Title : Carpe Diem
Author : Sue C
Spoilers : ITSOTG - nothing more recent than that
Pairing : Josh/Sam
Rating : R - NC-17
Disclaimer : I know they belong to Aaron Sorkin, but I can't resist having a little creative fun with these boys. I'll give them back when I'm done.
Summary : A/U story because it takes post-Rosslyn events in a different direction. Josh and Sam are attempting to come to terms with the effects the shooting has on their lives and relationship. Archive : Yes, in the unlikely event that it's good enough. Just let me know where.
Feedback : Please, even if you hate it, as long as it's constructive. email@example.com
Thanks to : My two wonderful betas. Nomi, for being so patient, rigorous and encouraging, not to mention raising my awareness of my aversion to commas and Valentine for her warm words of praise, and her suggestions. My gratitude to you both for drawing my attention to the idiosyncracies of my writing, and ensuring it will make sense to readers in the US. Your feedback is invaluable.
Notes : Simba has written a lovely series "Nine Hours After Midnight", which includes a theme similar to this fic. Thank you, Simba, for being so tolerant of the fact that I have unintentionally developed a story which touches on some of the issues you have dealt with. Finally, this is where I go for the sympathy vote - this is my first attempt at *any* fanfic, let alone slash. If some of the language seems a little idiosyncratic, please bear in mind I'm from the UK.
Carpe Diem by Sue C
And there he was. As I drove up I could see Josh looking out of the window waiting for me. At last, after so many months, he could not only get out of his room, leave the building, but also leave the total environ of the hospital. If he was feeling anything like me, he would be experiencing a mixture of anticipation and nervousness. Sure, he'd ventured out of his room a couple of times with Donna, but apparently that had been a total failure. He'd told me they'd gone outside, found somewhere pleasant to sit, but when he'd caught her unawares he could see the look on her face. Sympathy, pity - hell, he'd even suspected that there were tears in her eyes. Finally he had broached the subject with her and it had been too painful to pursue. She was obviously unhappy and he had been caustic as a means of covering up the misery he was feeling. So they agreed on an unspoken truce - she still visited him, but only in the company of CJ or Margaret. Even so, when he told her that the do ctors had said he could leave the hospital for a few hours, she tried to insist that she be the one to take him somewhere for the afternoon. Josh had needed to be at his most tactful - never easy! - to argue the case of how much easier it would be to go out with a friend who happened to be a man. Obviously, without revealing to her why that man had to be me.
Josh had let me have only a limited insight into how he was feeling. But reading between the lines I guessed he felt anxious about today. This afternoon meant more to him than merely getting out of this place. Sure, I knew he felt stir crazy, but I deduced that added to this was the concern that things wouldn't be the same between himself and me. Before the shooting, no one - as far as we were aware - knew about our relationship. Since the shooting it had been impossible for us to display any intimacy. Not a touch of the hand, not a kiss, not a caress. For the first few weeks this hadn't mattered to Josh, but since his body had started to mend it was obvious he needed emotional healing, and as long as he remained hospitalised I was unable to do this in the way we both wanted. And I don't even want to focus on how *I'm* feeling - I'm scared to even go there.
"All set?" As I stepped into the room, I could see that my voice broke into Josh's thoughts.
"Sure." I could see Josh taking a deep breath. Knowing him so well I could guess what was happening. Calm down, Josh, I thought, don't have a panic attack. It's psychological - you can still breathe, the surgeons have fixed you up just fine. "I can't wait - let's get out of here."
"Do you want me to push?" I asked.
"No - I need the exercise," said Josh as he manoeuvred his wheelchair into the corridor. He shot off, leaving me almost having to run to catch up with him .
"Damn, they should install speed bumps - I can hardly keep up," I exclaimed.
"No change there, then," said Josh sarcastically, as he narrowly missed sending some guy's IV stand flying.
I decided to forget about any attempts at humour for the time being, so as we entered the elevator, I talked about how fine the weather was for the time of year, that I was really glad to be away from the office for a few hours, and what a pain in the ass Toby had been today. God no, I thought, no small talk - it's Josh you're talking to, not some sick relative that you have to humour. But he said nothing, maybe realising I was as nervous as he was. It was like being on a first date, except we had never had a first date as such, more a mutual realisation of how we felt for one another.
As we left the hospital I stopped talking as I busied myself unlocking the car. I wasn't sure how much assistance Josh needed and whether he expected me to offer it. I was relieved when he said, "Don't hover over me, Sam; if I need help I'll ask for it, okay?" Before I was able to reply he'd slid across into the front seat of the car with relative ease. I found folding up his wheelchair and fitting it into the trunk of my car a different matter - a degree in mechanical engineering would be good, I decided.
Once seated next to him, I leaned over to fasten Josh's seat belt. "I *can* manage, Sam, I'm not totally helpless," he said. I could see that as soon as he'd said it, Josh regretted the sharpness of his tone. Glancing at me, he noticed the hurt look that must have appeared on my face. "Sorry - it's just that I've had so many people fussing around me that it feels good to do something totally normal for myself."
I turned to him and smiled. "That's OK - you know I *never* expect you of all people to be on your best behaviour." As I said it, I thought to myself don't make allowances for him, he'll only think you're being patronising. I quickly changed the subject. "Look, what do you want to do today - I thought we could grab a bite to eat, go and see a movie... ..."
"No. Can't we go somewhere private?"
"Josh, you know it's not practical to go to my place or yours... ..."
"I *know* that - I'm not totally stupid." He paused. "I'm sorry. Shit, I can't spend the whole afternoon apologising to you - it's just I feel so frustrated about *everything*. What I mean is, I want to *be* with you. Please."
I turned it over in my mind. I had intended today's activities to be as undemanding yet diverting as possible given the circumstances. Something to distract Josh. What he was proposing suggested that he needed some form of physical intimacy this afternoon, and I wasn't sure how wise this was. I was torn between keeping Josh happy and yet being mindful of his welfare. Not to mention my own needs - given the choice, I would give anything to spend some time alone with him. I positively ached to touch him, to take care of him, to show him that I still loved him. Experience told me how insecure he would be feeling. Supremely confident in his professional life, Josh was a mass of contradictions and uncertainty where his personal relationships were concerned. Denying his request might be more harmful than actually giving in to him.
"I've made some arrangements - I've booked a room in our hotel. If you don't do this with me, Sam, I'm going back into the hospital."
Josh's face was turned away from me, but what I could see of his profile told me that he looked more determined than he had for a long time.
"OK, this seems like a fait accomplis. But I warn you - I am not, repeat *not*, letting you do anything that will be detrimental to your health. I hate to imagine what form of cruel and unusual punishment Dr. Bartlet, Donna and CJ would come up with. You'll take it easy, or the deal's off."
For the first time that day, Josh smiled. Not one of his knock 'em dead, 100-kilowatt jobs, but a definite improvement on any of his other attempts I'd seen recently. "Thanks."
That was almost my undoing. I stretched out a hand to touch Josh's face, but as I did one of Josh's nurses walked past. I pulled back just as she looked into the car. Recognising Josh, she waved and smiled, looking as if she'd just won the lottery when he returned the gesture.
"Is she the one with the monumental crush on you?" I asked.
"Yeah, she's a nice kid but she's like a trainee Donna the way she tries to anticipate my every need. Maybe I'll let her know there's no point."
"Leave it, Josh - there's no point in hurting her - just don't give her any encouragement."
"I *don't*. It's not my fault I'm irresistible."
At one time, Josh would have been half serious, half joking with this statement. But now, I detected a darker edge to it. I tried to steer the conversation onto more neutral ground.
"Is your mother visiting you tonight? We'll have to watch the time."
"She's gone back to Connecticut."
"What?" I was amazed. I'd seen Mrs Lyman only a couple of days ago and she were making plans for when Josh was able to leave the hospital for good. Those plans had included her being around until he was settled back in his own home.
"Correction - I *sent* her back to Connecticut."
"Do you want to tell me why?"
"I told her that no matter how much she wanted it, my current situation didn't mean she could have her little boy back again, that she couldn't use this to treat me as if I were still eight years old."
"That was cruel, Josh."
"Yeah? I'm fucked up and that makes me cruel. So is life. That's reality."
I was stunned by the words Josh used, and not only by those he had just said to me. What shocked me more was the way he had talked to his mother, whom I knew he adored. He must have really been hurting. I wasn't used to hearing him so bitter, and I found it hard to cope with. I searched around for an appropriate response, not wanting to make matters worse.
"You're her nearest living relative, her only surviving child. Maybe she is a little over-protective, but what do you expect? You should 'phone her and apologise."
Josh laughed softly. "You know, Sam, now *you're* starting to sound like my *dad*."
"There are worse people to sound like, I guess."
"In that case, can you do what my dad would have done - offer the advice and let me decide if and when I'll act on it?"
Knowing how much regard Josh had had for his late father's opinion, I figured this was something of a victory. "OK, let's just enjoy the rest of the drive."
"Not to mention the rest of the afternoon," said Josh suggestively.
The remainder of the journey passed without incident, just two guys taking time to simply enjoy each other's company without intrusions from others, however well meaning they may have been. We talked about less contentious subjects - how the countryside looked clothed in the last of the fall splendour, would the hotel be the same when we got there, with a brief foray into some light-hearted West Wing gossip. After about an hour we arrived at our destination, a hotel housed in a building which had been the home of a Virginian entrepreneur in the early part of the twentieth century. The modest grounds were beautiful. We liked it because it was an independent concern whose owners had refurbished it in line with the twenty-first century needs of its guests, although they'd managed to hang onto the essentials of the property's original character. But what was most important to us was that it was a sympathetic establishment that could discreetly accommodate our specific needs. Ove r the best part of two years - that is, pre-Rosslyn - we had occasionally used it as a refuge where we could almost believe we had the freedom to be totally ourselves as a couple. But that afternoon was different, our lives would never be the same, and it was in these restful surroundings that maybe we would find out whether our relationship would be strong enough to sustain the seismic change that had occurred.
As we entered the building, I felt a sudden frisson. Everything was exactly the same since the last time we had been here, about eight months ago. I recognised the manager standing behind the reception desk.
"I'll go and check us in," I said.
Josh seemed more than willing to let me take over the practicalities. I walked up to the desk and the manager greeted us as if we'd only been there a few weeks ago. We never used our real names - we always checked in using our mothers' maiden names. This wasn't the most brilliant ploy we could have come up with to keep our visits there secret from anyone who wanted to out us, but the first time we had used the hotel we had been too besotted with each other to formulate anything more sophisticated. If the manager hadn't been able to work out who we were before, he sure as hell would know exactly who we are now because of all the recent publicity. Nevertheless, he gave no indication that circumstances were any different to when we had last stayed here.
"All set?" I asked as I returned to Josh's side, noticing a somewhat panicked look on his face.
"Yeah - just get me away from this lobby."
Once in the bedroom I said," What happened back there? For a minute I thought you were losing it."
"That guy knows who we both are - I was just afraid of his reaction to... ...you know."
"Josh, it was *fine*. You're still the same person."
Without answering, Josh settled himself on the bed. I helped him remove his jacket and hung it up with my own. I was still wearing my office clothes and so I removed my tie and unfastened my shirt collar so that I didn't look too buttoned-up compared to Josh's more casual appearance. Finding some extra pillows in the closet I placed them behind Josh so that he could sit more comfortably by leaning against the headboard. To cover the silence which had developed, I did what I always did in a hotel room I'd not used before - looked out the window to get my bearings, checked out the amenities, and opened the minibar. Knowing alcohol wasn't a wise move, I took out some mineral water and placed it on the nightstand along with some glasses from the bathroom. I sat down on the end of the bed and absently began removing Josh's shoes, thinking it would make him more comfortable. I looked over at Josh, who was staring out of the window, where I had unthinkingly pulled back the voile dr apes, which were designed to give the room a degree of privacy. He had a look on his face that told me he was in another place entirely. I sighed and ran my hand up his leg and began stroking his thigh, waiting for a reaction to my touch, which never failed to excite him. Nothing. I felt sick as reality suddenly struck home. Because there wouldn't be a reaction. Not since that goddamn bullet had passed through Josh's chest, only stopping when it lodged somewhere near his spinal column. And I, Sam Seaborn, couldn't do anything to fix it. I worked for the administration of the most powerful man in the world who governed a nation which could influence - sometimes even control - world events, and *none* of us could do anything to fix it. So unless the doctors could work a miracle and figure out a way to remove the bullet and restore Josh with some degree of mobility, I'd never again see Josh walking with that arrogant/sexy strut through the West Wing, with Donna hurrying behind t o catch up with him. Guiltily, I thought who was that about - him or me? Was I feeling sorry for myself at what I was missing or did I want to help Josh? God, I wasn't even aware of how much of the White House was wheelchair-accessible.
"Sam, will you close the drapes please?"
I jumped up and moved over to the window. Our room afforded a good view of the hotel's own golf course where a game was clearly underway. It looked fairly informal and it was evident that a lot of banter and laughter was taking place amongst the players. I cursed my thoughtlessness at leaving this scene obvious for Josh to see - yet another reminder of what he had lost. I closed the drapes, holding them shut and leaning my head against the glass. I felt as if there was something lodged behind my breastbone making it difficult for me to breathe. It was a feeling composed of anger, frustration and sadness.
"Look, I only asked you to do it to give us some privacy. There's no need to make a big production of it." Josh's voice was tinged with wry amusement, although I knew he was trying to make me feel better. His tone softened. "Sam, come lie next to me."
I moved over to the bed and positioned myself next to him on his left side. Placing my right arm behind him, I gently pulled Josh over toward me so that his head lay on my chest. With one hand I stroked his hair and with the other took hold of his left hand. His fingers had always been slender - elegant, even - but now appeared more so. His skin was almost translucent, with the delicate tracery of veins showing beneath. I knew that he had been undergoing a rigorous course of physical therapy and was getting stronger every day, but Josh still appeared sufficiently fragile to make me doubt whether anything more than what we were doing now could happen today. I kissed him on top of his head and closing my eyes leaned back against the pillows. The room was very quiet, the only noises I could hear were the anonymous sounds that you hear in any hotel - a door shutting, footsteps sounding on the floor above. Lying like this I could almost believe that things were as they had always been. My thoughts began to drift and I vaguely wondered if Josh had fallen asleep.
