Disclaimer: They belong to Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, NBC, Warner Brothers, and I hope I haven't forgotten anyone. So obviously, they don't belong to me. I'm not making money for this story, I just have too much free time on my hands. So I'm begging : don't sue.
Spoilers : Direct ones for SGTE, SGTJ, The drop in, TFGKY, not so obvious ones for the end of season 2 and a general one for season 3.
Feed back : Please.
Thanks a lot to Manuela for taking the time
to beta read the story. You rock!
One year after
Sam saw his father getting closer and scanned the room, hoping to see someone he knew. None of his colleagues were in sight and he groaned, knowing what was coming.
"I was sure coming here was a bad idea", he thought. But how do you say no to the President?
President Bartlet and his staff had been in LA for 24 hours. As soon as Benjamin Seaborn had learned that his son would be in town, he had contacted him. The two men hadn't seen each other since Sam had learned about his father's infidelity, and using exclusively the phone and the e-mail didn't help them to put their relationship back on track.
The young writer had reluctantly agreed to meet his father during the few hours of free time the staff would be allowed to enjoy the first day of their stay. Their little talk had gone exactly as he had expected ; once the salutations had been exchanged, his father had apologized for what Sam felt like the thousandth time before asking what he could do to make things better.
Actually, all their conversations followed that pattern when they were on the phone. And they always ended in a shouting match, usually beginning on Sam's side. Try as he might, he couldn't stop himself from getting angry when he talked to that man.
Learning that his father had left his mother for the mistress he'd had for 28 years had been devastating. Learning, one week later, that he had three half- brothers and sisters had been the worst thing he'd ever had to face.
Communication between them was completely frozen and he didn't know how to remedy that. His father kept telling him that he loved his mother but he loved Gillian too (Sam had never been able to call her otherwise than "SHE"), that his children were the most important thing in his life, that he loved him. Sam couldn't bring himself to believe that anymore.
Their discussion that afternoon had once again resulted in an argument and Sam had left the restaurant where they had met a mere half hour after he'd entered it. He had told himself he would call his father as soon as he would be back in DC but Benjamin had been invited to the party the President was attending tonight.
His father had stopped to greet friends of his, but he was now next to him and the two men stared at each other silently for a while. Benjamin was the first to break the silence. "We need to talk about this...thing."
"Would 'the thing' refer to you cheating on your wife for twenty eight years?", Sam asked, his tone deceptively calm.
His father just grimaced and looked at him.
"I don't know what to tell you", Sam sighed. He would have liked his tone to be more snappish but it just ended sounding whiny.
"Sam...let's try at least."
He sighed. Capitulate would take a lot less time and energy than trying to avoid it. He put his glass on a waiter's tray and began looking for a room where they would be able to talk without attracting too much attention. Benjamin followed without a word.
Sam finally found a deserted living room and switched on the lights when he entered. He stood in the middle of the room and stared at his father, waiting for him to talk.
"I don't know how to make things better", Benjamin muttered.
"And I should be the one to tell you that? I'm not the one who screwed up so-"
"How many times will I have to tell you I'm sorry ?"
"As many times as it takes me to believe you!", shouted Sam. Realizing someone would overhear him if he didn't calm down, he closed his eyes and breathed heavily.
The situation seemed hopeless. He sighed and sat down, gathering his thoughts before he tried once more to explain to his father how he felt.
"Look", he said finally, "I know you're sorry but I'd like you to understand that each time you tell me you love me more than anything else I wonder if you told the same thing to the children you've had with her. I don't want to know which one of us you'd choose if two of us needed you at the same time, but you would have to choose and..." He trailed off, remembering all the parties, birthdays and graduations his father had missed. All the professional meetings he had used as an excuse while he was with HER... "God it's been one year and it still hurts", he thought.
His father looked at him, desperate. "Are you telling me you'll never forgive me?"
"No", snapped Sam. "And we had this conversation before. I'm doing the best I can."
"It's been one year, Sam."
"Yeah, sorry to have a hard time dealing with the fact that my father lied to me for most of my life."
His father didn't answer and Sam thought carefully about what he was going to say next. "You're still my father and I love you, but you hurt Mom and Claudia and I don't trust you anymore. I... I don't believe anything you tell me anymore and I don't know how we're going to fix that."
He wanted to run away of this room. He was mad at his father for all the missed events, yes, but he also recalled so many parties where he had been there, and all the times he had stayed near him because he was sick or needed him. Did he think about his other family then ? And were the other children waiting for their father on these occasions ?
Benjamin sat down next to him. "I love you... all of you."
