his bedside table at
home. "I forgot to have the thing dry cleaned."

"Well, thanks," Josh said, pulling the Drakaar-scented sweater
over his head. "Don't let me forget to give this back to you."

Josh was taller than Sam, but Sam was bulkier, and the sleeves
hung short and baggy around Josh's shoulders. He fisted his hands
together and blew into them. "That's much better," he said to
Sam. "Thanks, really."

There was a soda machine in the corner of the room, and Sam stood
up. "You want a coke, or something?"

"No," Josh said. "Sit down. Talk to me a minute."

Sam sat down again, this time next to Josh.

"Listen," Josh said. "This proposal's a ridiculous waste of
money, and it will never pass. Anyone who's seen a sci-fi movie
knows there's no way to contain a nuclear explosion in space, and
we're talking about people who won't give money to NASA to
explore space to begin with. It's just a big PR stunt to feel out
the population, see how geared up people will get to think we'll
start nuclear testing again. You live in a country that loves its
cold war, you know. Americans love the idea that we've got a
mortal enemy and we're preparing to slaughter them. It's like a
big game of Risk to most of middle America, and these are the
guys that buy the guns that support the politicians that oppose
the gun-control bills. So today is just the Republicans giving
these guys a little something back."

"The cold war's not gonna last," Sam said. "The demonstrations in
Leipzig, people emigrating from East Germany. Communism has to
fall, my guess is sometime in the next couple years. Your middle
Americans are gonna get pretty antsy, huh?"

Josh seemed impressed. "That's what I'm afraid of," he said.
"When we go out there looking for a new enemy."

"You blame President Bush?" Sam asked.

"I blame Michael Dukakis," Josh said. "For being such a stuffed
shirt he couldn't beat that conservative bastard. What we need
are strong Democrats, people the country can get excited about
the way we got excited about Roosevelt, or Truman, or even
Kennedy. Right now the Democratic party sucks. That's what pisses
me off."

"There are a handful of good ones," Sam said. "Nita Lowey, Daniel
Patrick Moynihan, Mario Cuomo, and that's New York alone."

"I heard him speak once, Moynihan, when I was in graduate
school," Josh was looking up at the ceiling, remembering. "What a
smart guy." He looked back at Sam. "That's two senators -- one of
them a freshman -- and a governor who will never, ever run for
president. I don't see a lot of leadership there."

Sam pursed his lips. "I'm not arguing with you," he said. "You're
right. We need the real thing. We need an FDR again."

"It's about time, don't you think?" Josh nodded.

"I'll tell you what," Sam said. "If you come across one, an
actual leader, the real thing, you've got my permission to call
me at Princeton and I will drop out of school and come work on
this guy's campaign."

Something crossed Josh's face, a flicker of something, and Sam's
stomach leaped into his throat. Josh reached across the orange
plastic armrest to lay his hand on top of Sam's, and Sam
shivered. "You can count on me," Josh said. He didn't remove his
hand, and Sam forced himself not to look down at it.

"H- How long have you been working for Gingrich?" Sam asked. Josh
rolled his eyes.

"Nine months too long," Josh said. "I'm leaving in January to
work for Earl Brennan, he's bringing me on as Chief of Staff."

Josh took his hand away. Sam felt his face getting hot. "Good,"
he said. "Gingrich might well be the devil."

Josh leaned in close. "I'll tell you a secret," he said. "His
office smells like brimstone."

Sam chuckled nervously, feeling Josh's breath on his neck, his
collarbone. "I knew it," Sam said. "But Brennan's a good guy?"

"I'm a good Chief of Staff," Josh said. "If I decide Brennan's
the real deal, he will be."

"You're a spin doctor, then," Sam said.

"I'm a brilliant political strategist," Josh grinned. "Just read
my resume. At the top, in big letters: Brilliant Political

"Modest," Sam nodded.

"You're smart, for a kid," Josh said, as if he'd just decided it.

"I'm just a dumb kid like you are," Sam said. Josh waved a hand.

"Don't even try and pull that bullshit on me, I know you walk
around thinking you're smarter than 95% of the population and
wishing they'd just shut the hell up."

"Takes one to know one," Sam said.

"Apparently," Josh said.

The cop came back, looked around the room, met Josh's eye, nodded
once, and left again.

"Looks like they figured out who you are," Sam said.

"Yeah," Josh said. He stood up to take Sam's sweater off. "You
okay, here?" he asked, handing Sam the sweater. "Someone's coming
to get you?"

Sam thought of Annika for the first time in hours. "Yeah," he
said. "My...friend."

Josh frowned. "Okay," he said. "So you should, uh, give me your
number, or something."

Sam felt his pockets, realizing he still didn't have anything to
write on. Josh uncapped a felt-tip pen and held out the palm of
his hand. "Here."

