Title: Stereotypical
Author: Anna-Maria Jennings
Feedback: snchica@yahoo.com
Web site: www.geocities.com/snchica
Rating: Um, PG-13? I never know.
Archive: Please do. :-)
Disclaimer: All of the characters discussed herein belong to Aaron Sorkin and some other brilliant writers. I just wanted to play with themfor a bit. I'm not makin' any money off of them, I promise.
Notes: This is a quick one, for me. Please don't hate me for throwing another guy in here for Sam! I'd love to know what you think of the idea, though. As always, mucho thanks to Jae for a super-speedy beta on a busy day, with beautiful correction of my lousy verb tenses throughout.

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Stereotypical by Anna-Maria Jennings

Trent was a dancer. Not the dirty kind – though, Sam thought, he certainly knew how – but the kind that cut across a stage with lithe, deft movements, whisking wispy women high into the air and catching them on musical cues Sam only realized after they had passed. Trent had dark eyes and dark skin and a deep, rolling laugh and made Sam feel, for all his open-minded-left-wing-love-who-you-want-leanings, a little exotic every time he touched his brown, smiling lips.

He was the Perfect Closet Boyfriend, Sam knew. Trent was tall and athletic, and wore suits and sweats equally well. He could beat just about anyone in racquetball, kept up with the bonds market and, to Sam’s knowledge, didn’t own a single Madonna CD. He rarely, if ever, drank to excess, and he was against all but the lowest level of public affection.

Once, Sam took him to the White House for a tour, and Trent had ended up setting a squash date with Josh and betting against Danny on the Nicks game. Afterwards, they’d gone to dinner, and Trent had ordered wine in French and eaten spaghetti without dripping any sauce on his white linen shirt. Sam could hardly wait until they were at Trent’s place – an apartment far enough off Dupont Circle to raise little suspicion – to slide his hand under the shirt, and to watch it wrinkle on the floor as they fell on to his satin-sheeted bed.

Sam had never fallen in love, but he knew that Trent was the right kind of guy for it.

Telling the staff hadn’t been too hard, really. Sam had agonized over it for days, knowing they should know, but also anticipating the changes that would happen once they knew. They would understand, and they would smile and nod and probably love him a little more for it, for this little fascinating quirk of his, but Sam didn’t want anything to change. He didn’t want Toby to stop sending him to meet with Crantz and Heffel on the Hill the day after their attacks on homosexual marriage; he didn’t want Donna to ask him what he thought of her newest boyfriend in anything but the most platonic way; and he didn’t want CJ to bring him her statements before she spoke about hate crimes with anything but the most professional desire for grammatical or policy correction. He knew the stereotyping was inevitable, the same way he asked Leo or Toby before he typed out a military statement, or the way he consulted Ginger about his tie before he went on TV.

“That’s the thing,” Trent said, puling Sam’s glasses off as he sat across the dining room table. “It’s human nature. It’s logic. If you’ve been there, if you’re one of them, you speak for them all. We all do it, Sam.”

Sam knew, though, that he could deal with the packaging. He could handle the occasional slip-ups and the generalizations, the same way he always had, with a laugh and a smile and a quick, casual shrug, maybe a joke about the difference between his views and those of Elton John. He’d dealt with assumptions in college, before he knew, and again at Duke, when he’d shrugged off the lingering desire for his Con Law professor as admiration. He had well-built defenses and a high tolerance for stereotypes.

What he couldn’t handle, he knew, was distance. He’d seen it happen before – a recently out friend quietly lopped off the social list while the straight kids run out to play and procreate and do “straight” things. Sam dreaded the thought of the guys going out without him and the casual, “We thought you’d have other plans,” explanations the next day, when they all went to a bar to hit on girls the night before and thought Sam wouldn’t be interested. He thought about Charlie no longer stumbling over questions about Zoey in his office door and Toby no longer obsessing about his ex-wife or, on occasion, CJ with the candor that only men-who-like-women could share, and felt like he’d been stabbed. But worse than that, Sam didn’t want Josh to stop touching him, in the casual way he did with everyone he knew well. If Josh walled him off – Josh, his best friend, the one he’d known the longest and the one he admired most and, if he were truly honest with himself, had a few feelings beyond friendship for – Sam would fall and die, right there, and all the clever-footed Trents in the world wouldn’t be able to catch him.

