Title: Test of Strength
Author: Nomi
Rating: NC-17.
Summary: Sam and Josh deal with a potentially serious medical problem.

Test of Strength by Nomi

Click here for a note about the Yiddish that appears later in this story.

The first thing I noticed was the weight loss.

It took me a while, I will admit that, but even with all the time I spend observing - and admiring - Sam's body, since I see him every day, I don't necessarily notice the day-to- day changes. When he started growing his hair long, for instance, it took me over a month to notice.

We were in bed when I noticed how thin Sam was becoming. He's never had much meat on him, and the long, lithe lines of his body were one of the things that first attracted me to Sam. Not that I wasn't intrigued by his mind, his quick wit, but anyone who can see has to admit that Sam Seaborn is easy on the eyes.

But this went beyond thin, beyond lean. And I finally noticed the change because when I kissed Sam on his naked hip bone, I felt more bone than hip for the first time since we got together.

"Love?" I said, not wanting to sound as concerned as I felt. "You doin' OK?"

Sam whimpered. "I'm fine, Josh...just _do_ something."

I decided to tend to both my concerns and Sam's arousal simultaneously by doing a visual and tactile exploration of Sam's body. Starting from where I was at Sam's hip, I ran my fingers all over his legs, his groin, exploring and feeling for anything out of the ordinary. Not that I would recognize anything medically anomalous, but I was sufficiently familiar with the contours of Sam's body that anything glaring would strike me. I spent a little extra time checking the contours of Sam's ball sac, the shape of his cock, placing light kisses along his inner thighs - all in the name of scientific research, of course. Moving up, I ran my hands and tongue over his abdomen, up to his chest - which also seemed less muscular than usual - to explore his nipples, his shoulders, his arms. Arriving back up at his face, I took Sam's lips with mine, exploring the inside of his mouth with my tongue.

When Sam came, it was with his usual vigor, which put some of my concerns to rest, but I was still concerned about this unexplained weight loss. As I held Sam close in the post- coital glow, I decided to broach the topic.

"Love, you eating OK?"

"When I eat, yeah," Sam replied. "You know that we miss the occasional meal, but yeah. Why, mom?"

"Donno," I replied, hedging. "You look thinner."

"Josh, don't worry. I'm eating like always. If I'm thinner, it's because Ainsley keeps swiping my donuts in the morning."

We left it at that, and for the next few days, Sam seemed to be his normal self, so I chalked it up to random changes in eating patterns and tried to put my worries aside.

But then Sam stopped sleeping. It took me a while to notice that, too. See, we work such crazy hours sometimes that our body clocks get thrown off. Add the stress of Sam finding out his father's been having an affair for 28 years, and that's more than sufficient reason for him not sleeping properly. However, this was a different type of insomnia. Sam would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep, no matter how worn out his mind and body were.

I finally hit my breaking point on the fourth day of Sam's no-sleep-a-thon.

"Love? You're taking tomorrow off. I'll clear it with Leo and Toby. I'll tie you to the bed if necessary, but I'm not letting you leave for work tomorrow morning." OK, so telling Sam this while standing in his office doorway was probably not the best course of action, but my worry about Sam was overriding whatever common sense I had.

Toby must have overheard our conversation, 'cause he immediately came out of his office to join me in Sam's doorway.

"Sam, he's right. You're no use to me here if you're too braindead to concentrate." It's not often that Toby agrees with me so quickly, so I was surprised to have his unconditional approval of Sam taking the day off. But Toby was trying to be more attuned to Sam's moods - 'cause he learned the hard way what happens when Sam gets pushed too far - and he must have noticed something.

"Josh, I'm fine. And Toby, I'm in a groove with my writing. I don't have to take tomorrow off." Sam sounded adamant, but I could hear the exhaustion underlying his statement.

I left Sam's office with a non-committal agreement to let him live his life as the grownup that he is - leaving Toby to fight that fight by himself - but I went immediately to see Leo. I ended up cooling my heels in Margaret's area for a short time while Leo was conferring with the President.

"Hey, Josh?" Margaret said, "What's up with Sam?"

"What do you mean?" I wondered if people were noticing the same things I was - the weight loss and the not-sleeping.

"Well, he told me the same thing four times this morning. And not in the 'don't you dare forget this' way that he has. It was more that he didn't even remember telling me the first three times."

Great...now Sam was experiencing memory loss. Of course, Margaret has her flaky tendencies, so I could understand Sam wanting to tell her things over and over, but it wasn't a stretch to believe that Sam was forgetting things due to being sleep deprived.

"Margaret," I said, "how long do you think Leo will be? It's kind of important that I talk to him."

"He'll be..." Just then, Leo's door opened. "He's free now," Margaret said.

"Leo?" I said, poking my head into his office, "you got a minute?"

"Sure, Josh. For you, any time. What's on your mind?" Leo's been great about making time for me ever since my pseudo-breakdown at Christmas. "You doin' OK?"

"I'm fine," I said, wanting to put Leo's mind at ease. "It's Sam I'm worried about."

"So what else is new?" Leo said with a grin.

"I mean it, Leo. He's not sleeping, and even though he swears to me that he's eating properly, he's losing weight. I want him to take tomorrow off and just relax, but he says he doesn't need to. Can you talk to him?"

"Josh, I'm only human; I can't make Sam do anything he doesn't want to do." Leo paused, then smiled that small smile he gets when he's being crafty. "However, as his boss' boss, I guess I can. Sure. Margaret!" he yelled toward the outer office, "get Sam in here, OK?"

"I should make myself scarce," I said. "Sam'll kill me anyway; I don't need to put myself directly in the line of fire." So saying, I started to leave Leo's office.

I was half-way to the office door when the door connecting Leo's office and the Oval opened.

"Josh?" the President said. "I thought I heard your voice. Come talk to me a minute, please." He worded it as a request, but I knew that it wasn't one. I followed President Bartlet into the Oval and stood at the edge of that carpet with the eagle on it.

"Have a seat, Josh," the President said, taking a seat in one of the armchairs. I walked over and sat on the sofa, not sure what was coming next.

"How've you been?" the President asked me. This is a question I'm used to by now - between the shooting itself and my emotional...aftermath...people ask me about my state of well-being all the time.

"I'm fine, sir," I responded.

"How's Sam?" OK, so that's what we're here about. This I can get a handle on.

"Honestly, sir? I'm concerned about him."

"Is it work? Is it Toby? Is it the thing with his father?" President Bartlet quickly touched on the three major stressors in Sam's life at the moment. For Sam, the last few months have been uneasy at best and demoralizing at worst. Between the drop-in that Toby put into the GDC speech, the long run-up to the State of the Union, and the news of Sam's father's long-term extramarital affair, Sam was pretty emotionally drained. I was trying my best to just be there for him, the way he was for me after the shooting and all, but seeing Sam in pain makes me want to make him all better, even when there's nothing I can do.

"No, sir," I answered, "I think it's physical, not emotional, this time."

President Bartlet voiced what I'd been thinking but was trying not to think: "But Sam's almost _never_ ill."

"That's what worries me. I've nursed him through the occasional cold and a bout with the flu, but this...this is different." I couldn't really express what it was about Sam that made me feel he was sick, but President Bartlet seemed to understand.

"Do you want me to send Abbey over to take a look at him?"

I smiled for the first time all day, remembering the times Sam called Dr. Bartlet to take a look at me.

"Yeah," I said. "Sorry...yes, sir, I would appreciate that."

The President smiled back. "You're really worried, aren't you. I can tell by the fact that you're not backpedaling at the thought of the First Lady coming back to your place."

"She's not gonna be poking and prodding _me_," I responded. "That's the whole difference."

The President smiled wider. "Sometimes it's enjoyable," he said.

"All due respect, sir," I said, grimacing, "too much information."

He stood up, and I did as well. "I'll speak to Abbey right away. If Sam's seriously ill, we should find out sooner rather than later, right?"

"Thank you, sir," I responded.

"See you later, Josh," he said, dismissing me.

I left the Oval and headed back to my office. On the way, one or two staffers stopped me to ask what was up with Sam; apparently, he'd been seen strolling through the halls, mumbling to himself. That's not uncommon for Sam, but it was apparently more fragmented mumbling than usual. I changed course, heading back toward Sam's office.

Ginger and Cathy were standing in front of Cathy's desk talking as I walked up. "Oh, good," Cathy said when she saw me. "Sam's been...altered. You should go find out what's up with him."

"Sam's been altered? Like a pair of pants?" I asked, confused. Anyway, I figured Sam would be down talking to Leo, seeing as he'd been summoned.

"No," Cathy said. The 'you idiot' was implied. "Sam's been acting weird. His state of mind is altered. I think he's delusional."

"Sam's often delusional," I responded, trying to cover my fear with humor.

"Josh, I'm serious. Sam's real sick. Go see for yourself if you don't believe me."

I looked through Sam's picture window and saw him sitting at his desk, his head resting on his arms on the desktop. I was confused as to why Sam wasn't still taking to Leo, but I figured that Cathy had told Margaret that Sam was asleep, and they'd decided not to wake him. I agreed with that course of action.

"I don't think I should disturb him - he's finally asleep," I said to Ginger and Cathy.

"Go to him, Josh," Ginger said. "I'm not sure he's asleep." I waited for her to explain, but she was uncharacteristically quiet.

Finally, my concern got the best of me and I entered Sam's office. He didn't look up at all when I came in. The office was silent except for the sound of Sam's breathing. Approaching Sam's desk, I whispered his name, not wanting to startle him if he was really asleep.

When he didn't respond, I walked closer. "Sam?" I said in a slightly louder voice.

Still no response. "Love?"

"Sam? Baby?" I _never_ call him that in the office. Hell, I barely ever call him 'baby' in private. But I had lost track of where I was - I was too concerned with Sam's health to give a damn about location and appropriate office behavior.

I came right up next to Sam's chair and put a hand on his shoulder. I still got no response, and I could feel the waves of heat coming off Sam.

"GINGER!" I yelled in a voice loud enough to wake the dead. But Sam didn't respond.

"CATHY! GINGER! SOMEONE!" I could hear the panic in my own voice.

Predictably, it was Toby who came running first. "Josh? Why are you screaming like a maniac?"

"Sam...it's..." I was hyperventilating and couldn't help it. I stopped and tried to get my breathing under control - one of the lingering effects of my chest wound is that when I'm under a lot of pressure, I have trouble breathing, but I knew I'd be no help to Sam if I couldn't keep myself together. After a brief pause, I was ready to try talking again.

"Toby, call Mrs. Landingham and ask her to tell the President that I said now." I hoped the President would understand. I didn't want to take the time for the long explanation that the situation required. Mrs. Landingham's been with the Bartlet administration - administrations - long enough to know when to just pass on messages as given.

Toby went back to his office to call, and I stared at Sam's still form, wondering what to do next. It couldn't have been more than five minutes before I heard Abbey Bartlet ordering people out of her way in the Communications bullpen.

"Josh," she said, "gimme the bullet." I flinched. "Sorry...poor choice of words. What can you tell me about Sam's condition." Dr. Bartlet was all business as she set her medical bag down on the corner of Sam's desk.

"He hasn't been sleeping for a couple of nights now, and I think he's been losing weight, but he denies it. But he seemed fine - other than extremely exhausted - this morning...at least when we left home. But people have been telling me he seemed...off...today."

"Off how?" she asked, pulling instruments out of her bag.

"Cathy used the term 'altered' to describe his mental state." I knew my concern showed on my face. "What do you think is wrong?"

Dr. Bartlet looked at me patiently. "I won't know until I check him over. How long has he been unconscious?"

"I have no idea," I answered honestly.

"Ginger? Cathy?" Dr. Bartlet called out toward the bullpen.

The two junior staffers came running. "Yes?" Cathy said.

"How long has Sam been out?"

"I don't know," Cathy said. "I thought he was sleeping; I first noticed about 15 minutes ago."

Dr. Bartlet rolled up her sleeves and started shooing away the crowd that had begun to form outside Sam's office. She looked at me, shook her head, and said, "You wouldn't leave even if I had Jed make it an executive order, would you?"

"No, ma'am," I responded, staring at Sam's still form.

Pulling a digital thermometer out of her bag, Dr. Bartlet approached Sam. She stuck the probe end into Sam's ear, then removed it when it beeped.

"103.2," she said, mostly to herself. "When did you start noticing the weight loss?" she asked, turning back toward me.

"About a week ago? His hips seemed bonier to me, less developed. Will he be OK?" Intellectually, I knew she wouldn't be able to tell me yet. But I needed reassurance that Sam would be fine...that I wouldn't lose him.

"Josh, I'll get him taken care of," she responded. "But I need you to focus. Has he been complaining about anything?"

"Sam? Complain?" I was getting ready to launch into a diatribe about how he probably wouldn't complain if his hair were on fire when I heard a low moan. I immediately forgot what I was saying and turned back to Sam.

"Sam? Baby?"

Sam tried to lift his head, but that effort seemed to be too much. "Wha' happen'?" Sam asked.

"Oh, God, baby..." I was having a hard time holding back my tears. But, as always, Dr. Bartlet was there to pick up the slack.

"Sam, you passed out. I want to take you over to GW and get you checked out."

"Tired...wanted a nap," Sam said.

"I think you lost consciousness for only a brief time, but I very much want to have you checked out," Dr. Bartlet said. While she spoke, Dr. Bartlet helped Sam sit back up in his chair, and then she began to unbutton Sam's shirt.

To give them both a bit of a sense of privacy, I went over and closed Sam's blinds. By the time I came back to Sam's desk, Dr. Bartlet had him stripped to the waist and was checking his heartbeat and respiration. She was making those same non-committal medical "hmm" noises she made about me during my recovery period, and they made me no more comfortable now than they had then.

"What...is there anything..." I couldn't figure out what question I wanted to ask first.

She looked at me. "Josh, I really won't know anything until we get to GW." I could hear sirens in the distance as the ambulance approached, and I had a brief attack of the cold sweats, but then I brought my mind back to Sam.

"Baby, you OK?" I asked him. He was trying to button his shirt again, but his fingers weren't cooperating. I helped him out, smoothing the fabric against Sam's overheated skin as I closed his shirt front.

"Hot...cold...donno," Sam said, still groggy.