He knew that already. It only made the situation worse. He resented his father for not being a complete jackass. He could at least have hated him and his life would be simpler. Instead he saw a man who had been unfortunate enough to fall in love with two women. Which didn't settle the dishonesty problem, of course. His father was waiting for an answer so he went on : "You don't seem to realize that nothing you could say will make things better. I... I have the feeling you don't understand what I'm trying to say here."
"I understand. I'd just like..."
He didn't finish his thought, but Sam could guess ; he wanted for none of this to have happened. He was about to answer when his pager vibrated. He looked who called him before turning back to his father. "I need to get back to the party."
"I want us to discuss this."
Seeing his son wouldn't elaborate, Benjamin asked almost shyly : "After the party ?"
Sam sighed. He was exhausted and a new argument with his father would only make it worse. But he was so rarely in California...
"My hotel. 23.00. I'll wait for you at the bar." He got out quickly, and his father stared at the door for a while before going back to the party. None of them had noticed that the outside door was half open and that someone had witnessed their discussion.
"What's up, Leo ?"
The chief of staff sat down in the chair Sam had vacated a few minutes earlier. He had gone in search of Toby as soon as he had been certain the speechwriter and his father were far enough. One of the staffers should make sure the young man was fine after he had talked to his father. One year ago, he would have asked Josh, but the two younger men seemed to have drifted apart in the past few months. Another situation he would have to address. Getting back to the problem at hand, he looked at Toby. "I guess you know Sam's father is here?"
Toby frowned and nodded, waiting for Leo to get to the point.
"I overheard them talking a few minutes ago."
"You listened?", asked Toby, slightly indignant.
"I didn't plan to listen", his boss growled. "I was outside, the door was open and I couldn't tell them I was there without them knowing someone had witnessed that. I didn't want to make them uncomfortable."
"OK. How... How did it end ?"
Leo almost laughed. He knew the first question Toby had wanted to ask was "How's Sam?", but the communication director liked to think no one had noticed he considered Sam as his little brother. Nobody wanted to open his eyes on that one - it was funnier that way. "They're going to talk after the party. I think it would be a good idea if one of us was there when they'll be done."
Toby nodded thoughtfully but didn't answer. The chief of staff insisted. "They met this afternoon, I think. He didn't tell you about-"
"No", Toby cut. "You know how he gets."
Leo nodded silently. He remembered all too well the morning he had found Sam on Toby's couch. The young man was very good at avoiding a subject when he decided to.
Toby cut through his thoughts. "OK, I'll go see him. I'd better go back to the party."
Leo motioned for him to go but stayed behind a moment before he had to meet the President.
When Sam entered the deserted hotel bar two hours later, he instantly spotted his father, who was sitting at a table in a corner of the room. He joined him and waited for the waitress to take their orders. Neither of them talked before she had brought them what they had asked for. Once she was gone, Sam took a sip of his beer before saying : "I don't know what we're supposed to do. I improvise a lot right now."
"I know, son."
Sam had a lopsided grin. "You haven't called me that in a while."
"I know. I spend a lot of time wondering how to fix things, how I could have avoided that-"
Sam cut him with a snappish : "Well, you could have tried not sleeping with that woman." He bit his lips and whispered : "Sorry, I'll try to stop doing that."
Benjamin took a good look at his son, who looked exhausted. He would have preferred a real fight, like the one he'd had with his daughter, Claudia. She had screamed at him, she had thrown a few books at his head, but now things were better. Sam had tried to deal with it all on himself and he had gotten past being pissed off months ago; he was just hurt now, and Benjamin had trouble dealing with that.
"I love you. I hope you don't doubt that", he said after a few minutes.
Sam shook his head lightly. "Maybe I doubted for a few seconds after I learned but...No, I know."
"Good. I'd like to be able to promise you that I'll never hurt you again, but that would probably be a big lie-"
"Probably", Sam interrupted. "Look, we've established that you're still my father, that we still love each other and that we're going to work on getting better. Can we leave it at that for tonight? I'm beat and I have a long day scheduled tomorrow."
"It's gonna take time. And if you hope that we'll ever get back the relationship we had before, stop hoping, cause you pretty much destroyed it the day you began cheating on Mom. The most important thing now is to figure out how things will evolve from now on and I need time for that." He got up. "I'm going to bed, I'm dead. I'll call you once I'm back."
His father nodded absentmindedly and they looked at each other silently for a while. Finally, Sam turned back and headed out of the room and straight to his room.
Toby came into Sam's room after a quiet knock on the door and glanced worriedly at his deputy. The young man was sprawled on his bed, half asleep. He hadn't even taken his tuxedo or his shoes off. Without looking at him, Sam asked : "I take it you heard everything?"