"You can kiss me properly, you know - I won't break."
All my good intentions about not over-exerting Josh evaporated. Any resistance I could have put up was useless. In my professional life I can fight my corner with the best of them. In my personal life I'm no pushover. Until, that is, it comes to Joshua Lyman. I'll be honest, I find it almost impossible
to deny him anything. Not that he manipulates or controls me. I just like to please him. And what pleases him pleases me, so it's a win-win situation, right? So as a result, before I could stop myself, we found ourselves lying face to face with one another. I was unsure what would or wouldn't cause Josh any physical discomfort, so I decided this was probably the safest option.
We just lay there looking at one another, reacquainting ourselves with how we looked now that we didn't have to disguise our desire. I looked at my lover and for the first time in ages he looked more like the Josh I knew prior to the shooting, not the Josh who was defined by injury, medical staff and hospitals. These months had taught me a lot about the dehumanising effect of medical technology and treatment. Now Josh looked less strained, his fine features more relaxed as he scrutinised my face. I looked into his deep brown eyes and tried to read them. I thought how people use cliches like "time stood still", and like the good speechwriter I am I try not to use them. But for the life of me I couldn't, and still can't, think of anything more original to describe that moment. Suddenly Josh widened his eyes slightly in that way he has when he lusts after me. He does it on purpose - he knows it makes me hot for him. He raised a hand slowly and placed his fingers on my mouth, tracing the shape of my lips, which were dry with the anticipation of what I guessed was about to happen. I passed my tongue over them and in so doing licked Josh's fingers and began suckling on them. I heard him make a sound in his throat somewhere between a moan and a whimper. He took his fingers away from my mouth and, putting his hand behind my head, he pulled me towards him.
That first kiss was such an experience. What should have felt familiar felt brand new. I thought I knew the sensation of my lips against Josh's so well - God knows I had imagined it enough since we'd been apart. But it had been six months and my memory obviously hadn't been as accurate as I thought. We were gentle at first, kissing softly, almost experimentally, with mouths closed. I'm not sure which of us gave way first, but soon our mouths had opened with tongues hungrily probing and teeth grinding against teeth. Josh nipped my mouth playfully and I could feel myself becoming more and more excited. Although we were both still fully clothed, this seemed to add an erotic charge. Josh entangled one hand in my hair whilst the other roamed across my arm, down my back - wherever he could touch me given how awkwardly our bodies were positioned. I was getting hard and knew that I'd have to find some way to satisfy myself, even if it meant jerking off in the bathroom. In the meanti me, I put my hand behind Josh and pulled his lower body up against mine. I couldn't help it. I totally forgot myself. The logical, reasoning part of my brain told me not to go any further, not to expect any more of him, not to over-exert him. But the primitive part of my brain and my treacherous body had different ideas entirely, and guess which won? I began grinding myself against Josh. God, I was so hard I thought I would die.
Josh broke the kiss first. I assumed he wanted to take our lovemaking a stage further. I cried out, Oh, yes, yes...Josh, this is killing me...oh, babe...fuck me, please." I pushed my hand under his sweater and felt his skin, warm and smooth. I wanted to undress him there and then and lick him all over. I began kissing Josh's hair, his eyelids, and as I moved down to his face I realised that it was wet and that I could taste salt. I pulled back, opening my eyes I could see the tears running down his cheeks. He wasn't making any noise, simply crying. I went cold all over - I could feel goose bumps prickling my skin.
"Jesus, what is it, Josh? What's wrong? I thought this was what you wanted."
He didn't answer. I assumed not because he didn't want to, but because he couldn't. His breathing came in ragged bursts as he struggled not to sob out loud. I helped him into a sitting position, rocking him quietly, waiting for the storm to pass. "It's okay, babe, it's going to be all right." I knew I was mouthing platitudes - after all, how could I say it was going to be all right when I didn't know what troubled Josh? So all I did was hold him close offering what little comfort I could, only guessing that I was doing the right thing. All the time he had been hospitalised, despite all the trauma he had been through, I hadn't seen him shed a tear. I'd seen him angry, depressed - resigned, even, but he'd never let himself show his emotions the way he was now. I supposed Josh had done his crying alone. Or maybe not. It was inconceivable that he hadn't opened up to someone - his mother, perhaps, or even Leo? The thought of this possibility made me feel excluded. No, t hat's not the right word, it's too passionless. Abandoned, that's how I felt. All sorts of crazy things went through my head, the worst one being that maybe he didn't love me anymore. I even entertained the notion that he only wanted me this afternoon because he wanted some physical contact and that anyone would do. I just happened to be the person he knew he could rely on. Yeah, Josh, I thought, you're not the only one suffering today. Those bastards at Rosslyn damn near killed you, but you survived. It looks as though our relationship won't.
Lost in these horrible thoughts, I eventually became aware that Josh had quieted. I laid him back against the pillows, kissed him on the forehead, and went into the bathroom. As I stood at the basin, I looked at myself in the mirror. I saw that I was frowning, as if the darkness inside me was showing through on my face. I suddenly felt guilty at my selfishness. So what if things had changed between Josh and myself? I'd just have to get over it and be a good a friend to him. Your altruism is laudable, I said cynically to myself. And it didn't stop me feeling sad and empty.
To keep from bursting into tears myself I turned my mind to more practical matters. I took a moistened washcloth and some tissues back into the bedroom, sat down next to Josh, and gently wiped away his tears. His eyes were red and I didn't like the look of the pale colour that had washed over his face. "Here," I said, handing him the Kleenex, "blow your nose." He complied, then laid back with his arm covering his eyes. I poured out some mineral water and gently moved his arm away so that I could look at him.
"Josh, take a drink - I don't want you getting dehydrated on me."
Again, without saying a word, he did as I asked. Unquestioning obedience from Josh was starting to unnerve me - whatever had upset him *must* be serious. The thought of what could be troubling him stirred in my mind. I quickly pushed it to one side. It wasn't anything I wanted to put a name to, so I chose to ignore it. So the thought remained there, dormant, like something unformed lying in the shadows. I tried again.
"Babe, you've got to talk to me." I could feel an edge creeping into my voice. God, I wished I didn't feel so needy. By the way Josh looked at me, I could see he had picked up on the tone of my voice. And the fear of what I was or wasn't about to hear was making me hostile. Still Josh didn't reply. What had previously been a quietly restful hotel room suddenly seemed oppressive. I started to breathe faster, and my voice shook a little as I tried to reach into some inner reserve of calm.
"Please, I *want* to help, please let me help." I was appalled to hear myself starting to beg. But at least it got a reaction. Josh took hold of my hand and I moved closer to him.
"You haven't worked this thing out?" he asked.
"Funnily enough, my psychic powers aren't so strong today." A feeble attempt at humour, but it seemed to dissipate some of the heavy atmosphere that hung around us like a cloud. The truth was I didn't want to voice my suspicions. I needed to hear Josh say it.
Josh gave me what I've always privately referred to as "The Look". That is, the one I've seen him give to senators, staffers, me - even the President. All right, he only does it to him when he's standing out of his eye line, but I've seen it happen. It's what Josh does to anyone who can't keep up with the pace of his not inconsiderable intellect, and I can only describe it as withering. Normally, it's followed up with a barbed comment or a succinct summation of what they're struggling to understand, but this time he must have seen how much I was hurting. The expression on his face suddenly softened, and he reached up and placed his hand on my cheek.
"Oh, my beautiful Sam," he said, "you really *don't* know what I mean, do you? I assumed you would realise what I can and can't do in and out of bed."
My initial reaction was one of pure happiness at his first words. My second was the realisation that the suspicion which had been lurking at the edges of my consciousness was correct. What I had thought of earlier as an unformed thought became real as Josh continued talking.
"Can you remember what you said to me before I made a fool of myself by crying?"
I squirmed. Although we had always talked dirty in bed, this felt too clinical, too analytical.
"Come on, Sam, you're not usually so shy."
"I asked you to fuck me."
"Exactly! But you must know I can't do it. The way things are now I can't get an erection let alone perform penetrative sex."
"Josh - you're talking like a biology textbook. I don't care about any of that. I would have been happy if you'd jerked me off."
"And you don't know how many times *I've* tried that recently. I deluded myself into thinking today could have been some kind of miracle. But they don't happen - I'm never going to be able to show you how much I love you."
"Why not? It doesn't have to be in the obvious way. Look at the times in the past when we couldn't be together as lovers - the campaign, the trips away from DC, the hotel rooms. And what about the nights when we were just too exhausted to make love, and we just held each other?"
"So all those times I fucked you senseless, it didn't mean anything?"
"I didn't say that. What I'm trying to say is that we need to be more creative. There've got to be other ways we can make love." Josh didn't look convinced, so I stopped, and tried a different tack. "What about the doctors - what have they said?"
"Oh, they've talked about drugs, and implants, and stuff." Josh stopped, with a look of distaste on his face. "Sam, loving you should be natural and spontaneous, not something that depends on technology. Because no amount of technology is going to make me able to feel anything where it matters."
I opened my mouth to speak, then thought better of it.
"What?" asked Josh.
"You know...you know..." I began hesitantly.
"God, what are you trying to say, Sam?" asked Josh impatiently.
"When we kissed, earlier - what did that feel like?"
I could see Josh reflecting, and I was gratified to see him begin to smile.
"It felt good," he said.
"Yes, but what did it really *feel* like?" I persisted. "How did it feel good?"
"It was me touching you, you touching me. The sensation of your lips, your tongue. The warm feeling inside me - it's...it's really hard to describe."
I wasn't going to let this go. "Was it sexual?" I asked.
"Yeah...yeah, it was. Totally. Maybe not in the usual way, maybe just as much in my head as my body, but yes. Because it was about loving you - being able to show you how much I love you was such a turn on."
"So isn't that what it's about? It's about more than you coming inside me. It's how we feel emotionally as well as physically. Maybe we're giving up too early. We're not communicating - what I said about fucking me was a pure reflex action - a response to what you were doing to me and you thought I meant only one thing. But you didn't ask me. We're going to have to learn all over again what we want from one another and how we want it." Inwardly I was shaking. My caution of earlier in the day had disappeared. Come on, Seaborn, I thought, take a chance, don't let this moment slip away. "Josh, come to bed with me."
I began kissing him, trailing my lips down his face, onto his neck. Damn, how I loved the feel of his skin. Suddenly he pulled away from me.
"How do I know you don't just feel sorry for me?" he said harshly. "When I asked you to spend time alone, you didn't want to. How do I know all that kissing and moaning wasn't just to make me feel better?"
"Because of this," I said, grabbing his hand and thrusting it between my legs. "And because I don't need to feel sorry for you since you're doing such a great job of it yourself. And because I'm tired. Oh, God, I'm so tired - tired of when I have a bad day and I walk past your office knowing I can't go in and share my problems with you. Tired of lying awake all night touching myself and wishing it was you doing it to me. Tired of being lonely for you." I stopped. I've contributed to all manner of speeches since I've worked for the President, but at that point the words I'd just spoken were the most important I'd ever composed. I held my breath whilst I waited for a response.
"You really mean it, don't you?" Josh asked hesitantly.
"Please, babe, love me - I don't care how you do it, just show me you love me." I was holding Josh's hand, and probably squeezing it a little bit too hard. But I was unable to let go.
"Well, I suppose I'd better, because I sure as hell can't run away from you." And that flash of the Lyman humour was when I thought things maybe, just maybe, would turn out all right. I glanced at the clock radio. 3:00. We still had plenty of time. Toby had said he didn't need me back at the White House until 9:00.
"I want to undress you," I said. Taking Josh's silence as consent, I moved and knelt on the bed next to him. I began by removing his sweater, and when he didn't demur, I proceeded to remove the rest of his clothes, slowly, occasionally kissing and caressing him, giving the him the opportunity to tell me to stop if it turned out he didn't want this. All the while, Josh looked at me, and it was only when he was finally naked that he dropped his gaze. I touched his chest where the healed incision and entry wound of the bullet showed red against his skin.
"Sam, I know I look..."
"...perfect," I finished, placing a finger against his lips to stop him saying anything further. The scars on his chest and the fact that his legs were slightly thinner because of their immobility didn't mean he was anything other than the same Josh, as irresistible to me as ever. I knew it was his own perception of his body that he was alluding to when he had started to speak. But I didn't want us to analyse that issue at this moment - I wanted our lovemaking to do the talking. Despite the warmth of the room I felt Josh shiver and I could feel the fine hairs on his skin standing on end as I stroked his forearm.
"Hey, let's get you between the sheets," I suggested, standing up. Without further ado, Josh shimmied down the bed to enable me to turn the covers down. With that manoeuvre accomplished, he used his upper body strength to lever himself back up the bed and under the bedclothes. To my surprise, we both laughed at how easy it all was - I know I was still unsure how much Josh could do for himself. He sat rather than lay in the bed and I noticed he pulled up the sheets to cover his scar - oh, well, I thought, it's early days. If we have more times like this he'll surely get more comfortable with letting me see his body. Just like he used to. I sat back down on the bed, knowing what my next move should be.
"Sam, this bed's too big for me on my own," I heard Josh say. He leaned forward and began unbuttoning my shirt. I could hardly wait to get beside him, so to hurry things along I began tearing off my clothes as quickly as I could. I stood up to remove my pants and boxers, and as I turned to get into bed, Josh gave me an appraising look.
