SPOILERS: Just small ones here and there, but none to speak of in
this chapter. The timeline is established as being just after The
Leadership Breakfast, so many things will pop up.

DISCLAIMER: In this universe, Sam was married to Lisa when he began
working for the Bartlet Administration. Otherwise, we're sticking as
close to canon as possible. If you're a West Wing fan, you'll be able
to figure out which characters belong to us, and which we're just
borrowing to suit our literary needs.

RATED: R for language and situation. Sam has been accused of spousal
abuse.

SUMMARY: What happens when 'for better or worse' suddenly gets a
whole lot worse?

ARCHIVE: If you'd like to have it, we'd be thrilled. Please let us
know. Feedback would be an honor. Please send to:
lizisita@h... and leicestersq@h... .

THANKS: To Liz, for the WW dream that turned into fanfic reality :)
Also to Jess and Lisa -- beta-readers extraordinaire.

Stories preceding this:
1: The Strong, Silent Type
2: Tonight in America

<><><>

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
by, Liz & Sid

Chapter 3: When the Vow Breaks

<><><>

You just never know.

You meet a girl and you think she's wonderful and you fall in love.
You risk your pride and your heart by telling her how you feel, and
when she says she feels the same, that she loves you back, you hold
her and you're sure that it's forever.

You fall deeper in love, because the girl seems more wonderful with
every minute that passes, and you ask her to marry you, and when she
says yes, you're certain life could not possibly get any better. And
when you see her floating down the aisle in a white dress, with a
smile on her face that is meant just for you, your heart swells and
you feel ten feet tall – you really do – and you see yourself growing
old with this woman. You hear the priest say `for better or
worse', `for richer or poorer', `in sickness and in health', and you
really do believe this is it, this is the moment all creatures are
meant for – this moment when you bind yourself to another person. You
repeat the words `till death do we part', and you mean them. You mean
them with every fiber of your being. And you think she means them too.

And then one day, further down the road, she stops kissing you for no
reason, or for any reason at all; she tells you she's never liked
your friends or your sister; she asks you to quit your job and go
back to one you hated; and then one day she packs up and leaves. And
you realize just how wrong you were. You realize there's no such
thing as forever. And then just when maybe you were beginning to
adjust to that fact, to grasp the concept of life without her, she
slaps you with the biggest betrayal, the most shattering treachery
you've ever known. Because despite how she changed, you thought you
knew her. But you didn't.

These are the jumbled thoughts racing around my brain as we all
assemble in Leo's office. They're thoughts I have no control over. I
don't even think I have control over my own body. My arms and legs
are moving, and my heart is beating, but it's as if I have nothing to
do with it. I feel detached, tenuous, as if I'm floating somewhere
outside of my physical body. I'm watching the goings-on, but I'm not
really a part of them.

For a few minutes everyone is silent, staring at me with the same
shock my sister wore. They're trying to determine just how shaken up
I really am, but judging from their expressions, it's tough for them
to tell.

I think it's because since breaking down in the bullpen and weeping
uncontrollably for a good ten minutes, I haven't so much as moved a
facial muscle.

I sink down into a chair and wait. I'm not going to be the first to
speak. This isn't something I can help them spin. I can't offer words
of ambiguity for CJ's press statement, I can't reassure anyone that
this isn't going to become a thing. I cannot contribute to the
politicking I know this will become.

I am in, but not of, my surroundings.

Josh is the first to speak, of course. Glancing at me out of the
corner of his eye, he thrusts his hands in his trouser pockets and
says, "I think we need to get on with `Tonight in America' and demand
a retraction."

"We can't demand a retraction," CJ interjects. "They interviewed
Lisa, they didn't produce a segment on the evil White House Deputy
Communications Director."

"You're saying they can throw their hands up in the air and say `It
wasn't us'?"

"Well, it wasn't," CJ points out.

"Maybe it'll blow over," Josh says. I know he doesn't believe it.

"It won't blow over," says Toby. He's not looking at me or Josh, or
anyone. "'Tonight in America' is hardly `MacNeil-Lehrer', but it's
not `Hard Copy', either."

CJ nods, wincing. "They have credibility."

"The AP is picking up the story right now, you can count on it," Leo
says, his voice more gravelly than usual.

Josh sighs and drops down next to me. "I know," he says. "I know.
Jesus, I know."

There is a brief moment of silence.

Then Toby says, "Sam? Is there any possibility that there is even the
tiniest grain of truth in anything Lisa said in her interview?" He's
rubbing his palms together and staring at the ground as he speaks.
It's a classic Toby pose.

Josh stares at him, alarmed. "Toby, how can you --?"

Leo cuts him off. "Josh, it has to be asked."

For the record, I am not even fazed by the question. I just look at
Toby blankly, trying to determine what it is he's just asked
me. "What?" I ask.

