On the Road to the Real Thing - 17

***

I swear to God, Mary Marsh is the biggest bit–

"How'd the meeting go?" CJ casually shoves past a few junior staffers. "Did you give her what for?"

I look over my shoulder. No. No one's on the floor. This time.

I glance at her. "Do you think if I swore to God that Mary Marsh was the biggest bit–"

"I wouldn't if I were you," she advises. She shakes her head. "Could earn you a lightening bolt to the head."

She pats my hair with an elastic smile. "And you don't want to hasten fate, do you?"

I move out of her reach. "Go away. You're a mean lady."

"Wimp." She begins to veer off into another corridor, back to her office. "Appropriations is running overtime, so I'll do the briefing on that tomorrow," she calls back to me.

I nod at her back. "Sounds good. I'll revise the statement." I think of something. "Wait!"

She turns around. "What?"

I approach her. "How'd the little party thing go? Mary wouldn't shut up, so I couldn't get out in time –"

"Oh, it was fine," she says with a wave of her hand. "A lot of people. Ran out of cake about five minutes into it. Excellent cake."

"Sam have a good time?"

She shrugs. "Yeah. He liked the cake. It was very good cake. It had the faintest hint of orange in it. Delicious."

I nod. "Good, good."

I look at her for a moment.

She raises her eyebrows. "What?"

"So, he had a good time. He was cool with everything. Right?"

The eyebrows come down and furrow together. "Are you worried about him?"

I shrug. "First day back and all."

"He's doing fine. Everything's going just fine," she assures me. "He told me the GDC thing went well. He's good. He's doing fine."

"Okay," I say.

I keep looking at her.

The eyebrows arch up again. "What is it?"

"Leo wanted to talk to him after this morning's briefing," I blurt out. "Did he mention that to you?"

"Who? Leo?"

"No. Sam."

She shrugs. "No."

"What do you think Leo wanted to talk to him about?"

She looks at me, a little incredulous. "What do you think he wanted to talk to him about? It's his first day back. He probably said, 'Hey, welcome back. Don't overdo it today.' That's what I would assume –"

"'Cause it seemed like it was more than that, you know?"

"No." She shakes her head, confused.

My eyes don't leave her face. "Oh."

She sighs and pulls me to the side, close to the wall. "You think Sam's not ready to be back?" Her voice is pitched low.

I shake my head. "No. No, not at all. I think he's ready. He's better. I mean, he's much better than he had been and –"

"So, what's the problem?" she asks. "You think Leo thinks that he's not ready to be back?"

"I don't know," I say, and I shrug. "I don't know what Leo thinks."

She closes her eyes for a moment and then opens them again. "What's this conversation about?"

"Sam," I answer. It's perfectly obvious. "We're talking about Sam."

"And?" she prompts.

"And Sam."

She shakes her head. "You're giving me a headache. What about Sam? He's here, he's fine, he's doing fine –"

"He doesn't remember a lot."

"About what?"

"About the accident."

She rolls her eyes. "Well, I should think not. Thank god, you know? I certainly wouldn't want to remember that sort of –"

"He doesn't remember why he was there, even."

She takes a breath. "Good," she says with a nod.

"Good?"

"Yes. It was stupid, what we did, and it would make him feel..."

"What?"

She shrugs. "You know how he gets about that sort of stuff. It would bug him, and fester, and he'd think about it too much." She pauses. "And then, you know, he'd probably get..."

"What?"

"Well, angry. Pissed." She brushes down her skirt with one hand. "And he wouldn't understand why we thought we needed to do it."

"But –"

"It was just that Gillette was milking the GDC for all it was worth," she interrupts me without notice, "and Hoynes seemed like a good opportunity to fix it, because Gillette was just trying to..." She lets the end of the sentence hang, and then she sighs, annoyed. "And Hoynes is such a..."

"What?"