His hand was warm, and soft, his fingers strong and slender. Sam
wrote his number down on Josh's palm, recapped the pen and gave
it back. "So call me," Sam said. "I only live about three hours

"Next time you get down here, I'll buy you a beer," Josh said.

Sam stood up. "I'll walk you out," he said. "If they'll let me."

"They'll let you," Josh said. "They'd let me take you home with
me, if you wanted to go. They know who I am."

Sam swallowed, searching Josh's face for signs of irony, but Josh
looked earnest, eager, as if he'd just said something very
significant and was waiting for the right response. Sam thought
about Annika again.

"We could go grab a cup of coffee, or something," Sam said
quickly. "My friend won't be able to track me down for a couple
of hours more at least. She's, uh, not very bright."

Josh smiled. "I've got to get back to work," he said. "But, uh,
how long are you in town?"

They'd planned on taking the 8:15 Amtrak back tonight. Annika had
suggested getting a hotel, staying over, but Sam had argued,
saying he needed to get back to his thesis. She'd been
disappointed. But this was Josh, and this was different.

"Indefinitely," Sam said. "I've still got more research to do.
Can I meet you somewhere?"

Josh looked around the room. Two of the other protesters were
sleeping on the windowsills, a few more were sitting in scattered
chairs, staring at spots on the wall. "Walk out with me," Josh

The sun was setting, and from here they could see the Capitol
building's night-lights illuminating the black ground. The fires
were apparently out.

It was colder, now, and Sam hopped from foot to foot on the curb,
waiting for Josh to hail a cab.

"Hey," Josh said, leaning against a streetlamp. "Come here."

Sam went there, stood a couple of feet from Josh and cocked his
head to the side.

Josh shook his head. "No," he said. "Come *here*."

Sam felt his heart beat like a hummingbird. His palms were clammy
and he was sure his cheeks were crimson in the glow of the
streetlight. He took a step closer.

And then Josh's hands were on his shoulders, and then Josh's
fingers were moving through his hair, up his cheekbone, down
around his ear, across the back of his neck. Sam tried to even
his breathing, but he didn't pull away.

"You're the real thing," Josh said. "Someday, you're going to
change the world, Sam Seaborn."

Sam just nodded. Josh was lit like an angel under the streetlamp,
his nose inches from Sam's.

"Your...eyes are sort of...hazel," Sam said.

Josh stroked his cheek. "Yours are sort of blue," he said.
"They're beautiful."

"Thanks, I, um, I made 'em myself," Sam said.

"Now shut up," Josh said, and kissed him.

Sam shuddered, blood rushing to his face and his groin and his
hands were everywhere at once, crawling up Josh's back, and he
didn't know what to do with himself, he didn't know what to do.
Josh kissed him again, a little harder, and Sam's mouth opened of
its own accord and then he was tasting Josh's tongue, sweet and
strange and bitter, like coffee and cigarettes.

Josh pulled back a little. "Listen," he said. "Don't write that
thesis. Write a better thesis. Get it published. Get yourself out
there. Change the world."

Sam nodded. "Okay," he said.

"Are you a good writer?"

Sam nodded again. "I'm a fantastic writer."

"Then do it," Josh said. "We need people like you." He leaned in,
and kissed Sam again. "I need people like you," he said. "This
town is lonely without you."

"I'm going to go to law school," Sam said.

"Go to Harvard," Josh said. "That's where I went. Everyone should
go to law school. Everyone should go *there* for law school."

"I'm looking at Duke," Sam said.

"Well, wherever you go, do it well, and do it fast, and then get
down here. You belong in Washington, Sam."

"I know," Sam said.

A cab pulled around the corner, and Josh peeled away from Sam to
hold out his hand and hail it. The cab stopped a foot or so from
the curb.

"I have to get back to work," Josh said.

"I have to get back to jail," Sam said. "If my friend shows up
and I'm not there, she'll go back to New Jersey without me."

"Let her," Josh said, crossing to the cab door. "Stick around."

Sam shook his head. "I have a thesis to write," he said. "I have
a world to change, remember?"

Josh looked at the palm of his hand, where Sam's number was
written in big red numerals. "Good," he said. "Better than good.
Go home. Be a fantastic writer." He opened the door to the cab
and got in, and Sam walked to the edge of the curb, put his hand
on the car roof, and leaned in after Josh.

"Hey," Sam said. "Come here."

And in the back seat of the cab, in front of the driver and god
and everyone, Sam kissed Josh full on the mouth.

"Yeah," Josh said, after Sam had pulled away. "You're the real

And then the door shut and the cab drove off and Sam was left
standing under the street lamp, alone. Walking back up to the
police station, he pressed his blue cableknit sweater to his face
and inhaled. It didn't smell like Drakaar anymore. It smelled
like Josh.

And soon he'd be done with Princeton, be done with law school,
have a dozen papers published and he'd get to write "Brilliant
Political Strategist" at the top of his own resume. Because Josh
was right. This was the real thing. And Sam belonged in