AUTHOR: Sabine
ARCHIVE: Anywhere, drop a line: sabine101@juno.com
DISCLAIMER: Property of the legal team, Sorkin, Schlamme, Whitford & Lowe.
SUMMARY: It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop.
SPOILERS: Actually, "The Short List." Then, "Noel," "17 People," and "Bad
Moon Rising."
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Without Shana, I'd be in the tall grass, I'd be in the
weeds. And then there's Punk, who can fake it.
SOUNDTRACK: Tom Waits, "Small Change." Patty Griffin, "Living with
Ghosts." Laura Love, "Fourteen Days." Tom Waits, "Franks Wild Years." U2,
"Achtung Baby."
NOTE: This is the concluding installment to the "Statesmen trilogy" that includes
"Women," and "Men." The whole thing is also prequeled by "Out Here in the
Fields." The series has a home here:


On sunny, breezy, pants-wearing spring days, Sam likes to throw open his office
windows and listen to musical theatre. Usually it's opera, "Iolanthe" or sometimes
something Italian, but today it's "Les Miserables," and the halls of the West Wing
echo with British actors playing French people singing about war.

Josh has no idea why he's not dead. His father used to say, "It's not the fall that
kills you, it's the sudden stop," though the truth is you asphyxiate or your neck
snaps before you ever hit the concrete. But the sentiment's there, the metaphor,
and he's expecting the sudden stop any minute now.

His life ricochets, like a billiard ball, between Joanie's death, his father's death,
and the time the bullet didn't kill him.

But music doesn't sound quite so much like sirens anymore, especially on such a
beautiful day, and plus this time it's Sam, and the music's like a bell around his
neck except it means Sam's far away, and that's good, because Josh isn't up to
facing him. He hasn't been ready to face Sam for a week now. Not since he let
Sam kiss him.

So he's descended into what feels like a hysterical fit, laughing all the way down,
and expecting to leave a body-shaped mark like Wile E. Coyote in the middle of
the sidewalk. But until then, he's avoiding Sam, playing good D, and having a hell
of a time.

He's supposed to be reviewing this report about toddler asphyxiation caused by
those plastic bags they put the Post in, but he can't get past the title: "Under
Wrap: The Death-Trap of Daily Delivery." He keeps snickering, and sometimes
snorting, and when he picks up the phone to call CJ and do his impression of
Danny reading the report, he snorts so hard he drops the phone.

"You okay there?"

He looks up and it's Leo, standing very still and looking very small, framed in the
doorway of Josh's office.

Josh clears his throat. "Oh, hey, sorry, Leo, what's up? I'm just -- this thing," he
clears his throat again and wiggles his lower jaw. "It's -- never mind."

Leo clearly doesn't care. "Yeah, listen, Josh, the President's gonna want to tell you
something in a little bit,"

"You can't, like, tell me now?" Josh stands up. Leo shakes his head.

"Nah, he's gotta, this one's all him," Leo says. "You should go in there." And as
he turns away he hollers to Donna, "And can you get someone to tell Sam to turn
the goddamned music down?"

She walks off, and in a minute Sam turns the music down and Josh can't hear it
anymore. He starts down the hall toward the Oval Office.

"How'd you do?"

He's in Leo's office, later, and he can't figure out why he wants to laugh.

It's certainly not funny, the fact that the President has MS, but Josh is this close to
cracking up and he bites his lip to keep a straight face. He's nauseated and he
wants to go home.

"Josh? I'm asking how you did in there." Leo sits down. Josh is already sitting.

"Yeah," Josh says. "I'm still -- digesting." He presses his lips together and fights
the hysterical smile. "So you, uh, told Toby, and, who, the counsel's office? What
are -- what did Sam and CJ say?"

"We told Toby," Leo nods. "We haven't told Sam and CJ yet."

Josh doesn't feel quite so much like laughing anymore. "Okay," he says.

"And yeah, we got Barash working on it, but we want to know what we're gonna
be dealing with, here, Josh," he says. "What the political ramifications are gonna
be, what we're gonna have to suit up for."

"Politically? It's gonna bite down hard. And not for any real reasons, I mean, it's
not unprecedented, a President concealing health issues. We might hit some
disclosure problems but it's not really -- I mean, we can get around that, that won't
be a thing." Josh blinks up at the ceiling.


Josh nods. "Of course, we can't pass Genetic Privacy now, it's gonna look like
we're just covering our asses. Which is a serious blow, because that would have --
" He stops, realizing he's in over his head, he's got to do some research but he
doesn't want to think about it. "We're really gonna -- you gotta tell CJ, Leo," he
says. "We're gonna need her on this."

"The President's gonna tell whoever he's gonna tell when he's ready to tell them."

"What'd Toby say?" Josh asks, because it seems like the next question.

"Toby didn't take it too well," Leo says. "He's a little resentful we didn't tell him
when he signed on. But, hell, Josh, I didn't know about this when I signed on."

"Yeah, yeah, okay," Josh says, pulling himself to his feet. He paces. "Well, that's
pretty much water under the bridge now, right? I mean, it's not like we wouldn't
have run if we'd known back then."

"I feel the same way," Leo says and sounds briefly impressed.

"And what did Barash say?"

"I'm not gonna tell you that, Josh."

"You're -- okay," he shrugs.

"Yeah. We still got some stuff to figure out and with the Iowa caucus seven
months away -- "

Josh stops pacing. "Wait a minute. We're not -- Leo, the President doesn't think
he's not gonna run again -- I mean, the President's gonna run again, right?"

Leo doesn't answer for a long moment, and Josh rakes both hands through his hair
and just stands there, holding his head.

"He doesn't know, Josh," Leo says. "The First Lady doesn't think it's a good idea
for him to --"

"Leo!" Josh's voice cracks. "That's insane!"

"Careful, Josh," Leo says.


"He told you his course of MS can develop into --"


"And you don't think it's a problem."

Josh sits down again. "He's the President of the United States, Leo. We put him
there, you and me, I mean -- we know he's the best man for the job. And it's not
like -- this thing, I mean, he could be fine. Right? I mean, there's no question,
Leo, we have to run again."

He doesn't want to think about Bartlet not being fine. He doesn't want to imagine
Bartlet in a wheelchair, struggling to stick two ends of a sentence together. He
certainly doesn't want to start laughing about it.