Leo and Toby exchange a look.

"Is there any truth to what Lisa said tonight?" CJ says gently. She
has this look on her face that makes me think she'd be hugging me if
she didn't feel it wasn't proper in the current surroundings.

"No," I say. My voice is weak. I clear my throat. "No. None of it was
true."

Josh turns to me and his expression is so earnest I want to smile,
just to cheer him up. "Because you can tell us, Sam. If there was
ever anything...I mean, I personally wouldn't blame you if you had
taken a swing at her." His gaze skitters around the room, here,
there, anywhere but on my face.

"Don't," I say. "Don't say that. You don't mean it."

Josh sighs and his shoulders sink further down. He shakes his
head. "You're right. I don't mean that. I can't even believe I said
it. But Sam - "

"It's not true," I say, firmly this time. "None of it. None of it is
true. I wouldn't have hurt her."

There's a knock on the door, and a moment later Margaret enters, her
eyes wide with apprehension. Her gaze darts to each of our faces, and
when she looks at me, it's like she's never seen me before.

She scurries over to Leo's desk and motions for him to lean closer.
She whispers in his ear for a moment, and when Leo raises his head
again, his face is ashen.

"The phones," he says.

"They're ringing off the hook," adds Margaret, almost apologetically,
as if she could have done something to stop the call flow.

The rest of us tense. It's started. We haven't even had time to work
out a defense strategy, and they're already attacking.

CJ looks at Leo with wild eyes, her hands out in a gesture of
supplication. "What do you want me to say?"

"Tell them we didn't comment on the allegations of abuse because - "

"Because they didn't mention allegations of abuse!" she replies
indignantly.

Leo nods sagely. "Okay. Say that," he says.

Toby looks to me then, and I think he's trying to apologize with that
look. Then he glances at CJ. "Tell them the White House regrets the
difficult family situation of one of its most-valued employees, but
that it does not involve itself in the personal affairs of its
staffers."

"You really think `affairs' is the best word to use in the current
situation?" CJ raises an eyebrow.

"Fine, then. Just say `personal lives'."

"CJ, they're going to ask about the allegations," Leo says. He's
avoiding my gaze.

Look at the damage Lisa's already done: an hour-and-a-half ago all my
co-workers looked me dead in the eye; now they'd rather look at a
speck on the wall.

Josh slaps a palm against the arm of the chair. "That's when we say
that the allegations are *allegations*, and nothing more. Lisa has no
*proof* –"

"Josh," admonishes Leo. "We can't say that. We can't call the woman
a liar."

"Who's calling her a liar?"

"We are," agrees CJ, flinching at her own words. "If we go on
television and say that Lisa Taylor-Seaborn has no proof of the
alleged abuse, it's tantamount to saying she's a liar in our eyes and
we're standing behind the man she's accusing."

"Well, we are," Toby – of all people – says.

"Yeah, but we can't *say* it," retorts CJ.

Margaret has been standing quietly during this exchange, hands folded
primly before her. She licks her lips nervously and clears her
throat. "What do I do, Leo?" she whispers.

Leo and CJ are locked eye to eye. It's as if there's some unspoken
message being passed between them. Leo's face is hard with
resignation and regret, and the knowledge that he has a job to do;
CJ's is soft with sadness and remorse. Then they both nod gently and
CJ spins on her heel, marching past Margaret and into the hallway,
where she disappears.

"Guys?" Leo motions to Toby and Josh. "Can you leave Sam and me alone
for a sec? Margaret, just defer all the callers to CJ's briefing.
They can wait another ten minutes."

Margaret nods and leaves. Toby and Josh follow her a moment later,
Josh throwing one last look behind him as he closes the door.

Leo comes out from behind his desk and leans back against it. I look
up at him, like a little boy about to be lectured by the principal.
God, that's how I feel: like I've been sent to the principal's office.

"Sam."

I look at him, and miracle of miracles, he meets my eyes.

"Sam, we need to talk about this."

"Man to man?" I say, attempting a joviality I don't feel.

"Sam."

Now I am the one who looks away. "I know, Leo."

"This is gonna get ugly, Sam."

"Yeah."

"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."

I must look as shocked as I feel, because Leo sighs.

"I bet no one's ever painted you as the bad guy, have they?" he asks
me.

I bristle. "You're saying I've had it lucky."

"Cut the crap, Sam. I'm not saying this is karmic retribution, if
that's what you mean. I'm just saying you've probably not had a lot
of experience being on the receiving end of ill will."

"No," I admit.

"You've always been the white knight charging to everyone's rescue –
Josh's, Sabrina's, even mine on a particularly disastrous occasion I
can recall..."

"Leo," I say, pinching the bridge of my nose between my fingers, "can
we deal with my hero complex some other time?"