But still, they needed to know. Needed to know because, despite the overarching importance of everything they did, they were his friends. If he didn’t tell them, and they found out later, not only were they all screwed, but he would have failed to trust them. So Sam stopped in Toby’s office, one Saturday morning, and asked, “You got a minute?”

Toby was poring over some stupid script for some stupid TV show, where some stupid congressman had made a remark along the lines of “that stupid free-spending war-mongering White House,” and now Toby, as he’d explained in a five minute, fifty-stupid rant that morning, was looking for revenge.

“Listen to this, okay?” Toby asked, his head snapping up. “Listen: ‘In this White House, where drug lords are valued above children and criminals above the working class, is it any wonder we find some of the most stupid policy proposals known to man?”

“Well, no one said you had to be able to correctly use the superlative form of ‘stupid’ to be a Congressman,” Sam quipped, leaning on the doorframe.

Toby dropped his head into his hands, apparently trying, Sam thought, to squeeze the anger from his own brain. “Seventy-three times, Sam. Seventy-three times the man said stupid, in a half-hour interview!”

“So, that’s like, what, about…”

“Two point four times per minute,” Toby said, finally tossing the paper to one side of his desk.

“I was going to say, about one hundred times less than you said it to me this morning…”

Toby didn’t crack a smile. “What do you want, Sam?”

“Can I close the door?”

“Am I not going to like this?”

Sam cocked his head to the side. “Now, c’mon, Toby, how often do I want to tell you something in private that you don’t like?”

Toby sighed. “Close the door.”

“Right.” Sam swung the door shut, then sat on the couch. Toby never stopped staring. “So, how’ve you been?”

“Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“Spit it out. And so help me if you say the words ‘call girl’ in the next five minutes…”

Sam nodded. “Actually, it’s kind of a personal thing.”

Toby rolled his eyes and rubbed his head. “It would be.”

“Yeah. I mean, I know how you feel about knowing anything about my personal life, but, uh… but, I know I have to tell you, and, well, everyone, because, I, ah, well, this is really awkward. You know?”

“Would it help if I kicked you out and made you come back, I don’t know, never?”

Sam sighed and started to stand. Coming out to Toby first probably wasn’t the best way to ensure a successful, confident second try. “I don’t, I – maybe this wasn’t…”

The knock on the door surprised him, as did Josh’s sudden presence before him. “’Sup?” he asked.

“Sam’s about to tell me a secret,” Toby said, with no effort made to hide his lack of enthusiasm. “Care to join?”

Sam caught Josh’s brief, curious glance. “I’m just on my way to lunch, but I’ve got a minute. What’s up?”

He slid into the room quickly and leaned back against the door, blocking Sam’s exit. Sam felt a sinking feeling in his stomach and blinked nervously, rising to his full height. <Jump right in,> he thought. <There’s no escaping it now. Do it like a man.>

“So, I’m seeing someone new,” he said casually, hands in his pockets, the picture of male jocularity.

Josh snorted. “Sam, if we needed to have a secret conference every time you talked another woman into bed…”

“It’s not a woman,” Sam said, and then it was done.

Toby froze, then narrowed his eyes. “And by a not a woman, you mean…”

“A man,” Sam said, watching Toby’s reaction, afraid to look back at his best friend.

“Just to be clear,” Toby said, tapping a pencil on a stack of papers, “Not a professional man of any…”

“Good God, Toby!” Sam sighed. “No. He’s a dancer, with the Washington Ballet.”

