Title: Much Ado About Something
Series: Wild Ride
Author: Beth
Category: Sam/Josh & my OFCs
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Big, big ones for "20 Hours in LA"
Feedback: Adored and enjoyed - elatshaw@earthlink.net
Archive: Sure - just tell me where. Oh, and at the request of a couple of folks I've set up a little thing, so everything is there: www.angelfire.com/ok5/eal/mainpage.html
Disclaimer: I'm not Sork - thank god. I cannot be held responsible for the nuttiness that's been happening in the "real world." I've simply borrowed his characters and put them to different use. I will return them none the worse for wear, unless they simply refuse to go. :) However, Kelly, Sarah, and Carrie are mine. Oh, and the title -- yeah, that would be a take off from Shakespeare. I doubt he'd care, but just in case.
Notes: I think everyone has an idea about what Sam was taking and why in "20 Hours in LA," this is mine. Gail has become a wonderful supporter and friend and I hope she enjoys this as much as she's meant to. Julian may have finally succeeded in teaching me the comma thing, but she still has to beat sense into my head occasionally. Many thanks, Stanley, for pointing out the gaps.

Much Ado About Something by Beth

2003

When Sam came in the office and was quieter than usual, no one really seemed to notice. When he didn't eat the sandwiches that the staff brought in, Josh raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. It was later, when they were in bed and Sam wasn't kissing him as enthusiastically as he expected that Josh knew there was more going on than a loss of appetite.

"Uh, Sam?"

"Mmmm?"

"Is, uh, something wrong?"

"Huh?"

"You don't seem interested," Josh said flatly.

Sam looked up and flashed a quick, tight smile. He knew he was going to be limited in what he what he'd be able to accomplish this evening. He hadn't had a moment alone to take his medication. He had been rationing since the accident anyway because Sarah had always treated this problem for him. He knew he needed medicine now, but he didn't know how he was going to slip it past his eagle-eyed lover.

Then he realized that didn't want to keep this from Josh anymore. Even with all the stress he had been under in the past year, he hadn't had a major flare-up. A bit of tension, but not a full-blown incident, as S had called them. In fact, since he and Josh had been together, he hadn't had an incident. He'd realized earlier that day though that his reprieve was over.

"It's not that," Sam said quietly.

"Then what is it?" Josh couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice.

"Do you remember that trip to LA?" Sam began.

"We've been on a lot of trips to LA, Sam," Josh said, even more annoyed than before. He and Sam had few opportunities to be alone together since Carrie had arrived on the scene, and this evening wasn't turning out the way he wanted it to. He'd planned meticulously for it - had promised Toby anything he wanted if he would take Carrie for the night.

"The trip when you saw me taking pills. Do you remember that one?"

"Yeah," Josh said, puzzled about how that would relate to Sam's lack of interest in him now.

"I lied then. It wasn't aspirin."

"And now you've decided to confess?" Josh was incredulous. "You don't think you're timing is a little bit off here?"

"No, Josh. Now, I've decided to explain." With that, Sam took a deep breath and took them both back to a time before they were together.

******* 2000

It had happened in the middle of lunch. Josh thought he had been imagining things, but then Toby had said something in passing later about seeing Sam take - something. They weren't sure what they were, but Sam had definitely taken a couple of pills. Josh was determined to catch up with Sam on the plane in order to find out what had been going on.

"Hey Sam," Josh said, as he grabbed hold of Sam's arm as he passed by Josh's seat. "You got a minute?"

Sam slumped down in the seat next to Josh and muttered, "Yeah, what do you need?"

"I was just wondering what was up today."

"Up?" Sam was puzzled by the question.

"Yeah, you took something at lunch today, and I was wondering if you're okay."

**Shit. I thought I was subtle.** "I'm fine, Josh. Really." Sam tried to hold the stare Josh was fixing him with, but he was afraid that Josh would read through and realize that there was something wrong.

"For some reason, I don't believe you. What were you taking?" Josh asked.

"Aspirin," Sam said defensively.

"So why are you being defensive about it?" Josh asked suspiciously.

"I had a headache. I took a couple of aspirin. It isn't a federal crime to take aspirin - or did I miss a memo?"

"No, you didn't miss anything. I just - it's not like you to do something like that where just *anyone* can see you."

"And by anyone, you mean Al Kiefer, of course," Sam said with a sigh. "I heard about the Joey thing - sorry it didn't work out for you."

"Yeah well, you know me and unattainable women."

Sam was actually relieved that it hadn't worked, but he was in no way going to admit that. However, he also wasn't quite up to sitting and listening to Josh moan about his women troubles either. "So, are we done here?"

