Title: Prescription
Author: WD Hawthorne
Pairing: Josh/Sam
Rating: R? PG-13?
Spoilers: Noel, In the Shadow of Two Gunmen. In fact, if you haven’t seen these two episodes, you won’t have a clue as to what’s going on in this story. <g> But like so many others who have written post-Noel and post-ITSOTG stories, I was intrigued by certain elements in these episodes, and I couldn’t rest until I satisfied my muse. Slight spoilers for The Midterms and The Leadership Breakfast. Vague references to a few other episodes, but nothing that will give away anything in those episodes or spoil anyone’s enjoyment of them. I do make an assumption here that Sam lives in an apartment building. If that’s wrong because I missed a phrase of dialog at some point or a reference in an episode, mea culpa, you’ll have to shoot me.
Disclaimers: These characters are not mine. Someone else created them for the television. But my imagination is a fertile ground, and once I saw the episode Noel, my imagination kept going. This is what resulted. I have received no compensation for this story whatsoever, and have only written it to entertain my friends. Both of them.

Summary: Picks up where Noel left off, after Donna takes Josh to the Emergency room and drops him off at home. In lieu of sleeping, Josh decides that he’d rather seek the company of a dear friend with whom he shares an intimate history. Hope you enjoy it.

Prescription by WD Hawthorne

Josh tried not to look at the swank apartment building as he paid the cab driver, doling out too large of a tip, too exhausted to do the math. I must be losing it more than I thought. What the hell am I doing here? If Donna knew that he’d gone back out after she’d deposited him safely at his front door, she’d have had a fit. Even though the doctor hadn’t given him any orders for bed rest —it was just a few stitches in his hand and a prescription for an antibiotic, for God’s sake—Donna had been ferociously adamant that he take some down time; rest, relax, recuperate. She was probably right, in a maddening, mothering way. He should’ve gone straight to bed. He was supposed to have gone straight inside, dressed himself in those ridiculously gigantic pajamas that CJ had given him, and curled up to sleep. He had no reason to be up and halfway across town, loitering in front of this stately-looking building, trying to decide if he should press forward, or tuck tail and head home. Besides, it had to be something like three o’clock in the morning by now.

Josh knew he’d been through a lot in the last few days. And the last few months. The holiday season wasn’t exactly a joyous one this year. He’d just recovered from his critical wounds physically; and emotionally…well, he supposed that as of now he was on the mend in that arena, too. Today he’d been declared “cured”, and even though he knew he’d have some follow-up duty with a recommended therapist, now there was a light at the end of the tunnel. A good night’s sleep with some quiet time alone to think and reflect was most likely what Donna had had in mind for him; and it was probably what he ought to have been doing at that moment.

Yet, there he was, a forty-minute cab-ride later, standing hesitantly at the foot of the stone steps that led up to the meticulously kept entrance of Sam Seaborn’s apartment building.

Swallowing dryly, Josh grasped the wrought-iron rail with his good hand and let it guide him up the steps to the outer door. Feeling a bit like a prowler, he let himself in the entryway, and paused at the row of buttons on the wall to his right. Once again, he hesitated, and wondered how long it would take to get a cab to take him back home at this time of night on Christmas Eve. The cab would probably reek of the liquor and smoke of its most recent fares. Josh stood for a moment, resting his forehead against the cool surface of the wall, weighing which option was least objectionable.

Finally he grimaced and punched the buzzer. Just a short, apologetic announcement of the presence of an uninvited jerk at Sam’s front door. Sorry, Sam.

Nothing happened after a minute, so he buzzed more boldly this time, holding the button down for a good five seconds. After another thirty seconds, he rang again, half expecting to wake half the residents of the building, only to find that Sam was out spending Christmas Eve with…someone.

His forehead still resting against the wall above the bank of fancy little buzzers, Josh sighed, thinking how futile it all was—Sam doesn’t need this—and tried to steel himself to the reality of a ride home in a stinky cab. Suddenly, there was a crackle from the speaker next to his ear, and Josh startled.

“Yeah?” a hoarse, familiar voice croaked into the silence.

Without warning, without knowing why, Josh’s throat closed up and he couldn’t answer. He shut his eyes and pressed his palms flat on the wall, steadying himself.

“Who the hell is ringing the damn buzzer at 3:30 at night?” demanded the irritated speaker-voice.

Josh swallowed, all his reasons for coming withering. “S-Sam?” he stuttered into the speaker, barely above a whisper.

“J-- ” was the only reply he heard before the speaker cut out, and in the next instant the doorbuzzer hummed steadily, startling Josh again so badly that he nearly forgot to let himself in before the blaring noise stopped. In his haste, he forgot and grabbed the doorknob with his bandaged hand, winced, and cursed as the door fell back into place, once again locking him out.

Before he could turn to press the buzzer once more, he could see through the glass in the door that he wouldn’t need to ring again. There was Sam coming down the corridor, and damned if he didn’t look perfect even at 3:30 am. Wrapped in a royal blue silk robe that made the concerned blue of his eyes seemingly incandescent, with nary a wrinkle in the pajamas beneath—did Armani actually make pajamas?—he didn’t even seem to have a hair out of place.

Okay, one little lock, off to the side, but it only made him look wistful and boyish.

Suddenly, Josh remembered a time, too many years ago, Sam above him, disheveled and sweating, moaning and hissing, trembling and thrusting, his passions driven by earthly pleasures instead of political fervor…and so far removed from this conventional man walking toward him that Josh wanted to cry for the loss.

*****

My God, Josh looks awful!

He hurried to the doorway—What’s wrong? Why didn’t he let himself in when I buzzed?—and held it open as Josh stepped through, forcing a quick, sheepish, apologetic grin at Sam. It never occurred to Sam to wish him a Merry Christmas.

Instead, he blurted, “Josh, are you all right?”

He looked completely rumpled, from his wildly ruffled red-burnished hair to his wrinkled raincoat, and on down to his scuffed loafers. He’d been so touchy lately, and that blow-up at the President had made it plainly evident to everyone that Josh was in trouble emotionally. Then he’d shown up at work with that horrendous, bloody bandage on his hand…. Now he stood in Sam’s doorway in the middle of the night, with pale skin and haunted eyes, and Sam was fearfully concerned.

Josh offered another insincere smile, and headed off down the hallway toward Sam’s still-open apartment door, his gait punctuated by a swagger he didn’t seem to feel in his heart, leaving Sam’s question unanswered.

“Technically speaking, Sam, it’s not 3:30 at night, it’s 3:30 in the morning.”

Sam grimaced in dismay, but decided to follow Josh’s lead. If Josh needed banter at 3:30 at night, Sam would oblige him.

