Weak Passes

"We're talking 1.5 billion to help pay Medicare premiums for people living well below the poverty level!" Josh yells, picking chickpeas out of his pita wrap and dropping them into the takeout container. One bounces out and skids across an environmental impact report.

Sam winces and scoots back in his chair. "I know."

"It'll expand Medicare coverage to include breast cancer, prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and, and -- diabetes!" Josh fumes, flinging chickpeas.

"I know," Sam says again, eating his salad and trying to stay out of range.

"And the Medicare Trust Fund can be extended for at least a decade by saving 115 billion over the course of four years! A decade, Sam!"

"Josh," Sam says.

"Why aren't the Republicans voting for this? And why are there so many chickpeas in this thing?" He frowns at his lunch. "Do actual people eat these? Am I supposed to be eating these?"

"Technically, you're not eating them," Sam points out. "Mostly you're throwing them around. Also, I've been thinking--"

"These things are, like, everywhere," Josh says, dumping more chickpeas out of his pita. "DONNA!"

"There's no need to shout, Joshua," Donna says, suddenly in the room like she's been there all along. "Hi, Sam."

Sam waves at her with his fork.

Josh looks up at her. "Donna, how many times have I said no sandwiches with moving parts?"

"Chickpeas are good for you. You should eat them."

"I don't want to eat them, they look like little shrunken heads!"

"Fine," she says. "You've got Haskell at two."

"So?" Josh says.

"So don't dribble yogurt sauce on your tie," she tosses off, leaving.

"Haskell," Josh grumbles, pawing through the mess on his desk. A chickpea rolls to the floor.

"So," Sam tries again. "I need your -- help, um, with something?"

"Yeah?" Josh says, flipping open a report then dropping it behind him. "Haskell wants this ridiculous -- Donna!"

"It's in the blue folder!" she shouts.

Josh starts pushing things around and Sam grabs his salad before Josh can knock it over.

"I don't see it!" Josh yells back.

"Did you try looking for the blue folder?" Donna asks pointedly, appearing in the doorway.

"The blue folder," Josh mumbles, chewing on his pita.

Donna clicks in, pulls a blue folder from out between a lot of other blue folders and presents it to him. "This blue folder."

"Mm, blue folder."

Donna clicks out again and Sam tries to get Josh's attention. "Josh, I--"

Josh licks yogurt sauce off his fingers. "This isn't the folder -- DONNA!"

"I want to ask Donna out on a date," Sam blurts out.

"Oh," Josh says.

"I was gonna, 'cause, you know--"

"Huh," Josh says, absently eating a chickpea.

"But, I won't, if--"

"Yeah." Josh waves a hand and stares at his lunch. "Yeah, yeah, sure. No problem."

Sam feels desperate and stupid and tries to figure out a way for this not to have happened. "You're sure?" he accidentally says.

Josh looks at him evenly. "Sam."

"You yelled?" Donna asks, suddenly there again. Sam scrambles to his feet.

Josh's head snaps up. "What?"

Donna puts a hand on her hip. "You screamed my name and perhaps I was mistaken, but I took it as an indication that you wanted me."

Josh is still holding onto the blue folder "I--"

"I'd better be going," Sam says, taking his salad and backing toward the door. Josh gives him an uncomfortable look.

Sam tries to slip away, but Donna grabs his arm. He smiles at her uncertainly.

"Bean sprout," she says, pulling it off his sleeve and showing it to him.

"Uh, thanks," he says, wondering if he should take it from her. Behind him, Josh is back to grumbling.

"This isn't the thing for Haskell. This is about -- something else entirely, like, maybe -- lobsters and their effect on the Bolshevik Revolution? That seems wrong, doesn't it?"

Rolling her eyes, Donna goes to straighten him out, saying something about bolshie lobsters loose in New York.

Sam escapes to his office and spends the rest of the day wondering if he's out of his mind.


Sam is chewing on "humans."

"Americans" isn't the right word, and "people" sounds too Soylent Green, and "citizens of Earth" sounds like the EPA is planning on co-sponsoring a Martian invasion.

So he chews on "humans" for a little while and then writes it down and chews on the end of his pen and wonders why the malathion they sprayed in LA in the early 90s didn't kill him the way it's killing lobsters in the Long Island Sound. He makes a mental note to have his sperm count checked.

Bonnie had brought him nine books on lobsters and lobstering, but everything he needed for the speech he'd gotten from the top one, "A Child's Garden of Lobsters," and the rest of the books sit in a stack under his glasses.

Josh comes in somewhere between "arthropod" and "major source of New England's revenue," and Sam puts his pen down.

