SPOILERS: A few key mentions of Bartlet's 3rd State of the Union and
The War at Home.

DISCLAIMER: Sabrina, Pauline, and Alexander Seaborn are ours—check.
Leslie Roth is ours—check. All recognizable characters belong to
Aaron Sorkin—check check.

RATED: R for themes (specifically false allegations of domestic
abuse) and language (Josh and Sam use a few words they wouldn't be
allowed to say on television—at least not in America).

SUMMARY: Sam slips just a little further over the edge.

ARCHIVE: We would be happy to give our story a home on your site,
just let us know first. Feedback is welcome at: lizisita@h...
and leicestersq@h...

THANKS: To that sharp-tongued Southern belle, Lizza. To the coolest
Tobester fan I know, Jessiquita. And to my partner in delusion, Lisa.
Oh, and to David Gray, for writing the song to inspire the chapter
title.

Hey there, all you cats and kittens, this is Sid and Liz comin' at
you with the 9th story in the AU series that is `Mitigating
Circumstances'. (Couldn't resist—I just watched Celestial
Navigation.) Copious amounts of thanks to you wonderful people for
all the great feedback.

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
by, Liz and Sid

Chapter 9: Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

<><><>

It has been one hell of a night. My mother was up till 3 a.m., crying
so hard she could barely breathe. Not that she let me see her in that
state, of course, but the guestroom is right next to mine and the
walls are thin. I heard every sob, every gasp for breath, every
sniffle—and I defy any man to hear his mother cry like that and not
want to kill the man who's upset her. Even if that man happens to be
your own father.

I've always had a complicated relationship with my mother—she pushes
and I retreat, she retreats and I soften—but it pales in comparison
to the relationship I have with my father. Ever since I can remember,
I've alternated between admiration and vilification. He's a good man
and a good father, but there's so much potential for more; potential
he's never fully realized. He always stopped just short of greatness,
at least with his family. With his work it's always been 110%.
Alexander Seaborn gives everything to his career.

Last night, after talking with Toby during his last-minute revisions
to the State of the Union speech, I listened to my mother's side of
what appeared to be an intense argument between her and my father,
rapidly escalating into a full-blown battle. My mother's side at
first consisted of vehement refusal to comply with his wishes, which
apparently were for her to get back to California immediately. For
the first few minutes after my dad called, Mom just hissed into the
phone. Things like, "I'm here for my child, Alex. This is his time of
need. Don't you think at least one of should be here?" and "I will
*not* leave Sam right now. I will *not*."

The sharp retorts soon gave way to pleadings, of the "Just let me
stay a little while longer, Alex"-variety. From my vantage point in
the kitchen, I winced to hear my mother sound so plaintive. A few
minutes after that, there were tears. I clenched my beer bottle
between my fingers and listened to my mother's choking reply, "Yes,
of course. I'll pick up the ticket at the counter. I'll have Sam take
me. Yes, I promise. Goodbye, Alex."

The sadness in her voice upset me, but it was the humiliation in her
eyes that did me in. Her husband had just ordered her home like a
disobedient child. He had refused to listen to her, to take her
feelings or opinions into account; he had done as he had always done,
and ordered his wife to do his bidding.

When I came out of the kitchen, my mother was wiping her eyes and
putting on that bright, phony smile she's perfected over the years.
The one she uses when she wants everyone to believe all is right in
her world.

"What did Dad say?" I had asked.

"Oh!" Mom trilled with laughter and waved my words away with a flick
of her wrist. She wouldn't meet my eyes. "He's helpless back there
without me, he needs me to come home."

"You don't have to go home if you don't want to, Mom," I had sad.

"Honey, of course I want to! After all, you and your sister don't
need me, and your father does." God, she was good at this lying
business.

"Mom, you can stay."

"Sammy honey, your father wants me home. First thing tomorrow, in
fact. I'd better go back." She flashed me another bright smile, her
eyes glassy with unshed tears, and then she hurried upstairs, where
she cried herself to sleep.

I can hear her in the guestroom now, moving around, opening and
closing the dresser drawers. I stare at the ceiling over my bed, and
listen to her as she readies herself for her flight. I don't want to
get up this morning. Once I do, once I set both feet on the floor and
walk out my bedroom door, the day has begun and I'm not sure I'm
ready for that.

Sabrina and Josh come home today, which means I'll learn what that
jackass Kyle Britton had to say about Lisa. My sister was giddy with
excitement when she told me Kyle had called and why, but in my
current state of mind I find it hard to be anything but skeptical and
downright disbelieving. Hell, in any other state of mind I would feel
the same. I trust Kyle Britton as far as I can throw him, and believe
me, I would love the opportunity to throw him all the way into the
Potomac. One way or another, though, I'm going to find out what he
said and what impact it could have on my life. For some reason, the
thought doesn't fill me with an overwhelming sense of excitement.