“Technically speaking, Josh, at 3:30 at night, I could give a rat’s ass.”

Josh shot him a devilish, dimpled grin over his shoulder and kept moving. “Chronologically speaking, anything between midnight and noon is considered morning.”

“But biologically speaking, if a person is in the sleep portion of his wake/slumber cycle, it is night.”

“You made that up.”

“Yes I did. It’s called bluffing. Or bullshitting, take your pick. But you have to admit that, logically speaking, if it involves a bed, blankets, pillows, pajamas, the moon, stars, crickets, and vast quantities of darkness, it is night, regardless of what anyone says about the clock.”

As he entered Sam’s apartment, Josh rejoindered, “That’s egocentric, Sam. Just because some people sleep when it’s dark doesn’t mean everyone else has to.”

Ahhhh. Sam followed him in and then closed and locked the door behind him. He became serious then, turning his voice soft. “Is that why you’re here, Josh? Weren’t you able to sleep?”

Josh’s posture stiffened, his shoulders fell. The feigned energy whooshed out of him. The only light in the apartment came from the one hastily lit lamp in Sam’s bedroom, and Josh stood with his back to Sam, silhouetted against the dim rays that seeped into the living room, suddenly looking limp, lost.

He shrugged, shoved his hands in his pockets, and ignored Sam’s hesitant approach. “I, um…There’re some things I have to…have to do.”

Sam was troubled by the uncommon timidness he heard in Josh’s voice and quietly moved up behind him, wanting to somehow comfort him, but hesitated. Finally he awkwardly settled his hands gently on Josh’s shoulders. When Josh flinched and started to protest, Sam pretended he’d only been trying to be a considerate host.

“Sshh. I just want to take your coat and hang it up. You want something to drink? Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you something.”

Josh shrugged out of his coat obediently, sullenly. “Just water. I’m supposed to take a pill, I guess.”

Sam swallowed back all his questions about pills and why Josh was supposed to be taking them, resolving to let it slide for now, and focussed on seeing to his friend’s comfort.

“Water. Okay. Ice?”

“Yeah. No, wait. It’s cold outside. No ice.”

Sam quickly hung the crumpled raincoat, then ducked into the kitchen and fished a bottle of Evian from his refrigerator, letting the interior light from the fridge illuminate his quest for a glass. As his hand closed around a cut-glass tumbler, a memory of a mumbled explanation four days ago flitted through his mind and he shivered involuntarily. I cut my hand on a glass.

He shook it off and forced himself to act casual, as if Josh dropping in on him to visit in the middle of the night happened all the time. Pouring the water into the glass as he returned to where Josh sat slumped on his sofa, Sam tried to ask as nonchalantly as possible, “So….you said you had some things to do?”

Josh took the glass, nodded an automatic thanks, and set it on the coffee table. He dug into his pants pocket and pulled out a prescription bottle, and Sam bit his bottom lip to keep himself from interrogating his friend about it. Instead, he tasted blood as Josh swallowed down a little white pill.

After draining the glass, Josh set it back on the coffee table. Sam tentatively sat down on the other end of the sofa and refilled the empty glass with the rest of the bottled water. He could feel Josh’s eyes on him, and he could feel tension rising in the room like mist off a lake at sunrise. The cascade of water filling the glass sounded like Niagara Falls.

Just when he thought Josh would ignore his question completely, Josh shrugged and answered quietly. “I need to tell you some things about me.”

Sam hated the unnaturally subdued tones in Josh’s voice. He would do anything, say anything, to help him get the wicked smirk back into his voice and grin and swagger. He reached out and touched Josh’s forearm.

“It’s okay, Josh. Tell me anything. I’m here.”

*****

This was just something he had to do, as if the ER doctor had prescribed this along with the antibiotic pills. But this was a different kind of prescription, one that didn’t come in a bottle, one that wasn’t dispensed by a pharmacist. More of a home remedy, like chicken soup. It was a step that Josh knew he had to take toward curing his emotional ills, in spite of the “cure” that Stan Keyworth had earlier declared.

He cleared his throat and looked up at the shadowy figure at the other end of the sofa. Sam’s hand was gently grasping his forearm, and Josh could feel the heat and humanity of the gesture through his rumpled Oxford.

He opened his mouth to say it, but it stuck in his throat, wouldn’t come out. His lips moved soundlessly.

Sam saw he was in trouble and squeezed his arm some more. Too-blue eyes leaned closer in the dimness, and Josh heard him whisper “It’s all right, Josh. Whatever you need to tell me, it’s all right.”

He felt his heart beating faster, tasted the bitterness of what he now knew was adrenaline. He cleared his throat again, swallowed back the bile in his throat. He shrugged his fingers through his hair. “Shit, Sam. I thought it was supposed to get easier. It wasn’t this hard telling Leo.”

He was abruptly aware of Sam looming closer to him, sitting beside him, close, his slender fingers carding lightly over the hair Josh had just mussed. “You told Leo?”

Josh suddenly worried that he’d done something wrong. Had he insulted Sam by not telling him first? Was he scaring him by getting so stressed out about this?

Warily he nodded, remembering how Leo had been neither surprised nor judgmental. “Yeah. I told him this evening.”

He felt a hand smooth over his hair again, as familiar as if it happened every day, then cool fingertips gently soothed his forehead. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation. It had been so long since he’d felt that touch. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed it.

“Then tell me. If you told Leo, you can tell me. Take your time, but please…tell me. . .”

All at once, Josh inexplicably felt trapped. He shrugged away the gentling caress. He stood up, walked over to the window, pretended to look out between the drapes. “It’s harder to tell you.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

“Josh.”

The way Sam said his name completely undid his defenses. Barely more than a whisper, but wielding gentle, soul-deep emotional intensity. It was the same way he’d said it in the Oval Office when Josh had lost it with Jed Bartlet. The same way he’d said it when Josh lay bleeding on the ground in Rosslyn. The same way he’d said it so many years ago….It was an anchor, a bond to reality, a link ….a link to a love from long ago never truly relinquished.

“I didn’t cut my hand on a glass,” Josh choked out hoarsely. “I broke a window in my apartment.”

He wanted to turn around now, he wanted to see the expression on Sam’s face, but he was frightened that Sam might not be as magnanimous and understanding as Leo had been. Leo knew what it was like, to be in that dark place Josh had been these last few weeks—wasn’t that what that silly little story about the man falling into a hole had been about? What would Sam know of that place? He was so intelligent, so confident, so poised, so beautiful…so goddammed perfect. How could he possibly understand?

Josh stood stiffly, still facing the heavy fabric drapes that covered the front window, breathing hard.

Sam’s voice wafted gently from behind him, smooth, soft, perfect. “I know.”

