"When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen:There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."
He looked at his face in the mirror behind the door, saw the lines that seemed to have come from nowhere over the last five years, the grey that streaked his hair. He saw as well, the fear that paled the faint Californian tan that remained after months of campaigning. Fear had got up with him that morning and followed him through the rituals of church and procession. Now it waited with him, an unwanted companion. Sam tried to ignore it and looked back in the mirror, trying to find in every day actions the calm certainty that had carried him through the campaign. Carefully, he checked the sit of his beautifully cut suit, deep blue shirt and dark blue silk tie. They had been picked months ago and to be finally wearing them only added to the feeling of unreality that swirled around him. The bible he carried was a dark note against the grey of his suit but its scuffed cover seemed more real than anything else did and he tightened his hand on it, seeking comfort, until he could feel tendons and bones protesting.
"This is my day of jubilee," he whispered through lips so dry they hurt.
Where was the excitement, the pleasure, the triumph? He had dreamed of this for years and fought for it with blood and sweat and every inch of effort that he could give for the last three years. Now as Sam looked across the room to the door that he would walk through to give his inaugural speech in less than an hour he saw only the darkness of the unknown. His breath seemed to catch in his chest and his hands made damp smudges on the papers he held. With an effort, he made it over to one of the chairs grouped around the Senate Leader's desk and sat down heavily.
He wondered wildly if President Bartlet had ever felt this cold panic. Certainly, he had never seen it but then… he looked around the buzzing room - none of his staff seemed to be able to see it in him. Surely if they realised that their presidential candidate, now President-Elect and about to be President, was planning on making a rush for the door, flagging down a taxi and not stopping until he reached one of the country's borders or an airport - whichever came first - they'd be more worried. He lowered his head and tried to concentrate on breathing and ignoring the clamouring fears that kept rearing up at him. Josh buzzed past, cell phone at his ear and dictating some sort of list at the same time to a starry-eyed staffer. Sam straightened up and Josh stopped.
Sam hoped the wince hadn't been visible. He knew - they'd talked. Leo and President Bartlet would be their model. Their friendship wouldn't be on hold, but for the next four years it would be different. The reality hurt though. He always said that Josh was closer than a brother, and for a long time it had seemed to him that he was the only bit of his family left he could count on. Now they stood each side of a very large divide - a separation made of position, title, respect and custom. It didn't even help that they'd made these choices; Sam just wanted Josh back. The cold that had chilled Sam all morning moved even closer and the breakfast he hadn't eaten shifted uneasily in his stomach. He still hadn't answered Josh and he realised that Josh was now looking at him closely, worry beginning to break through the cloud of jobs, duties and decisions that had surrounded him for weeks. Sam tried a reassuring smile.
"Nothing. I was just thinking I should have worn a red tie, maybe."
"Hang on," Josh said to the person on the phone. He tossed the cell over easily to the staffer. "Take that to Win. Tell her it's Malcolm Tran about the House breakfast - she can fix it all up."
Josh hitched his hip on an edge of the desk.
"Red bleeds on television - you know that. Donna's told us often enough."
His voice was gentle, like someone soothing a child after a nightmare with meaningless words; they both knew that none of this had anything to do with what Sam was wearing.
Sam smiled a little. "Does she get extra for having to give fashion advice as well as be Deputy Chief of Staff?"
"You're planning on paying her?"
Sam smiled again but couldn't find the energy to keep up the repartee. Josh watched him in silence for a moment then shifted a little closer.
He folded his hand up and tapped him gently a couple of times on the shoulder with the flat of his knuckles.
"It'll be all right. Toby's out there, you know. He said he can bear to listen because it'll mostly be your words you are wrecking."
Sam shook his head, wishing he could stop watching the clock on the wall behind Josh. It seemed to be tearing through the minutes at a frightening speed.
"It's not the speech. It's good."
Carefully, Sam put the speech down on the desk in front of him. After a moment's hesitation, he added the bible beside it.
"It's good," he repeated, but didn't look back up at Josh.
Josh waited, waving off three staffers offering drinks, Winifred clutching his cell phone and a paper-heavy clipboard and finally CJ, who simply stood in the doorway and watched them for a long time. When Sam stayed slumped over the desk CJ exchanged looks with Josh and tapped her watch before heading back into the next-door room where the Vice President waited for his swearing-in.
"Josh, do you think I could become Catholic?"
"While you're in office? I could get Joey to run some numbers, but I think it would look a little indecisive."
"I was thinking about before I took office."
Josh looked at him for a long moment then looked at his watch.
"You've got maybe 20 minutes. Isn't that like, I don't know - cutting it a bit fine? Wouldn't we need a christening robe or something?"
Sam took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "No, Josh, we would not need a christening robe."
"Sam, you're not serious, are you?" The name slipped out unbidden and in that moment neither of them noticed.
"No…yes. Well, no - of course not. It's just… I need some faith."
"Yeah?" Josh said, letting it hang in the air.