Her hand moves to her hip. "Sam wouldn't understand why we did it, not after the GDC." She thinks for a moment. "And he wouldn't understand it now. Not after...you know, with Hoynes. He just wouldn't."

"No," I say, and my voice seems muted in my ears. "No, I guess not."

"No," she agrees, and her foot taps twice on the floor.

"I just think that being back at work would..." I falter and stop.

"What?"

I look at her. "Because, in Michigan, the first few weeks, when he'd wake up, he'd ask," I try to explain, and my hand keeps waving in front of me, "you know, he'd want to know where he was. And so I told him. Michigan. And then he'd ask why. And I ...I didn't really tell him. I mean, I only told him he was..."

"What?"

I take a breath, and it goes out too fast. "Well, I just kept it vague."

She nods. "It would have confused him. Then. Back then. He wouldn't have understood. He was too..."

"Out of it," I fill in for her.

"Yeah," she agrees.

"He's better, though. He's much better now," I say.

"Yes," she says with confidence. "Much better."

"He wouldn't understand anyway." My hand stops moving. It rests on my hip.

"No. Probably not," she says, and her eyes appraise the wall.

I look at the wall with her. "But if he asks," I start again.

"Well, if he asks," she cuts in, "then that's a different matter entirely."

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

I glance at my watch. "I'd better get moving."

"Me, too." She stands up straight, and her eyes wander to gaze at my tie.

I pick up the end of it and look at it, too. She takes a step away, and then another.

"If he asks," I say, but my voice is too loud now, and I don't continue.

"Yeah," she answers.

She disappears down the hall.

"Yeah," I murmur to myself.

I turn in the other direction and begin walking again.

"You missed wonderful cake, Josh." Donna appears next to me, and I bump into a copy machine. "It had just the faintest hint of orange. Really delicious."

We're heading toward my office. The Communications Bullpen is in front of us, and we enter it, a shortcut. "You save me any?"

She shakes her head. "No."

"Oh," I reply. "Did Sam like it?"

Her skirt is tight, and she has to take fast, short steps to keep up with me. "The cake?"

"The cake, the party, everything."

She nods, up and down, and up and down, and she has to push her hair out of her face. "Oh, yes. I think so. Very much."

She stops moving, and I put my foot down hard to stop too.

"I think he was a little embarrassed," she says, and she gathers a folder from the desk next to her, "but I think he liked it. And the cake was very good. Everybody said so."

"So, he seems okay? He's doing okay today?"

She looks up. "Why wouldn't he be?"

I shrug and steal a few papers out of the folder, look at them. I don't know what they say. "He's fine," I answer.

"Of course he is. I know that. Why wouldn't he be?" She leans close to me, and she looks worried. "Is he okay? He's not having any problems, is he? He's not in any pain because of his," and she gestures with her hand towards her leg, "because of...you know. He's not in any pain, is he?"

I make an annoyed face at her, almost a sneer, at the gesture. "No. No, of course not. He's fine."

She straightens. "Okay, then."

"And you don't have to do this," and I wave my right hand around in imitation of her gesture. "You can say it. He limps. He's got a bad leg now. But he's fine. No big deal."

She doesn't say anything.

I look around. The Bullpen is loud and crowded. The televisions are loud too. It's loud in here. "Leo met with him after Senior Staff today. You know what that was about?"

She shrugs. "How would I know?" She grabs a post-it and scribbles something on it before slapping it on the file. "He probably just told him not to overdo it on his first day back. How would I know what Leo wanted to talk to him about?"

"You talk to Margaret?"

"No, not really."

I look at her.

She shrugs again. "Leo told her to get Sam's laptop out of the closet in the office."

"Oh. Did Leo get it fixed?" I ask.

"No," she answers, "I don't think so. It's been in his office since..." She raises her hands to gesture, but she drops them, and the movement is aborted. "He brought it back with him when you guys went to Michigan. When you went there, after the accident."

"Oh. Well," I say, and I turn around, heading through the maze of desks.