“You knew?” Josh whirled around in surprise, gaped at the shadowed figure sitting on the sofa, playing nervously with an empty Evian bottle.

“Not really. Suspected. Actually, it was Donna. Your super called to say he’d fixed your window, she saw your hand, put it together, told Leo. I only heard about it later.”

Josh’s shoulders sagged again, and he turned back to the drapes. “I wish….I don’t know. I wish Leo hadn’t found out.”

Sam stood, quietly placed the bottle on the table, and took a tentative step toward him, his voice still soft. “Don’t worry about Leo. He’ll understand. He’s more than just your boss; he’s a friend. And he’s been almost like a surrogate father to you ever since your Dad died.”

Josh nodded his acceptance of that truth. “He did, you know. Understand.”

“I knew he would.”

Josh nodded, sighed again, and stepped past Sam to once more slump tiredly into his sofa. He smoothed his hands over his wrinkled pantlegs. “So I saw someone from ATVA today.”

“I know.” Sam sat gingerly on the edge of the coffee table, his hands clasped between his knees, facing him with an earnest, compassionate expression.

“You know everything, do you?”

“Pretty much. I’m a pretty smart guy.”

“He thinks I may have an eating disorder, and a fear of rectangles, did you know that?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“See then. You don’t know everything.”

“No, I guess not. But then I’m not the one afraid of certain geometric shapes, am I?”

“No…,” Josh couldn’t stop the grin that plucked at the corners of his mouth. Then he remembered the truth and sobered, ruffled his hand nervously through his hair again. “But then…neither am I, really.”

When Sam didn’t respond with anything more than a slightly smug expression that told him he’d known it all along, Josh swallowed dryly and pressed forward. “He said I have PTSD.”

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“You really do know everything.”

“I know you have PTSD.”

“You knew that?”

“Sure. When Leo said he talked to somebody from ATVA about coming out to talk to you, it seemed pretty clear that PTSD was what was happening. I probably have it too….All of us who were there, we all probably have it to some degree. We’ve all had our own personal crises lately, and it’s very likely they’re related to what happened to us in Rosslyn.”

“But I’m the only one going bonkers?”

“You’re the only one who nearly died.”

“We all nearly died, Sam. There were bullets flying all over the place. It could have happened to any of us. Any one of us could be dead now.”

*****

Sam leaned closer and placed his hands on Josh’s knees, squeezing them earnestly. Sure, a stray bullet could have hit any one of them. But it was just so much more complicated than that, and he had to make Josh understand that his PTSD was nothing to be embarrassed about. They’d all nearly died in a most speculative, what-if way…. But Josh had nearly died in a most concrete, final way.

“That’s not what gives me nightmares, Josh. It’s not my own fear of being killed that was the worst thing about Rosslyn for me. It was seeing you bleeding, seeing you gasp for air and choke on your own blood, watching them cut your clothes off your arms and legs, and seeing you stuck with needles, and tubes and monitors attached to you, seeing how pale your skin was, how blue your lips were, seeing you delirious from blood loss and lack of oxygen, seeing how frantic the paramedics and the ER staff were…. being scared you would die….”

Sam cut himself off and looked away guiltily, blinking away the vivid memories. He hadn’t meant to turn this around to himself and let his own emotion run so rampant. This had to be about Josh. Sam had to be the strong one tonight. Josh had come to him, not the other way around.

“I didn’t, you know.” Josh’s lips quirked, evidencing a dimpled grin, understanding and forgiving Sam all at once. His hands covered Sam’s gently.

“I know. I’m glad you decided to stick around.”

“Me too. We make a good team, you and me. You’d be lop-sided without me.”

Sam caught the humorous, bashful glint in Josh’s eyes and let himself list sideways a little, as if to prove the point, and they both smiled at each other as Josh’s hand automatically shot out to steady him. Then Josh’s hand slid slowly down Sam’s arm until it rested on top of his hand. When their eyes met again, something deep and strong and sweet passed between them.

“Come here,” Sam coaxed gently, unable to stop himself from reaching out. He’d wanted to hold Josh so many times in the last few months, in the last few minutes, that he just couldn’t restrain himself anymore. There had never been a right time, or right place. But here, finally, in the privacy of his own apartment, with their souls bared, there was no longer any reason to resist.

Josh leaned forward on the sofa, obeying easily, eagerly, wrapping his arms around Sam’s shoulders and pressing his face into his neck, pulling Sam to him with a satisfied sigh of pleasure. Sam folded Josh’s warm, slender form into his arms and gratefully breathed in the familiar, welcome scents of stale cologne and perspiration. He subtly pressed his lips to Josh’s temple, overcome with gratitude that Josh was alive and well on the road to physical and emotional recovery.

Josh held on, but his grasp gradually relaxed until he simply melted himself like putty against Sam, his arms sliding wearily down, his fingers burrowing handholds in the lapels of his robe. He sighed again, sounding exhausted, and nestled himself inside Sam’s arms, content with the sustained closeness. Sam let his hands rub slowly up and down Josh’s back, soothing him, enjoying the warm, comfortable contact as much as Josh seemed to.

“So is that why you came?” Sam asked softly into a shock of red hair that stood with a mind of its own. “To tell me about the ATVA guy and your hand?”

“Yeah, mostly,” Josh answered quietly, muffling a yawn into Sam’s shoulder.

“Mostly?” Sam echoed gently, his hands still softly stroking Josh’s warm back.

“I still need another favor.”

“Anything. Name it.”

“I want to listen to the Bach Suite in G Major.”

Sam’s hands stilled as he tried to comprehend. “Music?”

“Donna got me a Yo Yo Ma CD set for Christmas….but…,” Josh shrugged, stiffened a little in Sam’s arms. “I want to listen to it, but I’m….sort of…afraid, I guess…. to do it alone.”

“Josh?”

“It’s the PTSD, Sam. When I hear music, it’s like sirens to me, and I keep reliving Rosslyn.”

Sam nodded his understanding, knew Josh could feel the movement as his chin rubbed his tousled hair. “Is that what happened the night of the White House Christmas party?”

“You are a pretty smart guy. How did you know that?”

“I was sitting behind you. I saw you flinch a couple times, and then afterwards when I tried to talk to you, it was like you didn’t hear me, and then you just left. But I saw your face. I could tell you’d been….crying.”

“I don’t remember that.” Josh’s voice was hoarse, disturbed.

“I’ll never forget it. You really scared me, Josh.” Sam unconsciously squeezed his friend to him a little tighter, then felt Josh’s hand pet his chest timidly, as if in apology for the fear he’d caused.

“It’s in my coat pocket.”

“What is?”

“Yo Yo Ma.”

“Yo Yo Ma is in your coat pocket?”

