Disclaimer—So totally not mine. No copyright infringement towards all my lovely little references.

Author's Notes—To the irreplaceable two: The Admiral (*salutes*) and Dis (my inspiration... And Sam's ;) )—the two people I am eternally grateful to. And Roo and Kacey, thanks for your delightful input. *G*

Spoilers—Six Meetings Before Lunch, Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail and The Stackhouse Filibuster

Archive—if you feel so inclined; let me know where.

Feedback—Greatly Appreciated

Dear Jackass—Pretty self-explanatory if you've seen TSF.

Sam picked up the phone and dialed the number off the phone message before settling into his chair. Last minute thoughts raced through his head: Do I really want to talk to him now? Do I really want to hear his excuses? Do I really want to know more than I do? Did I want to know in the first place?

It was too late. His father had picked up. "Dad," he said slowly. "It's me."

"Sam."

"Yeah."

"Yeah," said his father hesitantly. "You're just now returning my calls?"

"I've been really busy."

"You're always really busy."

"Well, I think that Harry Chapin song you always liked so much really applies here," said Sam.

"I never wanted you to end up like me."

"I'm not," said Sam coldly.

"Sam—"

"I am *not* like you."

"I'm remembering teary phone calls some months ago because your picture was splashed across newspapers and magazines. If you'll recall I was the one who didn't judge you."

"So in case this *did* come out, I wouldn't judge you?"

"Sam—" His father's tone was grating, if not positively condescending. An 'oh, you should know this' tone. A 'you really do understand, so don't give me such trouble' tone. A 'let's move on' tone.

"No, what *I* did was very different from what *you* did. I picked up a girl in a bar. I didn't know her night job—"

"I never had a one-night stand, Sam."

"No, you had a ten thousand two hundred and twenty-seven night stand with some woman in an apartment in Santa Monica."

"You did the math?"

"You think I wouldn't?"

"No, not you. You were always the overachiever."

"Dad, I'm your only—" Sam stopped dead in his tracks. "Oh, my God. Tell me no, Dad."

"Tell you no to what?"

"Tell me that you didn't have another kid by this whore?"

"I'll not have you talk about her like that."

"What the hell is she, Dad?"

"Her name is—"

"I do *not* want to know her name, all right?"

"What do you want me to say, Sam?"

"Tell me I don't have a half-sibling running around somewhere."

"I was comparing you to your cousins, Sam," sighed his father. "You know that your good-for-nothing cousins are living off the family name and money. You're the one who is out jousting at windmills."

"I am not."

"You're in politics, of course you are."

"Dad, I won't take that from you."

"You could be making up to six hundred dollars an hour right now at Gage Whitney if you had stayed."

"I hate Gage Whitney."

"But it's good money. A nice nest egg for your family. If you settle down."

"So I can have a woman in an apartment in another city?"

"Sam—" A slightly different tone this time, but just as grating. A 'don't go there' tone.

"I'm sorry. I thought I could handle this right now, but apparently three days just isn't enough time." Sam slammed the phone and started pacing behind his desk.

His hands were shaking. He wasn't entirely certain he could feel his knees. His mind was racing—thousands of thoughts berated him. The business trips his father took, the phone calls when his mother was at PTA meetings... He couldn't help but wonder morbidly: how many lies had he been told and believed? How many missed swim meets? How many science fairs?

His phone started ringing again. He knew it had to be his father so he unplugged the phone line. As he started pacing again, his cellular phone started ringing. Digging through his jacket pockets, he found it and turned it off. A moment later, his pager started going off. He didn't even look at the message; he just turned the pesky machine off. "Damn it, Dad!" he yelled.

The anger and frustration he had been putting away during his week finally blew. The explosion at Donna was just the beginning. He thought he could handle it, put away his anger again while he talked to Stephanie Gault, but he never should have called his father. He should have stuck with his gut instinct and never returned the phone call. He had no desire to go get drunk, to be around a nearly comatose Josh or a depressed Toby (because Toby always got depressed when he drank). Donna would be the designated driver, and therefore levelheaded. He didn't want to be around anyone levelheaded, he wanted to be around others who he could commiserate with, someone who had felt his pain.