“Oh, well,” Toby said, rubbing his forehead. “So, you’re dating a high-profile dancer who also happens to be a man?”

“No one knows about him,” Sam said with a shrug.

“And he’s a ballerina?”

Sam scowled. “Really. We’ve been very discreet. I think – he was in California before this, and no one else in town really knows.”

Toby nodded, tapping the pencil again. Sam fought the urge to pour out more details, to try and explain. Finally, he said, “You’ll talk to CJ.”

“On my way now.”

From behind him, he heard Josh ask, quietly, “How long have you been seeing him?”

Sam didn’t turn, just angled his head a little to acknowledge the question. “Two months. He was in New York for two weeks, though, so… six weeks, here.”

Toby nodded sharply. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Sam asked, somewhat surprised that this was the end.

“It’s the year 2000, Sam. You work in a liberal Democratic White House. You expected fireworks?”

Sam furrowed his brow in surprise, feeling an unexpected surge of warmth for Toby. The man constantly surprised him. “I half expected you to set me on fire for not consulting you before this.”

Toby shrugged. “We can’t help who we love or what we feel, Sam. All we can do is try and keep it out of the papers."

There was another knock on the door, and Sam turned to see Donna’s face at the glass. Josh jumped and snapped open the door. “Lunch?” she said.

“Yeah, I’m coming,” Josh said, glancing at Sam before fixing his eyes on Toby. Josh's voice seemed a little unsteady as he spoke. “I’ll talk to you after the meeting, okay?”

“Yeah.” Toby answered, waving him away. Josh jogged after Donna without a second glance.

Sam felt frozen in the middle of the office, watching the space where Josh had just been. “Sam?”

He shook himself. “Yeah?”

“You going to lunch now?”

Sam felt sick, and cold, and truly, truly sad. “No, I, um, I should talk to CJ.”

“Okay. We’ll talk more later.”

“Yeah.” Sam stepped into the hall and glanced up and down. Ginger brushed past him with a delivery for Toby, and as the man came out of his office, he bumped Sam with his shoulder. “Move, Sam,” he grumbled.

“Okay,” Sam said, grateful for that small bit of grumpy Toby normalcy. As he passed Josh’s darkened office, though, he thought of his friend’s quick departure, and of his tight-lipped, wide-eyed gaze when Sam had finally turned, and felt that if Toby was the standard for normal, he was going to cry.

***

“So, telling CJ wasn’t so hard,” Sam said, looking up at Trent. They were lying on Sam’s couch, Sam’s head in Trent’s lap, Trent’s fingers currently running through his hair, waiting for Chinese food at midnight. “In fact, I think she kind of suspected.”

“Mm,” Trent said, his fingers now working their way to Sam’s tie. He loosened it, then pulled it off and tossed it to the side. “You think?” Sam rolled his eyes affectionately. “I mean, she has seen you dance, right?”

“I’ll have you know, I’m a good dancer,” Sam said defensively, sitting up in protest. Trent shifted behind him, turning so that when Sam lay back, his back was to Trent’s chest. “I mean, not like you, but I won a competition in college at Homecoming.”

“Exactly my point,” Trent teased, kissing his neck. On of his hands crept up Sam’s chest and started working the buttons loose on his shirt.

Sam sighed, turning to nuzzle Trent’s throat. “She wants to meet you.”

“I thought I had met her. Tall redhead, right?”

“Mm, yeah, but no, I mean, she wants you to go out with us, or, I mean, us to go out with her and…”

“Shh,” Trent said, catching Sam’s lips and tweaking his nipple. “You just can’t think and make out at the same time, can you?”

“You’re right,” Sam said, rolling over to lie fully atop Trent. He kissed him deeply, rubbed against him and swallowed Trent’s moan at the pleasing friction. Then he pulled back, and with an innocent smile, asked, “So, what’d you do today?”

“You’re cruel,” Trent said, leaning forward and latching on to Sam’s mouth again. Sam was just working the Trent’s silk shirt off his shoulders when the doorbell rang. “Mph,” he moaned, rolling off him. “Food.”