"Did you know," Sam says. "That lobsters eat kerosene?"

"Like, all the time?" Josh grabs a wooden chair and spins it around so he can straddle it, facing Sam's desk.

Sam consults his notes. "Old-time lobstermen used to lure lobsters into traps using kerosene-soaked bricks, or pads. Until environmental regulations and the FDA realized, hey there, these lobsters are poisonous."

"I'll tell you," Josh says. "I'm not sure I knew lobsters had teeth."

"Lobsters eat clams," Sam says, as if this explains everything.

"I eat clams," Josh says. "I eat lobster too, though. Fortunately, what I really want to know is: have you asked Donna out yet?"

"This president is very attached to his New England lobster," Sam says. "This bill is very important to him."

"I can't begin to tell you how little this conversation interests me," Josh says. "Have you asked Donna out yet?"

Sam shakes his head. "Not in so many words, no."

"In which words, then?"

"Not...in any words, as it turns out," Sam admits.

Josh scoffs. "Uh-kay," he said. "Whatever. I was just thinking -- can I, are you eating that orange?"

Sam, who hadn't known he had an orange, nods. "Go for it."

Josh pulls an orange out from behind the lobster books and starts peeling it with a thumbnail. "I'm saying -- Donna, Donna's a nice girl. Right? But she goes out with these guys and it's just, I'm saying -- I think she could do better. Which is not to say she'd listen to me, and on top of it she seems to maintain some sort of perverse attraction for these absurdly sort of dorky -- well, you know, like you are. Except that you're nicer than those jerks. So I was thinking it would be a good thing. You with me?"

"She's very nice," Sam says, because it's the only part of Josh's statement that really makes sense. He has the vague suspicion he'd been insulted somewhere in there, but he isn't gonna bet on it. "I have nothing against Donna."

"I know you don't," Josh says. "That's what I'm saying. So if you want to -- I'm just, I'm saying I think you should. Is all."

"You think I should ask Donna out," Sam says.

"I said that yesterday, didn't I? Yes, I think you should ask my leggy blonde assistant on a date. I think that's a, just a profoundly spectacular idea. For all parties concerned." Josh is ranting, and Sam can't tell if he is being sarcastic or not.

"Which parties?"

"Any parties," Josh says. "Your parties. Her parties. My parties, hell, if that girl's getting some it can only improve her disposition, right? I think it would be -- yeah."

"Okay," Sam says. He picks up "A Child's Garden of Lobsters" and looks at it. "I really ought to get back to this thing," he said. "The president wants a draft before lunch."

Josh tosses a spiral of orange peel toward the garbage can, but it misses and slinkies to the floor instead. He stands up to retrieve it. "Okay," Josh says. "Just think about it, anyway."

"There you are," Donna appears in the doorway. "I was looking all over for you."

"You couldn't have been looking very hard," Josh says. "Where, exactly, did you look?"

"Your office. And, um. Well, you weren't in your office," Donna says.

"No," Josh agrees. "I'm over here."

"Were you talking about me?" Donna asks, shooting Sam a smile. "Because, you know, if you were, I could go."

"We were talking about lobsters," Sam says, and Donna looks away like she's remembered she is supposed to be somewhere else.

"You should be talking about me," Donna says, and Sam thinks that, really, nothing is further from the truth. And if he is ever going to ask Donna Moss out, there would need to be a moratorium on the talking about and the deliberating over. Plus Josh is being impossible to read, and also a pain in the ass.

"Some things, Donnatella," Josh says, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Are even more important than you are."

"Lobsters, for one," Donna says.

"Word is they eat kerosene," Josh says.

"Give me some of that orange," Donna says, prying it out of Josh's hands as he pushes by her and leaves Sam's office. She skips away behind him.


On Wednesday, Sam finds himself standing next to Donna's desk. Donna isn't there, and the door to Josh's office is closed. Humming to himself, Sam pokes at Donna's rolodex. It falls open to the U's.

"Need to make a call, Sam?"

"Oh!" Sam jumps. Donna has come out of Josh's office and is smiling at him. She really has a brilliant smile, brilliant and a little terrifying. Sam backs up a step. "Um," he says.

"Do you need to see Josh? Because he's right--" She gestures over her shoulder.

"DONNA!" Josh hollers.

"See?" she says, tilting her head.

Sam shuffles his feet. "No, actually, I, uh, came here to talk to you. Actually."

"DONNA!" Josh yells again.

"I'm talking to SAM!" Donna screams over her shoulder.

Loud mumbling from the office. Donna shakes her head and starts paging though Josh's schedule. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"Dinner?" Sam suggests.