And with the self-inflicted throbbing in his foot, a podiatrist wouldn't be necessarily out of order. He never should have kicked his desk; he should have known that it would hurt.

"That's government property," said a voice from the door. "Taxpayer dollars paid for your fancy desk."

He looked up in shock, then recovered. "Don't start with me, Mallory."

"Why not?"

"Because the next thing to go will be either my television or my laptop and I don't want you around when the sparks fly."

"I think the sparks have already started."

"What are you doing here?"

"I was coming by to see Dad."

"Dad," groaned Sam.

"Unless we got married and I didn't notice it, I don't think you can call him that yet."

Sam's eyes grew large. "I didn't... I'm not... Not *your* father... I—"

"What's wrong, Skipper?"

"Nothing. Go see Leo."

"Sam." Her tone was grating enough to get on Sam's last nerve.

"I swear, everybody's getting that tone!"

"What tone?" she asked softly.

"Grating. Nails on a chalkboard. Feedback from a microphone."

"That's what I sound like?" she asked, indignant.

"Mallory," he sighed.

"And that was different from my saying 'Sam' how?" she asked. "You want to move on, well, guess what?"

"I'm really not in the mood for this."

Mallory walked into his office and slammed the door closed. "We're going to talk."

Sam fell into his chair and shook his head. "I'm late for a meeting."

"It's a Friday night. Who sets up a political meeting for a Friday night?"

"Toby and Josh."

"You're going to get drunk?"

"Frankly... Yeah."

"No, we're going to discuss this."

"Discuss what?"

"Discuss whatever it is that's bothering you enough to attack government property."

"I don't want to talk about it."

"I'd rather have you yell at me about whatever bug is up your butt than have you charge some three hundred dollars to get a new desk or a thousand for a new laptop or one hundred for a new television set."

"I *don't* want to yell at you."

"Tough," she said, crossing her arms. "Duke it out with me anyway. I can fight back. Your poor office doesn't have a snowball's chance."

"I don't want to fight with you."

"You did. For an hour. School vouchers."

"That was different?"

"How?"

"It wasn't personal."

"It sure as hell was for me," she said, narrowing her gaze. "What's wrong?"

"It's like I'm stuck in the Box with Frank Pembleton and Tim Bayliss rolled into one hovering over me."

"What are you talking about?"

"Homicide: Life on the Street. Great show."

"It's been off the air for a while now."

"I haven't been anywhere near a TV set that wasn't turned to CNN or a sporting event for the past three and a half years."

"You classify C-Span as CNN?"

"Sporting event," he said. "Look, Mal, I am late for a drinking binge, so if you don't mind," he said, standing up and grabbing his suit jacket. Mallory crossed to him and pushed him back into his chair.

"We're not going anywhere, Skipper."

"But your father—"

"My father's a workaholic. He'll be here until two AM."

"I don't want to be here until two AM."

"Your car hasn't moved since Tuesday."

He tilted his head to the left slightly, questioningly.

"You've been here since Tuesday. Don't tell me about not wanting to be here into the wee hours of the morning," she said, leaning against his desk in front of him. "Tell me why you haven't been home since Tuesday."

"No reason."

"Would Josh know?" she asked, picking up Sam's phone. "What's his cell phone number? Why do he and Toby want to get you drunk?"

"Put the phone down, Mal."

"Are you going to talk to me?"

"Will you put the phone down?"

"Only if you promise to tell me what is going on."

"I promise."

Mallory hung up and Sam sighed.

"It was Big Block of Cheese Day. I've been doing the pardon recommendation thing. It's been a long week. They think I need to be filled with alcohol and put to bed."

"Not just because it's Big Block of Cheese Day and not just because of the pardons. What's the real reason?"

"Look, I told you I would tell you what's going on. I did. I'm late."

