jamie_dakin: (california 47th)
[personal profile] jamie_dakin
Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Fandom: The West Wing
Characters: Sam Seaborn, Jed Bartlet (a little Toby and Leo for flavor.)
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Almost all episode-related, from pre S1 to mid-S3 (specifically the ITSOTG flashbacks, Proportional Response, ITSOTG, Galileo, The Drop In, SGTE SGTJ, The Fall's Gonna Kill You, Two Cathedrals, Manchester, H. Con-172 and Hartsfield's Landing (refrences to Ellie, The Two Bartlets and Night Five)
Words: 3,665
Warnings: For the most part it's tilt-your-head-and-squint slash but some of its proper m/m so if that ain't your cuppa tea… Though I assume that most of the aforementioned non-cuppa people are still banging their fists against their Lance Bass posters screaming WHY GOD WHY?????!!!!!

Written for [livejournal.com profile] black_eyedgirl for the Sam round of [livejournal.com profile] tww_minis. Request was Jed (not necessarily romantically) and an explanation of how Jed got from not knowing Sam's name in the flashbacks to "you're going to be President someday" in Hartsfield's Landing. No uber-angst and no death-fic.

A/N: I begin by apologizing profusely for being a whopping 13 days late with this. I then beg the jury's mercy as I honestly didn't know they'd start a frickin' actual war when I signed up. I thank the nice Hezbollah dudes for only 4 sirens today and le' military for letting me come home for a bit.
This is un-betaed, all mistakes and conflicting tenses are mine, again I apologize for rushing this.
I know you've all geared up for Andy and I can't wait to read everyone's challenges, maybe by the next round we will know better and more peaceful days.
The title comes of course from W.B. Yeats' "The Second Coming'.




Slouching Towards Bethlehem

* * *

In the car driving away from what he hopes was the right decision to intrude on Josh's private grief at the airport Jed elects to sit in the middle seat, forcing Leo to sit close beside him, knees touching where their legs bend over worn leather that still carried that distinctive rental scent.

Jed's glasses slip low on the bridge of his nose as he mulls over the final draft of the speech, a pen thoughtfully placed beforehand in the inner flap of the folder tapping steadily against the cover. They trust him with their words and the gesture is not lost on Jed. The changes he feels he ought to be making with that trust fail to appear above, under or between the neatly printed lines and Jed decides that it might be kind to return the gesture. The car pulls up in front of the ballroom and Leo's voice is oddly pitched as he eyes the papers spread messily across Jed's lap.


"Settled on 'cobblers and tinsmiths' in the end?"


"Sam thought it would sound better than the other thing."


"It's a fine speech."


"It is."


"I thought you were going to say something about your great-great..."


"Toby thinks it'll look like I'm capitalizing on it."


"They're good men sir. And they’re good at what they do."


One of the security men outside taps the window and Jed collects the unmarked pages back into the folder, handing it to Leo.


"Yeah, but they're still gonna let me pick out my own underwear in the morning right?"


"See I knew there was something I forgot to staff out."


“You’d staff out something that important?”


“You bet your presidential ass.”


“Do I least get a say in choosing the lucky fellow?”


“Fellow? I was gonna give it to CJ.”


“Nah, she’d probably put a poll in the field and I’d end up with 50 uncomfortable pairs with state mottos stitched on the back. No Leo, I think Sam would be the better choice.”


“I see you’ve given this some thought sir.” Leo says, his chuckle reverberating in Jed’s chest.


“There were some pretty long drives on the campaign bus.”


The security man taps on the window again and Leo squeezes Jed's knee tightly before slipping out of the relatively crowd-free side of the car to allow the candidate his solo exit on the opposite crowd-heavy one. Jed waits almost an entire moment longer than needed, capping the slightly chewed pen bearing the logo of 'Gage & Whitney' with one hand and placing it in firmly in his jacket pocket before tapping the window back to the guard outside.

He's ready.
* * *


He’ll be the first to admit that, to the best of his knowledge, he’s never been acquainted with a prostitute before. But Jed cannot shake the memory of playmates and friends that were too poor or too dark or of unwed mothers who were never good enough for his father.

He is ashamed that Sam would ever have to feel as he had felt then.

His pride knows little bounds when he learns that Sam is stronger than he ever was.
* * *


He lays awake that night and thinks about the life he has spared tonight.

He's tried to think of it in bulk, plural instead of single but perhaps the mind of man was not designed to grasp multitudes.