"Now *that's* what I call perfect," he said. I didn't reply - the emotion in the room was almost too much for me, and I couldn't trust myself to speak. Besides, I was having trouble swallowing past the king-sized lump that had formed in my throat. So I just climbed into bed next to Josh, and let him put his arms around me. I leaned my head on his shoulder, turning my face towards his neck. I could smell the expensive cologne he was wearing. It was the same one he had worn at a state dinner we had both attended a couple of weeks before Rosslyn. They say smell is the most evocative of the senses, and I was transported back to that night when I talked to Josh in his office a few minutes before the function started. As I had adjusted his white tie I had thought they shouldn't let him out in public dressed in formal attire and not expect me to ravish him on the spot. I remembered that we had managed to steal a covert kiss before we'd to go into the reception area.
I was brought back to the present by the sensation of Josh's hand touching my arm, and then moving down the side of my body. He lightly brushed across my thighs, briefly alighted on my balls and then I felt his fingers lightly close around me. I drew in my breath sharply as he caressed and teased my flesh. "Oh, God, Josh, you have no idea how good that feels," I moaned. No sooner had the words left my mouth than I realised what I had said. I felt myself go rigid. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." I whispered, consumed by a confusing mix of emotions. I was sad because I must have hurt Josh, embarrassed at my own ineptness, and ashamed at my own selfish regrets that the glorious sensations I was experiencing would now probably end.
"Shhh. It's all right, Sam. How do I know what pleasures you if you don't tell me? We're getting to know each other all over again." At Josh's words, I felt the tension leave my body. "Let me see your face," he continued, all the while gently touching my cock, taking me so far, but keeping me tantalisingly away from the edge. I lifted my head from his shoulder - who knows what I looked like caught somewhere between burgeoning arousal and ultimate climax. Josh answered my question for me.
"You look so goddamned cute when we're making out."
"Josh, I'm mad about you," I said breathlessly.
"Right back at yah," he replied, his tone of voice belying the light heartedness of his words. I began kissing his gorgeous mouth. This time the kiss was long, deep and so satisfying that it transcended the merely physical. I gently ran my fingers down Josh's spine and felt the arm he held me with tighten its grip, whilst his breath quickened. I took that as a positive response, and stored away this knowledge - the more I knew what aroused him, the better I could please him. Josh pushed me back so that I was lying down. He shifted himself, and I helped him move his legs into a more comfortable position so that his body could touch mine. His lips touched my face, moving to my neck where I felt him gently bite me. As his mouth connected with the hollow of my throat, I moved under him as if I'd had an electric shock - he still knew which of my buttons to press. Since we'd come to bed, there had been a subtle shift in the dynamics - more and more Josh was taking the in itiative. But that was fine by me. I'd been holding myself together all day, trying to be strong for Josh. So now I gladly relinquished control and finally allowed myself to give myself up to my friend...my lover...my soul mate.
I lay there under Josh's ministrations, feeling as if my bones were dissolving. Every cell in my body was screaming for attention from those insistent, beautiful lips. He shifted his attention from my neck, moving down to kiss my chest. I felt his tongue slide across my nipple, then he began to suck and lightly graze it with his teeth. I cried incoherently as the sensitive tissue there became more erect. I didn't know where to put myself - I couldn't keep still, my hands gripping the sheets as Josh woke sensations in me that had remained dormant for months. I loved the feeling of Josh's mouth on my skin, but competing with this was the way his fingers tightened with increasing urgency around my erection. He stroked and pulled gently, taking me closer and closer to orgasm. Throughout I could hear him murmuring, as if to himself, as his kisses travelled south over my belly, causing me to draw in my breath sharply. I managed to find my voice sufficiently to tell him what I want ed.
"Josh...please...go down on me...please..."
"Hang in there, Sam - I can't manoeuvre round the bed as easily as I used to."
So I had to wait until Josh moved himself into a better position, and I was amazed that the waiting only heightened the experience. It was tantalising, arousing me to a pitch I hadn't thought possible. There were times in the past when our lovemaking had been a hot and frantic activity, passion rising and peaking in a rush. But today Josh took his time, partly because of the physical limitations, but partly, I sensed, to prolong the sensuality of it all.
"God, I love to touch you here," I heard him say as his tongue glided over the inside of my thigh. His kisses were gentle, and the delicacy of his touch was almost too much to bear.
"Mmmmmm...look at *you*. You *are* pleased to see me." Talking flirtatiously during sex was a specialty of Josh's. He knew I liked it, but I also suspected he still didn't trust himself to fully expose himself to me emotionally. The sexual banter was a way of dealing with that.
He went on, "What would you like me to do now?" I groaned. "What - Sam Seaborn speechless? I guess it's up to me then. What about some more of this?" His fingers worked their magic on me for a few more seconds. "Or what about this?" Josh moved his hand, only to replace it with his tongue - he licked my shaft from base to tip. I groaned again.
"But this is nice too." He moved his tongue in circles round the end of my cock, causing me to yelp. I was caught in a sublime trap between torture and pleasure as he continued to tease me.
"I know what you *really* want. Since you've been so good..." And finally... finally...Josh took me in his mouth. Sweet Jesus, the world felt as if it was slipping away as my precious Josh pleasured me to within an inch of my sanity. So many times recently I had imagined just such a moment. It was better than anything I could have anticipated. My back arched and I thrust faster and faster, with Josh taking me into his mouth as far as he could. I didn't know whether I was laughing or crying, I only knew it was like finding my way home. The sensation of Josh enfolding me swept me along. His hands slid under my ass, stroking and rubbing me as I moved beneath him. I felt myself getting closer and closer, until I could see colours darting beneath my eyelids. When I finally came I thought I would pass out, crying out loud, shuddering from the force of my release. I was totally spent; I couldn't do any more than lie there, panting, trying to gather the thoughts and feelin gs that were making my head spin.
A touch on my hip made me open my eyes. I clasped Josh's hand and helped him lie next to me. We kissed and embraced, then Josh turned away, so that he lay with his back against my chest. I didn't take this as a rejection, because I knew it was sometimes more comfortable for him to lie on the uninjured side of his body. I ran my hand through his hair, which he'd been wearing slightly longer since being hospitalised. It sounds crazy and maybe a little fetishistic, but I'd been longing to do this for ages. I'd sit in the hospital looking at Josh, and maybe because physical contact was denied us, the need to carry out the simple gesture of touching his hair had almost become an obsession. I kissed him on the nape of his neck and felt such a rush of tenderness that my insides contracted. I wanted to tell him how he had made me feel this afternoon, but the words I used sounded trite.
"That was wonderful, Josh."
"I can still do it for you?"
"More than ever." I slid my arms round his chest, pulling him closer to me. I want to do the same for you, I thought. Instinctively, I began touching those parts of his body which I knew would respond. I stroked and teased his nipples, and when I heard Josh inhale sharply I knew he was gaining some gratification from my touch.
"Is this okay?" I asked.
"Mmmmmm...s'nice," said Josh. "Don't stop."
I continued with this for a while longer, with Josh starting to squirm and make small noises of appreciation. However, I was mindful of the need for us to communicate - I didn't want to make assumptions about anything.
"Josh - I need you to tell me what feels good. If anything doesn't feel right, let me know."
Taking this as a "yes", I moved my hands down Josh's body, letting my fingertips trace circles on his stomach, searching for more sensitive areas. I leaned over and kissed his cheek, moving down to plant more kisses along his jaw line, finally making contact with his earlobe. I tongued the soft skin, gently sucking and playing with it. Josh took my hand and moved it back up to his chest, indicating he wanted me to touch his nipples again. That was good; now he was letting me know what his preferences were. Since we were exploring new ways of making love, I couldn't rely on the map of his body I had grown so familiar with over the years. I whispered in his ear.
"God, you're so gorgeous and so sexy I can't keep my hands off you. I'm going to make up for all those long months, all the times I've been hot and horny and I couldn't do anything about it." I began nibbling Josh's ear again, stopping only when I heard him whimper. "Does that mean you want the same, Josh - was the waiting driving you crazy, too?"
"Yeah, Sam, yeah...please...touch me some more. I need it so much."
"Oh yes, I'm going to touch you."
I stopped talking and continued using my mouth and tongue on the same spot. From his response I could tell it was an especially sensitive area, an erogenous zone that gave him immense pleasure. Touching him was also making me hard again.
"This feels great," he gasped.
"Mmm...it's working for me too, "I said.
"Touch me on my neck, Sam."
I moved my left hand up over his chest and shoulder and began gently stroking his neck.
"Like this?" I asked.
Josh didn't answer, but shifted his arm so that he could stroke my leg, which I had positioned so that it lay over his hip. His hand moved up and down my thigh more and more quickly as I aroused him further. It thrilled me to realise that I was able to get these reactions from him purely by touch and communication. This spurred me on still further.
"Tell me how this feels, Josh."
"Oh, so good...so good..."
"You like it this way?"
"Yeah...I want more...please..."
I slid my right hand from under his body where it had been encircling the side of Josh that lay on the bed.
"I need to shift you onto your front, Josh - will that be okay? This will feel good, I promise."
"Mmm-hmm, but quickly, Sam."
I rolled him over so that he rested on his stomach, with me lying next to him. I propped myself up on my elbow and with my other hand lightly rubbed Josh's shoulders. He sighed so contentedly, I decided to intensify the sensation, moving myself so that I could use both hands to gently massage him. Sliding my hands between his shoulder blades, I repeated the action which had provoked a response earlier, running my fingers lightly down the length of his spine. I wasn't disappointed - Josh groaned and I heard him starting to pant slightly. But I needed reassurance that this didn't affect him adversely in other ways.
A laugh caught in his throat. "Very okay - do it again."
So I did, but after a while I replaced my fingers with my lips and slowly planted kisses down the length of his spine. Josh was moaning more loudly now, and he was grasping the pillow that he lay on, his fingers opening and closing spasmodically. I only stopped kissing him when I got to the small of his back - any lower, and I knew that was where Josh began to lose sensation. I kissed him there some more, stopped, and experimentally ran my thumb over the same place.
"Comfortable, Josh?" I spoke with some difficulty, because the reaction I'd been getting from Josh was making me more erect, and my breath was coming in sharp gasps.
"Aaaaaah...mmmmm..." Obviously finding it difficult to come up with anything more coherent, he answered me by shifting himself closer to me. He tried again.
"Sam...lie back...let me...let me on top. And keep stroking me down there."
I rolled onto my back to give Josh what he wanted. I went on caressing the small of his back, which was obviously giving him enjoyment. Our bodies melded together, skin burning as we clung together. Josh's lips sought mine. His kiss wasn't gentle this time - it was hard, almost rough. I felt Josh kiss my neck, his teeth making contact with my skin. We were both lost in the sensations we were creating for one another, so much so that I cried out.
"Jesus, I need you to touch me...I'm almost there."
Josh shifted his position so that he could take me in his hand. We hit our own rhythm as I stroked his back and he worked my cock. Then I felt my cum, hot and sticky as it spurted out between us. Josh stifled my cries with more kisses, then I felt his body go rigid, and he began to shake. I realised he too was approaching his own climax, so I held him tight.
"Come on, Josh, let it go. Yes, yes...that's it. Show me how much you love me, too."
And somehow, miraculously, he reached his own orgasm. He cried out, then he went limp in my arms and laid his head down on my chest.
We were quiet and still for a while. Eventually I shifted Josh so that I could go into the bathroom to clean myself off and do the same for him when I returned to bed. Finally, when we held each other, he spoke.
"How did you know?"
"Know what?" I asked.
"How to make me so happy?"
I reflected for a few seconds. "It was a combination of what I already knew and an awful lot of instinct. It was what you said earlier about kissing me, how it was about what you felt in your head as well as your body. Oh, I don't mean you treat our lovemaking as an intellectual exercise, but I guessed you meant that sex wasn't just physiological - it's holistic. Anyway, I'm frightened to over-analyse what just happened. That might spoil it for next time." I looked down at Josh, putting my finger under his chin and tilting his face upwards so I could see his reaction to what I had just said. He was smiling.
"So you think it's a good idea that we keep practising instead of talking about it?"
"I think that's a *very* good idea. But I also think you should get a little rest now." Josh had shown more stamina this afternoon than I had thought possible. My earlier reservations had obviously been proved wrong. But I knew our recent exertions might take their toll, physically *and* emotionally. After all, a good healthy bout of sex could take it out of anyone, let alone someone who had been through what Josh had. He snuggled in next to me as we lay in each other's arms.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"What for?" I was puzzled - Josh had made me so happy today, what on earth did he have to apologise for?
"The way I behaved earlier, when I wouldn't let you know what was troubling me. My only excuse is that I was afraid of how you might react, or worse that you might not even love me anymore."
I started to laugh.
"Well I'm glad I've managed to amuse you," he said, a shade tetchily.
"No, it's not you," I reassured him. "I'm laughing at myself. That's exactly how *I* felt. When you were crying I couldn't understand why you hadn't confided in me earlier. Then I thought maybe you'd talked to someone else, someone close like your mother or Leo. I felt so shut out, and I started to think all these irrational thoughts - that if you loved me, you would have opened up to me sooner. So then I thought because you hadn't, that must mean you'd stopped loving me. QED."
"There were so many times I *wanted* to talk to you, but if I had I would have cried and I wouldn't have been able to stop. I knew if that happened, you'd comfort me. You would have been totally compromised if anyone had seen us."
"Well there *are* times when a guy can touch another guy platonically if he needs comforting."
"Oh, yeah, and it would have stopped there with you putting an arm round me in a supportive yet manly way? Because I know *I* wouldn't have had that sort of willpower."
I knew I could only agree. What moved me was that Josh had kept his own feelings in check to protect me. "Oh, Josh, I wish you'd said something. I can't bear to think of you suffering in silence."
"God, Sam, you haven't lost that tendency to be melodramatic. 'Suffering in silence' ? It makes me sound like a Victorian heroine. I've got a therapist, haven't I? It's better than nothing. But he doesn't kiss as good as you."
"All right, all right. And that better be a joke about the kissing."
"It's okay, Sam. I still love you."
"Love you more," I said. And with that we fell asleep.
