Title: New York State of Mind - West Wing/Sports Night crossover
Author: Nomi (gnomi@world.std.com)
Posted: 1/17/02
Archive: Sure, just tell me where
Codes: J/S, Dan/Casey
Rating: Nc-17
Warning: Spoilers possible for anything through "100,000 Airplanes."
Notes: Previous stories in this series can be found on my website at http://world.std.com/~gnomi/stories.html .

New York State of Mind by Nomi

Things were slow around the office, 'cause Congress was still in recess. _They_ get vacation from mid-December through mid-January. Us? We get Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Barring any last-minute, end-of-the-year crisis.

This year, actually, we'd had no crises arise, so Josh and I were able to take a real break. We did Christmas Eve in the residence, as has become traditional. Everyone was there - the President and Mrs. Bartlet, all three Bartlet daughters, Elizabeth's husband and Annie, and the whole senior staff. As is also traditional, Toby gave his yearly Christmas Rant, with Josh as backup, but the rest of us enjoyed a night of caroling and merriment. On Christmas Day, Josh and I spent the day at home, relaxing and recovering from the crazy schedule we've been keeping, and then on Wednesday, we went back to work.

At 10 AM on Boxing Day, Josh appeared in my office doorway brandishing a large envelope.

"I don't believe her. I just don't believe her," he said.

"Donna?" I guessed, choosing the "her" that Josh was least likely to believe what she'd done.

"No, my mom."

"What did she do now?" Josh's mom has a habit of sending little care packages to him. This wouldn't be a major problem if they contained traditional care package items such as wool socks or warm sweaters and scarves. But Mrs. Lyman has taken to sending Josh care packages that, while much more useful than socks, contain items that embarrass Josh, such as flavored lube. I usually find the packages funny; Josh thinks it's horrible that his mother takes an interest in what goes on in our bedroom.

So I couldn't fathom what Mrs. Lyman had sent this time. I hoped Josh would enlighten me.

"She sent _this_," he said emphatically, shoving the envelope at me.

I lifted the flap of the envelope and peered inside. In the envelope were what looked like a magazine and a business-sized envelope.

"Still confused, J. What did your mom send?" I handed Josh back the offending package.

"A check, a current Amtrak schedule, and a note."

"Trains to Florida? That's a very long trip, J."

"No, to New York. The note says 'I'll be in Connecticut for a couple days, and I'd love to see you. The check will cover round-trip tickets on the high-speed train to and from New York, so you'll have a lot of time to do some touring if you want.' She's got some sort of hidden agenda, I know it."

"J, relax. There's nothing nefarious about your mother wanting to see you. It's not often she comes north these days, so she probably figures she can kill two birds with one stone. And we've been discussing doing a vacation in New York. This way the transportation will be free."

"Yeah, but...my mom? You wanna go on vacation and visit with my _mom_?"

"Look," I said, taking the note back from Josh. "She says she'll be in Connecticut for New Year's Eve. Congress is off 'til January 23rd, so Leo will probably be OK with us taking a couple of days off, as long as we follow standard vacation procedures." In the past, this has meant cell phones and pagers come with us and are on at all times.

"That's reasonable," Josh said, and I could tell he was beginning to think about this trip more positively. "And I have some old friends in New York I'd love for you to finally meet."

By "old friends," I assumed Josh meant past lovers, but that didn't really bother me. I knew that Josh had some random flings over the years - nothing serious, he's assured me, but some longer term than others.

"Anyone interesting?" I asked, if just to prove to myself that I wasn't going to be jealous.

"Oh, random folks, friends from Yale and Harvard who have settled in New York, Casey..." Josh got a far-away look on his eyes for a minute, and - against my best intentions - I felt the jealousy building in me.

"Oh," I said, as neutrally as possible, "Casey. Of course."

But nothing got by Josh. "Love, relax. Casey and I were never really more than very good friends. You have nothing to worry about."

Josh's reassurances didn't really help - I was going to have to see Josh and Casey together before I could really determine if I felt threatened.

"Anyway, I'll just e-mail Casey and find out if there's a good time for him to come and see us. I really want you to meet him, love." Josh blew me a kiss and scurried out of my office. Not five minutes later, I had new e-mail.

To: casey @csc.com

From: jlyman @whitehouse.gov

Subject: guess what?

CC: sseaborn @whitehouse.gov

case -

comin' to nyc, would love to see you. have someone you should meet.

all best,

jl

A man of few words is Josh Lyman, it seems.

It wasn't long before I had new e-mail again, this time from the mysterious Casey:

To: jlyman @whitehouse.gov

From: casey @csc.com

Subject: Re: guess what?

CC: sseaborn @whitehouse.gov; danr @csc.com

Hey, Josh,

Wow - it's been forever since you ventured here with enough time to actually visit. I, too, have someone you have to meet. Let us know when you're coming in, and we can meet your train (you still hate to fly, right?). Any night before, say, 10:00 PM is workable for us.

Yours,

CM

P.S. Still haven't learned the intricacies of the shift key, have you?

P.P.S. Dana says "hi." Or, at least, I think that's what that squeal of joy meant when I mentioned your name.

***

And that's how it was for the rest of the day. We worked, what little there was to do, and periodically there was more e-mail from either Josh or Casey, setting up our visit to New York. I was still somewhat jealous, but every iteration of the e-mail reinforced Josh's statement that Casey was a close friend but nothing more. I wondered briefly who "Dana" was (and whether "Dana" was male or female), but I figured I'd find out eventually.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, Josh had figured out an itinerary. We'd leave for New York on the 30th and come back on the 4th. We'd have some time to visit with Josh's mom, some time to just play tourist around New York, and some time for Josh to introduce me to all the friends he had in the city. I was excited about going on a real vacation with Josh - not to have any big revelations, not to heal either physically or mentally, but just to go on vacation. At the same time, however, I was apprehensive about meeting all the people Josh wanted me to meet. And, to make matters worse, this was going to be the first time that I had seen Josh's mother since Josh's convalescence. There was going to be a lot riding on this trip, in my mind if not in Josh's.

The rest of that week went by in a flurry of activity - clearing all the vital work off our desks and onto the desks of our assistants, packing, making train reservations, making sure the dates worked for Josh's mom and everyone else. We'd fall into bed at night totally exhausted, as if we were working as hard as possible in order to justify taking time off. Leo and Toby had both signed off on our trip but made it clear that if something came up, we'd have to come right back to DC. I secretly hoped that something would come up, if only to keep me from making a fool of myself in front of Josh's old friends and lovers.

And that's what my biggest fear was - not losing Josh to his old lover, but not living up to Josh's expectations of me. I'm a well-educated, intelligent, some might say sexy, guy, but I don't know what Josh has told his friends about me. And no matter how many years have passed, there are times that I still see myself as that geeky language nerd that I was when I started college.

Josh told me not to worry - apparently, Casey's a language nerd, too. But Josh refused to tell me anything else about him, not even his last name. Josh said that he didn't want me looking Casey up on the Internet; something about making snap judgements.

So there we were in Union Station at 7:00 AM for an 8 AM train - Josh is a little bit anal about train schedules and getting the seat he wants, even on all-reserved trains. He prowled the terminal, looking at the Arrivals/Departures board as if it held state secrets.

"C'mon, J...they'll let us know which track we want as soon as they know."

"Love, you don't understand. There's a code they use over the loudspeakers to tell the Redcaps where the trains will be. If you hear those announcements, you can go to the track ahead of everyone else and board the train early." Josh continued his peripatetic circuit of the waiting area, checking each board in sequence, just in case some grain of information might be imparted unto him from the gods of Amtrak.

There was a mumble over the PA system, and Josh whirled to face me. "That's our train. Track 8. Let's go." Josh was already moving again, and I had to jog to keep up with him. Within just a few moments, we'd descended to the train and were settling into our seats.

"I'm _so_ looking forward to showing you around the city," Josh said to me.

"Uh..J? Lived there for longer than you did. Remember? You came and took me away from there?"

"You're right...so _you_ should show _me_ around, right?" Josh grinned.

I pondered this. There had been lots of planning around seeing Josh's friends and going places Josh wanted to take me, but I hadn't really thought about showing Josh around. I didn't have all that many friends in New York - I'd had business acquaintances, but no real friends in the city. I hadn't done most of the tourist things that people did while living in New York. I had been there as an up-and-coming lawyer, and that meant I'd had no time to do anything other than work. The only time I'd been to the theater was when we took a client to see a show. So I hadn't really lived the New York lifestyle.

"Earth to Sam..." Josh whispered in my ear.

"Sorry, J...I must've wandered off mentally for a minute." I picked up my book and tried to read as the train pulled out of the station, but I couldn't concentrate. My mind was caught on the idea of meeting Josh's mysterious Casey.

"J?" I asked as we pulled out of BWI station. "Tell me about Casey."

"Hm," Josh said. "Casey's complex. He was complex when I met him, and he's continued to be something of a mystery to me."

"How'd you meet?" I asked, half-afraid to find out the answer.

"We met in the weirdest way. It was the summer after my second year at Yale Law and I was interning at this firm in New York. It was this job that convinced me beyond all shadow of a doubt that I didn't want to do real law, by the way. I was living in New Haven and commuting back and forth by train every day. Casey was starting college that fall and was lurking around the Yale campus. One of my very rare early nights, I happened into an on-campus pub, and this kid starts up a conversation with me."

"Let me guess," I said. "You took him home with you, wooed him, wined and dined him, and he was your willing slave for the rest of his days."

"Boy, are you off, love," Josh said with a smile. "Casey went to college somewhere else, met a girl, got married, moved to Texas, moved eventually to New York, had a son, eventually got divorced..." Josh paused. "But we remained friends and remained in touch."

"So you never..." I ventured.

"Oh, no - we did. Once. Casey was in DC to cover...something, I don't remember even what, and he called me. This was before you and I got together, by the way, so you have nothing to worry about. We'd just gotten elected, and I was out of my mind with power but also with stress. Mandy and I were history, and you were still...you were still with Toby, but I didn't know that at the time. Anyway, Casey called me. He'd just gotten divorced, he was looking for comfort and release, and I gave it to him."

There had to be more to the story; I knew there had to be. But Josh wasn't going to tell me, and I wasn't going to push. He'd tell me in time, if he wanted to. Otherwise, maybe I could pry it out of Casey.

"Love?" Josh said a bit later, as we were pulling into Philadelphia.

"Yeah?"

"How do you want to play this?" Inexplicably, Josh sounded nervous.

"What do you mean? Play what?"

"This whole vacation - first of all, spending time with my mom. She knows about us, knows we're a couple, but I don't know how demonstrative you're willing to be around her."

"Whatever you think she can tolerate is fine with me," I said. I assumed Josh wouldn't try going down on me - or having me go down on him - in front of his mother, but things like suggestive comments or light petting would be fine. This was the first time we were going to be around Josh's mom for any extended time since becoming a couple, and I could tell Josh was more than a little nervous.

Speaking of nerves..."J, I gotta tell you," I said, "I'm a bit...no, OK, I'm very nervous about meeting this Casey of yours."

"Sam, love, relax. He's got nothin' on you. And, anyway, he's got a new love, if I'm understanding his recent e-mails correctly."

"Do you know anything about this new love of Casey's?" I asked.

"Not really. I have a hunch about who it is, though."

"Casey mentioned someone named Dana in one of his e-mails."

"Nah...not Dana. The two of them did this intricate dance around each other for years, but nothing ever came of it. Despite some people's best efforts." Josh looked bemused. "They'd never've worked out, anyway. Dana's so crazy in love with Sam that even _had_ Dana and Casey gotten together, they'd've broken up the minute Sam came along. And if I'm right about Casey and Danny..."

"OK, J. Help me here. Do you have _any_ friends in New York with gender-specific names? Dana, Casey, Sam, Danny...how many are men and how many are women?"

We were pulling into Newark; we didn't have much longer to talk before I had to meet people. I put my book away, abandoning all hope of getting any reading done.

"Dana's female. Casey, Danny, and Sam are male." Josh grinned. "Until you mentioned it, I hadn't noticed the name issue."

"I just want to know how many guys I'm going to have to fight off in order to keep you."

Josh turned and grabbed my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. "Know this, Samuel Norman Seaborn. You belong to me. No man - or woman, for that matter - is going to change that." Josh looked around quickly and, apparently seeing nothing to stop him, kissed me deeply. When he let go, he said, "Get it?"

"Got it."

"Good."

We rode in relative silence for the rest of the trip. As we pulled into Penn Station, Josh and I quickly assembled our luggage so that we could exit to the platform as soon as our train stopped moving. We made our way upstairs to the main waiting area.

"I told them to meet us under the big board, 'cause it's obvious and centrally located," Josh said. As we came closer to the large schedule board, I heard snippets of a heated discussion.

"It's such a shame what they've done...the old Penn Station was a masterpiece, and this place is so boring," one voice said stridently.

"Danny, they tore down the old Penn Station before you were born. Why are you getting so up-in-arms about it?" Another, calmer voice was audible.

"But...it's..." The first voice faded with a frustrated moan.

"Yeah, yeah. I know. You're having another one of your New York renaissances, and modern life is refusing to cooperate."

"That's them," Josh said, turning to me. "I'd recognize Casey's voice anywhere."

Great..just what I needed to know.

"C'mon, love. You'll be fine. Casey's gonna love you."

I wasn't as confident, but I trusted Josh, so I followed him over to the still-debating men.

"The whole city's going to pot. When Coliseum Books announced they were closing, that was the end. Truly the end, Case."

"Well, I don't think it's over 'til the Strand goes out," Josh said, blithely joining the conversation.

The taller of the men turned to face the interloper in their conversation. "The closing of the Strand would be the first sign of the coming Apocalypse, Oscar. You know that."

"Hey, Sprite," Josh said, smiling warmly.

OK, now I was confused. Josh being called Oscar, I could understand - I'm often Felix Unger to his Oscar Madison, and anyone who'd seen the apartment before I started living there full time would agree. But a man who's taller than me being called 'Sprite'? There's gotta be some explanation.

"It's so good to see you," 'Sprite' said as he moved away from his companion and threw his arms around Josh. It was a good, manly hug, the type that included the back-slapping. But I was jealous anyway.

Finally they disengaged. Josh pulled me over to his side. "Casey McCall, this is Sam Seaborn."

Oh, shit. Josh's Casey was Casey McCall. _The_ Casey McCall. Gorgeous-sports-anchor Casey McCall. So the other guy must be...

"Dan Rydell," OtherGuy said, reaching out his hand to shake Josh's.

"I've seen you on TV," I said inanely.

"For which we're quite grateful," Casey answered, shaking my hand.

"So," Dan said, gesturing to the duffel bags we were carrying, "is that all you've brought?"

"Yup," Josh said, shifting his bag across his chest.

"Let's grab a cab uptown to my place," Casey said. "We can drive you over to the hotel after we grab some lunch."

It was only then that I realized I was hungry. I looked at my watch - it was 11:30 already. As we walked the length of the station toward the cab stand, Josh put one arm around my waist and brushed his hand over my ass. So _that's_ how he wanted to play this. The sign of possessiveness didn't bother me - it actually reassured me that Josh had meant what he'd said on the train.

Though I probably could've walked more easily without Josh's finger running along the rear seam of my jeans.

We rode uptown with Casey and Dan - mostly Dan, who was apparently going through some sort of love affair with the city of New York, despite his grousing about changes the city had undergone - pointing out sites of interest along the route. Eventually we pulled up in front of a high-rise apartment complex right behind the New-York Historical Society's building, and Casey got out and started taking our bags from the trunk of the cab while Dan paid the driver. Josh and I retrieved our bags from Casey, who then led us up to his place.

"Can I get you guys anything? Beer, soda, whatever?" Casey asked as he gestured for us to leave our luggage in the entryway.

"I'd love a soda," Josh said, sitting down on the sofa. "How 'bout you, Sam?" He looked up to where I was standing next to him.

I nodded in assent, and Casey wandered toward the kitchen, Dan following right behind him.

"Ah, new love," Josh said, watching them go.

