Title: Lotus, Part 2
Author: Elliott Silver
"What happened," two women in pink hospital scrubs demanded peremptorily as Sam swung through the emergency room doors, Donna's thin body limp in his shaking arms. Their tones were level and not quite interested as they threw out a gurney towards him and he laid her onto it.
Bright red smears of blood streaked over the white sheets.
"I don't know," Sam answered numbly as their voices changed, took charge and note, and they spun dizzily down an overlit hallway.
"How long has she been out?"
"Twenty, twenty-five minutes."
"Is she allergic to anything?"
"I don't think so - yes, Penicillin," he answered as he tried to go through the blue swinging doors after her and one of the nurses held him back.
"There's nothing you can do for her now," she admonished him, her red hair glinting in the hallway light, and Sam watched through the square-window as the other nurse was joined by two white-coated men and they rushed Donna farther and farther away from him.
"Let us help her now," and then she too disappeared and left him alone, and as he looked down, there was her blood all over his palms and for the first time in his life, Sam felt the world fall apart - not by great ripping tears, but by a soundless whimper as he washed his hands in the bathroom and watched the rosy water swirl down the rusty drain and it occurred to him he might lose the only woman he had ever loved.
Sam hadn't been in a hospital since Josh had been shot at Rosslyn, but the waiting had never seemed so life-threatening then as it did now, because not knowing, in the end, was always worse than knowing, because he couldn't understand her blood on his sheets and hands the way he understood the bullet that punctured Josh's lung and flesh.
Four and a half hours after Sam had landed himself in the waiting room with magazines old enough to still write pleasant things about the re-elected president, another nurse came out for him.
And Sam realized sometimes, it was only when you looked up, that you saw all that was possible in the world, forgetting that there was impossibility too.
She was a plump little woman, probably not over 5'5" who looked like a walking hibiscus in her pink scrubs and frizzily-permed brown hair. Sam tried to stand and she firmly pushed him back down into his plastic seat that made his butt numb in more ways than one. Her insistence bespoke that she'd had more practice than she wanted in such moves.
She sat down next him and kept her hand on his shoulder. Her nametag bounced on her chest - Heidi, it said on the laminated tag and she had obliterated her picture with a big yellow smiley face sticker.
Her eyes were deep brown, like cane sugar and Sam thought of Donna who had waterlilies in her eyes.
"Is she - " it was as far as he could get and he felt the nurse's fingers dig into his shoulder as if she was excavating his bone.
"She's ok," she told him and her voice was hardly comforting.
Sam shook his head; her words rattled in his head. "What happened?"
The nurse took her hand from his shoulder.
"We stopped the bleeding," she informed him matter-of-factly.
"But what happened?" Sam asked.
The nurse's eyes had hardened like burnt pralines. "Mr. Seaborn, she miscarried."
And it was only for gravity that the world didn't fall apart right there and then.
He heard the nurse calling his name and finally shaking his arm harder than need be.
"Where is she?" he asked, and when the nurse got up, Sam followed her, through over-lit halls with garishly bright murals in yolk yellows and leaf greens.
He stood outside the door for minutes, noticing only that the numerals on the brass plate were smudged with fingerprints, thinking of how many times she had come to him in hotel rooms with these same numerals, that Donna had loved him in numbers, while he had loved her in words.
Donna looked pale and skeletal in the plumped up hospital bed, needles and wires attached to the crook of her elbows and the flat bottoms of her wrists.
They both tried to talk at once.
"How far along were you?" he managed, somehow, and would never know how he did.
"10 weeks," she answered, her voice hoarse and choked, and Sam tried to think back to when it would have been, in August when two heat waves had swept through Washington and somehow through it all, she had been laughing, with that smile that was all hers, and they had been head over heels. And he felt Donna's waterlily eyes on him as he thought back to the nights when their relationship had all begun, when white cherry petals had bloomed over her pale skin in the dark of his rooms and they had found hope together. And Sam remembered them in North Dakota and Kansas, under black skies and glowing stars, knowing that the states were far more important now for their part in their two lives than they had ever been two days ago when North Dakota had given Bartlet their electoral votes and Kansas had given Ritchie theirs.