He thinks of a man, a husband probably, perhaps already a father. An airport technician.

He thinks of the man rising to meet yet another blistering Syrian morning and never knowing that every moment henceforth is a literal gift from another man, indeed a husband and indeed a father.

The man has been living inside Jed's mind for the past 12 hours and Jed had ignored him at first out of courtesy, out of humility.

But it is finally night and Jed Bartlet is preconditioned to think all things that he's not allowed to think about at night. Without fear of anyone knowing, without fear of speaking the thoughts aloud, without fear of being hit.

It's not illusions of grandeur, not hubris.

It’s true and thinking otherwise would be an insult to all the people who picked him to do this for them.

He spared a man's life today and when he had thought of this moment before he'd always been frightened.

Not frightened that he wouldn't be ready but frightened that he would be.

Frightened of the hubris.

Of not only not being able to feel the multitudes but of not being able to feel the one.

But today he was ready and his reasons make it possible for him to sleep tonight.

His reasons make it possible to sleep so that he may awaken to do a better job tomorrow in the service
of those reasons.

He wants to keep them all safe.

He wants Sam to never be afraid to say where he’s from.
* * *


He hadn't thought of Josh.

He tells himself later that it was a sign of maturity, that his instinctive priorities prove that he can put the national before the personal.

The shots had been fired and he'd pulled CJ to the ground and for almost an entire minute he only ever thought of the President.

In the 52.2 seconds between bang and road and up again he'd stood before a coffin draped in stars and put his hand over his heart as it quietly imploded.

What does one do when the national becomes the personal?
* * *


"He said it right."


The President's smile is warm enough to introduce a flush to Sam's cheeks and a tangible brace for his posture and Sam wonders with a medium level of concern if the idiot from NASA, who can indeed spell, has noticed any of this.

He looks to file this particular moment of pride in his meticulously organized inner cabinet of lists and yet when he looks down at the list he's instinctively reached for he doesn't find his father's or even Toby's names referenced anywhere but rather a growing record of only the President.

As he walks home that evening he reads through the entries but they all seem odd and misplaced and he can’t pinpoint the moment when the word mentor had begun to feel as foreign and unpalatable as the word protégé and yet Sam rolls the two labels around his mouth like marbles he might choke on but he hasn’t anything to replace them with just yet.
* * *


Over the rim of his second drink Sam watches Toby try not to look at him from over his own steadily emptying glass (his third? fourth?).


He's five and carrying a martini (two olives) to his father in the den, the strong smelling liquid sloshes dangerously as he almost trips over an open shoelace so he grips the stem tight with two chubby hands which get splattered. The scent stays even after he washes his hands in the second floor bathroom.


He's 17 and staring too hard at Mr. Matheson, trying to figure out what it would feel like to run his fingers through the graying temples. He catches himself and spends the rest of the lesson stealing glances at his history teacher’s mouth, chiding himself for that part of him that honestly believes that any minutes now he will lean over the top of Sam's desk and kiss him. Sam already knows it will taste of Courvoisier.


He's 24 and stealing the rest of Josh's beer while the lagers' proper owner gets blown off by something their age and blonde.


He's 32 and nursing his second drink, Courvoisier VSOP, across a man he already knows he's going to forgive sooner than that man deserves.


He forgives Toby because in too many ways Toby's fault absolves the President and Sam relief is so great that even the newfound direction for his anger doesn't quite manage to bury it. He'd been searching so desperately, so pathetically, for a way out of being angry with the President ever since he first felt the gold lined energy of his precious speech draining from the GDC ballroom like a punctured balloon.

Somewhere in that part of his brain that he doesn't quite know how to access at will but which will open up and flood everything else at the most inopportune moments, that place where he keeps that curious third of his thoughts about the President, somewhere inside there a voice tells him that Jed Bartlet cannot be manhandled into doing anything he does not want to do.

He counts the dark circles under Toby's eyes and tips what remains of his brandy straight down his throat, closing his eyes as the burn silences the voice.
* * *


It was Leo who had carried him the message from Nancy; Blackwater and Demskey and the FBI are only slightly concerned but concerned all the same. It is then that Jed learns about a woman in Santa Monica for 28 years, much like the way he learns most of the things he wished he hadn't and sometimes he wonders if Leo considers the effect of bearing him nothing but unfortunate news.