Everyone who had met Josh knew how well he talked but only the people who knew him well ever realised what a good listener he could be. Few people in the world knew him better than Sam. Sam looked up and saw how Josh had stilled and waited, as though they had all the time in the world. A glance over his shoulder to the quickly ticking clock and the room full of bustling people waiting for them to be what they had to be gave the lie to that, though. Sam tried to swallow the knot in his throat; without his permission his hands placed themselves on top of the bible, as though he was already taking the oath.
"What about Jewish? Do you think that would run better in the polls? Toby seems to have faith that we will survive."
"If you need some Jewish faith you can have mine - I'm not using it." Josh hesitated. "But what's this about? You have a faith. Otherwise, why did I have to waste a perfectly good hour in the First Presbyterian Church this morning?"
"That was tradition," Sam said. "Presidential tradition and Seaborn tradition. My father would be horrified if I attended any other church but it doesn't worry him in the slightest that I don't always even make it there for Christmas and Easter."
He picked up the bible and held it restlessly. His fingers traced the embossed cross on the front cover and a faint fraying at one edge of the cover.
"I don't want a tradition or a convention. I don't want a faith that is politically convenient - bad enough I'm not married, heaven forbid I should be an atheist! I want a faith that supports you and comforts you." He sighed a little. "I want what President Bartlet and Toby seem to have."
"I'm probably not who you want to talk religion with - I swear Toby thinks about becoming a Catholic just so he can believe I'm going to hell - but I will find someone for you, I promise…. but now?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I know - bad timing. It's just… when I think of what I'm about to do-" He lowered his voice so even Josh had to strain to hear him. "Josh, it's terrifying. I'm about to become the leader of the Free World! When did I start to think that this was a good idea?"
"Probably about first year of junior high," Josh said, but he rested his hand on Sam's shoulder in a comforting manner and gave him the slightest of shakes. "You'll be fine."
Sam tried to smile thanks. It didn't seem to come out, but he put his hand on top of Josh's and knew that that said enough. After a moment, he took his hand away and, a little clumsily, picked up the bible. He held it for a few seconds, waiting for his hands to steady then passed it up to Josh.
"President Bartlet gave it to me. It was his bible in college. Read what it says - on the first page." He took a shaky breath. "What if I… what if I just drown in the darkness of the unknown?"
Josh gave him a questioning look but obediently opened the cover. There were five lines inside in President Bartlet's slightly blocky italic script.
"When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly."
You will never face a bigger unknown, but I have faith in you.
Josiah Bartlet 20th January 2022
Josh read the inscription silently then gently closed the book and gave it back to Sam.
"There you are then - there's your answer. There's your faith."
Sam shook his head a little, not quite understanding. He needed more than President Bartlet's faith to face this darkness. He could feel that the fear beginning to fade though. Josh's presence helped; even admitting he was afraid he couldn't do it helped. He wouldn't be fleeing for the border in a hastily commandeered taxi. He would make it out there to stand in front of the Stars and Stripes and promise to preserve and protect the Constitution.
Josh shook him again gently.
"President Bartlet's faith in you. My faith in you. Your faith in you, in me, in us."
He let go of Sam and gestured around the room.
"Here's your faith, Mr President."
Sam smiled up at him. He saw it suddenly in a blaze of light that stretched all the way back to the first Bartlet administration and their many crises. He saw himself and President Bartlet linked by that light. It was a light of faith, of belief that they could do it, not just by themselves, no, but as a part of their team. From Washington, still fighting a war for independence, to FDR battling disability and a depression that threatened to tear his country apart, to Johnson trying to hold together a country freshly stained by the blood of a president their first faith had to be in themselves. Without it, no one would ever try to take on this impossible job. Faith in God could only ever be one of your supports. Maybe he would speak to Toby about Judaism, to President Bartlet about Catholicism, maybe he would try to make his own religion more than just something he did because his father had told him to - but for now he had faith enough. He reached out and took Josh's hand.
Donna appeared in their line of sight then. She gave Sam a slightly shaky smile and held up five fingers to Josh. Some fine strands of hair were beginning to come adrift from the chignon they had been looped up into and the elegant lines of her powder blue suit were spoilt by the folder she clutched nervously. Josh waved thanks and turned back to look at Sam. Sam smiled back and let go of the hand he still held so he could stand up.
He picked up the neatly folded copy of his speech, the sweat marks dried now to slight crinkles, and then the bible he would pledge all his heart and effort upon as President. With a last nod at Josh that said all the things they wouldn't say for four years, he began the slow walk to the door.
CJ was there before him. She stopped him and held him lightly by the shoulders. Carefully, she smoothed some hair down where he had leant his hand and straightened his collar just a little. Then after a last look, she kissed him softly on the cheek.
"Knock 'em dead, Spanky."
At his strangled gulp of surprise, she patted his cheek.
"Last time, sir, I promise."
Then CJ stepped back and Sam was walking down the corridor and through the entrance to the portico to the sound of the United States Marine Band playing 'America the Beautiful'. Below his breath, he repeated the oath he would take:
'I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.'
As he stepped out into the sunshine, surrounded by the red, white and blue of his country's flags, holding firmly the bible that reminded him of all the faiths he had, Sam knew that he would be taught how to fly.