SPOILERS: This story is slightly AU, and takes place between `The
Leadership Breakfast" and "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's
Going to Jail," so everything up to that point in season 2 is fair
game. Pretend Sam was married when he went to work for the Bartlet
Administration.

RATINGS AND WARNINGS: PG-13 for language and mature themes. Sam has
been accused of beating his wife.

DISCLAIMER: Of course the characters we borrowed from "The West Wing"
aren't ours. Of course we're not making any money off them. They're
just really irresistible, and we wanted to play with them for a
little while.

SUMMARY: Things go from bad to worse, and Lisa's at it again.

ARCHIVE: If you'd like to have it, we'd be thrilled beyond belief.
Please let us know.

THANKS: To Sid, an excellent partner in crime. Thanks also to Jess,
Lisa and Raye. You guys are the best.

Stories preceding this:
1: The Strong, Silent Type
2: Tonight in America
3: When the Vow Breaks

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
By, Liz & Sid

Chapter 4: It's a Long, Long Way to Fall
By, Liz & Sid
<><><>

It's 8:30 p.m. before I'm done with work and class and can head back
over to Sam's. I saw his reaction when we pulled up to his house last
night; I know he noticed that his house was the only one on the
street that looked dark and lonely. He's going to have better than
that tonight. At least I can do that much for him.

Sam doesn't know yet that I'm essentially moving in for the duration,
but he can not go through this alone, and despite his sharp words in
the West Wing last night, I know he was glad I was here. I can't
imagine having to face those reporters alone this morning. This whole
sequence of events is beyond bizarre.

I always felt Lisa at least *knew* the Spawn of Satan, if she wasn't
directly related to him, but *never* in my wildest imaginings did I
think she would blatantly lie about Sam like that in a public forum.
Gotta hand it to her though. The girl's got balls. Great big brass
ones. Just wait `til I cut `em off.

I can't resist the urge to look around my brother's house as I move
through turning on lights, lighting candles, and generally trying to
make the place feel warm and comforting. He hasn't touched a thing
since Lisa left. The places where her stuff used to rest on tabletops
and bookcases are glaringly empty. There are outlines on the walls
topped by nail holes where her paintings used to hang. The master
bathroom, formerly known as the Land of a Thousand Lipsticks, looks
huge and empty, where before it just looked cramped and cluttered
with Lisa's perfumes and potions. The house bares all the markings of
a nasty breakup. And Sam has to live here—every day.

`Well, we'll just see what we can do about the atmosphere,' I tell
myself determinedly as I head to the living room and pop some CD's
into the changer. None of Lisa's soft Chopin anymore, definitely not
tonight.

Next stop—kitchen. I flip on the lights to survey the damage. Thank
heaven she left the kitchen well stocked. Maybe the only charitable
thing she ever did for Sam. At least he can still make a decent meal—
oh, wait. That's right. She knows he doesn't cook. That's why she
left everything he'd need and not know how to use. Bitch.

The sharp ringing of the phone interrupts my murderous thoughts about
the Barracuda. I ignore it as I pull out ingredients for dinner until
I hear the machine pick up and a very familiar voice start to prattle
through the speaker.

"Sam, are you home? Pick up the phone, dear, it's your mother." She
has that tone that mothers get, that warm yet irksome voice they use
to talk to toddlers. Sam is the apple of Mom's eye, always has been,
and I doubt that her tone of voice will ever change when addressing
him, even when they're both old and gray.

Sigh. I knew it would start sooner or later. The phone war has begun.
I grab the cordless off its cradle on the wall. Lord, please give me
strength. "Hi, Mom."

She stops mid-prattle. "Oh. Sabrina. What are you doing answering
Sam's phone?" It never ceases to amaze me how quickly her tone of
voice changes, or how very disappointed she sounds to get me instead
of Sam.

"I'm doing great, thanks, Mom. And how are you? How's Dad?" I
continue as if I hadn't heard that tone, the one that cuts me to the
quick no matter how many times I've heard it. Every time she does
that, she might as well have told me exactly how big a failure I am
to her and how sorry she is she had me.

"Answer the question, Sabrina. Where is Sam?"

Sigh. "Sam is at work, and I am cooking dinner, or was until the
phone rang."

"I see. I want to talk to him about this Lisa situation."

The `Lisa Situation' is the only thing my mother and I have ever
agreed on. Lisa hated our parents, or at least Mom, as much as she
hated me. It's really been my only common ground with Mom for almost
three years now.

