TITLE: 20/20
AUTHOR: Abigale
CHARACTERS: Josh/Sam & General
RATING: PG-13 language
SUMMARY: Josh has a crisis of conscience concerning Sam.
ARCHIVE: Lists archives take if you want it. Others, just please let me know where.
DISCLAIMER: All characters are the sole creation and property of Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement is intended.
FEEDBACK: All welcome, all appreciated. abigalep@yahoo.com
GRATEFUL THANKS: To Dalia of course, for her patience & encouraging enthusiasm.
NOTES: Stand-alone. Other fics can be found at http://subtractions.homestead.com/

20/20 by Abigale


"...And that will always be the difference between us," Josh sighed with great effort.

CJ peered over her glasses at Josh. Lolling on her office sofa, he looked as at home as he would watching a game on tv in his own apartment.

"Excuse me?" She asked quizzically, searching the room for context. "I... I thought we were talking about how Sam would never do anything to hurt you." The remnants of a conversation they'd been picking through, like leftover cartons of shrimp fried rice.

"Yeah." Josh, rolling his head across the back of the sofa. His neck hurt. His eyes hurt. Sam was about to get hurt. "We were."

"And you just said... something about how that's the difference between you?" CJ coaxed, removing her glasses altogether. "That you would hurt Sam."

"If I had to. If I... have to. Yeah. I would." Josh rubbed at his eyes, wondering if he'd be needing glasses in a year. Pictured Sam, taking off his glasses in that deliberate manner of his...

Josh decided it was time to go. Go home. Go to bed. Go to hell, once he decided whether he believed in hell. "I gotta go." Scooting to the edge of the sofa.

"Hang on." They rose from their seats in unison, and Josh was once again startled when CJ ended up a few inches above him. "There's something you want to tell me," CJ speculated.

Josh groaned slightly and hung his head. "It's... I'm sorry, CJ. I really can't talk about it. Now. You'll... you'll know when the time is right. But I can't...." Kicking idly at the defenseless leg of the coffee table.

CJ cocked her head expectantly. "Okaaaay. I understand. I have had some experience with these things, you know." She continued staring at Josh. "But. You look like you could use a drink."

Josh could use a drink. More and more, Josh could use a drink. Only sheer exhaustion kept him from lifting a glass night after night.

"Yeah. That sounds right." A slow grin appeared across his face. "And food. I need food, too."

CJ laughed.


"He's gonna get creamed, Ceej."


Despite jokes to the contrary, Josh was on his third drink, disappointed his brain was still functioning just fine.

"Yeah. And.... I don't know." I'm just getting too damn old... "I'm getting a little old to be his watchdog, you know? I mean, I would have thought by now he'd know how to get the hell out of the way. Do you think he'll ever learn when to get out of the way?" Josh asked wistfully.

CJ considered this seriously for a moment. Wished she had a cigarette. Something she could hold between her fingers and flick. "God, I hope not. I really hope not."

Josh stared at her a beat. "But, eventually he has to come down to earth." Raising his glass to his lips, Josh returned it to the table before taking a sip. Flexing his cold fingers.

CJ chuckled gently, shaking her head at Josh's sour expression. "How long... Josh, seriously, how long have you known Sam, anyway?"

Resigned, Josh exhaled. "I don't know. Honestly CJ, I just woke up one day and he was there."

The smile remained on CJ's face. "And you still think one day he's gonna somehow stop being Sam?" Fueled by cranberry juice and vodka. "You know what I see?" CJ continued. "I see Sam, sitting earnestly at a desk in some shack. One of those shacks in the middle of the desert, you know? A nuclear test site. And you, you're slinking around detonating things, trying to find the one thing that blows that optimism right out of him."

"What?!" Josh squeaked. "What the hell kind of thing is that to say?! What the hell kind of thing is that to think about me?!" Wounded, Josh lifted his diluted drink, once again setting it back before tasting it. His eyes swept madly around the room.

CJ leaned over the table and tapped at his glass with a dull fingernail to get his attention. "You just said. You already think it's inevitable. Sam has to 'come down to earth' eventually. So you just, you know, want to control the descent. It's not necessarily a bad thing, Josh."