Josh squinted at him for a second, and then said, "Yeah, I guess." As Sam walked away, Josh made a mental note, and then pulled out a post-it note, so he wouldn't forget.

*****The Next Night*******

Josh had waited a day before making his phone call. Partially out of courtesy, and partially because he wanted to see if Sam was acting strange or anything before he made the call. He grabbed his portable phone as soon as he changed clothes, anticipating that the call would make him want to pace. He dialed the familiar number and waited for someone to pick up on the other end.

"Hello?"

"Sarah? This is Josh."

"Josh?"

"Josh Lyman."

He could hear papers rustling in the background, and then she said distractedly, "I, um, who did you say you were again?" Sarah loved to play with Josh this way. It was just too easy.

"Josh Lyman. I'm a friend of Sam's and Kelly's, remember?" He had no idea what this woman did, but he hoped it didn't require her to remember anything, as she could never remember who he was from one time to the next. Sometimes it worried him that in ten years he had never gotten beyond a superficial conversation with the woman in Kelly's life. She never offered him any information, and somehow he had never found a decent strategy for getting anything out of her.

"Oh. Josh. How are you? And your lovely wife - how is she?"

"I'm not married, Sarah. I don't even have a lovely girlfriend." They went through this every time he called, and it was rare that he got to say he had a girlfriend. Anyway, it was getting seriously old.

"Oh I'm sorry, I must be confusing you with some other friend of theirs. And you called to talk to -" He was so easy to mess with it was almost unfair to do it to him.

"Kelly," Josh said with just a hint of impatience. "I called to talk to Kelly, Sarah. Just like I always do when I call there."

"Ah, I see. Sometimes Sam is here though, so you can see how I might get confused."

"But he's not there now - unless he's mastered some sort of light-speed transport that he hasn't told me about." Josh was wishing that Kelly would even once in a while answer the damned phone herself and spare him these ridiculous encounters with Sarah.

"Oh, I thought he might be around here someplace. I lose track of who's in residence sometimes." Sarah knew from Kelly that Josh thought they lived in a shack on a hill someplace in California - she almost felt sorry for him because he had no idea who he was dealing with in Kelly. "Let me see if Kelly is taking calls."

"Tell her it's important and it has to do with Sam." Josh knew that would get Kelly on the phone quickly even if his name alone wouldn't do it.

About a minute passed, and then he heard Kelly pick up an extension. "Josh! What's wrong with Sam?"

"I was hoping you could tell me."

"Uh, he's annoyingly geeky sometimes."

"What else you got?" Josh asked seriously.

"I'm getting the impression that something's wrong, Joshua. Tell me what it is, right now," Kelly demanded.

"He took some pills during a lunch, and he won't tell me what they were," Josh said, ignoring that Sam had said they were aspirin.

"He took pills? In public? Where people could see him?" Kelly questioned. He would have to be in a great deal of pain to do that, Kelly knew. She could have wondered why he hadn't said anything to her while he was in California, but she already knew the answer. She wouldn't have allowed him to leave, and that would raise too many questions. She realized, though, that he hadn't told Josh about his problem, and she certainly wasn't going to do it.

"Yeah. Right in front of Satan's cigarette boy, and then he tried to pretend that he hadn't done it."

"Hmmm," Kelly mused, and then said, "And he didn't tell you what they were?"

"He said they were aspirin."

"But you don't believe him," Kelly said, amusement evident in her voice.

"No, I don't," Josh sighed, seeing that he was getting nowhere with Kelly. "You're not going to help me with this, are you?"

"What can I help you with, Josh? He said it was aspirin, right? It's not like he's an addict and needs an intervention. I mean, it's aspirin, what am I supposed to do?"

"I know he's lying. You're supposed to care enough to find out what he's lying about and then fix it," Josh said, frustration evident.

"I see," Kelly said quietly. Even though Josh had known her for years, he still didn't recognize the warning signs. If he could, he would have known that the quiet always preceded a blow-up of epic proportion. Sarah had noticed the change in tone and was already moving the breakables out of Kelly's range.

"I guess I was wrong. I'll try to figure this out for myself," Josh said, unable to keep the sarcasm in check.

Kelly took a deep breath and hammered Josh. "He's my best friend, Josh, has been forever. Don't call me, all innocent and concerned and act like I don' t care about him. I know you, and I know what you're after here. Don't try that shit with me. This isn't about Sam, and you know it. Your overactive imagination is making something out of nothing, and I refuse to get sucked into it. I won't hurt him and I won't let you hurt him either."

Before Josh could get another word out, he realized that Kelly had hung up the phone. He sighed, "That could have gone better."

Sarah was shaking her head as Kelly stalked around the house. "And what did he want *this* time?"

"He seems to think that Sam's a drug addict."