"Well you've certainly joined a large club there, Mom."

"Sabrina Ellen Seaborn, don't even *think* about being cute with me."

"Mom—"

"Do you know when he'll be home?"

"No, I don't," I say, trying to control the testiness creeping its
way into my voice. "I am not his keeper, I`m just trying to take care
of him a little bit. Make sure he's eating. There wasn't much in the
way of food here when I stopped by yesterday afternoon."

She suddenly sounds worried. "Is he—how's he doing? Is he going to
get to keep his job? Do we know what's going on yet?" As she gains
momentum, she also gains ferocity and volume. "I know he could never
have hurt that girl, and if she doesn't stop making up lies about my
baby, I swear I'll get on a plane and come out there and then she'll
be sorry because let me tell you—"

"Whoa! Mom, Mom, rein it in. You're preaching to the choir. So, Amen.
Okay?" She stops, and sighs deeply. I can feel her worry over the
phone; it's a palpable thing. "He's okay, I think."

"What do you mean, `you think?'" Her voice is sharp and demanding.

"Well, it's not easy to say the least, Mom, but Sam's strong, and the
people that count know he's innocent."

"Are you sure?" Being married to a lawyer all these years has taught
her a thing or two, like how to cross-examine a witness, and she uses
on me all the skills she'd like to take to Dad but never would.

"Yes, I'm sure. We just have to figure out what's going on and how to
fix it." Okay, make that two things Mom and I have in common. We both
hate Lisa, and we both love Sam. Lest anyone doubt, Sam Seaborn hung
the moon, and our mother and I will happily attest to that fact.

"All right, but don't think I'm satisfied one little bit. I still
want to talk to him. Will you call me, if—if anything happens I
should know about?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Thank you." Click. And then she's gone. Just like that.

<><><>

It's 10:30 before Sam makes it home. He's almost an hour earlier than
I expected. He looks like he's been beaten up, and essentially I'm
sure that's exactly what happened today. His eyes are sunken and
rimmed with dark circles. The corners of his mouth droop sadly. Not
surprisingly he doesn't look shocked to see me.

"Hi," he mumbles, dropping his briefcase and coat by the door without
preamble. He makes for the living room sofa, where he sprawls in a
heap.

I bring our plates from the kitchen and hand him actual hot food,
which he stares at as if he's never seen such a thing before. He
looks from me to his plate several times before saying, "You made
this?"

"Yeah, I do know how to cook, Sam. Honest."

"Wow."

"I told you it'd been a long time since we'd talked. You'd be amazed
how much I've learned. Why I'm practically a grown-up girl now." My
tone is light, but he sighs.

"Bri, if this—"

"I'm kidding, Sammy! I'm kidding! " I reach over and nudge his
arm. "Smile."

"I can't. I don't remember how." He sounds like a lost little boy.

The numb expression on his face tells me that this could be harder
than I thought. At least he's eating. Granted he's mostly playing
with his food, but at least he's making an effort. That's a good sign.

After several minutes he asks, "So what's on the CD player?"

"It's Alejandro Escovedo's new album, `A Man Under the Influence.'
He's coming to the Iota in May."

"How do you keep up with the local music scene, hold down a job in
the D.A.'s office, get a law degree and learn to cook at the same
time?"

"I'm a woman of many talents. And a three-a-day Starbucks habit."

"Mm," he says around a mouth full of food. "That's right. That's why
you were so obnoxious this morning, because you hadn't had
your `first cup of joe.'"

"Let that be a lesson to you. We can't all have your naturally sunny
disposition, Sam."

After several more minutes of mutual silence he sighs again and
pushes his plate away. "Thanks, that was sweet," he says tiredly. He
looks at me fully for the first time since he came in. "So, have you
pretty much moved in?"

I can't help grinning at the `heaven help me' tone he uses. "Pretty
much," I say glibly, "for the time being. *Someone's* got to be here
to protect you from Mom. You know she's going to start calling you
*every* hour, on the hour, until she's knows you've got the basics
covered, like eating and sleeping. She also knows you don't cook and
I do. So at least if I'm here I can run interference and honestly say
that there is food on the table."

We're sitting propped up against opposite ends of the sofa. Sam sits
with one ankle crossed over his knee, arms stretched across the back
of the couch. He's watching me rant about Mom with that bemused
expression on his face. I've almost gotten a genuine smile out of
him. He might even laugh, so I forge ahead. "Of course, I don't know
*how* she expects you to sleep when she calls every hour, and her
complete refusal to acknowledge that our time zone is three hours
*ahead* of hers is problematic, but I think I can handle it."