"Listen to me. It's going to get ugly, Sam. It's going to get a hell
of a lot worse before it gets any better. These are serious
accusations Lisa's making against you; we can't just `no comment' the
press until the story goes away. She's got the power of television at
her fingertips. That interview's going to be rebroadcast on just
about every news program you can think of. She doesn't have to give
another one for this to stay in the public eye. We're talking the
sacred bond of marriage, here, we're talking the unwritten law that a
man never hurts his wife."

"I never did," I say.

"I know that. Josh knows it, and CJ and Toby, and your sister. The
President will know it, too. But don't expect the American people to
believe it for a second. They're gonna think you're the bad guy,
Sam. And I don't know how you're going to handle that."

"What do you want me to say?" I ask, a hint of edge creeping into my
voice.

"I can't ask you to say anything. Judging from the look on your face
it hasn't even really sunk in yet."

I think he's right. That would explain the numb feeling that's slowly
spread throughout my body.

"You're in no mood for a discussion like this," Leo says kindly. "Go
home, Sam. Come back tomorrow when you've had a good night's sleep."

Sleep? I don't remember what that is.

I nod in reply. "Okay." I rise from the chair and for a minute Leo
and I are eye to eye.

"You know we can't publicly support you," he finally blurts out.

There it is...Finally: a little bit of feeling. Shock. But just as
quickly as it hits me, it's gone, and I just nod again, the numbness
returning. "I know." The painful gnawing in my chest worsens as Leo's
words sink in.

"It's a delicate situation. The President's administration can't be
seen standing behind a man who's being accused of abuse."

"I know," I say, walking to the door.

"We'll do what we can, Sam, I promise you. But you know the business
we're in."

I continue walking.

"We do support you, Sam."

I turn to look at him.

"I know."

"We're behind you all the way."

Yeah. Way behind.

<><><>

I find Sabrina in the bullpen. She and Donna are side by side,
watching CJ's briefing on television. They are both seated on Donna's
desk, their hands at their sides, fingers curling around the edge as
they watch. They're united in sisterly solidarity, that peculiar
connection that some women find in one another.

CJ is reading determinedly through her response to Defense Secretary
Hewitt's statement on the V-48 Falcon, ignoring the sea of raised
hands before her and the repetitive calling of her name.

"CJ! What does the White House have to say about Lisa Seaborn's
accusations?" shouts one voice.

Another calls out, "CJ! Is the White House indeed `rushing' to Sam
Seaborn's defense, as Lisa Seaborn has claimed?

"...over the course of the past sixteen months there have been five
catastrophic accidents," drones CJ, "in which the Marine Corps has
lost seventeen of its best and brightest..."

Donna and Sabrina both tear their eyes away from the screen when they
notice me standing there. I'm leaning haphazardly against the
doorframe, grinding the heel of my palm into my eyes to ward away the
fatigue.

"Hi, Sam," whispers Donna.

"Hey." My voice sounds far away. "What are you still doing here?" I
ask Sabrina.

She just looks at me as if I've asked her the most ridiculous
question she's ever heard. "What do you think I'm doing here? Did you
really think I would just go home and cram for a test?"

"Well, yeah, since that's exactly what you *should* be doing."

"I'm going home with you," she says firmly.

"Sabrina, let's not have this argument."

"Okay," she agrees, "we won't. Particularly since you're in no shape
to argue."

"No."

"I'll win, Sam, you know I will."

"She will," adds Donna, her blond hair shimmering as she nods.

I feel a bit of anger creeping into my veins. It's almost a welcome
change from the numbness. I glare at my sister as harshly as I can.

"No," I say again.

"Sam, you need me."

"I need to be alone."

"You've been alone for two weeks. What good has it done you?"

"This is a different kind of alone," I snap.

"Fine. You can be alone. Tomorrow, in your office. Not tonight, Sam.
Tonight I'm coming home with you."

I run my hand through my hair and exhale sharply through my
teeth. "No." The word comes out like a bark.

"This argument is finished." Sabrina reaches over and picks up her
satchel, throwing it over her shoulder.

"Sabrina, for God's sake, listen to me."

Don't lose it, Sam. Don't lose it.

The anger is slowly building up to a frenzy. I *hate* when Sabrina
does this. She thinks it's cute and funny and spunky, but in reality
it just gets under my skin and makes me want to throw something.

She's facing me with one black eyebrow raised, arms folded
expectantly.

"I want to be alone," I say through clenched teeth.

She isn't deterred in the least. "Now *you* listen to *me* –"

Donna interrupts us, then, finger to her lips like a librarian
straight out of the fifties. "Shh! Quiet!"

CJ has started the briefing on Lisa's interview. She looks amazing up
there; she's one of the few people who has a real presence onscreen.