"You sure they're..." I started to ask.

"Oh, I know. Watch them closely. They're just at the very beginning, just learning each other, despite having been partners at work for so long." Josh had a weird, almost dreamy look on his face. "Remember when we were..." And then he reached up, grabbed my hand and pulled me onto his lap.

"J!" I squawked as Josh began to caress me through my jeans. I started to protest, seeing as we were in someone else's apartment, but Josh shut me up by kissing me. I leaned into the kiss as he moved his still-free hand around to cup my ass.

Distantly, I heard footsteps, but I ignored them. Only the loud clearing of a throat interrupted Josh's slow exploration of my mouth. He kissed me once more and leaned back, moving his hands off my nether regions and onto my back. I know I was blushing as I rested my head on Josh's shoulder.

Casey came further into the living room and placed two cans of Coke on the coffee table, then pulled a can of soda out of his front pocket.

"Some things never change, do they, Sprite?" Josh said, gesturing to Casey's soda can. Ah...finally the nickname made sense.

"Well, maybe not my taste in soft drinks, but there are some things..." Casey said.

***

Josh took Casey's statement as an opportunity to pry. "So, Sprite," Josh said, What's new in _your_ life?"

"Oh, not much - new corporate owners a year ago; new, higher salary; new..." Casey mumbled something under his breath that was close to incomprehensible.

"Mr. McCall, would you mind repeating that for the rest of the class?" Josh asked.

"New relationship...boyfriend...lover...argh!" Casey said in a tone that could only be described as frustrated. "Well, except for the lover part." Casey darted a look over his shoulder. No one was behind him; I could hear Dan rattling things in the kitchen.

"Is that the sound of sexual frustration I hear in your voice, Sprite?" Josh asked.

"Oscar, it's nuts. I've been quietly in love with him for what seems like forever. We've been dating a week and a half now, and I can't get enough of him. But we're..." Casey took a deep breath, then let it out through clenched teeth. "It's not like with you. Your job, your workplace allows you to be who and what you are."

I didn't disagree, even though I could give Casey examples of the troubles Josh and I faced when we went public with our relationship.

"But with us..." Casey continued, "we're in _sports_. We're two very visible sports personalities. And despite everything, we're in an industry that still believes that only real men like sports and that men that sleep with other men are not real men. Danny's been freaking out about us being seen together in public, whereas a month ago he wouldn't have given it a second thought."

I thought back to the early days of my relationship with Josh. I was going slowly mad during that period, but not for the same reasons that Dan was. I was convinced that Josh was more interested in the women in his life - Joey Lucas, for one - than he was in me, and I almost destroyed our relationship. There is a craziness, I firmly believe, that infuses one at the beginning of any new relationship, and it is proportional to how much the new relationship matters to you. So, if Dan was, in fact, 'freaking out,' he had probably already invested serious emotions into the relationship.

I opened my mouth to try to explain this to Casey when the rattling in the kitchen stopped and Dan came back with a tray of sandwiches.

"I thought we could eat here, seeing as Josh and Sam have just arrived," Dan said as he put the tray down.

"Danny..." Casey started, but Dan cut him off.

"Casey, please. Not now."

"But they're..." Casey tried again. I decided to intervene before this got too ugly.

"Y'know what," I said, looking pointedly at Josh from my perch on his lap, "I am a bit travel-weary. Eating in would be just perfect."

Thankfully, Josh followed my lead, for once. "Yeah," he said, "I could go for a simple lunch here. Case, if you wanna spend money on us later, there _will_ be ample opportunity. You did say, after all, that you were recently the recipient of a salary increase, whereas Sam and I are just lowly government employees."

I thought Josh was laying it on a bit thick, but Casey didn't seem to notice. "Well, if you think it's best..."

Dan shot me a grateful look but didn't say anything.

We sat and ate the sandwiches Dan had made, and we tried to talk, but things were a bit stilted. I could tell that Dan wasn't totally comfortable with us around; I didn't know if it was because Josh and I are naturally demonstrative and were periodically touching each other just because we could, or if Dan's unease stemmed from his own discomfort with his re-defined role as Casey's partner. From my own experience, I knew it would take Dan time to realize that he could function both as Casey's best friend and as Casey's lover, were he ever to take that step. I saw the furtive glances that Dan directed at Casey when he thought no one was looking. There was a longing in Dan's eyes that reminded me a lot of myself during the in-between period after ending my relationship with Toby but before Josh approached me. Dan was very quiet during lunch, and Casey kept looking at him worriedly but didn't broach the subject.

After lunch, Casey offered to drive us over to the hotel, but Josh turned him down. Dan volunteered to head downstairs to flag us a cab while Josh and I gathered our belongings. Casey took us back downstairs, and we met up with Dan just as a cab was pulling to the curb.

"I'll call you tonight from the hotel, Sprite, so we can figure out plans for later, OK? Right now, I think it's time for a nap." I thought I heard fatigue in Josh's voice, but I didn't know if it was physical or psychological.

"Sure," Casey answered. After a quick hug from Casey and a handshake from Dan, Josh climbed into the cab as I finished loading the luggage. Dan and Casey both shook my hand, but they seemed distracted as I said goodbye. I wondered what sort of post-lunch conversation they'd be having.

As we rode back to the hotel, I couldn't stop thinking about Dan and Casey's interactions with us.

"Hey, J?" I asked.

"Yeah, love?"

"What was going on back there?"

Josh looked thoughtful. "I'm not totally sure," he said. "It goes beyond the awkwardness of a new relationship; I think Dan's not totally sure how he's supposed to act now that he's identifying himself as someone involved in a gay relationship."

"Is it the whole sports thing, like Casey said?" I was still trying to get to the bottom of this whole thing, but I didn't know where the answers should come from.

"I don't think that's all of it," Josh answered. We were stuck in traffic, and the cabbie kept muttering angrily about the driving skills of everyone around us. I didn't mind the extended ride, even given the increased fare, because it gave Josh and me the chance to talk.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"From the little Casey's told me about Dan over the years, I gather that Dan's had a rough time of things for a while now. He's great in front of a camera, or when he's in 'performance mode,' but he's uncomfortable with strangers."

"That seems weird for a broadcaster, for someone who's expected to mingle with the public periodically," I said.

"I don't have any other answers for you, love," Josh said apologetically.

We lapsed into silence for the rest of the ride to the hotel.

Josh had made reservations for us in what was, for New York, a reasonably-priced but still decent hotel in midtown. When we got up to the room, I began settling in, hanging up my clothes and such, while Josh flopped onto the king-sized bed and watched.

"Love, you're so anal sometimes," he said.

"I just don't want your mom to think I'm a slob," I countered.

"She knows you, love, and she's probably not gonna come up here, anyway. Why are you so freaked out about all this?"

I was a bit frustrated that Josh didn't understand. We'd discussed all this before, as we were planning for the trip. "J, she's your _mom_. One of the most important people in your life. She loves and cares about you, and I don't want her to think that you've hooked up with the wrong guy."

"Love..." Josh said.

"Yeah?"

"My mom loves you. You know that. She's loved you for almost as long as I've loved you. She's heard so many stories about you, about how you sat by my bed after Rosslyn, about how you were more worried about me than yourself as you were going through your various health crises, she's heard all of it. You've met her numerous times before. Why are you freaking out now?"

I thought about it for a minute. "Well," I finally said, "this is the first time I'm meeting her on her territory rather than mine." Now that I'd said it out loud, it sounded foolish. But it was still true.

Josh snorted. "You're intimidated by my _mom_?" Another snort. "My septuagenarian, docile mother? She intimidates _you_?" The snorting had devolved into all-out laughter. "You stand up to not only Toby and Leo but also the President of the United States, but my mother intimidates you? I'll have to tell her - she'll love it."

"J, it's not funny," I said, going over to the bed.

"Yeah, it is," Josh said. He reached up a hand, grabbed my elbow, and pulled me onto the bed with him.

"J..." I said, attempting to stand up again. Josh rolled over onto me and pinned me to the bed.

"Yeah?" he said, placing butterfly kisses on my forehead, my nose, and my chin.

"Uh..." I suddenly couldn't remember what my objection was going to be. Further thought fled as Josh started unbuttoning my shirt.

I looked up at him. "Weren't you tired?"

"Not really. More that I felt that we were overstaying our welcome." Josh moved his hands down and started loosening my belt and unbuttoning my jeans. One of these days, I figured, I'd learn my lesson and stop wearing button-fly jeans - Josh sees them as a way to slowly torment me.

When he finally opened the last of the buttons, Josh peeled my fly open and slid his hand inside, stroking me through my boxers.

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"You never felt like that, did you?"

"Uh..." I was confused. Had I missed something along the way? Last thing I knew, we'd been talking about Josh's mom and my feelings of intimidation. So I answered the question I thought Josh was asking. "Honestly? Yeah."

Immediately, Josh stopped the gentle rubbing. "You did?" He took his hand off my cock, and I almost whimpered. Josh sat up and looked me in the eyes. "I'm so amazingly sorry. I wish you'd told me then, and I would've done anything I could to make it easier on you."

Suddenly, I was completely sure I'd answered a question other than what Josh was actually asking.

"Uh, J? Could you restate your original question? 'Cause I think we've gotten our wires crossed." I wasn't sure what was going on in Josh's head, but whatever it was was distressing him.

"Sam, have you ever felt overwhelmed by this relationship, cornered almost, as if you needed a way to escape?" Josh asked, standing up and moving over to my side of the bed.

If he'd hit me, I wouldn't have been any more surprised. "Hell, no, J. Where in the world did _that_ come from?"

"I was thinking about Dan and his reactions this afternoon. There was this look in his eyes during lunch, like he was looking for an escape hatch under the table; like he wanted to be anywhere other than where he was. I started to wonder if you'd ever felt that way about our relationship."

This time it was me pulling Josh down onto the bed. When he was settled next to me again, I rolled over and straddled Josh - my shirt hanging open, my jeans slowly sliding down over my hips, my cock at half-mast through my boxers.

Very slowly and deliberately, I began to speak. "Josh, I have been and always will be an equal partner in this relationship. You do not hold the exclusive responsibility for my happiness. If I felt trapped, if I was unhappy, I guarantee you that you'd know. We aren't Casey and Dan. I don't understand what's going on with them, and - at this very moment - I don't care. I'd like to get to know them both better; I'd love to be able to consider them both friends. But right now, they're not my problem." I shrugged out of my shirt and tossed it onto the floor. "My problem is..."

"Yes?" Josh asked, an intrigued look on his face.

"Well, y'see, I've got this really sexy lover, but he's been...well, distracted," I said.

"Hm," Josh said. "Tell me more about this sexy lover of yours."

I decided to try and pay Josh back a bit for the fun he'd just had at my expense. I tried to look like I was thinking long and hard, and then I said, "He's handsome, and he's hot, and he's great in bed, but recently, he's been a little...lackluster in his creativity." I knew I was provoking Josh; I wanted to see how far I could push and what he'd do in retaliation.

"Oh, really?" Josh asked. "Not all that creative a lover? What a shame."

"It's sad, really. I know there's so much potential in him, but he's just not at all adventuresome. He likes plain, vanilla sex, and while he's competent and all, there's just no zing."

"No zing?" Josh growled. "Give me a chance, and I'll show you what 'zing' is."

"Oh?" I asked with a bit of trepidation. I'd pushed Josh into acting, and now I wasn't sure whether this was such a good thing.

"Not to worry, love." Josh slipped his hand into my open fly and resumed his gentle caresses from earlier. "You'll have a good time."

After a bit of stroking me through my boxers, Josh slipped his hand inside to caress my quickly heating skin. "Pull up a bit, love," Josh whispered and I lifted my hips so that I was resting on my knees. Josh shoved my jeans and my boxers down, and I struggled to get off Josh, out of my pants, and back to straddling Josh - who had pulled himself into a sitting position with his legs outstretched on the bed - without falling down on my face and destroying the mood. Now completely naked, I settled myself onto Josh's still-jean-clad legs, facing him once again. The friction of the fabric on the sensitive skin of my inner thighs was an unaccustomed pleasure.

Josh went back to lightly stroking me as he continued to talk. "I figure that we'll rest for a bit, and then we'll go out and see some of the city. I haven't been here on a pleasure trip in a very, very long time, and I'd like to take a look around."

I wasn't completely sure what "take a look around" meant, but I wasn't really caring much, considering what Josh was continuing to do with his hands.

"Uh...J?" I panted.

"Yeah?"

"Not long now...just a warning." Not that I had any particular problem with it, but I didn't know how thrilled Josh would be if I came all over his favorite jeans.

"Pull up again, love," Josh said, and again I did. Josh slid forward, just enough that my cock was within reach of his lips. As I transferred my weight onto my knees, Josh took just the head into his mouth, teasing the slit with his tongue. He reached around me with one hand and very lightly began to finger the crack between my ass cheeks. Just as his finger began to brush against my asshole, I came.

Josh sat back again and eased me back into a sitting position on his thighs. "So...how was that on the creative scale?" he asked.

Still feeling the aftereffects of my orgasm, I was in a playful mood. "Not too shabby. But still a bit lacking in zing," I said, grinning.

"Don't worry," Josh said. "Later on, I'll give you so much zing that you won't be able to see straight." Josh helped me off his legs and into a reclining position next to him.

"J?" I said after a few minutes of silence.

"Yeah?"

"You're still fully dressed."

"Oh, you just noticed?"

"Well, I _was_ a bit distracted," I said, reaching over with one hand to try to undo Josh's belt. He grabbed my wrist to stop me, however.

"No, love. Not now. I'll give you plenty of opportunity later." Josh settled back against the pillows, and I scooted over to rest my head on his shoulder.

I must've fallen asleep - as Josh must've - 'cause the next thing I knew, I was startled awake by a loud snore in my ear. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was close to 5:00.

I poked Josh awake. "Hey."

"Hey," he said, opening his eyes just half way.

"We fell asleep."

"You're naked."

"Huh?" I asked, quite confused.

"Oh," Josh said. "I thought we were just making statements of the obvious."

"So..." I said, "what's the plan for the rest of the evening?"

"Hm," Josh said. "I was thinking that we could go down to Little Italy and get dinner down there. What'cha think?"

"Sounds good," I said. I used to go down to the restaurants in Little Italy whenever I could, and I was suddenly pining for a real Italian meal.

"Here's my plan," Josh said. "Why don't you shower and dress, then we'll take the subway down to the restaurant, do some poking around, and then come back."

It sounded like a reasonable plan, so I went off to shower. When I came out again, I found Josh already pulling on his coat.

We left the hotel and took the subway downtown. With it being Sunday, once we got on the train, it didn't take us that long, and we hit Little Italy just as the dinner crowds were arriving. Josh had apparently made a reservation at Casa Bella while I was in the shower, as we were seated almost immediately after we arrived.

We were seated at a somewhat secluded table, allowing us the privacy we wanted and never seem to get at restaurants in DC. Not that we get an opportunity to go out too often when we're at home.

Over dinner, we talked about what we'd like to do while in town. I wanted to see the Museum of Television and Radio, Josh wanted to go to the Met - the museum, not the Opera House. We'd talked about going to the MOMA, but now that it was being temporarily housed out in Queens, we decided not to make the trip out there.

When we left the restaurant, Josh led me - instead of to the subway station where we'd gotten off - to the subway at Canal Street.

"J? Where are we going?"

"You'll see," Josh said as he handed me my Metrocard. Why he thinks I'll lose it - and therefore he must keep both his and mine in his wallet - when I somehow manage to keep control of my DC Metrocard perfectly well, I haven't figured out, but he's like this every time we travel. I let him do it mostly 'cause it's easier than arguing.

We went through the turnstiles and got on the J train. I still had no idea where we were heading, but Josh apparently had a plan.

Josh with a plan can be a dangerous thing. I know this. I use this to guide my daily living. So I shouldn't have been surprised when our destination turned out to be a shop called Toys in Babeland. As soon as we went inside, I knew Josh was planning to pay me back for the "zing" comments I'd made earlier.