"Hurt him to help him? That's fucked up, Claudia Jean. That's monumentally fucked up." And when he called her Claudia, she knew he recognized the truth in it.




Four degrees between them, and this is the best they can do?

"Hey," Sam repeated.

"Right." Much better, Josh decided. "So. What's your day like?" Standing in front of Sam's desk, toeing the carpet.

"Full. Very full." Sam removed his glasses. Just the way Josh had imagined the night before. "You?"

Josh leaned against Sam's orderly desk, supported only by his fingers. "Yeah. But not until later. So, no." And Josh laughed at himself. "I haven't eaten anything this morning; you want to...?"

"I can't." Sam, preoccupied, pawing through a stack of files. "I've already got a roomful of people waiting for me."

"Who?" Josh wanted to know.

"Um, first, The National Children's Alliance." Sam was shepherding Josh along now. Under one arm, a slippery stack of file folders, the ubiquitous leather notebook and laptop trapped under the other.

Josh allowed himself to be caught up in Sam's wake, and was drifting towards the door. "Wait. First?"

Sam stopped in the doorway, standing sideways, eyebrows raised. "Yeah. Then I'm meeting with The Children's Program, and Childhelp, USA this morning. So, I really have a very busy day. If there was something you needed...?"

"No. No. I'm good," Josh stammered, and suddenly found himself alone in the room. It always seemed to take a moment to sever the connection whenever Sam walked away from him.

Before continuing out the door, Josh looked over his shoulder at Sam's First Navy Jack hanging on the wall. Don't tread on me.


"Please cancel the appointment, Donna. And could you get me that glue sometime soon?" Josh was at his desk, one shoe sitting amid the papers strewn there. Futilely wrestling with a thick, shredded leather shoelace.

"You can't glue a shoelace together. Let me find you a replacement." Donna hovered over Josh's shoulder, and fingered a piece of frayed leather lace.

"I don't want replacements! I need the glue to seal the knot. Please, can you just do what I asked?" Josh's icy fingers were stiff and uncooperative.

"Fine. But you should keep the appointment. I wouldn't have made it if you hadn't said you thought you needed glasses," Donna complained, circling towards the door.

Josh struggled to bend the stiff lace to his will. "I don't need glasses," he muttered to himself. "I see everything perfectly clearly." And as soon as Donna had cleared the doorway, he swept the shoe from his desk.


By the time Josh figured out a way to use half the remaining shoelace to secure his shoe to his foot, he'd nearly forgotten the frustration that had caused him to break the lace to begin with. He was deeply immersed in the middle of a million pages of documentation on the endangered habitat of the Mid Atlantic slow-nosed speckled what*ever.* He couldn't tell if his blurred vision was due to poor eyesight or sheer boredom.

A number of times during the day Josh had wandered over to the Communications bullpen on the off chance that Sam had escaped one of his endless meetings. When he'd eventually asked Bonnie to show him Sam's schedule, Josh saw four more appointments for the day, and gave up.

At seven Josh flipped off the desk lamp, slung his backpack over his shoulder, and drained out of his office. By Donna's desk, he rested his head on the glass and sighed deeply.

Looking up from the tome on the Speckled Whatever Josh had finally abandoned to her, Donna took note of Josh's pale face, and decided to swallow the sarcastic gibes she'd been waiting to make. "Go home. Get some sleep," she instructed him.

"You too. Take advantage of the early night." And Josh turned with every intention of doing exactly what Donna had suggested.

So he was somewhat surprised to find himself minutes later standing in front of Margaret's desk. Assuming she was inside with Leo, Josh listened to him finish a call, the receiver making hard contact with the cradle. "Margaret!" came Leo's bellow.

Josh poked his head around the corner and quickly scanned the room. "Um, she's not at her desk, Leo."

"What the hell are you doing skulking around?" Leo gestured Josh into the room. "C'mere. I wanna show you something."

Josh let his backpack slide off his shoulder and moved over to Leo's side. Spread across the desk were a number of glossy photographs. "Whatta you think?" Leo wanted to know.

Craning his neck, Josh studied the pictures. He really wasn't sure what he was looking at. The photos all seemed to be of an antique vanity complete with large oval mirror. "Uh. I'm sure it'll look great in your hotel suite," he offered hopefully.