I didn't sleep for long, partly because I was too hyped up and partly because I was concerned we would oversleep and that I'd be late getting back to the White House. The fewer explanations I had to give, the better. I looked at the time and calculated that I could allow Josh to sleep for another hour before I needed to wake him. I looked over at him. Always a restless sleeper, he had moved out from my embrace and now lay on his back with his head turned towards me. I was glad to see he was in a deep sleep. Since the shooting he had slept poorly. The irregular hours he had kept in the White House had made it hard for him to adjust to the more regulated regime of the hospital. Coupled with this was the fact that he suffered from nightmares in which he relived the terror of the shooting. So I let him sleep, enjoying the experience of having Josh sleeping next to me once again.
As I watched Josh, I began fantasising that we were spending the whole weekend here. Once he had rested we would order some dinner from room service, with maybe a little champagne. Then watch some television or just chill out and talk until we wanted to make love again. The next day we would go for a drive far out into the Virginia countryside and eat lunch somewhere. The pictures formed in my mind as I imagined perfect weather with blue skies and temperatures just cool enough to remind us what time of year it was. A sudden noise brought me back to the present. It had grown dark outside and the fine weather of my imagination had been replaced by rain. It was the sound of it hitting the window pane that had attracted my attention. It was getting late - time to wake Josh and make a move towards vacating the room.
I debated how best to rouse him. I didn't want to startle him, bearing in mind he was waking up to strange surroundings and the now unaccustomed presence of his lover. I finally settled on kissing him gently on the lips. I drew back, Josh stirring slightly as he opened his eyes. I could see him taking in the room, then me, with a slight look of confusion on his face.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey. So it isn't a dream?" Josh reached over to take my hand. He turned it over and placed a kiss on my palm. I shivered. I was going to have to exercise an iron will not to give in to the desire to stay in bed with him until morning. But I knew that wasn't possible for a variety of reasons, not least of which was getting Josh back to the hospital for his evening medication. But maybe we could still have a little fun.
"I need to take a shower," I said. "Want to join me?" When I had gone into the bathroom earlier, I had noticed it was adapted for wheelchair users. I assumed Josh had checked this out when he made the reservation.
"I'd love to. But I might need a little help."
I tried to stop the reaction showing on my face. For the first time today Josh was asking for my assistance, and it felt good because he said it without a trace of embarrassment or reluctance. I didn't want to make a big deal of it, so I replied as naturally as I could.
"Sure, just tell me what you want me to do."
"Well, my muscles seize up a little when I've been lying down, so can you help me to sit up?"
Placing my arm around him, I gently eased him into a sitting position. As he sat up straight, Josh swore softly. I realised the movement had caused him some discomfort. Not for the first time I felt anger at the senselessness of it all and rage at the people whose actions continued to hurt Josh. I remembered a few days after the shooting when the doctors had told us of the full extent of Josh's injuries. I couldn't do anything to comfort him as he was allowed no other visitors apart from his mother and Leo, so I took my boat out for a short trip. I sailed it a few miles out into the ocean and screamed and ranted at the empty sea and sky. But whilst that gave me a momentary release, the feelings had still come back. And this time I couldn't give way to them, and if I did, it wouldn't help Josh. So I pushed them to one side and instead asked him what else I could do.
"Just give me a minute and I'll be able to get out of bed on my own."
Not wanting to cramp Josh's style by watching him, I turned my back and busied myself finding the bathrobes which I knew the hotel provided for its guests. I moved into the bathroom, which I had already noticed was equipped with a wheel-in shower. All Josh had to do was transfer from his wheelchair to the seat which was specially positioned under the shower head. As I sorted out the complementary toiletries so that they were within easy reach, I heard a noise behind me as Josh came into the bathroom. He made it easy for me by telling me exactly what he needed.
"Stand near me while I get onto the shower seat, just in case I need you to steady me if I lose my balance."
That done, I moved the wheelchair away, stepped into the shower with him and closed the curtain. That's when I thought, how do we do this? Under normal circumstances, two people in the shower would naturally be standing, but Josh, of course, was seated. Well, he couldn't move up to my level, so there was only one thing to do. I turned the shower on, then knelt down in front of him. The floor was a bit hard for kneeling for any length of time, but I figured I could put up with it for Josh's sake. I slid my hands over his arms and upper body, watching the shower gel form bubbles over his skin. I could tell he was enjoying my touch; he was watching me through half closed eyes, his lips slightly parted as his breathing quickened. I carried on, moving my hands down over his waist and beyond, until I had made contact with as much of him as I could reach. I knew he couldn't feel all of it, but I wanted to show him that I cherished every inch of him. I felt Josh's arms encircle me, and I stretched up to move forward into his embrace.
"I want you close to me. Sit across my lap," he instructed.
"God, Josh, I'll hurt you - I'm too heavy."
"Nah...like I said earlier - I won't break. You've got to stop wrapping me up in cotton wool."
I stood up and gently lowered myself so I straddled him. Josh sighed contentedly, and for the next couple of minutes we got some mutual enjoyment from him soaping my back, my chest, my thighs. Then I realised his hands were moving down towards my ass. His fingers were slick with gel, and I held my breath as I realised his intention.
God, it had been so long. I tensed as he tentatively slid a finger into me.
"Do you want me to stop?" Josh asked.
"No, no...I'm just a little tight," I replied.
"I'll take it slow. Tell me if I hurt you."
You could never hurt me, I thought.
"You know, I lie awake every night imagining I'm inside you, Sam, but this is the best I can do."
"It's a very good best," I managed to gasp. It was probably the last coherent thought I managed to articulate before I lost myself in what Josh was doing to me.
Slowly, slowly, I accepted him into me, my hips beginning to move as Josh's fingers skilfully teased out reactions that lately I had only dreamt of in the deepest recesses of my mind.
"Oh, fuck, that's wonderful," I moaned. With one hand I took hold of my cock, with the other I managed to steady myself so that I didn't lean too heavily on Josh. Thank God for adapted showers with grab rails, I thought. "God, Josh...I need this...it's so good...don't stop...yes, oh, yes..." I could hear myself babbling. I wasn't sure if I was making any sort of sense.
"Mmmm, need it too, Sam, you're beautiful...so beautiful."
Josh thrust deep inside me, hitting that sweet spot he could always find. I came for the third time that day, collapsing against him. We held each other tightly, breathing heavily. I lifted my head from where it rested on Josh's shoulder, hot tears welling from my eyes. They mingled with the water pouring down on us and into our open mouths as we kissed. Josh's next words told me he sensed my reaction.
"Didn't I please you, Sam?" he asked.
I laughed. "Yes, oh, yes. I'm just happy, that's all."
"Well, you've got a strange way of showing it." He kissed me on the cheek. "Do you think we're clean enough now?"
I stood up and turned the shower off, fetching a towel so he could dry himself prior to donning a bathrobe and shifting back into his wheelchair. When we were back in the bedroom, he said, "You know, I enjoyed that just as much as you did. I hadn't realised until today how much enjoyment *I* get from seeing *you*satisfied. D'you think that sort of vicarious pleasure is weird?" He looked so anxious as he waited for my reaction. I stroked the back of my fingers across his cheek.
"You have to ask that? Joshua," I always use his full name when I want to gently chastise him , "you have to ask if I think something that feels so right and natural is weird? We've *always* enjoyed making each other happy. The difference now is that it's intensified - for me, it's even better." Josh looked relieved. The journey we'd travelled this afternoon had taken us to a much better place, but despite this he was going to need a lot of reassurance for a while yet. The tricky part was knowing when and how far to go without being over-protective. But that was for the future. My immediate concern was with getting Josh back to the hospital and myself back to work on time. I decided to take my clothes into the bathroom, giving Josh some privacy to dress himself at his own pace. I knew he didn't need me for this, and I guessed he wouldn't want me hanging around looking like I wanted to help him. So I took my time, even giving my hair a quick blast with the hair dryer. I'm not one of those guys who preens in front of the mirror, but I wanted to make sure it didn't look *too* much like I'd just been in the shower when I met up with Toby.
When I turned off the hairdryer I could hear that Josh had switched on the TV. I walked over to the doorway and stood looking at him. He had moved to sit on the end of the bed so that he faced the TV, which was positioned on a stand opposite. I noticed he was watching CNN. From what I could gather, they were breaking a story about a visit to China made by a senator named
Pringle. He's one of our guys, but he was criticising the fact that the administration had gone quiet on the Chinese regime's human rights policy regarding a particular religious sect. He was also unhappy that we had recently proposed opening up talks between our two countries regarding China's position on Taiwan, his perception being that we didn't want to rock the diplomatic boat. I could see his point. I began to speak, but as I looked at Josh I saw I might as well not be there. His whole demeanour had changed. Gone was the anxious look of a few minutes ago, and in its place was an expression I can only describe as shrewd and calculating. Not in a bad way, you understand. What I now saw in front of me was the consummate political strategist that defined Josh Lyman. I could almost see his mind working as he analysed how we should deal with a situation that could prove an embarrassment to the President. As well as his obvious attributes, that was one of the things I loved a nd admired most about him - his intellect and the speed of his thought processes. Seeing him in full on action in DC was one of the sexiest things I'd ever seen.
As I stood there, I knew how lucky I was. When Josh had persuaded me to join the campaign I was lost - I had lost my way in the work I was doing and in my private life. Josh helped me get the job I love, and later everything else seemed to fall into place when we realised our relationship meant more than just being good friends. Even when our good fortune seemed to end with the shooting, we knew we were lucky in that Josh had survived. And now we'd found each other again. But...although I'm usually a glass-half-full person, even while I was tracking all these positives, I became uneasy. Today we had been reconstructing our relationship, and it felt fragile, like a carefully constructed house of cards. Josh wasn't the only one who needed reassurance. I roused myself, walked over and sat on the bed behind him, leaning my chin on his shoulder so that I could nuzzle up against his cheek. My arms went round him as I pulled him closer to me.
"You won't ever leave me, will you?" I knew I sounded pathetic. I expected Josh to laugh it off, then tell me to shut up while he watched the sports news that I could see was now claiming his attention. Instead, he turned off the TV, although his eyes still stayed on the blank screen. I heard him breathe in deeply then exhale slowly as if giving himself time to consider the question before he answered.
"You know that 's an impossible question to answer? In fact, it's the wrong question. It isn't about me leaving you, but the likelihood that *you'll* leave *me*."
I started to protest, but Josh interrupted me.
" Think about it. Today has been fabulous, but what about when you want to do things I can't, when we can't share the same activities?"
He considered the question for a few seconds before answering. "Sailing. I won't be able to go on your boat now."
"Being a wheelchair user doesn't stop anyone sailing, I know *that* for sure. But have you forgotten that you've only been on a boat with me twice, and both times you threw up and swore you'd never go again?" I was puzzled why he had used as an example an activity which was so trivial in the overall scheme of things. Sure, I loved sailing, but it had never bothered me that Josh didn't, so why should it now? "That's very poor reasoning on your part," I continued.
"OK, dancing - what if you want to go dancing?"
I was even more bemused now. "Dancing? We've *never* gone dancing. First of all because it would mean being seen together in public, and second of all you've always hated it because you were so useless at it. In fact, I bumped into the French cultural attaché the other day, and she's *still* limping from the time you danced with her at that embassy function." I was glad to see Josh smile a little at this, because I was beginning to regret starting this dialogue. It was like a thread which would cause everything to unravel if it were pulled. "Josh, I'm not going to leave you, especially not for the reasons you've just given. The only reason I started any of this was because I needed *you* to reassure *me*."
Josh pushed my arms away from him to move out of my embrace. "Sam, stop crowding me." He turned towards me. "Yes, you're right - it's about more than the reasons I've given. Have you even thought through what it's like sharing a life with someone who has to live within these limitations? Yes, I know I can live independently , but it's still on different terms. It means I can't be totally spontaneous - when we want to go out to dinner, I'll need to check that the restaurant is accessible. If we want to travel anywhere, I'm going to have to plan ahead - I can't just jump on a plane without letting them know I have special needs. I need to know hotels have the right facilities...."
"That's just logistics - Christ, we can work round practicalities like that."
"And when it's about more than practicalities? What if you need more than I can give in our sex life?"
I was starting to get frustrated refuting all the arguments he was presenting. I groaned. "We're not back to that again? In case you haven't noticed, it hasn't been a problem today. If that happened, it would have nothing to do with disability - that can happen in any relationship. Why are you deliberately putting obstacles in the way? In case you've forgotten, I was the one who was worried about *you* leaving *me*."
"Sam, I just need to be honest with you. We've spent one afternoon together. It's a start - a fantastic start - but we've got a long way to go if we want to make this thing work. I just want you to know that I'm going into this with my eyes open. I need to be realistic - no, *we* need to be realistic - about our expectations from this relationship. And if either of us feel it's not working - for whatever reason - I want us to say. Deal?"
I listened to Josh, and his words were so rational, so honest, what else could I do but agree with him?
"Deal." It wasn't me who made the first move, but Josh, who pulled me towards him, wrapping an arm around me and holding me close. He ran his other hand up my thigh.
"We'll give it our best shot?" he asked.
I nodded my head, simply enjoying the closeness of the moment. Then my pager went off.
"Shit," I said, "some people have got no sense of timing." Josh reluctantly released his hold on me, and I fished the pager out of my pocket. "It's Toby."
"Imagine my surprise."
I began calling Toby on my cell phone and stood up and walked around the room while I talked with him. When I had finished, I saw that Josh had moved from the bed to his wheelchair.
"Sorry, we're going to have to leave now," I said.
Josh nodded. The smile he gave me was too bright, and I caught a wistful expression on his face.
"That's okay," he said. "I used to work there myself, you know."
That did it. I knew Josh was insecure, I knew he may still be feeling a little sorry for himself. But I was becoming tired of these self-doubts which were sounding dangerously like self-pity. Before today I would probably have knelt down next to him, holding his hand whilst making sympathetic noises. But I'd since learnt that a little honesty goes a long way and that Josh was strong enough to take it.
"Don't you *dare* speak about your career in the past tense. You're the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Bartlet administration who just happens to be taking some sick leave. And the sooner you get back the better, because we're really struggling without you there."
