- Dark Themes
- Death - Child
- Discussion - Other Trigger Topics
- Disturbing Imagery
- No Beta
- Violence - Graphic
- Challenge Response
- Episode Related
Sam is five years old when his world is shaken for the first time. Playing in the lawn of his house. His dad at work and his mom entertaining her high society friends. He sits with his transformers, Davy, his best friend, next to him. It’s a cloudy day. Muggy from two weeks of on and off again rain.
He remembers this:
Davy wanted to play with Optimus Prime and Sam had Sentinel Prime in his hand. They were laughing although he doesn’t remember why now. The screeching of tires was loud and the warm spray of Davy’s blood as he was cut in two soaked his favorite Jazz t-shirt. Then pain.
Sam wakes up in a sterile hospital room. Concussed, broken arm and wrist, black and blue from his right hip up to the side of his face. His parents don’t tell him that Davy is dead until three weeks later.
Everything before and after is a disjointed mesh of flashes. Nothing tangible that he could, years later, point to and say, it happened like this. When Sam sits on the bench, the gardens behind the Oval wilting as autumn overtook the district. Dry, colorful leaves carpeted the ground. The wood wet from the muggy weather.
None of it pierces to the numbness that has fallen over Sam’s mind. A fog that casts a veil between Sam and the rest of the world. He shifts stiff hands on his lap. His suit jacket unsuitable for the sharp, cold winds bite into his skin. His breath comes out in thick, white puffs.
The night is quiet this late in the evening. The DC traffic falling from a torrent of barely controlled chaos to a trickle in mostly emptied streets. The sky is a deep, dark blue. A sprinkling of stars that were mere pinpricks against the District’s light pollution. An owl hoots in the distance, a flock of geese and mallard ducks waddles past. He wishes he had some bread to give them. It feels somehow uncharitable not to have anything for them.
He grazes the paper rolled inside his suit’s jacket. Notes he is taking for the American’s for the Arts speech for this Saturday. About the future of the arts in schools and the necessity of all children to be allowed to express creativity and imagination. After all, what are dreams if not the tender threads of hope and vision combined.
Sam wants to yank them out and throw them on the wet ground. Rip them into confetti, toss them in the air in a sick parody of celebration. He puts a hand to his mouth. His stomach a churning, gaping hole in his gut.
I should have known better, it’s a mantra that rings in his head. Has since the discovery of his father’s twenty-eight year affair. Resonates even louder with the president’s gut-wrenching revelation.
“You should have brought a coat.” Toby’s voice is quiet, sardonic as he drops Sam’s coat over his shoulders.
Sam isn’t cold. He’s not much of anything at the moment. “That wasn’t exactly a priority at the moment.” He hadn’t been thinking much of anything when he’d left the oval. The overwhelming need to be elsewhere all encompassing.
Toby’s face is thrown in shadows. His expression shuttered and contained in a too familiar manner. Sam is remembering four days ago while working on the correspondence dinner’s speech. Toby coming into the room, an expression not dissimilar to this one.
When he asks, it’s not about the if or the when, those he knew. Now at least. The final pieces of a growing puzzle finally falling into place. Instead he asks the next more pressing question. “How did you find out?” His voice won’t go above a raspy whisper. His throat painfully dry from either the cold or the words he keeps wrestling down.
Toby at least doesn’t pretend not to know what Sam’s talking about. It’s something at least. His parting words to Sam as he left with Leo to see the president had new levels of meaning, now. Making sense when before they had seemed nonsensical.
“The vice-president’s admonishment of big oil.” Toby glances at the White House, at the oval, dark now that the president has retired to the residence. “The polling, his trip to New Hampshire.”
That, at least, makes a painful amount of sense in this new reality of theirs. So many unknown, unsettling situations slotting neatly into place. Hoynes’ rebuke of the oil industry, his biggest campaign contributors and without whom he would not have been elected into any political office. Abbey’s odd reaction to the State of the Union’s address. The tense, anxious manner with which the president’s flu was treated.
Sam leans down, hands on his face, fingers digging painfully into his skin, sick beyond imagining.
“Sam . . .”
Sam shakes his head. He can’t, he just can’t. Not now. Not tonight with the president’s normally soothing cantor a sharp, distorted harmony.
“How can he, how are we supposed to . . .” He shakes his head. Breathes, in and out, in and out. Motions helplessly to the grounds, the seat of power for their country.
Toby sighs. Deep and annoyed and so very, very tired. His eyes remain fixed on the distance. Sam is reminded that his is not the only reality that has warped beyond recognition. There is CJ and Josh, and whoever else doesn’t know but will. Or didn’t and now does.
