TITLE: Of Friends and Lovers

AUTHOR: Karen T

DISCLAIMERS: Characters you don't recognize are mine. Everyone else belongs to Aaron Sorkin et al.

SPOILERS: Serious (and I can't stress that word enough) spoilers for "100,000 Airplanes."

ARCHIVE: I'd be honored. Just let me know where so I can visit.

FEEDBACK: Always appreciated. Please send to poohmusings@yahoo.com.

NOTES: This story began as a response to the Sam Seaborn Fan Fic Archive 500-word Sam/Lisa break-up challenge, but it then took on a life of its own as I tried to hash out why it is Josh and Lisa hate each other, how Sam and Lisa met, and how they broke up. As it stands now, the story goes through a lot of years. It starts and ends in 2002, but pays short visits to the years of 1983, 1991, and 1997 in the middle. I hope no one gets lost and that everyone enjoys the story.

Part One: Prologue

"We almost had one as big." Sam stares at Lisa and waits for her to offer up the obligatory follow-up question that would allow him to explain himself. She, however, either didn't hear him or is blatantly ignoring him. Hoping it's the former reason, he decides to repeat himself. "We almost had one as big."

Lisa looks up from her notepad with interest. "What was it?"

"We almost cured cancer." He says it as if its exclusion from the speech is inconsequential.

"Really?"

Sam holds him right hand in front of his chest and measures out an inch with his index finger and thumb. "This close."

"What happened?"

"Just one of those things." He shrugs and walks away, signaling that he's ready to move on to a different subject.

But Lisa knows him too well. She knows that he wouldn't have mentioned the cure for cancer if it were a subject he wanted to dismiss so quickly. She knows he wants to talk about it, and she knows he wants her to push the issue. So she complies, partly because that's her job as a journalist, but also because it's a familiar routine for her and Sam and she's willing to indulge in it once more for old time's sake. "What do you mean 'It's one of those things'? We're talking about cancer and a cure for it. That's a big deal."

Sam's weaving his way through the Communications Department to the post-speech party and pretends that he didn't catch her last comments. Cupping a hand behind his right ear, he asks, "What? What did you say?"

She sighs and rolls her eyes. So, he wants to play the extended version of their little game. She could handle that. Shoving her way past several West Wing staffers in order to keep up with Sam, she's about to tap him on the shoulder when he pushes open one side of a set of swinging doors and walks into a room full of applauding occupants. It's his time to shine, so Lisa relents and allows him to soak up the praise without her peppering him with questions.

He acknowledges the assembled crowd with a nod and a smile and announces, "Thank you. I'm at HaHa's in Cleveland on the 16th, and be sure to tip the waitresses."

Lisa cringes at his feeble attempt at humor. She could remember times when he was able to crack funnier jokes while hung over and suffering from food poisoning. What have they done to her Sam? But before her emotions overcome her, she catches herself and remembers that he's no longer 'her' Sam, just like she's no longer 'his' Lisa. You can't start thinking in terms of possessive pronouns, she warns herself as she pretends to be enraptured with the nonsense she is currently scribbling on her notepad. She has to take a few shallow breaths before feeling composed enough to see where Sam has gone.

To her dismay, she sees Josh drawing him into one of those 'manly' hugs, which involves lots of back slapping and minimal body touching. As the two are pulling away from each other, Josh notices Lisa for the first time.

"Lisa," he greets her coolly.

"Josh," she returns in the same manner.

"Still trying to get waived into Generation X?"

"Still a pompous jackass?"

"Oh, you betcha."

Sam winces at their exchange. It's been over four years since Josh and Lisa have seen each other, and yet they have resumed their genteel sparring as if it is still 1997. Their animosity towards one another is something Sam has never been able to understand, and he doubts he ever will. After one last word of congratulations, Josh takes his leave and Sam heads over to the bar for a drink. "Jack Daniels," he orders, which makes Lisa wonder when he began to drink whiskey.

"So, about this cure for cancer…" she begins, falling back into journalist mode.

"It got cut." Sam turns his body so that Lisa finds herself looking at his left shoulder rather than the side profile of his face. This shift in posture feels like an affront and she struggles for a moment to hide her hurt. She stares at the proverbial cold shoulder being offered to her as a barrage of questions runs through her mind. How did we get here, Sam? How did you develop into the esteemed White House Deputy Director of Communications while I sank to the level of being the shallow writer from Vanity Fair? How did we let this empty space between us become so cluttered with unspoken regrets and grievances that we now can't have a normal, congenial conversation? And how, Sam, did you allow yourself to turn your back on me so quickly and so easily, as if I never meant anything to you?