Sarah arched an eyebrow. "Did he say that in so many words?"

"No," Kelly admitted. "He actually said that he saw Sam take something at a lunch of some sort, and that Sam told him they were aspirin."

Sarah took this in and then suggested, "You might want to call him, Kel."

"Did you check him out while he was here?" Kelly asked.

"Yeah," Sarah admitted. When she saw the flash in her lover's eyes, she held up her hands in mock self-defense. "Look, I had to go to the hotel because he literally couldn't get away. It's the only reason I saw him this trip, I swear."

"And the result of the exam was?"

"The usual. He denies it, but I can tell he's clenching his teeth when he gets irritated, and that's aggravating his jaw. He's got to be in a world of hurt by now. This is about the worst I've seen it in quite a while."

"Worse than the bar exam?" Sam had almost literally lived on milkshakes and pureed soup for a month before the exam because his jaw refused to open.

"Worse than the bar exam. He's in pretty rough shape, but he just doesn't learn. I've told him and told him how to manage his TMJ, but he always forgets when the crisis is over." Sarah watched Kel absorb her diagnosis, and then added, "Since I'm playing true confessions here, I should also tell you that I bumped into Ziegler on my way out."

Kelly laughed at that. "Probably a good thing you don't travel much with me then, isn't it?"

"No one in your world pays me any mind unless I'm with you, which is just fine by me," Sarah chuckled. "So, you are going to call him, aren't you?"

"Oh yeah, I just need to dig a little more first to find out who 'Satan's cigarette boy' is - why Josh is so worked up about this."

"Satan's cigarette boy?"

"That's what Josh called whoever it was. It'll take a couple of phone calls, but I'm sure I can figure it out. Then I'll call Sam, but Josh didn't need to know that."

"You are *so* stubborn sometimes." Sarah shook her head, but smiled to take any sting out of her words.

"Pots and kettles, Sar," Kelly said with a laugh, as she disappeared back into her studio to make her calls.

****Later that Night****

Sam was exhausted when he finally made it home that evening. He was causing himself a great deal of pain attempting to act as if nothing were wrong. Eating was difficult - downright impossible when the assistants got sandwiches on bagels, as they had today. He didn't think anyone had noticed, and right now he was anxious to take another couple of pills and go to sleep. He couldn't hide his annoyance when his phone rang and disrupted his plans.

"What?" He growled into the phone.

"Wow. I hope you don't greet people that way normally," Kelly said with a small laugh.

"No, I reserve that tone for obnoxious redheads. What's up, Kel?"

"I hear you were taking pills in front of Al Kiefer. Something you want to tell me?" She let the obnoxious comment pass - Sam only said things like that when he wasn't feeling well.

"How in god's name did you hear about that?"

"I have my ways."

"Josh," Sam said with a sigh. He should have known.

"Josh was one. He alerted me to the pills; he didn't, however, get the opportunity to tell me who you were with."

"You hung up on him again, didn't you?"

"There was some discussion first, but yes, I think you could safely say that I hung up on him." Kelly grinned at Sarah, who was shaking her head again. "Now about the pills."

"It was nothing." If Kelly didn't know that he'd seen Sarah, he certainly wasn't going to be the one to tell her.

"I already know that you saw Sar, Sam." It was as if she could read his mind sometimes. "You can stop protecting her."

"Okay, so yeah. I'm having a bit of trouble. Nothing major."

"Sarah wants to talk to you."

"Can I just talk to you? Please, Kel?"

Kelly relayed that information to Sarah, who had scribbled a couple of questions, which Kelly then asked, "Sarah would like to know how many pills you've taken and which ones. Specifically, she'd like to know how many you took at the lunch, and then how many you've had today."

"Anti-inflammatories every four hours; muscle relaxants less frequently, but to get through that lunch I, well, I doubled up the muscle relaxants. I know she's going to yell, but I was desperate."

Kelly understood what he meant and chose not to completely relay that back to Sarah, who was making shooing motions at Kelly. "Well, Sam. Looks like I 'll be on the next plane out."

"I'm fine, Kel. You don't need to fly out here."

"And I'll tell you the same thing I told Josh. I know you too well, Seaborn. You need a keeper sometimes, and this is one of those times," Kelly said with a sigh as she mentally revised her schedule for the next couple of weeks.

Sam knew when he was defeated. "So, do you need me to pick you up?"

"Nah, I'm going to be on the red-eye, probably tomorrow. There's no need for you to be out that late. I've got my key; I'll just let myself in. Just leave me a pillow - that's all I ask."

Sam started to laugh, but stopped with a soft moan because it hurt too much. "Sure, Kel."

