What Sorrow Sees
Character(s): Donna, Josh, Sam
Category(s): General, Friendship
Summary: Sam handles things in his own way but that's not good enough for Donna.
It was one week, and one night of sobbing on Josh's shoulder later, that Donna finally gathered up her courage and trod over to the Communications bullpen.
Josh had said: "It's Sam, Donna, god. I guarantee he doesn't. He wouldn't; it's Sam."
She'd sniffled modestly and dabbed at her delicate nose. "But."
"It's Sam, for god's sake."
Josh's incredulity that Sam was capable of holding a grudge notwithstanding, she knew she wasn't imagining it. The cheerless reception his eyes gave her when she approached was a marginal improvement from not looking at her at all. He may not hold grudges, but he was still unhappy, and if it was anything like she felt towards herself for trying to manipulate him into helping her friend, she was in for a long thaw.
He sat on the edge of his desk, leaning into the light cast by his lamp. Papers, strewn across the surface of the desk seemed to blaze white under the intense beam, but Sam was squinting, crinkling his nose, huffing mildly.
With a wave of his chin, he slid to his feet, and looked her in the eyes momentarily before moving behind the desk. "Donna," was all he offered her, and she wished Josh was there to hear the flatness in Sam's voice.
"It's Sam, Donna. God."
On tiny feet, in tottering heels, Donna had entered Josh's office hesitantly, her hands clasped in front of her in a tense prayer. Josh had teased her, at first. Said, 'Oh, you'd know if he was still mad at you. If your throat is still intact....' But he'd taken her by the arm and made her sit when he'd seen the lines of misery etched onto her face. He was decidedly un-Josh-like, and his humor fell away as he studied her closely.
"He hasn't said a word," Josh had explained, almost breathlessly, as if Sam not saying something meant it simply wasn't so.
Donna's "Would he?" sent Josh's own brave face crashing, and he'd pulled up a chair, sitting heavily.
They'd sat for ten minutes, each contemplating the next step, whatever it might be, in whatever direction it might take them. Darting, expectant glances at Josh went unnoticed, and Donna wasn't surprised when Josh suddenly looked at her as if she'd just become visible.
"So what do you want to do?" he'd challenged. "I'm telling you, don't do it, whatever it is."
"I can't just leave it like this."
"There's nothing to -- Yes, you should." A groan that sounded fraught with experience grew out of Josh's throat. "Donna, you came to me because I -- If you're not going to listen, then -- Do what you want!" he'd exclaimed, finishing his argument off by flying out of his chair and stalking out the door.
The next night, she crept back in, and hovered behind the same chair he'd fled from.
"He didn't laugh," she lamented; carefully, not with nearly as much anguish as she actually felt. "He loves that joke."
Josh sat back in his seat, his shoulders slack and rounded. "I know," he murmured, and it was his sincerity that made her slip her mooring and begin to weep.
Josh's arms, like sturdy sea-tested ropes, wrapped around her and brought her back. He told her she was stupid when she tried to apologize for smearing her tear-stained cheeks against his shirt, and that made the tears stop, but not the ache.
She was stupid, and that was it. "It's my stupidity," she snuffled, swiping a Kleenex, torn and limp, over her nose again and again; fluttery little bird motions. "Does he know what he's doing? Is that why it's such a... I mean, if he knows, that explains a lot," she reasoned. "If he knows, then he doesn't have to do another thing, does he? He just gives you a look, and, and you... people cave, don't they? They cave for Sam."
"You...." Josh ducked his head down, and nuzzled her shoulder with his nose. "You really don't want to disappoint Sam."
She calmed somewhat, but could tell Josh was still surprised when she stood, tugging her sweater down across over-amplified breasts, and announced that she was ready to talk to Sam.
"Was there something you needed?" Sam asked, bringing his hand to hover over his desk, as though casting a spell.
"Did you lose something?" Donna found herself stepping closer with the confidence of an intuitive, exceptional assistant, attuned to the perplexed look on the man's face. "If you tell me what -- "
Sam brandished his glasses, and slid them onto his face with a hesitate hand. "Was there anything else?" he asked, and Donna snorted.
"Well, it wasn't even that," she told him and, emboldened, shut the door behind her.
"No, Sam, dammit. No."
