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: R for language and mature themes.

DISCLAIMER: The characters and situations we've all seen on The West
Wing are the property of Mr. Sorkin and company, blah blah blah. No
copyright infringement is intended.

SUMMARY: Sam gets some mail, CJ gets a phone call and all heck breaks
loose. Fasten your seatbelt, Sam.

ARCHIVE: If you'd like to have it, we'd really be thrilled. Please
let us know. If you would like to send us some feedback, we would
love to hear from you. leicestersq@h... and
lizisita@h...

THANKS: To Sidda, the best Ya-Ya a girl could have. I am truly
blessed to know you! And to Miss Raye, who put together one heck of a
gathering in Las Vegas.

<><><>

Mitigating Circumstances
by Sid & Liz

Story preceding this:
1: The Strong, Silent Type

<><><>

Chapter 2: Tonight in America

Manny clears me into the West Wing late Tuesday morning and I head
for the Communications bullpen. I'm early for my lunch appointment
with CJ on purpose, because I want to check on Sam. He looked so sad
and so, well, broken yesterday and to be perfectly honest, I feel a
little guilty for being so hard on him.

Somehow, somewhere, on some sub-conscious level, I always knew that
Lisa would hurt him. Call it feminine intuition or that weird sibling
radar we share, but I just knew it, even before I could put my finger
on it. And now it's happened. Lots of people get divorced, it's
hardly a new thing anymore, but you never want to see it happen to
anyone you care about, especially your family.

We used to joke that I had three parents instead of two, but in a way
it's true. Sam was always there for me. He's more than my big
brother, he's my buddy and my protector, and was the one person who
was really there each and every time I needed him. Until the
Bi....Sabrina, the polite term is Barracuda, came along. Until the
Barracuda came along.

Maybe it was the fact that she's an only child, I don't know and
never really cared to think about it all that deeply. All I needed to
know was that she monopolized his time and attention and resented me,
Josh, and anyone else who cared about Sam and, heaven forbid, wanted
to spend time with him.

When they married, I didn't gain a sister, I lost my brother, my hero
and my best friend. I've never been able to forgive Lisa for that. So
when Sam called me yesterday, I took out some of my frustration on
him. And now I feel like the heel that I am.

I wave to Cathy and she motions me toward Sam's office. The door's
open and I can see him facing the window, carefully considering
whatever he's holding in his hand. I can only see his face in
profile, but I can feel the waves of negative emotion rolling off him
like a black tide, and I stop at the door.

I open my mouth to speak, but nothing comes out. I finally manage to
clear my throat, and Sam starts and turns around. The look in his
eyes as he peers at me over the rim of his glasses is heart-breaking.

"Come in and close the door," he says quietly.

I shut the door and cross toward him, kissing him on the cheek and
leaning against the edge of the desk. "The papers?"

"Yeah," he says as he hands them to me.

I take the packet of papers from him and look them over. The Domestic
Relations Branch of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,
Family Division hereby...I look back up at Sam.

"I guess this makes it official," he says with great finality. It's
almost as if he didn't really believe it was over until now.

"I'm sorry, Samshine."

He considers me silently for a minute, his head tilted slightly to
one side. "Are you?" There's just the faintest glimmer of a smile in
his eyes as he calls to see if I'm bluffing.

Okay, here we go.

"Yes," I sigh. "I am. My bags are packed and I'm ready to go on my
guilt trip, oh travel agent."

The glimmer in his blue eyes gets just a little brighter, and the
corner of his mouth twitches slightly as he tries not to smirk at
me. "Keep going."

"Sam, I know I was a little hard on you yesterday..."

"Excuse me? A little hard?"

"That's right, just a little," I continue as he guffaws. "And I just
wanted to say that I'm sorry. I am sorry that you have to go through
this and I hope you know that I'm here for you. I'm not the one who
went anywhere in the first place, but that's another story and we
won't get into it now," I say as he starts to interrupt me.

"Now wait a minute, Bri..."

Okay, maybe we will get into it now. "Let me ask you a question, Sam.
Before you called me yesterday morning, how long had it been since
we'd spoken to one another?"

He has to stop and think about it for a minute before he can
answer. "About a month, I suppose."

"Forty-six days, to be exact," I reply, "which included Christmas and
New Year's. And how far is your house from my apartment?"

He's starting to get the point. "About fifteen minutes," he concedes.

"And how many messages did I leave for you at the house over the last
forty-six days?" I continue in my best cross-examination style.

He ponders for a minute more. "I don't know. One or two?"