Josh picked up two shopping baskets and handed me one. "OK, love," he said, "you browse and find something you want while I do my own shopping. Let's meet in front of the store in 20 minutes."

"Uh...J? You're ditching me in a sex shop?" Yes, we have an extensive collection of toys, but they're mostly Josh's. I wasn't into toys until the two of us got together, and the meager supply that were "mine" had been purchased on-line.

"Look around...if you find something you like, get it. Either for your use on me or mine on you. We'll compare notes later, OK?"

After a - very - quick glance around the store, I headed for the wall that seemed the least threatening, the one with the flavored lubes, massage oils, and other such paraphernalia. My eye was caught by two items - a jar marked "Honey Dust" and a multipack of flavored body paints in varying colors - that quickly made their way into my basket along with appropriate applicators. I lingered by the feathers - having enjoyed their use both on the receiving and giving end - and finally decided on a couple. I paused by the selection of books but quickly decided that they weren't what Josh had in mind.

Speaking of whom, he was working his way around the store clockwise while I was moving counter-clockwise. I passed him once, while he was looking at a selection of cuffs and other restraints, but I wasn't able to see what he'd put into his basket.

When I decided I'd finalized my selections, I went to the checkout to pay. Once I was done, I went outside to wait for Josh. It was honestly more comfortable for me - despite the cold - to be outside the shop. I'm as open-minded as the next guy, but I still prefer the less-mainstream parts of my private life to remain private.

Within five minutes, Josh emerged carrying two large shopping bags. He took a look at the one smaller bag I was holding, grinned, but said nothing.

"Come on, love. Let's head back uptown." Josh and I headed back to the subway and back to the hotel.

It was close to 8:00 by the time we got back to the hotel. When we got up to our room, Josh took the bag I was carrying. I started to protest, but Josh held up one hand.

"Love, I promise I won't look in the bag until you want me to. I have some stuff I want to prepare, and I want it to be a surprise. I hate to do this but..."

"You want me to make myself scarce for a bit?" I asked.

"Yeah," Josh said remorsefully. "I guarantee you it'll be worth it, though."

"OK," I said. "I'll go down and check what papers the newsstand in the lobby carries." It was busywork, but it would accomplish what Josh wanted.

"Thanks, love," Josh said. He hugged me then took the bags over to the bed. Meanwhile, I went downstairs.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of out-of-town newspapers available in the lobby. Aside from all the New York papers, I found a number of New Jersey regional papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the International Herald Tribune. Then I remembered that this hotel catered to businessmen. I figured that - even though we were on vacation - Josh would be eager to read at least the Post and the Times in the morning.

After I'd killed about 15 minutes, I headed back up to the room. In case Josh wasn't ready yet, I knocked on the door. Josh answered the door wearing the silk robe I'd bought him for his last birthday.

"Thanks, love. C'mon in." Josh took my hand and led me into the room.

As Josh led me toward the bed, I noticed that there were some...enhancements that had been made to the bed while I was downstairs. There was a pair of padded cuffs near the head of the bed and another pair by the foot of the bed, and both sets seemed to be attached to the underside of the bedframe. Josh can be quite resourceful at times. There was also an array of scarves and blindfolds laid out on the bed.

"J?" I started to say, but he cut me off.

"Relax, love. You'll enjoy yourself. I promise." He quickly removed my clothing and eased me onto my back on the bed.

"D'you want to start off blindfolded or not?" Josh asked me as he fastened a cuff around my right wrist.

"Not," I replied without hesitation.

"OK," Josh said, "but at some point I _will_ want to blindfold you."

I nodded but didn't speak. Josh moved around to the other side of the bed and secured my left hand, and then headed toward my feet.

Just as he was securing my left ankle, the phone rang.

"Be right back, love," Josh said, heading toward the desk where the phone lay.

***

As Josh walked to the phone, I moaned softly.

"Sh, love. I'll be right back. It's probably nothing, but..."

Josh was right - one of the conditions under which we were allowed to go on this vacation was that we remain accessible by telephone at all times. I didn't think we'd turned off our cell phones, but perhaps we were in an area of bad connectivity and therefore Leo or Toby was trying to reach us on the room phone.

"H'lo?" Josh said into the phone. "Oh, hey, Sprite. I guess I forgot to call you."

Ah, Hell. Leo or Toby I could've forgiven for interrupting us; Casey's interruption was unnecessary and therefore doubly egregious.

"Yeah? We'd love to see the studio. Yeah, tomorrow would be fine." Josh finally looked back over toward me, and I gestured helplessly with my bound right hand. "Hey, Sprite? Can ya hold a sec?" A pause, then "great. Hang on."

Josh pushed the hold button on the phone, then came back to me. "Sorry, love. This'll take just another minute." He picked up two of the dildoes lying on the bedside table, went into the bathroom, then came back. Instead of coming over to me, he walked back toward the phone. He must've hit the speaker button, 'cause the next thing I knew, he was walking back toward me but still carrying on a conversation.

"Sprite? You still there?" Josh said.

"Yeah, I'm still here," Casey's voice came through the phone tinny but still recognizable.

"So, about tomorrow," Josh said as he applied a liberal amount of lube to one of the dildoes.

"Yeah," Casey said. Josh placed a pillow under my hips and slowly slid the dildo into me. I yelped - the dildo was _cold_! - but Josh put his hand over my mouth to stifle the sound.

"Ice water," he whispered in my ear as he started to slowly work the dildo in and out of my body.

"Tomorrow's good for us," Casey continued, oblivious - I hoped - to what was going on on this end of the phone. "We're at work starting around noon; why don't you guys come by around 3."

"Great," Josh said, continuing to fuck me with the dildo. "That'll give us enough time to do at least one of the museums before we meet you." He leaned down and kissed me, mostly - I think - to muffle the moan that was coming from me.

"Everything OK there?" Casey asked. "I thought I heard something..."

"Nah...must've been traffic noise," Josh said with a grin. He increased the speed with which he was manipulating the dildo. "So, how do we get into the building?"

"Security's been tight for a while now - there was a bomb threat a couple of years ago that freaked everyone out - so you'll have to sign in at the desk in the lobby, and either Dan or I will come down and get you, OK?" Casey asked.

"Yeah, fine," Josh said. He suddenly removed the cold dildo and set it aside. "So we'll see you around 3?" Josh picked up the other dildo, lubed it, and plunged it into my already stretched asshole. This one was very warm - made even more warm by the contrast to the ice water-filled one. "Warm water," Josh whispered in my ear, again placing his hand over my mouth to muffle my anguished but lust-filled moan.

"That'd be fine. See you then," Casey said.

"Bye," Josh answered, then left the bed to disconnect the call, leaving the warm dildo embedded in me.

"J..." I whimpered. Yes, I'll admit it. I was a quivering, whimpering mass of sensation at that point.

"Sh, love. You will be rewarded greatly for your patience," Josh said, coming back to the bed and settling himself near my right hip. He reached down and helped move my leg so that my knee was bent, and then he grasped the end of the dildo again.

"You love this, don't you," he crooned as he slowly worked the dildo in and out of me. With his free hand, he grasped my cock. "You love it when I have you at my mercy, when I can do whatever I want to you." Josh leaned down and placed the lightest of kisses on my cockhead. I jerked my hips, trying to maintain the contact between his lips and my cock, but Josh moved back out of range.

"What did you buy, love?" Josh asked me. I was so over-stimulated that, at first, the question made no sense. I must've given Josh a confused look, 'cause he clarified his question. "At Babeland. Did you buy anything you want me to use right now? I promised I wouldn't look in your bag, and I didn't. But if there's something you want to use, I'm game."

I was almost too far gone to form a coherent sentence, but I was able to croak out "stop moving." As soon as I said it, Josh ceased the in-and-out motion of the dildo, and my brain began to clear.

"There's a jar...in my bag...honey dust. I'd like you to try it." Josh loves eating things off my skin - berries, whipped cream, chocolate sauce - and I love the sensation of being tongue-bathed.

Josh stood up and unlocked the cuff on my right hand. He eased my arm down and placed the end of the dildo in my hand. "Keep moving this while I go and get the jar. I'll be watching; if you stop, I'll put the dust away and won't use it 'til we get back to DC, OK?"

I whimpered but complied. I started a slightly slower rhythm than the one Josh had been using, but the sensations were still intense. Josh knows just how to bring me off quickly and just how to prolong the sensations so that we can go on for hours without me coming. This was, apparently, going to be one of his marathon sessions. I wasn't complaining, not in the least. But he was being particularly inventive this time, and I wondered what else he had planned.

Josh came back to the bed carrying the canister of honey dust. "Interesting looking stuff, love," he said, reading the label on the canister. He removed the cover and pulled out a little silken bag and a feather applicator. "This could be fun, love. A great choice." Josh loosened the top of the bag and stuck the tip of the applicator inside, then extracted it. "Now...where to start?"

I hoped that was a rhetorical question, because I was way beyond words. I had continued - almost instinctively - to ream myself with the hot dildo, as Josh had commanded, and I was very close to orgasm. Somehow, Josh knew.

"OK, love. Let go and put your arm up again," he said, heading back to the top of the bed to reattach the restraints. As soon as the cuff was snapped back into place, Josh climbed onto the bed.

"Remember I said I'd blindfold you eventually?" he asked.

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"It's time," he said. He picked up a red silk scarf, wrapped it around my eyes, and secured it behind my head.

"That's comfortable, right?"

I nodded again.

I felt Josh shift his weight, and then I felt the lightest of brushes against my left nipple. I hadn't even realized I'd moved until I heard the light "oof" from Josh as I kneed him in the side.

"I'm gonna tie this one down, for your safety as well as mine," Josh said. I felt him get off the bed, and then I felt his fingers caressing my right ankle. I'm never comfortable being totally helpless, but Josh knows this, so he quickly attempted to soothe me. "Don't panic, love. I'm not gonna leave you tied and blinded for very long. I just want to be able to play a bit."

The next thing I felt was Josh sitting back on the bed, again at my right side. I could feel him leaning over me, and then I felt his tongue on my newly-anointed left nipple.

"Ooh, nice choice, Sam," Josh said as he brushed the feathers against my right nipple. After he'd licked the honey off again, he started drawing random patterns - or, at least, they felt random - along my chest and stomach, soon following the applicator with his tongue. Periodically he'd stop and twist the - now slightly cooler, but not significantly - dildo still embedded deep inside me. Again and again he brought me to the edge and then backed off.

When Josh used the honey dust to draw a line between my hip bones, I shuddered. "J..." I said, "you're really pushing it."

"Good," he said, and I could hear the grin in his voice. He moved again, this time kneeling between my splayed legs. As he licked the Honey Dust off my skin, he slowly, slowly removed the dildo. As the head cleared the threshold of my body, Josh plunged his cock inside.

"Oh, God...oh, yeah..." I knew I was blithering. But I'd been so ready for so long, and feeling Josh inside me was just too much. He thrust twice, and then I came. I could feel him still thrusting within me, but I was too boneless to move with him. But very quickly, he screamed out my name and came.

Right before he collapsed on top of me, Josh reached up and undid my blindfold. He lay - on top of me and still inside me - panting, and I could feel his heart racing. Had my wrists not still been cuffed to the bed, I would have stroked his back. As it was, I craned my neck and kissed Josh near his collar bone.

After a minute, Josh began to get his breathing under control. "You OK, J?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said dreamily. He continued to lie on top of me, making no attempt to either move or release me. As his body relaxed, I could feel his now-flaccid cock sliding out of me, but Josh made no effort toward any other movement.

After a minute or two of Josh still motionless, I decided to try hinting. "Hey, J?"

"Mmm?" My still-boneless beloved barely lifted his head from my - quickly tiring - shoulder.

"I'd love to hold you..."

"Mmm?"

OK; subtle wasn't going to get me anywhere.

"Josh..."

"Mmm?"

"Uh...still restrained here. Could'ja undo the cuffs?"

Josh rolled off me, undid the wrist and ankle cuffs, then draped himself back on top of me. As he did so, I finally noticed that he was still wearing his robe. That brought a smile to my lips. I wrapped my arms around Josh, sighing as my overtaxed shoulder muscles began to relax.

"Sorry, love," Josh whispered. "I keep forgetting about your shoulder."

"That wasn't the reason, J. I really just wanted to hold you." I tightened my arms around him to illustrate my point.

"Feels good."

"D'you think it would feel better if you took the robe off?" Much as I love the feel of silk against my skin - definitely Josh's influence, there - I prefer the feel of Josh against me.

Josh lifted his hips enough so that I could undo the sash of the robe, and then collapsed on me again. I peeled the robe off his arms and back and gestured it in the general direction of the floor. I then engulfed my now-naked beloved in my arms.

"Oh, this is nice," Josh sighed.

"Told'ja," I said.

In not very long, Josh fell asleep, still draped on top of me. I soon followed him into the arms of Morpheus.

***

"Oh, shit."

I struggled toward alertness, hoping to find out why Josh was cursing in my ear so early in the morning.

"Wha?" I mumbled.

"I forgot about Mom," Josh said.

"What do you mean, you forgot about your mother?" I still wasn't totally coherent, but I was working on that.

"Well, I told Mom that we'd come to Connecticut today, stay overnight with her, and spend New Year's day with her. But now Casey's expecting us around 3..."

"Don't worry, J - there's probably a train late enough that we can still get to Connecticut before too late tonight." I didn't want Josh to feel that he was abandoning his mother because he wanted to hang out with friends. That was just a bit too adolescent, even for Josh.

"You're right; anyway, I never told her what time we'd be coming in. I guess our plans can stay as they are."

Good, I thought. The idea of having to make different plans with Casey and Dan, considering the circumstances of the first planning session, sent chills up my spine. With my luck, Josh would've just entered me when the phone rang next time.

But I digress.

With his fears about screwing up his mom's schedule allayed, Josh got up with the intent of showering. Sometime in the middle of the night, he had managed to get the sheets all tangled around his ankles, but he didn't notice until he actually attempted to stand. As he rolled off me and onto the mattress, the sheets wound themselves even more around Josh's feet and ankles.

"Uh...J?" I tried to warn him, but Josh was focused solely on the impending shower. He was so intently focused that when - as I would've warned him, had he been listening - he fell flat on his face by the side of the bed, he wore an expression more of confusion than of pain.

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"What just happened?"

"Divine retribution," I ventured.

"Huh?"

"Cosmic revenge for your cuffing me to the bed and then flirting with Casey over the phone."

"I _wasn't_ flirting, love."

"Be that as it may." I stood up and walked around the bed, then leaned down to help untangle Josh's feet and help him stand up. "I still felt abandoned."

"I'm sorry, love. I'll try not to do it again. Only reason I answered the phone in the first place..."

"Yeah, I know. It could've been Leo." I kissed Josh's nose and forehead. "'S'okay. You're forgiven."

Somehow, Josh and I managed to get showered and dressed without further incident. Having little to no creativity when it comes to breakfast, we walked the half mile over to the closest Cosi to get squagels - just like home. Josh grumbled about the inherent blasphemousness of eating squagels in New York, the bagel mecca, but once I promised not to tell Toby, Josh shut up and ate his breakfast.

After breakfast, we took the subway across town to the New-York Historical Society. I wanted to see the exhibit about the Rosenbergs and their trial; Josh was interested in the exhibit about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

By the time we'd gotten through everything we wanted to see and had browsed the book and gift shop, it was almost time for lunch. We somehow managed to snag a cab and headed toward Sushi Rose, as it was closer to Dan and Casey's office. Josh got really quiet during lunch, and finally my curiosity got the better of me.

"What's wrong, J?"

"Oh, nothing," Josh said, trying but failing to produce a real smile.

"Don't give me that 'nothing' crap, Josh. You've been brooding since we got here. What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, love. It's stupid. I'm stressing about getting together with Dan and Casey again. I was giving some thought to what you said yesterday, about Dan being uncomfortable around us, and I was wondering if I was doing anything specifically to trigger it."