"It's not for me, you idiot," Leo earnestly informed him, his pale eyes assessing Josh. "It's for Mallory. For her birthday. Ever since she was little she's wanted one. And since last year I remembered her birthday too late..."

"You, you forgot your daughter's birthday?"

"No. I didn't forget. I remembered too late." Leo, the politician. "This was supposed to be auctioned at Weschlers last week, but it failed to meet the minimum bid. You think she'll like it?" Leo held up one of the photographs for Josh to view closer.

Josh realized Leo really wanted his opinion, so he leaned down a little and squinted at the picture before saying truthfully, "She'll love it."

"Sure she will. So, you headed out?" Leo began replacing the photos in an envelope.

Hesitating a moment to consider what had brought him to Leo's office in the first place, Josh pulled a hand through his hair. "Yeah." The hallways were quiet, eerily quiet for so early in the evening. "You got a minute?" he finally asked.

Leo cocked an eyebrow at Josh and nodded his head slightly. "What's on your mind?"

Dragging a chair around to face the desk, Josh was almost seated when he suddenly rose and went to close both doors. When he returned, he realized he'd captured Leo's attention.

"Um. So. Have you seen Sam today?" Josh wondered casually. He thought it sounded casual.

Leo tossed his glasses on the desk and sat back comfortably in his chair. "No. I wasn't really expecting to. He was pretty tied up in meetings all day."

"You knew?" Josh sounded a little incredulous. "And you're okay with this?"

"He's doing his job, Josh." Leo began stacking papers into two tidy piles in front of him. When his fingers kept straying to the envelope, Josh wondered if Leo was thinking of Mallory. And Sam.

Josh's gaze drifted to the painting above Leo's head. Either his eyes were playing tricks on him, or the ocean was heaving and glistening, and the ship was cutting through it with alarming speed. Josh wasn't sure.

"And, you're okay with this?" Josh repeated, his voice scratchy. "I mean, Leo. Don't you think it's a little... You really think he should be doing this?" he finished softly.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Leo looked less comfortable now. "We're about to give these people millions of dollars. You think it's unreasonable to ask them what they're planning on doing with it?"

A slow awareness was growing in Josh. "Only, only we're not about to give them money. And I just think...." Josh clambered out of his seat and stood in front of Leo's formidable desk. "...it's... cruel. Leo. It's unnecessarily cruel."

A palatable sense of dread tugging at him, Leo's skeptical eyes stared up at Josh. "What's your problem? Of course they're getting the money. In two days, we'll announce it. It's a done deal."

A wave of bile was forming in Josh's stomach. "You... you don't know. Leo, Sam's been meeting with children's advocates all day. But Sam doesn't know... We're not giving money to the children this time! But Sam doesn't know that, Leo." And now Josh knew he'd dug Sam's hole even deeper. "He has no idea we dropped - "

Leo's voice was steely, cold. "Where is he right now?"

"Having dinner with Marie Holmes of the Children's Defense Fund - "

"Goddammit!" Leo bolted out of his chair, the envelope containing his daughter's vanity skittering across the desk. "Who told him to do that?!"

Josh's defeated voice was muffled behind hands scouring his face. "No one told Sam anything. Don't you see Leo, that's the problem? Sam doesn't know we changed the language of the bill." Hands still moving, Josh dug his fists into his eyes until he saw stars. "He still thinks we're including the provisions for children. He still thinks... Sam. Still thinks we can change the world." Josh felt a trembling twitch at the corner of his right eye, rubbed at it a little harder with a frosty fist.

Leo stood in front of the window, hands clamped fiercely to his hips. "Sam never should have... I had no idea he was going to be talking to the children's groups too."

Josh's vision was cloudy with tension. "Well, what the hell did you expect, Leo? You give something like this to Sam. You really think he'd do a half assed job?"

"Shit!" Leo exploded. "This is something, Josh. A big stinking heap of something!"

And someone was going to have to clean it up, Josh realized. Wouldn't my father be proud, he mused silently. His son, working in the White House. Cleaning up big stinking heaps of something....

