SPOILERS: The Drop-In plays a key role in this chapter.

DISCLAIMER: In this universe, Sam was married to Lisa before he
joined the Bartlet Administration. Everything else is canon, but the
events in this story deal with that marriage. Also, if you've seen
any of these characters on television, they don't belong to us; if
you haven't, they do. Got it?

The PBS program Washington Week in Review is referenced here, but all
characters portrayed on the show are fictional.

RATED: R for mature themes (specifically abuse) and language. Despite
the fact that the character in question is making false accusations,
this story is in no way meant to trivialize the true experiences of
women who have dealt with domestic violence. This is meant only as a
work of fiction and we intend to treat the subject with all due
respect.

SUMMARY: Sam comes to his senses long enough to make a decision.

ARCHIVE: You want it? It's yours. Just let us know first.

THANKS: I couldn't possibly write a single sentence of this story
without thanking Liz, who brings the Sabrina so well.

Stories preceding this:
1: The Strong, Silent Type
2: Tonight in America
3: When the Vow Breaks
4: It's a Long, Long Way to Fall

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
by, Liz & Sid

Chapter 5: A Fool For a Client

<><><>

Did you know that you can get cable in hell? Well, you can. You can
also get pizza delivered in 30 minutes or less. It goes without
saying that there is beer in hell. There is also an odor of stale
desperation, and hell is decorated by my ex-wife, Mrs Lisa Taylor-
Seaborn.

I have just realized this. Because I'm sitting here in my living
room, working my way through a six-pack of Heineken, and I now know
that this, all this-– everything surrounding me--is hell. My life is
hell.

Or maybe it's just the beer.

I'm not drunk. I'm buzzed, but I'm not drunk. I am still a fully-
functioning, mostly-cognizant person with 85% control over my mental
and physical faculties. Definitely at least 75%.

Oops. Where did my beer go?

Damn. Okay, 60%.

I have an idea that if I really took a look at myself, I would be
horrified at what I would see. I'm hunched up against the arm of my
couch, empty beer cans and a half-empty pizza box scattered at my
feet. The curtains are drawn, I'm still wearing my suit and tie at
eight o'clock at night...'Three's Company' is on my tv. I mean, for
God's sake – `Three's Company'. Can a person get any lower?

I didn't used to think so, but I find that with each day that passes,
the pit that has become my life just gets deeper and deeper.

I actually yelled at Cathy today. And I don't mean Josh-style
yelling, the kind where Donna rolls her eyes and yells right back. I
mean...*yelling*. Yelling at the top of my lungs, with every ounce of
strength in me; words full of rage. All the fury in the world was
behind those words. She just stared at me, and her face...I'll never
forget her face. She didn't cry; she didn't have to. That look she
gave me was so much worse.

I could handle that, though. Honestly, I could handle the guilt and
the shame, if only the vision of my sister's arms wasn't dancing
before my eyes. Those big handprints – *my* handprints – wrapped
around her elbows, staining her skin. I did that to her.

No matter what I've looked at today, I've seen her arms.

She actually stood in my kitchen and told me it was *nothing*. Jesus.
Didn't she know that look she gave me – that look of adoration – was
more than I could...Didn't she know it was heaping coals of fire on my
head?

I ordered her out, and she did as I asked. When I got past the maze
of reporters, and into my car, my hands were shaking so badly I
couldn't even get the key in the ignition. It took me almost forty-
five minutes to get to work, because I had to keep pulling off to the
side of the road to vomit.

I am falling apart at the seams. It's all happening so fast. What the
hell happened to Strong, Silent Sam?

Today I started to work on a speech the President is giving to the
Global Defense Council on the Clean Air Rehabilitation Effort. It was
thrown at me at the last minute and it has to be finished by
tomorrow. I thrive on this kind of thing, on that pulse of
adrenaline that goes through me when I'm up against a monster
deadline. I've been pulling numbers and data and polls and research
reports, loving that feeling that I'm actually accomplishing
something. It's rare these days, I can tell you.

And then Cathy came in, breezing into my office with her ever-present
purposefulness. She had found some research that contradicted what I
had found, and she tried to cajole me into incorporating the new
numbers into my speech. That was when I blew up at her.

I said some things that shocked me even as they came pouring out of
my mouth. I don't even want to think about what I said or where it
came from. Jesus.

Suddenly my doorbell rings, startling me out of my reverie. I jump up
from the couch and stand a bit unsteadily for a moment, swaying
slightly until my equilibrium returns. By the time I get to the door,
I'm sober again. It's the curse of being able to hold your liquor:
the buzz never lasts long.

