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. There's also a mild spoiler to Season 3. Pretend Sam was
married when he went to work for the Bartlet Administration.

RATINGS AND WARNINGS: R for language and mature themes. Sam has been
accused of beating his wife. Despite the fact that the character in
question is making false accusations, this is not meant to trivialize
the traumatic experiences of people who have had to deal with
domestic violence. We intend to treat the topic with all due respect.

DISCLAIMER: Of course the characters we borrowed from The West Wing
aren't ours. Of course we're not making any money off them. Only
Sabrina, Pauline, Alex and various minor players are original to this
story.

SUMMARY: Josh pushes Sam and Sabrina to have an uncomfortable chat.
Someone from Sabrina's past has information about Lisa. Sam is not
amused.

ARCHIVE and FEEDBACK: If you'd like to have it, we'd be thrilled.
Please let us know so we can look at each other and say, "This is
teamwork. Yeah, it really is!" If you would like to send feedback,
we'd love to hear it. Please send to leicestersq@h... and
lizisita@h...

THANKS: To Tammy—I mean Sid. Thanks also to Jess and Lisa, beta-
readers extraordinaire. You guys are the best.

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
5. A Fool for a Client
6. Seaborn vs. Seaborn
7. In the Bleak Midwinter

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
By Sid and Liz

Chapter 8: Victims of Circumstance

<><><>

I bid Josh good night and unlock the door to my darkened apartment.
As I turn to wave at him, he honks his horn and pulls away, nearly
drowning out the sound of the phone. I dash across the room and grab
it, hoping against hope I can reach it before Claire wakes up.

"Hello," I say somewhat irritably, glancing at the clock on the wall
to see it's after midnight.

"Bri?" asks a familiar and comfortingly rumbly voice.

Immediately my throat closes and tears cloud my vision. It's amazing
how close I am to tears these days. There's only one person, other
than Sam, who can offer me so much comfort with a simple phone call—
the elusive Alexander Seaborn.

I force a smile into my voice. "Hi, Daddy. What a nice surprise. I
thought you were on the road this week."

"Oh, I am. How's my Princess?"

"I'm really worried about Sam, Daddy. Have you talked to him yet?"

"No, but I need to give him a call."

"Yeah, you do. I think it might help if you checked in every now and
again."

Dad laughs, refusing to be fazed by my mild rebuke. "Speaking of
checking in, have you heard from your mother lately?"

"You mean you didn't know?"

"Know what?"

"She's here, Dad. In D.C. She's staying with Sam. How can you not
know where your wife is?"

"Honey, I've been traveling so much for this anti-trust case we're
working on, I haven't even seen the house in almost two weeks. I've
been keeping tabs on things via the phone, but you know your mom,
she's goes out with the girls a lot and sometimes it'll be a few days
before I can catch up with her." He pauses as if he just realized
what I said. "She's really staying with Sam?"

"Yeah."

"Oh, brother."

That gets a wry laugh out of me. "My sentiments exactly. I know she
only wants to help, but I'm not sure she's doing much good right now.
Josh Lyman and I are putting together the groundwork for two cases
for Sam. He's getting ready to sue Lisa for libel and slander, and
he's pressing a counter-suit in the divorce. The three of us are
working all night, every night, but sometimes we spend more time
tripping over Mom than anything else."

"I'll handle your mother. Don't you worry about that," Dad says with
tired patience. "Tell me about Sam. And I don't know much about Josh
either. Is he going to do a good job for Sam? I assume he'll be
taking the lead since you haven't taken the Bar exam yet."

"Sam's..." I take a deep breath as I search for the words to describe
my brother's tenuous mental state, "he's not good, Dad. He's trying
to hold everything together, but...I'm really worried."

"And Josh?"

"Well, Josh has never been in front of a jury, that's true, but I'm
not worried about that. And neither is Sam." I speak with conviction—
it takes very little to be proud of Josh and espouse his virtues.

"Josh is passionate, relentless, brilliant and completely devoted to
Sam. I have more than enough experience to coach him through the
rough spots in front of a jury. I'll say one thing for him: He
certainly doesn't suffer from lack of bravado. And despite the fact
that he occasionally shoots off his mouth," I admit, "he's also
incredibly people-savvy. He's one of the top politicians in the
country after all. He knows how to bring people around to his view.
And CJ Cregg and Leo McGarry will be behind our efforts every step of
the way. I know they will be."

"That's all well and good, Sabrina, but what about..."