"Don't worry...you're gonna be fine," I said, hoping I sounded more confident than I felt.

The paramedics came into Sam's office and, lifting him as if he weighed nothing, placed him on a gurney. Dr. Bartlet followed them out through the Communications bullpen.

"Josh, don't leave me," Sam said weakly.

"I'll be right there," I said. "I'll meet you at GW." I knew two things - there was no way in Hell I could survive a trip to GW in the ambulance, even as a passenger, and I needed to tell Donna and Leo where I was going. But as soon as I took care of that, I was headed to the hospital.

Mrs. Landingham caught me as I was headed out from Leo's office.

"The President says take the limo that's waiting for you outside." I tried to argue with her, but not only is it hard to argue with Mrs. Landingham in general, it's even harder when she's speaking on behalf of President Bartlet. "Here, take this," she said, pressing a napkin-wrapped cookie into my hand. "You'll be no good for him if you stop eating as well."

I smiled at this - ever since Sam and I came out to the West Wing staffers (even before we came out to the world), people have been watching out for us. They seem to be 100 percent behind our relationship, and it shows in the little kindnesses they do for us. I accepted the cookie from Mrs. Landingham then headed out to the limo. Word had spread about Sam, and staffers asked me to convey their good wishes to Sam for his speedy recovery.

The limo drove me right up to the emergency entrance of the hospital, and I was grateful to discover that Dr. Bartlet had instructed the clerks at the desk to let me right through to where Sam was. It had been 15 minutes since I had last seen Sam, but it felt like an eternity. I ran through the corridors - totally ignoring the signs that said "No Running" - to the private VIP area of the emergency department.

"Sam, I'm here," I said, unconsciously echoing what they told me Sam had said to me as they had wheeled me through this same emergency department.

Dr. Bartlet looked up at my entrance. "Josh, he's resting comfortably." I was glad she told me before I looked at him, 'cause I couldn't imagine how Sam could be comfortable with all the equipment that was attached to him. Sam had been stripped to the waist again, and there were leads connecting him to a cardiac monitor, an IV, and God knows what other implements of torture. But his eyes were open, and he smiled when he saw me.

"Hey, J," he said in a low voice.

"Hi, love," I responded, and I could feel tears forming in my eyes. Seeing him like this, so helpless, I began to understand why he wanted to wrap me in cotton after the shooting. I just wanted the world to go away and stop hurting Sam.

"They've already been in here to assess his condition," Dr. Bartlet told me. "They want to keep him overnight for observation; Dr. Kramer believes he's dehydrated but will be fine to go home tomorrow." I could tell that there were things that she didn't want to tell Sam right now. I'd have to get her to tell me everything when we weren't in front of Sam. Not that I would keep any information from him - we all learned that the hard way after the GDC speech, even those of us who were equally out of the loop - but I wanted to be absolutely sure of the situation myself before presenting it to Sam.

I approached Sam's bed and leaned down to brush his hair out of his eyes. He still felt warm to the touch, but not as scarily warm as he had felt in his office. Whatever was in that IV was doing its job, for which I was very thankful.

"Sit down, J," Sam said, shifting over to make a place for me to perch. Carefully, in order to avoid dislodging any of Sam's attachments, I sat next to Sam's hip and tried to look at ease.

Dr. Bartlet and I stayed with Sam until they came to take him up to his room. I moved to follow the gurney, but Dr. Bartlet put a restraining hand on my arm.

"Josh, there's some things I didn't want to mention to Sam right away," she said. "I actually think you are the best one to tell him." I shouldn't have been surprised by how perceptive she was. Dr. Bartlet is one of those people who is aware of everything going on around her, no matter how important or how trivial.

"Yes?" I asked.

"I think Sam should have a full blood workup. We don't know what's causing the weight loss you've mentioned, and his high temperature concerns me. Also, his lymph nodes are swollen. It's not uncommon for swollen nodes to accompany infection, but I'm still concerned."

There was something she wasn't saying...something she wanted me to get on my own, but I just wasn't getting it.

"What do you mean by a full blood workup?" I asked. "Please, Dr. Bartlet, be blunt. I'm too addled to think right now."

"Josh, I think Sam should be tested for HIV."

Oh...God.

"I think an HIV test is in order," Dr. Bartlet said firmly. "And I think Sam should be told immediately - I don't want him to overreact, but testing's the right thing to do."

My first reaction was shock. I couldn't get my mind around what Dr. Bartlet was really saying - why would she want Sam to be tested for HIV? He's been with me for over a year, so how could he have been infected?

My second reaction, following immediately on the first, was anger.

"How dare you?" I hissed at Dr. Bartlet, a sure sign that I wasn't totally myself. There is no way I would've spoken to the First Lady in anger if I were my normal self - she scares me way too much, to say nothing of the fact that her husband is the most powerful man in America. But I wasn't being rational.

I continued to rant at Dr. Bartlet. "How dare you assume that just because Sam is in a gay relationship that he has HIV? That's discriminatory...that's bordering on profiling...that's ludicrous...that's..."

...Possible. Oh, God, it was totally possible.

Sam and I have had unprotected sex since the second month of our relationship, but we'd been tested...we knew we were safe. So there was very little chance that, if Sam and I had a totally monogamous relationship, he could really be infected.

However, since the shooting, we'd had two dalliances with outside partners - first in LA and then in Chicago. And now I couldn't remember for the life of me if we'd been safe with everyone.

And since Angel had fucked me...and I have always topped Sam...

Oh, God. Maybe I had given Sam HIV.

I knew Dr. Bartlet was right - this was something I had to talk to Sam about myself. I couldn't staff it out in any sense - to Dr. Bartlet, to other doctors. It had to come from me. But I couldn't tell him right away. I didn't want to wait, but I couldn't throw this on him while he was stuck here in the hospital. Dr. Bartlet had said that Sam had to spend only one night in the hospital. Telling him later might allow him to fight whatever he was up against right this minute.

"Dr. Bartlet?" I asked, "does he have to be tested right away?"

"Why wait, Josh?" She looked honestly perplexed. Her confusion was understandable: I had just finished telling her - loudly - the reasons why Sam shouldn't be tested, and now I was agreeing that he _should_ be tested. But I didn't need to tell her why I was agreeing. It was enough that I was agreeing. So now I had to convince her to let it wait a bit.

"Sam's really vulnerable right now. I really don't want to add more stress on top of what he's going through right now, both physically and mentally. If he's infected, a couple of days shouldn't make any real difference, right?" I had no idea, but it was worth asking.

"You _do_ realize that it's best to find out as soon as possible. And given that it sometimes takes more than a week to get the results back, you're talking potentially two more weeks total before you have any answers," Dr. Bartlet responded.

"I know," I said, "but think about Sam."

"That _is_ who I'm thinking about," she said quietly. She turned to face me. "Josh, be sure about what you are planning. If you didn't convince Sam to get tested now, and then later he found that he was HIV-positive, would Sam feel like you betrayed him, like you lied to him? And would that make his condition worse?"

I didn't like hearing her refer to Sam's "condition." When my father was going through the last stages of the cancer that killed him, everyone asked about my father's "condition." I knew that Sam was strong, young, able to fight and to win against any and all comers. But this was _Sam_ - my Sam...my strong, sweet, amazing Sam. Whom I could have infected.

Oh, God. Another realization hit me - if Sam was infected, it meant we both were possibly infected. And I really didn't want to burden Sam with that right now. Not after everything I'd put him through with the shooting and then my meltdown at Christmas, not to mention all of his own recent personal trauma.

"Dr. Bartlet? I have to do this in a way that is best for both Sam and me. If Sam is infected, it's going to be hard on both of us. I need to be able to prepare us both mentally in case he is HIV-positive."

She thought for a minute. "I can give you until tomorrow afternoon - but after that, I'm going to tell the lab to go ahead with the test, with or without Sam's consent. I can't in good conscience delay possible treatment, Josh."

I thought about what I knew in terms of survival rates, quality of life, and HIV. It's real tough to be gay in America - Hell, it's hard to be conscious in America - without hearing about the risk factors for HIV infection. I knew the potential outcomes - death being the ultimate outcome. I had seen the photos of people suffering from Kaposi's sarcoma. I knew about susceptibility to Pneumocystis pneumonia. Obviously, the world had changed in this era of drug combination therapy, but the old images stuck with me. I knew about the risks of getting HIV from an infected partner. But I'd never believed it would happen to me, so I had never really read up on the statistics. Especially 'cause I was a stickler for protected sex.

Until Sam.

Until I was in the relationship that I knew was going to be it for me. Until I had promised myself that I would spend the rest of my life with this one man, and that we'd always be together, so there was no reason to have any barriers between us.

And it had been _my_ idea to add some adventure to our sex life. _I_ was the one who suggested going to bed with Angel and Wesley. I was the one who hit on young Dr. Carter when we were out in Chicago. It was me. Sam was just the follower. This was all my responsibility.

This was all my fault.

I sank into the nearest chair as the enormity of our situation struck me. Resting my head in my hands, I let the tears come.

***

I don't know how long I sat there, silently mourning all that could have been, all that could change. But the next thing I noticed, Dr. Bartlet was standing next to where I was sitting. She placed her hand on my shoulder, rubbing gently. She was much more gentle than I deserved, considering the way I had spoken to her earlier. But she didn't seem to mind.

"Josh, relax," she said. "You're overreacting. There's a whole host of things that could be making Sam present with these symptoms. There's no concrete reason to believe that Sam is infected. The testing is just a precaution. Now, go wash your face; Dr. Kramer just sent word down that Sam's been brought upstairs and can have visitors. But you shouldn't go see him looking the way you do. He knows you. He'll know immediately that something's bothering you, and you're the one who just said you wanted to keep Sam's stress level down. Go upstairs, pay Sam a short visit, then let the doctors do their thing. I'll be in contact with them and with you."

I followed her advice and went to the men's room to splash my face, then headed up to see Sam. My face still showed my stress, but I hoped Sam wouldn't notice.

But of course, Sam being Sam, he noticed.

The minute I walked into Sam's room, he looked up. "J, what's wrong?"

I pasted a smile on my face and said, "Don't worry about it, Sam. I'm just concerned about you." I came over to the edge of the bed and sat down, taking Sam's hand in mine. "Dr. Bartlet says they'll let you go home tomorrow, as long as you get real sleep tonight. You'll still need time to get better, but you won't have to stay here." With my free hand, I reached up and smoothed Sam's hair away from his eyes. I tried to casually check Sam's skin temperature at the same time, but he saw right through me.

"J, they're taking good care of me, and then I know you will. It's just stress-related, honestly. Think about it - when was the last time we had a stress-free day, let alone a stress-free week? I just ignored all the warnings my body was giving me, and it got its revenge. I'll be _fine_."

I almost lost my composure again during Sam's speech - it was too surreal. Sam was the one in the hospital, but he was busy trying to make _me_ feel better.

I stayed in Sam's room, keeping him company, keeping the conversation light, until the doctors came by to poke and prod at him again. Dr. Bartlet followed Dr. Kramer into the room, took one look at me, and said, "Go away, Josh."

"Ma'am..."

"Go away, Josh," she repeated. "Get yourself a cup of that sludge they try to pass off as coffee around here. Go grab a sandwich. Something. None of us need you hovering while we take a look at Sam. We'll let you come back when we're done."

Afraid that, if I refused to leave now, she'd kick me out for good and not let me come back to Sam's room at all, I - against my better judgment and against my instincts - left. I wandered aimlessly up and down the corridors. I pulled out my cell phone, needing to do _something_ with my hands, and dialed CJ's number. I knew using my phone was discouraged in the hospital, but I needed a connection to something real in the middle of this great feeling of unreality.

CJ picked up after the first ring. "CJ Cregg; make it good." Anyone dialing directly and not through Carol was likely to get this greeting.

"CJ, it's me."

"Josh...thank God. How's Sam?" I could hear the concern in

CJ's voice.

"Dr. Bartlet thinks he passed out because he was dehydrated. He's being kept overnight for observation, but they seem to feel he can be sprung tomorrow. He'll be out of commission until the fever goes away, but at least he will be able to recover at home."

"Do they know what caused..."

I was _not_ going to tell CJ that there was concern about HIV - there was no way anyone but Sam would hear the acronym come out of my lips until we had more information. And I was most likely overreacting. Now that I was thinking rationally - or, at least, more rationally - I realized that Dr. Bartlet just wanted to rule out all possibilities. It occurred to me that she'd probably said something right along those lines.

"Stress seems to be the leading candidate," I said, hoping she didn't hear the desperation in my voice.

"Well, make the boy relax. Take him in hand. Make him do what you say..." I could hear the grin in her voice - she'd heard the rumors about what Sam and I did or did not do behind our closed bedroom (or office...or closet) door. "No, seriously, Josh. Don't let Sam wear himself out. We need both of you, and we've come to learn that if one of you is in less-than-perfect shape, neither of you are OK. So take care of him, and take care of yourself as well."

"Thanks, CJ. Can you let Leo and Toby know what's up? If someone here catches me on the phone, Sam won't be the only one needing medical attention." I looked at my watch. I'd been out of Sam's room for about 20 minutes. When I hung up with CJ, closing the conversation with CJ telling me to send Sam her best wishes, I headed back toward Sam's room.

My timing seemed to be perfect - Dr. Kramer was just leaving, and Dr. Bartlet was standing next to Sam's bed, putting away her equipment.

"CJ says get better soon," I said to Sam as I entered the room. "She's gonna tell Toby and Leo that we'll be out for a bit."

"Huh?" Sam said. "J, there's no need for you to stay home with me. I'm just gonna be sleeping most of the time, anyway."

Dr. Bartlet shook her head. "Sam, I think - for once - Josh is correct. He won't be any good to anyone if he's worried about your health. It should only be a couple of days, anyway, until your fever goes away. Somehow, I think Leo can muddle through without Josh." She gathered up her stuff and headed to the door, but turned back right before she left. "Josh, don't stay too late - Sam needs his rest, as do you." With that, she opened the door and left.

I looked down at Sam's too-pale face. I didn't know what to say to him - I was half afraid that the minute I opened my mouth, I'd blurt out my fears about having infected him.