I don't want to see my mom off at the airport either. I mean, God,
yes, I've wanted her to leave—the woman drives me *insane*—but...I
didn't want her to leave like this. She's so frail and
broken; 'devastated' might not be too strong a word. I can't stand to
see my mother this way. It makes me want to break out what CJ always
calls my 'knight on a white horse routine' and slay some dragons for
her, or, you know, kick my father's ass. Whatever would make her
happy.

I sigh and roll over onto my side, hugging my pillow to my face,
staring at the closed bedroom door. This afternoon the house will be
mine again. No more Red Door perfume clouds filling the rooms. No
more Anne Murray filtering through the house at top volume. No more
concerned glances and sympathetic words. I'll be on my own again. And
suddenly, ironically, the thought terrifies me. *Alone*.

There's a knock on my door. "Honey? Sam, are you awake?"

"I'm up, Mom."

"I'm just going to fix some breakfast. Do you want anything?"

I'm about to reply, "No", just as I have every day for the past week,
when it occurs to me that this will be the last thing she can do for
me before she leaves, and my mother so desperately wants to do
something for me. Up till now I've fought her every step of the
way. "Yeah, that'd be great, Mom," I finally say.

"Okay, sweetie." I hear the surprise in her voice, then a pause,
followed by the sound of her heels clattering down the hallway.

Time to get up, I tell myself. I swing my legs over the side of the
bed, staring down at my bare feet against the Persian rug, wondering
if there's any possible way to keep this day from starting.

Recently, in much the same way Josh was consumed with theoretical
physics during his recovery from the night at Rosslyn, I have become
somewhat obsessed with the concept of time. Once my mother arrived,
it became impossible to watch television for eight hours at a
stretch, as I had been doing, and so I read.

It started with a novel, `The History of Danish Dreams', by Peter
Høeg. The first chapter is entitled 'The Manor of Mørkhøj—Time That
Stands Still'. There's a title to grab you, right? In the story, the
Count of Mørkhøj decides that not only is his manor the center of the
world, but it must be protected from the passage of time. And so he
builds a wall around the entire estate—shutting out the world,
shutting out change, shutting out time. A very appealing concept in
and of itself. Because I sympathized with that Count. Who *hasn't*
wanted to shut out time, at some point in their lives?

Because at this point in my life, I want nothing to do with the
passage of time. Each day has brought nothing but pain and rage and
humiliation. I'm not prepared for it. I thought I was, but look at
me: I'm falling. I can't hold on. I just want to lay in bed until I'm
ready to get up, and when I do, I want the world to be just as I left
it. Because then I'll be ready, then I'll be prepared.

<><><>

"When is your sister going to be here?" Mom asks as she putters
around, pouring orange juice and buttering toast.

"Josh has to be back in the office by noon, so maybe around eleven or
eleven-thirty."

Mom shakes her head over the simmering coffee. "That girl," she says
vaguely.

I've become less adept at hiding my irritation with my mother. I've
been listening to her diatribes and subtle sneers against my sister
for over twenty years, and I'm nearing my breaking point. "Mom,
don't. Not today, okay?"

She glances over at me in surprise. "Don't what? What am I doing?"

"That—that thing where you call Sabrina 'that girl' and talk about
her like she's the neighbor's dog and not your own daughter."

Mom sets the coffee pot down with a loud bang. She gapes at me in
astonishment. "Samuel Seaborn, I have never—"

"Mom—"

"—spoken about your sister in that tone!"

I groan in frustration. "Mom, you do it all the time. To her face,
even, that's the worst part."

"How can you say that?"

Here we go. Let's all put on the Happy Seaborn Face and pretend
things are anything other than what they really are. "Mom, I don't
want to argue with you." Now *I'm* lying. I *do* want to argue with
her. I've wanted to argue with her my whole life, especially about
this.

Mom crosses the room and sits down next to me at the table. She
hasn't put on her make-up yet, and her face looks youthful and fresh,
even with the faint wrinkles around her eyes and mouth. I'm so used
to seeing my mom decked out in all her 'warpaint' as my dad called
it, that when I see her without it I'm always struck by how elegant
and beautiful she really is. Why she hides it behind make-up is
beyond me. Sabrina thinks our mother is hiding more than her wrinkles
behind all the blushes and lipsticks and eyeshadows; I'm inclined to
agree.

"Honey," she says, "I have a different relationship with your sister
than I have with you; that's all."

"'Different' is one word for it," I snort.