“My turn or yours?” Trent asked, sitting up as Sam stood.

“Mine, this time,” Sam said, walking around the couch to the door.

Trent smiled. “At least you’re buying me dinner before taking me to bed,” he joked, stretching out on the couch, his shirt open and showing his well-defined chest.

Sam was laughing as he opened the door, holding the twenty that would buy the food and give the deliveryman a more-than-fair tip for the broccoli-beef and egg drop soup he’d be bearing. Laughing, until he looked up and straight into Josh’s eyes. “Oh,” he said, stunned, his whole body tensing.

“Hi,” Josh said awkwardly, staring, it seemed, at Sam’s ear. Sam realized his shirt was still open, and his hair was sticking up. Did he have a mark on his neck? Oh, God… “I was just, um, well, I was just going to stop in, but… you’re busy,” Josh said. “I’m sorry, I should’ve, uh, called, maybe…”

“No, it’s okay,” Sam said automatically.

Josh closed his eyes, reached up and rubbed the back of his own neck. He smelled a little like smoke and a little like wine, and Sam realized it was Tuesday, when he and Josh and Charlie and Toby sometimes Leo or Donna or CJ or even Carol, who could drink them all under the table, liked to go to the late-night French restaurant on Penn. For a while now, they’d been doing it. They never had real weekends anymore, so Tuesday was as good a time as any to crowd around wobbly tables for bad service and down cheap well drinks while Toby chewed on a cigar and Josh tried to stumble through even the slightest amount of alcohol without turning into a complete blundering ass. But Sam had stopped going, recently, choosing instead to spend the nights with Trent. Josh had asked him about it, once, and Sam had lied and complained of work and exhaustion and, once, vague other plans. Now, Josh was on his doorstep, and Sam felt horrible for the lies, but worse that Josh was here at all.

“I shouldn’t have come. I’m sorry.”

Sam shook his head. “Josh, it’s okay.”

“I just – I didn’t handle today very well, and I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t want you to think I… ” He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “But it can wait.”

Sam wanted to push, to invite him in again, but instead he thought of Trent, still on the couch, and the food coming, and the harsh turn of Josh’s back as he’d run down the hall that afternoon, and he nodded.

Josh gave a little nervous laugh, then nodded. “See ya tomorrow,” he said softly, turning and jogging down the steps.

Sam watched him drive away, still standing in the doorway. He realized he was still holding the money in his hand, and the prickly feeling against his palm as he crushed it made him feel a little better.

***

The next morning, Sam was in early. He hadn’t slept well after Trent left, and had finally given up at four-thirty and decided to get dressed and go in to the office. He was well into the meat of the draft proclaiming September National Heart Disease Awareness Month went the lights went on in the hall outside his office. Sam didn’t look up at first, then decided to wander out and see who was in early. He needed Ginger or Bonnie to run a few errands during the morning, and the sooner they knew, the better.

He ran into Josh at the coffee machine. “Josh.”

Josh jumped, still holding a scoop of instant coffee, and it tipped and spilled all over the ground. He closed his eyes and sighed, setting the scoop on the table. “Hi,” he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with both hands.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”

Josh shrugged. “It’s been that kind of morning,” he said, tapping his shoe on the floor to brush away the dark granules. He looked up at Sam slowly. “You’re in early.”

“You, too.”

Josh shrugged. “I’ve got a meeting with Taylor at 6:30. Only fucking time he could do it.”

Sam nodded. “Okay.”

“Why are you here?”

“I’m working on the Heart Disease announcement.”

“About January?”

“Yeah.”

“Sam, it’s September.”

“But we’re announcing it soon.”

“Whatever.” Josh turned, started to walk back to his own office, then looked back at Sam. “I’m sorry about last night.”

Sam shrugged. “Not a big deal, Josh.”