"Oh, Sammy. I'll be there tomorrow, and it will get better soon. Promise." Kelly said as she hung up the phone. She walked straight into Sarah's arms and cried on her shoulder for a few minutes before she started making arrangements. It didn't matter how many times this happened, seeing or hearing Sam in pain broke her heart.

Sam studied the phone in his hand for a second. He knew she was right - Kelly was the only person who knew all the tricks to help him feel better. As he set the phone down, he began scribbling his list of things that he would need to pick up in the morning to make sure she was comfortable while she stayed with him. He knew she hated his place, but since she'd had an argument with Josh *again,* he doubted she would go there. He was shaken from his thoughts and his list making by someone pounding on his door. Damn, he'd really wanted to go to bed.

Sam peered through the peephole and saw Josh standing in the hallway. He opened the door and said sarcastically, "This is a surprise. What brings you here this evening, Josh?"

"I want to know what's going on and if I should be worrying."

Sam stared at him for a moment and then said, "Nah, you don't need to worry. Seriously, it was aspirin, Josh. You can't tell me that Kiefer doesn't give you a headache, too."

"Yeah, he does, but you don't see me palming aspirin in the middle of a meeting because of it."

"It was either that or my head was going to explode - I thought the aspirin was less dramatic, but if you'd rather, I'll remember that you'd prefer a bloody mess to a couple of aspirin."

Josh sighed dramatically. "Sam. You know that's not what I meant."

"No, actually, I don't." Sam paused as he weighed his alternatives and then said, "And I'd really like to thank you for the mess you made this evening."

"What mess?" Josh asked suspiciously.

"Don't call Kel about shit like this, Josh. If you're concerned, or if you have a problem with me, take it up with me. I don't like getting concerned phone calls from her."

Josh couldn't keep the relief from showing on his face. "So she did call you. I didn't think she would."

"How long have you known her, Josh? It has to be eight or nine years now. How can you not know that a call like the one you made tonight is going to upset her? How can you not know that?"

Josh shrugged. "I thought she would know what you were taking, and that she would tell me."

"When hell freezes over. When there's a woman president. When -" Sam broke off before he said 'when you realize that I love you' - it would have only made the evening worse than it was already shaping up to be.

"I get it. I won't do it again, okay?"

"Why do you do it, Josh?" Sam looked at him with curiosity.

"Do what?"

"Expect her to choose you."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"When you call her like this, it's about you. It really doesn't have much to do with me at all. When are you going to learn that, for her, it's about me? She won't join forces with you against me - it won't happen. Never. You make her angry when you try, and I just don't understand why you keep doing it."

"But I was trying to help."

"No, you were trying to get information about me from her. If there had been anything important there, you wouldn't have helped me with it. You wanted to protect the administration, or yourself, but it had very little to do with me."

"When did you get to be such a cynic?" This had to be the most un-Sam like thing Josh had ever heard him say.

"Am I right?"

"I -" Josh started but stopped when he realized that there was no good answer to Sam's question. At least, no answer that he thought Sam would want to hear.

Sam sighed. "Look, it's been a long couple of days, and I really need some rest - do you mind?"

Josh wasn't used to Sam being short with him or suspicious of his motives, but having accidentally unleashed Kelly on him this evening, Josh could understand Sam being a bit testier with him than usual. "Okay - see you tomorrow?"

"Sure," Sam said quietly as he let Josh out of the apartment.

****Late the next evening****

Sam heard the door to his apartment open and shut, but he didn't move from the bed. He had finally found a comfortable position, and he didn't want to lose it. He called out quietly, "Kel?"

She didn't respond right away, but he heard her making noises in the kitchen. The noise was sufficient to cause him alarm, so he eased out of bed to make sure he didn't need to put out a fire or something. "Uh, Kel - what the hell?"

"Sarah sent me with stuff. The rest will be arriving tomorrow - dry ice and Fed Ex - the only practical solution to this dilemma," Kelly said as she continued stacking containers of food in the refrigerator.

"Which dilemma?"

"The one who cooks hates to fly and doesn't have time to spend with you when you get into trouble, so you get stuck with the other one. Dry ice and Fed Ex solve the problem."

Sam nodded, and then gawked at the amount of food coming out of the suitcase. "S outdid herself, didn't she?"

"You know how she is, Sammy. She wants to make sure you eat - it's important."

"Did you get to pack anything other than food?" Sam watched her still unloading a suitcase into his fridge.

"My other suitcase is in the living room."

"And it has art supplies in it, doesn't it?"

"It might," Kel said with a grin. Sam did know her very well.

"You know where my stuff is - take what you need," Sam said, having already resigned himself to the fact that he would again be replacing his casual clothes when Kel left.