"I think we do too," Leo says. "Really." And the fact that they're on the same page
makes it easier for Josh to think about this without cracking up again.

"So we have to -- PR's gonna suck," he says. "As soon as one paper uses the word
'dishonest,' it's a whole new thing, precedent or no precedent. It's gonna -- this
isn't gonna be any fun."

"Well, we're not really expecting a whole lotta fun, here," Leo says.

"Yeah," Josh says, pressing his palms against his knees. "We should get a jump
on the press. I mean, if we're considering running for reelection -- and let me just
say for the record that I think we absolutely should be -- we've gotta start spinning
this now, we want control of the story, beginning to end. We need to put the ball
in play, like, today."

"Yeah, okay, well, that's not gonna happen, so --" Leo raises his hands, palms up.

Now Josh starts laughing, and he can't stop. "Jesus Christ, Leo," he says. He
buries his face in his hands and laughs.

Leo stands up, comes around, lays his hand on Josh's shoulder. "You okay there?
You look tired, Josh, you look like hell."

Josh looks up. "It's been a long day," he says.

"It's two in the afternoon," Leo says.

"Yeah." His laughing trails off. "Toby freaked, huh?"

Leo laughs a little, too. "Toby freaked, yeah."

"You gotta tell CJ," Josh says. "You gotta tell CJ and Sam."

"Okay," Leo says.

"Toby's not gonna --"

"I don't know what Toby's gonna do."

"Okay," Josh says, and stands up. "We're falling apart, Leo," Josh says, and he's
not sure if he means the staff or just himself.

"A little," Leo agrees.

"Okay," Josh says again. "I've got this thing, so --"

"Yeah. Go. We'll talk later."


"You're okay?"

Josh laughs again. "Sure, absolutely, why the hell not."

"Okay," Leo says. "'Cause we're gonna need you, Josh."

"Yeah," Josh says again, and leaves.

All he wants to do is talk to Sam, and he can't. Because Sam doesn't know, and
because he let Sam kiss him. Like a punch to the gut he wonders if he'll ever be
able to talk to Sam again.

It's dark out, now, and most everyone's gone home, and he wants to shoulder his
backpack and duck into Sam's office and tell him that Bartlet's got MS and they're
all royally fucked.

But he can't, and Donna's got a date and she's already putting her lipstick on, so
instead he goes out to find a place to get drunk.

"The Mariners won," says a pear-shaped woman in 1995's transparent silk shirt
and 1989's pegged jeans. She stands beside an empty stool and rests her elbows
on the bar.

"Um, okay," Josh looks at her. "I was -- actually trying to get the Sixers score."

The bartender flips the channel and someone tries to sell them whitening

"Can I -- is someone sitting here?" the woman asks. Josh shrugs.

"Pull up a stool, stay a while," he says, and drains his whiskey sour.

"Keri Willis," she says, sitting down, holding out a pudgy hand. He shakes it.

"Josh Lyman."

"You look like you had a bad day," she says, and it sounds like a line.

He doesn't care. "I did," he says.

"You wanna talk about it? We could -- I mean, there's a table open, I mean just

He didn't realize people still did this, kindness of strangers in the meatmarket and
all that. But under her silk shirt her tank top's pulled out of her jeans and her
stomach drips over her waistband like dough. And suddenly he's embarrassed for
her, impressed by her boldness and embarrassed she'd even think someone like
him had the time of day for her. And he wants to have the time of day for her. To
make amends. To do something right.

"Sure," he says.

"Sixers lost," the bartender says. "Sorry."

"Damn," Josh says, and lets Keri lead him to the table.

"So what's wrong?" He's got another whiskey sour, and she's poking at a gin and
tonic with a little straw.

He lets out a plosive laugh. "What's not?" He thinks about Bartlet, about Leo,
about Sam, songs about the French Revolution. He laughs some more. "My best
friend's in love with me, I think," he says, because it sounds like showing off.

"Ahh," she says. "That's a hard one."


"Your best friend's a guy?"

He spits an ice cube back into his glass and coughs. "Yeah."

"And he doesn't, what, he doesn't know you're straight?"

"Nah," Josh says, backpedaling, feeling like he's betrayed Sam somehow. "He
knows. It's just -- never mind. This isn't really -- this isn't what we should be
talking about."

"It's okay," Keri says, and she really does have a lovely smile. "You don't have to
talk about it. I mean, you just met me. But I'm saying, I'm a girl in a bar, right?"

"You're a girl in a bar," Josh agrees. He takes a deep breath and holds it in his
chest a minute. "I don't know," he exhales. "It's complicated. And some other
things too, happened at work today. It's just, it's, there's a lot going on. GOD, I'm

She laughs, and her eyes glint. "You're not," she says. "Believe me, I'd rather hear
about your problems than think about my own."

"I'd rather hear about yours," Josh says, and means it.

"My bike got stolen this afternoon. In, like, the space of an hour, I'd locked it up
when I went out for lunch, I come back, it's gone." She raises her eyebrows and
takes a drink, using her index finger to hold the straw out of her eyes.

"Well, that sucks," Josh says.

"It was a fifteen hundred dollar aluminum touring bike," she says. "My dad got it
for me a month ago. What a waste."

The image of this woman on a bicycle, blonde hair shoved back under a helmet
and the strap cutting into her chin is all of a sudden so adorable Josh wants to
laugh out loud, again. Keri grins at him.

"I've got nine million other worse problems," she says. "The bike thing, it's like, it
happens, it shouldn't be a big deal. But I'll tell you, it really pisses me off."

"I believe it," Josh says. "Plus, it's something you can obsess about and not, like,
think about other things."

"Exactly," she says. "That's why I came out tonight. Told myself I was gonna treat
myself to a good time. It's been way too long." She sets down her glass and plays
with the little straw between her fingers. "So what was the thing that happened at

"I can't really --" he begins, and then stops. "It's nothing," he says. "I don't want to
think about it right now. Is that okay?"

"Of course it's okay, Josh," she says, and he shivers when she says his name.

All of a sudden he wants to tell her everything, and he wants to get drunk and kiss
her right here in the bar. "My friend and I, we've known each other a long time, is
the thing," he says. "And I think, it's like, I think he always, sort of, there was a
thing there. And then last week, like an idiot -- I was an idiot last week."

"Ahh," she says again. "I see where you're coming from."