Though today Charlie has shared that burden with him and Jed's been thinking that perhaps the president shouldn't really get quite so upset over dismissed selections for library sites. Gee Jed, you'd think you have a potentially mentally debilitating illness being kept secret and that Abbey had eaten a sandwich and that therefore you weren't running again. If nothing else telling Leo all that would be a refreshing turning of tables.

Ginger brings him a report and a few briefs, Mrs. Landingham and the others gone early today to commemorate Nancy's birthday.

"Sam's on the phone" she answers him softly and Jed still doesn't understand how anyone who works for Toby could be frightened of him. "His dad, I think." She replies just as meekly to his second just-as-casual inquiry.

As he walks to the residency Jed can't completely explain why but he feels better, wonders if Sam might have any idea on potential sites for a library.
* * *


Toby puts off telling Sam until he almost finds out on television with the rest of world.
But the time has come (the communications director said, for Toby was without a doubt The Walrus) and Jed reads the same unimportant paragraph three times while he waits for Leo to bring Sam.

They seemed to file into the office like children unaware that they were about to receive a painful flu shot, the kind you'd sustain a scar from getting and Jed begins to wonder whether he should start keeping luminescent stickers and cellophane wrapped confections in his bottom drawer as a prize for good behavior.

Led by Leo like lambs to the slaughter and the glass-like quality Josh's eyes had developed after all the well rehearsed words had been said had so weakened Jed that it was Leo who had told CJ.

Leo who had offered to tell Sam.

Sam.

Sam who is brought before him last, the last of Hannah's children to Nebuchadnezzar.

Samuel the mighty prophet, Samuel given by God to the beloved Hannah, Samuel given by Hannah back to her beloved God…Samuel son of Elkanah who had two wives.

The line of thought is severed too violently, before Jed can see where it was going.

He thinks that he may have seen the next thought in the distance, knows it ought to have been yet another father who was about to fail Sam.

But then it wasn't that, was it?

This feels far too much like one of the dozen or so times that he thought that he was going to tell Leo, not the moments before he told Josh and Jed fidgets in his chair as the uncomfortable thought, now formed, shimmies down his plaque encrusted spine.

Because for reasons both known and unknown Sam has never been a son to him, not like Josh or CJ and the reason eludes Jed in a messy game of hide and seek; lacing in and out between the pillars that line his trains of thought.

He's never called Sam his son and not for lack of opportunities.

But the more he lets the thoughts race against each other in his mind in endless circles he thinks maybe it hasn't been said not out of fear of having Sam as a son but rather of fear for Sam having him as a father.

In his dreams he watches the back of his father's hand (and one night Toby's hand) come down to strike him across his frightened face but when the hand pulls back it's his own and Sam has a cherry red blot
where Jed had split his lip.

When Abby was 6 months along with Ellie they had been told to expect a boy and maybe only Leo ever understood why Jed had cried quite so hard when the doctor had handed her to Jed that first time.

You're safe baby girl, you're safe.

Maybe only Leo who had ever understood why Jed, albeit unconsciously (or so he still tells himself), had distanced himself from her when he learned that she could anger him so quickly.

Ellie who like Sam has always thought of Jed as an idea and not a man.

Sam who, like Ellie, cannot seem to find a balance between the two.

He had been frightened to tell Ellie, the last of the girls to be told, but oddly interested in doing
so, brushing aside Abbey's offer to do it herself.

And now he waits for Sam, oddly interested.

Ever since Toby he's been waiting for one of them to chew him out to his face.
To absolve him.

And here he is already angry at Sam because Jed knows that he will not be the one to do it.
Sam will keep the hurt to himself, perhaps to share with Toby later, and Jed is drawn to the hurt like
Homo Habilis to marrow in the middle of the wilderness.

For hurt means that, as Jed has suspected all this time, something here is very wrong.

Leo's knock barely registers amidst the cacophony of his thoughts and Jed's heart almost splits into a neat two when he sees Sam's blinding Colgate™ smile.

Yes, Jed thinks to himself as Leo shuts the door behind them, something here is very wrong.
* * *


He tells them its answer B because he wants to make Sam believe that he would sacrifice himself for the party.

He stands before the flashing lights and picks A because he wants to make Sam believe.
* * *


"You know some days I'm not even sure he's going to vote for me."


They're leaning against the white rail surrounding the porch and Toby trails Jed's eyes until he too is watching Sam and Josh spar with Bruno and Doug inside the kitchen.