"Well, you pawing my ass in Penn Station probably started things off on an odd note for him," I pointed out with a grin. "Not that _I'm_ complaining, but it might have made Dan uncomfortable."

"You may be right," Josh said. "I'll try to keep my hands off you this afternoon; let's see if his attitude changes."

I didn't have much faith in Josh's ability to keep his hands to himself all afternoon, but I didn't say anything. I hoped that Dan would eventually warm up to us; I'd hate to see Casey have to choose between his lover and an old friend.

Josh and I wandered around midtown for a bit before heading over to Casey and Dan's office. They work in one of those chrome-and-glass office towers for which New York City has become famous, a nondescript, featureless monolith. I didn't really notice the sterility of the modern buildings in New York until I started working in DC; there, I'm surrounded by majestic architecture and buildings infused with history. In New York, once you get above Canal Street, most of the buildings are faceless and impersonal.

Casey hadn't been kidding about the security at his office. We'd gotten less interrogation from security at the Capitol than these guys gave us. Of course, we were known faces around the District. Here, we were just another set of tourists. There was both comfort and unease associated with that thought.

Finally, the security guards decided we weren't a threat, and we were allowed to head toward the elevators. We rode up to the 47th floor and were almost run over by a fast-moving petite brunette as soon as we stepped out of the elevator.

"Sorry," she threw over her shoulder as she kept going, jabbering a mile a minute at the bespectacled guy walking next to her.

"'S'okay," Josh called out as the pair disappeared around the corner.

Two men came around the corner, also walking and chatting. Despite the differences in the layouts of the offices, this reminded me a lot of the bullpens in the White House - lots of busy people doing many, many things at once. As we walked into the open-layout area of the Sports Night offices, I saw a group of people sitting in office chairs playing seated-Nerf-basketball.

"You're wrong," one said. "There's no way that Kwan won't medal at Salt Lake City."

"What do you know about figure skating?" another shot back. "You think a triple toe loop is something you do with shoelaces."

The banter continued as Josh led me toward an office at the back of the room. He knocked on the doorjamb, and Casey looked up from his computer.

"Hey, Oscar," Casey said. "Glad you could make it. Hey, Sam."

"Hey," we both responded. Casey motioned for us to come in, and we did, settling ourselves on the sofa by the glass window facing the main bullpen.

"So...what do you think of the wild world behind the scenes of broadcast television?" Casey asked.

"It's funny," I said. "I was just thinking about how much it looks like what goes on in our office. Y'know, people running to and fro, too busy to actually stop and have a conversation, in counterpoint with people playing trashcan basketball."

"I'd never thought of that," Casey said. "I never really think about what goes on 'behind the scenes,' as it were, in the government. But you guys probably have as much if not more 'pre-show' prep as we do."

We talked for a bit about the similarities and differences between Josh and my working environment and Casey's, and then Casey stood up. "You want the grand tour, such that it is?"

"Sure," Josh said.

Casey walked us around, introducing us to coworkers as we went. I discovered that the brunette who had almost run us over was Natalie, and her companion was Jeremy, and they were both on the production staff. We were shown the studio and the control room, where Josh had a teasingly abusive reunion with the mysterious Dana, and then we were taken to the editing room. The door was closed when we got there, and Casey knocked lightly.

"Yeah?" I heard Dan's voice through the door.

"Danny, it's me, with some guests." Casey turned to us. "Danny's in the middle of putting together a piece on the IOC's decision to enforce the decency rules for the skaters at the Olympics. He might be a bit surly if he's mid-research." He opened the door, then ushered us in.

"Case, it's out of control. I just went back and watched the program that caused the creation of the 'Katerina rule.' There she was, in all - and I mean _all_ her glory!" Dan was grinning widely, a very different Dan than we'd met the previous day. He finally seemed to notice our presence. "Oh, hey, guys."

"Hey," we again responded.

"You gotta understand," Casey said almost as an aside. "Danny's already in pre-show mode. He's gotten there early today. He's gonna be flying from now until about half past midnight."

"Sounds like Sam right before the President speaks," Josh said, but I knew he was kidding - I tend to be a maniac, yes, before any big speech, such as the State of the Union, or the MS revelation. But there are so many little speeches that I've learned to control the jitters most of the time.

"Anyway," Casey said, "we should probably let Danny get back to work. You guys have a train to catch soon, anyway, right?"

Josh looked at his watch, so he missed the look that Casey shot at Dan's back as we left the editing room. "Yeah," Josh said. "We've got a 4:40 out of Grand Central." We'd both packed a change of clothes into Josh's backpack before we left the hotel, so we were traveling light, but there was still the ticket hassle to go through.

"I'll walk you out," Casey said. He escorted us down to the lobby, gave Josh a kiss on the cheek and me a warm handshake, then wished us a good trip.

"I'll call you tomorrow night, OK?" Josh asked.

"Sure. Maybe we can get together for dinner or something," Casey said.

We got on the subway and got to Grand Central without much hassle. As we were purchasing our tickets, they announced the gate for our train. Josh quick-stepped me to the correct track and we again went through the train-boarding rigmarole that I've become used to by now. Finally we got settled and seated just as the train began to pull out of the station.

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"I _hate_ calling it that close." Josh was still panting slightly from the sprint to the track. I pulled a bottle of water out of my bag and handed it to Josh, who drained half of it. "Thanks," he said, his breathing a little more under control.

The trip to New Haven was uneventful. At New Haven, we had to switch to the Shore Line East, but - to my great relief - our connecting train would be using the same track at New Haven as we'd come in on. Our train arrived a bit early, so right before 6:30, we were again pulling out of New Haven.

At 7, just as we were pulling out of Madison, Josh pulled out his cell phone. He dialed a number, then, "Mom? Yeah, it's me. We'll be there in about 15 minutes. Yeah..." He paused. "Nah, we can grab a cab if need be. What's the traffic like?" Another pause. "OK, here's the deal. When we get there, I'll look for your car. If you're not there, we can flag down a cab." And yet another pause. "Yeah, I know it's not like DC. No, I don't need you to call us a cab. We'll figure it out if we don't see you. Don't worry, mom."

Josh listened for a while, then, "Love you, too, mom. I'm looking forward to seeing you. Yeah, I'll tell him. See you soon."

He closed the phone, then turned to me. "She says you're still too thin and she's gonna make sure you eat well over the next 24 hours. Also, she's running a bit behind schedule, so if she's not at the station, we should wend our own way to the house."

Within 15 minutes, we were pulling into Old Saybrook. Old Saybrook is one of those coastal towns in which even the train station is pretty; it seemed appropriate that Josh's mother lived there. Josh looked out the window and said, "Oh, great. She made it."

This was it. Showtime.

***

When we got off the train - "detrained," as some transit officials might say - Josh's mother got out of her car.

Josh's face lit up as we approached his mother. "Hey, mom," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too, imp," she replied, kissing Josh on the cheek. She looked at Josh closely. "You look good, Josh."

"Thanks, mom. And thanks for sending us the check to come up here. Getting away has been just what we needed."

Josh's mom - one of these days I'll figure out what I should call her - turned to me. "Hi, Sam."

"Hi," I responded.

She turned back to Josh. "He still can't do it, can he? After all these years of being told to call me "mom," he still can't do it."

Josh grinned. "Strong women intimidate him, mom. Maybe if you're lucky, he'll be able to keep from calling you 'ma'am'."

I thwacked Josh's shoulder. "You're one to talk, J. The First Lady comes anywhere near you and you start with the 'yes, ma'am; no, ma'am'."

"How is Abbey these days?" Josh's mom smiled fondly. The President and First Lady had come to know Josh's mother in the aftermath of Noah's death, and the three had become fast friends.

"Well, now that her ankle is healing, she's back up and about and terrorizing the Senior Staff to her heart's content," I said.

"Come on, boys," Josh's mom said, gesturing toward the car. "It's late and you're probably both starving." She paused, as if sensing the heated look Josh shot me. "Joshua, that's not what I meant. That hunger is your own problem to solve."

During the 10 minute drive to the house Josh grew up in, we filled Josh's mom in on what we'd been doing in New York. Josh brought regards to his mom from Casey, and they - very briefly - discussed Casey's new relationship with Dan.

As soon as we got to the house, Josh's mom started putting dinner together. I stood in the hallway with my backpack still flung over my shoulder, unsure where I was supposed to be sleeping. I would've gone straight to Josh's room, but first, I wasn't sure where that was and second, I didn't know whether it would make his mom uncomfortable for me to assume that Josh and I would be sharing a room.

But she quickly allayed my fears. "Sam? I've put two sets of towels in Josh's room - up the stairs, second door on the left. If you think the bed won't be big enough, there's sheets on the queen-sized bed in the guestroom, and you both can set up in there."

"Thanks," I said.

She sighed. "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"When _are_ you gonna relax enough to call me Mom?"

I blushed. "Well...y'see...I wasn't sure..."

She gave me a look that I was more used to seeing from her son. "Sam, I understand if you're not comfortable with it 'cause you have someone you already call mom. But...I consider you like another son, so if you want to call me 'mom,' feel free."

Actually, I've always called my mother "Ma," so thinking of Josh's mother as "Mom" wasn't going to be too difficult. "I'll try...Mom," I said, and she grinned.

"That's better," she said. "Now that you're considered one of my kids, I can make you set the table."

I gestured to my bag, still flung over my shoulder, and Josh's backpack, still in the entryway. "I was going to put our stuff away first, if that's OK," I said.

"Sure," Mom said. "I'll tell Josh to set the table, and you can do the dishes after dinner." She turned back toward the kitchen. "Sam? I'm really glad the two of you are here," she said over her shoulder.

I headed up the stairs to Josh's room. He had a double bed in there - probably the same one he'd slept in as a kid - and while it was small, we'd shared smaller hotel beds. I decided to unpack in there, and then if Josh wanted to relocate, we always could later.

As I was hanging my shirt up in the closet, I felt Josh's arms come around my waist.

"Hey," he whispered in my ear.

"Hey," I responded.

"You're such a neatnik, love." Josh released me and crossed the room to sit on the edge of the bed. He bounced a couple of times, then said, "What do you think? Is this gonna be comfortable enough for both of us?"

"We've had much worse. Anyway, Mom said we could use the guestroom if we wanted."

"Nah," Josh said. "If you don't mind, I'd like to stay in here. I donno - I haven't lived in this house for years, and Mom's thinking of selling it now that she's living almost full-time in Florida, so I'd kinda like to spend this last night in the house in my room, with you in my arms."

"Josh, you're a closet romantic. I never would've guessed," I said jokingly.

"Love, I'm not a closet anything," Josh answered, wiggling his eyebrows at me. He's used that line many, many times, and I always end up setting him up for it. You'd think I would've learned by now, but I haven't.

"Did you come up here to harass me, or did you have another purpose in mind?" I asked, again realizing I was setting Josh up with a straight line. Fortunately for me, however, Josh passed up this one.

"Mom says to tell you dinner is ready," Josh said.

"Thanks," I said. "I'll be down in a sec."

"I'll wait for you," Josh said.

I finished organizing our stuff, then we headed back downstairs.

Dinner was very relaxed, with Josh and me filling Mom in on the various goings-on in Washington and specifically things going on with our circle of friends and co-workers. Josh passingly mentioned Donna's new pseudo-relationship with a member of the House committee investigating us, and while Mom looked askance at this, she apparently knew better than to ask us questions we really couldn't answer. We also told her of Leo's new relationship with his lawyer.

"So how is Jed taking all this romance in the air? Does he find it interfering with you all getting work done?"

It threw me to hear Mom refer to the President as "Jed," but I tried to get over it.

"He's amused by it all, I think," Josh said. "He and the First Lady always seem amused by the romantic maneuvers we all go through." I could tell by Josh's expression that he was remembering the way the First Lady brought the two of us together and how the President and Leo both got involved in our courtship.

"I keep telling you, they're among the most romantic people I know," Mom said.

"Yeah," Josh said, "but it's hard to remember that when the President is reaming me out for some random screw up."

"He's a good man, Joshua. Your father would be proud that you're working for such a good man."

"I know, Mom," Josh said. I've never really probed into Josh's relationship with his father, mostly because my relationship with my father is so strained. But I know that Josh respected his father immensely and that he still feels the loss of the day-to-day wisdom his father used to give him.

To break the somber mood that had fallen over the room, I proceeded to regale Josh and Mom with tales of the weird meetings I'd been in recently. Toby seems to think that I've been throwing myself into issues I can control - such as the copper content in pennies - to distract myself from that which I cannot control, namely the whole MS inquiry. But that wasn't the spin I put on the tale; I told them of the various "funnel people" with whom I had met and would continue to be meeting with over the next couple of weeks until Congress was back in session.

As we finished dinner, I began to feel very tired. We hadn't gotten much sleep before our vacation, and I always take a couple of days to really get a good night's sleep while not in my own bed, so trips are always Hell on my sleep patterns. I've learned, since joining the Bartlet campaign and then the administration, how to power-nap on moving vehicles, but I could feel myself beginning to crash. I knew Josh noticed when he said, "Sam's beginning to droop, Mom. I should put him to bed before he's totally unconscious."

I protested, but it was weak. "J, it's New Year's Eve." Even to my own ears I sounded exhausted.

"Love, go take a nap now, and I'll wake you for the final countdown, OK? You'll get to see the ball drop and everything. I promise."

"Hokay," I said. I really _could_ use the rest, I decided.

Josh turned to his mom. "I'll put him to bed and then I'll come back, OK?"

Mom gave us an indulgent smile and said, "OK. The dishes can wait 'til morning."

"You always say that, and then I always find you doing dishes in the middle of the night," Josh said.

"Not anymore," Mom said. "You found me doing dishes in the middle of the night when you'd come in after curfew and I was unable to sleep because I was worrying about you. Now you've got Sam to worry, so I sleep tight. Therefore, the dishes will still be there for you in the morning."

"OK, you've sold me," Josh said. He reached out and helped me stand up. "C'mon, love. To bed with you."

"Works for me," I said.

Josh ushered me up the stairs, into the bedroom, and over to the bed, where he sat me down on the edge. I protested when he started to pull my sweater over my head, but Josh just said, "Sh, love. You're tired. Let me do this for you, OK?" I acquiesced; it was nice to be completely cared for once in a while.

After tossing my sweater and shirt onto the floor - I protested, but only weakly - Josh stood me up to remove my pants. As I stepped out of them, Josh turned down the bedcovers. I climbed into the bed and sighed as I relaxed into the mattress.

"That good, love?" Josh asked.

"Magnificent," I replied. "You gonna join me?" He'd already said he was going back downstairs, but I was hoping to entice him to do otherwise. But to no avail.

"In a bit, don't worry. I want to go down and talk to Mom for a bit longer. Catch up, you know? It's been quite a while since I've had a chance to have a real conversation, and, well..."

I understood. "Go on. Have a good conversation. I'll try to stay up 'til you get back, but if I don't..."

"I'll try not to wake you until 10 of midnight, Sam," Josh said. He leaned down, gave me a light kiss, smoothed my hair, then turned to leave. "Love you," he said from the doorway.

"I love you, too, J."

Once I heard Josh go back down the stairs, I put my glasses on and tried to read for a bit, but after just a few minutes, the words started to blur. Deciding I was too tired and should just give into the desire to sleep, I put the book and my glasses on the bedside table, rolled onto my side, and was asleep almost before my head hit the pillow.

I don't know how long I was asleep, but I was woken when Josh tiptoed into the room and then promptly tripped over the sweater he'd flung to the floor while preparing me for bed.

"Hey, J," I said, sleep tingeing my voice.

"Hey," Josh whispered. "I didn't mean to wake you. It's only about 10:45."

"It's OK," I said. "Come to bed." I heard the rustling of fabric as Josh stripped off his clothing, then felt a rush of cold air as he peeled back the covers and climbed in behind me. He pulled me tight against his body, and I could feel that, like me, he was still wearing his boxers. I guess he was as uncomfortable as I was at the prospect of sleeping nude in his mom's house.