I don't let him finish. "I know what you're going to say, Daddy. I
know that this is, and will continue to be, a media circus. But
there's nothing any of us can to about that. Lisa created this beast,
and it'll be this way until we find a way to shut her up. Josh will
handle it just fine and he's got some amazing people backing him up.
And I'll... well; I'll get through it somehow. You know I'd never let
Sammy down."

"I know, Honey, I know." He pauses. "Is there anything you need me to
do?"

That's actually sort of a funny question, since he and I both know
that he's always been a hands-off parent—indulgent from afar and
incredibly generous with his money, but incredibly stingy with his
time and affection. For our dad, it was always career first, the
rest, nowhere.

I sigh, knowing there's no point in asking for more than he's willing
to give. "Right now, just pray for us, and keep your fingers crossed...
and rub your lucky golf club," I sigh again and brush my bangs off my
forehead. There is one thing he can do that would actually help and
yet require very little of him. "And call Sam. He needs to know
you're behind him too. Maybe you can offer some parental support
without driving him crazy," I say pointedly.

"Don't worry about Mom," Dad reiterates. Then he pauses again. "I
know how devoted you are to your brother, Bri. But how are you doing
with all of this? Are you okay?"

I hesitate, taking a deep breath in preparation to lie to my
father. "Yeah, Daddy, I'm fine. I promise. It's really great to hear
from you. Promise me you'll call Sam?"

"I promise. I'll call him at home tomorrow. I read about his leave of
absence in the paper."

I have to laugh again. "That's how you heard your son left his job?
From the newspaper?"

"You should really subscribe to The Wall Street Journal. It's a
beautiful thing," he quips. If we were face-to-face, he'd be winking
at me right now. And his blue eyes would twinkle just like Sam's do
when he shares a joke with me. "Now go to bed, young lady, it's late."

"Yes, Sir. Goodnight, Daddy."

I hang up the phone and head for bed, somehow strangely caught
between comfort and tears.

<><><>

No sooner has my head hit the pillow, it seems, than it's morning
again and the phone jerks me rudely back to consciousness.

"What?" is the best I can muster in the grayness of early morning.

"Well, good morning to you too, Sunshine."

"Josh, cut a girl some slack, will you? Do you have any idea what
time it is?"

"Yes," he says, drawing the word out in that annoying sing-song voice
that lets me know just how much pleasure he's getting out of
torturing me. "It's seven in the morning, and you need to get out of
bed and go to work. I need some more info on divorce statutes in the
District, my go-to girl. And you need to talk to your brother."

"Josh," I begin in the most threatening tone I can conjure.

"You heard me. You need to talk to Sam. He knows something is up with
you and it's driving him nuts. You need to come clean."

"Are you crazy? I mean, are you crazy? Were you dropped on your head
as a small child?" Suddenly I'm wide awake and terrified. "Joshua
Lyman, what have you done?"

"Bri, come on," he coaxes. "Sam knows something is going on. Didn't
you notice that at one point he was watching you like a hawk at CJ's
the other night?"

"With Hurricane Pauline out in full force? My attention was a little
distracted."

Josh groans. "Yeah, okay, you've got a point there, but he was, trust
me. I saw it. And obviously, thanks to yours truly, he knows you and
I have been up to something he doesn't know about. There's too much
up in the air in Sam's world right now. I honestly think it's
detrimental to him to be in the dark about you too. Especially after
your interview yesterday afternoon. You can't keep it from him
forever."

Just the mention of the disastrous job interview makes me groan
audibly. Somehow, just because my brother's ex-wife has embarked on a
massive slander campaign against him, I too, have become a social
pariah—guilt by association.

"But, Josh," I whine, and know I'm whining, and yet can do nothing
about it, "I can't tell him I lost my job and can't find another one.
If I tell him any of it, he's going to demand to know everything, and
I can't stand for him to take on one more burden right now. He'll
think it's all his fault, and it's really not."

"You can't help that," Josh says patiently. "I know you're trying to
protect him, we all are, and God knows I wouldn't want to mess with
the two of you when you get your whole united-front thing going on,
but I really don't think you're doing him any good right now by
keeping this from him."

"And you just had to open your mouth and tell him we need to talk?" I
guess, reasonably sure of his answer.

"Yeah, I really did." The playful tone is creeping back into his
voice because he knows he's won this particular argument, and I don't
let him win many.

"I hate you. I swear I do. So help me if you turn out to be wrong
about this, there will be many, many kinds of hell to pay." Despite
the fact that he can't see the evil, narrow-eyed look on my face
right now, I make it anyway.