"J...don't worry. I'll be fine. Now come lie here with me and hold me. I miss you." I couldn't turn him down - not that I wanted to - so I carefully arranged myself on the bed with Sam, careful not to interfere with his IV.

Sam kissed my forehead. "Remember when we were here before, with our roles reversed? Remember how you told me that my worrying would just slow your recovery? Well, the same applies. I _don't_ want to have to worry about your health. I know you say you're fine, that you've healed, but Christmas scared me. Promise me you'll take care of yourself."

I nodded, again fighting tears.

"Good," he said. "Now go home."

"Excuse me?"

"Go home. Eat something. Sleep. Come back tomorrow and take me home."

I drew in a breath, preparing to argue with Sam, but he preempted me.

"Josh, you promised. Get out of here. Go home. Take a warm bath..." He paused. "On second thought, don't. If I think of you in the bath, my temperature's bound to go up again, and then they won't let me leave." Sam grinned what was only a shadow of his normal grin, but it still made me smile.

"Oh, love..." I said, my smile fading again. "God, baby, I just want to hold you close, never let anything hurt you." I kissed his forehead, his nose, under his ear, then I let him go and stood up. I knew he meant it when he told me to go home.

I delayed actually leaving for as long as I could, but Sam finally kicked me out. I made my way home, but the apartment seemed so empty without Sam there. To compensate, I turned on the TV - there wasn't anything on that I had any desire to watch, and in the past I would've put on a CD, but I wasn't ready to have music on while I was alone. It's been a couple of months now that I've been working with a therapist on my music problem, and I'm OK when Sam's around, but I wasn't at all ready to face both Sam's absence and my reaction to music all at the same time. So while CNN droned in the background, and after I had changed out of my suit and into jeans and a sweat shirt, I set my mind to another task, one that I have used for a long time as a relaxation technique: cooking.

When I am stressed, I need to keep busy. Cooking provides the outlet I need to release the tension but in a constructive way - something better than putting my hand through a window. When we were on the campaign trail, it was frustrating to me not to have cooking as an outlet, but when I do have it as a possible stress reliever, I use it. In this case, I cooked all of Sam's favorite foods, plus a few comfort foods of my own.

What we were going to do with 6 quarts of chicken soup for just Sam and me, well, that was a problem I'd deal with later. The chopping of the carrots, the celery, the parsnips were all concrete tasks that kept my mind occupied. Once the water was boiled and I put in the chicken, the vegetables, the spices, I felt I was doing something that would help Sam.

I'm a firm believer in the curative powers of food, and of chicken soup especially.

But once the soup was on to cook, I was at a loss. I'd made more food than Sam and I could eat by ourselves, and Sam probably wouldn't be up to me having people over. I started to wander the apartment looking for other ways to occupy my mind. I did a bunch of what I tend to think of as "Sam tasks" - straightening up random piles of paper, hanging up coats and ties that had been tossed over chairs, things like that. When I walked into the living room, I noticed that the light on the answering machine was blinking. I wondered how old the message was - we've been busy, and most people call Sam's or my cell phone when they want to reach us. So the home answering machine serves as a repository for less-urgent messages.

Curious as to who might have called, I pushed the button. The computer voice indicated that the call had come in on Monday - three days ago - then the message started to play.

"Uh...hi. I hope this is the right number. It's...uh...it's John Carter. We met in Chicago? I treated Josh for a respiratory problem? I'm going to be in DC for a couple of days next week, and I was hoping we could get together. Please call me." He rattled off a number in the 312 area code, then hung up.

Shit. We'd liked John. I'd hate to have to tell him that there was a chance that we were infected and therefore it would be best if he were tested. That was way more than he'd agreed to when he decided to go to bed with us. Yeah, there's a great coda to your first gay experience - makes you really want to think about doing it again, doesn't it.

But I tried to push those thoughts aside. It would do Sam no good if I focused only on the worst of the potential outcomes. I wanted to wait to call John back until I'd spoken to Sam. I had promised Dr. Bartlet that I'd talk to Sam in the morning. Once I had done that, Sam and I could - together - decide what to tell John.

I went back to the kitchen to finish cleaning up and to put the now-cooked soup away. I was glad that the task was relatively mindless, because I was focused on the best way to talk to Sam about the importance of testing.

When I couldn't waste any more time around the apartment, I realized I needed to get out. I called Donna, hoping she'd allow me to drag her out for a walk.

"Josh..." she said, after the pleasantries were past and she'd asked how Sam was doing, "I _do_ have a non-work life. You may be my boss, but you can't control all of my time."

I realized that she might have a date, or some guy in her apartment, or something. "Donna, I'm sorry. I just...I need to take a walk, to get out, and I didn't want to go alone. But if you're busy..."

Donna cut me off. "No, I'm not busy. I was just afraid you were calling for some random piece of research you needed me to do, and I was going to give you Hell for making me do work after hours...but if you're looking for a friend, you know I'm always here. Gimme 10 minutes, and I'll be at your front door." She hung up with barely a "good-bye", leaving me staring at the phone.

True to her word, Donna appeared at the front door of our apartment within 10 minutes. I had obviously interrupted something - her hair was done up in this elaborate style I couldn't even describe, and she was wearing makeup. But she was wearing sweat pants and a University of Wisconsin at Madison sweatshirt, so I knew she was willing to come out with me.

As we walked down the front steps of the building, I turned to her. "You canceled a date for me, didn't you?"

"You sounded like you needed me," she said, shrugging. "I can go out with the assistant to the Senate Minority Leader's Chief of Staff any time." She tugged on my arm as we stepped down onto the street. "Come on...let's go this way," she said, leading me down toward the park near my building.

We walked in silence for a block or so - probably a Donna record - before she said, "So, Josh, I canceled a date for you; talk."

I didn't know where to begin. "I'm worried about Sam." It was a simple but true place to begin without violating Sam's privacy.

"CJ said you said he'd be coming home tomorrow. He'll be fine." We arrived at the park, and Donna led me to a bench near the fountain in the center of the park. "C'mon...sit down and tell me what's up."

"I'm worried, Donna," I said. "Sam thinks it's just stress. But what if it's more. What if it's something he can't fight."

Donna is very good at reading between the lines and hearing what I'm not really saying. Which is a good skill for an assistant to have, and an even better skill for a friend to have. "What, you think it's...what? Hepatitis? Anemia? HIV?"

I must have jumped at that one, 'cause she stopped. She put her arm around me on the back of the bench and spoke again.

"Josh, why would you think he could be infected with HIV? He's right. It's probably just stress."

"But Dr. Bartlet wants him to be tested, and I've got to tell him...and to warn him that it's a possibility."

"Is it really?" Donna asked. "I thought you'd been exclusive since last year."

"We have," I said, "except for...well, remember that second fund raiser in LA? The one in December? Well, we met some people there and..."

She cut me off. "I _really_ don't need to know the details, Joshua."

I nodded and continued. "And then in early February during that trip to Chicago for the Town Hall meeting...remember Sam took me to the hospital? Well, we...again, you don't need the details, but we met someone there, too."

Donna looked shocked. "You picked up someone at the _hospital_?!? That's a bit too desperate, even for you. Hitting on sick people like that...and you and Sam have each other, so why would..."

She was getting a good head of steam going, so I stopped her before she went any further. "No, Donna, the doctor who treated me. We ran into him again at a jazz club, and one thing led to another and..." I stopped.

"So you've had two outside encounters. You were safe with both of them, right?"

"I...I can't remember," I said quietly. "Donna, I can't live with the thought that because of me, because of my carelessness, Sam could _die_!" And that was the whole crux of it - I could lose Sam because of my own actions.

Donna looked me directly in the eye. "Josh, you and Sam are both adults. You both know all the risks. Assume for now that you _did_ take the proper precautions. Don't bring trouble on yourself unnecessarily." She paused and smiled. "Sorry, for a moment, I forgot who I was talking to. You live to bring trouble on yourself unnecessarily."

I smiled because she wanted me to. And I began to realize that Donna was right - there was no reason to panic.

I leaned over and kissed her on the tip of her nose. "Thanks, Donna."

"Anytime, Josh. You almost never take my advice, but I'm always here to give it when you want it."

We got up off the bench and started walking back toward my apartment. "Donna," I said, "I know I don't have to tell you this, but please don't tell anyone about my concerns. I haven't even told Sam that Dr. Bartlet wants him to be tested. I can't betray him and have everyone else think he's HIV positive if he doesn't even know that it's a possibility."

"Don't worry, Josh. I leave the wild speculation and rumor-mongering to you. Me, I just sit at my desk and do what you tell me to do." This has been our running joke since the campaign, when I came into my office in the headquarters in New Hampshire and found Donna answering my phone. After I finally hired her, I gave her a whole lesson on boss-employee relations and how she should just do what she was told. I am thankful on a daily basis that she never listened to me on that.

We stopped at the stairs leading up to my building. I drew Donna in for a tight hug, and said, "Thanks for coming out with me. I really appreciate it."

"Go inside, Josh. Have a snack, take a warm bath, and get some sleep."

"Why is it that people keep telling me to take a bath?" I asked. "Do I smell?"

"Yes, Josh," she said, smirking. "So go. And call Sam - he'll want to hear your voice." With a final peck on my cheek, Donna turned back to walk home.

I went inside and unlocked the apartment door. Just as I walked in, the phone began to ring. I didn't really want to answer it, but in my line of work, I don't usually have a choice. Grabbing the portable phone off the entryway table, I pushed the "on" button.

"H'lo?"

"Hey, J."

"Hi, love." I shucked my coat and went into the living room. "What's up?" OK, that was a dumb question...

"I miss you. I want you. I'm lonely in bed without you." Sam spoke our standard "we're apart overnight for some reason" line. It appeared he was treating this as if we were just temporarily separated for the night because of business.

I decided to play along. "Miss you too. The bed's too big for one person. Come home soon." Again, standard line. I knew he'd be home tomorrow, and I knew he'd need to recuperate, and I also knew we'd have to have a very serious conversation in the morning. But I figured if he wanted to play it casual, so would I. No big discussions, no deep issues, just two guys saying goodnight.

We talked for a couple of minutes, but I could hear Sam beginning to get unfocused.

"Did they give you something, love?"

"Yeah...something in the IV's making me fuzzy."

"It's good for you. We'll talk tomorrow. Sleep well, my love."

"You too, J. See you tomorrow."

We said good-bye and I hung up the phone. I sat on the couch for a little while, just thinking about what I would tell Sam in the morning.

I hoped we'd be strong enough for whatever came next.

I slept fitfully for about 6 hours - I never sleep well when Sam's not in the bed, even when he's home and just up before I am - and then finally gave up around 4:00 AM. I would have, were it a normal day, showered and headed into the office at that point, but I had been ordered not to show my face in the West Wing at all until Monday. That gave me today and the weekend to be with Sam and get him healthy.

Only time - and medical science - would tell me if that was actually possible.

From my own recent experience with hospitalization, I knew that they wouldn't be springing Sam until at least mid- morning. I tried to find ways to keep myself occupied until I had to go get Sam, but I ended up on the phone, harassing Donna about upcoming projects. She finally refused to give me more than one-word yes or no answers to my questions, causing me to seek amusement elsewhere. I considered calling Toby and harassing him, but he would probably try to get me to do real work, so I finally went back to the kitchen and baked three batches of cookies. Again, it was less because I wanted cookies and more so that I would have something to do other than sit and brood about Sam's health.

At 11:30, my phone rang. I had just taken the last of the cookies out of the oven and was searching for something else to do, so I was happy to hear Dr. Bartlet's voice.

"Josh, I know you're eager to come get Sam," she said, "so I wanted you to know that he's been cleared to leave as long as he has someone to care for him."

"He's got me. I'll watch out for him," I responded.

"I know that, Josh," she said. "And don't forget - you have to talk to him about testing. I really will call the lab this afternoon, whether or not I've spoken to you."

That gave me pause. I still hadn't figured out how to broach the subject with Sam. "Dr. Bartlet, I'm still not sure how I'm going to talk to Sam about this. And what if he refuses? I know you don't need his permission, but it's not fair to do the test if he's dead set against it, right?" I hoped that Sam would agree to be tested, but there was a chance that he wanted to live in blissful ignorance...sort of like how he would've preferred not to know about his father's affair. "How do I start this conversation?" I asked, mostly rhetorically.

"You're a smart boy, Josh. I trust you to find a way." She paused a minute for that to sink in, then said, "So if you head out now, he should be ready to leave by the time you get here." We said a quick good-bye and hung up.

I wasted no time in getting my shoes on and cleaning up the kitchen. Within five minutes, I was pulling out of my parking space and heading toward GW.

During the 15 minute drive, I thought about all the ways I could potentially discuss testing with Sam without causing additional stress. In truth, I could not think of any way that would not cause at least a little stress. I figured that the direct approach, while blunt and difficult, would turn out to be best in the long run. By the time I pulled into a parking space at the hospital, I didn't have anything vaguely resembling a plan, but at least I'd established the beginnings of a course of action.

I made my way up to Sam's room, and he was just finishing getting dressed. He looked up when I came in.

"Hey, J. Come to spring me?" Sam sounded better than he did yesterday. It's amazing what sleep - even chemically- induced sleep - will do for a person.

"Yeah," I said. "I've come to carry you away to my lair and have my way with you."

"I'm gone for one day and you go out and get yourself a lair?" he said. "And here I thought you were sitting at home, pining away for me."

I quickly got serious. "I missed you more than I can ever tell you. Now come on, we'll go home and I'll serve you lunch."

Comprehension dawned on Sam's face - he knows me so well. "You cooked all night, didn't you."

"Not all night," I said, defensively. "Just for a couple of hours last night." Then more quietly, "And three batches of cookies today."

"God, Josh, we're gonna have to give food away again, aren't we?" Past cooking binges have netted CJ and Toby dinners for a number of nights. As I said, I use it to relax, but then I've got more food than any two people could ever eat by themselves.

I think I blushed a bit. "Yeah," I said. "Now let's go home."

We gathered up the couple of things he had to take home - having been brought to the hospital by ambulance, he didn't have much by way of personal items, but there were a couple bottles of newly-prescribed medications and a few other random items. After all the relevant paperwork had been signed and Sam was cleared to go, Sam and I got the Hell out of Dodge.