"Fine," she said, shaking her head.

"I can leave?"

"Oh, sure."

"Somehow, I feel this is a trick."

"This isn't a trick."

"You're trying to trap me into something."

"I would never dream of it, Sam."

"Okay."

"And what would happen if I hit re-dial on your telephone?"

"W-why do you want to know?"

"Because I saw you," she said quietly. "I saw you have a heated discussion with someone on this telephone," she said, pointing to it. "And then I saw you hang up, pace, and damage government property."

Sam couldn't look at her. "It's a long story."

"It is ten now. No school in the morning. You were obviously going to come into work with a hangover. I'm going to save you from that, you'll just come in sleep deprived like you and everyone else in this building does anyway, so, spill."

"I found out Tuesday that my... that my father had been... unfaithful to my mother..."

"I'm sorry."

"For twenty-eight years," he continued.

Mallory's jaw dropped open, her eyes bulged out. If she hadn't been leaning against his desk, she was pretty sure she would have fallen over. "How old are you?" she asked quietly.

"Thirty-one."

She swallowed hard. "Sam, I—"

"Which is why Josh and Toby are going to get me very drunk." He started to stand up again, getting his belongings ready to leave. "I told them I'd meet them there and I wouldn't be long, so I should be—"

Mallory placed a hand on his chest, successfully stopping him. "Tell me more."

"They're going to be pissed if I don't show up when I told them to. Especially Donna. She's going to be making sure that all of us get home in one piece and if the whole reason for this liquor thing was me and I don't show, then she's going to team up with Cathy, Bonnie, Ginger, and, who knows, Margaret and the rest of the assistants, and I'm going to be really, really, really screwed." He spoke quickly, rapidly. He could barely get one word out before staring the next.

"Sam."

"Yeah?"

"I think you need to calm down before you even consider drinking."

"I am calm."

"You know those assault weapons you're always trying to get off the streets?"

"Yes..."

"The way you're talking, you could easily be mistaken for one of those guns firing."

He took a deep breath. "If you dial re-dial on my telephone, you will hear the voice of my father. Of course, you'll have to plug it in first."

"You didn't call him a name, did you?"

"What?"

"Your father?"

"I called him 'Dad.'"

"Bastard? Jackass?"

"I may have been thinking that off and on all week but I didn't dare say it to his face."

"Why not?"

"Well, he's still my father."

"Bingo."

"What?" Sam asked, genuinely confused.

"My father."

"Leo."

"Yes. My father drank. Excessively."

"Yeah," he said softly.

"Took pills. Excessively."

"Yeah..."

"You're hurt."

"That's an understatement."

"You really do want to hit something."

"I don't want to hit you."

"You hit me, I'm slapping you with an assault charge. I'm pretty sure Dad would fire you after that."

"That would be the perfect ending to a perfect week," he said, falling into his chair again.

"But I'm not going to."

"Why?"

"Because you're not going to hit me."

"Right."

"You know what you're going to do?"

"I have a feeling you're going to tell me."

"You're going to tell me everything, starting with when you found out about this."

"I told you: Tuesday."

"Who told you?"

"Mom called me. Said that she and Dad were divorcing."

Mallory smacked his arm.

"What was that for?"

"Why didn't you call me?"

"You're seeing the hockey player."

"He has a name."

"I don't give a fuck what his name is or what her name is." Darkness crossed over Sam's features, enough to spook Mallory. He didn't look or sound like the Sam she knew.

"Okay," she said, watching him carefully for any sudden movements against defenseless pieces of furniture or—more importantly—her.

"Anyway," he said sadly. "You're seeing that hockey player."

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm not."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I'm not."

"Why not?"

"Because there is someone else out there just for me."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Sam didn't think he could bear hearing her say she loved anybody at the moment; that was simply too much. He let his head fall on his desk. His eyes closed as Mallory started gently running her fingers through his hair. "Mal, if there's somebody else, I really can't take it this week."