"What about dinner?" Donna asks, reaching around him to open a file cabinet.

"I--" Sam says, playing with her pencil cup. "I wanted to ask you to dinner. That is, I wanted to ask you to dinner with me. As a date. For dinner."

Still filing, Donna looks at him over her shoulder. "A date! That's so sweet, Sam!"

Sam can't remember if sweet is worse or better than cute. The last time he did this was with Mallory, who could make any word sound derogatory. She once told him that his stance on minimum wage was "adorable." He still doesn't know what that was supposed to mean.

"I guess," he says.

"Donnatella Moss!" Josh bellows. "Get over here and do your job!"

"I can hear you just fine without you raising your voice," Donna says.

"You just choose to ignore me," Josh says, coming to stand in the door of his office.

"Exactly," Donna says. "Sam's being cute."

Josh raises his eyebrows. "Okay?"

"He just asked me to dinner. Like a real date, Josh. Isn't that incredibly sweet?"

"Incredibly," Josh agrees, sounding bored and confused. "And you said yes to this creep?"

"Sam is not a creep," Donna says. "Just because you never ask me to dinner--"

"I bought you dinner on Monday," Josh says.

"You reimbursed me for a club sandwich you then proceeded to eat most of while we finished the budget report," Donna retorts. "I don't think that counts."

"Whatever," Josh says, rolling on one shoulder against the doorjamb and disappearing into his office again. He comes back a second later. "Wait, I still need you. Do you have the, the--"

Sam hasn't said a word for several minutes, it seems, and he figures now is as good a time as any to go away. "I'll talk to you later then, Donna," he says. "See you, Josh."

"Yeah, adios, Casanova," Josh says.

Sam wants to glare at him, but hits his thigh against Donna's desk and has to limp back to his office instead.


"Calamari," Donna says, tapping one foot in time to the music and peering at the bar's plastic menu.

"I can't believe the restaurant isn't open," Sam apologizes. "It's only eleven o'clock. We could maybe try someplace else?"

Donna licks her swizzle stick and glances up at him. "No, this is good. It's like a pre-date."

Sam tries to protest, or make a joke, or really, just say anything that won't embarrass him, but Donna reaches over and taps him on the hand.

"Relax, Sam. That was a joke." She smiles, but he's thinking she's not as nice as he always assumed she was. It's surprising, but makes a certain kind of sense. She works with Josh after all.

"Okay," Sam says, watching her sip her drink and lean against the wall. She looks different here, less nervous, more confident. This is another thing he hadn't expected. "Then we'll stay here," he says, "and have calamari."

She nods and puts her drink down on their tall spindly table. "So how did the meeting with those lobster people go?"

"Toby managed to piss them off within the first three minutes, which we're sure is a record for him, Josh convinced them not to leave and spilled about thirty notecards all over the floor, and then the President came in and gave us all a speech about the history of lobstering in New England. But I think somewhere in there we all agreed that spraying New York with malathion probably wasn't the best idea." He doesn't mean to mention Josh, but it's too late.

"I told him he'd want the stuff on John Brantz," Donna says. "Did he use the stuff on John Brantz?"

"To be honest, I'm not sure," Sam says, wondering who John Brantz is, certain Donna will tell him if he asks, but it will turn into being about Josh, and that's not what he's here for.

"Those were good notecards," Donna says. "I kicked ass, there."

"Excellent," Sam says.

"So we're gonna give them the money, right?" Donna says. "I mean, after all that, they can't very well--" Her phone rings, and she holds up a finger to Sam. "Just a sec." And then she laughs and digs her cell phone out of her bag. "Donna Moss," she says.

Sam hadn't known she answered the phone that way. It sounds strange and professional and sort of sexy.

"They're -- well, did you check? Check right now. No, I'm saying, actually -- Josh, you have to walk over there and--" She claps a hand over the phone and rolls her eyes at Sam. "I'm sorry, Sam," she says. He nods and looks around for a waitress so he doesn't have to look at Donna.

"I gave those to you before we left, they--" She shakes her head. "No, Josh, they were right there. They were -- yes, see? I told you. I'm hanging up now, Josh."

Sam is surprised when she actually does hang up. She rolls her eyes at him again, then catches a waiter with her bright smile and orders a plate of calamari and another drink.

"Now what were we talking about?" she asks.

"Lobsters," Sam shrugs. "Though, I'll tell you, I've been talking about lobsters all day and I'd just as soon--" Donna's phone rings again. "Talk about something else," he finishes.