“The CD, smart guy.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Sam nuzzled his nose into Josh’s hair, softly kissed his forehead as one would a child. “You know what I think?” he asked softly, feeling the moisture of his own breath reflected back to him in the red curls. “I’m thinking that you’re thinking that maybe if you listen to this music under more comfortable circumstances, like with a friend—like me—who cares about you, that maybe it won’t be so bad?”

“I’m thinking it’s a good thing you didn’t waste all that intelligence at Gage & Whitney.”

“Now you remember the name.”

*****

While Josh got up to retrieve the CD from the pocket of his raincoat, hung so meticulously on a wooden hanger in the front closet, Sam set about getting a few things that he thought would make Josh feel more comfortable. When Josh straightened up after loading Sam’s CD player, Sam presented him with a brand new pair of emerald green silk pajamas, still folded with tissue and wrapped with the designer’s label on a thin paper band around them.

“What’s this?” Josh asked, hesitating to take the offered clothing, even though Sam was practically holding them under his nose.

“Pajamas, genius. Clothes to relax, yes, even to sleep in. You’re familiar with the concept?”

“The concept of sleeping?”

“The concept of wearing pajamas.”

Josh seemed reluctant, eyeing them suspiciously. “Yes, but…”

“They’ll fit you better than the ones from CJ.”

Josh hesitantly accepted the pajamas only after Sam pushed them into his hands. He looked up at Sam uncertainly. “You want me to spend the night here?”

“Well, technically, it no longer is night, but morning, as you so kindly pointed out earlier.”

“You want me to spend the sleep portion of my wake/slumber cycle here?”

It took him a moment to realize what Josh was asking, his dark eyes wide, looking almost panicky. Sam could have kicked himself. It hadn’t occurred to him what his offer of a stupid pair of pajamas would look like. But what else would Josh be thinking? Sam had reached out to him this evening, had kissed him and held him, and now was offering pajamas. Josh was a pretty bright guy in his own right. With signals like that, combined with their history, what else would he have thought?

Josh apparently construed Sam’s silent floundering as an affirmative answer. He stroked his hand over the smooth, cool silk, and avoided Sam’s eyes. “I can’t, Sam.”

Of course he couldn’t, not under the circumstances he thought Sam was offering. He’d been hurting enough these last few weeks—it was no wonder he’d be hesitant to put himself in a situation that begged more hurt.

Sam stumbled all over his words in his haste to clear things up. He hadn’t felt this awkward since he’d asked the wrong person which schoolgirl was Leo’s daughter. “Josh, I didn’t mean, I meant—I mean that I know you haven’t slept and you’re exhausted and I want you to stay, so… so you can rest and…and you won’t have to go all the way home while you’re so tired. I didn’t mean, you know, that you should stay because I—because we—not that I wouldn’t be interested if the opportunity came up some time—and not that I don’t find you as attractive as I always have—even moreso, as a matter of fact—but I don’t want you to think that’s why I’m asking, and I don’t want you to stay if you’re uneasy with it, but you look so tired, and I just wanted to give you a chance to change, wash up, get yourself comfortable—”

“Sam!” Josh interrupted sharply, a genuine grin with a glint of smugness gracing his face. “Take a breath!”

Sam smiled back, feeling a blush creep into his cheeks. “Did I just sound like Ainsley?”

“Without the accent.”

Sam nodded. “Sorry.”

“You should be. She can be pretty scary.”

Sam held Josh’s gaze for a moment, enjoying the return of the roguish grin, parenthesized by the cutest dimples Sam had ever known. Finally, he gave up on explanations, and simply turned Josh around and steered him in the direction of his bathroom. “Josh, just go and get yourself comfortable. Take a shower if you want, help yourself to anything you need. I’m going to make you something hot and cozy to drink, and when you’re relaxed and ready, we’ll listen to Yo Yo Ma together. Okay?”

*****

Josh closed the bathroom door and sighed, setting the pajamas down on the spotless countertop. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he reached for a bathtowel, he saw that his grin had only slightly faded. How odd, to feel the need to grin like an idiot after the day he’d had. But that crazy jumbled up explanation that had tumbled from Sam’s mouth had told him things that had lightened his heart. Sam was still interested. Sam still thought he was attractive. Sam cared. Really cared.

Of course he knew it was awkward for Sam to admit it. Josh wasn’t sure he would have been able to do it as well, Ainsley Hayes impression notwithstanding. After spending so much time over the past years suppressing things they really wanted to say to each other, avoiding feelings that they’d both long ago decided would only hurt them and their careers, they’d forgotten how to interact without pretense. Their defense mechanisms had become instinct.

And yet, hadn’t Stan spent the better part of the day trying to break through Josh’s defense mechanisms? Didn’t that mean that sometimes defense mechanisms got out of hand? Certainly the defenses that Josh had constructed around the shooting had turned detrimental. Had those that he and Sam developed also become more harmful than useful?

Josh showered, the water hot, enjoying the near scalding currents as they washed over him, taking away a lot of his aches and pains and tension. He let the water run for a long time, just standing there under the spray long after he’d soaped and shampooed and rinsed. His spirit seemed lighter, brighter than it had been in days, and he had to stifle a sudden urge to hum.

All because Sam said he was still interested? Because he had said Josh was attractive?

Josh finally finished his shower, and with the big bath towel draped around his waist, he brushed his teeth and combed the tangles from his hair, peering at his blurred form in the steam collected on the surface of the mirror. It had been years since he’d borrowed Sam’s toothbrush like this. He liked the casual closeness it implied. When he rubbed his chin and felt the prickle of whiskers, he decided he might as well shave too, using Sam’s razor just like he used to do so long ago. Appropriating the towel from his waist, he rubbed it across the mirror, hoping that Sam wouldn’t mind too much if he left streaks on the glass.

He was just about done shaving when he saw it, and froze, the darkness of the last few weeks coming back to haunt him once again.

*****

Sam had used his time well while Josh was in the bathroom. There was a hot drink waiting on the coffee table as promised, and he’d also gathered a couple pillows and a warm quilt for the sofa, doused his lamp in his bedroom, and was just lighting an earthy-scented candle when the bathroom door opened.

He shook out the match flame and turned to see Josh step into the room, still concentrating on carefully fastening the buttons on the pajama shirt. Even in the subdued light, the emerald green looked breathtaking, contrasting warmly with his pale white skin and red-gold hair, and the silken fabric clung to his damp body in all the right places.

Then Josh looked up at him, his dark eyes shining in the flickering light, and Sam suddenly felt the reawakening of so many affectionate feelings he’d buried over the years. Josh never had any idea just how beautiful he was, or how easily he could take Sam’s breath away. Like now. Sam just stood there gaping at him, unable to speak over the intensity of the memories, his heart pounding.