Josh nodded, looking like he had more to say. Sam paused expectantly, hoping he would speak, but Josh just laughed again, like he had the night before, and turned back toward his office.

The rest of the day wasn’t much better. Toby was in Day Two of the search for a way to kill Mr. Stupid and Ginger was too swamped to run his errands, meaning he had to hand them over to an intern, who got lost in the tunnels on the Hill and didn’t make it to the document room before closing. On top of everything, the President had a cold, so the beautiful speech he’d written for the North Dakota Farmers and Breeders Coop had come out sounding like an address to the “Node Dakoda Fammers and Bweedahs.” Halfway through, the President had abandoned the text and summarily wrapped it up, leaving CJ with a press room full of reporters who had full texts and no accompanying presidential statement wondering what had gone wrong.

Beyond that, he hadn’t heard from Trent, either. They’d argued spectacularly after Josh’s departure – their first fight, and possibly, Sam was starting to think, their last – when Sam had been considering going after Josh and Trent had been trying to pick up where they’d left off.

“You just can’t get _over_ him, can you?” Trent had snarled, buttoning his shirt.

“He’s fucking _straight_, Trent!” Sam yelled, watching him dress from the couch with hurt, angry eyes. “He’s my best friend, okay? You know that. You know I’m not screwing around with Josh!”

“Maybe not with your dick, but you’re fucking him in your head, Sam,” Trent said, sliding his arms into the black leather coat. “Every fucking night.”

Sam had watched him go angrily, pounding one of his fists into the wall and grumbling about “insecurity” and Trent’s “complex.” Then the doorbell had rung, and Sam had rushed to answer, crumbling into regret when it was the deliveryman who stood before him. Later, as he ate the food alone, staring at the TV, he started to cry, realizing he’d hoped Josh would be at the door.

Then he’d woken up alone and reached for the phone. He’d left ten apologetic messages on Trent’s voice mail, on his cell phone, on his answering machine, but still, nothing.

Around nine o’clock, Josh stopped in. “S’up?” he asked, leaning on the doorframe.

Sam shrugged. “Reading through the transcript of Barner’s bit on Capitol Beat.”

“You goin’ to the Hill tomorrow?”

“He’s coming here at ten.”

“Ah.” Josh looked anxious, Sam thought glumly. Anxious and tired and distinctly uncomfortable. “So, we didn’t go out last night.”

“Oh?”

Josh waved his hand vaguely. “Donna felt sick, and Toby was out of cigars, and Charlie still feels weird just going out the two of us…” Josh swallowed after that, and Sam thought he saw some color rise to his cheeks. It was a joke, Sam knew, a reference to once when Charlie thought Josh was going to take him to a gay bar. “Anyway, so we’re going out tonight instead. I thought, you know, you might like to go.”

“Yeah,” Sam said quickly. “That sounds good.”

“And, um,” Josh said, ducking his head and not looking at Sam, “you can, you know, bring Trent, if you want.”

Sam paused, pressing his lips together in thought. “Okay,” he said finally, much softer than he’d intended. “Anyway, just tell me when you’re leaving, okay?”

“Right. Okay.” And then Josh was gone again, and Sam felt the familiar flutter in his stomach. Josh was trying. That had to mean something.

Josh swung by an hour later, with CJ and Donna on either arm, and said, “Sam, you coming?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, gratefully snapping his computer shut and grabbing his coat from the door. He rapped on Toby’s door as he passed, saw the older man was on the phone.

“He’s not going,” CJ explained, breaking free of Josh and waving at Toby.

“All right,” Sam said, offering CJ his arm. They walked out behind Josh and Donna, headed toward Josh’s car. They all piled in, Donna up front and Sam and CJ in back.

“Is your friend coming, Sam?” Donna asked while they fastened their seatbelts.

“Uh, no,” Sam said.

“Oh, that’s too bad. I want to meet him.”

“You have met him,” Josh pointed out.