"Josh," Donna says, not even bothering with the "Donna Moss" this time, and that makes Sam a little sad. "We went over this this afternoon, didn't we? No, Joshua, I'm saying I'm on a date, and -- what, there isn't anyone left in the office who can -- fine. But quickly. And enough with the flattery."

Sam wonders how Josh responded to the word "date." Though truthfully, this wasn't turning out to be much of one. He wonders what the flattery was.

Donna tips her head to the side, listening, playing with her swizzle stick. "No, I think if you say that he'll probably hire someone to kill you. What? You asked." She listens another minute, laughs. "That's like the thing we did with -- right. I told you it would work. Yes, that's good. And if he still gives you a hard time, tell him you know he bought that fancy new Mercedes with party money."

She looks at Sam. "Senator McManus," she says, and it takes Sam a minute to realize she's talking to him. "He's trying to jump the fence on 690." Sam nods again.

"Josh!" Donna says, not talking to Sam anymore. "Just use the -- okay. Forget it. Yes, darling, I'll be right there." She hangs up, and then frowns at Sam, pitying. "I have to go back and help Josh with a thing," she says.

Sam wants to say something nasty like "I heard," but it only lasts a moment because Donna looks apologetic and worried, and Sam remembers how hard Josh works and how much he depends on Donna. Sam is out on a date with Josh Lyman's assistant; he knew this was a bad idea. Trying to smile, he says, "Okay, sure, I have some stuff I should be working on too. I'll walk you back."

"We can get the calamari to go," Donna decides, grabbing her bag and offering her arm to Sam like he's some 18th century maiden she's going to guide over a puddle. Sam realizes he's a little bitter. He'll have to work on that.


"What's this?" Josh holds the white paper bag between two fingers, his arm extended.

"Josh, it's not like it's toxic waste! It's calamari. I thought you might be hungry, since you didn't get to leave for dinner."

Sam thinks he didn't get to have dinner either. He's hungry. But Josh looks bleary and hassled, and Sam knows this could never work. He'll let Josh have the calamari, let him have Donna, too, because he needs her more than Sam ever will, and Sam will give him anything he needs. Sam's known Josh a long time, and this is how it's supposed to be.

He takes off his coat and stands there, watching Josh peer into the bag like something might leap out at him and holler obscenities.

"Uh-kay," Josh says, scrunching his nose. "Calamari's what, like, squid?"

"You'll like it," Donna sighs, draping her coat over the back of her chair. "It's deep-fried."

"You treat her like a lady, Sam?" Josh asks.

Sam chuckles. "For the twenty minutes I had her, absolutely."

"Oh, he haaaaad you," Josh says to Donna, tauntingly. "Now I see what's going on here."

"He's kidding, Josh," Donna says. "Get over yourself."

Josh jumps, once, and lands hard. "We gotta do this thing, Donna. You have to help me because this meeting's gonna seriously kick my ass."

"You need me?" Sam asks.

"Nah, we got it," Josh says, just as Donna's saying, "You're so sweet!"

"I'm very sweet," Sam says sullenly, deciding "sweet" is just as bad as "cute" and "adorable" ever were.

Josh ducks back into his office, and Donna follows, carrying a clipboard and a new package of index cards. She's got a highlighter in her mouth and she smiles around it when she walks past Sam.

"See you later," he says. She wrinkles her nose at him and then disappears into Josh's office.

Sam spins around in a few circles, first pointing towards his own office, then towards the mess, then in a direction that would get him nowhere but a supply closet. He spins around once more and heads to the mess to forage for food.

It's dark downstairs, and the mess is empty. Sam tosses his briefcase onto a table and pokes around until he finds an apple and one blueberry frosted poptart. At least he assumes it's blueberry. He sniffs it. It's blue and smells like sugar.

"Hey, a poptart," he says to no one. "I haven't had one of these in forever. And I'm talking to myself. That's fairly insane." He stops, looking for a toaster.

Two pushdowns later, he's got the hot poptart on a paper towel, and he sits down and cracks open his laptop. There's the lobster speech, which he opens and sort of blinks at, wishing he had coffee to wash down the chalky poptart crust. He closes the speech again and opens a game of Snood instead. Forty purple alien heads grimace at him, and he wants to grimace back. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," he says to the purple heads, but he's thinking about Josh. The game starts.

An indeterminate amount of time later, poptart and apple both finished and six games of Snood lost, he hears laughter coming from the stairs.

"--brought you coffee," Donna is saying.

"No, what you did was bring me to the coffee, that hardly counts."

"It does too count."

"Does too? What are you, five?" Josh asks her, coming into the room and smirking.

