Title: A strategy for curved edges (A sequel to Fear of rectangles)
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: April 2002
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: Post-ep for Somebody's going to emergency, somebody's going to jail.
Summary: Another word for devotion.
A strategy for curved edges by Jackie Thomas
In the bar Josh and Toby had argued about free trade while the remains of the protest dragged banners along the sidewalk outside. Sam had tried to think of one thing in the world that he would be willing to fight for. Even to wave a placard for. He couldn't think of anything and that just wasn't like him.
Josh and Toby had taken him home and he woke now in his own bed with unbrushed teeth and most of his clothes still on. His head hurt and he wasn't drunk anymore but at least it was Saturday.
He got up and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. Then he crossed the living room to the kitchen to get a glass of water. On his way back he noticed Josh sitting on the couch, still in his coat, asleep with his head flung back.
Sam sat next to him and shook him gently until he lifted his head and his eyes blinked open.
"Sam," Josh said reaching out an arm and resting his hand on the back of Sam's neck. "You were put to bed."
"I came unput."
"I was going home. What time is it?"
"I don't know." He looked sideways at Josh's watch. "Early."
"Toby's gone. Has Toby gone?"
"He has. Why did he leave you behind?"
Josh closed his eyes again and sat back. "I think he thinks I live here."
"Oh," said Sam. He looked around. "Probably because of all your stuff all over the place."
"I'll clear it out tomorrow."
"No, don't do that. Josh, don't go back to sleep."
"Wake up, you can't sleep like that." He shook Josh's shoulder again.
"Give me a minute. I'll get a cab."
"I didn't say leave. Just stand up so I can unfold the couch."
Josh ruffled Sam's hair. "Thanks Sam. In a sec." Then he was asleep again.
"Josh, come on. If you sleep that way you'll stick and I'll have to unfold you in the morning."
He put his arms under Josh's to stand him up and Josh finally woke when he was on his feet. He helped Sam with the couch in an operation familiar from the last few months.
Sam went to get bedding and when he returned Josh was sitting on the bare mattress untying his shoes. Sam's energy deserted him and he sat down next to him, his arms wrapped around the blankets and pillow. Josh glanced at him. "You were pretty quiet in the bar."
"Its possible I was drunk."
"Its very possible. Unlike myself, who was engaged in a sober and erudite debate of the key issues of the day."
"You were hammered on two beers and you called Toby a corporate whore."
"Also possible. But what was that about? When did Toby become Mr International Capitalism?"
Sam rested his chin on the pillow. "He just didn't like the young people."
"He really didn't." Josh paused and Sam felt himself assessed. "So Gault turned out to be a spy?"
"All the way. Code name, Order of Lenin. Probably even had one of those tiny little cameras."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I'll never understand that kind of betrayal."
"But Gault wouldn't have seen it that way," said Josh yawning as he pulled off his shoes. They both stared down at his socks. "He probably thought he was saving the world, he would have seen it as commitment."
And that was another word for devotion.
"Do you believe that?"
"It was different times. People became communists in the Thirties to fight Fascism. In those days it looked like a straight choice."
Sam looked at him. "Your grandpa was a communist wasn't he?"
"Yeah. That's how he found himself in Birkenau. Well, one of the reasons." In Sam's mind Josh was his grandpa, standing solid and proud against the Fascists. What did it take to make someone risk everything?
"Do you think you would have been a communist?" Sam asked. "You know, if you had been around in those days."
"I don't know. Maybe. But you would definitely. You'd get to wear those little round glasses and a big leather coat."
"Maybe you're right," said Sam, mostly to the pillow. He imagined himself and Josh fighting Fascists shoulder to shoulder. Maybe in the Thirties, maybe in Spain.
And then Josh was shot and struggling to breathe with a bullet in his lung. These days Josh was always dying. These days Sam always felt only inches from disaster.
"But you would never have betrayed your country," said Josh through the silence.
Sam wondered how he could be so sure. If it really was a question of fidelity it wasn't worth anything if the choice was an easy one.
He watched as Josh stood to take off his coat and jacket, laying them on the back of a chair. "Did you talk to your dad?" Josh asked loosening his tie. Sam didn't answer for a while, looking away at Josh's feet.
"Are those my socks?" He asked.
"I returned the ninety seventh call."
"How did it go?"
"Not great. I wasn't very tolerant."
"What did he say?"
"Stuff about how spending half his life with another woman didn't mean he didn't love my mom and us." He could taste the now familiar anger rising in his throat.
Josh was silent, rubbing his shoulder thoughtfully. The few hours asleep on the couch must have taken their toll.