I expect the usual retort of denial. Mom has always, always, insisted
that she and Sabrina have a perfectly normal, healthy mother-daughter
relationship. 'Just because I prize my baby boy so highly,' she once
told me, 'doesn't mean I care less for my daughter.' I hadn't
believed her then, and I wanted to know—even to this day—what could
make her feel I was more deserving of her love than my sister.

But the denials don't come. Maybe my dad's harshness from the night
before is still fresh in her mind, or maybe here in the cold light of
early morning, without the protective layer of her make-up she's
vulnerable; whatever the case, she looks at me with sad, sad eyes and
says, "I've never understood your sister, Sam."

Well, I wasn't expecting *that*. I can't even think what to say. I
just look at her.

She sighs and pats my hand, looking out the window as she says, "Your
sister is an entirely different breed of woman, Samuel; one that I
have never been equipped to handle."

I still can't form a significant response. I stare at her, silently
urging her to continue.

"From the moment she was born," continues Mom, "your sister was her
own person. Half the time she never even wanted me; she just adored
you and your father the moment she clapped eyes on you. Sometimes
she'd push me away and reach out her arms to your father. She was
walking at nine months, talking at twelve months, running all over
the house, right at her big brother's heels. The doctor said she was
too little to be doing all the things she was doing, but she was
doing them anyway. And she has never stopped doing things in her own
way, on her own time. What does a woman like me know about a daughter
like that, Sam?" She glances over at me, her mouth drooping
sadly. "What does a woman like me know about a daughter who prefers
law books to ballet? Who would rather spend time traveling with her
daddy than talking with her mother? Who—who gets crushes on smooth-
talking politicians like Josh *Lyman* instead of the high school
quarterback?" Mom spreads her hands out in supplication, staring at
me beseechingly, as if willing me to provide the answers she
needs. "That's not the kind of daughter I know anything about, Sam."

Silence stretches between us, and then Mom draws a deep breath. "Your
sister is a mystery to me, Sam. The life she leads—the things she
does—the people she associates with—the attraction escapes me. I
always heard about women like her, but I'd never actually *known*
one, let alone expected one to come out of *my* body." Mom shakes her
head. "She's a modern woman, and I guess I'm stuck in the dark ages.
Now *you* on the other hand," she adds, patting my hand again and
flashing a bright smile, "I've always understood perfectly. For all
your California background and DC politics, honey, you are a true
Southern gentleman at heart. I grew up around men like you. I *know*
you, Sammy."

My breath catches in my throat as another brief silence overtakes us.
I think about this admission from my mother; this unspoken revelation
that she has no idea how to relate to my sister, her daughter, her
own flesh and blood. And I think about her words 'I know you, Sammy'.
And I wonder, does she? Does she really know me, or does she know
only the things she wants to know? She sees her son as handsome and
accomplished and intelligent and loved, but she doesn't see deeper;
she doesn't see the frustration and the anger and the misplaced
idealism. She has no clue of the heaviness I feel inside, or the
despair, or the wondering...the wondering...*What am I going to do?*

Apparently Mom decides this is enough for now. She rises again and
begins stirring the scrambled eggs once more, humming Anne Murray
songs under her breath. Leaving me to sit at the table, feeling, if
anything, more upset than I did before. I know this is all I'm going
to get out of her for now—hell, I'm lucky I got anything out of her
at all—but it frustrates me.

"Mom," I say suddenly, and she turns to look at me, favoring me with
another smile. "There's one question I've wanted to ask you for
years."

Curiosity spreads over her face. "What is it, honey?"

'Why do you love me more than you love Sabrina?' is what I want to
blurt out, but I feel stupid and childish, painfully aware of this
ironic take on 'Mom always loved you best'.

"Sam? What is it?"

But I can't ask the question I want to know. I have too many
memories, sharp and clear in my head—of hearing my mother and father
argue over having another child, my mother tearfully declaring one
child was enough, she didn't want any more, my father shouting back
that her attitude sickened him; of telling my mother that I would
love to have a little brother or sister; of my mother then resolutely
telling my father that she would 'have this baby for Sammy's sake'.

I've never wanted to remember these things, but they're always in the
back of my mind. The delicate structure of the Seaborn family has
been left virtually undisturbed for the last thirty-plus years.
Alexander Seaborn is a fourth-generation attorney who works like a
slave and loves every minute of it. Pauline Seaborn is a
stereotypical, wealthy California housewife; she stays at home while
my dad practices law and she shops when she's bored. My sister and I
were raised in a warm cocoon of money and modest luxury. Our dad,
however absent, loved us and doted on us; our mother has always been
another story.