Jed injects the line with almost all the bravado he's got left after the general apology in the classroom, doesn't quite remember when sympathy from Toby became something he sought after.

Toby doesn't laugh but then he rarely did before and he's just been allowed to drop his anger over CJ, though Jed knows he will never be pardoned for being too selfish to tell her himself.

"Don't be mad at him for taking longer than Josh, " Toby says, eyes cast quickly downward after he'd realized what he was about to say, "ideas take longer to glue together than flesh."
* * *


He's tired, he's just so goddamned tired and when he isn't busy being tired he's answering 'I don't remember' to the same questions over and over again and the questions never stop or change but Sam still refuses to let Oliver see his hands shake from too little sleep and too much coffee.

He changes his shirt before their sessions so that the wrinkles of sleep will not show.

In his mind he is the defense to Oliver's prosecution and yes, he knows quite how ridiculous and arguably detrimental that might be here in this office where he is purposefully driving Oliver to the very brink with Princeton debate-team trademarked unnerving calm.

There is a time for anger and that time is not here in Oliver's office.

Especially when it's not about the one thing it supposed to be about.

He's angry at the President for bringing all these people, all these nosy strangers into their home, into the thousand intimacies of their family.

It is Toby who bears the brunt of that carefully stored anger.

Toby who, when it's late and he’s tired and Oliver's voice has scratched deep grooves into his calm, Sam finally breaks in front of, deep cracks splitting across his face and chest, and Sam yells that no one keeps a secret for 28 years if they don't think that what they're doing is wrong.

Toby drives him home and it's only when Sam has fitted his key to the lock that he realizes that the secret's only been kept for eight.
* * *



It’s six months after and Sam still seeks what the President has yet to give any of them.

To be allowed to grieve.

To be allowed to display that grief.

He wants to blow a large shiny whistle of some kind and yell 'timeout', wants to nudge off the ruffles and sashes that adorn this little game it sometimes feels that they're all playing at for just a moment because someone from his team has fallen and scraped their knee on the cracked asphalt of the playground.

At night he's too tired to restrain his mind from wandering where he futilely wishes it wouldn't so often go.

There he waits for the President, for Toby's President.

He waits outside the residency like a beggar, like a stalker.

Like a gunman.

But his pistol will not be loaded with anger, only pellets of sorrow.

He wants to fire them in consecutive rounds and watch the shrapnel burrow into the President’s skin because there had been no sorrow six months ago, no feeling at all it had seemed.

The sorrow would bleed from the bullets, a deep purple-tinted blue blossoming across the pristine white of the President’s shirt and he would look down at the shirt and then up at Sam and he would understand.

He would open his arms and Sam would step into them, the sorrow staining Sam’s cheek as the President held him firmly against his chest, Sam’s ear pressed to his heart.


“I’m sorry.”


"Sam..."


That voice that haunts his thoughts when they are trying to twist and loop around a difficult speech.

That voice that has always made him feel like he was penning notes for a Stradivarius with a crayon.

He would apologize again, of course he would.

And apologize once more.

And once more.

And again and again and he would seem to hear his voice, his own 150$ battered Yamaha playing the same note over and over as a child might on the very first lesson but then the bow slips from his sweaty hand and slides across the string he's been pressing his finger so tightly across had begun to bleed, so as not to accidentally play it.


"I'm sorry Jed, I'm so sorry."


The hand in his hair doesn’t miss a single almost metronome-guided beat but Sam's heart does as the name slips out, freeing up so much space in his ribcage.

He's only ever said it once before, into the paranoid darkness of his room, his free hand twisting in the sheets.

And now outside it, the name, the concept, grows as oxygen from Jed's slow exhalations breath life into it and Sam's tears water it until it's a curious weight and girth between them.

But Jed does nothing save tighten his arm around Sam’s shoulders, leading them to the edge of the bed, to his and Abbey’s bed and the shape of her name in Sam’s mind almost makes him trip over the brocade ottoman in their path.

He shouldn’t be doing this, he cannot be allowed to do this, he doesn’t remember where the brakes are anymore.

Jed sits on the bed and looks up him from under autumn colored messy hair with eyes that Sam thinks he hasn’t seen since six months ago and then Sam doesn’t think about the missing brakes anymore, he wants to be doing this, he wants to fall to his knees before his king and be allowed his precious grief for one sparse moment.