Josh worked his right arm under my right hip and wrapped his left arm around my waist. We lay there in silence, and I listened to the unusual suburban quiet outside. The only sound was the wind blowing against the shutters, so different from the traffic noises I was used to in DC.

"J?" I finally said.

"Yeah?" Josh's voice was a bit husky, as if he'd begun to drift into sleep.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure, love. What is it?" I could hear Josh becoming more alert.

"What was..." I wasn't quite sure how to ask the question, but I wanted to know the answer. I tried again. "Last night. Not that I didn't love what you did to me, what we did together, but there was more of an edge to it than usual. You seemed...almost desperate to prove something. Don't get me wrong - it was amazing. I love it when you get all cave-man on me. But I don't know what I did to set you off like that."

Josh sighed heavily. "Love, I'm so sorry. It wasn't you, but I took out my frustrations on you anyway. I hate myself when I do that."

"Sh," I said, trying to soothe him but knowing it wouldn't do any good and that Josh just had to talk it all out. "Tell me what it was."

"It was foolish, it was stupid. I was feeling like you were slipping away from me and there was no reason you should stay. I watched Casey eye your ass and I was such a jealous nut that I had to overpower you to make myself feel better."

"Casey was eyeing my ass? In what universe? Josh, that man is so gone on Dan that he can't see anyone else." I rolled over so that I was facing Josh. "You have nothing to worry about. Casey's not thinking of stealing me from you, and I'm not going anywhere, anyway."

Josh kissed my nose and sighed. "Thanks, love. You always know the right things to say when I get like this."

"All part of the package," I said.

"I love your package," Josh said. I waited to see if he caught the - I thought - unintended double entendre. After about 30 seconds he said, "What I mean is..."

"I knew what you meant, J. You're so cute when you're unintentionally suggestive."

"How about when I'm intentionally suggestive," Josh asked, settling back down into the pillows.

"That's even more fun."

***

At some point, we must've drifted off to sleep, 'cause the next thing I remember I was woken by a knock on the bedroom door.

"Boys?" Mom called, "it's quarter 'til. I figured you'd want to see the ball drop."

"Oh, great," Josh said. "My mother has more stamina than I do these days."

"We've been busy, J. C'mon - let's go down, watch the craziness in Times Square from the comfort of the living room, and then we'll go back to sleep. It's _tradition_!" I said.

We got out of bed, pulled on bathrobes, and joined Mom in front of the television. When there were five seconds left before midnight, Josh turned to me. "It's so good to spend New Years with loved ones," he said.

"Hear, hear," Mom said.

"...Three...two...one...Happy New Year!" Dick Clark was saying on TV, but I couldn't see the confetti falling, 'cause Josh immediately caught me up in a long, wet, steamy kiss. When he let me go, I turned to Mom, who was fanning herself.

"So that's the way you two keep warm during the long winter months, huh?" she asked with a grin.

"It always seemed to work for you and Dad," Josh said, grinning back.

"Can't argue with success," Mom responded. "Why do you think so many kids are born in September?"

I had no good answer to that, and, apparently, neither did Josh, 'cause he quickly ushered me back to bed after a cursory "good night" to Mom. Exhausted, we fell into bed and were asleep almost immediately.

***

I was awoken the next time by the familiar and quite welcome scent of pancakes. As soon as I had said "rabbit, rabbit, rabbit," I got out of bed - easing out from under Josh's arm and trying my best not to wake him - put on my robe and slippers, and headed downstairs. Mom was dressed and was making breakfast.

"Morning, Sam," she said, turning momentarily away from the stove.

"Hmm," I said, still half asleep.

"Ah, you're one of those. I forgot." After grabbing a mug from the cabinet, Mom poured me coffee and placed it in front of me. "D'you take anything in it, or do you just mainline the caffeine the way Josh does?"

"I usually just drink it black," I said, inhaling the wonderful scents of fresh-brewed coffee. "Oh, this is heavenly. I usually just end up drinking the sludge from the White House mess." I'd been cutting back my caffeine intake recently, in deference to my stomach lining, but I can't function without my coffee first thing in the morning.

Just as I was lifting the mug to my lips, Josh came stumbling into the kitchen, wearing an almost identical outfit to mine. "Mornin', love," he mumbled. By the time he got over to Mom to kiss her 'good morning,' she had a mug filled for him. "Oh, yeah...I could get used to this," Josh said. He leaned against the counter, downed half the mug, then refilled it and walked over to the table. He sat down, looked over at me, and frowned.

"Love, is that..."

"J, please. It'll be fine," I said. Josh stresses about my caffeine intake than I do.

Probably sensing the rising tension at the table - she didn't know we have this discussion every time I have coffee on days we're not working - Mom brought the first batch of pancakes to the table. Josh and I quickly helped ourselves.

"Oh, these are great," I said. "Now I know where Josh gets his culinary abilities."

"Actually, I can only take credit for some of it. The rest was Noah," Mom said. "He thought all men should know how to feed their families."

"A wise man," I said. "I depend on Josh's cooking skills far too often. I feel bad about it sometimes, but he keeps telling me not to."

"Does he still use cooking as a stress reliever?" Mom asked. "When he was applying to colleges, I'd come down in the morning and find three nights' worth of dinner in the fridge."

"Yeah," I said. "When I was..." I stopped. I didn't know how much Josh had shared with his mom about my recent medical issues; I didn't want to worry her about me or about Josh. "Recently, he went through a maniacal-cooking phase, and we ended up giving stuff away, there was so much food."

"Hey, if it works for him, why not?" Mom said, not pursuing my almost-slip - much to my relief.

"Hey," Josh said. "Sitting right here. Y'could just talk to _me_, OK?"

"And that, too, hasn't changed," Mom said as she joined us at the table. "You're still surly in the morning."

The three of us had a nice, leisurely breakfast. Josh and I had planned to take a 2 PM train out of Old Saybrook, getting us back to New York around 4:30, which would give us plenty of time with Mom but still leaving us flexibility for the evening.

After breakfast, Josh called Casey to tell him our planned schedule. We hoped to meet Dan and Casey for dinner, as - since it was the holiday - they weren't working that evening. I hung around while Josh was on the phone, in case he wanted my input on-the-fly.

"Hey, Sprite...yeah, she's fine. She says 'hi' back and hopes you're doing well. Yeah...oh, yeah, and send her love to Charlie, would you?...OK, here's the plan. We'll meet you at Penn Station, under the big board...yeah, like last time...No, Amtrak, so Penn, not Grand Central. Yeah, 'cause of the holiday. Y'know, the reason you're off work tonight." Josh rolled his eyes and I suppressed a laugh. "No, Penn. If you go to Grand Central, you're gonna have to be picking up two other devastatingly handsome men, 'cause we won't be there. What?...No, I promise; I won't repeat that around Dan...How's that going, anyway?...OK, maybe tonight. No promises; I have to check with Sam...OK, see you then. Yeah, 4:30...See you."

He hung up the phone and turned to me. "For an intelligent man, sometimes he's a real twit."

"Some might say that about you, beloved," I said.

"I'm not denying that, love. Just a comment."

One part of his conversation intrigued me. "What was all that about Dan and checking with me?" I asked.

"Casey's been working on Dan, apparently, in terms of 'physical expressions of their feelings' and wants our help. How, I'm not quite sure. But that's what he said."

"So does that mean he wants us to watch them screwing or he wants them to watch us? 'Cause either way would work for me," I said.

"You raging exhibitionist," Josh said.

"Admit it - you love putting on a show when you know we're being watched."

"Guilty as charged," he said.

"Uh, boys?" Mom spoke up. "I love you both dearly, but I'd rather not watch, OK?"

I don't think I've ever seen Josh blush that deeply that quickly. I'd completely forgotten she was there; apparently, Josh had as well.

"Don't worry, imp," Mom said. "I just wanted to see if you had _any_ sense of modesty left. I'm comforted that you do."

"Yes, Mom," Josh said sheepishly.

I decided that it would be a good time for Josh and me to beat a hasty retreat. "Hey, J? C'mon let's go get showered and dressed."

Josh shot me a grateful look then followed me up the stairs.

***

Josh, and I spent the balance of the morning and through lunch with Mom, going through some of Josh's stuff that was still in the house and deciding what would be shipped to DC, what would be put in storage, and what would be thrown away. It was fun watching Josh and Mom stroll down memory lane when presented with one artifact of his childhood or another.

At 1:15, Mom drove us back to the train station. We went through our standard train madness, then settled in for the ride. Josh had stuff to read, so I pulled out the book I'd started the previous evening, then put my glasses on. I heard a soft moan from my seat companion.

"What's wrong, J."

"Nothing...absolutely nothing."

"So what was that moan all about?"

"Have I ever told you," Josh said, "how sexy you are in your glasses? There have been times that I've been wanting you so badly in the middle of a meeting in the oval, and then you need to read a section of something to the President, and you slip those on and...oh, God. I'm hard just thinking about it."

"Y'know, J," I said, "just when I think I've got you all figured out, I find yet another new thing I didn't know about you."

I settled back to read my book, ignoring Josh's protests that I had stimulated his libido and then didn't follow through. Not my fault he's turned on by my eyewear. Eventually, he stopped trying to entice me to neck with him on a public train, and he went back to his own reading.

We arrived on time to Penn Station, and again Dan and Casey were waiting for us where we'd arranged. But there was something different this time. Unlike our first encounter, there weren't waves of discomfort emanating from Dan. I wondered just what had happened between Dan and Casey while Josh and I had been in Connecticut.

And again, I felt like I was waiting in the wings for the curtain to rise.

***

As we approached Dan and Casey, Josh leaned toward me. "Do me a favor, love?"

"Anything...within reason," I said.

"Gimme a couple of minutes alone with Casey, would'ja? I need to find out just how he wants to play this thing."

"Sure," I said. "As long as he keeps his hands to himself."

"Jealous, love?" Josh asked with a smirk.

"You betcha," I said. "Bad enough we're all gonna end up naked together tonight." At Josh's look I said, "What? You didn't get that from what Casey said? He wants us to be visual aids for his indoctrination of Dan."

"I got that he'd want _us_ naked or _them_ naked, but all four of us?" Josh got a look on his face I didn't particularly like.

"Josh..." I said, planning to give him an explicit warning that I don't share well with others, but by then we'd gotten close enough to Casey and Dan that they would've overheard.

"Don't worry, love. I know." We'd done threesomes and foursomes before, but recently I'd been having these strong feelings of possessiveness about Josh - there were others lusting after him, and I wasn't quite sure how to deal with it.

We approached Dan and Casey, who were again deep in conversation.

"You just don't get it, Danny," Casey said. "It's all in the wrist."

"Yeah, right. Like you could handle it any better than I do. I've seen you in action, my friend, and it's not a pretty sight."

"Uh...hi, guys," Josh said, smirking like an idiot. That man can find smarmy overtones in almost anything.

Dan apparently was working on the same wavelength, 'cause he blushed. "Pool, Josh. I whupped Casey's ass at pool last night, and he's telling me why my technique is all wrong, despite the aforementioned ass-kicking."

"He's sloppy, he's all over the place, he couldn't control his stick if his life depended on it," Casey started, but Josh interrupted.

"Let's save this argument for later, OK?" He turned to me. "Love, d'you want to go hail us a cab?" OK, so he's not good at subtle, but his method was effective.

"Dan, could'ja help me? It's been a while since I needed to hail a New York cab, and I think I'm rusty." I could play idiot if I needed to; Josh was looking at me as if I'd grown a third head, but getting Casey alone was _his_ idea, not mine.

Dan, too, looked confused, but he shrugged and said "sure." He and I headed toward the cab stand, while Josh and Casey lagged behind.

We stood forlornly at the cab stand for a bit, but there were no taxis to be found. I chalked it up to the holiday; Dan was betting on his own karma. Apparently, there was some incident a number of years ago that brought the wrath of the taxi gods down on him, and he's never recovered. By the time Josh and Casey caught up with us, we'd determined that it would be easier - and less stressful - to just take the subway, so the four of us headed downstairs. We didn't have to wait long for a train, so pretty soon we were headed uptown.

It suddenly occurred to me that I didn't know where we were going. I leaned into Josh and asked.

"Back to the hotel. Casey and Dan decided it might be easier on them to be on 'neutral territory,' as Casey put it," Josh said.

"Oh," I replied, not completely understanding but willing to go along for the ride.

"So the plan is," Josh continued, "we go back to the hotel, spend some time there relaxing and whatever..."

I very pointedly didn't ask for an explanation of "whatever."

"...and then we'll get dinner. Casey recommended a Thai place really close to the hotel. What happens after dinner, I guess, will be up to Dan and Casey."

"Who gets to decide what happens before dinner?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" Josh asked.

"Well, I'm kinda out of my comfort zone here, J. It's one thing to be part of a threesome or foursome when everyone agrees on the rules. But I get the feeling that Dan's way out of his league here. I don't want him to feel pressured; I don't want to feel pressured." I was a little uncomfortable discussing this in public, but the subway was so noisy that I didn't think anyone other than Josh could hear me.

"Love, don't worry. Basically, Casey's plan involves us going back to our hotel room, lounging around for a bit and if anything happens, seeing where it goes. The last thing Casey wants is to make Dan uncomfortable, but he's also afraid that without a gentle push, they're never gonna get anywhere. Casey sees us as that push."

I relaxed a little. "OK, I think I can live with that."

We got off the train at 53rd and Lex and walked the 10 blocks back to the hotel. I noticed that we walked in couples - me sticking close to Josh; Dan virtually plastering himself to Casey's side, though they never touched - as if establishing rules from the outset.

As we rode in the elevator up to our room, Josh slipped his arm around my waist. The minute the doors opened, he removed it again, but I'd gotten the message. I noticed that Dan moved away from Casey as well as we exited the elevator; I wondered briefly if the same sort of reassuring contact had been made between them.

When we got to our hotel room, I waved Dan and Casey over to the sitting area while I unpacked our clothes from Josh's backpack. Josh joined them and began to tell them about stuff we'd found in his mom's house and asking them about how they'd spent New Year's. I joined him on the loveseat across from the sofa where Dan and Casey had settled. I noted with some interest the fact that Josh and I were sitting almost on top of each other, whereas Dan and Casey seemed to have purposely each taken a neutral corner of the couch.

By virtue of the design of the loveseat, I quickly discovered that the most comfortable position for me was to have my left arm stretched across Josh's shoulders. As soon as I stretched my arm out, Josh cuddled closer and maneuvered his arm around my back at my waist. As he talked, he began - I believe unconsciously - to stroke my hipbone in a way he knows makes me crazy.

"So," Josh said, "my mother and I ended up having a long discussion about whether or not to keep my 10th grade report cards. She and Sam were arguing yes, for historical purposes, and I was arguing no, out of fear of future blackmail."

Casey guffawed and Dan grinned. "I burned mine as soon as I became a 'face,'" Dan said. It was nice to see him relaxing around us, even if it was just a little. He'd even scooted a bit closer to Casey, who had moved over a bit himself.

"Danny, I'm not sure I'd say you were a 'face.' A nose, definitely," Casey said jokingly, and then he leaned over and placed a light kiss on the end of the aforementioned nose. I'm not sure who looked more surprised, Dan or Casey, as they quickly returned to their corners.

Josh probably noticed the interaction, but he kept blithering as if it hadn't actually happened. It's his mechanism for avoiding uncomfortable situations, especially ones he's gotten _himself_ into. His garrulousness actually put me a bit more at ease; it helped to know he wasn't as comfortable as he looked with this situation. As a thank-you - and, honestly, to shut him up - I leaned over and kissed Josh. In that moment before I closed my eyes and surrendered myself to the sensations of kissing Josh, I saw his irises darken slightly and his pupils dilate. I knew even before it happened that Josh was going to take control of the kiss, and he did, running his tongue along my lips to ease them apart. As soon as I opened for him, Josh deepened the kiss. Without breaking contact, he turned us to face each other and began running his hands along my back. I moaned into his mouth and allowed him to deepen the kiss even further.

The sound of slow applause began to penetrate the haze of my mind, and I slowly eased away from Josh, though I didn't move out of his embrace. Josh's hands moved off my back but were still active.