Josh looked almost frightened at my outburst. "I want to, but you know the doctors won't let me leave the rehab hospital yet."
"So why don't you do something about it? Speak to the doctors, talk to Leo - maybe they need you to tell them that you're feeling well enough to get involved again. Even if you're not physically back at work in the White House, there must be some way of getting you back in the loop. Technology's a wonderful thing, you know. Not to mention that great assistant you've got."
"Yeah, that's another thing. I've treated Donna badly. Will you ask her to come to see me tomorrow, but not with CJ or Margaret?"
I walked across to the closet and removed our coats. I handed Josh his and checked that we had picked up all our belongings before I opened the door. I turned round to check his reaction to my suggestions vis-a-vis work.
"You'll speak to Leo and the doctors, Josh?" I asked.
"First thing tomorrow, I promise. And thanks. You're the first person who's been totally honest with me since I don't know how long."
"Yeah? Well, here's some more honesty - if we don't move fast *I'm* not going to have a job to go to tomorrow."
When we entered the lobby, Josh put his hand out to stop me going over to the reception desk.
"I'll check us out and pay for the extras we had from the minibar."
"Sure," I said. "I'll wait over here."
I walked over and stood at the far wall near the exit. I noticed that the desk was too high for the receptionist standing behind it to see Josh. Resisting the temptation to go over and help him out, I half turned away to study some of the prints arranged on the wall. I heard voices behind me so I was confident he was managing. I was quickly learning about all the things that I take for granted but that make all the difference to a person using a wheelchair.
"Sam, I'm ready to go."
I didn't refer to what had just transpired. On the face of it, it had been insignificant, but for Josh it was a huge shift in his confidence when I considered how nervous he had been when we first entered the hotel earlier today. As we moved towards the door, I noticed that the rain I had heard earlier continued to fall.
"I can go and move the car nearer the door if you like," I offered.
"No, this is the first time I've been out for ages. Even the rain will feel good. There was a time when I thought I wouldn't survive to feel anything like it again."
So we made a dash for the car park, laughing like idiots as the rain and wind hit our faces. I even managed to get Josh's wheelchair into the car in double-quick time.
"Wow, it only took you half an hour this time," Josh said as I started the car.
For a few minutes we drove in silence, broken only by the rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers. I guessed we were both lost in our respective thoughts. For myself, I felt more alive than I had for ages. Despite the dark, rainy night, everything was vivid, heightened, as if all my senses had been stimulated. Which they had, I suppose.
"Are you okay?" Josh asked.
"I wish you didn't have to go back - Toby will probably have you working all night."
"You know, it's strange, but I probably could. I feel kind of...psyched. I'll have to be careful I don't give anything away, which I will if I act the way I'm feeling. How about you?"
"What do you think?" The lights from a passing car lit up Josh's features, and I was able to see the look of affection he gave me. A shiver ran up my spine. If I hadn't been fully occupied driving a car along a narrow country road I wouldn't have been responsible for my actions.
"Josh, don't look at me like that when I'm driving. It's too distracting."
"No, *this* is distracting," he said, running his hand up my thigh towards my crotch.
"Stop it!" I laughed. "If I don't get you back to the hospital in one piece, this will be our last outing."
"Well, that would be a given," Josh said dryly. However, he moved his hand from where it teased me, contenting himself with reaching up to rest it lightly on the back of my head, where he intermittently stroked my hair and neck. It felt intimate without being *too* arousing. We continued our journey in the same companionable silence. At that point there seemed little else to say as we savoured those last few minutes of being together. Whenever I go travelling, it often strikes me that the journey home is a lot quicker than the outward journey. Today was no exception, with the added component of our reluctance to see the day come to an end. Before I knew it I could see the lights of DC ahead of us. I glanced at Josh. He must have been thinking the same thing - I could sense the empathy in the slight smile he gave me. His next words confirmed it.
"Don't look so sad, Sam; we'll have plenty more days like this."
Once again, I drew strength from Josh. He wasn't going back to the familiar surroundings of the West Wing, or to the team he loved working with, yet he was the one encouraging me. I turned the car into the hospital parking lot.
"Here we are, then," I said.
"And the Nobel Prize for stating the obvious goes to Sam Seaborn," Josh remarked. "Come on, let's go in before I change my mind and force you to take me to a safe house somewhere."
As we made our way towards the building, Josh stopped.
"Can you give me a push - I'm a bit tired and we're on an incline here."
"Are you all right?" I asked anxiously.
"Look, the wildest thing I've done prior to today is freewheel down that ramp over there. I think it's normal to feel tired after what we've been doing."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "But it was the best, wasn't it?"
It was quiet, especially given the time, and I had now grown accustomed to the surroundings of this hospital. However, as we made our way through the building, I thought about that night six months ago. The night of the shooting was the first time I'd ever been in any hospital, and I would never forget the atmosphere in the emergency room, the noises, the urgency, the voices shouting instructions as the injured were brought in. But what I remembered most of all was the fear I felt when they took Josh into surgery. The actual incident at Rosslyn was nothing compared to that. I lived and died a thousand times while I waited to see if Josh would pull through. We'd come a long way since then.
"Good evening, Josh," said the head nurse as we entered the ward. "Glad to see you've decided to come back."
"How could I resist returning to your tender mercies, Linda. You're a veritable Florence Nightingale," Josh shouted back at her as we went into his room. "That woman makes General Patton look like Mother Theresa."
"They need someone like that to keep you in check," I said.
"Hey, watch what you're saying, Seaborn." Josh grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me towards him so that I ended up sitting on his knee. He put his arms around me and kissed my cheek.
"Since I've been in this place I usually hate this time of day," he whispered, "but not tonight."
"You know I can only stay another five minutes, babe."
"So shut up and stop wasting time."
I turned to face him, giving him the benefit of my lips. Our kissing now wasn't particularly passionate, it was more loving and sweet. Josh shoved his hand under my jacket, moving his hand over my back.
With the benefit of hindsight, what we were doing was stupid and impetuous, a bad misjudgement bearing in mind where we were. We didn't hear the knock on the door, all we heard was a voice.
"Hi, Josh, I've come to take your blood press..."
Josh jerked himself away from me, I jumped up and in the process I somehow pushed his wheelchair so that he shot back and hit the wall behind him.
"Ouch! Julie - hi."
"I'm sorry - I did knock first. I didn't realise you had company."
I recognised the nurse as the one who had a thing for Josh. She began busying herself with the blood pressure monitor, making a big show of concentrating on fitting the cuff around his arm. He looked over her head and mouthed, "How much did she see?" I shrugged, although if I were truthful I was sure she had seen two guys - no, correction, two senior White House staffers - in a clinch. I walked over to the window while she got on with her job. When I turned round she was writing up the reading on Josh's chart.
"It's a little high - what have you two been up to today?"
God, I didn't know who was the most embarrassed. I didn't dare look at Josh. As for Julie, she blushed when she realised what she had said. Thankfully, Josh managed to retrieve the situation.
"Umm - should I be worried by this?" he asked.
"No - it's only raised a little. Someone will be in to check it in an hour - you should get some rest and I'm sure it'll be fine. I'm going off duty now - can I get you anything before I go?"
"No thanks, I'm fine. Have a good evening."
When she had closed the door behind her, I turned to look at Josh.
"Well, technically speaking, I suppose we've outed ourselves," I said, not moving from my position near the window. Absurdly, I felt quite weak, so I leaned back against the window sill. "Do you think she'll say anything to anyone?" By which I meant, 'Will she go running to the press with a really hot story about two grossly indiscreet guys who put their own private passion above their responsibilities to the President?'
"How should I know?" Josh asked explosively. "She's a good person, she's a great nurse...we might be okay. From talking to her, she seems a little naive...it probably won't cross her mind." Despite his attempts to be rational, he seemed agitated. "Maybe I should talk to her."
"And maybe you should calm down. You heard what she said about your blood pressure."
"Goddammit, I'm borderline hypertensive is all. I have been for the last few weeks. It's no big deal."
"Well, I say we do nothing for now. Don't talk to her - it's probably better to play it down. In the final analysis, what's the worst that can happen? We knew we'd have to face this sooner or later - it just might be happening sooner than we'd planned. And after all that's happened, I still wouldn't change anything about today. You've given me my life back."
I walked over to Josh and took his hand.
"I hate to do this, but I really *do* have to go now. I'll call you later, and I'll be in to see you tomorrow. And don't worry about what just happened, because I'm not going to." I bent down and kissed him.
"Love you, Sam."
"Love you more." My usual response, but no less heartfelt for all that. Josh continued to hold onto my hand as I walked away so that eventually all that touched were the tips of our fingers.
"Go to bed - speak to you later."
"Take care, Sam. Don't let Toby work you too hard."
The smile he gave me almost broke my heart as I left him sitting there alone. I stepped out into the corridor knowing that I would have to regroup before I was in a fit state to face the evening's work ahead of me. I hoped the drive back would help.
I turned my head to see where the voice was coming from. Julie stood in the doorway of a nearby treatment room.
"Can I speak with you, please?" She spoke hesitantly.
"In there?" I asked.
"I know you're a really busy man, but *please* can you spare me a couple of minutes?"
I was reluctant to comply with her request. She seemed to be genuinely uncomfortable, shy even, but nevertheless I was worried about what I might be letting myself in for by talking to her alone. Particularly as it didn't take a genius to work out what wanted to see me about. But if I didn't do something about this situation, who knew where it might lead? I nodded slightly, following her into a small, windowless room which contained a bed, various medical supplies and equipment. She shut the door then moved to stand in front of me, nervously playing with her wristwatch. Now she'd got me here she didn't seem to know how to begin.
I didn't want to be the one to initiate the conversation, wanting to avoid leading or even antagonising her. I drew some conclusions from her behaviour, but I couldn't be sure they were the correct ones. I waited while she took a deep breath as if to steady herself.
"I'm sorry I walked in on you like that...I should have knocked again and waited for Mr. Lyman to answer." She was no longer using Josh's first name. I guessed that under the circumstances she thought it better to be more formal. I began to feel a little hopeful - she didn't sound or act threatening or confrontational.
"I know that what I saw was something very private , and I just wanted you to know that I won't tell *anyone* about it."
I hated that what she was suggesting amounted to collusion, as if what she had witnessed was some dirty little secret. But I knew, and - despite the naivete Josh talked about - she also knew that keeping quiet was the necessary and expedient thing to do.
"Please, don't say any more," I said. "The more we talk about this, the more you'll be involved, and that makes you vulnerable to anyone who wants to use you to get information about Josh. That could put you in the situation of having to lie. You can't make any promises about what you might or might not do."
She looked me right in the eye and made me feel about two inches tall when she said, "I'm a nurse - a professional - and Mr. Lyman is my patient. I wouldn't dream of betraying what I know about *any* patient, let alone him."
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean to imply..."
"I've had some problems over the past few months, and he's been so kind to me - listened to me, talked, made me laugh. He's really funny, you know, he's told me lots of stories about the White House. Nothing top secret, or anything like that - just things like when the press secretary had root canal work done and Mr. Lyman ran a press briefing for her. He only told me to cheer me up. He's more like a friend than a patient. It's been a real privilege to nurse him."
This was turning into a love letter to Josh Lyman, I thought irritably. He'd kept very quiet about this stuff. When we briefly talked about Julie earlier today, he had been almost dismissive about her. Josh could be sensitive to people's needs when he wanted to be, it's just that he usually keeps that quality well hidden. And I'm ashamed to say I felt an almost irrational feeling of jealousy. I was getting the impression that she and Josh had become pretty close and had shared a lot of confidences at a time when I felt I hadn't been able to engage with him at all. I knew I should have been glad Josh had struck up such a relationship. As well as Julie's obvious skills and caring nature, it seemed that by confiding in him about her problems she had taken his mind off his own situation. I should be thanking her, not thinking such negative thoughts. I mentally shook some sense into myself before I spoke.
"Julie, I know it must have been difficult for you to talk about this. And you shouldn't be the one apologising. Josh and I were less than discreet and I'm sorry if you feel that puts you in an awkward position. All I can say is thank you for your honesty. But mostly, can I say thank you for the great job you're doing looking after my friend. And you can stop calling him Mr. Lyman."
At least that made her laugh. "Yeah - he doesn't stand on ceremony, right?"
"You could say that." I moved towards the door. "Thanks again, Julie."
"You're welcome, Mr. Seaborn."
I walked out of the room, deciding not to go to Josh to tell him about this conversation. It would only unsettle us and I was running late. I would telephone him later as I had promised. It wasn't until I was alone in the elevator that I allowed myself to let out a sigh of relief. It made me realise how worried I'd really been, despite my show of bravado to Josh. This experience brought it home to me what a dangerous game we were playing. I resolved to have a serious discussion with Josh when our relationship had settled down a little. The events of today had felt like being on an emotional roller coaster, and I wanted things to be in a steadier state before I broached the subject of coming out. The drive to the White House helped me clear my mind. I was only about fifteen minutes late, and when I walked into the West Wing it was as busy as ever. Despite this, the pressurised atmosphere had a calming influence on me. I was back in my own environment, Josh and I were back on track - all seemed right with the world.
I made my way into my office, hung up my jacket and switched on my laptop. I'd just started skimming through my e-mails when Donna walked in. She must have been looking out for me because she looked like a woman on a mission. As she sat down I prepared myself for a full interrogation on her boss's welfare.
"How is Josh?"
"He's fine." I decided not to make it *too* easy for her.
"Did you have a good day?"
"What did you do?" I had already thought this through on my way back to work. I couldn't give her a totally accurate record of our activities today, but I could give her some information in such a way that it wasn't a total lie.
"We went for a drive to Fairfield, and then went for a walk round the lake."
The village I named was adjacent to the hotel. We hadn't walked round the lake, but we'd driven past it. Okay, a little creative, but near enough to the truth. "Then we had an early dinner." Obviously this latter wasn't true, but I had to somehow account for the length of time I'd been out. Having said that, we *had* satisfied a hunger of sorts.
"Oh - where did you go?"