I could see that Sam was still tired, so I didn't make him talk much during the ride home. As soon as I parked the car, I jumped out to help Sam out of the car, but he was way ahead of me.

"Josh," he said, "you don't have to baby me. I can walk fine from here to the apartment." And he proceeded to do just that, leaving me to follow him.

Once inside, I headed to the kitchen. I figured we should have lunch - much as I wasn't really in the mood to eat, I needed to make sure Sam ate. _What_ to eat wasn't an issue, given my marathon cooking session of the previous evening.

After Sam had eaten about half of what I'd put out for him - and I'd pushed my food around on my plate for a while - I felt I couldn't delay any longer.

"Love?" I said, "I need to talk to you."

"Yeah?" Sam asked, still concentrating more on his food than on me.

"Sam?" I waited until he looked up, then took a deep breath. "Dr. Bartlet thinks you should be tested for HIV."

"What?" Sam asked, his tone one more of confusion than of anger, which I saw as a good sign. I attempted to elaborate.

"Dr. Bartlet...given your symptoms...and everything else..." I stopped, watching the confusion continue to play on Sam's face.

I tried again, still trying to be as gentle as possible. "Love, Dr. Bartlet is afraid that your symptoms point to something more serious than just stress. She wants to rule out all the possibilities, including HIV."

I watched Sam's face go white, even paler than he already was from his illness. "But...how...is it..." I knew what Sam was trying to ask; I'd asked myself all the same questions.

"Love, at first I accused Dr. Bartlet of profiling and a whole bunch of other things, but then I realized that it was not out of the realm of possibility. Remember LA? Chicago? Do we know for sure that we were safe? I don't remember using condoms with anyone, and I don't remember asking anyone about their status."

"We asked John," Sam said quietly. I was glad to hear he remembered that detail, but that just made having to tell John that we might have infected him that much more difficult.

"But did we ask Angel and Wes?" I asked. "Do we even remember?" My tone was turning combative, even though I didn't mean to get angry. I was trying to keep a level head, but watching Sam process all this information was painful. I was having enough trouble keeping myself under control; trying to spare Sam was making this doubly difficult. But Dr. Bartlet had made me promise that I'd have an answer from Sam today, and it was getting late. I needed to get Sam to see the urgency of being tested. But yelling at Sam wasn't going to be the answer. I paused to collect my thoughts, then started again.

"Sam, there's one other thing. In order to get Dr. Bartlet to agree to wait to do the test until I'd spoken to you, I had to promise that I'd give her an answer this afternoon. She said that if she didn't hear from us, she'd tell the lab to go ahead and test for HIV."

"It sounds like it's a done deal, Josh. Why is Dr. Bartlet even waiting for an answer from me?" Sam asked.

"I insisted," I said. "I agree with her that you should be tested. But I didn't want to take the final decision out of your hands."

Sam's face clouded over. "Will you hate me if I say no?"

I got up and walked over behind Sam's chair and put my arms around him. "There is nothing you could decide to do that would make me hate you," I said. "But I do think that we'd both be more at ease if you did get tested. Finding out now, when it's early enough to do something, is better than finding out later."

Sam pondered this for a moment. I tightened the hold I had on him, hoping that he would be able to take strength from me.

After what seemed like an eternity but couldn't have been more than a few minutes, Sam whispered, "Yes."

I leaned over and kissed the top of his head. "Do you want me to call Dr. Bartlet? She's going to want to know right away." Thankfully, Dr. Bartlet would not have to draw additional blood, so Sam wouldn't have to go back to the hospital.

"Would you, J?" Sam asked. "I don't think...I wouldn't be able..." I could hear his voice breaking. This wasn't going to be easy for either of us.

"I'll do it," I said. "Do you want me to call her from the other room?"

"No," he said emphatically. "Don't leave. Call from here." I hadn't wanted to leave, but I wasn't sure that Sam was up to hearing me discuss testing with Dr. Bartlet. But apparently he needed companionship more than he needed to be protected. I quickly went and retrieved the portable phone, then sat back down at the kitchen table and dialed the direct number Dr. Bartlet had given me.

It didn't take long for me to tell Dr. Bartlet that Sam had agreed to be tested, and she was eager to let the lab know. She informed me that she'd be by on Saturday to look at Sam, which I could've predicted based on my own recovery period. We kept the conversation short, but just before we hung up, Dr. Bartlet dropped yet another bombshell.

"You realize," she said, "that you should be careful until we know the results, right?"

It took me a moment to realize what she meant. "Yeah," I answered. "But I don't have to like it." It had been so long since Sam and I had used any sort of protection; I didn't relish telling Sam we'd have to do it again.

With a final reminder to take care of Sam, Dr. Bartlet said she'd let us know as soon as there was word from the lab and hung up. I turned to Sam, dreading this next part of the conversation almost as much as I had dreaded the first part.

But Sam had already picked up on the last part of my conversation with Dr. Bartlet. "So," he said, "what does she want us to do?"

I wanted to tread carefully, as I wasn't sure what Sam's reaction was going to be. "She wants us to be careful with each other until the test results come back."

Sam's not slow - he got my meaning right away. "So...she'll let us have sex as long as we're safe? I think I can live with that." He smiled for the first time since we started talking. "What? You thought I'd complain?"

"Well," I said, "I've gotten so used to feeling _you_ that I'm worried that it'll be...that I won't..." I stopped, realizing how idiotic my performance anxiety was in the face of everything else potentially ahead of us.

"J, remember the first time you fucked me? Even with all of our nervousness, you were magnificent. When I rolled the condom onto your cock, I almost came right then, just from the feel of you in my hands. I know we've come a long way since then, but there's nothing wrong with...well...going back to the classics," Sam said.

I was relieved at how well Sam was taking all this. I thought that perhaps on some level, Sam must have anticipated this possibility, and therefore was more prepared than I was for the idea of needing to be tested.

I walked back to where Sam was sitting and pulled him up out of his chair. I engulfed him in a bear hug and pressed kisses to his forehead. He still felt a bit feverish to me, but I tried to ignore it. I was comforted just by having him in my arms.

"We'll face whatever comes together," I said, wanting to assure Sam - and myself - that we'd be able to survive this.

"I couldn't do it any other way," Sam said.

There was still one last thing I had to tell Sam.

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"John called; he's coming to town."

"Ah."

"Ah?" I repeated.

"Yeah...we'll have to tell him, won't we." Again, Sam's perceptiveness showed through.

"I've been thinking about that," I said. "If we don't go to bed with him, we won't have to tell him until after we know yes or no."

"I don't want to have to lie to him," Sam insisted.

"No need," I said. "It just doesn't have to come up. After all, he's only going to be in town for a couple of days, and I really don't think you should be too...active...until your fever goes down. He, as a doctor, will be able to understand that. And, if later we find that there _is_ something we have to tell him, well, we'll call him in Chicago and tell him." I hoped Sam would agree to my plan. I didn't think either of us was going to be able to deal very well with the trauma of informing past lovers - in this case, John and Angel and Wes - that they had to be tested. Especially if it was still only theoretical. I thought it would be better if we were to wait until we had all the facts.

"I guess you're right," Sam said, though he still sounded unsure.

"Believe me, love. It'll be easier this way." I was still concerned about John's potential reaction to being told. I already felt somewhat guilty for pressuring him into sleeping with us, and the idea of having to tell him we might have infected him was just compounding my guilt. It was the coward's way out, but telling him over the phone would be easier than telling him in person.

We lapsed into silence, standing there in the kitchen just holding each other. I was reminded of when I had just returned home from the hospital and the increased need we'd both had to touch each other, confirm as it were that we were both still alive, still together.

Finally, Sam broke the silence. "J?"

"Yeah, love?"

"Take me to bed."

"You tired, love?" Here he'd just come home from the hospital and I had made him think about difficult topics. I wasn't surprised he would be drained after the day he'd had.

"No, J...I didn't say _put_ me to bed; I said _take_ me to bed." Sam raised his head from its resting place on my shoulder and wiggled his eyebrow at me.

"You sure, love?"

"Definitely. I need to feel you against me...inside me..."

I still wasn't convinced this was the best idea, but there was no way I was going to deny Sam. Moving him out of my embrace but tucking him close to my side, I started walking out of the kitchen and toward the bedroom. Sam wasn't satisfied with the inaction he must have felt I was displaying, as he started to unbutton my shirt as we walked. His hands were warm against my skin, reminding me that he wasn't well. I was determined to take this slowly, to be gentle with Sam.

But again, Sam had other plans. As soon as we reached the bedroom, Sam pushed me down onto the bed, taking more initiative than he usually did. Within seconds, he had me stripped down to my boxers and was stripping off his own clothes. He wasted no time in getting totally naked, and then he climbed back onto the bed with me.

Sam straddled my legs and began to play with the waistband of my boxers. I was finding it hard to keep control; I was hard within moments of Sam's skin coming into contact with mine.

"Do you want me to take these off you?" Sam whispered, slipping his fingers into the waist of my boxers and playing with the hair at the top of my groin.

"Oh, yeah," I hissed. I wasn't usually on the receiving end, and I was enjoying watching Sam flex his muscles.

"Tell me what you want me to do," Sam said.

"Strip me..." I responded. Sam quickly removed my boxers and then straddled me again, our cocks almost but not quite touching.

"Now what?" Sam wanted me to top him from underneath.

"Stroke your cock," I said. "Come for me; come on me." I knew what Sam wanted, but I was wary. If I could get him to pleasure himself, I could figure out the future without having to worry about Sam being too horny to focus.

Sam started to run his fingers up and down the length of his cock.

"Harder, love. Show me how you like it." Sam increased the speed of his movements, bringing one hand around to cup his own balls, massaging them, while he formed a fist around his shaft, milking his cock.

Knowing that Sam responded to my voice, I continued to encourage him. "Yeah, love, just like that. Fuck your hand. Yeah...Imagine it's me with my hands on you. Imagine it's my lips around your cock, then sucking on your balls, making you hot...making you come...come on, love. Come for me now."

Sam came when I told him to, his cum landing in hot spurts on my chest. He leaned forward, catching my lips with his for a long kiss, then he sat up again.

"You cheated," he said.

"How?"

"I wanted you inside me. I told you that."

"Love...we're gonna have to wait," I said, despite what my body was crying for. "Your whole passing-out-in-the-office thing? It scared me. Really. I want you to get better quickly, so I don't want to wear you out." During my recovery period, we'd lived under similar restrictions, so it wasn't unprecedented. It just wasn't what we wanted.

Sam looked like he was going to disagree, but then he said, "I guess you're right. But..." he looked down at my hard-on, which was still pushing against Sam's thigh. "I'm gonna have to do something about that." He lay down on top of me so that his hips were aligned with mine. Slowly, with the slightest of rocking motions, he started moving his hips against mine, rubbing my hard cock with his own flaccid one. As he increased his speed, I could feel him start to stir against me once again. Faster and faster he rocked, and as our hard-ons rubbed together, the sensations became more and more incredible. We'd done this before, but never in bed, never horizontal.

"Ohgodohgodohgod..." One or both of us was chanting over and over. It was hard to tell - that would've taken higher brain function than either of us could manage. Sam was bucking above me faster and faster, until, with a final cry, we came all over each other.

This...this felt normal. This was the first moment of normalcy I had really experienced since Sam passed out in the office. I pulled Sam up against me, cuddling him against my side.

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"What happens next?"

Unfortunately, I didn't really know. I couldn't really reassure Sam, because anything I would say could turn out to be false. And there was no way I was going to lie to him, not now and not ever.

"Next?" I said, striving for a light tone. "Next, we go and take a shower." I sat up, pulling Sam up with me. "After the shower, well, let's just take things as they come."

We got up out of bed and headed for the bathroom. After our shower, we tried to retain that air of nonchalance - not that we were ignoring the possibilities, but we weren't going to let the specter of infection rule our lives.

Or, at least, that was the plan.

We spent Friday quietly at home, with no long, involved conversations about anything. We debated the various merits of our favorite baseball teams, what with Opening Day just around the corner, and decided that the Designated Hitter rule was a blight on the face of baseball. I'm not honestly sure Sam agreed with that assessment, but I held forth quite eloquently on the topic and tried my best to convince him.

All evening, I could see the fatigue on Sam's face, but he was unwilling to be persuaded to go to bed. Finally I feigned exhaustion and convinced Sam that we should go to bed. To my surprise, I did actually fall asleep after just a short time, but not until after Sam had drifted off and I was able to content myself with lying in bed and listening to him breathe.

In the morning, the doorbell rang early. I left Sam sleeping and, pulling on my robe, went to answer the door.

"Morning, Josh," Dr. Bartlet said as she and her agents came inside.

"Hey, Josh," said one of the agents - Roger? - "Cards still in the same place?"

I nodded. While I was recovering, the agents who protect Dr. Bartlet became regular visitors to this apartment, and they became quite familiar with where I hid such things as playing cards.

Dr. Bartlet headed for the bedroom with me dogging her heels. As she crossed the threshold, she turned to me.

"Josh, go away," she said.

"Huh?"

"Go away. Go out. Rent a movie. Take a walk. I don't care. Just leave me alone with Sam for a bit, OK?"

I was not happy about this. "Why?" I asked.

"Because you'll hover and question and protest and I won't be able to talk to Sam or examine him properly."

I caught myself protesting automatically and decided she might be right. Instead of arguing with her - when it was pretty clear I'd lose anyway - I grabbed some clothes and went to the bathroom to shower and dress. When I came back to the bedroom, Dr. Bartlet was beginning to check Sam's vitals. I didn't linger, much as I wanted to, and instead grabbed my wallet and keys, said a quick "good-bye" to Sam, then left the apartment.

I hadn't intended to follow Dr. Bartlet's instructions to the letter, but I soon found myself walking down toward our local video store. Having nothing else to do to kill time, I decided to go in and try to find a good movie that would keep Sam's mind - and mine - off the immediate future.

Unfortunately, the video store was featuring Tom Hanks movies...and the centerpiece of their display was "Philadelphia." In most other circumstances, it would be high on my list of movies to rent. But not today.

I quickly found "The Court Jester" instead. That movie was guaranteed to keep our minds off anything serious. After paying the clerk, I headed home, hoping that Dr. Bartlet would be done with Sam.