"Of that, my dear, I have no doubt. Call me later and let me know how
it goes. And let me know the minute you find anything particularly
useful in those law books of yours. I need to know whether the length
of alimony payment is dictated by the state or the...Zodiac or
something, and everything else you can find me."

Sometimes Josh makes me smile when nobody else can. "Aye, Captain."

"Make it so," he says, in a truly horrendous Patrick-Stewart-as-Jean-
Luc-Picard impression before hanging up the phone. God, I wish he
were here right now, to wink at me and nudge me in the shoulder,
showing me by the sheer force of his personality that there really is
light at the end of this tunnel.

I look over at the caller ID and see "White House." Just as I
thought: barely seven a.m., but Josh is already in the office. I, on
the other hand—since I don't have a job to go to and no classes today—
am still in my nightgown.

No sooner do I have that dark thought than the phone rings again.
This time it's "Samuel N. Seaborn." Geez, I'm getting popular first
thing in the morning.

"Hi, Sweetie," I say, and giggle as he pauses before answering. I
seriously doubt it would be Mom calling me, especially this early.

"Okay, that caller ID thing is really freaking me out," he says by
way of greeting. There's another pause, and then, "And you're
remarkably cheerful this early in the morning. Are you feeling okay?
Have I reached the right person?"

"Funny boy," I reply, more than willing to play along if it gets him
talking. "I've already received the Josh Lyman wake-up call. He would
probably not agree with your generous assessment of my mood."

"Oh," Sam says shortly. "I see I'll have to thank him for that
later." The sudden abruptness in his tone baffles me. Sam exhales
hard and seems to force himself to switch gears. The transition is
somewhat difficult.

"Sammy, what is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, it's nothing," he says, trying his best to force levity
into his tone. "Can you come over?"

"Of course I can. Right now?"

He pauses again, as if realization is starting to dawn on him. "You
don't have to go to work this morning?"

Oops. I lick my lips nervously before responding. "Um, I have some
time if you need me."

"How about in an hour or so? Mom said she wanted to do some shopping
and we'll have the house to ourselves."

"Okay, sure." I wait a minute, but he's reluctant to say anything
else. "Is there something wrong?"

"It's just...it's..." the President's speechwriter is at a loss for words
a lot these days, it seems. "I need to talk to you."

"Sam?" I'm genuinely worried at this point. Does this have to do with
what Josh said, or is it something else? Something worse?

"It's fine, Bri. See you in a bit?"

"Yeah."

Click. Hmm...this is getting weirder and weirder by the minute. Talk
about strange days. Did Josh have the same conversation with Sam that
he just had with me? And if so, why didn't he say something to me
last night? Why wait until this morning? Have he and Sam orchestrated
something? Could this whole situation possibly be worse than I
already think it is?

<><><>

The throng of reporters that hung around Sam's after the Tonight in
America broadcast have dwindled to the faithful few. Some of them are
so familiar to me now. A few of them even nod politely as I walk by,
which strikes me as rather bizarre. Others raise their cameras and
snap away, but I am so excited to tell Sam about the phone call I got
after I spoke with him that I barely notice.

No sooner had I hung up the phone with Sam than it rang again, and
this time "Merrill Lynch" popped up in the caller ID window. My ex-
boyfriend, Kyle Britton, just happens to work on Lisa's old desk
(it's true what they say, the world really is a tiny, tiny place),
and called to tell me that he has physical proof Lisa is deliberately
lying about Sam. I have some doubt about his motives, but if he's got
the smoking gun that will turn the Barracuda's accusations on their
ear, I have to check it out. It would be a dream come true if we
could stop her before she ever makes it into a courtroom. If we can,
Sam—and his reputation—may make a full recovery.

My brother is waiting for me when I reach the front door. I search
his face for some clue about what it is he wanted to talk to me about
and why he seemed so mad when I told him that Josh had called. If he
can see any trace of the good news on my face, he doesn't show it.
Then again, he's been oblivious to a lot of things recently.

He closes the door behind me without so much as glancing at the
reporters. It's such a simple gesture, a normal gesture—shutting the
door behind me and holding out his hand to take my coat. He seems
unaware of the wolf pack circling his lawn. I know he's fully aware
though, and his self-restraint speaks volumes to me. While his fašade
may crack occasionally, he's still so strong. In a really spooky way,
though, he reminds me a little of Dorian Gray, reflecting outward
cool and calm that almost conceals his inner darkness. It's that
darkness he's had about him since Lisa left that scares me so much.