This woman was a stickler for detail. "A little restaurant called the Snowy Owl."
"I hope it was accessible for Josh."
"No, Donna, I left him sitting outside and sent his dinner out to him."
"There's no need to be snippy, Sam. I'm just interested in what sort of day you've had. And I don't think you should be making jokes about Josh's condition."
I could see by the stricken look on her face that I was having way too much fun at Donna's expense. After all, she had a very special relationship with Josh, and she genuinely worried about him.
"The only reason I can make jokes is that Josh is starting to do just that. We've had a great time today. We've talked, Josh has got a lot off his chest, and I think it's done him a lot of good to get away from the hospital."
"I wish he would talk to me. I just seem to annoy him these days."
"You know what? Today was the first time he's talked to me. He's been hurting so much that he's ended up lashing out to those closest to him. It's not much comfort, I know - I've been on the receiving end of it, too - but I really think he's turned a corner today." As I talked, I knew I was in danger of getting a faraway look on my face as I mentally began reliving some of the memorable moments of the day. I also had the urge to grin like an idiot as
some of the more enjoyable images surfaced. To counteract this I assumed the blandest expression I could as I continued talking. "Look, he told me to tell you that he wants to see you tomorrow, but without anyone else being there."
>>From the corner of my eye I caught a movement outside the window of my office that looked out onto the communications bullpen. Toby was standing there, and he gestured with a movement of his head towards his office. He was looking his usual sunny self, so I knew my buoyant mood was about to be transformed into something a bit less intense and a bit more work focused.
"Sorry, Donna, Toby's getting impatient," I said reluctantly. I began gathering up the papers and files I thought I might need, but with the pace of things here I could find that they were now redundant, with another set of priorities claiming our attention. "Don't forget what I said about going to see Josh." As if you would, I thought.
"Thanks, Sam. And I'm glad today was a success. You're a really good friend to Josh. If anyone can make him feel better, you can." She'd be stunned if she knew how much Josh had made *me* feel better. I gave her a noncommittal smile, following her through the doorway as she went back to her desk and I made my way to meet with Toby.
Toby's office smelled of cigar smoke, and the debris of coffee cups and half eaten sandwiches indicated he had taken sustenance on the hoof. After a brief 'Everything go okay?' it was down to the business in hand. I had been right when I guessed that priorities had probably changed since I left the office at 11:30 this morning. We needed to prepare a briefing on the Pringle issue, word had just arrived that Congress was demanding an amendment to a crime bill we were trying to steer through the House, and a coup in a small African state was threatening American interests there. It was 11:00 before I found myself back in my own office. I suddenly realised I hadn't eaten all day, and I was desperate for some caffeine. I made my way down to the mess and was trying to decide whether stale cheese sandwiches were more edible than stale ham sandwiches when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"How're you doing?" I heard a voice ask. I realised with a jolt that for the first time today someone had asked about me rather than Josh. As I'd walked through the building people had been stopping me to ask after him. God knows I didn't resent this, but still, it felt good that someone had thought to ask how I was. I turned round to see CJ looking at me with a concerned expression on her face.
"Are you sure? It's just that you look like you don't have the energy to decide which sandwich to choose." She took the empty plate I was holding and quickly put a sandwich and some fruit on it. "Go on - sit over there. Eat." I sat down at an empty table and she brought me a cup of coffee. I suddenly realised how tired I was. CJ sat opposite me studying some papers while I ate. She waited until I'd finished, then she spoke.
"Tough day, huh?"
I didn't know where this conversation was going. I looked round quickly and saw we were alone.
"Josh is fine, he's a lot happier than I've seen him in a long while."
"That's not what I asked. You've spent the whole day with your best friend in difficult circumstances, then come back to work in one of the most pressurised environments on the planet. I'm not asking how Josh is - I know how he is, I asked Donna. But the people who care for someone who has a medical condition are often the people who get overlooked. So I want to know how *you* are."
The President's press secretary can be one of the most challenging people I know. She faces one of the most demanding audiences on a daily basis, and there's no point in trying to evade issues with her. But I couldn't tell her everything that had happened today, and I didn't want to break any confidences about Josh's emotional state.
"We *did* have a good day, but I won't pretend it was all plain sailing. We talked a lot, and some of it was painful. But I think Josh feels a lot more content now."
She didn't answer, and I got the impression CJ was weighing up her response carefully.
"I may be speaking totally out of turn here, and if you want me to shut up just say." The room was perfectly still - I suddenly knew what was happening here, but I chose not to stop it. It felt like make or break time.
"I know about you and Josh." She said this in a tone that was totally neutral. If it was purely a question of values or morality, I knew that it mattered not one whit to CJ about my sexuality. However, we worked for the President of the United States, and the knowledge that I now knew we shared had greater ramifications beyond the personal.
As we talked I'd been distractedly turning the salt shaker round on the table. I put it down to move my hands off the table so CJ wouldn't see how much they had started shaking. The plate in front of me suddenly became the most interesting item in the world as I stared at it to avoid meeting her direct gaze. The only response I could come up with was "How?" I immediately thought of tonight's incident at the hospital. Had Julie lied to me, or had someone else become suspicious? Maybe, I thought, one of the press corps had tipped off CJ.
"Oh, don't worry - you've been very discreet. Particularly since Rosslyn."
"What? I don't understand. If we've been so discreet, how did you know?"
"Because you've been *too* discreet. Every time we've visited Josh together it's been like watching two people doing this little dance round each other - very proper, very formal, but with very little feeling. So I got to thinking, why are they acting like this? Maybe it's because neither of them know how to respond to what's happened to Josh? Surely once you'd both started to accept the situation, things would be like they'd always been? But when Josh started improving, you just seemed to get more and more distant from one another. And that's when I realised you were scared to show how close you really were - you couldn't run the risk of anyone knowing about your relationship. So you over-compensated."
She was right, of course - one hundred percent. How on earth did we think we could fool everybody? "How many other people know?" I asked.
"To my knowledge, none. No-one has spoken to me, or even indicated that they're concerned about anything going on between the two of you. The only reason I'm talking about it now is because you looked so lonely standing there. You looked like you needed a friend."
She was right. Once I had taken a break from work I knew my earlier euphoric mood had faded. The incident with Julie, the uncertain future that lay ahead - they had all started to hit home and I was wondering how I could keep myself together and get through the night. I managed to make eye contact with CJ. She had an uncanny ability to read people. I knew I couldn't hide anything from her for long, especially now that I'd let my guard down.
"Sam, is there something else bothering you?"
So it all came spilling out. Not all the intimate details, but I gave her a truer account of what went on that afternoon than I had given to Donna, right up to and including my encounter with Julie. That bit scared me. For all we were friends, CJ was a member of the senior staff, and may have felt duty bound to take action on something that could damage the administration. She knew where her loyalties lay. But for all that, I was glad I'd been able to confide in someone. When I stopped, she leaned over and covered my hand with hers.
"You must have been going through hell these past few months."
I nodded my head, knowing I wouldn't be able to speak without becoming *really* upset. I managed to find my handkerchief and gained some control under cover of blowing my nose. CJ tactfully cleared up my plate and cup to give me time to regain my composure, then sat back down.
"So have you and Josh decided what your options are?" The question was detached, non-judgemental.
I took a shaky breath. "We could come out big time - go public, in which case we would probably have to resign. I dread to think what that would do to Josh. We could come out to our immediate colleagues and try to contain it, but if the truth became known that would be a disaster for the administration. We could carry on as we have been, although that would put you in a difficult position. Or we could...break up." There - I'd said it. The option that I hadn't wanted to put into words, but which now seemed like the only way forward.
"This *is* Invasion of the Body Snatchers, right?" she asked. I was surprised to see she was smiling in an ironic sort of way.
"What? Am I missing something?"
"All that stuff you just said - that's not Sam Seaborn speaking. Where's the idealist, the optimist, the guy who always wants to do the right thing?
"Well, from all those options I've just outlined, breaking up probably *is* the right thing."
"That's your head, not your heart, talking." She placed a hand on her stomach. "It's what feels right in here that's important. Two unhappy, unfulfilled people could be just as bad for the team as the worst case scenario that comes of managing the situation as it stands now. Think about it. How committed *are* you to this relationship?"
I knew this was a rhetorical question, but I answered anyway. "Josh means everything to me."
"So you're just going to throw it all away? After all you've been through? Does your boyfriend know about this?"
Your boyfriend. That sounded so strange coming from CJ. But not strange in an embarrassing or weird way. My boyfriend. I had never called Josh that before. It was only a word - quite a juvenile word, I thought, for two grown men - but I liked the natural way CJ used it. She wasn't mocking our relationship, it was as if she was validating it.
"When Josh and I left the hotel today, we were so sure, you know? We knew it was going to be difficult, but it was worth fighting for, even if we ultimately failed. Then the thing in his room, it was stupid and self-indulgent. I don't know why we did it - we'd spent the whole afternoon together."
"I think you deserve to indulge yourselves, just make sure you're a little more careful in the future."
"You think we've got a future?" I asked, feeling a little more hopeful. Just talking things through with CJ was helping.
"That's up to you and Josh. Look, how bad can it get? You've come up with a list of hypotheticals without really exploring what choices you've got. What would be a good outcome for you?"
"In an ideal world, we would be out, keep our jobs with our supporters and opponents alike accepting that we were two senior staffers who happened to be in a same sex relationship. Oh, and world peace would break out. Realistically - I'd like us to tell Leo and Toby and find some way Josh and I could be together that would cause the least damage to the administration."
"Yeah - after all, the worst they could do would be to kill you both." She flinched. "Sorry, bad joke."
"Why do people do that?"
"Become over-sensitive when they're around certain people. Don't do it to Josh. He hates the idea of anyone treating him differently. He's still the same infuriating person who can be a real pain in the ass."
"Good. I miss my sparring partner." She stood up, picking up the file she had left on the table. "When all's said and done, you're an idealist, Josh is a pragmatist - with a combination like that you'll find your way through. With a few fights along the way, I'm sure."
I moved round the table and stood next to her.
"Claudia Jean, you've missed your vocation. You should be writing an advice column. Thanks." It sounded so inadequate.
"Glad to be of service. Don't forget, we're meeting with Leo in fifteen minutes."
As we walked out of the mess, I said, "I think I know what I want to do, but I'll need to speak to Josh first."
"Just let me know when you're going to tell Leo and Toby - I'd pay money to see their faces." So she had guessed my intention.
"You bet," I said.
When I walked into my office after leaving CJ, the telephone was ringing. "Sam Seaborn."
"I thought you were going to call me."
"I'm sorry, Josh, it's gotten so late I thought it was too late to disturb you. It's been crazy here since I got back."
"I've seen Julie - she told me she'd spoken to you."
"Yes - everything seems to be fine." Josh would appreciate why I wasn't being any more specific - this wasn't a secure line.
"Yeah - she knows you're not so scary now."
"Come on, Sam, you know how you are when you act like a lawyer. Most of the times she's seen you in the hospital you've looked like the wrath of God."
"So sometimes I look serious - it's hardly been a laugh a minute recently."
"Do you know how intimidating you look when you're worried?"
I decided to let that pass. "Well, she obviously holds you in high regard."
"I like to think we've become friends." I could almost detect the smirk as he said it. What really annoyed me was the twinge of jealousy I felt and the suspicion that Josh was teasing me. "Anyway, like I said, *when* you decided to relax a little and actually talked to her, she realised what a nice guy you can be."
I walked round my desk and sat down, picking up a paperweight and hefting it in my hand. "As long as you're happy with the situation, I am." I was playing for time, trying to decide whether to let Josh know about my conversation with CJ.
"I think we should talk about it tomorrow." All of a sudden, he abruptly changed the subject. "Hey, while I was waiting for your non-existent call, I was reading an article in Science magazine. Do you know how much space junk there is floating around?"
"No, but I've got a feeling you're going to tell me anyway." Josh's choice of reading had gotten a lot more eclectic since he'd been in hospital, and we'd all grown accustomed to his mini-lectures on any subject from astronomy to zoology. Thankful for some thinking time for my current dilemma, I let him ramble on uninterrupted. I didn't want to risk going into any detail on the phone, and if I were to simply let him know that there was something else to discuss, it would just worry him. Anyway, my instinct was to discuss it in person, rather than over the phone.
"Yeah?" I said absently, sliding my fingers over the smooth glass of the paperweight.
"Are you still there?"
"Yes...err...that's really interesting."
"You haven't been listening to a word I've said, have you?"
"I'm sorry, really I am. It's just I've got a meeting with Leo to go to. You know how it is."
"Sure I do." He sounded reassuring.
"I'll see you tomorrow. Get a good night's rest."
"Okay. You *will* come to see me tomorrow, won't you?"
"Of course. Goodnight, Josh." I heard the click of the phone being put down at the other end. It hadn't been the most satisfactory of conversations, in fact it had been mostly one-sided. Having to keep the tone and content as neutral as possible didn't help. Still, I'd go see Josh tomorrow when we could at least talk more freely. I moved over to the window and looked out into the night. The sky was clear. The rain had stopped and a full moon was shining. I thought of Josh lying in his bed, hoping that he could look out and see the moon too. It was oddly comforting to think he could see some of what I was seeing. Maybe he was lying there imagining all the space junk flying around. I started to feel more hopeful - tomorrow we could make some decisions. I turned away from the window and prepared to go to my meeting.
It was a full twelve hours later. I'd managed to get home to grab a few - a very few - hours sleep, and now I'd been sitting drafting a statement for the better part of two hours. I had told Toby that I would have the finished draft to him by noon, so I had shut my door to make sure no one would wander in and disturb me. That didn't stop me being aware of a commotion going on outside. Looking up I saw Margaret, Bonnie and Ginger walking towards the entrance to the bullpen, all talking at once. I didn't want any distractions, so I walked over, shut the blinds, then returned to my work. Ten minutes went by while I was cloistered in my office, oblivious to anything that was going on outside. A knock on the door interrupted my peace. I finished the sentence I was typing, then shouted "Yes?" in a less than patient voice. The door opened and Donna stuck her head around.