I stopped at the drug store on the way home. I wanted to be prepared, just in case Sam was still in the same mood he'd been in the night before. It was weird, trying to think about what types of condoms would appeal to Sam more than others. In the past, I bought them with only my desires in mind; now I contemplated his pleasure as well.

Decisions finally made, and boxes clutched firmly in my hand, I headed toward the check-out aisle.

Just as I approached, I heard a voice.

"Hey, Josh...what's new?"

I whipped around. It couldn't have been a more awkward moment...OK, so it could've - I could've been naked or something - but it was awkward enough. And, of course, with the way my luck runs, the person greeting me was none other than Matt Skinner.

"Hey, Matt," I said, as casually as I could under the circumstances. It's not every day that I run into a congressman while buying condoms...I hoped he didn't want to discuss the new budget currently in committee. I couldn't be depended on to carry on rational conversation at the moment.

"I don't think I ever thanked you - and Sam - for the statement you wrote me regarding the Defense of Marriage Act," Matt said. As the openly-gay West Wing staffers, Sam and I had been asked to write a statement for Matt - an openly-gay Republican - regarding what many saw as an anti- gay bill. Matt (or at least the members of his staff who vetted the statement) and we had all ended up content with the actual message of the statement, even though Sam and I were on one side of the bill and Matt was on the other. But enough things had happened between then and now that I actually didn't remember whether Matt had contacted us regarding the statement.

"Uh...you're welcome," I said. It wasn't unusual in this neighborhood to find oneself involved in business discussions in non-business locations; enough lawmakers and staffers live here because of its proximity to the Hill that you can find yourself discussing health care while picking out produce. But this was neither the time nor the place for me to be having a discussion about the ramifications of policy on the gay community. For one thing, I wanted to get home to Sam as soon as possible. For another, Matt Skinner confuses me - being both a gay legislator and a Republican - and I couldn't handle the mental gymnastics that would be required for me to have a serious conversation with him.

"How's Sam doing?" Matt asked. "I heard he passed out in his office on Thursday."

"Just exhaustion," I hedged, as that was the official diagnosis at the moment.

"Well, make sure he takes care of himself. You two deserve a bit of downtime from health crises." Matt smiled. "Please send him my best."

"I will," I said, but I wasn't quite sure what to say next.

Thankfully, the person in front of me in line was finishing up with her purchase, and the clerk was looking to serve the next customer - me. With a quick parting smile to Matt, I paid for the condoms and continued on my way home.

When I got home, I found that Dr. Bartlet was almost ready to leave - she was waiting for her agents to finish their final bridge hand and was using the time to complete her instructions to Sam.

"...so be sure to take _all_ of the pills, even if you start to feel better before you run out of doses. The antibiotic won't work properly if you don't take it according to the label directions." I'd heard the same lecture before; I hoped Sam would pay attention as I had not (and thus had gotten sick again).

"I'm home," I called out, effectively disrupting Dr. Bartlet's lecture.

"Oh, good," Sam said, and I could tell from his tone that Dr. Bartlet had been expounding for a while. It's not that we don't appreciate everything she has done for us. It's just that we have been through more medically in the past year than either of us ever anticipated going through in our lives, and Dr. Bartlet is very hands-on about our treatment. I still - at her instigation - go for regular appointments to evaluate my recovery from the shooting. And I could only imagine what we would experience if Sam turned out to be HIV positive...which was something I had promised myself I wouldn't think about for a little while.

"What'cha get?" Sam asked as Dr. Bartlet finished collecting her stuff and her agents.

"'The Court Jester'," I replied. "Can't go wrong with Danny Kaye, right?"

Sam nodded. "You know we've seen that movie about 20 times in the past year, right?"

I blushed. It's the movie I use for escape from the real world, so I rented it - or Sam rented it on my behalf - a number of times between August and New Year's.

"Is that OK?" I asked.

"Sure," Sam said, grinning. "I don't quite know the whole thing by heart yet."

"Guys?" Dr. Bartlet said, "I'm going...Josh, take care of Sam. Sam, take care of yourself...and Josh." As she left, she reminded us again to be careful.

"She means it," Sam said. "She left me four boxes of condoms."

Well, I thought, that meant we'd have plenty, given the boxes I'd just stashed in the bedside table.

"Nice of her," I said. "I guess that means she didn't put any restrictions on your...activity?"

"Not specifically. Just that we should be careful, which she'd already told you on the phone."

"Well," I said, "Let's worry about the more immediate things first: you want breakfast?" Not that I was going to give him any opportunity to _not_ eat breakfast, but I figured I'd make it sound like it was his choice.

"What would I have to do to bribe you to make pancakes?" Sam asked me.

"Hm," I said, contemplating my options. "Well...I think I can be persuaded with a quick strip-tease," I said.

"You're so easy," Sam replied. With a minimum of effort but maximum bump-and-grind, Sam was very quickly nude. He'd had it easy, starting from just a bathrobe, but the quality was much more important than the quantity in this case. He did a very nice job, considering his weakened state.

I took a couple of minutes to admire Sam's body - and to take note, yet again, as to how much weight he'd lost recently. Just in the short time my perusal took, Sam began to shiver, so I made him put his robe back on, and then we headed to the kitchen for a leisurely breakfast.

***

After I was satisfied that Sam had eaten enough to sustain himself until lunch, I guided Sam into the living room so we could watch the movie. We settled on the couch and I put in the tape. We'd both seen the film more times than I can count, but I used the movie as an excuse to avoid talking about serious issues for a bit. Sam, however, seemed to have a different agenda.

"J?"

"Wha...he's about to be interrogated by the guard...he's masquerading as the wine merchant...hang on...."

+++

"Josh?"

"Sam...wait until after 'the doge did what the doge does...'"

"But, Josh..."

"No...after...get it?"

"Got it."

"Good."

+++

"J?"

"Sh...they're about to knight Hawkins - double-time."

"But..."

"Sam...please. I promise - when the movie's over, then we'll talk...or something..."

+++

He tried a couple more times to interrupt, but I held firm and wouldn't let him talk. I used the excuse that no one dares interrupt the perfection that is "The Court Jester." It's one of my favorite movies, guaranteed to make me laugh. Also, I wanted us to have some relaxation and fun before what I knew was bound to be a major discussion. Sam doesn't relax enough - he'd say the same about me, I know, but still. If he did relax, he wouldn't have ended up in the hospital for exhaustion. And I had decided to make it my mission to make sure that Sam took things easy for a while. It's not like we didn't have important things to talk about. And it's not like I was avoiding the issue. It's just that Sam, having been through so much recently, needed time to turn off his brain and just pay attention to something that wouldn't have global implications. His collapse in the office was a message, and I was determined that he'd pay attention to the message.

Finally, when the movie ended, I got up and turned off the TV. When I got back to the sofa, I sat at one end and pulled on Sam's shoulder until he was lying with his head in my lap. As I stroked his hair - one of my favorite relaxation activities - I said, "OK, so what did you want to talk about?"

"I've been thinking," Sam said.

"And?" I wasn't going to try to anticipate what was bothering Sam.

"Well, if I'm infected, isn't there a decent chance you'd be, too?"

OK, there it was. The issue I hadn't wanted to bring up. But Sam was too intelligent to have not come to the same conclusions I had.

I tried to be as circumspect as possible. "Yes, love. There is a chance, but I'd like to think it's a remote chance."

Sam wasn't buying. "Remote? We haven't had protected sex in almost a year! If I'm infected, I'd put money on you being, as well."

"Well," I said, not wanting to get into a big debate at this moment, "When your results come back, if there's a need," I didn't want to say 'if you test positive,' even though we both knew that's what I meant, "I'll get one of those rapid tests done. They're just as reliable as the standard test..." I stopped. I wasn't ready to have this discussion. I didn't want Sam to know how much research I'd done in the past day and a half, 'cause he knows that my obsessive research mode kicks in when I'm most concerned about something - like the way I was around Christmas with Robert Cano. I had inhaled information about him as if I needed it to live...which, considering all that was happening in my head at the time, was totally possible. But, anyway, I knew that if Sam knew I was heavily researching HIV testing, he'd know I took the threat of us being infected very seriously.

And I needed to avoid that.

But, again, Sam was too smart for me. "You _do_ think there's a reasonable possibility, don't you."

"Yeah," I admitted, unable to lie to Sam.

"If we're both infected, we'll deal, right?" Sam looked up at me; I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was more scared than he was willing to say. "And if I'm the only one infected..." He paused, and his fear was tangible.

I hurried to reassure him. "If you're sick, we'll find a way to deal. We'll go through whatever we need to together." I looked Sam directly in the eyes. "I will never leave you. I would never make you face this alone. I will be with you 100 percent of the way. No matter what. And, maybe, we're worrying for nothing. But I love you, all of you."

I could see the tears glistening at the corner of Sam's eye. I love the way he wears his emotions so openly. "J..." Sam said. "I want you."

"You up to it?" I asked.

"I _need_ it," he answered, sitting up. "I need you. I need to feel you next to me. I need to feel you inside me." He'd said the same thing last night, and I hadn't followed through. Today, though, I wasn't going to deny him - or me - the intimacy we both so desperately craved.

"Come on, love. Let's go to bed." I stood up and took Sam's hand, pulling him to his feet. Wordlessly, we walked to the bedroom, and we were silent as we quickly stripped off our clothing. This wasn't going to be an adventurous loving, it wasn't going to be anything more than the two of us, bared both physically and emotionally, finding our way in our new reality. The only thing disturbing the silence was the rustle of clothing being discarded. I opened the bedside drawer and removed a box of condoms and a tube of lube.

Never breaking the silence, I walked over to Sam and pulled him into my arms. Skin to skin, we stood for a minute and just held each other. Then, as if choreographed, we leaned toward each other for a kiss. We aligned lips, hips and groins, mingling our body heat as we became more involved in the kiss. Finally, we pulled apart, and Sam reached out for the box of condoms. He looked at me with a question in his eyes, and I read him perfectly. I nodded, and Sam fell to his knees in front of me.

Sam placed a kiss right under the head of my cock as he reached into the box and pulled out a condom. He tore open the foil packet, then smoothed the condom up my length. Making eye contact with me, Sam opened his mouth and wrapped his lips around me. The sensations were right, but different - I could feel Sam and not feel him at the same time. I knew he was running his tongue along the same path he always did, but I didn't feel it in the same way I had become accustomed to feeling it.

I don't know what clued Sam in to the fact that I was analyzing the sensations, but he seemed to know, 'cause he pulled away from my cock. "Everything OK, J?"

"It's fine, love...just...different." I couldn't put it into words.

"But it's OK, yes?" I hadn't anticipated Sam being worried about his performance, but apparently he was.

"It's more than OK, love. It's perfect." I smiled down at Sam, who was still kneeling in front of me.

"Do you want me to stop?" Sam asked tentatively.

"Hell, no," I said. I still had a major hard-on, and the condom was still in place. "It's just a new sensation...we'll have to do this a lot so that we get used to the new feelings."

Sam smiled at that. "I'll have to do this frequently so that I get used to the new flavors." He leaned back toward me and took me into his mouth again. He started moving his fingers up the backs of my thighs, tracing random patterns on my skin, and periodically reaching up to tease my balls from behind. I couldn't stand still and started thrusting into Sam's mouth. As I came, I could feel Sam instinctively swallowing, though there was nothing for him to swallow. When I was spent, Sam grabbed the base of the condom as he slid his mouth off me, then removed the condom and threw it away.

"Wow," he said.

"Huh?" I asked.

"I can't explain it - it was the same, yet different." If Sam, the word maven, couldn't express the differences, I was going to be totally lost in the linguistic arena.

"No need," I said. "As long as it was good for you...it was, right?"

"Oh, yeah," Sam responded.

I looked at him, standing in front of me, still rock-hard, still unfulfilled.

"C'mere, love," I said, "and bring the condoms and lube with you." I walked to the bed and lay down on my back. From that position, I watched Sam walk across the room, and that was enough to bring me back to almost full hardness.

Sam climbed onto the bed and straddled me. He removed a new condom from the box and again put it on me with a minimum of effort. Then, grabbing the lube from where he'd put it on the bed, Sam greased up his fingers and started spreading lube along the length of the condom. Once he had me prepared, he reached around his back and started fingering his own ass. Watching Sam prepare himself for me was so stimulating that I wondered whether Sam was going to have to get another condom from the box before we'd had a chance to use the current one to our mutual satisfaction. But Sam seemed to sense my restlessness, because he quickly finished stretching himself for me and started to lower himself onto my cock.

As soon as he was settled, I grabbed his cock in one of my hands. With the other hand, I massaged Sam's inner thigh, his leg, his knee, anywhere I could reach. He and I found a rhythm pleasurable for both of us. Sam began mewling softly as I gently massaged and stroked him while he rocked back and forth on my cock, causing me to alternately enter and withdraw from him. The gentle pace we started with soon became quicker, our bodies moving less rhythmically and more chaotically. With a final groan, Sam came on my chest and I came inside him.

Again Sam was careful as he removed himself and then the condom from my body. After taking a moment to again dispose of the used condom, he climbed back into the bed and rolled me onto my side. Once I was positioned as he wanted, he curled himself into my arms, pulling my arms around him and rubbing his ass against my now-flaccid cock.

"Will you just hold me, Josh?" Sam asked.

"Forever," I replied.

Despite how early in the day it was, we soon found ourselves drifting off to sleep, comforting ourselves with the closeness of our bodies.

***

I woke up around 2 PM. Really, the only thing I wanted to do was lie in bed next to Sam. However, I knew that if I didn't make lunch for us, Sam wouldn't necessarily eat. I slid out of bed, trying my best not to wake Sam, and padded into the kitchen to make lunch. I had another one of those "needing to be productive" moments and almost set to even more cooking, but one look into the refrigerator convinced me that I'd have to find another outlet for the emotional energy. In the meantime, though, I put together a reasonably nutritious meal for Sam and me. Just as I was finishing heating up the last bit, I felt Sam's arms come around me. As he pressed his body against my back, I could feel that he was just as nude as I was.

"Hey, love," I said. "Did'ja sleep OK?"

"Yeah," he said. "Surprisingly enough, I was dead to the world until I started to smell lunch."