"The Mom Shield. That's my girl," he grins, patting me on the head as
he picks up his plate and heads toward the kitchen. I follow and put
the leftovers away as he loads the dishwasher.

"So how was work today?" I finally ask. We can't keep dancing around
the topic all night.

Sam groans and rolls his eyes. It's the most expression I've seen
since he got home. "Brutal."

I stop fussing with the food and turn my full attention to him. I
cross my arms over my chest and wait for him to elaborate. He slumps
against the sink as if he doesn't have the energy to both speak and
support himself.

"Oh, let's see, where should I start?" he asks in a tone dripping
with sarcasm. "*Someone* sang like a black-haired canary to my boss
last night, and I suffered dearly all day," he says as he pins me
with a glacial blue glare. "Next time, little sister, you might want
to think about who's wrath is really worse, mine or Toby's. Remember
that you're not going to have to deal with *Toby* at holidays and
family functions."

I open my mouth to speak, but he doesn't give me a chance. "Actually,
I'm just giving you hell. We found out that Lisa is planning on doing
not one, but *two* more interviews for TV and a print interview in
the `New York Times' over the next week."

He pauses and takes a deep breath before continuing, and suddenly he
sounds exhausted again. "Even if you hadn't called Toby last night,
it would only have delayed the inevitable. The Taylor's gave the tape
of my message to the press and CJ had it in her hands this morning
before I got in. I'm telling you, Sugar, this just keeps getting
bigger and bigger. And I honestly don't know when it's going to stop.
They keep asking me why she's doing this, and dammit, I don't know."
He pushes his hands through his hair as frustration permeates every
gesture.

"Sam, what's going to happen next?"

He answers me with a forlorn shake of his head and a shrug. "Leo said
something last night that's been running through my head all day. He
said, `you're a high-ranking politician in the President's inner
circle; you're a good-looking guy with power and prestige and status,
and they are gonna have a field day painting you as the bad guy.'"

The despair in Sam's eyes takes my breath away when he looks at me
and says, "And I know it's true. It doesn't matter if I'm guilty or
not. So many people are going to hear it, and believe it, that I may
never work in this town again. It's possible I might even be
disbarred if she decides to press criminal abuse charges and wins.
Not only is Lisa trying to take my job away from me; but she could
also conceivably destroy *everything* I've worked so hard for—my
political career, my law career."

He pauses again before continuing, and when he does his entire heart
is in his eyes and mine breaks at the expression on his face. "I
don't know how to *be* anything else, Bri. This is who I *am*."

"Oh, Sam," I breathe, and fly toward him to wrap my arms around his
neck and hug him tightly. "Please don't think that. *Don't* think
it's all going to be over. Please don't. *Please*."

"I'm just trying to accept the worst-case scenario."

"No," I exclaim vehemently, and mean it. "You can't. Not yet. This is
not over. You're going to *fight* this and you're going to *win*."

"You don't know that."

"*Yes*, I do!"

He continues as if he didn't hear me, mumbling against my hair. "And
we still don't even know why. And if we don't know why, how can we
know how far it will go before it's over? And I *can't* fight it.
Because if I do, I only look guilty. The more I fight, the worse I
look. Don't you see that?"

"No, Sammy!" I pull back and make him look me in the eye again. "I
don't see it, and I won't. I know that you are the last man on earth
who would ever have done what the Barracuda said you did. I *know*
and it's all I need to know. And everybody else will know it too.
We'll get to the bottom of this, we will, you'll see. You just to
have to hold on to that."

Sam doesn't look like he has the energy to match my vehemence at this
point. He gives me a small smile and leans forward to kiss me on the
forehead. I only wish I could give him some of my own faith at this
point, and a good dose of my anger. He hasn't really made it to anger
yet, and until he does, he's not going to be able to deal with Lisa's
betrayal or move past it.

"I'm so tired. It's almost midnight already. I've got to get some
sleep," he mumbles. I push him toward the stairway.

"Call me if you need anything, okay?"

"Good night, Bri."

I watch him drag himself up the stairs before going back to the
kitchen to clean up.

<><><>

By 1:45 a.m. I'm settled comfortably on the sofa in Sam's cozy living
room. I've got one textbook on my lap and three others, plus assorted
notes and papers spread around me on the cushions and floor.