I peer out through the side window. Josh and my sister are standing
on my porch stoop, serious intent written all over their faces. Josh
is carrying a sack of Chinese food from Wok It To Me, a mutual
favorite of all the staffers, and Sabrina has one finger pressed
firmly against my doorbell. I notice she's wearing a cardigan to
cover her arms, but I can still see her bruises in my mind.

Just as I'm walking back into the living room and contemplating not
answering, Josh turns psychic and calls out, "Don't even think about
not opening the door, Seaborn. I've got all night to stand here."

"And I still have your key," my sister adds.

Groaning, I set my beer can down and shuffle again to the door,
opening it a moment later. They both beam at me for a moment, before
their eyes travel over me and their smiles evaporate.

"Man, if they could see you now," Josh says, brow furrowing. "I'm
thinking all those women who have the hots for you might be
rethinking their position."

Sabrina looks shocked. "What did you *do* to yourself today?"

By now Josh has pushed his way inside my house. He stops in the
hallway, staring into my living room in disgust. "Someone was trying
to relive their frat boy years." He continues onto the kitchen,
flipping on lights before unpacking the food.

I turn to face my sister. She has her arms folded over her chest and
she's inspecting me from head to toe.

"Don't look at me," I say plaintively.

"You know, Sam, I could swear I saw you shaved and pressed a mere
fourteen hours ago, but from the look of you, it seems more like
fourteen years. What's up with the Rip Van Winkle look?"

"Very cute. I thought I told you to stay away."

"When have I ever listened to you?"

"Not recently, that's for sure."

"Did Mom call you today?"

"What do you think?" I cringe, remembering the exact conversation my
mother and I had, with her weeping uncontrollably over the phone
despite my repeated assurances that I was fine. Pauline Seaborn has
hysteria down to an art form.

"Have you talked to Dad yet?"

"Dad's away on business, just like always." I snort. "Apparently his
son's life crashing down around his ears isn't enough to sway him
from the call of duty."

"Sounds familiar."

"Bri, what are you guys doing here?"

There's something in her eyes. She hesitates and looks away, then
sighs and glances back at me. "Why haven't you taken off your coat
yet?" she asks with a weary smile.

I know this side of her. Sabrina's not one to avoid a question; it
takes a lot for her to use that tactic. "What are you not telling
me?" I ask her.

Sabrina looks startled. "Nothing," she says, much too quickly.

"You're here for a reason."

"We're here to stuff you with the best sesame chicken in DC," Josh
says triumphantly. He's walking out of the kitchen with three heaping
platefuls of food balanced in his hands, a proud grin on his
face. "What do you think of that, huh? Impressive, isn't it? I
shoulda gone into the restaurant business."

The sight of the food sends my stomach into rebellion. I put a hand
to my mouth and close my eyes, willing the queasiness away. "No
thanks," I mutter.

"Suit yourself," he replies with a shrug. "Sabrina and I will eat,
then, in preparation for tonight's entertainment."

I raise an eyebrow. "Entertainment?"

Sabrina accepts her plate from Josh, and they smile secretively at
one another, exchanging a look of knowing.

"Guys? What entertainment?"

They turn to me, and with one voice reply, "The Josh and Sabrina
Comedy Hour."

<><><>

It doesn't take long for my curiosity to be sated. Josh and Sabrina
both plow through dinner like they've never eaten before, and as they
both push their plates away, they swap another one of those annoying
looks.

In the meantime I've polished off the remainder of the Heineken, and
I'm still alert. More's the pity.

I watch my sister and my best friend as they exchange silent
communication. It's irritating the way they seem to be so in tune
with each other. I fight back the hurt, wondering if somehow I've
been replaced in my sister's affections, too.

"All right," I say. "Enough with the suspense already."

Josh attempts to size me up with a look. He loosens his tie. "All
right. There's been – Well, you know there's been a lot of talk going
around the office, and some of it has actually been sort of
productive. I've been talking a lot with Leo, and Sabrina and I just
had a rather – um, intense conversation, and well, here's the deal - "

"The deal?" I interrupt with a glare.

"Okay, see, that's the kind of attitude I need you *not* to take," he
replies, glaring in return. "I haven't gotten two sentences out and
you're already on the defense."

"Quiet, Sammy," Sabrina instructs me. She gives me a Mom look, which
does the trick.

Josh shifts in the chair and looks decidedly uncomfortable. "Listen...
Sam...I'm not the one being stalked and hounded right now; I'm not the
one whose life has been turned upside down, so you have to take what
I say with a grain of salt."

"A grain?" I ask, dread beginning to creep up my spine.

"Okay, a certain measure more than a grain."

"How much more?" I demand.