"He probably believes it," he said at last.
"Self-justifying crap." It came out more venomous than he intended.
"You can do it though. Separate out each part of your life and pretend one bit doesn't affect another. Until one day it all crashes in together and you don't know what's happened."
Sam blinked. "Wait. Is that insight?"
"Maybe." Josh smiled and his eyes crinkled at the edges.
"Actually it makes sense. Which shows I'm still drunk."
"Hey, I'm paying attention in therapy." Josh stopped before sliding the tie off. "Sam, if he hadn't cared about you guys he would have been gone twenty seven years ago."
But Sam wasn't ready for good thoughts. "So. What? You're saying I should forgive him? Understand him?"
Josh considered this. "If it were me I'd have a hard time not killing him at this point."
"The worst thing about it, I mean apart from what its doing to my mom, is that I have to re-remember my whole life. Everything has a shadow over it now, of this huge lie. Josh, it wasn't a couple of nights with a hooker. I have to re-remember 28 years." He realised that Josh was sitting next to him when his hand came back, resting on his shoulder. "I'm all right. Its just, I'm fed up with the world shifting under me all the time. Just for once I'd like to say `this is true' and for it still to be true by the next day."
He knew he sounded pitiful and he wondered if Josh would hug him. He didn't but his hand wandered down Sam's back before resting again on his shoulder. Josh's other hand showed a single fading red line, like an extra lifeline, from when his own life had crashed in one December night.
"You're like CJ," Josh said. "After the cartographers."
"For social equality?"
"Yeah. You might think you know where you are on the planet but you can wake up in the morning and be somewhere completely different. CJ was pretty stressed from not knowing where France is."
"Me? No. I have no idea where I am at the best of times. None of that surprised me."
Sam returned Josh's smile and passed him a bed sheet. Josh shook it out and took it round to the other side of the bed. They had finished haphazardly making the bed when the room lurched to remind Sam he wasn't entirely sober yet. He sat back down and closed his eyes, rubbing his hands across them.
"What was your cheese thing?" He asked.
"Your cheese day thing?"
"It was to ridicule everyone else's."
"That's what you were doing. But what were you supposed to be doing?"
"The complete waste of time campaign to change the National Anthem."
"Change it to what?"
Sam opened his eyes when Josh didn't answer. He had gone into the bathroom and a few minutes later he came out again. He picked up a parcel from the table by the door.
"Its for me." Josh started to open it. "It looks like it's from my mom." Josh's mom was the only person who knew he was staying with Sam. Except, apparently Toby. Sam wasn't sure why they were keeping it a secret. Josh opened the box and looked at Sam. "She sent me shoes."
"Lets have a look." Josh let him inspect the contents of the box. "They're nice."
"Yes and plenty of room for my feet to grow."
"You know, you ought to give the poor woman some grandchildren so she's got something else to do."
"Yeah, how's that going?"
"I thought they were all queuing round the block. What about Joey Lucas? You're in love with her."
"So everyone keeps telling me." Josh shook his head and put the box down. He went round to the other side of the bed and began to unbuckle his belt and pull his shirt loose. Sam watched him for a moment.
"So, did your mother send you any socks?" He asked.
Josh smiled shamelessly. "You do know it's not normal to arrange your sock drawer in a colour spectrum?"
Sam laughed and Josh's smile softened.
"The National Anthem," said Sam eventually.
"The National Anthem, what was the campaign to change it to?"
"I don't know, I wasn't listening." Josh went back to unbuttoning his shirt.
"You're always listening."
"To New York Minute."
"Excellent. Somebody's going to emergency."
"Somebody's going to Atlantic City. That's the one. Because that'll bring out the National Spirit in the young people."
"I'm totally joining the campaign."
"I've got a bumper sticker you can have."
"You find somebody to love in this world."
"You better hang on tooth and nail. Don't do the song Sam. I heard it eight times already today."
"Oh." Sam turned so he could look at Josh. It was easy to forget. "You should have given that one to me. Who gave you a music thing?"
"Margaret. She didn't know. It was fine. Apart from I hate that Eagles guy." He took off his shirt, leaving his tee shirt on. "I am okay."
He looked tired. Sam was glad it was Saturday. "You weren't okay today," said Sam.
"I was fine."
"You weren't, you were all over the place. You were.Josh squared."
Josh looked uncomfortable. "But I think you were the only one who noticed. I just pissed off CJ and Toby a little bit more than usual."
Sam knew he had responsibility. He had been wrapped up in his own problems and had forgotten Josh. As if Christmas hadn't been enough of a lesson.
"I'm sorry I shut you out this week."
