"You Won't Be Mine"
Timeline: The day after "Crutch."
They lock up for the night, sitting alone in their offices. One of them remembers a pretty face and lowers his head. The other faces a ring box and cries.
They meet in the hall, on their way home to separate lives. "Hey, Josh."
They sound like a rerun of The Honeymooners, and they know it. "How are you?" Josh asks.
"Okay." Sam is lying, but doesn't have the heart to make his answer seem otherwise.
"Same here." Josh answers, wondering if his eyes are still red and bloodshot.
They are. "You okay?" Sam asks.
Josh doesn't answer. He slips a hand absently into his pocket. He feels the small box, and along with it his fool's dreams. Instead of responding, he answers the question with a question. "You want to go get a beer?"
Sam reflects; drinking with his best friend or going home to an empty apartment. "Sure, let's go."
They walk down the street to their favorite haunt. The bar is ancient, littered with the detritus of years. Sam and Josh take their corner booth and their rounds and begin to talk.
Josh starts first. "What's wrong, Sam?"
"Why do you " Sam breaks off. Why lie to his best friend? He's got to tell someone. Trying again, this time he tells the truth. "It's Ainsley."
Josh's face falls. "She dumped you?"
"Yeah." Sam sighs into his beer. "She said I depended on her too much. Said that she couldn't be my reason for living."
Josh looks at his best friend. He's talented, smart and Josh knows that half the women in Washington would sell their souls to get Sam in bed.
He could do so much better. But Josh wouldn't tell him for the world.
"What about you?" Sam asks.
Josh takes a carefully timed swig of beer. "What *about* me?"
"Nothing's wrong." Josh responds mechanically. *I'll tell him, I swear I'll tell him. Or... he'll walk into the office, and he'll know.*
Sam feels a rush of impotent anger. Why is Josh being so close-mouthed when he had been open about his own problems? They are best friends. That counts for everything.
Abruptly Josh rises. "I'll be right back." He strides off in the direction of the rest room, but not before tripping over a loose board. Quick as a flash, Sam's eyes spot the green lump as it half-flies out of his pocket.
Then his thoughts are free to wander. What's going on? It's not fair. Josh is really hurting and he won't even trust me with it. It's like at Christmas. He's so damn driven that if he's going down he wants to go it alone. Is he going to put his hand through a window again? Or is he going to let me help him?
Sam smiles sadly as a realization strikes him: *Christ, we're pathetic.* Here they are, sitting in a bar getting drunk, acting like a couple of lovesick teenagers
Hastily Sam bangs his glass back on the table as his friend returns. It all fits how could he have been so dense? Josh sits down without a word, thinking that maybe this evening has been a mistake.
Sam opens his mouth. "Josh..."
"I know what's wrong."
Josh smiles cynically. "What, Sam?"
He says it quickly, in the calmest tone he can muster. "She said no, didn't she?"
Josh is blindsided by the sentence. He'd known it was true, but to hear it out loud... He stands up, ready to run.
"Josh, no. Please." Sam is quick to plead. He knows the signs; Josh will explode if he doesn't tell someone.
Josh takes a deep, shaking breath. He hadn't known how much this would really affect him. After what seems like an eternity to Sam, Josh speaks. "She said she wasn't looking for marriage right now."
He sits back down as Sam listens in silence. "I asked her at dinner, and she was happy. I could tell. You know C.J., she's a lousy liar." Josh smiles at the memory. "She looked at the ring, smiled... and *handed it back to me.*"
"Yeah." Josh is staring at some point between Sam and the table. "I asked her why, and she said that she wasn't looking for stability right now. She thought it would only hurt a marriage that both of us work insane Presidential hours." He laughs humorlessly. "I 'spose she's right, but..."
"It doesn't suck any less." Sam finishes.
"Exactly." Josh finally looks up at Sam. "I mean, Christ." His voice cracks, but he is closer to anger than tears. "What the hell did I ever do? Honestly. First Joanie dies in the fire, then Mandy dumps me, then my father dies on the night of the Illinois primary, then I get *shot,* I put my hand through a window, the Bartlet scandal, this what's next?"
"You move on." Even Sam is shocked at the coldness in his voice, but it's necessary. "Josh, you can't feel sorry for yourself. And you can't dwell on the past. I learned that the hard way." Josh says nothing, so Sam continues. "You think I don't want to dwell on the fact that my father cheated on my mother for twenty-eight years? But I can't. I'd go nuts."
"You already are." The fact that Josh can joke, albeit sourly, shows he's not completely far gone, and Sam knows this.
"You gotta move on, Josh." Sam knows he's sounding a bit speechy, but he doesn't care. "Move on. She's moved on." His tone slips as he finishes. "God knows Ainsley has too."
Now it's Josh's turn. "Sam, get over her." He finishes his beer, a little reassured. "She's a nice person. But you can do better. I would have never told you that a few minutes ago, but now I'm feeling bold."
Sam smiles gamely. "That's cool." Bold is good. Bold is normal.
And, he reflects, it's somewhat true. He can do better than Ainsley. At least he hopes so.
"I'll be okay, Sam." Josh finishes off his drink. "Eventually I'll be okay. I swear." And he will. Sam knows it. It'll take time, but that is a given.
"You better be." Sam grins, the first real smile either has seen all evening.
Josh appraises his friend. "You gonna be all right?"
"Yeah." Sam sighs. "I'll be fine. After all," he says, eyes twinkling, "we've got more campaigning to do."
"Don't jinx it," Josh warns. "The convention may be a formality, but things could still go wrong."
"I don't know." Sam is the very picture of mordant wit. "What else could possibly go wrong?"
Ignoring the gallows humor, Josh orders another round. "Thanks, Sam. I mean it."
"No problem." Sam steals the beer and drains it, ignoring a protesting Josh. "That's what I'm here for. To speechify."
"Damn right." Josh allows himself to smile. "Except this time, it worked."
The two raise a heavy toast and continue to talk.