"Josh?" She's next to me again.

"Yes?"

"Is Sam okay?"

I nod at her, even smile. "He's fine."

She smiles back at me. "Good," she says, looking relieved. "Where are you going?"

I hold the smile. "I'm just gonna stop in and say hi to Sam." My eyebrows go up. "Maybe he saved some cake for me. Unlike other people."

She rolls her eyes and turns in front of me, walking in the direction of my office. I weave through the Bullpen.

Sam's door is open. So are his blinds. A few more desks, a turn here, slide to the right there, and I should keep this light, I shouldn't say anything, and I won't say anything, because CJ was probably right, and Donna too, and there's nothing on that dumb computer except for a speech that he thought was bad, and he was probably wrong about that anyway.

So there's nothing to be worried about, nothing even to think about being worried about.

Unless he asks.

Toby is in there. He's standing in front of Sam's desk. I can see him through the window. His arm reaches out until his hand is on Sam's shoulder. They're talking about something.

Sam's got the laptop open on his desk.

Keep it light.

"Hey, I swear, if somebody doesn't put a muzzle on Mary Marsh, I might just –"

The laptop slams shut. The sound is sudden, sharp, and loud.

Toby steps back, and he almost bumps into me.

"What's the problem?" I ask.

The laptop is closed, but Sam is staring at it. There's a line of pale blue light on the front of his shirt. The light is coming from the laptop. It's on.

"You should have told me," he murmurs. His voice is low and hoarse. It's hard to hear him. "You should have told me what I was doing there."

"What are you talking about?" Toby straightens next to me. He takes one step closer to Sam's desk.

"Detroit."

I stay where I am. The line of pale blue light bisects his chest, and it goes straight across the white of his shirt. "I told you what you were doing there."

"I wasn't writing an important speech, Josh. I was doing a drop-in."

Is this the question? Is this Sam asking? It isn't a question. It isn't phrased like a question. Sam isn't asking a question. "It doesn't make a difference what you were doing there, Sam."

So maybe I don't have to answer.

"It does make a difference," he responds. His voice is still difficult to hear. Too low, too dull. "And you could have...you should have told me that I was doing a drop-in."

"It didn't matter."

"It mattered." He is insistent.

"No. No, it didn't." So am I.

"It did matter. It mattered to me. It mattered a great deal to me." His words are firm, but he sounds unsure. And he looks...

"Sam, why don't you come into my office, lie down for a few minutes?" Toby sees it too.

He shakes his head, and he almost flinches from the movement. "I don't need to lie down."

"You don't look well," Toby tells him, and I'm relieved. Toby can talk to him, Toby can tell him. He'll listen to Toby. "You're pale, you don't look well."

"I'm fine."

No, Sam. You're not.

"Well, you don't look it."

Listen to Toby, Sam.

"Toby's right," I say. You have to listen to Toby, Sam. "C'mon, let's go into his office, you'll lie down, take a rest, and we can talk about this in a little while – "

"There's not anything to talk about."

I sigh. He's not listening to Toby. He's not listening. He's supposed to listen.

He has to listen. "Obviously, there's something to talk about. You look like hell, and you're confused about this, so we obviously have some stuff to talk about. I want to clear this up with you."

"Is it hot in here?"

Don't change the subject. You can't take back the question now, Sam. "No."

"It's fine." Toby glances at me, but I can't look at him. The blue line is still on Sam's chest, and it's still there, and I can't look at anything else.

"It's too hot in here," he says, and he's staring at the space where the screen used to be. "I need to get some air."

Toby nods with assurance. "Come into my office. I'm sure it's...maybe it's cooler in there. You can lie down on the couch, and – "

"I don't need any help." Sam doesn't sound unsure anymore.

"I didn't say you did, Sam." But Toby does.