Josh was still fiddling with the buttons, his fingers nervously dancing over each pearly disk, checking and rechecking them to make sure they were properly secured, while his eyes took in the changes Sam had made in the living room.

“Hi,” Josh’s voice was soft, shy, his fingers still darting repeatedly over the buttons.

“Hi,” Sam answered, unable to come up with anything more clever.

Then he realized why Josh was so fixated on the buttons. The scar. He wanted to make sure he didn’t leave a button open that might allow an unexpected peek at his scar.

“Josh—” Sam started, but his voice came out choked. So instead of trying to say anything more, he stepped forward and covered Josh’s hands with his own, stilling them inside a firm grasp.

Dark eyes met his, and Sam could see a hint of panic clouding them.

“Josh, it’s all right,” he whispered, pulling their hands together close to his chest. “Nothing’s going to happen tonight that you don’t want to happen. If you don’t want me to see your scars, that’s okay. I just want you to feel safe, and relaxed, and comfortable. Okay?” he asked, squeezing Josh’s hands in his.

Josh winced, pulled back on his right hand a little. “Ow.”

Sam gasped, letting go instantly. “Oh, God, your hand! I forgot—”

His first instinct was to grab Josh’s injured hand back to him and kiss it, and before he could stop himself he actually went so far as to grasp the hand and bring it up to his face. But when he saw the criss-cross of stitches and other less serious cuts, he paused, another gasp escaping his lips.

Josh pulled his hand back. “You think that looks bad? Then you definitely don’t want to see my other scars.”

Sam didn’t really know what to say to that. In truth, those few ugly black stitches in Josh’s palm, holding closed a ferocious, oozing wound, had been enough to give him the willies; he didn’t know if he’d be able to handle seeing anything worse than that. Not on Josh.

“I’m sorry,” was all Sam could think of to say, and he reached out and pulled Josh’s body against his, enfolding him warmly in his arms.

“It’s okay.”

It wasn’t, not to Sam’s point of view, but there really wasn’t much else he would have expected Josh to say anyway. So he just held on, stroking his hands gently up and down the smooth silk on Josh’s back, wishing there were something more he could do for him.

Finally, he realized that maybe there actually was something he could do. “Hey,” he whispered into Josh’s ear, scant millimeters away from his lips. “Shouldn’t you have a bandage on that or something?”

Josh didn’t let go when he answered. He kept his arms wrapped around Sam’s waist, kept his chin hooked over his shoulder. “Well, it sort of got wet in the shower.”

Sam made the act of bandaging Josh’s injured hand a part of his plan to make Josh feel safe and relaxed. He retrieved some first aid supplies from the bathroom and brought Josh over to the sofa, where Sam gently and lovingly dressed his hand by candlelight. And when he was done, this time he went through with it—he brought the bandaged palm up and gently pressed his lips to it.

“There,” Sam whispered softly. “Is that better?”

When Sam looked up, Josh’s brown eyes were wide and blinking, and he swallowed dryly. “Yeah.”

Sam petted the bandage lightly, unable to meet those eyes for long. “Your cut looked kind of oozy. Are you sure it’s not infected?”

“It is infected a little. That’s why I’ve got those antibiotic pills.”

“That’s what that pill was that you took before?” Sam couldn’t hide his relief.

Josh looked a little confused. “Yeah, what’d you think it was?”

Embarrassed, Sam fumbled, tried to cover up for himself. “I didn’t know. I just worry when I see anyone taking pills of any kind now, because of everything that happened with Leo…”

“You thought it was an anti-depressant.” Josh’s voice didn’t sound accusatory, nor did it show in his face, but Sam felt guilty all the same.

He swallowed, met Josh’s eyes a moment, then looked away. “Yeah.”

Josh’s bandaged hand, which Sam still held inside his own, turned and clasped his fingers. “It’s okay,” Josh whispered back, his lips quirked in a grin but his eyes still serious. “It’s a logical conclusion for a smart guy to make.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah. Still might happen, you know. I still have to see someone about all this, and a therapist might feel I need something like that….”

“Do you think you need something like that?”

Josh hesitated, looked down at their hands together, twined his fingers with Sam’s. Then he met Sam’s eyes, his own eyes glittering in the candlelight. “No. Not while I’m here with you.”

Touched deeply by Josh’s admission, at that moment Sam wanted to kiss Josh badly, more than anything else he he’d wanted in a long, long time. But he knew it wouldn’t be right, not if Josh wasn’t ready. The poor guy had enough wounds to heal; he didn’t need Sam reopening old ones for him on top of everything else. He’d abide by the decision they’d made together so long ago. So to redirect his own attention away from Josh’s mouth, with those delicate, warm, sweet lips, Sam stood and walked over to his CD player.

“You ready to try listening to Yo Ma Ma?”

Josh grinned at Sam’s humorous misnomer, and Sam tried not to think about those dimples. “I’ve always listened to my Mama.”

Sam could only smile back, still captivated by that impish grin and deep dimples. “How about Yo Yo Ma?”

Josh’s grin turned sober, his eyes clouded. “Yeah. I’m ready. As I’ll ever be, I guess.”

After locating the track with the Bach in G Major, Sam set the program to repeat, grabbed the remote, and came back to sit beside Josh. Josh had perched himself in the center of the sofa, looking at his bandaged hand with a particular distractedness. When Sam came and sat down beside him, Josh looked up suddenly, as if he’d forgotten he was there.

“You sure you’re ready?” Sam asked quietly, giving him another chance to change his mind before the music started.

Clearing his throat gruffly, Josh nodded. “Sure,” he replied with forced bravado. “Bring it on.”

Sam pressed the button on the remote and set it down on the coffee table. He situated himself deep into the cushions at the corner of the sofa and then reached for Josh’s shoulders. “Come here,” he coaxed for the second time that night. “Why don’t you relax and get yourself comfortable? Just lean over toward me a little—there, is that better?”

Josh didn’t answer, but complied easily, sliding himself over until he was half lying down, supported against Sam’s shoulder. Then Sam prodded him to stretch out sideways on the sofa, and covered him in the quilt he had brought from his bedroom, and offered him the hot chocolate that he’d made earlier. Josh accepted the drink with trembling fingers.

Sam kept an arm around Josh as he sipped from his mug, watching the side of his face, wondering what he was thinking, if he was reliving the shooting again. His expression seemed distant and introspective, but calm, and Sam fussed with the blanket a little, making sure Josh’s bare feet were covered and warm, making sure Josh was aware that he was not alone in this, that he was safe here, and sheltered from what had happened all those months ago in Rosslyn. Sam was ready, poised and alert to any indication of distress from Josh, ready to snap off the music and wrap the man in his arms and not let go until daylight, if then.