He looks at my sister again and she nods encouragingly. "A
truckload," he concedes. "An entire salt mill. Picture the biggest
shaker of salt you've ever seen - "

"Josh," Sabrina interrupts sternly, "get to the point."

"I am."

"You're stalling. Get to the point."

Josh makes a face at her. "One little victory, and suddenly you're
the Alpha Female."

"Little victory?" sniffs my sister. "I was metaphorically dancing
with my tomahawk in one hand and your scalp in the other."

Josh snorts. "Sure you were."

"I was victorious, Josh."

"Guys," I say desperately.

"You were lucky," Josh says.

"I was victorious, Josh," she insists. "I came, I saw, I conquered
your skinny, Ivy League ass."

"*Guys*!" I shout. They both look at me, startled out of this quasi-
Vaudevillian routine they've fallen into. "*Why* are you *here*?"

Another swift exchange between them. The spoils apparently go to
Sabrina once again, and Josh is left to do the dirty work. He ducks
his head, avoiding my eyes. His words come out in a rush. "We've all
been talking, and Sam, we feel you should take some time off. Just an
LOA, nothing big; just a few weeks or something. You could come back
when this is all over. You're not doing yourself any favors by
staying, right? And, uh - And Sabrina and I think you should sue Lisa
for defamation of character." Then he dares a quick look up at me.

I'm certain I must be gaping at him. I can't say anything.

Sabrina is glaring at him in exasperation. "Oh yeah, *that* was well
done, Mr `760 Verbal'."

Josh flushes. "Sorry, Sam," he mumbles.

Meanwhile all this is running through my head in a nauseating merry-
go-round: `All'? Who's `all'? Is he saying everyone in the West Wing
thinks I should take an LOA? Is he saying he wants me to sue my ex-
wife? I grip the empty beer can in my hand so tightly it crushes, and
the sharp edges of the metal cut into my palm. I still can't say
anything.

My sister notices my stricken expression and she puts a hand on my
arm. "What Josh means to say, Sam, is that-- "

"I think I know what he means to say," I reply in a quiet voice.

"Listen." Josh takes a deep breath, his nostrils flaring
slightly. "Okay, here's the thing--"

Sabrina hesitates. "Maybe I should be the one to-- "

"No, it's fine, Sabrina. I can do this." Josh nods confidently, his
smile a bit shaky with nerves. "Sam, buddy, here's the situation:
You're walking around the West Wing like a zombie, and when you're
not a zombie, you're so full of rage, it's – it's like you're a
different person altogether. You're not getting any work done, you're
slowly but surely alienating everyone who wants to help you, and you –
you don't want that, Sam."

When he pauses, I say, "You're trying to tell me I'm a liability."

He bristles slightly. "We're both realists, Sam. I wouldn't be doing
you any favors by pretending that wasn't an issue. You're barely
functioning now, let alone pulling your weight around the office-- "

"I swear to God, Josh-- "

Sabrina places two hands in the air between us in the universal
gesture for `knock it off, you two'. "All right. Time out," she says.
She glances back and forth between us. "Why don't we focus on the
real issue, here, instead of deciding it's fun to misdirect our anger
at whoever's handy?"

There is a tense moment of silence, and then Josh smiles
affectionately at her. "You're a real piece of work, aren't you, kid?"

She gives an indelicate snort, encompassing us both in her
disdain. "I just don't want to see you two idiots acting like such
drama queens." She turns to me, pointing an index finger in my
face. "*You* can quit flying off the handle when your friend is
giving you the gift of truth. And *you*," she says as she whirls
around and points the same finger at Josh, "can be a big man, and not
rise to the bait when he *does*." She continues on, gathering steam
as she rants. "I cannot *believe* this. Have you two completely lost
your ability to see the bigger picture? Bickering like little boys is
the *last* thing we need. If I have to turn into Pauline Seaborn, so
help me, I will. Do you hear me?"

Now Josh and I swap a look of mutual amusement.

"I think we just got told off by our kid sister, Sam."

"I think you're right, Josh. How do you feel about that?"

"I don't think we should stand for it. You?"

"I agree."

"I never had a kid sister, but I think I know what to do in the
current situation." He winks at me surreptitiously and spreads his
fingers out, wiggling them in Sabrina's direction.

Sabrina looks at us in horror as I begin to do the same. We both rise
from our chairs and advance toward her. "Oh, my god!" she
exclaims. "You are *not* going to do this. What kind of sick, twisted
slumber party do you think this *is*? I am *not* twelve anymore, this
is *not* junior high. Sammy, you can't just-- "

But her words are lost in a torrent of giggles as Josh and I jam our
fingers into her ribcage, sending her flailing out of the armchair
and onto the floor. For a moment, I actually feel pretty good.

<><><>

tbc...

 

 

 

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