See part 1 for disclaimers/etc.
Spoilers (this part): "Ellie"
Josh's heart wasn't in his writing that day. Instead of turning out brilliant prose, he had a line of gobbledygook: qwertyuiop. Too much was on his mind.
His eyes shifted to the TV in his office. Idly changing channels, he saw the face of the Israeli prime minister, an infomercial, music videos, and... Sam.
He was seated in a sort of roundtable format with five men and two women whom Josh recognized as White House aides and fellow law professors of Sam's. "Mr. Chairman," Sam said, clearly finishing a thought, "I don't think there's a single policy that you can say Stewart has made headway on through his entire term."
"Well, you would say that, wouldn't you, Professor Seaborn?" F. Dalton Owens, a pompous asshole who worked in the Treasury Department, had to be the one to answer. "Stewart defeated Josiah Bartlet, rather handily, I might add, and you've never been able to stomach that."
Sam remained calm. "Mr. Owens, that's illogical. All I want is someone in office who can handle the responsibilities, and Stewart simply hasn't lived up to his." He ticked off points on his fingers one by one. "The Middle East peace process is no further along than it was at the end of President Clinton's tenure. Violent crime has risen approximately thirty percent in the last four years, and gun-related crime is up twelve percent in the last year alone."
"Professor Seaborn." Erich Milton spoke up. A fellow professor of Sam's at Georgetown, he was a natural peacemaker. "I don't think you can solely blame President Stewart for the rise in gun-related crimes."
"Certainly not *only* the president," Sam agreed. "But if not, whom can you blame? The Republican congress which has caved in to presidential pressure on nearly every pivotal piece of legislation put forth during Stewart's tenure?" He shrugged. "Some part of the blame must go to President Stewart, or at least, the administration he himself has appointed."
Josh felt like smiling and grimacing at the same time. Sam still had it. All his idealism, his skill at dealing with people, and clearly, his political acumen, had remained locked away within him until it had been called for. Yet Josh could not, with all certainty, say the same for himself.
If anything, Sam had aged better than he had. It had only been two years, but it felt like twenty. Josh was no longer the political bulldog, adored by half the Hill and feared by the others. Sam was clearly still at the top of his game.
The debate went on. "The prevention of gun-related violence begins with parents, not politicians," rumbled Matthew Olson, a fat Republican congressman from Colorado. "If parents do not enforce gun laws, is there a point to passing them?"
"That's a good point, Congressman," simpered Lauren Sanchez, a professor of political science at George Washington University. Her tight little eyes zeroed in on Sam. "Anyway. Can't it be said that Professor Seaborn can't exactly be objective when it comes to gun-related crimes?"
Josh's eyes widened. She brought *that* up? Nearly six years ago, and Sanchez was accusing Sam of being subjective?
Sam's nostrils flared ever-so-slightly, which showed Josh how much control his friend really had to exert. "Professor Sanchez," he said quietly, "if you'd ever been through an episode of gun violence, you would not call my objectivity into question." He exhaled noisily to regain his composure. "In a perfect world, no gun violence would exist. However, I don't believe that America experiences gun violence because her people are more homicidally inclined than other populations." His voice dripped sarcasm as he continued, paraphrasing a thought of Toby's that Josh too had remembered. "Take the populations of Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switerland, Sweden, Australia, and Denmark and add them together. You'd get a population that roughly equals that of the USA. They had 112 gun deaths last year. We had 32,000. When our framers were putting together the Constitution and spoke of the 'right to bear arms,' I don't think they meant three guys in a Dodge Durango."
There was an embarrassed silence after Sam finished speaking, but Josh was filled with both admiration and desperation at the same instant. Could he be like that again? Did he even have it in him?
And how did he know he or someone he loved wouldn't wind up on the receiving end of another bullet?
Sam was speaking again. "I have no intention of mudslinging or accusing President Stewart of any impropriety. Yet I do believe that this country needs a new direction. We need reform and we need fresh minds." He seemed to face Josh directly as he spoke. "We need people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty and try to make this country better than it's been."
"Spare us the campaigning, Professor," Owens sneered. "As Josiah Bartlet is sadly incapacitated, what candidate out there could possibly meet your Utopian ideals?"
Sam's tantalizing answer was forestalled by the moderator. "Well, we'll no doubt hear more when we return. We'll take a break now; more of Roundtable when we get back."
Josh flipped off the TV, mind churning. Sam had looked good, even brilliant. If he'd been leery of the campaigning involved, he hadn't shown it. But he didn't have to worry about his fitness, he didn't have to worry about his wife. Not like Donna was some little flower or something, but... he loved her too much to put her in the line of fire deliberately. Well, Sam was mad about C.J., but... aw, hell. Whatever.
If nothing else, though, he decided, he would tell Donna the truth. He had been cold that morning and he would apologize, over and over, with wine, sex and roses. But he would also alleviate her concern and perplexity over why he wasn't jumping at this chance.