Futures, Sam thought, were built on far more lasting things than electoral votes.
"You couldn't have told me?" he asked as he stood, his knuckles curled around the bars of the bed railings, and in his voice there was the lament, the guilt that he could have done something.
"Sam," Donna said and her voice was like crushed glass. "You were getting the president re-elected. You needed your head there and he needed you."
"You were under so much stress. I didn't want to add to it."
He wanted to say that knowing she was pregnant wouldn't have added to it at all, but Sam was honest, and he couldn't say that to her because he remembered how she had refused the champagne the night the final votes had come in and she had seemed so radiant because it wasn't the victory that had mattered to her, it had been this, them, everything but blood skies and bone cities and the ashes of empires.
"And what about where you needed my heart?" And Sam rested his hand, palm-down, over her pelvis, the still flat space where their child had once been.
Tears on Donna's blue eyes looked like falling stars and she blurred in Sam's eyes as she took both his hands in both of her bandaged ones, trailing wires, and pulled him so that his head was over her heart. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and their voices became one as they cried together because they knew now worlds did fall and gravity did falter and sometimes love wasn't enough even though they loved on still.
Her cell phone rang at 8:23am and Sam realized by the chimes that it was hers not his that he had grabbed in the mad rush from his apartment hours that seemed like eternities ago. Donna stiffened but didn't wake as Sam pulled back from the bedside where he'd been watching her sleep, and snapped open the phone, not answering it until he was out in the hallway and the door had closed behind him.
Sam could hear the voice speaking before he even put the phone to his ear.
"Donna, its after eight and if you're puking over a hangover and I got my happy ass here - "
Sam looked at the woman sleeping through the door window, a swathe of white and gold like a lotus petal.
"GW Hospital," Sam bit off. "Room 432."
And he hung up.
* * * * *
Josh sauntered down the hospital ward forty-seven minutes later.
"If she's in there with alcohol poisoning and had to get her stomach pumped - "
Sam slammed him against the wall so hard both their cell phones went chittering down the tile floors like small scared, squealing animals. Sam heard the breath whoosh out of Josh's chest as he pinned him against the wall and held him there.
Josh Lyman smelled like half a tin of Altoids and his trenchcoat reeked of another woman's perfume, something too expensive that made Sam sick.
"She miscarried, Josh. She had a miscarriage."
At the ends of the hallways, the nurses scattered away again as Sam let go and backed away and Josh rearranged his face more suitably, because he was a politician and he was usually so good at it.
"No," Josh began and stepped away two paces and came back, running both his hands through his unwashed hair and then stripping them over his face as if he would see something different when he opened his eyes. "I don't - "
"Josh - "
Josh laughed abruptly and his eyes were wild as he glanced at the window on the door of Room 432 and then looked away desperately.
"Josh!" And Josh stopped and looked at Sam and all Sam could do was look back, and watch unmercifully as without ever moving, Josh fell apart in front of him and because of stars and waterlilies, Sam had to believe they were enough to compensate for two people crumbling, and the irreversible destruction of four worlds.
"She was pregnant?"
Sam only nodded.
"Did you know?" Josh asked and his voice was rushed. "Did she tell you?"
"No," Sam answered him and his chest hurt.
Josh glanced again at the door but didn't edge any nearer to her.
"Who's was it?" Josh asked without looking at him and Sam took a breath and waited until Josh met his eyes. "Who - "
And Sam answered before Josh asked in other words.
"This was our first child, Josh." And Sam almost broke then, thinking of the bits of blood and the stripped tissue that had been both his and Donna's and no one else's, a strange, horrible paradox that not even love could hold the most precious things together.
And Sam watched the deputy director, his best friend, walk down the hallway, without saying another word, with raising his fists, without even asking how the woman he thought he loved was, because Josh was a politician and he had never known anything about love.