He chuckles. "Yeah."

They sit in silence a little, and Josh finishes his drink.

"So who do you think for the NBA championships?" Keri asks. "You like the
Sixers even though they lost?"

"I think the Sixers have it nailed this year," Josh says. "Even though they lost
tonight, they got five more games, they'll come back. Sixers in the East, Spurs
maybe, Lakers are a tough team to beat this year. Probably Sixers and the

"My dad lives in Salt Lake," Keri says. "He says the Jazz have it sewn up."

Josh raises his eyebrows. "Yeah, you, like, don't know anything about basketball,
do you?"

She laughs again, and it's like music. "Not the Jazz?"

Josh shakes his head. "Not the Jazz. Spurs or the Lakers in the West, definitely."

"You're cute, you know that?" she says.

He nods. She's treating herself to a good time, and she deserves it. "I know," he

She's got the puffy sort of apartment he's seen on TV but never in real life, floral-
print sofa, burned wood "Bless This House" over the door, pink wall-to-wall
carpeting and a framed picture of Jesus over the white formica entertainment
center. She tosses her keys on the kitchen counter and shouts hello to her cat

"You want a beer or something?" she asks, after showing him where he can hang
his coat. "Glass of wine, cup of coffee?"

He wonders what Sam's doing right now. He wonders what Leo's doing, what the
President's doing, what Toby and CJ are doing. He imagines Donna and her date,
Donna taking her date back to her apartment and offering him a beer, a glass of
wine. He tries very hard not to think about Sam.

"Nah," he says, strolling up behind Keri in the kitchen and slipping his hands
around her hips. "I'm good."

She stands very still, and for a minute he thinks he's taking advantage of her and
he pulls away.

"No," she says, turning around. "It's okay. It's just...I haven't done this in a long

"Okay," he says. "Neither have I." It's a lie; it's only been two months since that
chick wrote the article about him, and since her there have been a couple of other
women, names he doesn't remember. And of course, Sam.

"Okay," she says, and she sounds ten years old. Her cheeks are round and flushed
and her eyes are a little too close together, and he reaches up to push a strand of
wispy blonde hair behind her ear.

"Good," he says. "So I can --"

He watches her swallow, and she nods. "Yeah," she says.


Donna pokes her head into his office. "Phone."

He knows already. "It's -- is it Keri?"

"Keri Willis," Donna says. "She sounds nice."

"She is," Josh nods, and he's tired and he wants to throw up. "Can you -- tell her
I'm in a meeting?"

"She sounds nice, Josh," Donna says. "I'm tired of sending your courtesans away.
You should talk to her."


"She could be the one, Josh!"

He laughs. "Okay, Donna, she is SO not the one. I can't even begin to tell you
how NOT the one she is. Can you, just, please, do what it is we pay you for
around here and -- make her go away?"

Donna snorts. "You're a cold, cold man, Joshua Lyman," she says. "One of these
days you're gonna lose your hair and your good looks, and then where will you

"Stuck here with you?" he says.

"I'm going away now," she says.


He lays his forehead on his desk and a pen rolls to the floor.

He can't keep doing this. Last night was a new low, and Keri Willis is nice, and he
feels like shit. He wants to talk to Sam. He wants to go in there and tell Sam about
Bartlet and tell Sam about Keri, he wants Sam to hug him and hold him and tell
him it's okay, that not everything turns bad and ugly. He wants to know they're
gonna run a second term, and that he's gonna have a job, and he's not going to end
up bald and alone. He wants.


Sam's on the phone, and he cups a hand over the mouthpiece and looks up at Josh.

"Oh, it's nothing. Never mind. We can -- I'll come back."

"Can you hang on a minute?" Sam says to the phone. And then, "What is it,

Josh grimaces. "I shouldn't have -- don't worry about it, Sam," he says, and turns
to go.

"Larry, I'm gonna have to call you back," he hears Sam say, and the phone clicks
in its receiver and Josh turns around again. "Come in," Sam says. "Shut the door.
Sit down."

Josh does all those things, and slumps down in the chair, his legs kicked out in
front of him and his heels on the floor. "Ah, god, Sam," he begins, and then has
no idea what to say next. He can't talk about Bartlet, and if he talks about Keri it
sounds like he's bragging, like he's trying to make Sam jealous. He groans. "I
don't know," he says.

"Something's going on," Sam says. "First Toby, and now you with that doomed
look on your face. What's happening, Josh?"

Josh shoots the closed door a look, reassuring himself it's still there and still
closed. "Something's going on," he says. "It's a -- yeah. Something's happening.
It's bad, Sam."

Sam looks wounded. "I guess I don't understand. How is it, how is there
something going on that you're not telling me? Toby knows?"

Josh nods.

"Leo knows and Toby knows and you know and I don't know."

"Please, Sam, that's not -- that's not what I came in here for."

"I just don't understand why I don't know," Sam says.

"They're gonna tell you," Josh says. "They're gonna tell you and CJ. It's just -- it's
a thing, and they're trying to figure out...can we please not do this?"

Sam closes his mouth. "What's wrong?"

"I told you, I can't --"

"No," Sam says. "What's wrong with you? You haven't spoken to me in a week. I
mean, we, we were in your office, and next thing I know nobody's talking to me. I
can't help but feel a little offended."

Josh shoves his fingers up into his hair. This is already going six kinds of wrong,
and he wants to be somewhere else, but he can't imagine where else he'd rather be.
"I met a girl last night," he says.

Sam's face falls. "Oh. I didn't know."

"No," Josh shakes his head. "It's not like that. I mean, it was, but. She was this
really nice girl I met at a bar, and she took me home --"

"I know how these things work," Sam says. "I don't need the play by play."

Josh can remember a time just a few weeks ago when Sam was begging him for
the details of his conquests. His heart aches. He can't remember if he's slept. "It's
not like that, Sam," he says. "She was -- it was, I don't know what it was. It was
pity, something, I was having a bad day. The President told me the thing --"

"The thing I don't know."

"Yeah," Josh croaks. "And I just, I wanted to, I had to be around other people, you
know? And then, with us..." he trails off.

"Yeah, what about that?" Sam says. "Us, I mean. What happened there, exactly?"

"Ah, I'm so sorry, Sam," Josh says. "I never should have -- I wasn't -- I didn't
mean to let that happen. That was stupid of me."