"Good. 'Cause I don't." He unplugs the laptop, and the cord dangles off the end of the desk. I'd make a move to catch it, but I can still see that blue line, and it shouldn't make a difference, he doesn't understand, it just doesn't make a difference –

"I have some work to do," he says, and he's packed the laptop into its case. The blue line is gone. "I'm going to go do it."

He's standing up. Moving. And he limps. He has a bad leg now. And he limps.

"Where are you going?" Toby asks. I'm looking at him now, and he's worried. So am I.

"Outside." He has to move slowly because the office is small, and it's hard to move around that big desk, and his leg is bad, and he limps.

"Sam, you don't look well," Toby's voice is louder now, but very calm, very steady, very calming. "I really think that – "

"I really don't care what you think, Toby." Sam's face is red where it isn't pale, very pale. He takes off his glasses and drops them on his desk. "I have some work to do."

"Sam, don't do this." I beat him to the door. It's not hard to do. He moves slowly.

"I'm not doing anything, Josh," he says, and it makes no sense. I don't know what he's talking about, and he's edging past me. "I never did."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Good. It doesn't make sense to Toby either. It's not just me.

"Sam?"

"I don't need your help, Toby. Leave me alone." He's out the door now, past me.

"Sam..." Wait a minute. Don't go. Come back here.

"Sam, wait..." Toby is calling you, Sam. You're supposed to listen to Toby.

"Sam..." Let me explain this to you. "Sam..."

"Sam, come back here..." Toby follows him through the Bullpen.

I stand in the doorway for another minute. He didn't ask, he just said. And that wasn't how it was supposed to go. He was supposed to ask. If he wanted to know, he was supposed to ask, but he didn't ask, and I didn't get to explain.

He wasn't supposed to ask like this, and he looks...

He wasn't supposed to ask like that, damnit! Why did he think that –

Leo.

***

***

He lied.

He hasn't gone outside.

He's been walking around, going nowhere really, just walking around, for the past three...no, four minutes.

More than enough time to find the door, more than one door, any door, and go outside.

But he's not outside. He said he was going outside, but he's not outside. So he lied. Because he's not outside. He hasn't gone outside.

Wait.

Turning! Turning, he's turning. Right...no, left. Heading for...

The stairs?

Going down. Going to the...

Mess. He's going to the Mess.

Okay. That's good. It's still not outside, but the Mess is good. There are chairs down there, and tables, and drinks, and food. He can sit at a table and have something to drink or something to eat, or maybe both.

And maybe while he's doing that, I can sit down next to him, and then I'll talk to him.

I'll say, "Hey, Sam. Is this seat taken?"

No, yes, maybe, whatever. I don't care what he says in return.

I'll say, "Well, great. I'll just sit down then. What're you drinking?"

Coffee, tea, juice, soda. I don't care what he drinks.

I'll say, "I bet that's refreshing. What're you eating?"

Danish, hot dog, club sandwich, trail mix. I don't care what he eats.

I'll say, "Sounds delicious. Hey, got your laptop with you?"

It's in his left hand. I can see it. He's holding the laptop in his left hand. He's holding the banister with his right hand.

He's moving slowly. His leg probably hurts. He doesn't look well.

When we were in his office, he didn't look well. He looked pale. He looked pale and...and wrong. Just like he looked before he fell, before he fell that time at the rehab center, when he looked up at me, and he was surprised to see me. He looks like he looked before he fell, and when he fell that time, I thought I was having a heart attack, it scared me so much.

He doesn't look well, he looks wrong, his leg probably hurts, and I'm afraid he's going to fall again.

He's holding the banister with his right hand, and he's moving slowly. People are going up and down, and they all give him room. Some of them pat him on the back, others say hi, some of them wave. He nods, he smiles, he moves slowly.

He moves slowly, and his gait is uneven and off-balance. He limps. And he always will now.

It's in his left hand.

He'll say, "Yeah, I've got my laptop, Toby. Here it is."

I'll say, "Great. Is something about your laptop bothering you? Is something at work bothering you? Anything at all?"