Leo was mumbling menacingly. "It's a damn good deal. We need this, *and* Senator Reynolds. We'll take care of the children - "

" - Just, not this time." Josh, dropping his eyes to the floor. "Instead we get some watered down legislation and a drunken Senator in our pocket." Risking a glance at his boss, Josh continued. "This was supposed to be huge, Leo. We even named it huge. The *Comprehensive* Domestic Abuse and Child Protective Act. Now... now... it's just an act. An act of cowardice."

"Don't you start preaching to me, Josh Lyman!" Leo roared fiercely. "You've played this game far too long to imagine yourself titling at windmills." Leo combed a hand through thinning hair, the skeletons of a hundred good deeds that died young taunting at the edge of his vision. "Sam jumped the gun - "

"Sam was kept in the dark."

"These things... this deal was old school, Josh. Backroom; need to know. Cam Reynolds gets what he wants. We get a guarantee for the children next time around." Leo had come out from behind his desk, filling the space in front of the sofa with short, staccato steps. "None of it would have ever made it out of committee without these concessions. Dammit! No one told Sam to - "

"No one. Told. Sam. Anything." Josh strode to within inches of Leo's florid face. "Where have we heard that before, hm? If you wanted to hire an incompetent, brainless, flunky you never should have brought in Sam Seaborn." *I* shouldn't have brought in Sam, Josh thought viciously.

The air between them was bristling with tension, and Josh turned his head away, drawing in a deep, steadying breath. Looking around the room, searching for something he could focus on, Josh was momentarily distracted by the impression of fractured space surrounding him. Everywhere he turned, fissures appeared to form out of thin air, cracking and breaking until it seemed as though he were looking through a kaleidoscope. Shaking his head to clear the image, Josh felt for the arm of the sofa, and collapsed against it.

Please. Please, don't make me tell him. "You want me to tell him, don't you?" Josh finally asked, his voice breaking pathetically. Clearing his throat, he started again. "Are you saying it's all right to tell Sam now?"

Leo sank into an adjacent chair and shook his head slowly. "Don't," he grunted, then saw the look of growing dismay on Josh's face. "I mean, I'll tell him."

Josh knew he should be relieved. He'd honestly rather go blind than face that devastated look of betrayal on Sam's face. Go deaf than hear the glacial timbre in his voice as he lectured Josh on honor, and trust, and friendship. But the possibility that Leo would try to turn this into a lesson in political maneuvering turned his stomach. As if proving his point, Josh heard Leo speaking now.

"...gonna stay in the game, he's got to learn how it's played. It's hard, I know. But the sooner he toughens up, the sooner we'll be able to send him in for the big plays..."

And that's when Josh knew he was going to be sick.


His apartment was only fifteen minutes away. But Josh figured he'd spend three times that long just stumbling around looking for his car. So he struggled back to his office, with the idea in mind to wait for his stomach to settle, and then attempt to drive.

Trailing his backpack behind him, Josh was greatly relieved to find Donna gone, the sanctuary of his darkened office beckoning to him. Switching on one weak lamp, he slumped into his chair and cradled his feverish head in cool hands.

An hour later, that's where CJ found him, sitting in a puddle of jaundiced light. At first she assumed his head was positioned over a report of some kind, but when she moved into the room it became obvious that Josh was in another place completely. Ducking her head down to see his face, CJ was amazed to discover his eyes closed.

Gently she approached, not wanting to startle him. "Josh," she whispered softly. "Josh?"

His head coming up sharply, Josh stared bleary eyed at CJ for a moment, then blew out a soft breath and sat back in his chair.

"What are you still doing here?" CJ wanted to know. "I thought you left hours ago."

Josh dug a finger into the corner of one eye distractedly, running his tongue over slick teeth. "I did. No, I was going to."

"Are you waiting for Sam?"

The question took him by surprise. Because he hadn't been waiting for Sam. Quite the opposite in fact, now that he thought about it. "Is... Sam's back?" A touch of alarm coloring his voice.

CJ nudged aside some materials from the corner of Josh's desk and slid herself onto it effortlessly. Looking down at Josh from her perch, it was apparent he was exhausted. "I don't know. I think he was having dinner with - "

"Yeah, yeah. I know. So, you don't know if he's here?" Josh's words tumbled over CJ's.

"What's going on, Josh? Something's obviously bothering you."