"I'll say," Sam says.

Josh takes a breath. He looks up at Sam, beautiful Sam whose heart he's broken.
He hates himself. "Sam," he says. He thinks about Keri, how he's not gonna call
her back, ever. But this is Sam, and the thought of his life without Sam is so
terrifying and hollow that he physically shakes his head to make the images go
away. "I really need you," he says.

"Josh," Sam says, accusatory.

"No, I'm, I'm serious. I really -- I can't do this anymore. I need --" Sam's jaw is
twitching and Josh watches the muscle flex and he wants to touch it. "I want you,

Sam's eyes widen. "Oh, man," he says. "I wasn't expecting that."

Josh laughs. "Yeah."

"No," Sam says, standing up. "I mean, I've known you ten years, and even after
last week, honestly, I didn't expect that. It was. I'm going to have to collect my
thoughts now."

"I love you," Josh says, feeling bolder, now.

"Stop," Sam says. "Seriously. You have to stop."

Josh edges his chair closer to Sam's desk. "I love you, Sam," he says again. And
he knows how to use those words; he uses them like a compliment and he finally
feels like he can make someone happy.

Sam backs away a little. "Josh," he says. "Listen to me. You have to stop that. It's
not fair, it's not nice, and it's not -- it's not true."

Josh nods. "It is true!"

"Okay," Sam says. "So it's true. Still. Listen to me. I don't -- I mean, I love you
too. I've always loved you. But I can't -- Josh. I'm saying, I can't."

He has no idea, no earthly idea why that bullet didn't kill him. He has no idea why
he's not dead. "What?"

"I'm not in love with you, Josh," Sam says.

"But you're --"

"Just because I like men doesn't mean I'm in love with you," Sam says, slowly,
and Josh feels like he's been slapped in the face. He struggles to his feet.

"Uh...okay," he says. "I'm just -- I'm gonna go now," he says.

"Wait a minute," Sam says, but Josh can't hear it anymore. He pushes through the
door and breezes to his office, and for the first time in days he can't laugh.
Because his father was right, and the fall didn't kill him. But now he's got his
cheek against the concrete and he knows exactly what the sudden stop feels like.


He slaps a couple bills on the bar, and the bartender stacks up another whiskey
sour. Josh knocks it back. "Thanks, man."

The bartender's not listening.

Josh swivels on his stool and surveys the room. It's a new bar, he's never been
here before, and the crowd's young and sophisticated and better dressed than his
usual consorts. There's a woman at the end of the bar, black hair and silver
earrings and just his type. He stumbles over.

"Hey," he says. She gives him a weird look. "Josh Lyman." It's always been
enough before, but this time it doesn't seem to be. "Is this -- can I sit here?"

"Sure," she says. "It's a free country."

"That's a rumor," he slurs, sitting down. "Perpetuated by those of you who don't
work for the Federal government."

"You work for the government?"

He nods. "Uh huh."

"Okay," she says, and turns back to the TV where they're showing CNN.

He's not gonna let her go, not this one, not tonight. He needs this. Fuck Sam. "I
work in the White House," he says, and he knows he sounds like a jerk for saying
it. "I'm, the, um, I'm Deputy Chief of Staff for President Bartlet."

She turns back to him and smiles, sold. "Yeah?"


She holds out a hand. "Denise Collins," she says. "Plebian."

He laughs. "I like to come, you know, kick it with the common folk from time to
time," he says, shaking her hand.

"How very generous of you," she says. Her hair hangs in front of her eyes and she
tosses her head to shake it free. She's got a spare, ascetic profile, sharp nose, sharp
jaw, dressed in black head to toe. Her collarbones jut out under a chunky silver
necklace and he can just imagine how they'll feel under his fingers. He's hot and
drunk and doesn't have the time or the energy for preamble, he just wants to get
fucked and fall asleep in her bed, in her house somewhere. His cock throbs and
his hands are cold.

"Can I -- what are you drinking?" he asks. "I'll buy us a round."

She looks at him a long moment, and then licks her lower lip and nods. "Yeah,"
she says. "Okay. That would be nice."

"I'm a nice guy," he says, and even right there he knows absolutely nothing is
further from the truth.

She's a lawyer and she's got a brownstone in Georgetown, and they fuck twice,
once on the leather couch, once on the bed. She lights a cigarette when they're
done, and he makes her give him one too, and he sits on the edge of the bed and
she stands by the window and looks out at the cars.

"Tell me how you got that scar," she says.

"Can we just, can we just talk for a minute about the twenty-fifth?" Toby's pacing
the Oval Office, waving his hands over his head.

"Toby --" Leo says like a warning, but Bartlet shushes him.

"This is an open forum," Bartlet says. "I'm not going to get anywhere on this if I
don't let you speak your minds. So, speak, Toby."

"You understand that Hoynes could simply choose to invoke the twenty-fifth at
any moment," Toby says.

Bartlet nods. "Yes, and as it is written in the extremely ambiguous passage that is
section four of Amendment 25 of our constitution, I'd then have the right to
overrule. I don't see how that's a problem."

"You don't see how that's a problem?" Toby's eyes bug out. "Just, as soon as he,
Mr. President, all anyone has to do is whisper the words 'the president is unable to
fulfill his duties' and we are six kinds of screwed."

"The Vice-President isn't going to invoke the twenty-fifth," Leo says. "Yes, Toby,
I don't see how that's a problem."

"Neither do I," Bartlet says. "Let's address the things that might actually become

Sam and CJ have been quiet since the President told them, but now Sam pulls
himself to his feet. "Mr. President. You haven't -- they can't accuse you of fraud
anywhere, right?"

Bartlet shakes his head. "I never lied, and I have never asked anyone to lie for

"Thank god for that," Toby says.

Bartlet sinks back against his desk. "However," he says. "It seems that Zoey had
to complete a family medical history as part of her application to Georgetown."

"And she left out the MS?" says CJ.

Bartlet nods once. "She did. And Abbey signed it."

Josh feels his stomach knot, and he can't look at Bartlet anymore. He can't look at
Sam either, so he turns to face Leo, who looks suddenly very small and old. His
vulnerability, Bartlet's vulnerability, Josh's own is staggering, almost
unfathomable. He nearly laughs again but there's nothing left, and he has no idea
why he isn't dead. He should be dead.