"You love me, Sam. Admit it," Kelly asserted with a giggle in her voice.

"You already know I love you; I have to admit nothing. Now, if you're finished here, can we get some sleep, please? I have another long day tomorrow."

"You need to take a couple of days off, sweetheart," Kelly said quietly.

"I can't do that. You can work your magic, but you'll have to do it around my schedule."

Kelly watched Sam for a minute from under her lashes as she considered whether to push or not. "Fine, Sam."

Sam expelled the breath he'd been holding - he could not believe it was that easy. "Oo-kay. Bed?"

"Sure." Kelly went back to the living room and then called to him, "Hey, Sammy. Where's my pillow? You promised."

Sam rolled his eyes as he followed her. "Could we just not have this argument this trip? I'm not going to let you sleep on the couch; you're not going to let me. You're going to end up in there anyway, so why don't you just come on already?"

Kelly shot him a wicked grin. "At least you don't have to worry about your current whatever getting jealous this time."

"Exactly. And yours knows better." Almost every lover Sam had ever had saw Kelly as a threat, but Sarah had never considered Sam a threat. She considered Sam, at best, a brother, or, at worst, an inconvenience. But Sam knew that she never doubted for a single second that Kelly was committed to her, or more significantly in this case, not interested in him.

"Indeed." Anytime this kind of thing came up - boats alone; one bed - two people; two-person tent camping - Kel reminded herself that she needed to do something especially nice for Sarah to thank her for trusting the two of them as much as she did.

****The Same Evening****

Sam hadn't avoided Josh, but he also hadn't been interested in talking to him much after their discussion the previous night. Josh was frustrated by the time he got home, but it had been made clear to him by the end of the day that he would not be welcome at Sam's that evening.

He knew the only way to fix this was to call Kelly, but he couldn't quite figure out what he was apologizing for. He finally picked up the phone and hoped a reason would come to him while they were talking.

"Hello?" Caller ID was a wonderful invention - even if Kelly wouldn't let her have it in the bedroom, Sarah liked having it in as much of the rest of the house as she could manage.

"Sarah, it's Josh. Is Kelly around?"

"Josh?"

"Oh for god's sake, Sarah. I called two days ago. You can't possibly have forgotten me in two days."

"Oh no, I know who you are. You're the ass who called, pissed her off, and left me to clean up the mess."

"I'm calling to apologize - can I talk to her, please?"

"No," Sarah said bluntly.

"Come on, Sarah. Just put her on the phone."

"She's not here. I'll give her the message; she'll call if she wants to. That's the best I can do."

Sarah hung up the phone before Josh could respond. He wouldn't have known what to say even if she had given him the opportunity to say something.

****A Week Later****

Kelly had set up what amounted to a mini-studio in Sam's living room. It was a good thing, because it seemed as if the crises never stopped in the Bartlet White House. She knew that Sam had been having a horrible day, and his last call had made it clear that he wasn't sure when or if he would be home. Kelly sighed as she studied the canvas she'd been working on - something wasn't right about it, but she couldn't figure out what.

Sam came in an hour later to find her still scrutinizing the canvas. As usual, she was completely absorbed in her work and didn't notice him until he was standing next to her looking at her painting.

"Sammy, you finally came home," she said with a small smile.

He nodded as he continued to study the canvas. "It seems a little off balance to me," he offered.

"No shit, Sam," she snorted. "I had that part a while ago. I'm just trying to decide how to fix it. I think I'm done for today, though."

He nodded, grabbed her brushes, and headed for the kitchen.

"Sam," Kelly said as she followed him into the kitchen. "Sam?" She leaned on the kitchen doorframe as she watched him cleaning her paintbrushes. "Sammy? This isn't high school."

"Huh?" Sam turned toward her.

"You don't have to wash my brushes anymore."

Sam half-grinned at her. "I know - but it gets you done faster."

And Kelly understood what he was after. "Hurts, huh?"

Sam sighed. She'd always read him faster than anyone else. "Yeah," he admitted. He studied the brushes for a minute and then added, "Josh may drop by tonight."

She had been pulling the cold pack out of the fridge when Sam admitted that there was pain, but she dropped it at his last remark. "I see," Kelly said coolly as she bent down to scoop up the pack.

"You still mad?" Sam asked warily as he set the brushes in a can to dry.

"I'm over it, but he's going to be pissed when he finds me here." Kelly offered Sam the cold pack and then grabbed his hand to drag him into the bedroom. "You change into something comfortable, and I'll heat something up for dinner."

"How about I change into something comfortable and then *I'll* heat up dinner?" Sam offered the alternative in order to prevent whatever disaster Kelly might be able to create with a microwave and a bowl of soup.

"I'm supposed to be taking care of you, remember?" Kelly chided.