To all outward appearances the Seaborns have always been the perfect
family. No one has ever looked beyond the successful parents and the
wildly gifted children. We never let them. And we have existed, the
four of us, with this tenuous, flimsy, wholly unstable foundation as
the basis of our family. Because none of us have ever dared to
question it.

"Sam? What is it?" Mom asks again.

But I just shake my head in reply. I can't ask why my mother loves me
more than she loves my sister, or why my father travels forty weeks a
year instead of staying home with his wife, or why the four of us
have always orbited around one another, creating intricate bonds in
teams of two—Sabrina and me, Dad and Sabrina, Mom and me—instead of
becoming a family. I can't ask these things. There are some things a
person just shouldn't know.

<><><>

Sabrina arrives at 11:30 on the dot, greeting me with an enthusiastic
hug as if she hasn't seen me in years. She pecks our mother on the
cheek and seats herself at the kitchen table, where she proceeds to
relate her meeting with Kyle 'Jackass' Britton. I can feel my jaw
clench and unclench; I know she's not telling me something. I can
always tell when my sister is holding back. But we'll leave that for
another time. For now I concentrate on the story Kyle cooked up for
my vulnerable sister to fall for.

"And you really think you can believe a story like that?" Mom demands
before I can. Her eyes are lit with fury; she looks like she wants to
shake my sister.

"Mom," protests Sabrina.

Mom doesn't let her finish. "Sabrina Ellen Seaborn! A man from your
past waltzes into your life claiming he's got information that would
help your brother's case, and you just take his word for it?"

Sabrina glares indignantly at her. "I'm not going to introduce
hearsay as evidence in Sam's case, Mom, if that's what's worrying you—
"

"What's *worrying* me, Sabrina, is that not only did you drive to New
York to meet with this man, but you seem to have swallowed his story,
hook, line, and sinker."

"*Mom*!" Sabrina's voice booms out across the kitchen with surprising
force. "For once in your life will you let me finish a *sentence*?"

Mom and I stare at her, stunned, but my sister just continues.

"Listen," she says, "there's an awful lot of truth to what Kyle said;
the trading floor does lend this sort of false air of privacy. And we
know Lisa is just the type of woman to need *someone* to confide in;
why not an old pal from the biz? Look, I'm not saying we should run
right out and plan the victory party, but this could be *real*."

"Bri," I say, but she just ignores me.

"I mean, why *not*? Why wouldn't Lisa have been stupid enough to do
something like this? There's no such thing as the perfect crime,
right? We get the evidence and we nail her ass to the wall." She's
really on a roll now.

Suddenly I'm grinning at her infectious enthusiasm. "Okay, Columbo,
slow down..." I instruct her. "What does Josh have to say about
this?"

Sabrina flushes under my scrutiny. "Josh, um—well, Josh was pretty
skeptical himself."

I snort. "I'm inclined to trust Josh's judgment here."

"Instead of mine?" she asks, temper flaring again. "Sam, I met with
Kyle, *I* talked to him; Josh just sat below and eavesdropped."

Well, file that away for future reference. I'll definitely be making
a call to Josh this afternoon. The man has some awe-inspiring
deductive skills; if he picked up any vibes from Kyle 'Jackass'
Britton, he'll be sure to tell me.

"A *playbook*?" Mom asks disbelievingly a moment later.

"She always did have this tendency to write everything down," I admit
reluctantly. "Grocery lists, things to pack, you name it."

Sabrina grins triumphantly in my direction.

"But this?" I demand. "I mean, Bri, it would be incredibly stupid of
her to do something like this."

"So?" Sabrina retorts. "What, you think Lisa is a criminal mastermind
or something? Everyone slips, Sammy. You think they caught Al Capone
killing someone in cold blood? No! They got him on tax evasion."

Another grin spreads across my face. My little sister really is
something else, and damned if she doesn't have a point. But I can't
stop the nagging sensation from jabbing at my consciousness. In the
weeks since Lisa has gone, I've been pushing myself closer and closer
to the precipice, and lately I've been hanging on by the skin of my
teeth. I've been looking down into the abyss, telling myself that at
any moment I could slip and fall, and find myself plunging down into
darkness. And now Sabrina is telling me I have reason to hope?

"It's just a hell of a lot to swallow, Bri," I tell her.

Sympathy washes over her face and she smiles gently at me. "I know it
is, Sam. But you've got to trust me. There's a reason you put this
case in my hands, and Josh's. Now, I'll work on Josh, but in the
meantime I've got to have you in my corner." Then she flashes me that
hopeful face, the one no big brother could ever resist. "Okay, Sam?"

A groan rises from deep within me. "All right, all right," I
say. "I'm in your corner. You convince Josh and—and I'm with you all
the way."

<><><>

tbc

 

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