"Abbey signed a document stating that -- oh, Mr. President, I can't even begin to
express to you the depth and breadth of --" Toby goes off, and Bartlet's face is

"Yes, having been in politics for most of my adult life, I fully comprehend the
notion of perjury," Bartlet says. "But thanks, Toby."

"Who else knows about this?" CJ asks, and Leo tells her. Josh realizes he's
watching Sam again.

Sam's got his fist pressed to his lips and he's standing behind the couch, his chin
dipped a little. He looks old too, adult and wise and statesmanlike, and Josh's
throat catches.

"Wait," Sam says, and everybody looks at him. "Where are we on Genetic

Leo shakes his head. "We already thought about the Genetic Privacy act," he says.
"Josh is right, we put that in the water now it looks like we're covering our own
asses. It looks like we got something to hide."

"We do!" Toby says.

"I don't think so," Sam muses. "Not in more general terms. In general terms, we're
talking about a Constitutional right to privacy."

"There is no Constitutional right to privacy, Sam," CJ says.

"We've been over this and over this. Unreasonable search and seizure, quartering
of soldiers -- the framers are telling us something, here, and we're just not

"They're telling us that my concealment of a medical problem is covered under
the right to privacy?" Bartlet says.

"No, Mr. President," Josh says, because he can't stay quiet anymore, because it
strikes him in an instant just exactly how fucked they are. "It's not. It's not -- we
can't say that."

"Wait a minute," Sam says. "Just think, for a second. If we were to --"

"Sam!" Josh slaps his knees and laughs. "Listen to what you're saying! We can't
rewrite the constitution just because it's convenient for us!"

"I'm not suggesting that," Sam says slowly. "I'm saying that in this day and age,
privacy's a key issue. And if we can get the voters to understand that the
president's got a right to --"

"He hasn't got a right!" Josh says, and then presses his lips together and tries to
remind himself not to raise his voice in here.

"I think he does," Sam says, walking around the couch. "I think we've got an
opportunity, here. When we go public with this, sir, we use you as a torchbearer.
We say 'President Bartlet is a great man, and he enjoys rights that the American
people hold sacred.' We say 'you want your internet unregulated and your credit
cards secure? You want to be able to trust you're never going to be asked to turn
over evidence against yourself? You want to be able to join whatever
organizations you want? To READ what you want? To LOVE who you want?'"

Josh takes that one like a blow to the skull and he reels a little, but Sam's on a roll,

"Think about it," Sam says. "Toby wanted to -- a few months ago, Toby wanted to
take down everyone who'd ever been to a white supremacist meeting. But we
couldn't, we knew we couldn't. We knew that the minute we started subpoenaing
membership rosters we'd crossed a line we're not constitutionally meant to cross.
You know, a lot of people like to say it's a free country --"

Denise shimmers into view in Josh's brain, naked and stretched out on her bed,
tracing a finger down the length of the scar where the bullet didn't kill him.

"So I say we show them why," Sam says. "We say that this country was founded
on a principle of freedom and liberty, and if the American people want to
continue to feel like they live in a great nation, they need to accept the tenets upon
which it was built. This country was MADE, not born. We constructed it, brick by
brick, right by right. And it's a wobbling tower, sir. And it is new, and it is young,
and it is ours. And yes, damn it, privacy is an absolute right."

Everyone's silent for a second, and Sam sits down. Josh rests his chin in his hand,
clenches his teeth, closes his eyes and tries not to wonder why this incredible man
doesn't love him. Because Sam's wrong, here. And Josh knows he's wrong, what
he's proposing is idealistic and absurd and impossible, but man alive, can Sam
ever make it sound good. And they're fucked regardless, so Josh isn't even going
to argue.

"You know you run the risk there of implying that perjury's legal under the
grounds of privacy," Leo says.

"No, he's not implying that," Bartlet says. "He's saying that my wife had a right
not to share the fact that I have MS with the entire Georgetown admissions office.
He's saying we reopen the Privacy Act. We rewrite the book."

"Even if we do -- and I'm saying that's a long shot -- we can't make it work
retroactively. We still look like we're covering our asses," says Leo.

"I know," Bartlet says. "But by god, if I go down, I want to be standing on the
moral high ground while I do it."

"If WE go down, sir," Toby says quietly, and maybe he meant it to be reassuring
but it sounds snide.

"Yeah, okay," Bartlet says. "Okay. I've got FEMA and Iowa flooding and the
Army Corps of Engineers."

Leo steps in. "That's all, everybody. Thanks."

Josh really, really wants to get laid tonight.


"Yes, Josh?"

He stands in his office doorway and reaches up and curls his fingers around the
lintel and stretches his spine. "I need you to find -- I'm looking for -- you can,
like, find somebody for me, right?"

"I can call the FBI, same as you," Donna says. "I do have other things to do right
now, however."

"I just need you to find me the office number for a lawyer named Denise Collins,"
he says. "I don't know what firm."

"Did you try the phone book?"

"Donna!" he lets his arms down with an exhale, and she tips her head to the side
and frowns. "Please, I've got, budget's in an hour and I've got nine million -- can
you just find her, please?"

"Why do you need a lawyer?"

"I don't need a lawyer!" He says. "Just -- Denise Collins, okay?"

"Sheesh," Donna says. "You don't have to get so snitty."

He leaves Denise a message before lunch and two more after lunch. The fourth
time he calls, just after six, a man answers and tells him Denise has gone home for
the day.

He finds himself in Leo's office.

"What's up, Josh?"

"I'm --" Josh shoots the open door a look. "Can I talk to you a minute?"

Leo starts to shake his head but then he looks up at Josh and purses his lips.
"Yeah, of course," he says. "Sit down. And go ahead shut the door, if you want."

Josh shuts the door and sits down. "I don't know what's wrong with me," he

"Yeah, you're a mess lately," Leo agrees. "Something happen I should know

"I went out with a great lady last night," Josh says. "Lawyer, really smart, terrific
person. I just --"

"This is about a girl, Josh?"

He shakes his head. "No. I'm just -- I've been, something's wrong with me."

"Okay, man, listen, you know I'm always here for you, but we've honestly got
bigger problems than your love life right now, don't you think?"

"Yeah," Josh agrees.

He can hear CJ shouting from somewhere, Sam cutting her off.