"You haven't got anything to apologise for."
"I have. I mean I was dealing with this stuff badly. But I wasn't sleeping in the office to get away from you. I had to get away from the phone calls and. it all."
"I guess Toby's couch is the most stable thing on the planet."
"Yeah, I think so. In the universe probably. Look, I'm glad you were here when I got the call on Tuesday. I really appreciate what you did." Josh had hugged him until he calmed down enough to tell the story. Shared a bottle of whisky with him as the phone rang each time he disconnected. Knocked it off the hook as things started to get hazy. He had even spoken to Toby and Leo the next day so Sam didn't have to. "Josh, I like having you here, I didn't mean you to leave."
"I think its time I moved off the couch anyway."
"Yeah, maybe you should move in permanently." It took a moment for Sam to realise what his mouth had said without his brain's permission. He looked at Josh who was smiling again. "I mean. What I mean is, maybe we could share an apartment. Just while...oh God."
"Its all right Sam. That's the best offer I've had in a long time."
"No, it.I...Haven't you got shoes you should be trying on?"
Josh exhaled. A mixture of a sigh and a laugh. "If this is a thing, we should talk about it."
"Its not a thing. There's no thing. Nothing at all."
"Uh-kay. I think we should talk about this."
"Do we have to?" Sam pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead. "I've had a bad day. A really bad day. With spies and granddaughters of spies and I pissed off the FBI and I nearly cried in front of Donna." It had been a horrible day. A day when the map had been so wrong that the journey had been wasted and he had ended up, once again, precisely nowhere.
Josh laid back against the pillow and closed his eyes. "Okay, you don't have to talk to me."
"Really?" Sam dropped his hand.
"You don't have to talk to me. But you're the one who just practically proposed to me."
"Oh God." Sam stared at Josh. "Okay, I'm not saying I don't have stuff to deal with. But it's not a problem. It's under control, not doing any harm to anyone, very safely locked away.in an apartment in Santa Monica."
Josh opened his eyes. "And you kissed me. Let me remind you."
"Yes. I was hoping you hadn't noticed."
"I'm so sorry." It was on the night Josh had cut himself and Sam hadn't meant to and had instantly regretted it. "It was unforgivable."
"No don't.don't think that."
Josh's every emotion tended to be displayed on his face but Sam couldn't read what he saw there now.
"Look, you don't have to worry."
"I'm not worried." He moved back into a sitting position.
"No, I mean...I would never do anything.anything else to."
"Sam its okay." Josh interrupted again. "Hold on, you're too far away." To Sam's surprise Josh moved round to sit next to him on the bed. He took both of Sam's hands in his own. "Nineteenth December was a big night for me," he said quietly. "Everything caved in and if it hadn't been for you."
"No, just let me say this. After nineteenth December I faced up to a lot of things and, believe it or not, some of them were a lot worse than being in love with you."
Sam swept his hands away. "Josh, don't say that. This is exactly why I should have been arrested for kissing you. Its not true."
"It is true. You were my hero that night, you saved my life. And since then as well, with the nightmares and the flashbacks and Christ knows, well you know what you've done. But this is different, this has always been true."
Sam was lost for a moment, then he took Josh's right hand and turned it over. His finger traced the line of the scar. "Josh."
"You think this is a symptom. You've no idea how easy you are to love. Look Sam I'm therapy-guy now. I've cleared this with my shrink. He says I'm in love with you. In fact he's also in love with you." Josh looked down at his hand and then closed his eyes for a moment. "But its okay. This doesn't have to work both ways. You're allowed to be heterosexual. I hear it's quite popular with the young people these days."
Back in Spain, while the war raged around them, Sam kissed Josh as he lay, somehow not dying, in his arms.
Josh was still talking. "But at least you know now. No more deception. At least that's fair." Josh took his hand from where it was lying in Sam's. "I should probably go."
He stood, raked a hand through his hair and looked around for his shoes.
"Don't. Don't go. I mean, I.Just stay."
Josh smiled slowly then took Sam's hand. When Sam stood up, he brought them closer together.
Their second kiss came softly but as naturally as the first.
Sam examined Josh's face. A most familiar face to him. He had laughing eyes and an endlessly expressive mouth. There were different kinds of challenges, different ways of arranging the continents. Sometimes it was just a matter of putting an extra name on your mailbox.
And throwing open your sock drawer.
"So what now?" Josh murmured. "This is big isn't it? This is tearing up the map and starting again big."
"But its not that the world's changing," Sam said. "Its more that the map is finally reflecting what's always been true." And he could feel Josh's breath warm against his mouth.
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