"But I'd like my kitchen to stay in roughly the same condition it was when you got here."

"Okay, have it your way." Kelly sighed. "Remember, sweetheart, ice for about twenty minutes, then we'll eat, then do the heat thing. Sound good?"

Sam nodded and waited while Kelly slipped out of the room. He changed and then lay down on the bed and settled the cold pack into place against his jaw. A while later, He saw Kelly peek around the corner to make sure he was resting. "I'm fine, Mom. Stop worrying so much." Sam stifled his grin, knowing he would get her going with that one.

"Samuel, I'm many things, but I'm not your mother," Kelly fumed, but then noticed the twinkling in his eyes. "You know, I was going to offer a massage this evening, but now I'm thinking I have better things to do."

Shit. It had been a long day. He'd been doing battle with the First Lady's staff, and he really hated that. He had been looking forward to convincing Kelly to help ease the ache in his jaw, and maybe even get her to settle down enough to watch a movie or something. Of course, if Josh came over, Sam didn't hold out much hope that Kelly would stay settled, but maybe. His two best friends were both live wires. And as much as they adored each other, their personalities sometimes clashed. When that happened, they all ended up on edge. "Shouldn't have said that, sorry. I've had a hell of a day."

"It sounded like it," Kelly offered, wondering if he would say more or not.

"Can we just forget about it? Eat some dinner; watch a movie or something?" Sam asked hopefully.

Kelly nodded, and Sam got up to heat dinner. He had gotten the soup out of the fridge when they both heard the knock on the door. They looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Josh." Sam shrugged and headed for the door. He opened it to find Josh on the other side carrying beer and a bag of some kind of food - smelled like Chinese.

"Hey Sam - thought I'd bring dinner and beer so we can watch the game." Josh brushed past Sam and headed into the living room where he dropped the food and the beer on the coffee table. He made himself comfortable on the couch before he noticed the easel and the canvas. He looked at Sam with interest, "So Kel made you take up painting, too?"

Sam saw Kelly's eyes widen and then narrow. He was ready to go back to bed now or stick his head in the oven - Sylvia Plath might have had the right idea. He looked at Josh and sighed, "I'm not stupid enough to criticize her work in public, so no, I haven't had to take up painting as penance."

Josh let the penance crack blow past him and had started pulling containers out of bags and was gesturing at Sam with his chopsticks, "Aren't you going to have a seat and help me eat some of this?"

Sam just shook his head as he headed back to the kitchen to heat up his soup. He whispered to Kel on his way by, "He's got vegetable lo mein, and I think I saw kung po chicken, too."

Kelly grinned at Sam and wandered out to the living room. She flopped down on the couch next to Josh, who was intent on his game and hadn't even glanced up when she approached. "You willing to share with me instead?"

Josh had just taken a swig of beer when Kelly spoke and he choked on it when he heard her. She patted his back gently, and then not so much, when he couldn't seem to stop coughing. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Kel arched an eyebrow at him. "What is it with you guys? Never hello; never how are you. You know that California doesn't have closed borders, don't you? I *am* allowed to leave, and they don't even revoke my citizenship when I do."

'I mean - how long have you been here and why didn't Sam tell me?"

"A week; week and a half, maybe, I don't know. Sam?" Kelly looked over to Sam for some indication.

"A week and a half," Sam said leaning against a wall while he gingerly ate his soup. He set the spoon back into the bowl and let his eyes run over his two best friends. "Is there going to be a war in my living room, or is this going to be okay?"

"I'm fine," Kelly said calmly as she reached out and grabbed the container of vegetable lo mein. She grinned at Josh as she dug into the food.

Josh understood that whatever apology he may have needed to make was no longer necessary. "Fine here too." He grinned at Kel. "You going to share that?"

"I wasn't planning to." She smiled complacently as she looked at the television. "Um, why are we watching this?"

Sam continued to lean against the wall, eat his soup, and watch the two of them. Kel couldn't understand Josh's obsession with sports, and she loved to kid him about it. This was the way Sam wanted things to be - the three of them comfortable with each other and everyone happy. He finished his soup and left the room to put his bowl in the dishwasher. When he came back, Kelly motioned him into the room and indicated that he should sit on the floor in front of her. Once he settled in, Kelly started rubbing his shoulders and neck, subtly working over his jaw when Josh wasn't paying attention.

"So, do I get a back rub too?" Josh asked.

"Have I known you since you were three?" When Josh acknowledged that she hadn't, she said with a grin, "Then you know the answer. I'll suffer through sports for you, Josh, but I only do back rubs for Sam."

"Not even Sarah?" Josh asked incredulously.