We stand in the hall and study each other awkwardly for a moment as
each of us tries to figure out what's going on with the other one.
Finally we have to chuckle at ourselves—a bit nervously, I might add—
and Sam breaks the silence.

"Come in," he says quietly as he gestures toward the living room. We
flop on the couch and I notice that for once the TV is off. He's had
it on almost non-stop since this whole thing began, which is one
avoidance technique I know particularly well. It's amazing how hard
it is to keep your troubles from clamoring around inside your brain
when the house is quiet. They're much easier to avoid when vegging
out in front of the television.

Obviously Sam feels a little bolder today, because he doesn't wait
long to take the proverbial bull by its horns. "Sabrina," he says as
he fixes a stern blue gaze on my face. "I'm going to get straight to
the point here."

I wonder briefly whether or not he knows he's scaring the hell out of
me right now, or if he even cares.

"I want to know...well...I mean...What are you and J.... Josh said that..." he
looks away as if gathering his thoughts and rubs his hands together
nervously before continuing. "Okay, here's the deal. I want to know
what's going on with you." He begins to tick his questions off on his
fingers. "Why did Josh tell me you're afraid to tell me something?
When did you become afraid to talk to me? And why? Why did you look
like you wanted to cry the other night when I mentioned the DA's
office? Why won't you let me help you with whatever's going on? God
knows, I've got the time right now," he snorts, stopping to push a
hand through his hair.

As he speaks, I have the distinct feeling of being a hostile witness
under the force of his cross-examination. My eyes get bigger as his
momentum builds with each question.

"And," he stops, looking me up and down, "why are you sitting in my
living room on a weekday morning in jeans and an old sweatshirt you
stole from me? Why aren't you dressed for work?"

Damn. I open my mouth to speak and just as quickly close it again. I
can't do this. I just can't. I can't upset him like this.

"Sammy, I...it's nothing...it's..."

"Stop. Don't `Sammy' me. There's too much going on that I don't know
about these days. Please don't keep me in the dark here too."

If this were an episode of Ally McBeal, you'd see a shot of me
jumping out of a giant frying pan and into an even bigger fire right
now. I hold out my hands in supplication, but the harder I try to
avoid his questions and assure him everything's fine, the more
adamant he becomes. Before long we're shouting at each other.

"Fine!" I exclaim as my temper rises and pushes me out of the sofa
and halfway across the room. I turn back around to face him and cross
my arms over my chest, saying, "Fine, Sam. You want to know what's
going on, I'll tell you. I got fi..."

No sooner do I try to say the word—a word I never in my wildest
dreams imagined would apply to me, Sabrina Seaborn, A-student and
self-flagellating over-achiever—than my temper flares out, leaving me
all flesh and no bone, and I sink down into the chair by the cold
fireplace. I can't look at Sam, and I certainly can't bring myself to
tell the person I admire more than any other—the one person I most
want to make proud—that I lost my job, that it's indirectly his
fault, and that nobody else will hire me (also indirectly his fault).
At the same time I didn't realize until this moment just how much
I've missed having my big brother's support during these difficult
days.

"Bria?" he asks, resorting to the nickname only he has ever called
me. Pretty sneaky on his part, I think. He knows that one always gets
me.

I look up and Sam's staring at me, concern and beginnings of dread
written all over his features. I quickly look down again, now
completely unable to meet his eyes.

"Tell me," he pleads.

"I got fir..." but my throat clamps shut around a lump that's too hard
to swallow.

"Fired," he finishes somberly. "You got fired from the DA's office."
He doesn't have to ask, he understands now, and his tone becomes
incredulous.

I still can't bring myself to look at him and nod mutely, unaware
until I feel his hand on my knee that he has crossed the room to sit
at my feet. I look away again, which is when he reaches over and
takes my chin in his hand to make me look at him.

"Honey, what happened?" he asks gently.

"Sammy, I..." my voice catches again at the pained look on his face and
I know I'm one more word away from losing it. I was wrong when I
talked to Dad last night. I've already let my brother down. And now
he's asking me to give him all the terrible details, which will only
hurt him more.

He drops his hand and puts it on top of the one on my knee and
watches me expectantly.

"Please don't make me do this," I plead. "I didn't want to tell you
because you've got so much else going on right now. Josh wrote a
letter of recommendation for me, which is the thing he mentioned at
CJ's. I was interviewing at a private firm while you guys met for
lunch."