“But I haven’t talked to him,” Donna said petulantly.

“Whatever,” Josh returned, and Sam tried to ignore his hostility.

They went to a different restaurant than usual, that night – a seedier, stranger restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue that served everything from lobster to quiche twenty four hours a day and had cartoon pictures of pigs on its menus. Sam and Josh ordered Sam Adams Cherry Wheat and cheeseburgers; Donna and CJ had Midori sours and shared shoestring French fries. Sitting in chairs across from the women in a bench seat, Sam felt, for a moment, like he was back in college, double dating with his best friend. He half expected the waiter to ask for their IDs when they ordered drinks.

“Where is he?” Donna asked after a drink and a half, twirling a fry between her fingers. She was leaning forward and peering at him with huge eyes.

Sam took a long draw off his bottle and sighed. “I don’t know, actually,” he admitted.

CJ frowned, tapping the straw from her new Pina Colada in rhythm to the loud, classic rock in the background. “Didn’t even call him, huh? Afraid we’ll scare him away?”

“No, we just, uh, we had a fight, and I haven’t heard from him all day,” Sam said, remembering the sharp slam of his door the night before when Trent stormed out.

“Ohhh,” Donna and CJ said together. CJ squeezed his arm across the table. “Men are pigs, darlin’.”

Josh snorted. “Like women are any better.”

“And you, Josh, are King Pig,” CJ said. She held up a menu, pointing to the pig picture and making an oinking noise.

Josh laughed and rolled his eyes, setting his beer on the table and leaning back in his seat. “What, in your opinion, makes women any better than men in a relationship?” he asked.

“We’re prettier,” Donna said quickly.

“Not necessarily ,” Sam answered.

“We smell better.”

Sam glanced at Josh, who shrugged. “All right, that’s a fair point,” Josh said. “But who really wants a guy to smell all fruity, anyway?” Then he shot a quick glance at Sam. “I mean…”

“No, I’m universally against fruity-smelling men, too,” Sam said, laughing and taking a sip of his beer.

Josh sighed, then laughed with him. “Okay, ladies, what else?”

“We have better taste in music.”

“But men,” Sam offered, “like sports.”

CJ rolled her eyes. “Neanderthals.”

Donna took another sip of her drink, then said, “We’re softer.”

Josh narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?” he asked Donna.

“Women are softer,” she said, crossing her arms. “They’re less likely to be really, you know, spiky and nasty and blunt.”

“But I don’t know if that’s a good thing,” Sam said. “I mean, with a woman, you never know where you stand. Like – like when I was sort of with Mallory. I never knew whether I was coming or going with her.”

“Yeah,” Josh said, sitting up and gesturing with the stem of the cherry he’d stolen from Donna’s drink. “Women spend so much damn time trying not to hurt your feelings that you end up having no idea what’s going on or what they’re thinking.”

“Oh, and men are better at this?” CJ asked skeptically.

“Sure!” Josh said. Donna and CJ glowered at him, and he said, “We are. Really.”

“Just look at you, for example, proving your mastery of communications right now,” CJ said dryly.

“With a guy, you know where you stand,” Sam said, crossing his own arms to face off with the women. “If he likes you, he tells you. If he wants you, you know it. No games. No misdirection. And when he’s angry, you know why. No dramatics, no hysterics.”

“That,” CJ said, “is a stereotype.”

“It’s a good one, though,” Josh said, holding up his beer. “To men!”

Sam laughed and clinked his bottle. “To men.”

“Shouldn’t you two, like, grunt or something?” Donna asked, wrinkling her nose at her boss. Josh pulled his bottle from his mouth and belched triumphantly. “Oh, Joshua. No wonder you think women are bad. You’ll never get any, acting like that.”

“Now, see,” Josh said, putting his hand on Sam’s arm. “That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Only a guy can truly appreciate the great art of burping.”

“I’m actually going to have to side with Donna on that one,” Sam said, waving his hand in front of his face.