Sam went back into Donna's room because he knew a little about love because of her. And because she knew a little about love because of him, the woman with the eyes the color of topaz and things that couldn't be replaced motioned him onto the bed with her. Careful of wires and needles and nurses that came in every five minutes, he let her pull him onto the hospital bed with her and he wrapped his arms around her and saw her eyes were blue and serious. They reminded of the painful way her veins poked purple through her pale translucent skin.
"Sam," she said even when it seemed he hadn't held her half long enough. "You need to go to work."
"I'm not leaving you."
"But there's nothing that you can do here," she said and her voice trembled, just a little. "And everything you can do there."
"You mean nothing I can do but love you," Sam answered her and then slowly continued. "No matter what."
And then, they just lay there together, his lungs expanding when she breathed, because in the bright shards of sun, they were no longer waiting for morning - it had already come.
* * * * *
The White House was a flurry of motion and frenetic energy that Sam didn't recognize and suddenly, unbelievably and without surprise too, didn't feel a part of. Toby and a junior staff writer were arguing over the language of a foreign policy draft and the West Wing seemed empty of familiar faces and driven goals.
He had left Donna only reluctantly the afternoon before, to get a shower and a change of clothes, and mostly because she seemed alright, not that it seemed things could ever be alright. He had left just as two of the nurses had come in to draw more blood, filling clear vials with spurting jets of sloshing maroon liquid from her tired veins. He watched them rattle the tubes in a swinging little rack and set off down the maze of corridors for the lab.
Just to be safe, they had said. The word 'safe' was reassuring, and Sam only thought later that it was exactly why the medical profession exploited it, because in the end, they couldn't save anyone.
But they had hoped to know why they had lost this child, what had caused the blood and loss, and in the end, whether they could even try again.
And so Sam hadn't thought to be worried, but when he walked back into the room, an old backpack slung over his shoulder, full of contraband like fresh Godiva chocolate-covered raspberries, her Enya CDs, a blue sweater of his that she loved, and a copy of a good novel she had meant to read sooner than later, Donna's eyes gave her away.
He thought he said her name, but then she was saying his and her voice was no more than a whisper as she told him and the only thing he could do was love her and wonder how something as infallible as gravity failed.
Charlie motioned him into the Oval Office without waiting, and Jed Bartlet spoke without hesitating.
"Itís in her bones," Sam answered quietly, refusing to sit on the couches.
The President rose and paced through the opulence of the Oval Office, a place they had fought tooth, nail, and blood to stay - and suddenly Donna, the one who never should have had to pay that price, had spilled more blood than any, even Josh with a bullet wound, even Leo with his alcohol, even the president with his MS.
Josiah Bartlet was the only man that Sam knew who cursed in Latin.
"How long?" the man from New Hampshire asked, and Sam was grateful that he didn't ask the other question, the heartbreaking one, the one that went, isn't there something they can do?
"They don't know," Sam said, but he didn't meet the President's eyes. Outside on the lawn, the grass was mulchy green and tourists were snapping photographs between the black wrought iron railings, stopping time on film, keeping instants and seconds in pixels and paper as if the white building were something special.
"Sam," and in his voice, the Deputy Director heard the man whose wife was a doctor, who knew medicine and its miracles, who was also dying slowly.
"A few weeks to a few months."
And it was all Sam could do to answer, none.
There was a silence between them and Sam tried to think back in American history to when this sacred room had ever felt so much grief. He couldnít think of anything, not Pearl Harbor, not My Lai, not the death of the thirty-fifth president.
"Why did I win, Sam?" Josiah Bartlet asked.
"Because you could," Sam answered.
"Because any time is better than no time at all." And the room stood still around them, because the man who was President and the man who would become President looked at each other and let the silence speak between them, because they were wise men who knew pain, knew bright victory, and horribly, knew death.
Sam Seaborn left the Oval Office in what he knew would be his last time and wandered back through the corridors of the West Wing to the cramped space that had once been his office and was already being taken over. He didn't feel any regret, and he never saw Josh, but he knew CJ was coming even before he saw her. Sam wondered how it was that three women were the driving power and inspiration behind this administration, how it had always been that way, how the First Lady, the Press Secretary, and the seemingly trivial woman with waterlily eyes were everything that mattered.