"Not even Sarah," Kelly confirmed, and then added absently, "She has a massage chair, though." Kelly had purchased it for Sarah after a series of disagreements about Kelly's hands and backrubs. Sarah's point was valid - Kelly's work was utterly dependent on the health of her hands. Sarah would do anything to avoid having Kelly place additional stress on them - like suggesting the massage chair under the pretext that she wanted to be able to have a massage whenever she got in and not have to wake Kelly up to get it.

Josh thought about that for a bit, and then returned to his original question, "Why are you here, Kel?"

Kelly just shrugged and went back to rubbing Sam's shoulders. "Watch your game, Josh."

Josh did watch his game, but he also watched Kelly with Sam. He envied the closeness sometimes - the way she could touch him and no one questioned the appropriateness of it. When she finished rubbing Sam's shoulders, she patted him gently and then eased herself out from behind him. She wandered out of the room, leaving the guys to their sports. About an hour had passed when Kelly reappeared in the living room wearing one of Sam's Princeton alum shirts and a pair of pajama bottoms that were clearly too big for her. She glared pointedly at Josh.

"What?" Josh was, perhaps, a little drunk.

"Are you staying the night or are you leaving?" She came a little closer and studied him more carefully. "Never mind, I've answered my own question. You 're staying."

Sam held a hand out to her, "Tired, beautiful?"

"It's not that." Kelly helped lever Sam up off the floor. "You get up early, and he'll need to go home to get clothes and stuff."

"Good points. We'll see you in the morning, Josh."

"Uh, Sam. Are you planning to let him have a pillow or something?" Kelly asked, surprised at the lack of consideration Sam was giving Josh. "Or if you'd rather, I can sleep on the couch."

Josh was having trouble following the conversation, but he was reasonably clear on one point. "I thought -"

"You thought what, Josh?"

"I thought I understood --," Josh couldn't think his way through this thanks to his recent beer consumption.

Sam was staring at Josh - trying to follow his convoluted thoughts. "Kel, go on. Let me handle this."

"Sammy, you need to sleep."

"And I will; just let me handle this first." Sam was desperate to get Kelly out of the room before Josh finished a sentence. He had figured out where Josh was heading and he didn't want Kelly to get it or all hell would break loose.

Kelly fixed Sam with a look, which he knew meant he would be explaining later, but at least she was retreating to the bedroom now. "Good night, Josh."

"Night, Kel."

As soon as Kelly left the room, Sam turned on Josh. "Do you want to explain what you're thinking right now?"

"I didn't know you slept together. Does Sarah know about that?"

"One, I don't know why you'd care. Two, you've never bothered to get to know S, so I don't know why her feelings would matter to you. Three, I don't think you want Kel to figure out what you were attempting to ask. Drunk or not, she'll kick your ass all the way to LA for this one."

"But you're sleeping with her."

"Josh - get over it. We aren't doing anything but sleeping - never have. Haven't you ever slept with someone without doing anything?"

"Not voluntarily."

"I shouldn't have to explain this to you, but I will. I'm not her type, Josh. I never have been. She's not my type either. Sarah knows that and trusts it."

"She's a beautiful woman - how can you not want her?"

"I just don't. I can't put it more simply than that, Josh." Sam could see, drunk or not, he wasn't going to get through to Josh on this issue tonight. "Let's drop it. Get some sleep, and we'll see you in the morning."

Sam left Josh snuggling down into the couch - making it look reasonably comfortable. When he got to the bedroom, he found Kelly leaning back on the pillows she stacked against the headboard. She studied him carefully and waited.

"I'm going to get ready for bed. Is that okay, or do you want to do this now?" Sam asked.

"Just tell me it's fine, and I'll go to sleep," Kelly offered.

"I've heard that one before. I'll tell you it's fine. You won't believe me, and we'll spend the rest of the night dissecting the implications of Josh's assumptions. If you're going to insist on doing this - at least let me get the jackass who started it off my couch, so he can be sleepless, too."

"I mean it this time, Sam. Is he fine?"

"He can't understand why we aren't doing more than sleeping in here, but otherwise, yeah, he's fine."

"I suppose that's about as good as I can expect it to get, huh?"

"I'm thinking," Sam said as he headed into the bathroom. When he reappeared a few minutes later, he saw that Kelly had rearranged the pillows and was lying down. "Wow, you were serious. You're going to drop this?"

Kel gave him a sleepy grin. "It's what I planned to do. I'm here to keep you from stressing out, not to stress you out more. Did you remember to take your meds?"

Sam had almost gotten into bed, but he slid back out again to take his medicine. He could hear the soft sigh from his best friend, and when he came back in he looked at her and said, "I'm sorry."

"What are you sorry for this time, Sammy?"