"It's all set; let's go sit and eat." So that's what we did - the two of us, naked as the day we were born, sat at the kitchen table and ate. I was distracted on many levels - my body was instinctually reacting to Sam's, my mind was whirling, and Sam was trying to keep up a conversational thread going that I honestly wasn't following closely. I nodded at times, but eventually he could tell I wasn't completely with him.

"J?"

"Huh?"

"Where were you?"

I shook myself back to attention. "Can I ask you a question?" I asked with a great deal of fear that I hoped I was hiding well.

"Anything, always," Sam answered.

"Why aren't you pissed at me? How can you just sit here, casually, as if nothing's wrong, as if there's nothing to worry about? How can you sit there, across the table from me, think about all we're going through, and not hate me?"

"What good would being angry do?" Sam asked. "My anger wouldn't make me not sick - if I even am. We don't _know_ anything yet. All we have is conjecture and a good deal of fear. Josh, you know how I feel about you. Nothing - I mean nothing - could make me hate you...isn't that what you just told me yesterday? The same thing applies from my end. I could not hate you. I love you far too much." Tears began running down Sam's face. "I'm sorry," he said, "I just...how could you think I would hate you?"

I couldn't sit there and watch Sam in anguish. I got up and walked over to his chair and pulled him into a standing position. Wrapping my arms around him, I held him close until he stopped sobbing.

"Sh...love, it'll all be fine. We'll get through it all. Really." I meant it - whatever the outcome of Sam's test, we would work through it together.

"Now," I continued, when Sam lifted his head off my shoulder, "let's not get serious for the rest of the weekend. Let's just kick back, relax, watch some movies, and focus on us."

And that's what, to our great surprise, we did. Sam and I let the world go on without us for the balance of the weekend. We rested, we relaxed, watched a couple of films we'd had on tape and never watched, fooled around to our hearts' content, went through a box and a half of condoms, and ignored - as much as possible - what could happen in the future.

Monday morning, I didn't want to leave.

"Josh..."

"Yeah?"

"Go to work," Sam said. "Do you _really_ want Donna showing up on our doorstep and physically dragging you to the office?"

"No, but..."

"I'll be _fine_. It's not like I've never taken a sick day before. And you've left tons of food for me. I'll be here; if you deem it necessary, you can call and check in on me whenever you want." He paused. "Just not once an hour, OK?"

"OK," I said, reluctantly getting up from the table and going to shower and dress.

It took me much longer than usual to actually get in my car and go to the office, 'cause I wanted to make sure that Sam was supplied with everything he'd need for the day. He finally shoved me out the door at 8 AM.

When I got to my office, Donna wasn't at her desk. There was a note, though. From what I could decipher, it said "T lkng fr yu." I was just figuring out that she was trying to tell me that Toby was looking for me when I noticed that my desk chair was occupied...by Toby.

"What the fuck is going on with Sam?" he thundered.

Oh...shit.

I came further into my office and closed the door. Whatever conversation - or confrontation - I was about to have with Toby, I didn't want it broadcast to the whole bullpen.

"Toby, this _is_ my office, yes?"

Grudgingly, Toby got up out of my desk chair, walked around the desk, and sat in the guest chair. I sat in the newly-vacant chair and said, "OK, Toby, let's try this again. _What_ was it that you wanted to ask me?"

Toby propped his feet up on my desk and said, slightly more quietly but no less forcefully, "What the fuck is going on with Sam?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, he's been walking around here looking like death warmed over for a couple of weeks now, and then on Thursday I find you bent over him, howling like a banshee, and he's been out sick since! What are you doing to that boy?"

All plans to remain calm flew out the window. "What the fuck do you mean, coming in here and questioning my treatment of Sam? He means the world to me. You of all people should know how Sam is - he drives himself until he falls, and then he picks himself up again and drives twice as hard. It's all I could do to keep him home today. If it weren't for Dr. Bartlet and the dire warnings she was giving about how his health could be affected if he didn't relax, he'd be in today, working in order to distract himself while he waits..." I suddenly realized what I was about to reveal, and I shut up.

But Toby'd caught a whiff of something, and now he wasn't going to let it go.

"What is Sam waiting for?" Toby asked, his harsh tone belying the casual expression on his face.

Now I'd done it...I was going to have to either lie to Toby, evade with some serious dancing around topics, or tell Toby all that was going on. In some ways, I felt like Toby deserved to hear - after all, he was Sam's ex-lover, and even though there was no way he could be infected, he would want to know about Sam's health. On the other hand, I didn't want Sam to become an object of pity or, worse, scorn. Sam's health should not become fodder for the office rumor mill - it had been bad enough when he was going through what I've come to think of as the Laurie Incident. I decided to hedge - not to lie, exactly, but to skirt the truth for as long as possible.

"He's waiting for his fever to go down, waiting for Dr. Bartlet to release him from what he sees as captivity."

"Well, I've got stuff he can do if he's looking to be distracted while at home," Toby said.

"That's my point," I said. "He works himself so hard, and people around here not only let him, they encourage it! You come in here, dreiing me about making sure Sam takes care of himself, but then - at the first opportunity - you find a way to make him work during his convalescence." I knew I was having trouble keeping my composure - when the Yiddish of my grandparents creeps into my vocabulary, it's a sure sign that I'm on the edge.

But Toby didn't seem to notice...and even exhibited the same tendencies. "What is this mishegas about me overworking Sam? I know him - if he's not working up to what he sees as his full potential, he gets depressed. He drives himself so hard to shut up the voices in his head - they sound like his dad, I think - that tell him he'll never be good enough. It took me forever to figure that out, and I just ended up enforcing that belief with the way I treated him. Don't think I don't know that the end of us was my fault. I couldn't be what he needed; I hurt him, and I pay for it on a daily basis."

That gave me pause. "Toby," I said, "Sam doesn't blame you for the way your relationship ended. He's told me that you were both using each other - you to deal with the end of your marriage, and him to ignore his feelings for me." I actually felt guilty about that - that I could, unwittingly, have caused Sam's breakup with Toby weighed heavily on me.

"I _did_ use him. And I hurt him. And I continue to hurt him without meaning to. Hell, that whole drop-in - I never expected him to react that way, but after it was all over, I realized that there was no other way that he could've been expected to react. It's the blindness I have toward his feelings...it's the feelings I still have for him." Toby was on a roll. "I sometimes sit there, in senior staff meetings, in random other meetings - watching the two of you hash out the speech for the Correspondents' Dinner, for example - and I'm filled with jealousy over the relationship you have." My face must have shown something, 'cause Toby quickly said, "Not that I'd ever want to come between the two of you, but sometimes I wish I had what you have. That knowledge that this is _the_ relationship. That knowledge that you didn't have to look anymore; that you'd found your...bashert."

I was surprised to hear Toby refer to Sam as my bashert - the one I was destined to be with.

He continued. "I thought Andi was my bashert. And when that ended, I found Sam - young, willing, compassionate Sam. I tried to convince myself that I was ready for a real relationship. I convinced myself that Sam was looking for the same things I was..."

Suddenly Toby stopped. He blushed slightly and cleared his throat. "That...I'm sorry..." He turned toward my office door. "I had no right to question how you and Sam conduct your relationship. I'm sorry. There's no excuse."

Just as he was about to open the door, Toby froze, one hand on the doorknob. The "click" as everything came together in his brain was almost audible.

"You fucking bastard," he whispered, the venom pouring from his voice. He continued, his voice rising in volume as he lit into me. "It's HIV, isn't it? It's not exhaustion, it's not stress. What you're trying to keep hidden is that Sam's been exposed to HIV and you think he might be infected. I just stood here, extolling the virtues of your relationship with Sam, and you've been screwing around on him?!? You've gone and picked up HIV from someone and given it to Sam? Does he know you're cheating on him? Of course he doesn't - he'd never stand for that sort of betrayal!"

I was furious at Toby's accusations. "You idiot! I'd never go behind Sam's back - _never_, unlike some people. Not that it's any of your business, not like I have to justify our relationship and what we do in it to you, but we've been involved - together - with others, and _that's_ how we might have contracted HIV. Not that it's any of your fucking business," I repeated. Realizing that I'd just confirmed Toby's hunch, I snapped my mouth closed.

"When?"

"When what?"

Toby glared at me. "When was Sam infected?"

"_If_ he was, which we still don't know for sure, it was within the past 4 months, so you don't have to worry - there's no way he could've infected you."

"That's not what I was asking," Toby bellowed.

"Do you _really_ expect me to believe that you care about someone other than yourself?" I bellowed right back.

My phone buzzed. "What!" I growled at the speakerphone.

"You're projecting," Donna said. "Everyone can hear you. You're lucky - at the moment, Joey and I are the only ones in the bullpen. But if you don't want everyone to hear, keep your voice down!" I heard the click as Donna hung up.

Quieter now, but with no less emotion, I said, "You might have hurt Sam, but I would never purposely hurt him. I love him more than I can tell you...He means more to me than I can express. I would never do the things you've just stood here and accused me of, and I'm offended that you think I could. Get the fuck out of my office, Toby, and leave me the fuck alone. Stay away from me, stay away from Sam. Don't talk to me unless it's business related, and stay the Hell out of my business."

I sat back down and looked at the papers in front of me, not comprehending a word written there, but hoping that my actions would tell Toby that he was dismissed.

He must have taken the hint, because he left without another word. I tried to focus on what was in front of me, but I was too angry to read.

I stared at the paper in front of me for some time - I have no idea how long - but I didn't actually absorb any of the words on it. I was still stewing over my conversation with Toby and how I was going to tell Sam that Toby had guessed what was wrong with Sam.

The buzzing of my phone is what disturbed my contemplation. "Josh? Sam on line 1. But don't pick up the phone if you're just gonna yell at him."

I took a deep breath. Donna was right - I shouldn't talk to Sam if I was just going to take out my frustrations at Toby on him. It wasn't his fault that his ex was a total asshole at times. Slowly releasing the breath, I said, "It's OK, Donna. I'm OK." When the intercom clicked off, I picked up the handset.

"Hi, love," I said.

"You OK?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"Donna wasn't sure you were available. That usually means one of two things - you're busy sucking me off on your office floor, which was impossible 'cause I'm here, or you've just had a fight with someone and you're not quite human yet. So, who were you fighting with?"

"Toby," I admitted.

"Why?"

"Don't hate me," I said.

"I never could," Sam said.

"No, this is big," I said. "He knows...I..."

"My God, Josh, you just _told_ him?"

"No, Sam. Lord. I'd never do that. But we were arguing and...well...he guessed and I didn't deny it. I didn't mean...I can't...Sam, please forgive me."

Sam was silent for a minute, and I thought for a minute he'd hung up on me. But then he said, "It wasn't your fault. Toby's quick on the uptake, and he knows us well. It's probably for the best, him being not only my boss but also my former..." he stopped.

"It's OK, Sam. I know you had a history with him. He actually expounded on that for a bit, before..."

"Oh, God. I can just imagine what _that_ conversation was like."

"It was even worse than you'd think. He sees himself as your protector, and he reamed me out for cheating on you."

"I'll kill him. I don't need a keeper. Or, if I do, that's your job. I can't believe him. Where does he get off..."

"Calm down, Sam. I gave him that lecture. He just wants to shelter you. He feels responsible to you...I think he still loves you on some level." That was something that was going to take me a while to deal with, even though I'd always sort of known.

"I'm a grown man. I'm an adult. I'm able to make my own decisions, my own choices...this isn't any of his business!" Sam was getting agitated, just what I'd been trying to avoid.

"Relax, love," I said. "Don't worry - I don't think he'll be meddling again. I told him in no uncertain terms to butt out."

"But...but..." Sam was too angry to form full sentences.

"I know Toby - he won't say anything to anyone, no matter how pissed he is. His discretion is one of his few redeeming qualities." Toby actually has many redeeming qualities, but I was still too pissed to give him an iota of credit.

"That's not...oh, never mind," Sam said. "I'll...I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm going to do something. I'm bored, and I'm feeling better...and I miss you."

"I miss you, too. I'd come home for lunch, but then there'd be no guarantee that I'd make it back, and I've got that meeting with Stackhouse, so..."

"No, I know..." Sam sounded dejected.

"If I promise that we'll spend some...quality time together tonight, will that make the time go faster?" I knew that Leo'd let me leave early to go home and take care of Sam, so I wasn't afraid to promise Sam some snuggling.

"Much faster...hurry home, Josh."

"'As soon as I am able.'"

"'Don't stop writing...it's all I have.'"

"'Every day, my dearest friend.'" I responded. Then, "When'd you become Abigail Adams?"

Sam sniggered. "Well, you're much more like John...what's the line? 'Obnoxious and disliked'?"

I laughed for the first time since coming in to my office. "I needed that...thanks."

"Anytime, Josh."

We said good-bye and I attempted - once again - to read through the reports on my desk - some GAO nonsense. Somewhere in the middle of my reading, I remembered to eat lunch - I can't get on Sam's case about not eating correctly if I'm committing the same offense. I actually got through a good deal of the backlog before there was a knock on my door.

"Who is it?" I asked.

"Toby."

I wasn't in the mood for another confrontation. "I don't have time for another lecture about how horrible I am," I said. "I have a meeting on the Hill in half an hour."

Toby opened my door. "I deserved that," he said. "Please...can I come in?"

"Why?" I wasn't feeling particularly charitable.

"I want to apologize. I was out of line before. I have no right to question you and Sam about how you handle your relationship."

I was suspicious of Toby's about-face. "Where'd _this_ come from?" I asked. "I thought you thought I was scum not worthy of Sam." OK, that was harsher than I needed to be, but I was still pissed about earlier.

"Sam called," Toby said, "and gave me a piece of his mind."

"Ah," I said, not budging an inch.

"C'mon, Josh. I said I was sorry. What else do you want?"

"You apologized for what you said, but you haven't told me that you don't still believe it." That's what rankled most - that he'd have such a low opinion of me to think that I could treat Sam like shit.

"I'll be honest with you," Toby said. "I am still wary...I care very deeply for Sam and don't want to see him hurt. But no, I don't really think you'd purposely hurt Sam or put him in danger. Please forgive me for what I said."

He sounded sincere. "I forgive you," I said.