"I can't - shit, CJ." Bringing his flat feet up against the edge of the desk, chair tipping back precariously. "I just can't..." And in that moment Josh made a decision. "You know what? To hell with it. I can. The cat's gonna be out of the bag, and once Sam knows. Well, it's going to be pretty hard to keep him quiet." Shaking his head slightly, Josh brought his hands up to his mouth, blew warm air into them. "You really don't know if he's back?" Slipping a little off his axis.

"No. I really don't. And I gotta say, you're scaring me here, Josh." CJ reached out and delicately touched Josh's wrist. "This is about what you were talking about last night, huh? Sam...?"

"Sam." Josh brought his feet down abruptly and looked CJ directly in the eye. "This.... CJ, do you ever go home and it's like the only way you'll feel clean again is to peel your skin off and toss it in the incinerator? Just to...." Josh rose from his seat and marched to the window. "Just to get rid of the stink. Do you ever feel that way?"

Trepidation firmly taking hold of her, CJ slid off the desk and positioned herself behind Josh. "This doesn't sound like you, Josh. You don't usually... it can't be that bad. Whatever you've had to do, I'm sure Sam will understand."

Josh snorted dismissively. He swung his head around to meet CJ, a meaningful glint in his eye. "Say that to me one more time. And this time, remember who we're talking about."

His words stung a little, but CJ could hear the slight tremor in his voice. "What's going on? Tell me now," she demanded.

Leaning against the side of his desk, Josh began scratching absently at the prickling behind his neck. "You know he's been working on the allocations for 866, right? Trying to make sure everybody's getting their piece of the government pie?"

The bitterness in his tone wasn't lost on CJ. "It's a good bill," she offered simply.

"It was. Yeah, it was a great bill. It was... comprehensive." Josh smiled weakly, aware that CJ wouldn't understand his reference. "It's not that anymore. It's... it's something else."

"I don't understand..."

"No. Neither do I." Moving back behind his desk, Josh rifled through a couple of folders, until he found what he was looking for. "See, there's this guy. Senator Cam Reynolds. And he's a pretty high level man - "

Cutting him off, annoyance creeping into her voice. "I know who Cameron Reynolds is, Josh."

"Of course. Of course you do." Josh's head bobbed up and down emphatically. "'Cause he's a fairly well-known guy. A powerful guy. Someone who could, say, hold an important piece of legislation in committee indefinitely if he had a mind to." Josh flipped the file in his hand to CJ, not caring a wit whether she caught it or not. "He's the kind of guy who plays politics the old fashioned way. He... Cam Reynolds is not running for re-election."

"He's not?" CJ exclaimed, opening the file, tilting it towards the dim light.

"No. He's not. He has some... some personal business that's going to take much of his energy. But before he goes, before he rides off into the sunset a proud son of the republic he's served *so* well for *so* many years..." Josh paused, a little breathless. "See, we want Willa Compton to take over his chairmanship. And that's.. well 'ole Cam, he doesn't care. I mean, he'll be long gone, back in Colorado tending his flock. But in the meantime," Josh's voice was becoming more shrill. "He's got friends who still expect certain... considerations. And one of them is to hold back the Child Protective section from 866. In return, the rest of the bill sails through. And... we can live with that. Because we also get our considerations. We get Senator Compton in the chair. And a guarantee that the children make it onto the floor after the election. So," Josh slapped his hands together loudly, a mirthless chortle escaping his lips. "Everyone's happy in the end. The President gets his bill. Leo gets his deal. Sam gets whatever the hell Sam wants - "



The near hysteria that had been filling Josh was suddenly deflated, and he swiped a hand across his eyes hoping to clear his murky vision.

"You said 'Sam', " CJ informed him quietly.

"Cam," Josh croaked. "Reynolds. He... he gets whatever the hell it is he wants."

"And Sam..." CJ obviously wasn't going to let this go.

Josh's breathing had slowed, but everything was still hazy around the edges. He sank into the chair and gripped the edge of his desk with frigid hands. "Sam just spent two days helping the children's advocates decide how they're going to spend ten million dollars they're not getting for another two years."

"Sam didn't know." CJ breathed, stunned.



Even through the fabric of his slacks, the industrial carpet was making Josh's ass itch. Scooting around a little to relieve the sting, he almost missed the sound of the lobby door of Sam's apartment house clicking shut. An instant later, Sam's downcast head appeared at the bottom of the landing, eyes firmly planted on his feet.