“Fine,” Josh teased, shoving Sam lightly. “Desert me. Leave me. It’s okay. I see where your loyalties lie.”

“Hey, I like both sides,” Sam said with a smile, watching Josh laugh comfortably next to him. This was better, he thought. This was almost normal.

Josh was, surprisingly, fine to drive, while Donna and CJ had to be tossed into a cab at the curb’s edge. Sam was about to flag one for himself when Josh said, “Hey, I’ll drive you.”

“You sure?” Sam said, watching Donna and CJ’s cab drive in the opposite direction.

“No problem.”

They walked to the car in a comfortable silence, Sam glancing about at the oddly quiet Georgetown street. Josh unlocked the doors, and Sam settled into the car quickly, noting its familiar scent. “It smells a little fruity in here,” he teased, fingering the apple-scented air freshener hanging from his mirror.

Josh smiled and started the car quickly. “I keep forgetting to replace it with the manly New Car Scent.”

Sam laughed. “You can borrow mine.”

“Cool.”

Josh turned a sharp corner, trying to beat a yellow light, and a cassette tape flew across the dash. Sam grabbed it. “Canada Jam?” he asked, laughing.

“Yeah, it was a music festival I went to in college.” Sam snickered, and Josh shot him a sidelong glance. “Hey, it was good stuff. Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Kansas… pretty cool.”

“Yeah, groovy, man,” Sam teased.

Josh grinned. “I actually got to meet Dave Mason. Man, he was cool.”

“You ran into him?”

“Nah, I was, ah, sleeping with the music editor at the school newspaper. Got me a free pass.” Josh laughed. “God, I haven’t thought about him in years.”

“Well, I don’t think many people think of Dave Mason regularly, to be honest.”

“I meant the music editor.”

“Ah,” Sam said, shrugging. Then: “Wait. Him?”

Josh smiled nervously, and Sam realized, suddenly, that his knuckles were white on the wheel. “Yeah.”

“Josh?”

Josh stared straight ahead at the empty road, making a turn onto Reservoir Rd. “It was – it was only a one-time thing. Just this guy, Gary. We liked all the same bands, and all the same shows, and we had the greatest talks and… it was like you said. There wasn’t anything up in the air between us, nothing weird and overly emotional. He started dating a girl after a while, so we stopped screwing around, but it was still… okay. You know?”

Sam couldn’t stop staring at Josh, couldn’t stop the squeaky, disconnected voice that emerged from his own throat. “I didn’t know you… are you attracted to men?”

Josh shrugged, eyes still stuck on the road. “Not really. I mean, I guess I’ve thought about it a couple times, but… never really seemed worth it, you know? All the crap and the funny looks and…” he sighed and pulled the car over, and Sam was shocked to see his own building just outside.

“Josh…”

Josh turned to look at him. “The reason I freaked out, yesterday, was, I, uh…” his eyes shifted away, and he started toying with the air freshener. “I just figured, if I was ever with a guy again, it would be you. But I didn’t think you liked guys, so that was okay, you know? It wasn’t like a rejection, it was just… you know, we could be friends, and that was fine. There wasn’t anything else to think about. And then – well, this guy, Trent, I mean…”

“He’s perfect.”

“Yeah,” Josh sighed.

Sam shook his head, thoughts and feelings tumbling through his mind like so many loose marbles. <This is what it feels like to go crazy,> Sam thought, shaking his head. He took a deep breath and couldn’t smell anything but apples and Josh, and Josh was far too close, suddenly. “I should go,” Sam said softly, feeling for the door handle behind his back.

“Yeah,” Josh said sadly.

Sam pulled the handle, started to step out, when Josh caught him by the arm. “Look, I – I don’t want to leave this badly, okay? I don’t – I’m not… fuck. I just want us to be okay.”

“Okay,” Sam said, nodding dully.

“We can talk tomorrow.”

“Yeah.”