"Some of it _was_ jealousy," Toby said quietly.

"I know," I responded.

He approached my desk and held out his hand. "Friends?"

I took the offered hand. "We're OK," I responded. But then a question came to mind. "What was it that Sam said that made you change your mind?"

Toby smiled. "Sam was ready to schlep himself in here just to punch me in defense of your honor."

"He probably would've, too," I said, returning Toby's smile.

Toby looked at his watch. "You'd probably better head out...remember what happened _last_ time you ignored a summons from Stackhouse."

I remembered...nothing like a good filibuster to change your whole outlook on the power of one lawmaker. I started to gather my stuff together for the meeting, but Toby was still standing by my desk.

"What?" I asked.

"It is...this relationship - it's the real thing between you and Sam, isn't it?" Toby asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"Well, mazel tov," Toby said. "Im yirtzeh hashem by me some day."

I grinned. Toby had just, essentially, acted as if Sam and I had announced our engagement. "You'll find her...or him. Really." We headed out my office door, then turned to go our respective ways.

My meeting with Stackhouse was much less antagonistic than the last one, and I was confident that this version of the Family Wellness Act would actually make it through a vote cleanly.

I got back to my office around 3 and immediately called home, desperate to hear Sam's voice.

The phone rang a couple of times, then it was picked up.

"Lyman-Seaborn residence," a non-Sam voice said.

"Uh...is Sam there?" I couldn't figure out who was answering our phone - the voice sounded familiar, but I couldn't immediately place it.

"He might still be asleep. Gimme a sec and I'll look." I heard the phone being put down then footsteps receding. After about a minute, I heard another extension being picked up.

"Hullo?" Sam said sleepily. I heard the first extension click off.

"Hi, love."

"Hey, J."

"Um...love? Who's there with you?" I still couldn't figure out who was answering our phone.

"Oh...it's John Carter. He called about...um...two hours ago - not long after I hung up with you - and said he was at National and had been expecting to just leave a message. I told him I was home sick, and he volunteered to come over and keep me company until you came home. I hope you don't mind." Sam sounded worried all of a sudden.

"Sam, it's fine. I was just surprised, that's all." I also hoped that Sam hadn't said anything to John about why he was home sick.

Sam must've read my mind. "All I've told him is that I've been stressed and that Dr. Bartlet has barred me from the office until this bout of...whatever...has ended and my fever goes down."

"He's a doctor, Sam. He'll ask more questions," I said.

"Yeah, but he's making me sleep; he's hanging out watching TV while I rest. He says that my 'job' is to relax and get better, and he's going to watch over me until you get home. He's barely letting me get out of bed." Sam sounded annoyed at this.

"Wow, he's strict," I said.

"You agree with him, don't you."

"Yup," I said. "Now, go back to sleep; I'll try to be home by 5:30."

"See you then," Sam said, already sounding tired again.

We hung up soon after that, Sam drifting in and out of wakefulness, tired out from even our short conversation. His final, mumbled comment "and the iguana on the roof" must have made sense to him somehow; I'd have to bring it up later to find out.

I finished up whatever couldn't wait for the next day, wrote a short memo to Donna - which I knew she'd ignore - and managed to get out of my office at 5:10. I crossed the threshold of our apartment precisely at 5:30...

...and found Sam asleep on the sofa, with John asleep next to him. This prompted a brief, illogical pang of jealousy, even though I knew nothing would, or could, ever happen. The TV was on - to C-SPAN, obvious proof that Sam doesn't really know the meaning of "relax" - but the two sleeping men on the sofa didn't seem to notice the gavel pounding on-screen. I turned down the volume on the TV then wandered into the kitchen to prepare dinner. Once it was ready, I walked back into the living room.

Kneeling down next to the side of the sofa where Sam was reclining, I took one of Sam's hands in mine. Gently, so as not to jar him out of his nap, I lifted his hand to my lips. I kissed each fingertip, and then, when that did nothing to rouse him, I took Sam's index finger - that long, talented finger - into my lips and started sucking. I heard Sam moan, then I saw him open one eye.

"J?"

I sucked harder on his finger, running my tongue around the ridges of his fingerprint.

"Ooh, yeah," Sam said breathlessly. I increased the speed of my tongue, enjoying the stimulation as much as Sam was.

"God, J...your tongue...it's so..."

Another voice spoke up. "You guys want to be alone?" John opened his eyes.

I slid Sam's finger - slowly - from my mouth, licked his palm, then put his hand back onto his lap. I then turned to John.

"Good to see you, John. Sorry I wasn't here earlier."

"I hadn't expected to find anyone at home. This was the only number I had for you guys - I'd left your cell phone numbers back in Chicago and had to resort to using Directory Assistance - so I was just gonna leave a message. Finding Sam at home was just a nice surprise. He's being evasive about what's wrong, and he won't let me examine him," John said, gesturing at the medical bag on one of the chairs.

Yeah...there was still that...what did we tell John about Sam's health?

"Well, he's...he's really been working hard, and he's been ignoring minor things like meals and sleep, and the stress finally got to him," I said.

"Uh...J? I _am_ sitting right here," my petulant beloved said.

"Sam'll be fine, John." Well, I believed it...for the moment...

"Good to hear," John said.

"Do I smell dinner?" Sam asked, obviously deciding we weren't gonna let him be involved in a conversation about his own health.

That got my attention. "Yeah...more leftovers."

"Josh went on a cooking spree while I was in the hospital overnight," Sam said, I guess feeling that turnabout was fair play and that he could discuss me as if I wasn't in the room. "He gets nuts when I leave him alone for too long."

"C'mon," I said, hoping to avert another litany of my faults - Toby's earlier in the day was more than enough. "Let's go eat."

"I'm glad you're going to be OK," John said to Sam as we walked to the dining room. "I had my own health scare recently - blood tests came back with some questionable results, so they kept me away from patient care for a couple of days." John had told us that, due to his recent history of drug abuse, in order to keep his job he had to submit to random testing. "Waiting for the results of the retest was really nerve-wracking."

"Oh, don't I know that," Sam said, then immediately realized what he'd said.

Sam and I froze in our tracks, dreading John's reaction.

Sam and I looked at each other, then looked at John. I had no clue what John's reaction was going to be to Sam's almost-disclosure. Sam looked just as frightened as I felt about the possible next words to come out of John's mouth.

"Yeah, the suspense can be a real bitch," John said. "So...what's for dinner?"

Flustered by John's nonchalant reaction, I took a second to remember what I had actually put into the oven. By the time I formed a coherent sentence, John had walked into the kitchen and peeked for himself. He apparently approved of my dinner choices, as he started to set the table - an interesting feat in itself since, because he'd never been in our kitchen before, he had no idea where anything was kept. Either that, or he just wanted to survey the contents of our cabinets. Whatever the actual motivation, after much opening and closing of cabinets and drawers, John located dishes and silverware and set the table. I busied myself with putting the food on the table, and John and I conspired to keep Sam from actually helping. We made him sit at the table and relax while we finished setting up, which appeared to frustrate Sam.

Once dinner was served, we sat and ate, discussing all that had gone on in our lives since we'd last seen each other. John told us about Rena, the "girl" - his term - he was now seeing, and the recent wedding of two friends. We regaled John with stories of how I caused a filibuster and our attempts to "find the funny" for the President's speech at the Correspondents' Dinner. John laughed in appropriate places - such as when we described Donna's hitting me for a comment Sam made while impersonating me. Dinner conversation was casual, and no mention was made of Sam's allusion to waiting for test results. I thought that, perhaps, John wasn't going to probe the subject.

I was wrong...again.

After dinner, we went back into the living room, bringing dessert and coffee with us. Once we were all settled - Sam and I were snuggling on the sofa, and John was sitting in the armchair across from us - John picked up the thread I'd hoped had been ignored or forgotten.

"So," he said, "What test are you waiting for results on?"

Sam opened and closed his mouth a couple of times and shot me a desperate look. I wanted to rescue him, but at the same time it was ultimately his decision whether or not to tell John about his current health situation. But the longer the silence lasted, the more Sam began to resemble a deer trapped in the headlights of an oncoming car.

My protective instincts kicked in. "Dr. Bartlet ran some blood tests after Sam passed out in his office, and she decided to wait until all the results were available before telling us what was wrong with Sam. The waiting's becoming unbearable."

John looked surprised and Sam looked guilty. "You said nothing about losing consciousness," John said to Sam. "If I'd known..."

"What?" Sam said. "I was already on almost total bedrest. What would you have done? Tied me to the bed?" He got a contemplative look on his face. "Actually, that would've made it more fun," he said, shooting me one of _those_ looks, the ones that say "tie me down and fuck me until I forget my own name."

John must have caught the meaning of the look as well, as he flushed slightly and looked away from Sam momentarily. But Sam's attempt at diverting the conversation away from his current health situation was unsuccessful. As the color in his neck receded, John turned back to Sam.

"Lots of blood tests? I'd be interested in finding out what she's testing for." John looked very concerned. He stood up and walked over to us, taking Sam's face in his hands. Looking closely at Sam's eyes, John began a cursory examination of Sam. "Look," he said, "I just want to make sure..." he stopped. "You wouldn't let me examine you before, but now that Josh is home, could I..." he trailed off again.

Sam looked at me, a question obvious in his eyes.

"Well," I said, "I'm supposed to be monitoring Sam's health for Dr. Bartlet, but Sam was still asleep when I left for work this morning. I don't think Dr. Bartlet would mind a more professional assessment of Sam's current health, providing Sam agrees." I figured that acquiescing to John's desire to make sure Sam was OK would be easier than trying to explain why we'd turn him down. And since Sam's symptoms were indicative of a whole host of possible ailments, I didn't see the harm in allowing John to find some peace of mind by examining Sam. I was, in fact, touched by the concern that John was showing for Sam's well-being.

Sam seemed less than thrilled - having been poked and prodded beyond his tolerance levels over the past couple of days - but nodded his head. He reached down and untied the belt of his robe, pulling open the sides to expose his chest to John.

OK, I'm the first to admit it. When it comes to Sam, I have no willpower whatsoever. The sight of his exposed skin was already making me hard. With a quick, apologetic "excuse me" to John, I leaned over and licked Sam's chest, running my tongue over an exposed nipple. John, apparently finding himself in the way, moved back toward the armchair. At Sam's gasp, I repositioned myself, straddling Sam's knees in order to get full access. As I sucked on one nipple, I used my right hand to toy with the other nipple. My left hand slid down Sam's chest into the waistband of his boxers.

"Oh, God, J...yeah...like that," Sam moaned.

I continued my lingual exploration of Sam's chest and manual manipulation of his cock and balls. I vaguely heard moaning behind me, but I tried to ignore everything but Sam, who had by this point - in a very dexterous fashion, considering our positions - unzipped my pants and begun caressing me through my boxers.

Neither of us were going to last very long; we had found since Sam got home from the hospital that our combined stress appeared to have diminished our control. As we thrust harder and harder into each other's hands, we moaned each other's names. I was no longer aware of anything other than Sam and our combined pleasure. Our cries helping to stimulate each other, we came almost simultaneously.

Sam lay his head back against the sofa and attempted to control his breathing. I moved off his lap and sat back down next to him. I looked across the room and found John sitting in the armchair, his cock in his hand and cum on his fist and shirt.

"Uh..." he said.

"Yeah," I said, showing an equal level of eloquence.

"Oh, yeah," Sam said.

We all snickered nervously. "That was unexpected," John said.

"'Unexpected' is one word for it," Sam said with a smile.

"'Hot' would be another," John said.

"Speaking of which," I said, "love, you're looking drained. Do you feel like your temperature is up again?"

"Right," John said. "I was gonna do something in relation to that." He looked befuddled.

I got up off the sofa. "Gotta get..." Realizing that finding the words would take longer than my actual errand, I wandered off to the bathroom to get a washcloth to clean us up. When I returned, I found John wound around Sam, apparently choosing to check Sam's temperature with his tongue.

"Not contagious," I heard Sam moan as they came up for a breath. "No worries."

A brief wrestling match ensued as both men vied for control of the kiss. I decided that _I_ was actually going to dominate this encounter and gently nudged John off of Sam. I ran the damp washcloth over Sam's hand and my own, then handed the cloth to John, who used it to clean himself off. Sam, meanwhile, was again lying with his head lolling against the back of the sofa.

"You OK, love?" I asked.

"I think so," Sam responded, still breathing a bit heavily.

John shook off the sensual haze he'd been under and walked over to where his bag was resting. He grabbed it and came back to Sam's side.

"Fun and pleasurable as that was," he said, "I think Dr. Bartlet's going to want real numbers." John removed a blood- pressure cuff and thermometer from his bag as well as his stethoscope. "Josh," John said, turning to me, "you gonna be able to control yourself if I have Sam strip down?"

"Yeah," I mumbled, determined that if Sam was gonna be naked, I was gonna stay in the room. I sat down in the chair John had previously occupied as John maneuvered Sam into a recumbent position on the sofa, slipping Sam's robe and boxers off Sam and onto the floor.

I knew Sam could feel my gaze. "Stop that," he said, but I could see his cock stirring again.

John very soon got down to business. After slipping the thermometer into Sam's mouth - I wondered if it was an attempt to cut down on the suggestive banter - John took Sam's blood pressure and listened to his heart and breathing. He took some notes, then hung the stethoscope back around his neck. When the thermometer beeped, John removed it, took more notes, then said, "Sam, I want to check your glands, OK?" Sam nodded and John began to feel Sam's neck and armpits, making the same "hmm" noises that all doctors seem to make.

Suddenly he paused and removed his hands from Sam's body. "Now, don't take this the wrong way," he said with a sheepish grin, "but I need to..." Watching the blush spread on John's cheeks made me smile. John put his fingers at the crease between Sam's thigh and his groin and felt the glands there. I knew how sensitive Sam is there - licking there can make him come almost immediately - and I knew that the fact that Sam was already turned on by John wasn't going to help. I heard Sam moan as he realized that, despite his best efforts, John's touch wasn't as clinical as Dr. Bartlet's was.

Sam allowed John to complete his examination but was unable to suppress his reactions to John's fingers probing his sensitive skin. As he gave in to the sensations, he began to whimper. I could see his cock harden from the stimulation and felt myself responding to Sam's arousal.