"Very nice," Dan said sardonically. "Do you give lessons?"

"Danny..." Casey started in a tone that was tinged simultaneously with arousal and warning.

"Casey..." Dan said in a very similar tone. Josh and I looked at each other. I knew what Dan's tone meant - he was turned on but afraid to pursue the interest any further. I understood it 'cause I've been there.

As always, I tried to diffuse the situation before tempers got too hot to keep people from saying things they never intended. "Casey? Do we have a dinner reservation? Or are we assuming that because it's the holiday, we won't have trouble getting a table?" There - a neutral subject. Totally avoiding the real issue. Despite Josh's continued attempt to phase his hands through the back of my jeans. And despite Josh's current state of arousal, which was making itself exceedingly apparent. I tried to subtly push Josh's hand away from my thigh - I'd given up on the one on my ass - but he just put it right back again.

Casey tore his eyes away from Dan's face and looked at me, pointedly ignoring what Josh was doing to me. "Actually, yeah. We've got a 6:00 reservation at Rain on 3rd." He looked at his watch. "It's only 5:30 now, and the restaurant is literally down the block, so we don't really need to go for almost 20 minutes. Y'know, I haven't had Thai food in so long. The last time I had Thai food was..." and he was off and running. Ah, something _else_ that Josh and Casey have in common - covering up discomfort with blather.

Dan let Casey babble for a while and then did something totally unexpected - he used the same technique for shutting Casey up as I had with Josh. Josh and I sat and tried not to watch as Dan and Casey fumbled their way through a less-than-artistic but very hot kiss.

"Well, now," Casey said hoarsely when Dan finally released him. He was grinning like an idiot, as was Dan, and they hadn't moved apart this time. If you looked closely, it even appeared that they were maintaining some level of physical contact.

"OK, then," Josh said, but then he seemed unsure of how to continue. Somehow, with one simple kiss, Dan had managed to make all these people - including me - who make their livings due to their linguistic abilities to a state of speechlessness. For his part, Dan didn't seem any better off than the rest of us.

After a minute or two of us all looking at each other in dumbfounded silence, Casey cleared his throat. "So, um...well...that is..."

"Nouns, Case. They do wonders for sentence construction." Dan was back to his glib self, the one that I'd only gotten glimpses of but that had made him notorious within the sports world.

"Hang on, Danny," Casey said. "You kiss me stupid and then have the audacity to pick on my sentence construction? Is that fair?"

"All's fair, Case," Dan said. I wondered if he meant the "in love" part for sure, and it looked from Casey's expression as if he was wondering the same thing. The mystery was ended, though, with Dan's next words.

"Yes, dammit, OK? I do..." He tapered off, as if embarrassed about making such a personal declaration in front of virtual strangers. "Don't mind me...I'm just gonna dig myself a nice, deep hole and sit in it for a while." He tried to scoot back to his corner of the sofa, but Casey put a strong arm around Dan's waist.

"Sh...babe, don't worry," Casey said soothingly while attempting to prevent an escape by Dan. "We're among friends. Relax."

Dan looked at Casey incredulously. "'Babe'? That the best you can do? A big blue ox?" He grinned suddenly. "Does this mean I can now find an embarrassing nickname for you? And maybe let it slip on-air accidentally? Something like 'stretch' or 'stud'?"

"Yeah, like that would go over well with Dana," Casey said dryly, pulling Dan even closer to him. Casey leaned down and placed a kiss on Dan's neck. "I love holding you like this," he said conversationally.

"It's not...unpleasant," Dan said. "I could learn to live with this." He leaned back and kissed Casey's cheek.

We sat and made small talk until we had to leave for dinner. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than before; I hoped it would last through the meal and perhaps even longer.

Dinner was quite enjoyable, with good food and friendly conversation. No major issues were broached; discussions of either sports or politics were quickly declared off-limits, as we were not having dinner on anyone's expense accounts. We did briefly discuss the various cities we'd visited within the US, but that wasn't really discussing work, even though the majority of our travel had been for our respective jobs.

After dinner, we all headed back to the hotel. We'd all made a concerted effort to make dinner a pressure-free atmosphere, but I could feel Dan becoming more tense as we got closer to our room. I don't know what he thought was expected of him; as far as I knew, we were going back for more conversation and, if something happened to happen, we'd see where it led. Again I wondered if Casey had told Dan to expect something specific to happen - or, conversely, to expect nothing to happen - and if Dan's discomfort stemmed from his expectations. I also wondered about Dan's past experience with gay relationships - if he'd ever had any, if he'd had a bad experience, or if he'd never even been with another man. There were many different variables, and I was mulling over them and all their potential consequences.

"Love, you're thinking too loudly again. Relax, won't you?" Josh whispered to me as we got into the elevator.

"I'm worried about Dan," I whispered back. "He's freaking again."

"Casey'll take care of him," Josh said. "Don't worry about it."

"J," I said urgently, "I don't know if Casey even notices. He's caught in his own head, with his own expectations, and I don't know if he's got any clue that Dan's barely hanging on to his composure."

"How'd you get so insightful?" Josh asked.

"Been there. It's not a pretty sight when the composure shreds."

Josh looked shocked. "It wasn't me, was it? I never..."

I hurried to reassure him. "No, J. It was long ago...but that sort of thing stays with you."

"I'd imagine so," Josh said, pulling me closer. "Don't ever let me do that, OK? If you're fraying around the edges, let me know."

I remembered times that I was fraying and Josh helped me keep all the pieces together. "I will, J. I promise."

When we got to our floor, Josh and I led Dan and Casey to our room. Again I told them to sit and relax while I hung up our coats and straightened a couple of things. Not that the hotel's staff hadn't been perfectly efficient in cleaning the room while we were in Connecticut, but I was feeling restless due to Dan's state of mind. Josh had teased me about "thinking too loudly," but now I was beginning to believe that it was actually Dan whose thoughts were pervading the atmosphere. I tried to think of some way to lower his tension, to make this a safer, more comfortable environment for him.

Josh sat with Dan and Casey, and again they'd all taken the same seats as earlier. Dan was back to clinging to his corner of the sofa, while Casey had chosen the middle cushion this time. I wondered as I joined them whether Casey was ignoring Dan's discomfort or if he was, in fact, completely oblivious. I figured it was probably the latter - Josh has a number of brilliant friends with massive blind spots, and he didn't, as far as I knew, have any friends who were deliberately cruel. But I couldn't conceive of a way to alert Casey to the problem without making Dan even more uncomfortable.

I sat next to Josh on the loveseat and snuggled close. Under the guise of trying to kiss his neck, I leaned in and whispered "Dan's really on the edge."

"What can I do?" he responded as he tried to nibble on my earlobe.

"Dunno; if I come up with anything, I'll let you know."

Josh slid one hand up my chest and started playing with the buttons at the neckline of my shirt. "Sam? Why do you insist on wearing henleys?" he whispered.

"They're comfortable," I replied.

"But the buttons just tease me - I can't get my hand in far enough to actually touch you, but they leave the impression that I could if I just tried hard enough." To illustrate his point, he opened the first two buttons and slipped his fingers inside, grazing the sensitive skin of my collarbone.

Josh turned back to our guests, but he didn't stop caressing my skin. As he continued to talk, he moved his hand away from my shoulder and down my back. He pulled my shirt free of my jeans and snaked his hand up under the fabric. Josh's hand on my back was simultaneously soothing and arousing, and very soon my jeans were uncomfortably tight in front.

I leaned even further into Josh's embrace in an attempt to get him to pay more attention to providing what I was quickly becoming desperate for. I moaned softly and Josh turned away from Dan and Casey. "Hush," he whispered.

Josh, Dan, and Casey continued to talk, but I wasn't sufficiently coherent to contribute much to the conversation. I tried; I tried very hard. But between the little pats Josh was giving me and the fact that I was concerned about Dan, I had very little focus left.

Casey, amazingly, picked up on my distress more than he picked up on Dan's. "Sam? You OK?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said. "I'm fine..." I tried to find a way to tell Casey about Dan, but I didn't have any idea how to do so without causing even more stress for Dan. I didn't even know if Dan realized how fragile he was at the moment; he seemed to be someone who was very good at hiding from himself.

Finally, Dan stood up. "I've got to...uh...excuse me a sec," he said and bolted for the bathroom. I heard the water turn on full-blast, obscuring any other sounds that Dan might have been making.

This was my opportunity to say something. I wasn't sure what to say or how to say it; I wasn't even sure it was my place to say anything. But I knew how Dan was feeling and how miserable it was. Not just to feel out of control but to not know how to regain control. Finally, I screwed up my courage.

"Casey, I'm worried about Dan." There. I'd said it.

Casey looked shocked. Good - it wasn't maliciousness, just cluelessness that had kept Casey from comforting Dan.

"Danny? What's wrong with Danny?" The concern in Casey's voice made me glad I'd spoken up.

"I'm not sure he's ready for the amount of pressure you're putting on him tonight. He's flailing...he's..." I didn't have a word for it.

"Damn!" Casey said. "I _asked_ him, _begged_ him to tell me if he wasn't up to this. We've had..." He cut himself off, then said, "I've got to apologize to him, find a way to make him relax. This means a lot to me, and I might have unconsciously put too much emphasis on the physical side of this relationship." He turned to Josh. "How did you...were you..."

Josh smiled. "I had an advantage - Sam was as hot for me as I was for him."

"J!"

"Sorry, love, but it's true. That first kiss in your office...you told me so much, and I almost took you right there on your desk. I would've, too, if..."

"If you weren't chicken?" I teased.

"Well, yeah, there is that..." Josh said.

"Seriously, guys," Casey said. "How...what do I do now? With Lisa, we eventually just stopped having sex, and I honestly didn't miss it. But with Danny...I really, really want him. And I don't know how to tell him just how important _he_ is to me. It goes beyond the physical. I love his mind, his warm nature, his caring manner. Hell, you should've seen him when Isaac had his stroke. Dan was so concerned; he was on the phone with Esther - Isaac's wife - so often that Esther eventually called me and asked me to hide Danny's phone. Isaac is more than a boss to all of us, he's our father figure, and Danny felt his absence so deeply. I realize now that in some ways I was jealous of Danny's feelings for Isaac - _I_ wanted to be the target of that much emotion. And later, when Danny and I were fighting, it was horrible. I couldn't think straight, I was so angry, but more than anything I wanted Danny back. And now I have him, but I want more, and I feel so selfish, 'cause he doesn't need me pressuring him or anything. I've promised myself that we'll do this at his pace, but..." Casey finally ran out of steam, and the room was silent.

That's when I noticed that the water had stopped running.

"Idiot," I heard from behind us. "You coulda said something."

Casey's head jerked up, and I turned to see Dan standing behind the loveseat.

"What should I have said, Danny?" Casey asked very quietly.

"What you just said...but with less blithering, unless you wanted me to again shut you up." Dan had come closer to the sofa and was now standing in front of Casey.

"Dumbass," Casey said affectionately, standing up and putting his arms around Dan.

"Blockhead," Dan responded, leaning in for a kiss.

They quickly sat back down on the sofa, still kissing and holding each other. They began to caress each other, oblivious to their audience. I watched with rapt attention until Josh started to tickle my hip.

"Hey...you...over here," Josh said, cupping my chin and turning my head back toward him and away from the action going on on the sofa.

"Yeah?" I said.

"You just interested in watching?" He leaned in and kissed the junction of my neck and shoulder, then started moving upward toward my ear. When Josh started laving my earlobe with his tongue, I closed my eyes and was soon oblivious to everything non-Josh in the room.

The sensual haze was suddenly broken by a voice.

"Wait...stop...please. Casey, please stop."

***

As soon as I heard "stop," I froze, as did Josh. He's gotten quite good at stopping on a dime when asked, for which I am very grateful, and this time it wasn't even me asking.

We looked over at the sofa where Casey and Dan were sitting. Casey, too, was frozen in place. Were I not worried about Dan - after all, he'd stopped all the action in the room with one word - I would've laughed at the tableau in front of me. Dan was bare to the waist, and the base of his neck was decorated with what would surely be an impressive hickey come morning.

From my quick perusal, Dan didn't seem to be in distress. But he had stopped the action. All action.

"What's wrong, babe?" Casey asked Dan, smoothing his hand over Dan's unruly hair. From where I was sitting, it looked like someone had carded their fingers through Dan's hair over and over...or Dan had stuck his finger in a light socket.

"It's just...I'm..." Dan had apparently been kissed stupid. It seemed to work for him, though, so I didn't say anything. Also, I've been in that same situation - hormones overriding your access to your language centers.

Casey looked concerned. "Are you in pain of any sort?"

Dan shook his head, but he still didn't speak.

"Dan...please...tell me what's wrong." Casey turned Dan's head so that they were staring into each other's eyes.

"God, Case, it's not you." Dan began to blush. "It's...I'm..." He leaned in and whispered in Casey's ear.

Immediately Casey stood up, helped Dan to his feet, and started straightening his clothes. Dan, as brain-fried as he appeared to be, was having trouble getting dressed again, so once Casey was presentable, he helped Dan put his shirt back on. He whipped a comb out of his pocket and quickly straightened Dan's hair, then turned to us.

"Guys? We're going. Now. We'll be in touch," Casey said.

"Is everything OK?" Josh asked.

"Fine...fine. Or, at least, it will be as soon as we get to Dan's place...or mine. Doesn't really matter." Casey grabbed his jacket and Dan's, hustled Dan into his coat and then out the door. They paused in the doorway.

"I'll call you soon, Oscar," Casey said.

"*Now*, Case," Dan said insistently.

"We're gone," Casey said and pulled the door shut, leaving Josh and me sitting on the loveseat. Josh looked as confused as I felt.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

"Who knows?" Josh said. "I'll see if I can get details from Casey later." He looked at me - really looked at me - for the first time since Dan had stopped everything. "Are _you_ OK?"

"Fine, J. I'm just worried about them."

"Love, you barely know them. Not that you shouldn't worry about them, but why are you so concerned in this case?"

I wasn't exactly sure how to explain it. "I think I see a lot of myself in Dan. When I first realized I was attracted to men, I wasn't sure how to deal. I got involved with this guy in college whose main concern was his own needs, his own pleasure. My needs got ignored, and I felt..." I paused, not completely sure of the word I wanted.

"What, love?" Josh asked very softly.

"Unwanted, I guess. I was just a means to an end for Richard. He wanted me to pleasure him but wouldn't do the same for me. And I see some of that in Dan and Casey's relationship."

"You think Casey's using Dan just for his own pleasure? The Casey I've known would never do that." Josh was adamant on this point.

"No, J; I didn't mean that. What I meant was that I wonder if Casey realizes that Dan's feeling uncertain - uncomfortable, even - or not. I don't think Casey would purposefully hurt Dan that way. Casey's love for Dan is blatantly obvious. But..."

"But Dan has a responsibility to tell Casey, too, right?"

"Yeah, but..." I had to try to get Josh to see things _not_ from the perspective of the dominant. "It's not easy to demand what you need for your own pleasure."

"_You_ don't seem to have a problem," Josh said. I would've been upset were his tone not so gentle.

"I've learned that I can't get what I want unless I ask. But Dan's different. He's more...I donno - fragile? - than I am." I stood up from my perch on the loveseat. "Can we take this discussion elsewhere?" I asked, reaching a hand out to Josh and pulling him up.

Josh and I walked over to the bed and lay down. It was more emotionally comfortable for me to talk about things of this nature when I was physically comfortable. As soon as we were settled in our usual "talking in bed" position - me tucked under Josh's left arm, my head on his shoulder - I started to explain.

"I don't know Dan, or Casey, at all, J, but I see things in Dan that I completely understand. He's not going to be the dominant one in that relationship; Casey's already established himself in that role. But Dan's not so good at following, either. If I was at all understanding the undercurrents in the room tonight, Dan was unsure of his footing but didn't want to deny Casey anything. That's a really tough position to be in. Believe me, I know."