Usually he hears things like that, action, stuff going on and he wants in, but this
time he actually sighs with relief he's not there. Cheek against concrete he can't
imagine working ever again.

"Josh, I really gotta --" Leo jerks a thumb toward his computer.

"Yeah," Josh says, wondering why he came in here in the first place.

"Listen," Leo says, as Josh stands up. "I want you to go home. Okay? Sleep it off,
because we're gonna need you when we start banging out policy on this thing.
Cat's out of the bag, Josh, it's tomorrow we're gonna get on this. And I need you
in the game."

"I think I'm in love with Sam," Josh says, standing behind his chair. And then
more than anything ever he wishes he could take it back.

"Holy Christ, Josh, you didn't just say what I think you just said, right?"

Josh laughs for the thousandth time, a full-body collapse into hysteria. He leans
his forearms on the back of the chair and hangs his head.

"Nah, Josh. Uh uh. You can't be doing this to me now," Leo goes on. "I'm so

"I'm not -- believe it or not, I'm not doing this to you, Leo," he says, coughing,
swiping laughter-tears from his eyes. "Believe me when I tell you this is far, far
worse from where I'm standing."

Leo stands up. "God, Josh, it's hard enough for us with Sam -- and now with the
President's thing -- man, you really can't do this now. I'm sorry, but some things
are more important than your libido."

"Isn't that how you lost your wife?" Josh says.

"What the hell did you just say?"

Josh sputters. "Oh, Leo, I'm --"

"Stop laughing, Josh, or I swear to god I'm gonna deck you."

Josh tries to catch his breath.

"I'm sorry, Leo," he says. "I'm -- I told you, something's wrong with me."

"I think," Leo says slowly. "I think you should get outta here now, and go home.
We're gonna pretend this didn't happen, okay?"

"Yeah," Josh says. "Okay."

"Hey, Josh?"

Josh stops at the door.

"You still seeing that shrink?"

"How did you know I was -- ?"

Leo sighs. "I think you should call him."

"Okay," Josh says, and he tries not to slam the door behind him when he goes.

He doesn't call Stanley. He goes home, makes himself a drink, puts Bartok on the
stereo and turns ESPN on mute. The Sixers won in the quarterfinals today, they're
1-1 with the Pacers, result of Allen Iverson's 45-point career high game. Bartok's
Concerto for Orchestra thrums, and Josh collapses into an armchair and watches
the recap of the game.

It's not so different, now, from that time a few months ago when he sat in this
same chair and drank this same whiskey and then pushed his fist through the
window. Not so different except he's hysterical and tired this time, lonely, beaten.
The music's dissonant and it makes him blink, makes his brow furrow as he
watches Aaron McKie take the ball to the hoop.

It would be so easy to do it again, throw a fist through the window, throw himself
through. It's not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop, maybe not even that
from only six flights up. He drains his drink.

He only knows a couple things for sure. President Bartlet is a good and brilliant
man, and he's about to be skewered legally, politically and personally. Bartlet is
about to have his life destroyed, and along with him, Josh is too. And Sam
Seaborn is a good and brilliant man who doesn't love him.

Bartok wails, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays on strings that sound like
sirens. Josh wants to cover his ears, he doesn't know what he was thinking,
putting on this cd in the first place. He throws a spoon at the stereo but it makes it
only halfway before falling to the floor, and he can't get up, he can't shut it off or
turn it down or make it stop. On TV, the crowd in Philadelphia cheers their muted
cheers. He can hear the stomping, or he can imagine it, past the whining of
Bartok's bows like knives against strings like flesh, he can hear the stomping
through the screaming. He puts down his glass, drops his head between his knees,
clutches at his skull. Stomping, there's still stomping, screaming, the curdling
shriek of sirens --


And he stands up and slaps the music off and Sam's knocking at the door. He lets
him in.

"I was knocking for a while, there," Sam says. "You okay?"

He only barely knows how to form words. "Yeah -- I was just --"

"You sort of blew out of there today," Sam says. "So I wanted to...see if you were

"Okay," Josh says, wandering away from the door and going to sit down
somewhere. Sam follows him.

"Are you?"

Josh shrugs. "Bartlet's fucked. We're all fucked."

"We're not. I don't think -- I mean, I honestly think we can beat this thing."

"Oh, spare me the cockeyed optimism, Jesus Christ, Sam," Josh groans, rubbing
his eyes. Sam sits down on the couch.

"Okaaaay," Sam says. He straightens his spine like he's about to launch into a
speech, but he doesn't say anything.

"I went out with this girl last night," Josh says. "She didn't call me back today."

"Amazing," Sam says, wryly.

"No, I'm saying, she didn't call me back. I called her like four times."

"Sometimes people don't call other people back," Sam says.

"I get that."

Sam looks at him, squinting a little. "You're -- going out a lot, lately. Are you sure
that's the best idea?"

Josh sighs. "You want something? I mean, did you -- ah, I don't know what I
mean. You're -- why are you here, Sam?"

"I'm a little confused," Sam says. "You come into my office and," he stumbles,
but only a little, "and say you love me, and now today you're upset this woman
didn't call you back. But I guess that's the way you are. I've known you a long
time, I mean, you'd think I'd get that by now."

"Yeah," Josh sinks back in the armchair. "Yeah, sure. That's just -- that's how I
am. Right. Okay. Whatever."


He feels, maybe for the first time in his life, too frail to continue this conversation.
Arguing exhausts him. Everything exhausts him. It's like with Mandy, except
back then he could shut her up with "I love you" and a kiss. That's not gonna fly

"What? What could you possibly want from me, Sam? What?"

"Leo's worried about you," Sam says. "He asked me, tonight, if I knew what was
bothering you."

Josh grimaces. "What do you -- what do you think's gonna happen with President

"Honestly, I don't know." Sam shrugs. "Oliver Barash is good. But I don't know if
anyone's that good."


"But I'm going to fight for him, and so's Leo, and CJ -- god, Josh, you should
have heard CJ today. She's already getting the wheels greased to handle the press.
She's a vulture."

"She's terrific."

"She is," Sam says. "And even Toby. He's a little off his game but he'll get there.
We all will. Except you, Josh. I don't know about you."