Josh counted six steps before Sam looked up, saw the surprise visibly registering there. The moment passed in a blink and Sam continued his ascent. Weakly climbing to his feet, Josh planted a steadying hand on the banister, red-rimmed eyes questioning as Sam passed silently and began patting his pockets for his keys.

The clinking of metal met with Sam's voice. "What are you doing out here?" he asked softly.

Josh was momentarily perplexed. By the gentleness with which Sam spoke. The concern on his face.

"I... I really need to talk to you," Josh attempted.

"What are you doing out here?" Sam asked again, letting the door swing open, but not passing through it. Sam stood frozen, still, his eyes locked on Josh.

Josh glanced around Sam into the shadowy space behind him. "It occurred to me... I wasn't sure how you'd react to finding me here."

Resigned, Sam walked into the apartment, slapping on a light which bathed the room in a clear glow. He tossed his briefcase on a table by the door, placing his keys deliberately next to it. After he'd meticulously lined up his cell phone and pager, Sam finally turned to find Josh, clearly still debating whether to follow him in.

"Close the door, Josh," Sam instructed wearily, heading directly for the neat kitchen across the room. "I'm making coffee."

Pressing the door closed with a flat palm, Josh managed to make it over to the chocolate brown sofa before finding his own voice again. "It's too late for coffee. But... I could use a drink."

"I'm not offering you a drink," came Sam's swift response. A few moments later he appeared at the entrance to the living room, tie loosened. Shedding his suit jacket, Sam sauntered over and tossed the jacket onto the arm of the sofa before settling into an armchair.

Josh nervously licked his lips, suddenly unsure what he was expecting to happen here. Before leaving the office, he'd called the security gate to find out if Sam had ever returned from his dinner meeting. When the guard assured him that Sam had been back in the White House for almost an hour, Josh knew Leo had found him. So Josh had slipped away, anxiously glancing over his shoulder the entire time.

Now Josh was having a very hard time reading Sam. Something he'd never had trouble with before. The way Sam would stand with his hands low on his hips, or when his eyes smiled long before it ever found its way to his lips was usually all Josh needed to know exactly what was about to come out of his mouth. But right now Sam looked a little tired; cranky, surely. But not on fire.

"So." Josh bravely came around to sit delicately on the edge of the sofa.

"Yeah," Sam responded predictably.

Nerves as frayed as his shoelace, Josh leaned back into the cushions. "Ya know, I think we need to... I've become acutely aware lately that for two highly educated and otherwise articulate men, we could use some work on our vocabularies. I'm just saying, sometimes we can barely manage to grunt two words together - "

"This is the conversation you want to have right now?" Sam's voice was flat and dull. His arms were resting casually on either arm of the chair, but his eyes were flashing and alive. " 'Cause if that's what you want to talk about, I really am just... I'm going to bed, Josh. And you're going home."

Josh dropped his head in defeat and allowed a moment to pass before looking up again. "No. That's not the conversation I want to have," he admitted. "But you have to know, Sam. I don't much want to have the other conversation either." He offered it with a small sickly smile, which he unenthusiastically hoped would soften Sam's anger a little.

"I don't imagine you do." And then Sam got up and disappeared into the kitchen.

Josh stood and removed both his tie and jacket. Ditching his pager on the coffee table, he sat again, instinctively gathering a throw pillow to his side, rubbing at the unyielding seam. When Sam returned with two sturdy mugs of coffee, Josh sat forward and accepted one gratefully. His hands were still freezing. Sam's startled expression when their fingers brushed indicated that he felt it too.

Josh thanked him, a timid smile wrestling at his mouth. "I guess I needed this more than I thought," he allowed. "Sam?" Making eye contact over the top of his mug.

"Yes? And... notice I didn't say 'yeah' there," Sam responded solemnly.

Josh would take what he could. "If I just, maybe get the apology out of the way. Would that be enough to get you to come over here and sit next to me?"

"Lose the pillow," Sam commanded before taking his place on the sofa. "I'm curious. What exactly are you going to be apologizing for?"