"Wrong. I called ten times. I talked to Lisa three times and I left
seven messages on your answering machine, but I'm guessing you never
got those, did you?"

He can't argue this point and he knows it. "No."

"I am sorry that you are losing someone you care about, and I am
sorry you're hurting right now, but I am not sorry that Lisa is not
going to be part of your life anymore." Sam sighs and looks down in
defeat. I bend over slightly and take his chin in my hand to make him
meet my gaze. He looks up at me resignedly as I continue softly, "the
truth of the matter is, big brother, that she was never good enough
for you."

Sam just looks at me for a minute, and then shrugs his shoulders
slightly and his lips twitch again. "Yeah, well, you're prejudiced."

"Not at all," I reply confidently. "I just call `em like I see `em."

That gets a full-fledged Seaborn Smirk from him. He holds up his
hands in a symbol of defeat. "Sisters."

"Brothers," I shoot back.

He gives me his best, round-eyed innocent, `Who me?' look.

I laugh and shake my head. "Oh, put that one back in the bag, Sam. I
am way better at the big-blue-eyed trick than you'll ever be."

He rewards me with out-right laughter this time. "You're probably
right. So are you here to do your daily check-up, Mom? You could just
call, you know."

"Yeah, because I've had so much luck with that before." I'll ignore
the Mom comment for the moment.

"Okay, okay."

"To answer your question, yes, I'm checking up on you. Get used to
it, unless you'd rather I hand the reins over to Pauline."

"No," he says emphatically. "There's a reason you and I are both on
the East Coast, remember?"

"Mm-hmmm," I agree, nodding my head. "Good, then that's settled. I'm
also having lunch with CJ."

"You're having lunch with CJ?"

"Is there an echo in here?" I ask, looking around his office in
search of the offending gremlin.

"Well, try to stay out of trouble will you? I'm a little busy right
now."

"Moi?" My turn to flash the big-eyed innocent look.

"Go away. Stop by before you leave, Okay?"

"Okay," I say as I pick up my bag and head for the door. I stop and
look back at him again as he sits behind his desk.

He catches my expression and says, "What?"

"It's going to be okay, Sam. You know that, don't you?"

He nods, and flashes me a brief smile, but a sincere one. "Yeah. I
promise."

There's just enough hope in his eyes that I can leave him and go meet
CJ and feel a little bit reassured for the first time since the phone
rang yesterday morning.

<><><>

CJ and I decide to skip the White House Canteen in favor of the
Cactus Cantina, home of the best Mexican food in the city. It has the
added bonus of being just a few blocks away from the National
Cathedral, which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful
buildings in the country.

I'm always drawn to the cathedral grounds when something's really
bothering me, and today is no exception. We have just enough time to
stop by briefly before heading back to the West Wing, and I finally
ask CJ the question that's been on my mind all day.

"CJ, does Sam's situation cause a problem for you guys?

CJ takes a minute to gaze up at the center tympanum on the west
fašade as she thinks. It depicts the creation of mankind and shows
half-formed figures emerging from swirling waves. She seems to find
it as fascinating as I do.

With CJ you're always aware of the wheels turning whenever she
considers anything related to the press and public opinion. I don't
know anybody who has a better inherent feel for gauging public
reaction than she does. She's simply the best there is.

"I don't really think so. It's not like Lisa's going on television
and trumping up accusations about Sam," she says with a laugh. "He's
high-profile enough that it'll get some headlines for a few days, but
it should die down after that."

She looks at me sideways as we start to move toward the car. "Unless
he's got some skeletons in his closet that he hasn't told us about,"
she says, raising an eyebrow expectantly.

I laugh. "CJ, this is Sam `the Eagle Scout' Seaborn we're talking
about here. He actually is an Eagle Scout and everything."

She grins. "Is he now? Remind me later that I have the greatest story
to tell you about your brother the Eagle Scout and his partner-in-
crime. But first, I've gotta ask: What do you think Lisa will do?"

"You mean other than take him to the cleaner's?"

CJ gives me a strange side-ways look. "You know it's funny you say
that. Sam said the same thing yesterday."

I roll my eyes. "With Lisa it was always about the money. She was
furious when Sam gave up impending partnership at Gage Whitney to
join Bartlet for America. She cared a lot less about what made Sam
happy than she did about her New York yuppy lifestyle.." I pause as
we climb in my sturdy old Chevy. At least it's paid for.