"What do you want to know?" he asked her before she could say, 'talk to me.'
CJ sat delicately on the corner of his desk and looked down at him. "I just wanted to know if she was alright."
"I thought you were going to ask if I was leaving."
"I don't need to ask the questions if I already know the answers."
"Yes, Donna is ok," Sam answered, even though there was no answer for that question and they both knew it.
For a moment, Sam didnít know how to answer that. Then, he just said, "Weíre leaving."
And then CJ, who perhaps understood the importance of words more than anyone, even himself, said nothing and left him with nothing more than the touch of her hand to his shoulder like a blessing.
* * * * *
Four days later, Sam brought Donna to the White House for the last time. Sunny and only mildly cold with a warm front moving up the coast, the mid-November morning felt perfect.
The heartbreaking part was, it wasn't.
They walked side by side through the maze of hallways and bullpens and offices. She didn't take his hand, although her skin had brushed his several times, because even with bruises in the crooks of her elbows from blood-drawing and ravenous cells eating out her marrow, Donna Moss still knew how to stand on her own.
Even when Josh stepped out and caught her thin wrist as she passed the office she had worked so long for, she still stood straight. She never jumped at his touch, as if some small sad part of her had expected it.
Sam watched Josh take her in, try to love her, and fail, because in the end, he couldnít wish that it had been his child that she had lost in a pool of blood and unformed tissue.
"Gather ye rosebuds, Josh," Donna Moss didn't whisper, and then she pulled away and walked towards the waiting President who had asked to see her and took her out into the delicately pruned late-blooms of the Rose Garden, the Secret Service trailing static and concealed guns behind him.
She left the man who had always wanted to love her and the man who did love her together, the men who had once been best friends, who were now less. Sam kept his gaze even and then walked away to the porch where he could see her, the bright sunshine seeping through his jeans and navy cashmere sweater. Behind him, he heard Josh stand still and watch too, because he simply couldn't walk away, and Sam knew that was exactly what it had come down to: the man who wouldn't turn away, and the man who walked away from everything he ever thought he had wanted, because Sam knew loving Donna Moss was more than everything he had never known he had always wanted.
"When I asked you what you believed in," Josh began and his voice was obsidian. "You never believed in him - you believed in her."
It was the first time Josh had spoken to him since the hospital, and Sam didn't know who told Josh about the cancer, about the few months, about the leaving - because Josh had never minded that the nights didn't get black in Washington, and in fact, he liked that lack of darkness.
"It's the same thing."
"No," Josh said quickly and his voice was an accusation. "No Sam, it's really not."
"I believed in him because she did." And Sam continued and his voice wasn't bitter. "We all need to believe in something."
"Sam, we elected a dying man."
"Yes, and *we* elected him."
"But you're leaving us here with him." And then Josh's voice turned bitter as Donna and the president turned to them briefly. "You won't be here to catch him when he falls again."
"No," Sam said quietly. "But I'll be there for her, because you never were."
And then Josh finally looked at him and Sam saw it dawn on him that some things were more important than the presidency, that some things were more important than even the fate of the world. And he saw Josh hate that, hate that he had never known how to love Donna before this, before it was too late.
And then Josh walked away, because that was what he had always been doing all his life, and because not even Donna could make him stop, and because it was too easy to turn his back on anything in this bone city.
Left alone, Sam waited and watched Jed Bartlet and Donna Moss stand together in the little Eden of Washington as if harsh words were never spoken, as if worlds spun on, as if they would come back to this place, when the roses bloomed, as if Donna wasn't resigning the way he had the day before, as if revoking this place could ever possibly mean revoking everything that had happened.