Eyebrows raised a fraction, Josh considered this for a moment. In all honestly, there was... so much he should be apologizing to Sam for. But he wasn't about to muddy the waters with years of regrets. Not when there was something so immediate Josh needed to account for.

A humorless laugh escaping him, Josh pressed the heel of one hand against his left eye and shook his head. "Do you know that I'm afraid of you sometimes?" he asked vaguely.

By the dumbfounded look on Sam's face, Josh guessed the thought had never occurred to him. But it was true, nonetheless. Sam's impeccably formal body language concealed a volcano of emotions, as Josh had learned over time. And not being able to forecast an eruption was just one of the things that kept Josh on his toes. Just one of the things.

"You keep me honest." Josh had told Sam that time and again, was telling him now because it was one of the things that made it all worth while. Setting his coffee on the low table, Josh blinked rapidly and turned a few degrees towards Sam.

"I'm sorry we didn't tell you about the change," Josh commenced. "I'm sorry... it was... it was Leo's call. He's got this thing about cutting messy deals. Something about laws and sausage..." When the fissures started appearing around Sam's head, Josh looked away, squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "But I could have told you. I should have just said, keep it under your hat, you know."

"Josh - "

"What can I say? I'm... I'm still... Leo tells me I have a lot to learn, and this is how it's done, and I stand there and, wow. I think, wow, I'm cutting deals right alongside Leo McGarry!" The sense of wonder in Josh's voice made him look ten years younger.

"Your loyalty is admirable, Josh. And it totally sucks," Sam scoffed, fixing his blue eyes on his own hands.

"That's not an excuse for not telling you," Josh rushed on. "Or Toby, even. We just didn't know you were already talking to the children's advocates. You are... you're as much a part of the team as anyone, Sam." Josh could feel his earlier tension being replaced by bone aching fatigue.

Sam placed his mug next to Josh's and shifted his body until he was fully facing his friend. "Please don't give me the 'it's how the game's played' speech, Josh. I got the entire playbook thrown at me by Leo, okay? If I hear one more sports/politics analogy I swear to all that walks the earth I will run screaming into the night naked as the day I was born."

A robust laugh flew out of Josh's mouth, startling both of them. Sputtering slightly, Josh laid his head against the back of the sofa and clenched his eyes shut.

Sobering, Josh turned to look at Sam. "Something's been bothering me."

"What could *that* be?" Sam's sarcasm suddenly felt out of place.

"Can we, please not do *that* right now? I promise you'll get your chance. But I really have something I want to say to you."

"Go ahead." Sam brushed his hand across Josh's leg, then hitched himself up a little higher on the sofa.

Josh sat up straighter too, and reached for his cooling coffee, thinking to himself he should just get up and fix the drink he wanted. But the heat of the mug, combined with the warmth he felt coming from Sam's closeness kept him melted to the spot. Settling back in his place, Josh inhaled deeply and began.

"Are there... can you think of any circumstances under which you would..." Josh stopped, taking in Sam's curious expression. "I wish I could say that I would never do anything to hurt you, Sam. I say it in my head, you know? Because... that's... what people say, right? 'I'd never do anything to hurt you.' " Josh's eyes strayed to the framed photographs on the desk. Thick law books lining the shelves against the wall. His sneakers abandoned under the dining room table. "But that's not possible, is it? Sometimes it's unavoidable, right?"

Sam couldn't tell if Josh was waiting for an answer. "That's right. I suppose."

"But you never have." Josh's voice had changed. Deep, hollow, abandoned. "And I've been trying to think of what might cause you to. What circumstances would allow you to deliberately hurt me."

Sitting next to Josh, bathed in the rich, musty smell of coffee and failing cologne and a history he rarely pondered too deeply, Sam spoke honestly. "I can't think of any."

"I didn't think so."

"And that's been bothering you?"

"I'm wondering... I can't help but think. You could do better, you know?"

"How do you do better than the best?"

"Don't. Don't get cute." Josh, shaking his head in irritation.

"What are you trying to say here, Josh?"

"I'm trying to say... why would you want to be with someone who doesn't think twice about doing something that's going to hurt you?"

"You did think twice."

Josh swallowed compulsively, somewhat intrigued that all the colors in the room seemed to be bleeding away. The teal of the blinds at the window. The orange of a grease-stained basketball in the corner. The dusky purple in Sam's tie, a breath away.