The track played through quietly, beautifully, once, twice, three times. The hot chocolate disappeared and Sam took the empty mug, still warm, from Josh’s hands, whose fingers were now steady, and set it on the end table.

Another Suite in G Major. Josh sighed expansively and leaned even further into Sam, his hands settling themselves comfortably upon the arm that Sam wound around his chest. “This is nice.”

Sam nodded, burying his chin in a wild bronze curl and breathing deeply of shampoo and Josh. “You’re doing okay?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Stan said we get better. I guess he was right.”

Sam thought of the pain that Josh had been through, the agony and torment, and kissed the top of his head, wanting badly to kiss his mouth but resisting. “I’m glad you’re better.”

“Me too. But you’ve played a big part in this—that I can listen to this…Thanks.” Josh squeezed his arm, and Sam ventured his other arm around him now, too.

“I’m here any time you need me, Josh. You know that, don’t you?”

Josh gave a small humorous snort. “I know that. I’m a Fulbright scholar you know.”

“I know.”

Sam couldn’t see Josh’s mouth, but nevertheless knew that he was grinning. So he grinned in return and risked another kiss to Josh’s curls.

The music played through again, the nuances and passions of the piece revealing themselves more profoundly each time. Sam was glad for the repeat function. He never wanted this night to end. Holding Josh like this, seeing how far he’d already recovered from his recent emotional implosion, seemed like a real Christmas miracle. He almost felt like it was his chance to somehow atone for being so blind to the warning signs in Josh over the last few months. He could see them clearly now, in hindsight, yet at the time he’d so desperately wanted Josh to be fully recovered that he’d ignored every one.

“Sam?”

“Mmmm?” Sam answered hoarsely, his lips still buried in Josh’s hair.

“There’s something else I probably should tell you about me.”

Surprised by this announcement of a new revelation, Sam remembered how Josh had been just an hour or so ago—tense, hesitant, standing lost in his living room. He remembered how Josh had confessed that there were things he needed to do, things he needed to tell Sam. He’d already admitted the truth of his hand injury, and his meeting with the ATVA therapist, his PTSD, and his recent aversion to music….what more could there possibly be? Sam cringed at the thought that Josh might have more painful secrets that he’d been holding back.

He reached his hand up and softly petted over Josh’s hair, “What is it?”

Josh took a deep breath as if to answer, but hesitated. Then he suddenly sat upright, turned forward on the sofa, and ran his hand through his hair, blowing the held breath out nervously.

Sam kept one arm around Josh’s shoulders, and squeezed lightly, “It’s okay, Josh. Just say it, it’s okay.”

Josh’s attention fixed straight ahead, an eyebrow arched in thought, focussing in on the flame of the single lit candle, the tiny flickers reflecting softly in his eyes. Finally he sighed and spoke in a whisper, still fixed on the candle flame. “I’ve never been able to make it go away. All this time, all these years—and I’ve never been able to make it stop.”

“Stop what, Josh? The sirens?”

“No.” Josh answered with finality. Then he turned his face to Sam, and Sam drew in a breath. He would never forget the intensity and beauty in Josh’s face in that next moment, nor his words.

“I still love you, Sam. The same as I always have. In spite of all our promises and agreements. It’s never changed.”

For one long, horrible moment, Sam felt he would cry, and he fought it. He was supposed to be the strong one tonight, he couldn’t be breaking down in tears when it was Josh who had come to him for comfort. Sam blinked, and pressed his lips together, and swallowed tightly against the pain in his chest.

Finally he managed, “I know. I’ve known all along.”

Josh still had him pinned with that look. “You know?”

Sam swallowed again, and managed a faint smile. “Of course I do. You, my friend, have a really, really bad poker face.”

Sam’s comment was acknowledged by a bright, animated grin, and for a moment, it was as if he were once again looking at Josh’s dimpled smile through the window of the office door at Gage & Whitney. Just as then, it was everything he wanted to see, full of promise and hope, full of dreams and passion. He raised his hands to gently cup against Josh’s cheeks, framing the dimples and the beautiful dark eyes and the delicate mouth….and he felt his resolve not to kiss this man’s lips begin to falter. He cleared his throat to guard against the rough edge that threatened his voice.

“You, of course, being the Fulbright scholar that you are, probably know I feel the same, don’t you?”

Josh’s grin impossibly brightened, his eyes twinkled, and Sam felt a barely perceptible nod in his hands.

Then the beautiful smile sobered, and Josh’s face grew serious, his voice husky. “Say it, Sam.”

Sam hesitated. He knew if he told the truth, if he said what Josh requested, that he would surrender his resistance altogether. If he said it, he would have to kiss him, he would have to put his mouth over those fine lips and savor them, taste them, love them. Yet, wasn’t that what that blatantly bad poker face was asking him to do?

“Josh,” Sam swallowed, watched Josh’s lashes as he blinked those gentle dark eyes, and then conceded to the inevitable. “I love you.”

He wanted to say more. He was a speechwriter, for heaven’s sake, and a damned fine one at that. He wanted to tell Josh in the most descriptive, poetic way, how he’d never stopped loving him, how it had always been there, hidden away, repressed, denied; and he wanted to tell him that he would always love him, that no matter where the future brought them, there would always be this love in his heart for this man….

But he couldn’t say any of that, because Josh had leaned forward and kissed him, gently, hesitantly, and had stolen his breath away.

In the space of that single moment, Sam became dizzy, lightheaded; and when Josh pulled back from the kiss to gaze into his face, Sam could only gasp for air and stare wantonly at the soft, moist lips that had just touched his. They were on the brink of losing all control, on the verge of crossing into territory that they’d agreed to never revisit. Or had they already passed that point of no return?

Aw, hell.

Josh came back to him, his mouth touched Sam’s again, and he was lost; they both were lost. Sam met those lips with his own, buried memories of their softness and gentleness reemerging and mingling with the new memories they were making. He tasted that sweet and vulnerable upper lip, savored the soft and trembling lower lip, and lightly probed and teased his tongue between them. He grasped Josh’s shoulders and pulled Josh to him, closer to him, never close enough; pasting their bodies together until Sam lay on his back with Josh over him, blanketing him with his body, smothering him with his kisses.

They were both gasping when their lips parted the next time, and at the very same moment the thought occurred to Sam that he was sweating, Josh raised up on an arm and threw the quilt to the floor.

“Hot…” he explained needlessly, returning to Sam’s mouth as if his life depended on it.