Because it seemed so wrong, because she was so beautiful, like pale cool solstice sunshine, a reminder of the way the earth twirled and the seasons danced. She was still white and fragile from the fluorescent lights and pumped blood and bland food of GW Hospital, and she was quiet as she had been when he had brought her home and told her he was leaving the White House. Because even though there had been blood and ache, it was over now.
Donna's hair was half-way down her back now, blinding as sheetmetal and almost platinum, the color her tears would have been if she had cried the night before, wondering how amid the pieces of everything that they had lost, how he could ever love her. And Sam had told her he didnít blame her for losing the baby, because they never would have known about the cancer otherwise, without the doctors' tests and the word 'safe'.
Anger had been her only response left, a cold kindle that flared briefly from her numbed bones before she dropped her head onto his chest and he felt the coolness of her forehead through his shirt as he held her and told her he loved her, and when she asked why again, he had answered very simply.
"Because you're the only one I believe in."
Out in the Rose Garden, Sam didn't know if she and the President even spoke, but they held onto each other the way only dying persons could, tactfully, sorrowfully, and without pathos. But Donna let go first and as she walked away from the President and towards him, touched him, Sam felt so much life in her and for a second, he could have believed it was all untrue.
Donna disappeared behind him and Jed Bartlet walked up to the doors where Josh - and so many important others - had once stood and Sam stood still. The President knew everything there was to know from books, and he knew a little about love, which was enough to understand this, their leaving red skies to look for stars.
"Fifty years from now," he told Sam as if Sam didnít already know, "You wouldn't remember a word of the speeches you wonít write for me. Fifty years from now you'll remember you loved her."
And Sam handed him a folded piece of paper, and walked away, only because he knew he was walking towards Donna, encircled in a melee of bravely and strictly quelled tears from CJ and Toby and Leo and Margaret who promised to send Mess muffins no matter what their calorie count. Only Josh wasn't there, as Sam looked around, and as Donna came towards him, Sam knew when Josh cleaned out his office, he would find a worn copy of The Art and Artistry of Alpine Skiing tucked there, because after five years, that was how she would say goodbye to the man who she had once thought she would love her entire life, and who had never loved her back.
* * * * *
They left Washington in the air, hurtling up into the skies that were almost always blood-colored with artificial light, at 11 am on a Thursday.
They landed in France first, because Sam thought she would like a place of roses and wine and joi de vivre.
But Donna hated Paris, hated the heavy square arches of Notre Dame, and the chiming tones of street vendors singing La Vie En Rose. She had hated a city of mourning, and she hated a country whose land was stained with centuries of spilled blood and battles with names like Somme and Verdun in wars that never ended. But most especially, she hated the ancient cathedral where she had stood in the nave and stared up at the stained glass windows and the flying buttresses, because Gothic architecture had been built with the sole purpose of raising the common man's eyes to Heaven.
But then she was looking at him, and Sam realized only he had looked up and that her gaze had never wavered.
The church seemed to shake around her then, but she never moved and in silence he had followed her out into the Parisian streets. Everything else could fall - planets, skyscrapers, gravity, but Donna Moss stood tall.
"Weíre all dying, Sam," she said amid the smells of croissants and truffles and coffee, things that would have been wonderful in another life and time. "We're all dying one breath at a time, and this was never a choice between you and Josh."
Sam breathed, as she took his hand in hers, oblivious of the carmine city with its grey architecture so much like the US capitol, and Sam couldn't understand how he had ever thought she would be happy here. He couldn't understand how he had ever thought she would be happy in London or Prague or and European city that was the color of smoke and centuries of ruins. But he didn't know where else to go, where they could run and hide and escape even death.
Sam felt her press her fingers against his, bone and strung sinew and cool flesh where her blood ran and her nerves were, and when she looked up at him and breathed deeply, her eyes were the color of his soul.
"I want to go somewhere where I can live," Donna said quietly and surely, her hands wound in his as she pulled him to her, as if she could teach him how to let the world spin under his feet and still stand straight. "I want to go somewhere where I can love you."
And when they went, together, they found a place more beautiful than imagination, than dream, than perhaps even love.
Where they went was a place of lotuses.
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