The glasses came right off again, and she realized immediately that they'd be lost in a minute, because he folded them and resolutely shoved them into his shirt pocket. It was never the first place Sam looked for his glasses, she'd noticed long ago.
"I can't do this anymore," Sam began, rising to his feet and plunging one hand into his hair. "Please understand; I know you're sorry. I get what happened. I completely realize what your motivation was to tell Stephanie -- "
"Sam, wait -- "
"And I... I don't know what you want from me." Sam's voice cracked, like the skin of an overripe tomato left in the sun. Not sharp and brittle, but torn, split. Wounded.
He wasn't supposed to still feel that way, Donna recognized sadly. It all should have healed over by now. That's what Josh said, and Josh was supposed to know Sam.
Her instinct was to flee. To go back to Josh's office, and let him hold her cold hand and tell her how stupid she was being. Or let Josh know he'd been wrong, Sam wasn't done yet, and maybe Josh would believe her this time. But the look on Sam's face, drawn and fragile and still swept with anguish, held her in place. His next words, "What would you have me do?" were so formal and civil, she whimpered.
"I don't want this anymore, Sam. You, all dull around the edges. I hate this awkwardness. I hate that you don't see me."
She'd brought Sam two highlighters one day; it was Tuesday, four days after she'd gone to bed intoxicated by many Cuba Libres, and what she thought was Sam's forgiveness. He liked the thin, pen-like highlighters, not the thick, stubby ones Toby used. He preferred pink, too, which Toby wouldn't allow, even for Sam's personal use. So she'd dug a few out from Margaret's supply cabinet, and slipped them onto Sam's desk, using one to draw a florescent frowny face on the back cover of a discarded report, with "sowwy, Sam" emblazoned below it. She'd thought it was cute.
So did the congressman Sam brought back to his office that afternoon, and she'd heard Sam had flushed red, but Ginger couldn't tell if it was out of fury or embarrassment.
"Leave him alone, Donna," Josh had warned, and she wondered if Sam had told him to do that.
What would you have me do, Sam had asked, but she still wasn't sure she had an answer he'd want, and for the first time Donna felt annoyed with him. Wasn't it simple? You forgive a person, is what you do. When they explained to you that they'd been wrong and misguided, when they told you with all the sincerity in their heart that they were sorry for playing you, you shrugged your shoulders and said okay. I forgive you.
Which Sam had done, Donna realized with a keen and sudden awareness. He'd told her he did, but he hadn't acted like it. And the more she asked for reassurance, the more intractable his disappointment in her seemed to become.
"Sam." Two steps closer to him, she saw now the dark circles under his eyes, exaggerated in the shadows of his dim office. He didn't look like this during the day, when the energy surged through the corridors, crackling like lightning. He'd slowly gained back the intensity and impulsion he'd lost that day he'd picked up the phone to hear his mother's strangled sobs eradicate the very last vestiges of his cheerful childhood.
But this night, in this light, he looked every inch as bruised and breakable as he had when Donna had taken him in her arms, felt him tense, then slacken almost undetectably. And she remembered now how the fact that Sam hadn't brought his own arms around her in return, even briefly, had haunted her, as she downed six rummy drinks over the course of that night.
She was at the bar two hours past Sam's one, and watched Josh steer him away under the protective guidance of an arm across Sam's shoulder.
"The thing is... I really couldn't say," Josh had tried to explain, when she'd come to him with a face full of distress. "And even if I could, I never would. You can't understand how long it took.... He doesn't give it easily anymore, and if he thought that we were sitting here talking about him...."
You don't want to disappoint Sam.
The distance between them swelled wider with every second that ticked by, and they were only seconds; Donna could feel each one drop on her like rain. He didn't chew his lip, an endearing habit Sam had when put on the spot, and contemplating a reluctant response. He didn't shift his weight, or toy with a pen, or look over her shoulder at the closed door. His hands were positioned solidly on his hips, one finger resting absently across the top of his pager. His eyes remained on Donna, and she was beginning to grow unnerved under his severe gaze.