"I imagine she'll move back to New York. She was trading high-yield
bonds for Merrill when they met. She might go back to that, although
personally I'd love to buy her a one-way ticket to some small
European principality from which she could never return." My distaste
for my sister-in-law has always been difficult to hide.

CJ laughs out loud. "There never was any love lost between the two of
you, was there?"

"Ha! That's the understatement of the year," I say as I start the
engine and pull into traffic. "Haven't you ever heard Josh talk about
Lisa, or what happened at the last Seaborn family holiday?"

She chuckles again. "Oh, yes. She's been the subject of several
colorful diatribes. They're rather entertaining, actually."

"I just bet they are," I say, grinning at the thought.

<><><>

We continue chatting during the drive back to the White House. I walk
with CJ back toward her office to retrieve my sweater before checking
on Sam again. It's time to head back toward campus.

CJ is in the middle of telling me about the time recently, (during
the forty-six day stretch when I didn't hear from Sam), that he and
Josh actually started a fire in the Mural Room. I'm laughing so hard
tears are gathering in my eyes as she describes in great detail their
enormous sense of self-satisfaction and "teamwork" that went up in
smoke—literally—with Sam's discovery of the plaque detailing how
Andrew Johnson used to read in front of that fireplace before it was
welded shut in 1896.

Her descriptions are perfect and I can see the whole thing so
clearly. Josh looking at Sam, Sam looking at Josh as smoke billowed
around the room and the unspoken `We're in trouble, aren't we?' that
doubtlessly passed between them. The more I think about it the harder
I laugh.

"So then, Charlie has to go upstairs to wake up the President,
because Secret Service protocol—" she says as her phone begins to
ring. I start to pick up my things and she stops me as she goes for
the phone. "Oh, wait, there's more, you've got to hear what happened
next!" She is obviously enjoying telling the story as much as I am
hearing it. This is going to provide me with more than plenty of
fodder for months to come. Just wait.

"CJ Cregg," she says into the phone. She listens for a moment and the
laughter abruptly dies in her eyes and all color drains from her
face. Her grip on the phone tightens as she stands behind her desk,
and she places her other hand stubbornly on her hip. Obviously this
is not good, whatever it is. CJ is clearly bracing for a fight.

I pick up my stuff and start to go, waving good-bye, but she stops me
with an adamant wave of her hand and motions me back into the room.
She turns her attention back to the phone call.

"I'm sorry, could you hold for one moment, please?" she asks, not
waiting for a response before she punches the hold button. She looks
up at me again, her eyes deadly serious. "Sabrina, you should
probably hear this." She jabs at the speakerphone button and
says, "Thank you for holding. Can you please repeat what you were
saying?"

The disembodied voice in the telephone speaks in quick, professional,
yet somehow slightly hostile, tones. "Yes. Ms. Cregg, this is Alexa
Woodard calling from Tonight in America. We'd like to get a statement
from you regarding the interview Lisa Taylor-Seaborn will be giving
this afternoon, to be broadcast as part of tonight's show."

Knock me over with a feather. My mouth drops open in complete shock.
Lisa's doing an interview on national television? Why? Suddenly CJ's
innocent joke about Lisa and skeletons in Sam's closet becomes
extremely ominous.

I start to protest, but CJ silences me with a stern look and a shake
of her head as she places a finger to her lips.

"We have no comment for you," she says in a tone that brooks no
nonsense.

The voice in the phone persists. "The White House doesn't have
anything to say about the divorce scandal of one its highest-profile
staff members?"

I have to actually clap both my hands over my mouth to keep from
cursing out loud.

"That's correct," CJ answers coolly.

"I'm sure we'll be talking again, Ms. Cregg," says the voice in the
phone.

CJ punches another button and breaks the connection. For several
seconds we stare at each other, speechless.

My hands are still over my mouth. I am unable to move, trying
desperately to think what reason my sister-in-law might possibly have
to go on national television.

Just then Josh saunters by and pokes his head in.

"Hello, Ladies," he says, stopping when he sees our incredulous
expressions. Some of the humor dies from his eyes and he suddenly
becomes a great deal more serious. "What's going on?"

"Lisa," I hiss. Yes, I think I actually hiss. If I had claws, they'd
be firmly embedded in, well, something, right now.

Josh's eyes widen, and he looks to CJ.

I can see CJ's wheels turning again. "I just got a call from Tonight
in America. Lisa's doing an interview on tonight's broadcast. They
wanted a statement about Sam and Lisa's divorce."

Josh looks just as stunned as we do. A split second later the three
of us simultaneously yell, "SAM!"

TBC

 

 

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