“We can’t keep this a secret, Toby.” He states, clarification painfully sharp in his mind. “Toby, we can’t just keep this secret.” How had the president kept it this long without it ending as a headline in some major publication. The leading story on ZNN.
“I know, Sam.”
“People know, they should know! We shouldn’t be keeping this a secret.” God, the people. The voters. The millions that voted for a man that lied. He lied. He looked them in the eye and lied over and over again. Every time he got sick, every question made regarding his health. Sam’s has a vague memory of seeing Abbey giving him shots, pills. “He lied, Toby.”
“I know, Sam.”
“He’s been lying to us, to everyone. The first lady, Leo, God.” A thought slams into him with the force of a freight train. “Toby, the president can be impeached.”
“Yes, Sam, I know.”
“There is no criminal requirement for a sitting president to be served with the articles of impeachment.” The enormity of it threatening to swallow him whole. A trickle of sweat fell down his back. “Once this breaks, there will be hearings. They’ll bring out everything. Leo’s problem with pills, Abbey treating her own husband.” They were going to bring up Laurie and his relationship with her.
“I know, Sam!”
“They’ll bring up Josh’s breakdown.” Sam couldn’t imagine the kind of strain that would put on Josh and how that would affect his PTSD.
“I KNOW SAM!!” Toby shouts, disturbing the poor geese and ducks into a hasty flight. Sam starts, thrown out of his burst of panic in the face of Toby’s anger. The sudden burst of energy dissipates, leaving him hollow and worn. “I know, Sam, alright, I know.” He runs his hands through his thinning hair. Jittery, anxious.
A tense silence stretches between them. Sam slips into his coat, the cold finally registering. “I don’t even know how we’re supposed to deal with this.” His tries to mentally flip through laws they might have broken, those they definitely broke and those that would require actual jail time. His mind, usually a library of factoids draws a blank. Impeachment is the ultimate consequence but it’s not the only one.
“I need to go.” He announces, getting to his feet. He doesn’t know where, only that in this moment, Sam needs not to be there. To be anywhere and everywhere but there. Space. He needs space. “I need to go.” He says again, waits for counterarguments. Reasons Sam shouldn’t leave. Toby looks blankly back. Emotions and thoughts behind his usual inscrutable calm. He wishes for that calm now instead of this aimless restlessness.
“See you tomorrow.” Toby says.
It’s not a question. It’s not a statement of fact. It’s words, solid as the marvel beneath his feet. Nearly two hundred years of history and freedom and Sam has never felt such weight at each footfall before. He goes to his office, thankful that the communications bullpen is mostly empty. Grabs his suitcase, his umbrella, his computer and makes to leave.
Instead his feet take him across the halls and to Josh’s office. He’s still there. Reading through the materials for the surplus projections. Sam leans on the doorway, watches as Josh smirks, crosses something off with vicious enthusiasm. He looks up, smirk firmly in place, “Hey Sam, did you hear a Chinese Satellite is crashing down somewhere?” His smirks fades when he takes Sam in.
He can’t imagine what he must have looked like but it must be bad since Josh immediate dumps the file and stands. “They told you.” He comes to the front of his desk, leans against it. “You okay?”
Sam joins him. “When did you find out?” Somehow that matters more than anything else.
“Two days ago.” They sit for a while.
Donna comes in, takes one look at them and declares, “I’m going home, you, go home!” She grabs her things then pops her head back in, “I mean it! I’ll have maintenance shut off the electricity to your office.”
“You can’t do that!” Josh shouts after her.
“Ha, that’s what you think! Go home!” She throws over her shoulders before disappearing around a corner.
They exchange looks, considering. “She can’t really do that.” Josh says.
“I think she can.” He says after a moment of contemplation. Their assistants are the kind of people that can make it snow in Egypt if they put their collective efforts to it.
Josh sighs, and reluctantly grabs his coat, dumps his computer in its case before they make their way through security and out of the West Wing. The sense of normalcy brought on by Donna and Josh’s banter fades as they step into the nearly deserted sidewalks.
They walk without a clear destination. The weight of secrets heavy in the air. Finally they somehow end up at a small diner Sam didn’t remember being there. The fluorescent lights too bright after the dimness of the streetlights.
There’s only a couple of officers eating a late dinner. An older, plump waitress is wiping down tables. Josh and Sam take a booth in a corner. The seats are a deep red in good condition. The formica tables clean, with only a few scratches here and there. The waitress is there a minute later, cups, cream and sugar and the pot of coffee in hand.