Sam wrapped his arms around Josh, kissing him, holding him close, stroking his back through the smooth silk; thinking how thin the silk was, how it was almost like stroking Josh’s skin. He remembered Josh’s skin, how smooth and warm and soft it was, how it sleekly covered muscle and bone; how it was dusted in all the right spots with the softest of body hair. He remembered how his fingers slipped over that skin when it was slick with perspiration.

Suddenly, Josh’s declaration of “hot” meant something more to Sam, and he grinned, breaking their kiss for a moment. “You’re right. It’s very hot.”

Then he could see the beads of perspiration at Josh’s temples, and felt the air rush cool against his own moist skin as Josh pushed himself up once again, straddling Sam’s hips, and began to tear at the emerald green pajama shirt.

Sam let him. The loss of a few buttons on a pajama shirt that had been sitting unused in a drawer was a cheap enough admission price to the treat of seeing Josh strip himself of it in such a volatile, inspired fashion. Sam grinned as buttons flew and Josh grappled with the damp fabric stuck to his perspiring shoulders, finally divesting himself of the shirt and flinging it away.

It was only then that they both remembered the scars. Josh gasped in sudden panic, his hands flying to cover the jagged pink lines in his side. Sam only saw them for a candlelit split second, but still wasn’t able to stifle his own gasp of horror.

As Josh bent and reached for the discarded quilt in an attempt to hide what he didn’t want Sam to see, Sam laid his hand gently on his arm. “It’s okay, Josh.”

Ignoring Sam’s hand, Josh pulled the quilt up and held it in front of him. He looked down at the quilt, not meeting his eyes. “It’s not okay. I hate them.”

Sam reached a hand to Josh’s chin and coaxed him to meet his gaze. “I hate them too, you know. I hate how you got them, I hate the people who gave them to you, and I hate that they almost killed you. I hate that they’ve marred your beautiful body. And I hate what they’ve done to you in here,” Sam finished, dropping his hand to lightly settle against Josh’s heart.

Josh watched his hand, and Sam could read his defensiveness, his wariness that Sam might try to touch the scars or move the quilt away.

“But they don’t change how I feel about you. I still love you the same. They haven’t changed who you are to me—you’re still that same smart-assed, arrogant, brainy, impatient….sweet….man that I’ve always known. And you’re stronger for this. And more passionate. More determined….” Sam faltered, not knowing if he was making the right speech. He was used to honing his work in multiple drafts—this was more difficult, and much more important than any political speech he’d ever written.

Josh kept his eyes down for a minute, his fingers twitching where they held the quilt. Finally, “Do you really think I’m more passionate?”

Sam smiled, taking the bait Josh offered. “Yes I do. You pretty much convinced me of that a couple minutes ago.”

Josh ducked his head and unsuccessfully tried to stifle a grin. “Want me to convince you some more?”

Sam drew in a breath. “Please.”

So he did.

Josh settled himself down again over Sam, eventually letting the quilt drop to the floor unheeded. Sam made no overt attempt to see or touch the scars, and Josh made no attempt to hide them. They were simply forgotten in the passion that overtook both men.

They reacquainted themselves with the fine art of loving, exploring each other’s mouths, each other’s skin. Sam eventually realized that the buttons had been somehow yanked off his own shirt, but never knew whether it had been Josh or his own doing. The only thing he really noticed was the wonderful hissing steam created when Josh’s bare chest finally pressed against his.

Sighing happily, Sam stroked Josh’s shoulders, the soft, wet skin over his spine, and slid his hand over his silk-covered hips and thighs. It was all the same, just as so long ago, yet new again, fresh. All the feelings were familiar, yet still surprising. He remembered the singular rosy pink shade of Josh’s nipples, but he’d forgotten how easily that simple blushing color could arouse him. He remembered the sweet vulnerability of Josh’s lips, but he’d forgotten how they always trembled while kissing him. He remembered that Josh loved to be kissed passionately, but his memory of the little whimpers and sighs his kisses elicited had faded. All of this would have been lost to him if Josh had died in Rosslyn. Sam hated the memories of that evening, and resented that the memories of that one awful night were easier to recall and more vivid than all the recollections of their lovemaking from years ago.

Desperate to feed his memory, to nurture every moment of this night for recall during future moments of loneliness, Sam savored every sensation: every tender touch, every unsteady moan, every nuance of taste. Stroking his hand over Josh’s thighs and hips, he banished the memory of Josh’s limp, bare legs on the hospital gurney, his pantlegs sliced nearly to his waist, his limbs looking small and pale and exposed; and instead instilled in his mind an awareness of the strength and muscle beneath his hand, the dampness of male sweat, and the power of Josh’s desperate lust. He smoothed his hands over Josh’s shoulders, exploring their broadness and solidness and heat. He ran his fingers over his chest, delighting in the softly-furred muscle and the soft pink nipples that roused from his attentions.

And he simply could not get enough of this man’s mouth.

He eventually became aware that Josh’s hands were roaming his body the same as his own hands explored Josh, and he felt overloaded by the sensations of touching and being touched at the same time. Josh’s hands clasping his shoulders, holding his face as they kissed. Josh’s hands skimming over the skin of his chest. Josh’s hands grasping his waist and pulling their hips together, grinding, moving, surging. Josh’s lips against his neck, his teeth biting an earlobe. Josh’s cock, hard and insistent and wet, pushing at his groin through the silk.

Then Josh’s hot hand was inside his pajamas, grasping Sam’s cock, stroking it, teasing it, flaunting his skill…

And Sam’s hand burrowed into Josh’s pajamas, following the wet trail on the silk, and sought to drive Josh to the very same precipice Sam was teetering on. He caressed lightly with his fingertips while he muffled his own moans of pleasure into kisses on Josh’s shoulder. When Josh began to breathe hoarsely and push into his open, slicked hand, Sam stroked him expertly, yet with heartfelt tenderness. When Josh’s breath caught in a sound somewhere between a gasp and a sob, it was as if it squeezed Sam’s heart in his chest.

It was late, and they were tired, and it had been such a long time for them that they both came quickly, loudly, copiously. Sam suddenly remembered how Josh always made that little choking sound right before he came, and he suddenly remembered the feel of Josh’s hot breath roaring in his ear. And he remembered how Josh always wiped his hand in Sam’s pajamas, and how he always fell bonelessly into Sam’s arms when the tension of orgasm left his body. These were good memories, sweet memories of times long ago, that had been faded and trampled and hidden away in the attic for far too long. Now they were shiny and new again.

Sam smiled.

He pulled Josh snug into his arms and bathed his face and neck in kisses, listened to his breathing settle down, felt his thundering heart slowly calm. This is the way to spend Christmas! When he judged Josh was recovered enough for thought, he whispered, “I love you.”

Josh lifted his head with effort and gazed down at him. Sam had to grin at the wild halo of curls, and automatically lifted his hand to pet the soft coppery hair back into place.