"Not doing better with this. I know you want to go home."

"Stop worrying about it and go to sleep," Kelly said as she settled in and closed her eyes effectively cutting off the conversation.

***The Next Day***

Josh left Sam's place before anyone else was awake. He was sober, but he was still rolling his questions around in his head. He realized now that Kelly had effectively deflected his questions every time he asked them. She 'd have made a hell of a politician. It had never occurred to him that there might be more going on with Sam and Kelly than a really close friendship, but now he was convinced that there was even if they both denied it. He planned to corner Sam in his office today and find out why she was here and how long they'd been doing, well, whatever it was they were doing after he passed out.

"How long?"

Sam looked up at Josh who was standing in his office doorway staring at him. "How long what?"

"How long have you and Kel been doing it?"

"It?"

"Whatever you did last night after I fell asleep."

"I don't know - since we were little kids, I guess." Sam watched Josh's face convulse and he realized what Josh was thinking. "Oh god, we were *sleeping* Josh. Sleeping - that's it."

Josh gave Sam a look which clearly meant he wasn't buying what he was being told.

"Whatever, Sam. Now, she avoided my other question. Why is she here?"

"That's for her to say, not me. Do you have any actual business here, or are you just snooping?"

"I don't snoop. I gather information."

"Right. Go away." Sam went back to his notes and started typing - effectively dismissing Josh.

Josh left reluctantly. He clearly wasn't getting any more information from Sam, and he wasn't sure he was willing to go to Kel to get his information. Though to be precisely honest, he realized that she wouldn't give him anything that Sam didn't - except possibly a black eye. So maybe he had learned something during this experience.

***** 2003

Sam finished his tale and stared at Josh, waiting for some sort of response.

"So what happened?"

"What do you mean what happened?"

"You made it sound like telling me to go away was the end of the story, but it couldn't have been, could it?"

"It's anti-climactic from there. A few more days, and my jaw started to heal. Kel went home, and life as we know it returned to what passes for normal."

"So you've explained what you were doing then, but why are you explaining it now?"

"Because I'm having an incident, as S used to call them and that's why I didn't eat the sandwiches today, and why I was having trouble kissing you tonight. And, I don't have Kelly or Sarah to help me through."

"Okay, but you didn't tell me how they helped you, so I can help you now. What do I have to do?"

"I did tell you how they helped."

"Then I missed it."

"Cold packs; heating pads; massage; medicine; no-chew food; and, time. Oh, and trying to make me relax. You aren't good at the last one, but you can help me with the rest, I think."

Josh grinned at him. "Oh, I think I know a few things about helping you to relax too. Might not be Kelly approved, but I'd put my methods up against hers any day."

Sam rolled his eyes, but said, "Well, I guess I'll have to be the judge of that, won't I?"

Josh proceeded to demonstrate his own methodology, and Sam admitted afterwards that Josh did have an edge in the relaxation department.

Afterward, Josh sat quietly on the bed and watched Sam settle a heating pad on his jaw. He smoothed a hand over Sam's hair and pondered the story he'd been told. He was hesitant about asking, but he couldn't remember and he needed to know. "Sam?"

Sam turned gingerly toward Josh and replied, "Yeah?"

"I'm not even sure how to say this."

"How to say what?" Sam was truly puzzled about what was going on in Josh's head.

"Did I ever apologize for leaping to some rather radical conclusions about your relationship with Kelly?"

"No, you didn't."

"Then I should now." Josh stared at the floor for a minute, and then continued, "I should never have assumed anything about your relationship with Kelly. It was yours and it was special, and I was just being stupid and jealous.'

"Stupid and jealous?" Sam echoed, not sure if he had understood correctly.

"I thought you really didn't need me, in any capacity, because you had her."

"Huh?"

"She was always a better best friend to you than I was. And if you were sleeping with her, then I didn't have a chance there either."

Sam just stared at Josh, not sure what he should say. He couldn't actually deny anything that Josh had said, and yet he knew he should. The dilemma this presented played out on Sam's face.

"You don't have to say anything - I've learned a great deal since then about friendship and other things. I was just so sure that there was a thing between you, and I knew I couldn't compete with a bond that was thirty years in the making. I was willing to take what I could get, but I was still jealous as hell because I couldn't have what I wanted."

"And that's why it took so damned long for us to get together," Sam teased.

"It's not like you were busting out with the confessions either, love."

Sam shifted the heating pad and moved closer to Josh. "Let's just agree that we were both overly cautious, and it took one amazing woman to bring us together."

"Agreed." Josh leaned toward Sam and kissed him gently. "Does it hurt?"

Sam pulled Josh in and kissed him a little more aggressively. "Less and less all the time."

End

 


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