Then he'll say, "You want to know what's bothering me?"

Broken computer, drop-in, confusion, health problems. He'll tell me, and I'll care about what he's saying.

I'll say, "We'll work it out, Sam. It's not all that bad. We'll work it out."

And he'll say, "You're right, Toby. You're right."

And I'll say, "Of course I'm right. That's why I'm the Director, and you're the Deputy, and that's – "

Wait.

He just passed the Mess. He's not going to the Mess.

Well, now, hang on a minute here. Where the hell does he think he's going? I had our whole conversation all worked out, and he could at least have the courtesy to go to the Mess, so that I wouldn't have to –

More stairs?

What's below the Mess?

Below the Mess, below the Mess... General Accounting Office, mailroom, a long-forgotten pool, switchboard, audio-visual, maintenance, Ainsley Hayes' office, and –

Ainsley Hayes' office?

Oh, god. He's going to become a Republican? He can't be that upset, or angry, or whatever it is that's making him look like this, making him look wrong, whatever it is that's making him look like he might –

He'll walk in there. She'll look up at him, looking...Republican.

She'll say, "Well, hello there, Sam."

He'll say, "Hello, Ainsley."

She'll say, "Care to sit down?"

He'll say, "Don't mind if I do."

She'll say, "You look upset."

He'll say, "Yes, I am. For whatever reason, I am upset."

She'll say, "I know how to make it all better."

He'll say, "Oh, really?"

She'll say, "Join me and my people. We will give you lower taxes, school prayer, and less subsidized healthcare. Become a Republican."

He'll say, "Being that I am so upset about whatever it is that I am upset about, I have been overcome by your wily powers of persuasion and charm. That and your abiding love for Gilbert and Sullivan. Okay."

She'll say, "Another one conquered. Only forty-seven million, nine-hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine more to go. We shall be victorious."

He'll say, "Yes, we shall –"

He passed her office.

Thank you, God!

Wait.

Where's he going?

***

***

"You have a four o' clock with Jameson, a four-thirty with Commander Toomey from Naval Intelligence, at four-forty-five, you're on a conference call with Les Rogers, at five, you need to go over the fiscal year reports with Jerry Berton, at five-twenty, you're – "

"Did you do something to my top drawer?"

She looks up, and her bob bounces unevenly. "Excuse me?"

"The top drawer of my desk. It's different." I dislodge the stapler from the far corner of the drawer and look at her. I narrow my eyes. "What did you do to it?"

She smiles. "Organized it. I organized it. By frequency of use and practicality. I put your pens on the right, and the – "

Darn her! "Margaret, you –"

The door slams. "What did you say to him? I want to know what's going on!"

Margaret glances at Josh, then me. "I'll go."

I nod. She leaves.

Josh watches her shut the door before turning back to stare at me. He stands in front of my desk. His face is red. "What'd you say to him?"

I lean back. "To whom?"

His face is tight, hardened. "Sam," he says, and his voice sounds pressured. "What did you say to him?"

"I just gave him back his laptop. That was all," I tell him. "What happened?"

"What do you think happened?" he counters.

The question is rhetorical, and I don't know the answer anyway. I stay silent.

He paces, and his feet hit the ground hard. Right, left, right, left, right, left and turn. The office is too small to pace like this. "He had his laptop out, and he seemed pretty upset about..."

...he wrote a letter of resignation...

Right, left, stop. "I told him he was in Michigan to help Hoynes with a very important speech."

...rewrite his whole damned speech if you want...

I shrug. "That's true."

His back is to me. "That's all I told him."

"Well," I say, "it's true, and he didn't really need to know any more than that. It wouldn't have made a difference –"

"Oh, it makes a difference! It makes a difference now." Right, left, right, left, right, left, turn. "He remembers that he was there to do a drop-in. He's very..." he starts, but his voice stops, and he gestures with his hand, up and down, almost hitting his left leg. "He's angry, he's pissed. He's pissed at me."