Yawning, I lean back to grab the cup of hot chocolate from the end
table just as I hear Sam call out something upstairs. In the silence
of the early morning, it sounds like a shout, but I can't make out
what he's saying. I gasp and my hand jerks reflexively, knocking the
cocoa to the floor.

"Dammit, Sam," I yell, thinking he's calling to me for
something. "Don't you think it's a little late to be screeching down
the stairwell like that?"

Silence. I stand at the bottom of the stairs and look up, trying to
listen to whatever he said. Nothing. Maybe he was dreaming. I
retrieve some paper towels from the kitchen and start to clean up the
mess I made, only to be startled again when he says something else.

Is he trying to call Lisa again?

"Sam?" I call up the stairs again, and receiving no answer, decide to
go check on him. His bedroom door is slightly ajar, and I can hear
him moving around in the bed. "Sammy?"

Still no answer. He must be dreaming after all. I listen at the door
for another minute, just to make sure he's not playing possum and
trying to do something totally insane, like call the Barracuda; but
he seems to have quieted. As I turn around to head back downstairs,
he calls out again, and this time I can understand what he's
muttering.

"CJ. CJ, get down."

`Get down?' Then it hits me. Oh, God. He must be dreaming about the
shooting. With everything he has to deal with right now, he can't
even sleep without being tormented. It sounds like he's reliving that
horrible night in Rosslyn.

I push open the door and tiptoe into the darkened room. It takes a
minute for my eyes to adjust to the dim blue-gray shadows cast by the
streetlight outside. Finally, I can see Sam lying twisted up in the
blankets. He's managed to toss most of them to the side, but he's
tangled in the sheet like he's been fighting with it. His forehead is
creased with frown lines and his whole body is tensed like a coil
ready to spring.

Sam's head moves from side to side slightly, as if he's trying to
shake away the images racing through his mind. I reach out and smooth
his bangs off his sweaty forehead.

"Sammy, it's okay," I whisper. He stops shaking his head then, and
some of the tension seems to leave his body.

I sit with him a minute longer, and when I've satisfied myself that
he's sleeping peacefully; I resettle a discarded blanket over him and
start to leave the room. I don't even make it to the doorway before I
hear Sam's voice behind me, louder and more desperate this time.

"Get down! Now!"

When I look over my shoulder, he has resumed his battle with the
bedclothes. The look on his face is one of pure terror.

"Sam, it's okay," I say, rushing to the side of the bed. I put my
hands on his shoulders to try to calm him. Before I know what's
happening, he grabs me by the upper arms and sits bolt upright.

"CJ!"

My brother has always been athletic, and the death grip he has on my
arms is so painful I am momentarily stunned. "No, Sam! It's not CJ.
It's Bri. You were having a nightmare."

Suddenly reality catches up with him, and he relaxes and loosens his
grip on my arms. "Nightmare," he says quietly. "It was just a
nightmare."

"Yeah. And you're okay now."

"Yeah."

He looks so tired and so abused. I pull him toward me, and we hug
each other and sit quietly together for several minutes. It takes
that long for his breathing to sound normal again.

"Sam?"

"Yeah."

"How long have you been having these nightmares?"

He sighs and leans back against the headboard, rubbing his eyes and
pinching the bridge of his nose. "Seems like forever. You're the only
one besides Lisa who knows about them, and I'd appreciate it if you
didn't call Toby this time."

"Sam—"

"I mean it, Sabrina. It'll be fine."

"Sam, don't be dense. It's not fine. How often do you have these
nightmares?" He looks like he doesn't want to answer me. "What? Once
a week, once a night? What?"

He shrugs one shoulder and looks around the room. "I don't know.
Probably two or three times a week."

"Sammy, I really think you should talk to somebody about this. I
really don't think everything's as fine as you'd have me believe."

"I'll be *fine*," he says emphatically, clearly intending to end the
conversation.

I reach over to push his bangs back off his forehead again. "I know
you'll *be* fine, Sam. I'm just not sure you're fine right now. And I
love you too much not to say anything to you. Okay?"

"Okay," he finally acquiesces. "Go back to bed, little sister." I
stand and he settles back under the covers. "I'll be fine now, I
promise," he says.

I move toward the door. He stops me again with, "Sis?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you too."

"Good night," I say, closing the door behind me. I can tell that
those frown lines he was wearing have transferred to me. I think he
may be in more trouble than I realized—than anybody's realized.

<><><>

 

 

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