And suddenly it's eerily familiar, shades of Mandy and the campaign, the day Josh
told them they needed Hoynes on the ticket but couldn't get it up to fight for why
they did. Hoynes, who had the 25th Amendment in his back pocket and the
potential to screw them with four words. Which of course he wouldn't do. But it
was still Josh's fault that he couldn't fight then and he can't fight now.

"I got shot," he says to Sam, and remembers telling the story to Denise last night
while she smoked and listened on the windowsill, streetlamp cutting a line across
her face. "I got shot, I'm just -- I can't put it together. I can't. God, Sam."

"I'm going to tell you something, now," Sam says. "And I need for you to listen
very carefully and not jump to conclusions and not -- actually I need you not to
take this as a compliment. Can you do that?"

"So far," Josh says, cracking a laugh.

"There have been times. I have been in love with you."

Josh twitches, his groin shudders, his bruised heart beats a little faster. "Okay," he
says, fighting the urge to smile.

"Wait," Sam says. "There have been times. Yes."

"Which times?"

Sam isn't smiling. Sam isn't even really looking at him. "That -- it doesn't matter.
Just. There have been times. And it took a lot for me to get over you. It was
among -- the more profound internal battles I've faced."

Now Josh really wants to laugh, to spiral into that familiar hysteria because it took
a lot for Sam to get over him. But Sam's over him now. "Okay," he says again.
"The campaign?"

"Before the campaign, when you came and got me. Yes. During the campaign.
Yes." Sam looks at the floor. "When you were with Mandy. Yes, Josh. Then."

Josh is sure he knew that. "Okay," he says for the thousandth time.

"I'm not telling you this because -- I don't want you to think that --" Sam stops.
"The point is this. I got over it. Because I see the way you treat women, Josh. And
I know you mean well, because I know you, and I care about you. But it's not for
me. I can't be that person. For you."

"Have you ever stopped to think --" Josh begins, and then realizes perhaps he's
never stopped to think it himself. "That the way that I -- treat women might have
something to do with the fact that they're, they might not be, that I might not have
-- fuck, Sam, you think maybe it could be that I don't want them? That I want

He sort of expects Sam to leap up, here, maybe take it all back. He's proud of his
argument. But Sam just shakes his head sadly and looks at him with heavy eyes.
"No," Sam says.

"No? That's all you've got for me? No?" Josh wants to throw his whiskey glass at

"There was a time about a week ago when I let myself think that," Sam says.
"Yes. That maybe I was what you wanted."

Josh stands up, crosses to the window, hating himself. He presses his forehead to
the glass and watches someone try and parallel park a couple times in a too-small
spot, give up, drive away. He could have had Sam, he missed his chance a million
times. Could have had Sam any of a million times, except right now. Except

He has no idea why he's not dead. He can't figure it out. He thinks maybe he is.

"God, I'm such an asshole," Josh says. He sinks to the floor and the windowsill
digs painfully into the back of his head.

Sam stands up again and comes over to squat next to Josh. His knees pop audibly.
He laughs and braces himself with a hand on Josh's knee. "Yes," he says.


"But listen to me," Sam says, and with him crouching there and Josh pressed up
against the wall with his knees bent it's like they're huddling in a fallout shelter,
two shadows crushed together in the corner of the room. "Listen to me. There's so
much more to you than that."

Josh rests his forehead in his hand, his elbow on his knee.

Sam takes a breath. "You are strong, and you are ambitious, and you are savvy,
and you are...god, Josh, so fucking brilliant it scares me. I wouldn't be half the
man I am if I weren't perpetually looking to you for inspiration. I'd be...buying
defective boats for corrupt industry magnates."

"Fuck," Josh says, remembering. "I forgot that you -- about that. That sucks, Sam,
the thing with the, with Delaware. Man. I'm sorry."

"Yes," Sam says, pulling himself to his feet again and sitting on the edge of the
armchair. "I can't really forgive myself for that."

Josh looks at him. "Don't," he says. "I mean -- don't forgive yourself. That's -- you
start doing that and it's the ballgame, it's all over. You just gotta say, okay, I
fucked up spectacularly because I'm just that good. And I won't do it again. Don't
-- don't ever let yourself forgive yourself for that."

"Josh --" And Sam's got the look. The little look congressmen get, the pause
before a sigh, the shifting in their seat that says they're sold, they just need an
excuse and they'll jump the fence, sign the bill, join the committee. "You really
meant that, before? About having bad relationships with women. Because of me."

"Yes," Josh says. Because Sam's good, but Josh is better at this, at manipulation,
at fishing. And Sam steeples his fingers against his lips.

"Still." Sam stands up, and Josh does too, pulling himself to his feet with his hand
on the windowsill. "I don't know."

But Josh has been in politics long enough to know that no phrase means "yes,"
more often than that one. And he knows he's won. "Our administration's about to
go down in flames," he says, because it's the excuse Sam needs. "Blaze of glory,
you and me."

Sam turns to look at him. "Okay," Sam says. "Then, listen. I'm going to kiss you

"Okay," Josh says, and for a minute wonders if it's too late to back out. Because
this time it will mean something, and usually when he gets into relationships he
warns the woman she should probably steer clear, that he'll probably break her
heart down the road. And usually they find that seductive, and they kiss him to
shut him up. But this is Sam, and if he doesn't shut up, Sam won't kiss him at all.

Sam kisses him. It's a little too slow and a little too wet, and Josh is distracted by
the fact that they're standing in the middle of his living room with two lights on
and SportsCenter still flickering on mute in the background.

But he lets his fingers slide up Sam's back, and the muscles there are smooth and
tight through his shirt, and Josh gets hard anyway. He closes his eyes and slips his
pinky fingers in the waistband of Sam's pants and Sam kisses him again.

He wonders if it's good for Sam too. He wonders, as he pulls away to slap off the
TV and shut off the lights and drag Sam down onto the sofa beside him, if this is
what it was like in the fantasies Sam had back when Sam was in love with him.
He knows as soon as this starts happening, as soon as Sam realizes that Josh is
human and clumsy the fantasies will be colored with the fumbling and the flaws
Josh doesn't really want Sam to know he has, and the thought makes him a little
embarrassed, and sad.

But Sam starts unbuttoning his shirt, and Josh watches him, and the shadowed
shape of Sam's chest in the light from the street is enough to make him stop
bemoaning his lost mystique.

"Come here," he says.