“What can I get you boys?” She says as she pours them both coffee. Josh smirks at being called a boy. Sam doesn’t point out that the woman, Amy, has been watching Sam and not Josh when she says that.
“Pie.” Josh says, not even glancing at the display of desserts not five feet away from them.
“Apple pie.” Sam concurs. He doesn’t normally indulge but right now he needs something sugary and extremely unhealthy. “A la mode.”
The woman nods and disappears. Their voices don’t carry, but Sam can’t imagine talking about something that could potentially remove a sitting president. “You okay?” Josh asks, pouring enough sugar into his coffee to give diabetes to half a small, third world country.
“He lied, Josh. They lied.” He whispers, his own coffee only gains cream and a touch of sugar. He can’t stomach it black like he usually prefers it.
“Yeah, I know.” Josh says in an echo of Toby. “Listen Sam,” Amy brings over two places of warm apple pie. A large, dripping balls of vanilla ice cream on each plate. “It’s bad, I know, but we can get through this.”
Sam took a bite of his pie to give himself time to think of an appropriate response.
“We got through Leo’s thing, yours, mine. This is just another thing we need to get through.” Josh sips at his coffee, grimaces and pours two more packages of sugar into it. Sam grimaces, imagines a mental clock ticking down to Josh’s inevitable heart attack.
“We’re not keeping this a secret, Josh, we can’t.”
Josh sighs. Takes a bite of his own pie. “Yeah.” Outside a screech of tires has the police officers glancing out the window before continuing with their meal.
They eat in silence. Sam finishes his cup and Amy comes over to top both their cups before sauntering off. The officers leave, a man in a worn camo jacket, a large duffle sat in booth.
“He’s giving that speech for the Women’s in the Media luncheon.” Sam has that mostly done, though he can’t imagine finishing it. The speech is about accountability, about the responsibility of holding those in positions of authority to a higher standard. He wonders if the words would taste like ashes in the president’s mouth like they do in Sam’s.
“Didn’t they move that?” Josh runs a finger at the melted ice cream on the plate, popping his finger in his mouth.
“That’s the Wounded Warriors’ Family Support luncheon.” He resists following Josh’s example. His mother’s voice in his head reminding him of how improper it is to run a finger through the gooey remands of his melted ice cream.
A woman in a outlandish coat comes in and orders a coffee. One of her friends follows. They sit on the counter. “They want us to speak to someone in the white house counsel.” Josh says quietly. He wipes his hands.
Sam snorts, the ball of acid in his stomach churning. “Of course they do.” He finishes his coffee and doesn’t quite slam the cup on its saucer. “They did this and now the rest of us have to deal with the fallout.”
The president had been calm when he told him. Talking about something trivial and insignificant. He said it in gentle tones, asked if Sam was okay. As if having his belief, his trust in his president stomped on was a small, minor thing.
“We need to come up with a game plan.”
Sam shakes his head, not in denial, a game plan is good. They need to plan, the prepare, to be ready for whatever fallout they will have. But in incredulity. Sam is still stuck in that moment inside the oval, he’s not sure if he’s ready to move on yet. “I’m going home.” The waitress retrieves their dishes. She pours another cup for Josh. Sam waves her off. He doesn’t need any more caffeine right now.
Josh throws a few bills on the table before Sam can. “You get the next one.” They leave the diner as a group of women in tight but expensively dressed women enter. He purposely doesn’t look for the familiar dark hair and blue eyes.
Sam hails a cab.
“I’m going to head back to the west wing.” Josh tells him by way of explanation.
“Donna is going to have someone shut down the electricity in your office.” Sam opens the door to his taxi, halfway in when he turns to Josh, his best friend, the person he owes so much to and thinks that maybe this truth needed saying. “Josh,” He waits until he has Josh’s full attention. The words like sandpaper as they pass through his throat and out his mouth, painful and bloody, “He’s not the real thing.”
Josh eyes him, quiet, still in ways he normally isn’t before he sighs, hands shoved deep into his coat pockets. “Yeah.”
Sam gets into the cab, watching as Josh walks down the sidewalk, back to the White House. The West Wing. Hallowed ground, he thought that first time they’d walked through those halls. A thrill every time he caught a glimpse of those white, marble columns, the greek architecture of the building. As they pass the White House, Sam feels that same thrill go through him, the excitement at being so close to the seat of power of their country.
Sam watches, eyes glued to the towering building and feels a sick, sick feeling crawl up his spine.