He rests his forehead on Jed's thigh and wait for the thick fingers to lace through his hair like a man convicted waits for the first lash at the hands of his captain.

He would worry for a moment about the visibility of tear stains on the slightly scratchy material of Jed pant leg but then he would remember that Toby's bore no memory of them.

His hand moves of its own accord from fraying the loose threads of the bed cover to rest beside Jed's on his opposite knee, his index finger touching Jed's thumb - a question touching an answer.

But Sam's mind writes the answers in a code that he only has a broken encryption for and he can only ever see it in tattered parts and never a whole.

Jed would say his name again, softly, and Sam would lift his head and ignore the urge to shift his weight from his badly position knees. He would think himself rewarded for not moving when Jed traced one
of the tear tracks down to the corner of his mouth.

He knows that Jed's hands would be soft, that he would think them a general's and not those of a soldier, not like Toby's.

Jed would taste of the salty tears just kissed away from Sam's cheeks and Sam would keep his eyes closed tight, knowing that Jed would not be afraid to keep his own opened.

17 years of first kisses and Sam forgets them all without a single regret.

Jed would pull back first, his expression caught somewhere between amused and curious when Sam presses the pads of his thumbs to the white of Jed’s temples

He knows that Jed's eyes would be warm and impossibly focused, that Jed would think him beautiful.

He would tell him so and that's happened before in Sam's life but he's never believed it until now because Jed Bartlet would never lie to him.


That's where it ends these days and Sam has grudgingly begun to accept that he must have misplaced the rest of the tape in the bustle and commotion of moving Jed's things from their proper place in his mind to what was once a dusty backroom but was now uncomfortably overpopulated.

When this year ends Sam's mental representation will meet with his copy of Toby's and they will negotiate the transportation of the Ziegler files back where they belong.
* * *


The taste of his cigarette lasts far longer than Jed expected it to and the same could be said for the length of Leo's stay beside him.


"You read this damn book that's got Sam's feathers all ruffled?"


"I thought you wanted to be quiet."


"That was when you were saying stupid things about my map."


Leo sighs and runs his hand through his thinning hair, "I've read the memo, CJ doesn't think we should get proactive about it."


"Yeah."


"She says we shouldn't worry."


The moment of silence lasts too long, Leo gets up and Jed suddenly very much regrets having ever spoken, big mouth ruining everything like it always does.


"I wouldn't worry about it sir."


Jed nods and forces a tight smile when Leo offers one.

Leo's already opened the portico door before he turns around and says "Listen, about the map…"


"I know."


"Charlie will understand," Leo gestures towards nothing in particular, "it's not like…"


"Yeah."


"Good night Mr. President"


He stays outside almost as long as it would have taken to smoke one more cigarette, decides to read the memo after all, Sam's words still ringing in his ears - I don't think it's such a good idea to be casual about the truth.

Sam who has become the legend to the unfurling wrinkled map of his administration, the longitude and latitude with which Jed measures the distance between present location and destination.

Where they are and where Sam believes they should be.

Where Sam believes they could be.
* * *


”You're going to be president someday Sam.”


He can't help shaking the thought that Sam had looked preoccupied when they'd played, he'd almost asked but then he spent so much time not looking at Sam that he wasn't sure.

Looking at Sam makes him feel selfish, reminds him that the boy deserves a better candidate. He's known for a while now that looking at Sam for too long makes him lose confidence. Those first few days after the first election with that free-falling drop of adrenaline levels and tension… they had spent their evenings shuffling from one celebration to the other and he'd worried at times that the new agents might think something of the periods of time he sometimes spent watching this young man that he was fascinated with. That he had only held a handful of real conversations with but with whom the prospect of holding more absolutely tickled the young Jed still inside him.

But now Ron is somewhere outside the room and even if he were here it would not take much staring to figure out that there was something more on Sam's mind.

He almost asks Sam if Sigmund Ziegler as been yammering about all things paternal with Sam too when the sudden blurred and maddening flash of the motion of the back of a hand against Sam's cheek from his dreams stings Jed far too much.

He doesn't need to spend Joe America's tax dollars on Stanely Keyworth to know why he says the things that he says to Sam.

And if he gets to see Sam's eyes look at him like that again, that way that Jed hasn't seen looking back at him since maybe before the GDC got a kick in the pants over a couple of possums.
But that night it is there all the same and that night, for the first night in a dangerous many, there is no cherry red to be found in Jed's dreams.



fin.

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