Amazingly, Josh recovered his voice from the alarming gray space that had seeped into him and took Sam's warm hands in his own, which were as cold as iron. "How can that matter to you? We... I... I *know* you, Sam. This is... god, your world is so... defined. I know this kills you, a little bit of you every time it happens. And here I - "

Sam was on his feet in a flash, hands waving through the air urgently. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, Josh. I'm.... Look, I didn't sit through a forty minute lecture from Leo about how dirty politics can be for nothing. I admit," Sam's slender fingers swept through his dark hair briskly. "When he told me, I went a little... I'm not going to say I was stoic and understanding. I... I pretty much reacted like a spoiled brat." Sam's laugh was mirthless and dingy. "But Leo. He just kept at it. I have to give him credit." Sitting back down, Sam threaded his fingers together and lowered his voice. "He told me everything; everything he probably shouldn't have."

"It's lousy - "

"Whatever." Sam cut him off. "I'm not going to debate it again. I'm not in a position to anyway. And. Really Josh, that's not why I'm pissed off right now."

His head coming off the back of the sofa, Josh hoisted his eyebrows expectantly. "You're mad at *me.*" Already knowing how right he was.

"I'm not even mad, Josh. I understand the political realities. But... you let Leo tell me. And I'm assuming it's because you thought I'd need 'handling,' am I right?" Sam shot a cautious glance towards Josh. "That's why I'm disappointed."

Groaning dramatically, Josh bent over, clasping his forehead with chilly hands. "Argughhh! Why do you...? Sam! Could you, do the tantrum thing, okay? I can handle the tantrum thing. But disappointment? Please! You really don't understand, do you? Disappointing *you* is like getting caught jacking off by my mother."

"You are so... honestly, I ran out of adjectives for you a year after we met," Sam grumbled.

Considering Sam carefully, Josh wanted some clarity. "You're not pissed off because we screwed you over?" This was more than slightly bewildering.

"Well. You didn't screw me. You screwed the children. But, let's not..." Sam sat back against the soft cushions and sighed deeply. "I swear to you, Josh. I didn't get a word in edgewise with Leo. He pretty much talked me into submission." Reaching out to stroke Josh's back absently, Sam couldn't help but smile at the memory. "And when he says the money will be there after the election, I believe him. And that's something, Josh. That's more than something."

Josh thought back to his conversation with Leo. Leo calling the whole mess a stinking heap of something. And he considered now that maybe he was right. Both of them. It was stinking. But it was something, Josh told Sam.

"What's wrong with your eyes?" Sam asked tenderly, a warm hand squeezing Josh's shoulder.

Shaking his head back and forth, Josh allowed a wisp of a smile to caress his mouth. "I... I think I need glasses," he admitted sheepishly, brushing at the clinging dampness he suddenly found in the corners of his eyes.

"Nah. You're just tired." And Sam pulled his cuff over his hand a little and dabbed at Josh's eye. "And probably starving. You've been obsessing all day, haven't you?"

The mild reproach in Sam's voice told Josh that they had moved past the worst of it.

"Actually, I only found out exactly who you were meeting with today." But Josh saw an opportunity opening up to him, and, being the savvy political operative that he was, couldn't allow it to be wasted so easily. Conjuring a pout, he turned soulful eyes to Sam. "But yeah, this has all been getting to me lately." Sniff. Sniff.

Seeing right through the shallow attempt at sympathy, Sam laughed openly and leaned in to kiss Josh. "That'll get you dinner. But not much else tonight." Climbing out of the nest they'd formed on the sofa, Sam went into the kitchen. "We have... cold chicken. And the salad seems to have turned itself into some kind of soup, right in the vegetable drawer," came Sam's voice. Followed a second later by his head, poking around the corner. "You get to clean that out this weekend."

Josh swung his feet up, extending his full length across the cozy couch, content to listen to Sam rummaging around in the next room. Looking around, Josh realized at some point the colors had not only come back, but they were infused with a new clarity and brightness.

"...me in a hell of a position..." Sam's voice drifted in to Josh. "I'm gonna have to do some fast talking to convince them we aren't forgetting them completely."

"I'll help," Josh called out. Adding softly, "We'll do it together."


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