"Yes", Toby admitted without apologizing. He'd had the feeling that Sam had spotted him when he had entered the bar. "You alright?"
Sam leaned on his elbow to look at his boss and gave him a brief smile. "I'll be fine."
"OK." Toby sat on the edge of the bed and Sam shot him an annoyed glance. "Toby, I'd like to sleep."
"I know. I just wanted to remind you that a lot of people are ready to listen to you...should you want to talk about it."
"Yeah". After a pause, he decided to ask the question that was bothering him since he'd left the bar. "You think I was wrong?"
"No. I think you told him honestly how you were feeling and that you're entitled to ask him for some time."
"OK", said Sam before lying down again.
Toby watched the young man, unable to guess what was going through his mind. He was always surprised when he heard people say that Sam was a pathetic liar. Having worked with him for years, he knew better. When his deputy wanted to conceal something, he did.
He knew that the younger man would have preferred not to tell anyone about his parents. He had only confided to Josh when he had learned. Everyone had noticed that something wasn't quite right with Sam, but when approached, he just told people he was fine. Hadn't Josh decided to tell the senior staff himself, Sam would have kept all that for himself.
A week later, when they were beginning to think that their colleague was getting better, Sam had become withdrawn once again. Josh and Toby had gotten him drunk and he had told them about the siblings he hadn't known anything about.
The next day, he came to work with a bad hungover and refused to talk about it. Then the President had told the world about his illness and his lies and the months had gone by in a blur, each one of them trying to deal with their own feelings of betrayal.
"I'm sorry", he said before realizing what he had done.
"Why?", Sam asked without looking at him.
"We let you deal with that all alone."
"We've all been busy. To say the least."
"And you lost your father."
Sam sat down abruptly. He was obviously on the verge of tears. "Great, if all you can do is make things worse, stop helping him", Toby thought.
"I didn't lose my father, I lost...the relationship I had with him. Not that it's easier. That's what I've been trying to tell him, but...for a speechwriter, I'm not really good at this."
"I just...I'm sick of feeling like that ! I have the feeling that whatever we say or do, nothing will ever get better." His voice shook and he stopped.
"What do you want to hear ?"
"The truth. Am I asking too much ? Am I being a spoiled child? Cause I'm doing my best but I've never handled betrayal very well."
Toby flinched. « Friends are honest with each other. » He recalled a talk he'd had with Leo, the day after the drop in. He had told him how he'd had to stop Sam from barging into the Oval Office and Leo had asked if he thought things would stay there. Toby had shrugged; Sam never stayed pissed off for long. He kept his anger to himself. His hurt too.
"It's easy to betray people like Sam", he'd told the chief of staff. "He trusts people, he deals with them on the assumption that they have the same principles he does. When things go wrong, he just forgives, and he acts as if it was nothing. How much time do you think he's gonna last in this line of work with that attitude? How much time before it gets too much for him and he starts to give up on his ideals? I screwed up on that one, Leo."
He looked at his deputy ; his eyes were closed but Toby knew he was waiting for an answer. What should he tell him? "Stay safe, don't trust him anymore, protect yourself." ? Knowing Sam, he would blame himself the day his father wasn't there anymore. But could he advise him to forgive and swallow his disappointment? Wouldn't that hurt the speechwriter more than he already was? He settled on doing what Sam was asking of him and told him what he thought.
"I think you're right. I think nothing will make it easier or... better." He saw Sam swallow and went on : "Get over it, Sam. I know it's hard, I know it hurts and I'm sure you don't want to do it and you'd rather come back in time and prevent it but you can't. It's too late. You know that, you said it yourself. If you stay stuck here, you'll lose him."
"I know. I just..."
"Wanted to hear it from an outside source? Preferably older and wiser?", quipped Toby. His retort earned him a smile.
"Something like that."
"You've had a bad year, haven't you ?" asked Toby, without really needing to. Everyone could see that his deputy wasn't fine. He'd hidden it for a long time, but it had become obvious before the State of the Union.
Sam shrugged. "We all did, Toby. Could have been worse."
Toby doubted it but his colleague clearly wasn't up to debate that at the moment. "You said it, Robin", he simply answered.
Sam smiled and closed his eyes. Seeing he was about to fall asleep, Toby got up and walked to the door. Sam's voice stopped him. "Toby?"
He was about to answer that it was what friends were there for, but on a hunch he told : "We're a family, Sam. Not an ideal one, sure, but...we're here."
"I know", mumbled Sam.
His conviction made Toby smile. He switched off the lights and he was almost sure he'd heard his deputy whisper "Night...Batman." before he closed the door behind him.
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