Right, left, and he turns around, facing me.

"At everyone," he adds, and his words come out fast. "I think he's pissed at everyone. And he wouldn't let me explain that –"

"Where is he now?" I stand up.

I told him to come to me if he didn't understand. I don't know why he didn't come to me. He should have come to me.

"I don't know –"

"I'll go talk to him." I walk out from behind my desk. If Mohammed won't go to the mountain, then...

Josh steps in front of me. His hands are out. "I don't where he went. I don't know what he's thinking. And I don't know what you said to him, and I don't know what's going on with that stupid computer, or that speech, so I'd really appreciate it if you could –"

"Sam's just confused," I placate him, "he's probably just confused about things. After everything that he's been through," and I spread my hands out, placating and persuading, "he's probably just confused."

...you should know, Leo, that Seaborn was about to resign...

"I think he's more than just confused..."

...he wrote a letter of resignation, Leo, and it's on his computer...

Josh's eyes are darting around the office as he speaks. He rubs his chin. It makes red streaks on his face.

...when we got him off the bus, when he was bleeding all over the ground, when he was calling for Toby Ziegler to help him and for Josh...

I can't tell him.

"...and you don't understand. He looked bad."

I nod. The high color is beginning to fade.

"He looked like...like..."

His voice fades, and his face sags a little at the edges.

I pat his arm. It is tense under my hand. "Don't worry. I'm going to talk to him and straighten this out. He's just confused –"

"He looked like how I felt last Christmas."

It just became a bad day.

***

***

Executive Avenue is above us, but it's impossible to hear the sound of traffic. We're not deep underground, but deep enough. All I can hear are the faint vibrations of cars and trucks moving back and forth. A continuous, low rumble, and that's all.

He moves slowly.

I'm behind him, and I have to move slowly too. He won't talk to me, he won't look at me, and so we're just walking. The two of us. Him. Me.

There are other people in the tunnel, going back and forth and back and forth. Dark suits, glasses, blurs of ties and shiny shoes, briefcases, file folders.

I don't care about them.

We're walking, we're moving slowly, and I could move faster, and I could catch up to him, it would be easy, and I could do that, but he's not outside, and that's where he said he was going.

We're not outside, though. That's not where we are.

He lied.

I don't know why he did that, and I don't know where we're –

Turning! Turning, and he's going to go up the stairs, and –

No. Standing still.

Now. I should go to him now.

No. Turning around again. Not going up the stairs.

Staying. Staying still.

I could talk to him now. He's just standing there, and it's in his left hand, and I could find out what's going on, and –

No. Moving. Moving to...

Elevators. Going up.

Okay, fine. Going up. Going up to Executive Avenue, and maybe he's going to go to a restaurant or a coffee shop, or maybe he's just going to the park, because that's outside. And we could talk there, wherever it is that he thinks he's going, and we could talk, and I'll sit down next to him, and I'll say...

I don't know what I'll say.

The bell rings. He steps inside the elevator.

I stand still. The doors close, the bell rings, and I watch the lights, waiting for it to stop at the lobby.

It doesn't.

It keeps going up. One, two...

Where the hell is he going?

Shit!

Hoynes.

Press that button, no, no, no, I can't wait that long, and –

Stairs, stairs, just take the stairs.

Two at a time, two at a –

Not quite. One at a time, one at a time, one at a time. Faster.

If I have a heart attack, Sam, from running up these stairs, I'm...

I don't care.

Sam.

One. First floor.

...I wrote to him...

...CJ!...CJ!...Any comment from...

He's not going to care about this, Sam. He doesn't care about you, he doesn't care what you think about this, and he's not going to help you.

...to thank him...

...Life...tonight on 20/20...Time...New Republic...and join us tomorrow for a special segment on...

...Yes, I have a statement here that I'd like to read...

He doesn't care. And you don't understand that, Sam, but he does not care about you.