"The White House regrets the difficult family situation of one of its
most-valued employees, but it does not involve itself in the personal
lives of its staffers," she says in her best, this-is-what-they-pay-
me-for voice.

Dennis Winchell, a snarky little junior reporter from the Boston
Globe shoots back with, "CJ, can the President and his administration
really afford to be so casual about the allegations?"

"I beg your pardon, Dennis, but I don't think a policy of
noninvolvement represents nonchalance," CJ replies sharply. "This is
a personal matter between Mr Seaborn and his wife; it is not the
place, nor is it the policy for the President of the United States to
comment on the matter at all."

"CJ, Lisa Seaborn has accused Sam of physical abuse," Pete Phelps
calls out. "I realize Sam is a close friend to many staffers --
yourself included -- but don't you think it would be wise for the
administration to issue something besides `no comment'?"

CJ's eyes narrow, just the slightest bit. Enough for those of us who
know her to know she's gone beyond pissed and is heading rapidly
toward livid. "Excuse me, Pete, but I believe I just issued a
statement."

"Yeah. For all the fancy words, CJ, it boiled right down to `no
comment'."

Sabrina's head whips around. "What paper is he with?" she asks Donna.

"The Cincinnati Herald."

"Remind me never to buy that paper."

"When have you ever gone to Cincinnati?"

"It's a statement, Donna."

Onscreen, CJ grasps the edges of her podium and her jaw clenches and
unclenches for a moment.
I can tell she's carefully preparing her reply; this isn't something
she and Leo have rehearsed, and she has to choose her words
painstakingly. She's amazing that way.

Pete isn't giving up. "Come on, CJ. Don't beat around the bush. If
you're going to tell us you have no comment on the allegations, why
don't you just come right out and say it?" He snorts, looking to his
fellow reporters for back-up.

"All right," she says. "Fair enough." Then she releases her grasp on
the podium and stands up straight again. It's this stance that tells
me she's back in control, that no one is going to get the upper hand
with her.

Sometimes I really love CJ.

"Fair enough," she says again. "Here's a statement from the White
House: The White House has no comments on the *allegations* of
abuse." She says the word `allegations' as neutrally as she can, but
the look on her face plainly tells just how she feels on the
subject. "And you can quote me on that."

"Go, CJ," whispers Sabrina in admiration.

There's another explosion of voices in the pressroom.

"CJ, what does the President have to say about Lisa Seaborn's
interview?"

"No comment."

"Does Sam intend to pursue a libel suit with the help of the White
House, CJ?"

CJ rolls her eyes. "Gerry, please do not open that can of worms."

Next to me, Sabrina looks at Donna again. "What is it about these
people that the words `no comment' mean nothing to them?"

"CJ, does the White House plan to pursue any course of action at all?"

"Are you standing by Sam personally, CJ?"

CJ has been gathering up her pile of papers as the questions fly
faster. At this last query, she lifts her head and her expression is
torn. On the one hand is the intrinsic loyalty that is the very
nature of her being; on the other is her sense of duty, which is just
as strong, just as compelling.

An unreasonable part of me, the part that knows this could never
happen in a million years, wants CJ to tell them that speaking as a
person, not as the Press Secretary, but as a woman and my friend,
yes, she stands by me. With everything she has in her.

I know she can't say that. Leo would be furious, Toby would drag her
into his office for a serious shouting match, and the press would
have an absolute field day with a quote like that. The Press
Secretary cannot just be a woman or a friend; she is the Press
Secretary at all times.

I still want her to say it, though. I want to know that this
nightmare that has become my life doesn't have to be politicked, not
to the point that it includes my friend.

CJ blinks, a small gesture of defeat. "No comment," she says.

Then she turns and walks out, with Carol at her heels.

I am left staring at the television as it focuses on the pressroom,
still buzzing with voices before the screen fades. The numbness is
creeping back in.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch Sabrina and Donna exchanging a
look.

"Sam, I think we should go now," Sabrina says softly.

"Josh wants to see him before he goes," Donna replies.

"No, we really need to go. Tell Josh it can wait." Sabrina is firm on
this. She slips her hand through the crook of my arm and I feel her
eyes on me. Her sympathy is almost more than I can bear. I want to
break down.

I wish I were angry again. Angry was cathartic. Angry was liberating.
This – This helplessness and despair is so the opposite. It's
stifling and it's cruel and it's oppressive.

"Sam?" ventures Sabrina. "Are you all right?" She pauses,
embarrassed. "I'm sorry that was a stupid question. I mean, are you
ready?"

I nod, but I don't speak. I don't trust my voice.

"Okay, then," she says. "Let's go home." And then she lifts my
briefcase and jacket from the desk and steers me out of the bullpen,
leading me toward home.

<><><>

TBC

 

 

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