My distraction method doesn't work, because suddenly he pulls back
and says, "This is my fault, isn't it?"

"No, Sam, it isn't your fault. It's Lisa's fault, and Greg Parker's,
and the fault of two other women in the office, and maybe mine for
popping off at Greg—but it is not your fault."

My brother looks stunned. He rises and returns to the couch, and sits
down again, resting his elbows on his knees. Now he's the one who
won't look up and it's my turn to cross the room.

"Sammy?"

He shakes his head slowly back and forth. "I can't believe this. I
just can't believe it. It's one thing to mess with me, but now
they're coming after my sister too?"

"It's a company town, Sam. And people talk. You know how it is. There
were two women in the office who love to gossip, they were both full-
time employees and I was the student intern. When the situation
became disruptive, they got rid of the one who was easiest to get rid
of. They got away with it because as an intern, even a paid intern, I
wasn't entitled to the same protections full-time employees get. It
was business."

My brother looks at me like I'm completely crazy, and he's probably
right. "I can't believe it, and I can't believe you're sitting here
trying to tell me it's nothing. I just...I don't believe it."

"Well, now you know," I tell him. "And I'm sorry, Sammy, I didn't
want you to...have anything else to worry about," I finish lamely.

It takes another minute before he'll look at me again. "I'm sorry,"
he says, and it's obvious from his pained expression that he's done
just what I was afraid he'd do, taken it all on himself. Thanks a
lot, Josh.

"It's not your fault," I tell him again, knowing that he'll have to
hear this many times and do a lot of soul-searching before he
realizes it's true. It's time to change the topic of
conversation. "But guess what? I've got good news!"

"You got a job?"

Ouch. I try to conceal the involuntary flinch that rises from the
hopeful look on his face and the memory of the recent demoralizing
interview. "Better. I got a phone call from someone who might be able
to help us with your case."

He perks up. "What do you mean?"

"Kyle Britton called me not ten minutes after you hung up the phone."
I continue despite the fact that Sam starts to scowl again. "He works
in Lisa's old office. A couple of days ago he overheard a buddy of
hers talking and says he can get us something that will prove the
Barracuda made the whole thing up. Isn't that good news?"

Sam regards me skeptically. "What's the catch, Bri?"

"There's no catch, Sam," I tell him; disbelieving his skepticism in
the face of what could be the answer to our prayers.

"Yeah, right, and I've got oceanfront property in Arizona you've just
got to see. I'll even cut you a special deal because you're cute."

My temper reacts immediately. "What is that supposed to mean? He's
trying to help you."

"Oh, yeah. I'm sure his motives are altruistic. The guy's a creep,
Bri. He broke your heart, in case you've forgotten, and now he just
happens to show up with a critical piece of evidence in my case?
Color me skeptical. What does he want from you?"

Okay, the sarcasm is royally irking me, despite the fact that I've
had the very same conversation with myself already today. Frankly
though, it doesn't really matter what Kyle wants, or thinks he wants.
If there's the slightest possibility that whatever he's holding will
help Sam, I'm all about it.

I push back a sarcastic retort in an effort to reassure him. "He
doesn't want anything from me, Sam. He wants to give me something.
Maybe he wants to bury the hatchet, or maybe he's suddenly grown a
conscience, I don't know and frankly I don't care. I'm going to New
York this Saturday to meet with him."

"No, you're not." Sam is on his feet now, looking down on me, which
propels me to my own feet to stare up at him. "Not just no, but hell
no."

"Excuse me? Who do you think you are? My father?"

"I'm not your father, Sabrina, I'm your brother, and I love you and I
know this guy and I know guys like him, and you're only going to get
hurt. I will not allow you to run off to New York to meet with him.
Not now and not ever. Do you understand me?"

This superior tone he gets sometimes makes me want to claw my eyes
out. Or his.

"I don't recall asking for your permission, Samuel," I spit at
him. "I'm going and that's final. If it will help you, that's all I
care about. I'm not as stupid as you seem to think I am. I can handle
myself and I can handle Kyle." At this point I am so livid that I
brush past him and grab my coat.

"Sabrina, listen to me. You are not leaving this house," he demands
as he follows me to the front door. As I thought, he stops short of
following me outside in the face of the small group gathered on his
tiny lawn.

First he orders me out, and then he orders me to stay. Sometimes I
really don't understand men.

"Good-bye, Sam. I'll see you Sunday," I call over my shoulder as I
head out the door. I only catch one glimpse of the stricken look on
his face as the door closes behind me.

<><><>

 

 

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