...President Bartlet and the staff of the White House...

Two. Second floor.

...extend their most sincere gratitude to Vice-President John Hoynes...

He's not going to understand, and you're going to be disappointed, even more disappointed than you are now, and he's going to make it worse, and...

...Newsweek...New York Times Magazine...tonight on Dateline...extra edition of Capitol Beat...

He's a bastard, Sam, and he didn't do it to save you, and he's going to make it worse, and it'll hurt you.

...special interview with Barbara Walters...Atlanta-Sun...Chicago Tribune...

Three. Third Floor.

...for saving the life of our friend and co-worker Samuel Seaborn...

Here! Here, right turn, and slow down, can't rush through like this, slow down.

"Hey, there, Toby!"

Yes, yes, hello, hello...

"Did you get the fax on the healthcare reform agenda?"

Get out of my way.

"Give me a call about that, would you?"

Shut up.

Left turn.

Office of the Vice-President. Through the doors, pass the Secret Service agents, and inside, walk fast over the carpet, and there he is.

"...I was wondering if the Vice-President is in..."

Sam.

"...I just want to see him for a minute, that's all..."

"Sam." Look at me, Sam.

He doesn't turn around.

"...the Vice-President is on a conference call right now, but..."

"...just one minute..."

There is a Secret Service agent, behind the secretary, next to the door to the inner office. He is tall and dark, and his jacket is well cut to conceal his shoulder holster. I don't care about him.

"...really I won't be long..."

The secretary looks at Sam, nodding. Her head moves, but her prim hair does not.

"...I think he might have some time after that and..."

Plain haircut, conservative dress, and short fingernails. I don't care about her.

"...maybe he has a few minutes to spare..."

"Sam."

She sees me. She looks at me.

I shake my head.

She looks down at the calendar on her desk. "You know, I'm sorry, Mr. Seaborn. The Vice-President has a – "

"Janeane," a loud voice calls out, muted. The agent opens the door to the inner office, and he strides out. Heavy, fast steps. "Can you get me the number for..."

He stops. He stands between the doorway and the secretary's desk, next to the agent. He's facing me. And Sam.

Sam doesn't say anything. He stands still. The laptop is in his left hand. His hand is curled around the handle, gripping it hard and tight.

Hoynes nods at him. "Hey, Seaborn."

Sam doesn't say anything. He takes one slow step forward.

Hoynes gives a half-smile. He looks uncomfortable. "How're you? How are you doing?"

Sam doesn't say anything. Another step forward, and he's parallel with the desk.

"You look better than the...well, better than the last time I saw you," Hoynes says. He gives a weak chuckle.

Bastard.

Sam doesn't say anything. Another step, a limp.

Hoynes takes in a breath. He looks at me.

I shake my head.

"I...I just wanted to...I, uh," Sam tries to explain, and it's hard to hear him. His hand tightens on the handle, and I can see him shift his weight off his left leg a little.

I take a step closer to him. I'm only a few steps behind him. Another few steps, and I'll turn him around, and we'll go back to the West Wing, or outside, or to the Mess, or wherever he wants, and we'll talk, and I'll fix this.

Hoynes looks at me.

"I thought that...I should...it's my first day back, and I thought maybe..." Sam is still fumbling for words.

I shake my head.

Hoynes looks at Sam, and he opens his mouth.

Say it, John. You don't have time. Sorry, Seaborn, I don't have time right now. That's all you have to say. Just blow him off and make it quick, and I can take it from there.

Hoynes' eyes wander downward.

The handle is choked in Sam's grip.

Hoynes looks at Sam.

"Come on in, Seaborn. Take a load off," he says.

No, you jackass. I said no.

I shake my head again.

Hoynes reaches out his hand, grasps Sam's shoulder. "Come on in, come on in. I've got time."

Sam moves slowly. He limps.

He enters the office.

Hoynes looks at me.