"What do you mean?"

"Whoever it is that's out there for you."

"Well, you know him."

"Oh, God," he grumbled, his eyes watering.

"Sam?"

"Mal, honest to God, can you not tell me?"

"He's you."

That stunned him enough to stop his tears and make him sit up.

"So talk to me now," she said, folding her hands in her lap.

"About what?"

Mallory closed her eyes, getting the snide 'About what' comment out of her head. "About how you feel towards your father right now."

"I hate him."

"Perfectly natural."

"To hate your own father?"

"He betrayed you."

"The most vile of betrayals," growled Sam.

"You've always looked up to him, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"And this was quite shocking, unexpected."

"After my parents have been married for thirty-four years, yes."

"You know something?"

"What?"

"My parents are divorced."

Sam slowly looked up at her. He wasn't entirely certain how he had forgotten that little fact, but he and Mallory had more in common than he had ever realized until that moment. Leo had, in essence, betrayed Mallory with the drinking and drug abuse. Sam's father had betrayed him with the mistress. And now his parents were getting a divorce, just as hers had after decades of marriage.

"You with me, Skipper?" she asked gently. His blue eyes searched her face, her expression, her eyes. She couldn't say for certain, but more than likely her soul as well.

"My father is a certifiable jackass."

"So was mine. Sierra Tucson."

"No, I mean... He's a bastard."

"Know what?"

"What?"

"That doesn't make you any less of a person."

"It doesn't? But, what about that saying... 'Like father, like son?'"

"It's just a saying," she said with a shrug.

"How'd you do it?"

"Do what?"

"You're on such good terms with Leo now. How'd you manage it?"

"You know what I did for a *long* time?"

"What?"

"I wrote him long, angry letters that started with, 'Dear Jackass.'"

"And you sent them to him?"

"Oh, hell no. Not until he had completed his rehab. I had a whole shoe box filled with them by the time he came home."

"Really?"

She nodded. "Let's you vent. You don't hurt his feelings."

"But, when you gave them to him... how'd he react?"

"He cried. I mean, he *cried*."

"Because he saw what he had done to you?"

Mallory nodded.

"That's a good idea," he said, leaning back in his chair.

"Know what else is a good idea?"

He looked up at her, eager to learn from her experience. "What?"

"Sleeping," she said, pushing herself up off his desk. "C'mon." She held her hand out to him.

"Wh-where are we going?"

"I'm taking you home. You've slept here since Tuesday."

"I haven't."

"You're lying."

"Am not."

"Sam—"

"All right, all right," he conceded, not wanting to deal with 'the tone' or its variations. He allowed her to pull him to his feet. "What you said before," he began slowly. "About you and me..."

"Yeah?"

"You mean it?"

She nodded. "My only thing."

"What?"

"You have to make me a promise. Actually, several."

"Anything."

"First—you sleep. You sleep in your own bed at home. You don't sleep on Toby's couch."

Sam narrowed his eyes at her a little. "You talked to your father?"

"Yes. Second—we take things slowly. You're hurt. You're vulnerable."

"I'm fine."

"Everybody in the West Wing wants to get you drunk to get you over this. You think that's being fine?"

"Maybe not."

"Third—"

"Do I need to have Counsel's office look over this?"

"Third—you write a Dear Jackass letter and see if it helps."

"Is that all?"

"That's all."

"Do I get to go get drunk now?"

"Promise me it won't turn into an addiction?"

Sam had never seen a fear in her eyes before. He saw it clearly then. "I don't even like getting drunk."

"Then okay."

"Can I take you to dinner Saturday?"

She thought for a moment. "Next Saturday."

"Why not tomorrow?"

"Because you need to write a Dear Jackass letter."

"Are you going to grade it?"

"Possibly."

"I promise to do my homework."

"Next Saturday."

Sam nodded. He didn't really feel like going out with Toby, Josh, and Donna that night, he probably wouldn't feel very romantic the next night. "Next Saturday."

 

 

 

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