"I can't think anymore," she complained, finding the strength to move closer, if only to clutch at the back of a chair for support. "I mean, coming in every morning, and standing at the copying machine I have the most eloquent conversations with you; but they're conversations, Sam. Give and take. Not these stagnant, hostile -- "
"I'm not - Donna, I'm not hostile!" Sam exclaimed, confusion breaking through his former stern countenance. "I'm... I'm tired. Jesus. I'm tired of... I was never good at this, and now I don't even care if I am." Letting his hands drop, he closed the distance and stood at her side. "Something.... This thing happened, you know?" he began, and she was surprised by the beseeching, quivering quality in his voice. "And I really need to deal with that right now. I'm sorry you have this, I don't know, guilt that you can't shake. But that's not me. That's not my problem. And I resent the hell out of you coming to me, over and over, to absolve you." He bent forward from the waist, just a hint of a dip in his posture.
As Sam's head dropped, Donna detected a wave of sorrow coming off of him; so strong, she gripped the chair in her perspiring hands until the fabric grew damp and she had to let go.
Her voice shushed out of her, low and shabby. "No, Sam. You're not hostile."
His head whipped up at her words.
"I'm sorry," and he meant it, she could see that. "But this is... you just don't get it. This is torture, Donna! I care about you. I don't want to offend you, I don't want to upset you or punish you. But I get to be hurt. I get to feel like after all this time, you should think more of me, and you know, I know this is all amplified because of... Things are going on right now, everything's going to feel exaggerated because of that, and so it's not fair to you, okay, okay, I get it, I'm sorry." Sam's voice rose, and his eyes seemed to search out the room for something, maybe someone solid and steady.
"It's the lamest bullshit I could ever imagine saying, but I gotta - you gotta understand, and no one should have to tell you: We're not sixteen, Donna. So grow the hell up. This isn't about you. I own this. And I can do whatever I need to with it, without being coddled and fawned over by a little girl who never learned to not care what everyone thinks of her."
As Sam slumped away, turning towards the wide window to Toby's office, Donna held her breath, waiting for her tears to spring forward. Ten seconds, twelve seconds, but her eyes remained dry, and her shoulders were rigid and squared. All she thought, the only thought in her mind, was Sam. Sam was in pain, and she knew it. So much pain, and he'd shown her. Bolstered by the knowledge, she stepped up to him, and laid a dainty, fleeting hand on his sleeve, turning him around.
"I'm not a little girl," she told him gently. "But I am.... Josh thinks I'm stupid, and he's right."
Sam shot a pained, frustrated look her way, and rubbed a hand over his face. "Josh can be... You're not stupid, Donna."
"He told me to leave you alone, he said you'd let it go. He just, he forgot to tell me that you just hadn't gotten around to it yet. You've had other priorities, haven't you?" she asked warmly. "You may be a master multi-tasker, Sam, but even you can't be expected to cope with all of this at once." She recognized gratitude and guilt in his eyes, and patted his sleeve again before drawing her hand away.
"Shh. Shh, Sam. It's over. I promise, you really can put this away, okay? You don't have to worry about it; it's mine now. I own it." She would have kissed him, on the cheek; chaste and dry and tender. She would have, if he hadn't looked so close to the edge. Any touch now, even one of comfort could do it, and she wasn't going to be the one to cause that fall. She'd done enough, and so she smiled at him sadly, then pulled her mouth into a real smile, because Sam deserved that, and then she left.
She went right to Josh, and she told him everything. If it was a betrayal, well fine, that's what she did. She betrayed Sam, but he'd never know because Josh would never tell him, she realized.
"I didn't know," Josh admitted quietly, sitting still and astonished behind his desk. "I thought...."
She brushed the hair from her shoulder with the back of her hand, a practiced, precise gesture. "Well, you were still right," she assured him, her voice tight and artificially light. "I mean, you were completely wrong. But you were still right." Even though Josh had had a lot more years to figure out how to navigate Sam than she did, he obviously didn't know everything.
She'd seen Josh defeated by Congress, and nearly blown away by a bullet. But she couldn't recall the look of dismay she saw now, as Josh pondered the implication that while he'd been insisting that Sam was a fast healer, his friend had really been quietly bleeding out.
"I should go," Josh whispered, his uncertainty turning the words into a question. "I should -- "
"Give him a minute," Donna advised, knowingly. "Then go. But just give him a few
Josh shook his head briskly, then drew himself to his feet, and walked hesitantly towards the door. "No, I hafta -- someone should -- "
"Yeah," she said, blocking him gently with her body. "But he won't want you right now. Trust me."
Because Donna wasn't stupid.
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