"Hey, look, it's Sam!" Donna says, waving at him. Her skirt is almost the exact same color as Josh's tie. Sam wonders if they planned it, and then decides to stop wondering.

"You are five," Josh says, putting his mug down by the coffee pot and staring at it hopefully.

"Donna," Sam says with a little nod.

"Sam," she nods back, caricatured.

"You're, are you getting a lot of work done?"

"Eh," she shrugs and sits down, sidesaddle, crossing her legs and slinging one elbow over the back of her chair. "If someone would stop being such an idiot and listen to me for half a second--"

Josh whimpers. "Shut up," he says. "And come help me work this thing."

"It's a coffee pot, Josh," Donna says.

"It's FANCY," Josh says. "Look at all the, the, the things. It's, like, industrial."

"Have tea," Donna says.

"Donna," Sam says again, because it's easier than talking to Josh. "We need to talk." He quits his game of Snood and closes his laptop.

"This should be good," Josh says, over his shoulder. "Hey, there's already coffee in here."

"We don't need to do it now," Sam says. "I mean, we don't need to do it now."

"Now's fine, Sam," Donna says, speaking slowly, looking like a kindergarten teacher. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," he says. "I'm fine. Yes. But we should talk."

"Don't let me stop you," Josh says, dragging over a chair and sitting down next to Donna. "Just pretend I'm not here." He takes a sip of coffee. "Oh, this sucks!"

Sam takes a breath and tries to pretend Josh isn't there. "All right," he says. "Donna. I've been giving this some thought, about you and me, and whether it's right we continue to see one another."

Josh laughs. "Continue? You mean, like, continue the one pathetic half-date it took you forever to get around to actually going on?"

"You're not helping," Sam says.

Josh raises his eyebrows. "I was supposed to help?"

"Just ignore him," Donna says. "That's what I do."

"Remind me why it is I haven't fired you?" Josh says over his coffee cup.

"Remind me why it is I came home from dinner to help your sorry ass?" Donna throws back. She shakes her head. "Go ahead, Sam."

Usually he likes watching Josh and Donna bounce insults off each other, but tonight it's just exhausting. He tries to remember what he had been saying before Josh showed up and started helping.

"Any day now," Josh says, yawning.

"I can't go out with you," Sam says before Josh can distract him again.

"Yeah, I'm gonna go upstairs now," Josh cuts in, and Sam wonders if he's angry. "You two can finish this...highly surreal conversation, and then Donna should maybe come upstairs and, like, work for a living."

"It's one in the morning on a Tuesday, Josh," Donna says.

"Yeah, it's early," Josh says. He comes around the back of the table and squeezes Sam's shoulders, and Sam looks hard at Donna and tries not to move. "You just hang in there. She's a real man-eater, this one."

"Josh, go away," Donna says.

"Don't have to tell me twice," Josh says, and leaves.

Sam searches Donna's face, but she's got her eyes wide and she's searching him back, frowning like she's trying to solve a problem. "Sam?"

"I'm collecting my thoughts," he says.

"I'm sorry about tonight," she says.

"It's more important for you to be with Josh," Sam begins, and then adds, "I mean, at this point. In your career. To be with Josh. Professionally."

"I know," Donna says, nodding, and surprising Sam, because he certainly doesn't know. "Josh and I -- I think my working relationship with him does get in the way with any other relationships I might want to have." She smiles crookedly.

"Damn him," Sam agrees. "It shouldn't be that way. I mean, for you. You're so...young."

"I am young!" Donna says triumphantly. "And I'm smart, and I'm quite the hottie. It shouldn't be that way."

"But there it is," Sam says.

Donna nods. "Yeah. There it is. Damn him."

They sit in silence for a minute.

"You should get back to work," Sam says. "And so should I, really."

"You should go home and go to sleep, Sam," Donna says. "You can finish the speech tomorrow."

"Yeah," Sam says. "I just. I don't know. I feel like I should--"

"Just because we're here doesn't mean you have to be," Donna says, and it turns out that was exactly what Sam had thought. "We do this a lot. Josh doesn't shift into high gear until the crack of dawn. You know how he works."

"I do know how he works," Sam says. "Still. It doesn't seem fair to you."

She shrugs. "I signed on for this," she says. "And secretly, I love it. I do. But if you ever tell him that, Sam Seaborn, I will own your ass."

He smiles, because he knows exactly how she feels. "I won't say a word."

"I know you won't," she says, standing up. "Because you know I can take you."

Sam laughs and then yawns.

"Go home, Sam."

"What's the point? I just have to get up again in," he checks his watch, "four hours."

"Because it's the thing to do," Donna says.

Sam laughs again. "Yeah."