Josh looked at me. "Love, don't take this the wrong way, but you're the pushiest bottom I've ever known."

"Yeah, I know. But I really wasn't until you." I turned to look at Josh. "You _let_ me drive - or not drive - as I wish. You never do anything new or different without at least reconfirming my trust in you. But before we'd established this pattern of trust, I still wouldn't have ever denied you anything. And I think that's where Dan is right now. He and Casey are still learning to trust each other as sexual partners, but Dan is never going to deny Casey something that Casey wants - even if Dan is afraid, or uncertain, or if he feels that it could hurt him physically or emotionally. And that's what worries me."

"I hope you're wrong, love," Josh said. "I hope that Casey and Dan are more stable in their relationship. But I don't doubt that you understand the dynamic." He craned his neck to kiss me on the forehead. "I'm so sorry you had to go through the things you did in order to become so smart about the ways relationships go wrong. I hope that you will come and smack me upside the head if I ever do anything that bothers you."

"Don't worry, J. I will." And I meant it. Josh and I have gotten to the point in our relationship that there's nothing I can't talk to him about. There are definitely times that I choose not to tell him things, usually when I think he'll be upset by them, but it's not because I don't feel I can.

"Good." He kissed my forehead again. We lay together for a while in silence, and I thought about all the relationships that had taught me things. Much as I hated to admit it, much of what I knew about relationships came from my time with Lisa. And even though I'd never regret having broken our engagement and having followed Josh to New Hampshire, I did regret causing Lisa pain.

After about 20 minutes, Josh finally spoke up. "Love, you're thinking too hard again."

"Can't help it," I said. "It's the way I'm wired."

"I know. Maybe you need a distraction?" He waggled his eyebrows at me.

"Good thinking," I said. I sat up, reached over to the bedside table, and grabbed the TV remote. I turned the TV on and surfed over to Animal Planet. "Ooh - a documentary about the cheetah!" I said.

Josh sighed. "Not really the distraction I meant, love," he said, snaking his hand up under my shirt.

"Who says we can't do both?" I asked, grinning and shifting to give him better access. We started kissing and caressing each other, and there was a bit of desperation in the intensity of our concentration. Josh maneuvered me into the middle of the bed, flat on my back, and moved to straddle me.

Just then the phone rang.

"Ignore it, J," I said.

"Can't," Josh said. "Might be work."

"Yeah," I sighed. "I know. Why'd we get into this gig in the first place?"

"Meet famous people, see the world?" Josh ventured as the phone rang a second time.

"Doubt it," I said. I shoved at Josh's hip, perched above mine. "Go...get the phone. But hurry back..." I wasn't sure how long I could delay gratification tonight.

Josh climbed off me and off the bed and quick-stepped over to the phone. "Josh Lyman...yeah...I'm glad you called." Ah - must be Casey, I figured. I unabashedly listened to Josh's side of the conversation.

"Sprite, it's just that we were both worried....Oh?...Ah...no, don't worry about it. Tell him we understand. What? Only person I'd tell is Sam...No, not the Enquirer...maybe Weekly World News, though..." I glowered at Josh on Casey's behalf.

"Yeah, he's giving me that look of death, but I can't tell if it's 'cause I'm teasing you or 'cause I left him waiting while I took this call."

I reached over, grabbed the closest thing to hand - which, luckily for Josh, was a pad of hotel scratch paper - and threw it at Josh.

"He's getting violent; I should go. Tell Dan it's fine and that we hope to see you both tomorrow, OK?" Josh listened for another minute then said, "OK, we'll talk to you tomorrow morning and make plans. G'night." He said goodbye and hung up the phone, then came back and lay down next to me again.

"That was Casey," he said unnecessarily.

"I figured...you don't usually call Leo 'Sprite'." I snuggled back against Josh, whose fingers were already teasing my nipples. "So, is everything OK?"

He grinned. "Better than OK, love. Casey said that the reason Dan needed to leave so quickly is that he was so on the edge of his control that he needed to get Casey alone before he mauled Casey in public. I didn't get details, but Casey said Dan was 'much better now' and that he couldn't linger on the phone 'cause Dan had just stepped out of the shower."

"I'm glad they're figuring it all out," I said. I was still a bit concerned, and I hoped that they'd talk and negotiate with one another once they could think about things other than sex, but it sounded to me like they were on the right track.

"So," Josh said, "d'you remember where we left off before the phone rang?" I barely had a chance to nod before he climbed back on top of me. Form and gentility took a back seat to frenzied need as clothing was flung and skin began to slide against bare skin. Josh slowed down only long enough to prepare himself and me before he penetrated me.

"Love you...mine..." he whispered in my ear as he drove into me. "Need you...love you...beautiful...mine..." We both came quickly, most likely due to the emotional intensity of the evening.

As we lay cooling, snuggled up against each other, Josh looked at me. "Wow."

"Yeah," I responded.

"We haven't done _that_ in a while; you're likely to be sore in the morning."

"Never have been before." No matter how crazed we are, no matter how rushed, Josh always makes sure I'm ready.

We lay together, lost in our thoughts for a bit. Josh caressed my back with a very light touch, as if to make up for his perceived roughness earlier.

"Love?" Josh said after a while.

"Mm?" I mumbled, too content to actually consider real vocabulary.

"We'll always be like this, right?"

"What do you mean, J?" I summoned the bits of sanity that remained in my fuzzed brain, knowing that Josh needed this conversation to happen.

"We'll always be able to talk about what's going on, right? 'Cause, y'know, in my past relationships, talking wasn't something that happened. Yelling, yeah - Mandy and I had some real good shouting matches - but no real talking."

"Josh, this is the first relationship I've had that had this level of communication. Lisa and I...well, when things got rough between us, we just didn't talk. I don't think she had any idea I was so detached from our relationship that I'd pick up and follow you to New Hampshire until I actually did it. And Toby and I didn't communicate at all. So I'd say that, yeah, this is just part of our paradigm. It's the way we work."

"Good," Josh said. "'Cause I was thinking about what you said about Casey, and it hit a bit too close to home."

"J, you're not Casey. I'm not Dan. They'll work out their own relationship, just like we've worked out ours."

Josh seemed to think about that for a few minutes, then said, "Y'know, you're pretty smart for a Princeton graduate."

This - ragging on each other's alma maters - was familiar territory, and was appropriately light-hearted.

"That's why I didn't go to Haahvahd," I said, purposely exaggerating the stereotypical Boston Brahmin accent. "Didn't want to be both the cutest _and_ the smartest in the crowd."

"You wish," Josh said, ruffling my hair. "_I'm_ always the cutest in a given crowd."

"Uh huh," I said in my "I'm just humoring you" tone.

We talked about nothing for a while but then I must've drifted to sleep, because my next memory is of Josh poking me awake. "Love? Your cell's ringing."

"Mrff..." I struggled toward wakefulness. "What time is it?" I asked.

"Almost 7:30," Josh said.

"Damn," I said. It was too late in the morning for me to get too pissy about being woken. Hell, I'd have already been in the office for close to 2 hours by now if I weren't on vacation. "Odds it's not even work-related?"

"Pretty high."

I rolled over and grabbed my phone off the bedside table. "H'lo?"

"Sam? Oh, Hell, I didn't wake you, did I?" It was Dan. For a very brief moment, I wondered how he'd gotten my cell phone number, but then I remembered that we'd traded contact info the first night, in case we couldn't be reached at the hotel.

"Nah, Josh did that. How can I help you?" I looked up and Josh was gesticulating at me, trying to determine who was on the other end. I mouthed "Dan" and Josh nodded.

"Well," Dan said, "I wanted to thank you again for whatever you said yesterday to Casey. I...well..." He stopped, and there was just silence on the line.

"Didja have a good night?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah," Dan said. "Good doesn't even begin...oh, never mind. But...I'd like to ask a favor."

This had the potential to be interesting. "Yeah?"

"Will you have any time to sit and talk with me today?" Dan sounded hesitant about asking.

"Sure...what about?"

"Couple of things. Look, I don't have much time before Casey comes back."

"OK, sure. I'm game. When?"

"Good. Thanks. How 'bout around 3:30? I'll go for lunch around then; could I meet you at Rockefeller Center? I can get lunch and you could get a coffee or something."

"3:30 should be fine for me," I said.

"Thanks, Sam." Dan paused. "Do you think...can we..." he stopped, then began again. "Could this be just the two of us, or will Josh insist on coming along?"

I thought a minute and said, "Honestly, I think he'd insist on tagging along. But I'll make sure he behaves, if you want."

"It's not that I don't...oh, never mind."

"Don't worry," I said. "Josh has that effect on a lot of people." Josh gave me a look and I stuck out my tongue at him.

"So 3:30 works for you?" Dan said.

"Yeah. See you then."

We said good-bye and hung up. Before I'd even put the phone back down or started to get out of bed, Josh was by my side.

"What did he want? What's at 3:30? Why were you besmirching my character?" Josh asked in a torrent of words.

"Dan wants me - well, you can come along, as long as you're nice - to go out for coffee with him. And I besmirched your character 'cause it's fun and easy," I answered.

"He likes you, Sam."

"He trusts me to some extent. There's a difference." I still wasn't convinced that Dan liked me, but he must've trusted me enough to want to talk to me about...something. For now, that would be enough. But maybe some day he'd come to like me.

"Anyway," Josh said, "what should we do between now and 3:30?"

"Can I suggest something totally nuts?"

"Try me."

"I lived in this city for a number of years, but I really didn't do much touristy stuff. Y'know - the 'natives' don't do that sort of thing, right? But now...I donno; it might be because I've been in DC for a couple of years now...but would you mind if we did the Circle Line?"

I was sure that Josh would say no. After all, who would want to go on a cruise around the island of Manhattan in December, when it's freezing cold? But to my surprise, Josh said, "Oh, cool. I haven't done that since I was a kid!"

We looked in the hotel's "where to go in New York City" brochure and found the phone number of the Circle Line, and after a brief phone call discovered that there was a tour leaving at 10:00 AM. The entire trip took three hours to go around the whole island, and we decided that it would be time very well spent.

After showering and dressing, we headed down to Pier 81, where the tour boat was docked. We stopped for breakfast on the way, so when we got there at 9:15, a long line had already formed. Joining the line at the back, Josh and I began discussing the things we were most looking forward to seeing on the tour. Me, I've got a soft spot for Lady Liberty. And Josh? Yankees Stadium. I should've guessed, crazy baseball fan that he is.

Finally they began moving the line forward. As each person or couple headed toward the ship to board, a Circle Line employee took a photo of them, which the photo-ee would have an opportunity to purchase at the end of the tour. Josh and I decided that if the photo came out nicely we'd buy it - we don't have very many opportunities to get non-work-related photos of the two of us.

Despite the cold, the tour was everything I had hoped. The guy doing the commentary combined local history with random anecdotes about the city and was very knowledgeable. When we rounded the top of the island of Manhattan and were looking up at the cliff upon which the city still bustled, I was amazed by the serenity of the water. As we headed back down the Hudson side of the island, there was more history and more anecdotes, which I stored away for my next intellectual pissing contest with President Bartlet.

After we docked again, Josh and I took a look at the photos and decided they were worthy of purchase. Our booty in our hands, we headed back uptown for lunch. We ended up eating right near Rockefeller Center, at a little Japanese place on 46th. After lunch, we browsed at the Barnes and Noble at Rockefeller Plaza, and then went outside at 3:20 to meet up with Dan. I spotted him as soon as we came out of the bookstore.

"Hey, Sam, thanks for agreeing to meet with me," Dan said, giving me a firm, friendly handshake. "Hey, Josh."

"Hey," Josh and I responded.

"Sorry I was early; I managed to sneak away before Dana gave me some other random bit of information to track down. I'm having the hardest time writing tonight's script - not sure why - and as a way of making me feel less useless, Dana's been coming up with picayune details for me to track down. Any intern with a clue could do what I've been doing today, but at least I'm not just sitting at my desk throwing pencils at the ceiling."

"How well I know that one," I said, "though the maintenance people frown on us throwing pencils at the ceiling."

Dan led us to the Commonwealth Brewery on 48th, and after we'd been seated and had ordered, he began to relax a bit. We made small talk for a bit before Dan got to what he really wanted to discuss. "I don't usually eat here. We have a place that we usually go for food, but everyone there knows me, and I'd be even more uncomfortable doing this there than I am here." He shifted in his seat. "So, I need to ask you. How do you make it work?"

Josh and I looked at each other, confusedly. "Make what work?" I asked.

Dan opened his mouth to answer, but just then the waitress brought our drinks - Coke for Dan, coffee for Josh, herbal tea for me so that Josh wouldn't glare at me for the rest of the afternoon. As soon as the waitress left, Dan tried again.

"How do you find the balance between your relationship outside your relationship inside the office? Like, without your co-workers knowing all about your personal lives?" he asked.

I looked at Josh again, unsure how to approach the answer. He gave me a "Hell if I know" look, leaving the conversational ball firmly in my court.

Oh, great.

***

I gave Josh another of those "Help!" looks, but he just smiled beatifically at me and nodded his head. Oh...kay. He wanted me to do this on my own after insisting he be allowed to come along? Whatever.

"Well," I started, "one key is that we try to separate home issues and work issues. If I'm pissed at Josh for something he did at home, I try to keep that out of our interactions at work."

Josh snorted, and I shot him a quelling look. If he wasn't going to help, he wasn't going to get to editorialize either.

"It's not always easy, I'll admit, but it does help that - almost from the very beginning - all our co-workers knew about us. Even though the public didn't, and even though we had to be discreet outside the office, it was much easier to integrate our home lives and work lives when everyone knew."

"So how did you tell them?" Dan asked.

I grinned, as did Josh. "It was more like they told us," I said.

"Huh?" Dan was confused, but that was to be expected. The story of how Josh and I got together was confusing enough for those of us who lived it. I could only imagine how it would sound to people who didn't experience it.

"Well, it all started with the First Lady," I said.

"Mrs. Bartlet?" Dan asked.

"What other First Ladies do you think we know?" Josh asked. I glared at him and he apologized with a look.

"Right in the middle of the Mendoza confirmation madness, Josh decides he's in love with me. He runs around mooning and driving everyone nuts, until Dr. Bartlet tells him to put up or shut up." OK, so I was being snarky, but I very rarely get to tell "the story." Josh usually tells it, and the way he tells it, he knew all along that he was going to ask me out. In truth, I'd been lusting after Josh for a very, very long time but had been afraid to approach him; meanwhile, he'd been afraid to approach me, and Dr. Bartlet gave him the final push he needed.

"Love..." Josh said warningly.

"OK, I'll tell it straight," I said. I explained to Dan that virtually the whole senior staff knew we were crazy about each other before we got together. I told him about the President, the First Lady, and Leo ganging up on us and convincing us to make a go of the budding relationship.

"And how do you keep things out of the office? Or out of your home life, for that matter?" Dan asked.

"It's not easy, sometimes," I admitted.

"Like your habit of not telling me you're sick and then passing out in your office," Josh said.

"It was only once," I said, turning to face Josh.

"Once is more than enough for one lifetime, love. I'll tell you, you took a couple of years off my life with that illness...and more with the second one."

"Like you didn't do the same to me by getting shot?" I said, probably louder than was appropriate.

"Love..." Josh started in an apologetic tone.

"Sorry; that was uncalled for," I said. I realized that we weren't actually answering Dan's question and that, in fact, we might have been justifying his concerns. I tried to get the conversation back on track.

Turning back to Dan, I said, "For the most part, it's been OK. In the early days, it was rough going - we misinterpreted a lot, didn't have enough faith in the relationship. But now that we know to talk about things before they become too big, it's a lot easier."

Josh nodded. "When we talk, it's fine; when the communication between us breaks down is when we have the biggest problems. Last winter...well, last winter was bad all over, but I couldn't talk to Sam about what was going on in my head. But somehow he knew..." Josh stopped speaking, and I could tell from his face that he was reliving that period.