I shake my head.

No!

He turns around, takes a step, and the agent shuts the door behind him.

***

***

...you should know, Leo...

"You should go back to his office," I say. "Maybe he went back to his office."

Josh looks at me. His mouth is open a little, and his hands are still on his hips. "He said he was going outside," he replies. He enunciates with care, as if he's afraid I won't understand. "Why would he go back to his office?"

Get out of my office, Josh. Now. "You know Sam," and the words are easy to say, "maybe he went back to his office."

He leaves his mouth open. "Leo, he doesn't look right. He looked wrong. In his office, when I was in his office, he looked...wrong."

I get that. Thank you. Get. Out. If you get out, I can fix this. "Okay," I make my tone firm, "go check his office, would you? If he's not there, go check the Mess. And if he's not there, go check Lafayette Park, okay? If he went outside, then he –"

"Yeah," he murmurs, and he edges past me to the door. "Uh, Toby was with him," he tells me, "he followed him out of the office, so maybe –"

"I'll give Toby a call. If he's got his cell, then I'll give him a call." Get. Out. Now.

"Good, good," and he's out the door, walking hard and fast.

I turn around and pick up the phone. I keep my index finger straight and punch the buttons.

...you should know, Leo...

I let him go to Detroit, and I let him give that speech, and I thought we had a deal. If he says anything to Sam, I'm gonna...

Goddamned bastard.

"Office of the Vice-President."

The woman's voice is high and light.

"This is Leo McGarry. I need to speak with the Vice-President. Now."

***

***

Leo doesn't understand. I thought he would understand.

The tunnel is well lit, not dark at all. But it's ugly, and it's grey, and there are broken tiles on the walls, and when I run, I can feel my feet hit the cement hard.

Not in his office – duh! – and he's not in the Mess, and the guard at the North exit didn't see him go out, and people tend to notice when a guy with a limp – hey, no big deal – is walking around nearby, but the guard at the West exit noticed him – even said hi and welcome back, and it's so good to see Mr. Seaborn up and around, and it's so good to see him back at work, and the cake was very good, it had just the faintest hint of orange, and isn't that nice – and so it's really pretty obvious now where he's going, isn't it?

Oh, yes. Yes, it is. Yes...no shit, Sherlock. Good job, Lyman. Give yourself a pat on the back.

...surrounded by his friends, by the people he trusts and cares for and who...

Didn't really give him so much reason to trust you, did you, Josh? Good going, real friend you are.

...if I see the real thing in Nashua...

Brought him here, convinced him to come here, convinced him to work his butt off, watched him do that, watched him work hard, as hard as everyone else, then you very neatly cut him off at the knees, no big deal...

...I don't agree with this...

Oh, no, doesn't matter what you agree with or don't agree with, Sam, no, no it doesn't. Too late. Better get on that plane, Sam, better get on that bus, better write a speech you don't believe in, because you've got a job to do, and we're counting on you, Sam, yes, we're counting on you...

...Sam...we're counting on you...

Let me just twist that knife a little more, Sam, old buddy, old pal, you don't mind, do you? It's just a job, it's just your principles, it's just everything you believe in and don't believe in, and everything that makes you do what you do...

...a man who came with me here to Michigan...to do his job...

And it's just everything that makes you who you are, and that's not such a big deal, is it? Is it, Sam? No, it couldn't be, it couldn't make that much of a difference, it couldn't matter that much to you...

...it mattered a great deal to me...

And it's just you, Sam, it's just you, you just have a bad leg, and you just limp, and you were only dead for ten minutes, and they only had to breathe for you for ten minutes, and that's not such a big deal, Sam. Nah, that's not as big a deal as you think it is. And it was only a speech, only a drop in, it was only somewhere you didn't want to go, and something you didn't want to do, only six months of physical therapy, only a matter of walking again, only...

...he's made it this far...

Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Okay, Sam. It's a big deal.

***

Part 18

 

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