“Love you too, Sam,” Josh whispered in reply, his eyes twinkling delightfully before he settled his head back down against Sam’s shoulder.

He held Josh for long, wonderful minutes, his fingers tracing little patterns on his damp skin, trying to somehow hold the unavoidable future at bay.

Still limp as if drugged, Josh mumbled into Sam’s shoulder. “I think I got the bandage wet again.”

Wickedly delighted, Sam couldn’t help but laugh a little, as much as he could anyway, with Josh’s weight on his chest. “I’ll change it for you in a few minutes.” Later. Let the real world stay away just a little longer.

A minute or two passed. “Sam?”

“Mmmm?” he answered, the fingers of one hand still caressing damp shoulders.

“You’re the smartest guy I know.”

Sam smiled at the compliment, wondered where Josh was going to go with this one. “Thank you.”

“And I’m a pretty bright guy too, right?”

Sam considered a wisecrack but refrained. Somehow, this didn’t seem the time for it, not lying in each other’s arms, covered in sweat and semen.

“Of course you are,” Sam agreed, petting over Josh’s hair, threading his fingers through his curls.


Josh took a deep, slow breath and sighed it out before continuing.

“So, if we’re both such smart guys, how come that decision we made sometimes seems like the dumbest idea we ever had?”

Here it comes. The real world.

Sam echoed his sigh, wrapped him up even tighter in his arms, unwilling to relinquish him just yet. “I don’t know, Josh. It does seem stupid sometimes, doesn’t it.”

“You ever think about reconsidering?”

He was afraid to tell Josh the truth, afraid not to. He knew they had decided what they had for all logical, realistic reasons. If they had stayed together years ago, they would never have been able to achieve what they had up to now. No right wing conservative fundamentalist would even take a meeting with them, much less listen to anything they had to say. They would never have been able to help get Bartlet elected. And if they had rekindled their relationship after the election, they would have been ripped by the liberals, who would have accused them of being cowards and hypocrites, of being ashamed of who they were, for having hidden it so long. They would also be defined by a single issue, and they both had so much more to offer, so much more they wanted to accomplish politically—health care, education, gun control, Social Security, environmental issues, human rights, national security, and more.

Yet the truth was….

“Yeah, Josh. I think about it every day.”

Josh’s mouth moved against Sam’s cheek, nuzzling softly, his hand cupped Sam’s head, and Sam could feel a shiver race through Josh’s body. “Me too.”

Eventually, Sam finally gave in to the encroachment of the real world. Reluctantly, they sat up together, and he rebandaged Josh’s hand in silence, by candle light, the whisk of the adhesive tape the only sound that intruded over the lingering strains of the Bach Suite. When he was done, he gently raised Josh’s hand to his mouth and kissed it again.

As he pressed his lips to Josh’s palm, he glanced up to see the dark eyes shining with moisture. “Josh?”

Josh took his hand back, caressed his finger over the bandage in the spot that Sam had kissed. “Stan said I was in nine kinds of pain right now, that I didn’t even really know what was going on with myself.”

He looked up, met Sam’s eyes. Sam suddenly felt his own eyes as moist as Josh’s as he thought about what Josh had been through.

“He knew I fixated on the pilot, Sam. That Robert Cano.”

“The guy with your birthday?”

“Yeah,” Josh looked up with a quick, surprised grin. “You were paying attention.” Then he just as quickly sobered. “He suggested that I may have wondered if I was suicidal, like the pilot, since we had some things in common. But I’m not like him, Sam. It’s different for me.”

“What’s different?”

Josh’s bandaged hand sought out Sam’s, clasped it tightly. “I have you, Sam. He didn’t. Even though I’ve been in a pretty dark place lately, I’ve always known you were in my corner. Even when I didn’t know how to reach out, I knew you’d be there if I did. And talking with you, being with you tonight—it’s all I really needed. I can feel that I’m healing now. You’re the best prescription I could have had, Sam.”

Sam felt his eyes start to water and he couldn’t speak, so he just pulled Josh to him in a gentle hug that he hoped told Josh what he was feeling. Josh seemed to understand, because he just held on to him, his body relaxed, lazy and warm.

A few minutes later, Josh pulled back a little to look squarely at Sam. “After this is over, Sam, after I’ve seen the therapist and I’m not such a screwed up mess anymore….Would you consider reopening discussion of our decision?”

Sam felt a tear slide down his cheek and wiped it away quickly, not truly understanding why he was so deeply moved.

“Yeah, Josh. I’d like that.”

Then Josh smiled, and everything was okay again.

“I mean, I don’t want you to put your life on hold waiting for me. I’m—” Josh shrugged and scratched through his hair with a sudden snort of discomfort. “I’m pretty screwed up. It might take a while.”

Sam knew what Josh was saying. He was telling Sam he didn’t expect fidelity, that he didn’t expect their lives to suddenly change. And he was right. As much as Sam wanted what they had at that very moment, he knew that any decision to make a change like that should come from both of them, with careful thought, and with clear heads. It wasn’t a decision to be made in the passion of the moment.

He touched his fingers to Josh’s cheek, gently outlining a dimple. “It’s okay, Josh. Whenever you’re ready. We’ll go on as we have been until you’re ready. Then just say the word and we’ll sit down and discuss it.”

Josh blinked his dark eyes slowly, then grinned as if the realization just hit him that at some point in the very nebulous future, it was possible that they might actually be lovers again.

“Okay.”

They lay back down together on the sofa, content to lie spooned, maybe get a little sleep, for the short time left before sunrise. Josh clumsily tried to arrange the quilt over the both of them, somehow failing to get their bare feet covered, forcing them to tangle their feet and legs together for warmth. Sam lay squished between Josh’s back and the sofa, and loved every moment of it, keeping both arms wrapped around Josh’s chest, burying his nose in the red curls and scenting deeply. He loved the softness of Josh’s hair, always had, even though over the years he’d done his best to forget. He loved the way Josh’s fingers caressed his forearms in quiet thoughtfulness, gentle reminders of how they truly felt about each other.

“Sam?”

“Mmmm?

“That candle’s got to go. It’s nice and all, but it just doesn’t do the trick. We need a real fire, in a real fireplace, to cozy up in front of, don’t you think?”

“Can you build a fire?”

“Oh, yeah!” Josh laughed. “Oh. You mean in a fireplace?” He nudged Sam with his elbow, prompting him to snort at his attempt at humor. Then he continued. “We could build a fire together, Sam. As a team. Okay?”

Sam was beginning to see the first grays of dawn in the apartment, and with it, he felt himself drifting off into a contented sleep. “Sure. Whatever you want, Josh.”

Finis

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