"J, don't," I said. I turned to Dan. "I was guilt-ridden because I used information that was only available to me because Josh and I were a couple to convince Leo that Josh really needed help fast. I hated myself for it, and I was afraid that Josh would hate me for it. But it was the only thing I could do. He was crying out in his sleep, reliving the shooting at every turn. I couldn't stand by and watch him suffer. So, yeah, there are times that our personal lives _do_ get entangled with our work lives. But it's inevitable when you work the hours we work."

"So...how would that translate for me and Casey?" Dan asked.

"First thing, tell your boss. You have a good relationship with him, right?" I asked.

"He's...he's the closest thing I have to a real father figure," Dan said. "I think I'm closer to Isaac Jaffe than I've ever been to my real father."

"Would he have a problem with you and Casey extending your current partnership?" I was trying to be as tactful and circumspect as I could.

Thankfully, Dan understood. "Not the Isaac I know," he answered.

"So," I said, "even if you don't tell anyone else, tell Isaac. Talk to him; be upfront about what you and Casey want. If he's the man you think he is, he'll back you up."

"But..." Dan seemed hesitant to ask his next question.

"Yeah?" Josh asked.

"What about...I don't know how to ask this. It was hard enough when we _weren't_ sleeping together to control my urge to pounce on him in the office. Now, well...I almost threw caution to the wind this morning. Had Kim not walked into editing when she did, I don't know what would've happened."

Josh grinned and I could feel the blush climbing up my face.

"What?" Dan asked. "Those expressions are hiding a good story, aren't they?"

"Hmm," Josh said, pretending to think. I knew that he recalled every single time that he'd pounced me in the office. Or vice versa.

"Well," he said finally, "there was that time in Sam's office, with the big window. Or that night with the feather. And who could forget that Saturday we worked on the Skinner statement."

OK, Josh was stepping over the line. He wasn't willing to help, but he was more than happy to embarrass me by sharing some of our most intimate secrets with Dan, who I barely even knew.

"So, you've been, shall we say, indiscreet in the office?" Dan asked with a smile.

"We're the souls of discretion," Josh said, but he smirked at me. I knew he was recalling the same incidents I was, times we were almost caught, literally, with our pants down.

I was about to give Josh a firm kick in the ankle when he was spared by his ringing phone.

"Josh Lyman. Yeah, he's with us...yeah, he's fine..." There was a long pause while Josh listened to the caller. "Nah, don't worry. He just needed...yeah. Don't worry...OK, I'll tell him." Josh hung up the phone and turned to Dan.

"_That_ was Casey. He says you snuck out and he's been looking high and low for you since 3:15."

"Oh," Dan said. "I didn't think he'd realize I wasn't there."

"Rule one," Josh said. "Your partner will _always_ know when you're missing."

"So...I'd better head back then," Dan said. He looked at his watch. "And I've been gone close to an hour, anyway. Dana's gonna come after me if I don't get back." He signaled for the check, and very soon we'd paid and were headed out of the restaurant.

In front of Dan's building, we stopped. "Thanks for everything, guys," Dan said, extending his hand first to Josh and then to me. "I really appreciate it."

"You're welcome," I said, shaking Dan's hand.

"So...how late are you guys going to be up tonight?" Dan asked. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but he remained silent.

"Unclear, why?" I responded.

"Well, I was wondering if you would want to join Casey and me at Anthony's tonight after the show."

I looked at Josh. "Uh...that would be after midnight, right?"

"Yeah," Dan said.

"Probably not - but if we're up, I'll give you a call on your cell around 12:15, OK?" I figured that way we could decide at the last minute.

"OK." Dan looked at his watch again. "I'd better get back upstairs," he said.

"Yeah," a voice said from behind us. We all turned to see Casey standing in the doorway.

"Hey," Dan said shyly.

"Hey," Casey said. "Missed you." While that was all they said aloud, a very significant look passed between them. Josh and I quickly said goodbye and headed back toward the subway. I don't know that they even noticed us leaving.

On the subway back uptown, I began to really think about Josh's refusal to assist in answering Dan's questions. Though he piped up at times, he'd really left the majority of the responsibility in my hands. Now, granted, Dan had asked specifically for me to help him, but Josh had insisted on being there. He should have, in my opinion, backed me up more.

Josh must have become aware of my mood, as he maneuvered himself to stand up close to me. The subway was crowded, so we were standing close anyway, but there was a subtle difference between being jammed together and the closeness Josh had orchestrated.

We got back to the hotel at around 5 and headed straight to our room. As soon as we cleared the threshold of the room and closed the door, I spoke up.

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"What went on just now? What were you thinking? _Were_ you even thinking?"

"What do you mean?" Josh asked, removing his coat and then moving over to help me remove mine.

As Josh hung the coats up - something I take total credit for, by the way - I said, "You insisted on coming along - as I knew you would - but then you were silent for most of the conversation. What was up with that?"

"Well, you know I hate to be separated from you while we're on vacation." I nodded; we've had to be apart so frequently because of work - either he has a trip without me or I have a trip without him - that both of us hate to leave the other behind while we're travelling for pleasure. "So that's why I wanted to go with you to meet with Dan. But then, when he asked about how we handle work and home lives...well, I didn't really feel qualified to answer the question. You seem to balance them much better than I do. I keep blurring the lines."

"You weren't around the West Wing during your recovery, J. I did plenty of blurring then. Ask anyone - Toby, CJ, Donna - they'll be glad to tell you that I was completely unable to separate work and home during that time." I started to pace around the room, too agitated to sit and talk. "I felt abandoned out there, J. You left me to twist in the wind. The last thing Dan needed was to see us not helping each other. And you have a history with Casey, a history longer than even Dan has. You probably have insight into Casey that no one else has, and that could have helped Dan. There were so many thing you could've told him." I could hear my voice rising in anger, but I couldn't help it. "You were right that you should be there. You could have put some of Dan's fears to rest. Instead, you just snarked at me. I just don't get it."

"I'm sorry, Sam," Josh said. "I didn't realize you'd feel that way. I saw it as threatening to Dan for me to be there in the first place, and I didn't want to make it any worse by speaking out of turn. I probably should've helped you out more. Next time I do that, feel free to smack me."

"Don't give me that bullshit, Josh. You _knew_ I was uncomfortable. Hell, you seemed to be orchestrating my discomfort at times. I was trying to be helpful. You were just being difficult."

Josh didn't have an immediate answer, and we stood and stared at each other in silence.

"Love?" Josh finally said after a few minutes.

"Yeah?"

"Why did this bother you so much?" I shot him a quelling look, and he backtracked. "Not that it shouldn't. But you usually roll with things when I'm a clueless bastard. Why did this get under your skin so badly?"

I thought a bit, then answered. "Because I've come to expect more than that from you. You've read my mind so many times since we got together; I've come to expect that level of empathy from you. And this time, when I needed you, you were not only not helpful, you were purposely difficult. And Dan gets to me on a level deeper than most others."

"'Cause you identify so deeply with his situation?"

"Yeah, I guess," I said.

Josh stood close to me but didn't touch me. "Can I...do you want...?"

Josh hadn't asked for permission to hold me in months. It made me realize just how much my agitation had affected him. I nodded, and he put his arms around me and pulled me close. I stood slightly stiffly in his embrace, not completely ready to let the issue go.

Josh kissed the top of my head. "I'm so sorry, love. I never meant to leave you hanging. I just...I didn't want to come off as the obnoxious, pushy asshole that I often am. I thought that would just scare Dan even more."

Honestly, I wasn't sure he _hadn't_ scared Dan just by making the comments he had. But for now I let that pass.

"S'okay," I said. "But next time, if I ask you for help, take it seriously. I don't ask unless I really need it."

"I'll remember, Sam," Josh said.

He held me for a few minutes, but then my stomach growled. Josh snorted.

"When was the last time you ate, love?"

"Lunch, remember? Before we went over to meet with Dan?" He was being purposely dense.

"So?"

"So we should eat dinner."

"Do you want to go out? Would you mind room service? We've been running around so much this vacation; I'd love to just sit here with you and eat dinner." Josh ran his hands up and down my back soothingly. "D'you mind it just being the two of us?"

"Fine by me," I said, finally relaxing into Josh's embrace. It looked like we'd weathered another storm. I knew they were inevitable with the two of us - we're both strong-willed, and neither of us likes to back down. But as the disagreements came less often, they also became more painful. And this one had hit me particularly hard.

Josh and I consulted the room service menu and settled on burgers and fries. While Josh waited for the food to arrive, I took a long, hot shower and washed away the grime and the stress of the day. After wrapping myself in one of the hotel-provided robes, I went back out to the sitting area and Josh went to take his own shower.

Just as I heard the water turn off, there was a knock at the door. I let the room service waiter in, and he efficiently set up the food and bid me good evening. I tipped him well for not commenting on my attire, though being greeted by someone in a bathrobe is probably commonplace for him.

Josh, robe-clad as well, emerged from the bathroom just as I was closing the door behind the waiter.

"Good timing," he said. He seemed hesitant, as if not sure of my mood.

I smiled at him. "C'mere, J. Let's sit and eat. All is forgiven."

He broke into a grin. "Thanks, love. You had me scared for a while. All the time I was in the shower, I was preparing for you to really lay into me."

"And I might have, had you not apologized so nicely," I said. I don't want him thinking he can take advantage of the fact that I love him and assume that I'm going to always forgive him blindly.

"I really _am_ sorry, love. I never realized that you would be so bothered by my silence." We walked over to the table where the food was waiting.

"I love you, Josh. Even when you're being an idiot." I wanted to reiterate that after we'd argued.

"I love you, too, Sam. Even when I'm being an idiot."

We sat and ate a leisurely dinner, picking fries off each other's plates. It was just the sort of evening we needed following the stress of earlier.

After dinner, Josh stood up and rolled the cart with the dirty dishes back outside then came back to me. "Let's go lie down," he said.

"Just lie down?" I asked.

"If that's all you want, that's fine with me. If you want more, tell me, but it's all up to you." Josh was going out of his way to be gentle tonight, it seemed. I was simultaneously pleased and annoyed.

"J, we had a fight. Not even a fight, a disagreement. It's over. You don't have to walk on eggshells." I wanted _my_ Josh back, not this overly conciliatory man I barely recognized.

Josh undid the sash of my robe and eased the robe off my shoulders, and then he removed his own robe. Gently, with feather-light touches, he began to stroke my back, my arms, my shoulders. Even without approaching any of my hot spots Josh got me writhing under his touch.

"Oh, you're so good at that," I said as he began to kiss his way down my neck and my spine.

"We haven't done slow and gentle in too long, love. I'm sorry about that."

And slow and gentle is exactly what he gave me. I think we both needed it - the slow touches, the long, hot, deep kisses, the intense, burning stares that we use to drive each other to the brink. Just when I thought I was at the peak and that I couldn't hold on much longer, Josh entered me slowly, almost agonizingly so. With slow thrusts and the gentlest of touches, he wrung my orgasm from me and then followed me over the edge.

In the aftermath, as we lay in silence, Josh caressed my back. This time it was very clear that the touch was supposed to be soothing, not arousing.

"Josh, stop brooding." I know him too well.

"Not brooding," he mumbled into my shoulder, where he'd rested his head.

"We have a 'no brooding' policy on this vacation. So if you're gonna brood, I'm gonna tell Leo you're available for that ridiculous meeting tomorrow morning with Kempner about the UN dues."

"OK, OK. You don't have to threaten me with something that cruel. That is one meeting that I am not at all sorry to be missing."

"Speaking of tomorrow, J, I was wondering - it's our last full day in the city. Did you have anything special you wanted to do?" I had no real plans for the day; I figured some more touring would be in order.

"If the weather's nice, why don't we do a walking tour of Central Park?"

"I'd love to. In fact, why don't we spend the day whole day there?" There are so many things to see in Central Park, and again it's one of those things that people who live in the city don't take the time to do.

"Great. As long as it doesn't rain," Josh said. "Spending the day wet and sloppy isn't my idea of a good time."

"Unless it's to get me to come to New Hampshire with you," I said, remembering the day I threw my law career out the window.

"I made an exception that time. I was on an important mission."

We relaxed for the rest of the evening, agreeing that we weren't really in the mood to meet up with Dan and Casey for drinks after midnight.

The next morning proved to have gorgeous weather, so we decided our trip to the park was on. After breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we headed over to the park and joined one of the short walking tours. As we went along, I made mental notes of things I'd like to see again.

Once we'd returned to the Visitor's Center, Josh looked at me. "It's about 11," he said, looking at his watch. "What do you wanna see first?"

I thought a moment. "Let's go to the Wildlife Center."

"The zoo?" Josh asked. "We _live_ near a zoo. We live near the _National_ Zoo!"

"Yeah," I said, "but when was the last time you went?"

Josh grimaced. "Actually, I've never made it there."

"So let's go now." We walked over to the Wildlife Center - we'd gotten a lecture during a recent "Big Block of Cheese" day on the importance of not referring to them as zoos - and spent a very pleasant hour looking at the animal habitats. I was quite taken by the polar bears; Josh made friends with a pot-bellied pig at the Children's Zoo.

After spending close to two hours at the exhibits, we declared it time for lunch. We stopped by a hotdog vendor and bought food, then found a bench to sit and eat and watch the people walk by.

Once we'd finished eating, I said, "OK, I picked first, now you pick. Where to now?"

"Let's walk north and see what we run into," Josh said. We started walking west from the Wildlife Center, headed slightly north to look at the Balto statue and then walked into the Mall. We spent quite a while looking at the statues along the promenade and then continued into the Literary Walk. Josh and I traded off regaling each other with trivia about the statues, which just prolonged our perusal of them. In fact, we spent so long at the statues that it was almost 4 by the time we headed down to the Chess and Checkers House. We spent some time watching people play. It was surprising how many people had come out to sit and play outdoors, given the temperature, but I guessed that the fact that it was sunny outweighed people's fear of the cold.

The sun was beginning to set as we walked east back toward Fifth Avenue. "Did you have a good time, love?" Josh asked me.

"It was great, J. I'm glad we decided to do this today." We were headed back to DC the next morning, and I knew we wouldn't have much time for anything once we got home, so it was especially nice to have had this day to just spend real time alone together.

When we got back to the hotel, there was a message waiting for us. Josh retrieved it while I started to pack our things. When he hung up the phone, he said, "The message was from Casey. He says thanks for whatever we said to Dan yesterday; they spoke to Isaac this morning and all is well. I'm not sure what that meant, but he sounded happy."

"I'm glad for them," I said. I hadn't intended to get involved with their relationship dramas during this vacation, but I was glad that, in the end, they had managed to find a way to approach the relationship so that they were both happy.

"That's the last relationship I'm gonna meddle in," Josh said, and while I knew he meant it as he said it, I doubted that, in reality, he'd be able to keep from meddling in his friends' relationships in the future.

I kissed him as I turned from the closet, my arms full of clothing. "So, you gonna help me, or you just gonna watch me pack?" I asked.

Most likely still trying to repent for last night's fight, Josh agreed to help. We finished packing everything but the stuff we'd need for the morning, and then we went out to dinner.

Since we were leaving on a 7:10 AM train in the morning, Josh and I made it an early night. When the wake-up call came at 6:15, I could barely pry my eyes open, but Josh was quickly up and in the shower. Somehow, bleary-eyed, we made it to Penn Station by 6:50 and onto the train by 7. As the train pulled out, I fell back to sleep, and Josh nudged me awake somewhere around Baltimore.

I called Toby as we were pulling out of New Carrollton, and - as I could have predicted - Cathy, Ginger, and Bonnie were all waiting for us at Union Station. Each of the assistants claimed that Toby had sent them, but I assumed that Toby had just made a general announcement that _someone_ better meet our train and they all scurried out in a bunch to avoid other work.

Almost immediately Josh and I were caught up in the craziness of our working world. It wasn't until much later that night that I realized that it was going to be a good long while before we could take another break. I was glad that we'd had this brief interlude, as things coming up - the Congressional hearings, the reelection campaign, the State of the Union - were bound to take up our time.

It was the calm before the storm. Somehow, I just knew it.

---END---

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