Josh released his arm, and Sam thought he looked ready to cry. He wanted to say it: <Don’t cry, Josh.> But Josh would hate that, would hate Sam knowing he was upset. That was Josh. So instead, he just shut the door and waved shortly before he turned and walked up the stairs to his apartment. When he opened the door, he was hardly surprised to see Trent sitting at the table.

“We need to talk,” Trent said, his voice low and dark. The perfect “we need to talk” voice, Sam thought, sitting next to Trent heavily, his thoughts bouncing about in his head.

***

The next day, Sam was in early again. This time, though, when the lights went on, he skipped the coffee scare and went straight to Josh’s office. “Hi.”

“Oh. Hi,” Josh said, setting a cream cheese Danish down on his desk.

“Those things will kill you.”

“So will Donna when she finds out I forget to bring her book back. I’m hoping this is quicker.”

Sam smiled faintly and sat in the chair across the desk from Josh, regarding him heavily. “So. About last night.”

“Yeah, about that…”

Sam held up his hand. “Before you become too much of a guy, for a second, and try and talk your way out of an emotional situation, you should know that Trent was waiting for me when I walked in, and we talked things out.”

“Oh?” Sam hated the way Josh’s eyes went wide, trying to feign pleasant interest. His hand moved from the Danish to a pen nearby. Sam watched him twirl it, choosing to ignore the flashing emotions on his face. “So you’re okay?”

“Well, we’re good together. I mean, really, we are. But he’s leaving for New York again soon, and probably staying there… so we decided this was it.”

“You broke up?”

Sam nodded. “Off to bigger and better things. Bound to happen, I guess, when you’ve got the perfect boyfriend.”

“I’m sorry,” Josh said, and Sam felt like he meant it.

“It’s okay,” he said softly. “Though now I’ve put Toby and CJ through mild heart attacks for nothing.”

“Nah, they need it, every once and a while,” Josh joked. He looked up seriously, frowning a little. “He was perfect, wasn’t he?”

“A little too perfect,” Sam admitted. “He never spilled anything.”

“Hm. And it’s probably hard for you not to be the prettiest one in the relationship.”

Sam rolled his eyes upward. “Well, that’s something I wouldn’t have to worry about if we were together.”

He'd meant it as a joke, a dig at Josh's receding hairline and his neurotic tendency to believe he was on the edge of physical collapse. Instead, he realized what he'd said and snapped his jaw shut, stunned that he'd thrown it out so quickly. He stared at the pen in Josh's hand for a moment, flustered, trying to think of a way to talk himself out of this, before sneaking a look at Josh's face.

He liked the way Josh’s eyes grew this time, wide and full of genuine surprise. “I, ah – ” Josh cleared his throat, his eyes still locked with Sam’s. “I spill things a lot, too,” he said.

Sam laughed, the nervousness flooding from him in a breath. “You do.”

Josh smiled and took his hand across the desk. There was a tingle, an immediate current of attraction and feeling that Sam smiled to recognize. Years of friendship, of learning every flaw and quirk, and he could still say there was no one he wanted more than Josh Lyman. As the man kissed his hand, then rested his cheek against it, Sam sighed contentedly.

“So you can handle me, with all my manly imperfections?” Josh asked, rubbing Sam’s hand with his own.

“As long as you curb the burping, we’ll be fine,” Sam said. “And you’ll have to stop hitting on women.”

Josh pretended to look stricken for a moment, then dissolved into laughter. “But Sam,” he teased, squeezing his hand and kissing it again. “How am I gonna I reject that most typical of manly behavior?”

“Just like always, Josh,” Sam said. He smiled and leaned forward, his face a few inches from Josh’s. “With a beer in your hand, the game on TV in front of you, and the threat of withheld sex if you don’t.”

“I can handle that,” Josh said, his breath warm on Sam’s face.

It was, of course, a manly kiss. But that was to be expected, Sam decided, melting into the taste and feel and warmth that was his friend and, soon, lover.

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