"Sam, I've got a visitor for you."
My first thought was why would Donna be announcing my visitor? My second thought was that I wasn't expecting anyone today. Before I could say anything else, she disappeared, the door was pushed open, and there, framed in the doorway, was Josh. That explained the earlier fuss that had disturbed me. I stood up, my heart doing a back flip as I tried not to betray my true feelings in front of Donna.
"Josh - what a surprise." Pathetic. I tried again. "This is great - come on in."
Josh pushed himself into my office.
"Thanks for everything, Donna," he said, twisting round to look at his assistant.
"Your welcome - just give me a call when you want a ride back to the hospital." She shut the door behind her, leaving us alone.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"That's not much of a welcome."
I walked round from behind my desk, thankful that the door and blinds were closed. Glancing through the glass partition that separated our offices to check Toby wasn't there, I bent down and we kissed, Josh making a small sound in his throat and reaching up to put his arm round my neck. He clung to me in a way that felt almost desperate, and he murmured, "Sam, what's happening?"
I knelt down, holding him close. "Hey...hey...what's all this about?" I asked.
"You tell me. I know you're holding out on me - I could tell when I called you last night."
It was now or never. I pulled back so I could look Josh in the face. He was horribly pale and his eyes had dark circles under them from lack of sleep. I stroked his face as I spoke.
"There's been a development. CJ knows about us." Josh didn't speak. A siren sounded a few blocks away. A group of people walked past my office - I heard voices followed by a burst of laughter. Josh threw his head back and covered his eyes with his hands.
"Oh God...oh God." There was a little catch in his voice, then he coughed. "I'm so relieved."
"You are?" This wasn't the reaction I had expected.
He sat up straight and took hold of my hands. "I thought you'd changed your mind."
"Us, stupid. That would have been...unbearable."
"Christ, I'm sorry, babe. I wanted us to discuss it face to face, and it would have been risky to tell you about it over the phone. I feel terrible that I've put you through so much."
"Don't - I don't care now, as long as we're okay. Now that CJ knows, it takes it out of our hands, doesn't it?"
"Not really. She won't say anything - she's leaving it to us to decide what we want to do. Oh, Josh, she was so great about it, really supportive. She'd guessed there was something between us. She asked me, I didn't volunteer the information, but I was in such a state, I needed to talk. I'm sorry we couldn't talk to her together."
"As usual I wasn't even thinking of how you were feeling. All I could think about was myself," Josh said, tightening his grip on my hand. "I want us to do something now."
I didn't answer him immediately. We seemed to have reached a watershed, but I was worried about his emotional state. I didn't want us to make any hasty decisions that we both might regret later.
"What's that expression? Seize the day? That's what I want to do. I want us to see Leo and Toby now and tell them."
"You know what the worst case scenario could be?"
"Sam, if the last few months have taught me anything, it's to realise what my priorities are. Yes, for most of my life my career has been the most important thing to me. But does it always have to be? If I have to, yes, I'll resign. But I'll never, *ever*, hold you to it if that's not what you want. But if we can't be together, I'll resign anyway. I can't imagine working here knowing that we couldn't be any more than friends and colleagues."
He really must love me, I thought, to even contemplate giving up everything that was so important to him. Why did it have to be like this? Life was so unfair, why couldn't we just be together like anyone else? What Josh was asking me to do was like feeling solid ground suddenly shifting under me. What had always been safe and secure was suddenly unpredictable and hazardous. But he was right. Do it now. What was the point in waiting? I thought back to my conversation with CJ.
"CJ seemed to think that it might not come to resigning. Obviously, we don't know how Leo and Toby will react, but she seemed to think we may have other options."
"Yeah, but don't forget we've not even considered how the President might feel. He may have other ideas."
"Oh, him," I grinned. "Tell you what - let's just concentrate on tackling Leo and Toby first. Shall I go and see if they can spare us a few minutes?"
Josh gave me a shaky smile. "Do it now, before I change my mind."
I reached out and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Don't go away."
Thirty minutes later we were in Leo's office. Josh sat in front of the desk, while I stood a few feet away from him on his right side. Toby occupied a chair to the left. From the look on his and Leo's faces I could tell they had no idea what was about to happen.
"What's going on?" asked Leo. "And, by the way, Josh, you look like shit. Should you even be here?"
"It was a spur of the moment thing," Josh replied. Now that the moment had arrived, neither of us seemed to know how to start.
"Well, why don't you just cut to the chase and tell us what's so important that you had to come here today and disturb everybody." Leo liked to give the impression he was irascible, but I knew that it often masked his concerns for his staff. But his patience wasn't unlimited and I knew we couldn't vacillate any longer. For once in his life, Josh appeared to have been struck dumb. I cleared my throat.
"Leo, Josh and I have a situation we need to tell you and Toby about."
"There isn't an easy way to say this...Josh and I are in a relationship...that is, we're more than friends..." My voice trailed off indecisively.
"Are you saying what I *think* you're saying?" Leo asked incredulously. Toby, who had previously been slouching back in his chair, shot to his feet, and was now pacing the room, rubbing his forehead. I knew that gesture - it's the one he uses when he wants to rant at somebody but he's holding back.
I stole a glance at Josh. He had a closed look on his face. I could see a muscle in his jaw twitching as he tried to keep himself under control. I continued speaking for both of us.
"Josh and I are together, and we want it to stay that way."
"Can I ask how long this has been going on?" asked Toby softly.
"About two years." I looked down at the floor, feeling for all the world like a naughty schoolboy.
"And you didn't think to tell us before now?" Toby's voice started to rise and I took an involuntary step back. "Does anyone else know?"
I knew this would happen. I didn't want to lie, but I didn't want to drag CJ into it. And at the thought of Julie I went cold. My hesitation was enough for Toby to pounce. "Who else knows?" he barked.
"Calm down, Toby. This isn't doing anyone any good." Leo looked at Josh anxiously. "You all right?"
Throughout all this, Josh hadn't said a word. The only indication of how he was feeling was the way he was clasping his hands and nervously twisting his fingers. He nodded slightly before casting a worried look in my direction. I moved over to stand behind him, placing my hands protectively on his shoulders. I could feel the tension in him. At that moment all I wanted to do was take him out of this room to keep him safe, away from these two powerful men who had it within their power to harm him. But I couldn't do that - we'd started something and we had to see through to the end, no matter how it turned out.
Josh seemed to have retreated into himself again. I didn't like the way the conversation was going, as I felt we were being backed into a corner. However, I couldn't hold off giving Toby the information he asked for. After all, he was my boss, he was entitled to ask the question and expect an answer.
"CJ knows. I didn't volunteer the information, she guessed. Last night was the first time we discussed it." My mind was in turmoil. Could I avoid telling them about Julie? We might just be home free if they thought CJ was the only one who knew - someone who was "inside", as it were. But Toby was more perceptive than that. He gave me a searching look, and his next words indicated the conclusions he was also drawing from Josh's behaviour.
"There's more, isn't there?"
I knew I couldn't dissemble any longer. "There's a nurse who saw us together for a few seconds when she walked into Josh's room."
"How could you be so stupid? Both of you. Josh, you must know more than anybody how little privacy you can have in hospital. Couldn't you exercise some self control?" Toby yelled.
I couldn't take anymore. "Toby, don't talk to Josh like that," I said as evenly as I could.
"And give me one good reason why I shouldn't?"
I only got as far as, "Because he's been through -"
"That's it!" Josh snapped, suddenly coming out of the fugue-like state he had been in. He pushed himself away from me. "Just talk about me like I'm not here, why don't you? Sam, you can't fight all my battles for me. And yes, Toby *can* talk to me like that - at least he's not patronising me, or making allowances for me. I know we should offer our resignations. Accept mine, but please, *please* , don't let Sam go. I'm realistic enough to know that you might decide I can't hack it now as Deputy Chief of Staff, but Sam's too valuable to lose. You can't let him throw his career away. Yes, the nurse saw us together in my room. It was my fault, I kissed Sam, I initiated it. I didn't hear her knock on my door. But it *was* only a matter of seconds, and we've fixed it."
I was stunned. It was like watching a new person - no, that's not right, it was the real Josh back in that room, animated, gesturing with his hands the way he always did when he was excited or enthused. I had never been more proud of him or had loved him as much as I did then. He moved over to my side and placed his hand on my arm. That small gesture said more to me than any words could have done. "Sam's my partner, and if that's what it takes, I resign, as of now."
Nobody spoke for what seemed like hours, but was actually only a few seconds.
"Josh, don't. You don't have to make any sacrifices." I wanted to lean down and hug him, but I knew how *that* would be received. Leo and Toby looked uncomfortable enough at the slight physical contact we had already demonstrated.
Leo spoke in an exaggeratedly quiet fashion as he struggled not to raise his voice to make his next point.
"*Nobody's* making any sacrifices, and *nobody's* resigning. Toby?"
"I don't want to accept any resignations, but I think we need to consider very carefully how we manage this. Also, I want to know exactly how you've 'fixed' the situation at the hospital and whether we need to do any more damage control. "
"I understand what you're saying, but believe me, I know the person involved pretty well now. Sam's spoken to her as well, and he's convinced, yeah?" Josh looked at me and raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"Josh is right - she appeared to me as a very honest person who genuinely cares for her patient. She takes her professional responsibilities very seriously," I said.
"I don't think I've lost my judgement over the last six months. You're going to have to trust me on this," said Josh.
It was at this point that Leo decided to exercise his authority as Chief of Staff. "Josh, I *do* trust your judgement - hell, you should know that. What I can't do is take any risks. This is a new situation for us, so while I'm saying yes, I respect your assessment of this third party, we still need to satisfy ourselves that nothing else will come of it. We'll take it carefully, we won't come on too heavy unless we have to. You understand?"
Josh shrugged his shoulders. "I don't have much choice - you have to do what you have to do. But where does that leave Sam and me?"
"Well, first of all, the President has to know. I'd appreciate it if we could keep this amongst ourselves until I've done that. You know what I'm saying - be discreet."
"Shouldn't we be the ones to talk to him?" I asked.
"I'd rather pave the way first," Leo replied.
"But what do we do after that?" Josh asked. Now he had the bit between his teeth, he was impatient to know what sort of status our relationship would enjoy.
"I can't answer that question now. You'll just have to be patient - I can't see the President until this evening at the earliest. But understand this - there'll be no resignations. I accept you're in a relationship, but what I can't tell you at this point is how open that can be."
So that was that. None of us seemed to know how to close the meeting until Josh said, "Sam, I need to speak with Leo alone, if that's okay? Leo, you can spare me a few more minutes?"
"Sure. Sam, Toby - I'll catch up with you later."
As I left the room with Toby, he said, "Sam, I need to speak with you now." My heart sank, envisaging another difficult meeting. Once we were in his office, he shut the door, saying, "That was hard for you in there. I want you to know that I wished you'd felt able to tell me about this earlier, but now that you have, I'll support you, whatever the next course of action is." As a boss, Toby wasn't a fully paid up people person, so I knew these words were the genuine article. "But what I really wanted to see you about was that briefing paper you prepared on the use of technology in agriculture - what the hell were you trying to say about GM crops?"
An hour later I was again immersed in my work. I looked up when I heard the tap on my open door.
"Will you come with me to my office, Sam?" Josh asked.
I followed him out and turned right towards his office.
"I'm still Deputy Chief of Staff," he said as I walked alongside him.
"Yeah...so what's new?"
"Well, I had some doubts about it."
"Why? They couldn't say you weren't capable of doing the job just because you're paralysed." There - I'd finally used the word that I'd been avoiding because it sounded so final, an acknowledgement of Josh's prognosis. "You could sue the government for discrimination."
"Technically, I know you're right. But it's the practicalities of doing the job. Like I'm accustomed to running up to the Hill or flying out of DC at a minute's notice. That won't be so easy now."
"I take it Leo didn't see it as a problem."
"Apart from tackling the obvious things like access into and around the White House, he's suggested hiring another assistant to help me with some of the practicalities like getting from one place to another. I'll have my car adapted, of course, and I'm planning on getting fit so I can be as mobile as possible on my own, but it'll be useful having someone else there when I need some extra help."
"Sounds good to me. What do you need from your office?"
"Leo wants me to see what adjustments need to be made to it." Josh went quiet as we stopped outside the door.
"Wait a moment," I said, walking over to Donna's desk. "Donna, Josh and I are going to check out his office for access and stuff like that - can you make sure we're not disturbed?"
"Sure," she said, casting a sympathetic look in his direction. You're going to have to get out of that habit, I thought. Fortunately, Josh was turned away from her. I stepped back over to him and he leaned forward and opened the door.
Apart from the fact that Donna had moved some files that were part of his work in progress that had been passed out to other people for completion, the room was almost as Josh had left it six months before. Lying on the desk was a notepad bearing some random jottings, with a pen lying by its side, a yearbook for the members of Congress, even a New York Mets coffee mug that I'd bought him on his last birthday. The chalkboard on the wall was covered in his indecipherable notation and tally marks, whilst his backpack lay in the corner where he'd carelessly dropped it the last time he was in the West Wing. It was as if Donna had left the room as a hostage to fortune, awaiting Josh's return.
"They've repaired my chair." This seemingly inconsequential information referred to the last thing he'd spoken to Donna about before leaving for Rosslyn. Moving into the room, Josh positioned himself sideways in front of his desk and ran his finger along its edge. "This'll need to be moved - I can't manoeuvre behind it in this position," he said. I shut the door and leaned against it, not wanting to disturb his thoughts. He propped his elbow on the desk and, leaning his chin on his hand, looked pensively around the room. Now that we had started the process of bringing things out into the open, it was as if we were both shy and unsure of what to do next. After a few minutes of this, I pulled up a chair so that I sat directly in front of him. I leaned over and placed a hand on his knee, thankful that the gesture didn't give me the same sickening jolt that I had first experienced yesterday in the hotel. I took this as a sign of acceptance on my part that no part of Josh was off-limits to me unless it caused him distress. He evidently felt the same, as he covered my hand with his. We just sat quietly like that for a while.