"I am here," Sam says. Sam, who's better looking than Keri Willis and smarter
than Mandy. Sam, who loves him unconditionally. Josh wants to be spectacular.
He wants to show off.

"Come, like, you need to be closer," he says, shifting on the leather so Sam can
straddle him. He runs the tips of his fingers up Sam's ribs.

"Yes," Sam says.

Josh's cock strains at his fly and he's struck a little bit dumb at the sight of Sam's
smooth stomach, the tight lines of his arms and his shoulders. Josh dips his chin
and smiles a little, throws Sam the look he knows is a charmer.

"Listen," Sam says. "You're -- you've never done this before. You're going to have
to let me -- be in charge. Okay? This is going to be a big thing. I mean. Different.
I mean."

Josh laughs. "That was -- I'm impressed with your capacity to spoil the mood,
there, Sam."

Sam laughs too, but it's sort of slow and low and sweet, and he leans in and kisses
Josh again. "You signed up for this," he says. "I know you hate not being in
charge. But that's just too bad. Because I know more about this than you do."

And any thoughts Josh has had about wanting to show off, wanting to be in
control disappear in the face of the fact that this is Sam and Sam's erection
pressing into the top of Josh's thigh, and Josh is sober and desperately horny and
Sam loves him and is willing to do all the hard work, and Josh is going to get laid
tonight. It's been a good fight, and he's won.

"Sweet Jesus! What, you think you're playing field hockey here?" Toby's in his
office Thursday night, watching the Knicks get pounded by Toronto. Josh sticks
his head in.

"Latrell Sprewell. My man Latrell Sprewell is just, Carter's wiping up the floor
with him!" Toby beans a pink rubber ball at the TV. "Come on, get in the game!"

"They're toast without Marcus Camby," Josh says, collapsing on the couch.

"I did not hear you say that," Toby says. "I did not hear you say something that
could be considered slander against the New York Knicks."

"I'm pulling for the Sixers, myself," Josh says. "You see Iverson's 45 points
Tuesday night?"

Toby turns to look at him. "What are you -- what are you doing in my office,
Josh? What are you even doing still here? Shouldn't you be, I don't know, out
doing whatever it is you do?"

Josh isn't sure what he does. But yesterday morning, two showers weren't enough
to make himself feel better about what had happened, about what he'd let Sam do.
And when he stumbled into the kitchen to find Sam making coffee, Sam standing
over the sink and reading the sports section, Josh had to close his eyes to shake
the image of Sam Seaborn without clothes on. Sam Seaborn with his mouth
wrapped around Josh's cock. Sam shuddering in orgasm, calling out Josh's name.

Josh stood there in the kitchen with his eyes closed because it horrified him then
and it horrifies him now.

And it isn't because Sam doesn't turn him on -- he does, and Josh is horrified by
that too, by the fact that even now, on Toby's couch, the thought of naked Sam
Seaborn is enough to make him hard. He crosses his legs.

"Nah, I got -- I have some things to do," Josh says. "I was just -- I had to get up
and walk around a little."

"Who's still here?"

Josh shrugs. "Leo, I think. CJ. President's gone to the residence."

Toby mutes a commercial for the all-new Ford Escape. "Did Sam go home?"

"I dunno," Josh says, though he does. "No, I think he's probably still here. He was
working on the thing for the, um, the California people."

"I need to see a copy of that," Toby says. "And then, Josh, we really gotta get on -
- do you have any idea how royally fucked we are?"

Josh nods. "I have every idea, Toby," he says. "We're in for an insanely grueling

"I swear to god," Toby says. "If it weren't for the NBA playoffs I'd be out of my
skull this week. But for a couple hours tonight I get to have a stupid, meaningless
competition to worry about, instead of ours."

"Sixers don't play again till Saturday," Josh says, inhaling through his nose.
"Don't know how I'm gonna make it."

"Hey, Toby?"

Sam's at the door, and he looks at Josh and smiles, and Josh's erection pulses.
"Hey, Sam."

"What is it?" Toby asks.

"I'm almost finished with this draft," Sam says. "A couple more polishes and then
I think -- what's the deal with Sheehy?"

"We still don't know," Toby says. "He'll be there or he won't."

Sam purses his lips. "Well, that makes it sort of difficult for me, don't you think? I
mean, if I'm supposed to write an introduction for him --"

Toby moans. "Sam! Just, just, just, do a version with the thing and then do a
second one! We've done this a thousand times before! It's not, like, rocket

"Okay," Sam says.

Toby unmutes the television. "Good. Scram, get it done. We're watching the

"Are you -- sticking around?" Sam asks Josh.

Josh has no idea why he's not dead. At the very least, some bitter ex should have
put two slugs in his brain for all the messes he's made and all the pain he's caused.
But Sam's right here, and he's brilliant, and he's smiling, and he's the one sure
thing Josh really knows, except Josh fucked it all up.

In the middle of this Bartlet mess, Josh won the battle but lost the war, and he's
gonna end up in a pine box because that's where he's supposed to be.

He loves Sam, and his heart hurts, because he already knows what it's gonna be
like when he breaks Sam's heart.

The fall didn't kill him. The sudden stop didn't either. Because there isn't a
bottom, really, just iterations of defeat, circles of hell and stupidity.

"I...dunno," he says to Sam. "I've got -- I need to talk to Leo and then I have to --"

"Okay," Sam says. "I'll see you later, then."


And Sam leaves, and Josh turns back to the game, where Vince Carter's all over
the place, blocking the Knicks from shots they didn't even know they were trying
to make.

There's music coming from down the hall, from Sam's office where he's put on
"The Yeoman of the Guard," and British actors wail about love and sorcery.

Music doesn't sound so much like sirens anymore, but it sounds like Sam, and
maybe that's worse. The Knicks sink a foul shot. Music's gonna haunt him, music
and the way the light comes in Josh's apartment at just past midnight, hitting the
TV and the side of the sofa where Sam kissed him.

So he's gonna lean on Sam, because Bartlet's going down and Josh doesn't want to
face it alone. But he'll know he's lying, and he'll know he's an asshole, and he
can't imagine it hurting more. And the fall's not gonna kill him.


"We can beat the best, or we can easily lose to the worst." -- Larry Brown, Coach,
Philadelphia 76ers. NBA Playoffs, 2001.

It's been a tough game; thanks for playing. Drop me a line at