"So," I said eventually.
"We did it."
"Yeah - scary, wasn't it?" Josh was smiling now.
"Not for you - bravest person I've ever known."
Josh's smile vanished. "Sam, I know you don't use words lightly. You always mean what you say, you don't flatter people. But never, *ever*, use a word like brave to describe me. I got shot, I can't walk, I'm just trying to get my life back together again. Some of my personal needs and work needs are different, but I'll - we'll - just have to find solutions. In the past few months I've met a lot of people with far worse problems than mine. Society often describes people with disabilities as either victims or courageous fighters. We're neither - we're just getting on with life. What we *do* need is practical support and changes in attitudes so we can live, love, work, whatever." Josh stroked my hand with his thumb, which somehow indicated that his words weren't intended to be hurtful. Nevertheless, the truth in them struck home.
"Josh, can I ask you something?"
"Anything - you don't have to ask."
"What you just said about attitudes. When we were in Leo's office you said Toby didn't patronise you." I stopped, choosing my words carefully. "Did you mean *I* patronise you?"
"No...hell, no. I only meant he was treating me exactly the same as he'd always done. But some people are more careful around me now. It's not their fault - they just don't know how to react. More to the point, they're scared how I'll react. It's easier in the hospital - people see me in those surroundings, they can act like I'm just sick, that everything will eventually be the same as it's always been. Coming here today shows them that things are never going to be the same."
"But today you're coping with that so well. There were times yesterday when you were so down, so angry and sad, that I was really frightened."
"Well, that's what my therapist would call trauma transition, going through all the emotions connected with change. You go through stages like denial and anger, until you start to adjust and you start to learn to live with it. Then if you're lucky, you accept your situation, and start to let go of some of those emotions."
"And where are you at, Josh?"
"Just moving into adjustment, I hope, although that does mean some of the negative stuff still comes back. It's what I call having good days and bad days - sometimes the good and the bad feelings happen all in one day. That's what happened yesterday."
"And today?" I asked.
"Oh, it's definitely a good day now."
"Want me to make it even better?" I asked. I moved my chair so that we sat side by side, which enabled me to put my arm around him. I kissed his cheek.
"Sam, Leo said we should be discreet."
"I think this *is* discreet - he didn't spell out what *he* meant by discreet."
"I don't think he meant this."
"Well *I* think he meant no public displays of affection or demonstrations in front of young, impressionable nurses. Anyway," I said, punctuating my words with light kisses on Josh's face," I told...Donna...not to...disturb us." I began stroking his neck.
"Sam...we shouldn't do this...we shouldn't..." I moved my fingers to caress him behind his ear. "Oh, God, Sam...yes, we should..."
As I kissed him on the lips, Josh's mouth opened to welcome me inside. I cradled his face in my hands, feeling weak with desire and longing. We both knew we couldn't take this much further, and eventually Josh was the one to break the kiss. He put his arms around me and held me tight.
"Come on, Sam, you know we've got to stop. We're going to do lots of this in future. Today's just not the best time." Giving me a final squeeze, he pulled away from me. "And now I'm going to write a list of all the things I need for when I come back to work."
"Can I get you anything?" I asked, keen for something else to do. I also wanted an excuse to stay with Josh.
"You could get me something to drink - just some water."
When I returned, Josh was busy writing his list. I stood behind him, placing the glass in front of him. I could see some of the items he'd written: car parking space needs to be widened, desk needs moving, check men's room for access. I left him to it and sat down quietly on the other side of the room.
A few minutes later the phone rang. Josh stopped writing and picked it up.
"Josh Lyman. Yeah, Donna, put them through. Josh Lyman speaking. Yes... no, I didn't. Uh-huh. Yeah. Okay."
He put down the receiver and carried on writing. I was curious. As far as I was aware no-one knew he was here today.
"Who was that?"
"So you just had a conversation with yourself?"
He sighed. "It was the hospital."
It struck me as odd that they would be ringing Josh here. "What did they want?"
"So now somebody *did* ring you up but it was about nothing?"
He gave me a sideways look. "Why the third degree, Sam?"
It suddenly dawned on me what had happened. "They were checking to see if you were here, weren't they?"
"Might have been."
I got up and stood behind him.
"What?" he said in a loud voice, flinging his pen down on the desk.
"You left the hospital without telling anyone where you were going, didn't you?"
"So what if I did? I'm an adult, and the last time I looked this was still a free country."
"Yes, but while you're staying in the hospital they're responsible for your welfare. How did you manage to leave without anyone seeing you?"
"They're always really busy mid-morning. There was no one at the nurses' station or anywhere in the corridor. I didn't want to have to go into a full explanation of where I was going or why. I don't know why they do that - treat patients like children."
"They've got to cover their backs - what if you'd felt unwell and they didn't know where you were?"
Josh smiled sardonically. "Think about it, Sam. If I got ill, it wouldn't matter if they didn't know where *I* was as long as *I* knew where *they* were." I couldn't argue with his logic. Suddenly this conversation was turning into a full scale argument, with me convinced of the sense of what I was saying and Josh getting more exasperated with it.
He carried on, "For God's sake, I'm not ill. I have a disability - that's not the same thing as being ill. Anyway, I was with Donna and then..." He suddenly realised what he had said.
"Of course. Why didn't I guess? She came to see you and you persuaded her to bring you here. Honestly, Josh, you're so irresponsible - the nursing staff have got more important things to do than run around trying to find patients who go AWOL."
"I don't think I'm any more irresponsible than people who get me to make out in my office when my boss has given me strict instructions to the contrary."
That floored me for a second. "Yes, but that was for therapeutic reasons. You look much better now - you looked like death warmed up when you got here this morning."
Josh opened his mouth to let fly with his next riposte, then suddenly started laughing. "Hey, we're having our first fight," he mocked. (Not strictly, true, of course, but it certainly felt like it in the light of our renewed intimacy of the last day or so.)
"It's not funny, Josh."
"Oh, but it is. You're saying that you suggested sex in my office as physical therapy? Nice spin. Come on, Sam - you *are* joking, aren't you?"
He opened the door and swung out of the room. And there I was thinking that I'd never see him strutting through the West Wing again. Forget it. This guy can strut even using a wheelchair. I suppressed the sexual frisson that surfaced even in the midst of my anger.
I followed him into the bullpen. "No. I mean it. And you shouldn't make light of your health. Only last night your blood pressure was up."
"130 over 87."
"As of 8:30 this morning, 130 systolic, 87 diastolic. Not perfect, but within the acceptable range. Although if you don't stop bugging me, it probably won't stay that way. Donna!"
"Some things don't change," I muttered to myself as he shouted to his assistant. I found myself raising my own voice. "If you think I'm letting your partner in crime take you back to the hospital, you're mistaken. God knows where the two of you will get to."
"Sam, you're being ridiculous. If I hadn't come here today, we wouldn't," he paused, suddenly aware of what he was saying. "...I mean, I wouldn't have been able to start planning coming back to work," he finished somewhat lamely.
That's when we realized how quiet it had become. I looked around and noticed people becoming intensely interested in the papers on their desks or finding an urgent need to be somewhere else. Donna was caught somewhere between her desk and Josh, obviously undecided as to where she should be.
A quiet voice at my shoulder gained my attention. "Guys, you might want to finish this somewhere more private." CJ stood there looking at us the way she did when keeping the press corps in order when at its most recalcitrant. "Go back into Josh's office and sort this out." She followed us in, closed the door and shook her head in disbelief.
"I don't know what that was all about, and I don't *want* to know. You're just fortunate Leo, Toby or - God forbid - the President wasn't there to see, not to mention hear, the two of you. Leo's told me how the situation stands now, so if you want to keep him and Toby on your side, I suggest you kiss and make up. And that was just a turn of phrase - under the circumstances I don't necessarily mean you to take it literally. You've already drawn enough attention to yourselves this morning."
She turned and walked out of the room. Man, she can be so frightening.
Josh held his hand out to touch me.
"Don't." I shook him off, moving away from him, my hands raised, palms outwards. As a rule, our relationship is very tactile. Right from the start we were always demonstrative with one another - in private, at least. But at this moment that was the last thing I wanted. I turned my back on him and moved behind the desk to stand looking out of the window.
"You know, you have me at a disadvantage while you stand there," Josh said.
I was all chewed up. I stood with my arms folded across my chest as if hugging all my emotions to me. There was anger at Josh, frustration with the impasse we had reached and guilt at what I was doing, knowing I was being unreasonable but deriving a perverse pleasure from it. There was a fight going on inside me because I, too, felt at a disadvantage. All I wanted to do was show Josh how much I cared for him, but all I did was get it wrong, and I didn't know why. This was uncharted territory for me. I'd always been so sure in this relationship. I didn't know what to do anymore.
"Well, I can wait here all day, but I rather suspect you can't afford the time." Josh's tone was steady. I didn't know how he was managing to stay so calm. It was quite an achievement.
I pressed my hand against my mouth and swallowed hard.
"Sam, I didn't mean to ridicule you."
I shut my eyes and wished I was anywhere but here. I couldn't understand how this situation had gotten so out of hand. Acting out one's frustration is momentarily satisfying, but it's a difficult place to move from with any degree of dignity. Or even maturity. But I was going to have to do something. So far, Josh had made all the moves. I opened my eyes and noticed that the sky had clouded over. A heavy rain was falling. I focused on a raindrop trickling down the pane and watched it as it gradually merged with several more. Funny how you notice such small details in the middle of something more significant. With an effort I left my comfort zone and moved around to lean against the edge of the desk so that I was nearer to Josh.
"I don't understand what's happening," I said. "Yesterday, we were so happy, and after the meeting this morning, I really felt things would eventually turn out right. But now..."
"Will you let me try to explain what I think is happening?" Josh asked.
"You might as well. I obviously haven't got the insight."
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Sarcasm, Sam? Well, it's an improvement on the silent treatment, I suppose. Listen, you're adjusting to things too. This has been a big change in your life as well, something you're having to come to terms with. What we've been doing today, the anger - that's partly down to me not looking at it from your point of view. All I could see was wanting to come here today to sort things out. Yes, I still think you're being a little over-protective, but I should try to understand how worried you are."
"I *do* worry," I said. "I know it feels like I'm smothering you, but you nearly died and I'll never forget how that felt. I want to make sure you stay safe and well."
"How about this? I know what I can and can't do at the minute, and honestly, I do listen to my doctors. Just cut me a little slack, okay? If I need to do something that seems a little risky, trust me. That's all I ask."
I started to relax a little and even managed a weak smile.
"So this is the way it will be? Like trial and error?"
"Yes, Sam, this is the way it will be. Because yesterday was fantastic, but it wasn't reality. That hotel room was like being in a vacuum, in our own little world. *This* -" he waved his arm around to indicate the room and the scene outside the window, "is reality. Good stuff, not so good stuff. But we make a good team - we always have."
I looked up at the ceiling, blinked a couple of times and brushed the back of my hand across my eyes. I heard Josh say, "Can I?" He had evidently taken my earlier rejection to heart, as I realized he was asking my permission before touching me. He put his hand on my arm, sliding it down and stopping to trace circles on the inner skin of my wrist. I laughed shakily.
"What?" asked Josh.
"It's just something CJ said about me being an idealist and you being a pragmatist, how it'll help us get through this, but we'll fight along the way."
"Fighting's normal - we're a couple. Anyway, it's your idealism that first attracted me to you in the first place. Oh, that and your gorgeous body, of course."
"But not Sam the spoilt brat," I said, referring to my earlier behaviour.
"Hmmm," Josh murmured, laying his head against my arm.
I bent down and kissed the top of his head. His hair felt soft and smelled of shampoo from his early morning shower. I remembered what CJ had said, but at the moment I couldn't have cared if the President had walked in accompanied by the Cabinet and the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff.
"Forgive me, babe?"
"What's to forgive?" he said. "And just to show you I still quite like you, why don't I take you out somewhere for a cup of coffee before you see me back to the hospital?"
I liked that, the idea of Josh taking *me* somewhere.
"That'll be great," I said.
Josh took my hand and squeezed it reassuringly. He made to move towards the door but I was loath to let go. He gently unclasped my hand from his.
"Sam, much as I'd like to, I don't think the rest of the White House staff are ready to see us holding hands yet."
I moved from my position next to his desk and opened the door. Out in the bullpen everything seemed to have returned to normal.
"I need to see Donna before we go," said Josh. He pushed himself over to her desk and handed her the list he had written for Leo. I heard him tell her that he needed to see her tomorrow and that Leo would let her know what papers and documents she should bring to the hospital.
"And make sure you leave here in good time to get to the hospital by ten," he shouted as we left the bullpen.
"How have I managed to function without you these last few months?" she shot back. It was good to hear them bantering again.
We made our way through the lobby, past the security staff and out to my car. Once we were settled inside it struck me that it was almost the same time as when I had picked up Josh at the hospital the day before. It felt like a lifetime ago.
As I fastened my seatbelt, Josh said, "I'm coming back to work in a month."
With an effort of will, I managed to stop myself asking him if he was sure that was a wise move. As if reading my thoughts, he said, "I spoke to my doctor from Leo's office. I'll be working three days a week to start with. I'll also need to find a new apartment." He paused. "I thought you'd like to help me with that."
"You bet." I wanted to hug him, but this was way too public, for now at least. Also, I was reluctant to show him how relieved I was that he was taking his return to work slowly. Instead, I concentrated on putting the key in the ignition and checking the driving mirror. Josh picked up on my diversionary tactics.
"Don't worry, Sam, we're going to be fine, I know it."
I turned to look at the man who had taught me so much in the past twenty-four hours. Josh's eyes were incredibly clear as they locked with mine. He gave me a questioning look, inviting me to comment. However, I experienced such a feeling of engagement that I knew any attempt to verbalise it would sound banal and sentimental.
"Josh, can I ask you something?"
"We've been through this, Sam - I've told you - anything."
"Where are you taking me for that coffee?" I asked.
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