John valiantly attempted to ignore the signals that Sam's body was sending, but he - like others before him, including me - was unsuccessful. This became obvious when John leaned down and placed a kiss on Sam's weeping cock head.

Immediately, Sam shot into a sitting position. "Don't!" he yelped.

John froze. "Oh, God, Sam," he said. "I..." He paused. "I thought...but then...oh, God. I'm an idiot." John stood up and started pacing around the living room. "I didn't mean to misread you. I thought...but I guess you wanted Josh, not me..." He fell silent again.

Sam and I looked at each other. While we didn't want to tell John about Sam's possible health status, at the same time we didn't want John beating himself up. Sam cocked an eyebrow and I nodded.

"John," Sam said. "You didn't misread me."

"Huh?" John said, stopping in his trek around the room.

"I did...I mean, I _do_ want you to suck me off. It's just..." Sam stopped and shot me a glance that screamed "help!"

This was it. This was the moment of truth. "John," I said, "we're being very careful right now."

John looked at me, and I could see confusion and hurt mingling in his eyes.

"I'm safe...I know that," John said. "I haven't been with anyone other than Rena since last time I saw you, and we're always safe."

"It's not you that we're worried about," Sam said softly.

I could tell when John got at least part of it. "Oh, God," he said. "Sam, are you sure that..."

"Actually, we're not sure about anything," I said honestly. "We're waiting for HIV test results, and - as Sam mentioned earlier - it's been killing us."

John turned to me. "Dr. Bartlet suspects that Sam has HIV?"

I nodded. "It's not that she _suspects_ he's positive, just that she wanted all the bases covered, given, well...everything." I didn't have to enumerate the risk categories Sam fell into.

"Logical," John said. "But still difficult. I've counseled patients to be tested; some listen, others don't. Have you been tested?" he asked me.

"Not yet. We figured...I figured that until we know for sure about Sam..." I couldn't bring myself to say it. I knew that if it turned out that Sam was positive, I'd have to not only say it but live with the reality of HIV. For now, though, I still wasn't ready.

Sam finally spoke up. "It feels..." He stopped.

"What, love?" I asked.

"It feels good to have it out in the open. It...John," he said, "you're the first person that we've told. Others know or suspect, but you're the first one to whom we've said that we're waiting for HIV test results. It actually feels...OK."

Sam was right - John was the first person that we'd actually told, and it did feel...OK. Beyond OK - I felt like a weight had been lifted. Not because we didn't have to deal with people's reactions, but because we were no longer the only ones who knew. Well, Donna, Dr. Bartlet and Toby all knew - or suspected - but that was different. They'd all guessed (or, in Dr. Bartlet's case, mentioned it first). But here we'd told John and the world hadn't come to an end.

But I could still see that the wheels were turning in John's head, and I didn't like the idea of answering what I anticipated he'd ask next.

"Not that it's any of my business," he said, "but..."

Dammit. He was asking.

"...Should I get tested, just to be sure?" John didn't sound too worried. I guessed that in his line of work - where random needle-sticks were not out of the question - being tested for HIV wasn't as traumatic as it was for laypeople like Sam and me.

Sam took the lead on this one. "We were going to wait until we knew for sure before calling you and..." He stopped.

"And?" John asked.

Sam took a deep breath. "And the other couple we've been involved with recently."

It took John a minute to absorb the new information he was getting. "You've recently...slept with...others?" he asked hesitantly. "No...never mind. I didn't ask that. It's not my business, and I don't need to know."

"If we're infected," I said, "you need to know." Especially now that it looked like - if John was healthy - the only opportunity for us to get infected could have been from when I was fucked by Angel.

I repeated - in short form - the story of us hooking up in LA with Angel and Wes, all the time watching John's reaction. The only outward signals John gave of his surprise were when I described Angel topping me. His eyes went wide, as if he were picturing the scene. When I was done, he turned to Sam.

"Since when does Josh bottom to anyone?" he asked.

"He doesn't do it very often," Sam said, as if I weren't in the room, "but it's a beautiful thing to watch..." Now Sam had that dreamy look, and his hand was drifting back down to his still-exposed cock.

"Stop that," I said instinctively, and Sam moved his hand.

"That's what I mean," John said. "Those top tendencies of his run really deep...does he _ever_ let you jerk off?"

Sam pondered this question for much longer than I thought necessary.

"Nope," Sam said with a grin, "not really."

I grinned too. I was thankful that John had found a way to lighten the tension in the room. "Love, get dressed, or I'm gonna give John even more to contemplate," I said.

Sam did that eyebrow thing that makes me nuts, but complied. The three of us sat back down in our original places - Sam and me on the couch, John in the armchair - and managed to have a non-medical conversation until John decided it was time for him to go to his hotel.

When Sam and I walked him to the door, John kissed us both deeply and asked that we keep him informed about Sam's health - not because he was afraid he might be infected, he said, but because he was genuinely concerned about how Sam was. We thanked him, and then I walked him to his car...which was sporting a parking ticket.

John mumbled something like, "What _is_ it about you guys?" but I didn't catch exactly what he was saying. I thanked him again, and he reiterated that he wanted me to call him the minute we knew anything, then got in and drove away.

I stood on the sidewalk for a couple of minutes, just watching the people go by. It astounded me how normal the world looked when our lives had become so abnormal.

But that wasn't going to be my primary focus. My primary focus was going to be Sam...and he was inside, so that's where I went.

***

Tuesday morning, when I took Sam's temperature, it was back to normal. We argued a bit as to whether or not he should go in to the office.

"Heaven only knows what sorts of trouble I could get into if I'm home all alone..." Sam said.

"But you're gonna stay here and rest, right?" I said, gesturing around the bedroom.

"J, I'm going nuts. I haven't done anything but rest since Thursday. I need people. I need to be busy...I need to feel _useful_."

After a number of go-rounds - and me threatening to call Dr. Bartlet and give her the deciding vote - Sam and I agreed that he'd come into the office but leave at lunch time. This would give him an opportunity to see people and be seen, but would, I hoped, not be enough to tire him out.

Toby must have some sort of Sam-radar of which I hadn't been previously aware, 'cause he was waiting for us in the lobby as we walked in.

"Good morning," he said to us. "Sam...how's..." Toby at a loss for words is an interesting sight. And scary as all Hell.

But Sam seemed to understand. "I'm fine, T. And you're forgiven...but don't do it again, _understand_?"

Toby nodded his assent, then started to brief Sam on all that had happened since he'd been out of the office. After a brief kiss, Sam followed Toby down the hall toward their offices. I, meanwhile, headed to my office to see what fun awaited me.

The day turned out to be relatively uneventful. I had one of my semi-regular meetings with the assistant deputies - during which, again, Sam came looking for fruit. I _never_ should have let him know that we provide snacks to encourage the assistant deputies to show up. He did that thing with the banana again...good thing I was standing behind my desk, or the assistant deputies woulda gotten an interesting show...

Anyway.

So I got some work done, and Sam got some work done, and he got out of the house and felt useful, and I had Bonnie and Ginger and Cathy checking up on him every 10-15 minutes. Call me paranoid, but last time he was in the office, he passed out and no one noticed right away. And the assistants all felt so guilty that they were more than happy to check on Sam on a regular basis. Though I think Bonnie would've accepted any assignment that included harassing Sam.

Around noon, Sam appeared in my office doorway.

"I'm going home," he said.

"Tired, love?"

"Bonnie stole my mouse and the battery from my laptop. She says I'm done for the day and I need to go rest."

*Bonnie's a good girl. I'll have to bring her flowers,* I decided.

"OK, love. D'you want me to call you a cab?" I anticipated a late night in the office, and I had some errands - minor things, like groceries - to do, so I couldn't let Sam take the car. At the same time, I didn't want him walking home.

"Bonnie told Mrs. Landingham I was going home, and Mrs. L commandeered a limo for me."

*Mrs. L deserves flowers, too,* I thought.

"Do me a favor, love? Call me when you get home, OK?"

"J, I'll be driven by one of the President's drivers, and I'll be _fine_. You don't have to worry."

"But I will anyway. Call me."

Sam smiled. "Yes, mom."

"C'mere," I growled. He came into the office and closed the door, comprehending the meaning of the growl.

"Does your mom do this?" I asked, walking over to Sam and sticking my hand down the front of his pants. "On second thought...if she _does_, I don't wanna know." I started caressing him through his boxers while I continued to talk. "Now...you taunted me today with your...performance with the banana. That's not nice. And now you don't want to let me know that you're OK?" I slipped a couple of fingers into the fly of his boxers, toying with the hair I encountered.

"S-- sorry, J."

"You know what to do," I said.

Sam nodded and started to unbutton his pants, ignoring the presence of my hand as much as he could. When his pants dropped to around his ankles, I took my hand away from his crotch so he could lower his boxers.

Much as I was enjoying the view of a half-naked, half-hard Sam, I had a responsibility. I went back to my desk and opened my middle drawer as Sam assumed the proper position - draped over the edge of my desk, bare-ass up. I found and prepared what I was looking for, then went to stand behind Sam.

"You know why I have to do this, right?"

"Insubordination," Sam answered.

"Right," I said. Placing one hand on Sam's right asscheek, I quickly spread his cheeks and inserted my 2-inch- diameter butt plug that I use for...special occasions. At Sam's gasp, I stopped, but he nodded to let me know he was OK.

"Get up and turn to face me."

Sam did, and I finished strapping him into my contraption - the same leather-belt-and-cock-ring apparatus that we'd used in the past. As I fit the ring over his hard-on, I said, "Remember, I'll let you out of this when I get home. Until then, you'll have to think about why you're being disciplined." Sam and I had been into toys for a while, but we'd only really started exploring the realms of discipline. We didn't use pain, just power.

"Yes, J," Sam said.

"Now, you'll call me when you get home, right?"

"Yes, J."

"Good. The limo's probably waiting for you, so I'll expect to hear from you within half an hour."

Sam got dressed again, and I gave him a long, lingering kiss good-bye at my office door. Once he left, I settled back down into my work.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rang.

"Josh Lyman," I said.

"Josh? Is Sam there with you?"

It was Dr. Bartlet.

"Josh? You there?" Dr. Bartlet's voice finally penetrated the fog in my brain.

"Uh...yeah. What?" There's that eloquence I'm known for.

"Is Sam with you? I called him at home, but he wasn't there. I assumed that, therefore, he was in his office, but Cathy said he was headed for your office and then home. I was hoping to catch you both together. Is he there?"

"No," I said. "The assistants conspired against him and sent him home - he came in this morning 'cause his fever was down but his cabin fever was out of control, but then Bonnie sabotaged his computer and...well, the upshot is that Mrs. Landingham arranged for a ride for him, and I was hoping when my phone rang just now that it was Sam telling me he was back home." I paused. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"I have some information that Sam has been waiting for," she said. "When he calls you, can you call me?"

I knew right then that she had the test results back. "Is there anything you..."

"Josh," she said, "you _know_ I can release the results only to Sam. I know the two of you have been through Hell this week, and I know even another half-hour of waiting will be torture, but I can't do it."

I did know, and I even understood why the laws were that way, but I didn't have to like it. "Yeah," I said. "You're right."

"I will tell you this," she said. "No matter what the results are, Sam and you should be together this afternoon. Do whatever you must to get the rest of the afternoon off. I'll call Leo if need be."

"No, I think he'll understand...provided I tell him enough." I hadn't told Leo anything about Sam's health. I still couldn't tell Leo _everything_, 'cause it would be up to Sam to tell people if he was HIV positive, but Leo had a right - as my boss and as our friend - to know that my schedule might be a little peculiar over the next...whenever.

"OK...give me a call when Sam calls you. I'd like to tell him in person, so if you and I can leave for your place as soon as possible, that would be best. I know you're both on pins and needles."

"Thanks, Dr. Bartlet...for everything." And for everything I knew she'd do for us if it turned out that Sam was infected...but I didn't want to think about that right now.

"You're good boys, Josh. Now, don't forget to call me," she said.

I assured her I wouldn't forget, and then we hung up. About five minutes later, the phone rang again.

"Hey, J. I'm...oh!...home," Sam said, panting a little bit.

"Good," I said. "I'm glad you called."

"Well," he said, "you told me to..."

I could hear the rustle of clothing as Sam spoke.

"What's that, love?"

"What's...ah!...what?"

"That noise...the rustling?" I knew Sam was getting naked as fast as possible; I just wanted to hear him say it.

"Well," Sam said, "I'm a little...uncomfortable...ooh!" He paused a second, then spoke again. "So I didn't think you'd mind if...aah...if I stripped down for you."

I grinned, even though Sam couldn't see me. "Well," I said, "much as I love the idea of you sitting around all afternoon, nude but for my toys, we're gonna have a visitor this afternoon, and - even though she's probably seen it all by now - I don't think you want to...show off...for her. So you might want to slip into a bathrobe before we get there."

"Huh?" said Sam. "Who's coming by? And what do you mean 'we'?"

I instantly regretted being flip with Sam - I had to give him serious information, but I'd primed him for more play.

"Sam, love..." I wasn't sure how to change moods so fast.

Thankfully, Sam picked up on my tone. "J, what is it?"

"Dr. Bartlet called. She said that she has information for you and that you won't want to be alone after she gives it to you. I know it's got to be the test results, but she wouldn't tell me anything. I couldn't tell at all if it was going to be good news or bad, but she has instructed me to take the rest of the afternoon off. My next step is to go talk to Leo, and then Dr. Bartlet and I are coming home. She wants you to call her...I promised her I'd tell you."

Sam was silent.

"Love?" I said, "you still there?"

"Yeah...I'm here," Sam said quietly. "This is it, then."

"Yeah...Love?"

"Yes, J?"

"What should I tell Leo?"

For a minute, all I could hear was Sam breathing. Then he said, "Tell him whatever you think is right. We'll know one way or another in an hour or so, right? Then we'll take it from there."

It sounded to me like Sam had resigned himself to a positive diagnosis. On one hand, I was glad to hear him come to terms with what could happen. On the other hand, though, it hurt me to hear him so defeated.

"Love, whatever the outcome, we'll get through it," I said.

"Yeah...I know. But..."

"I understand," I said, and I really did. "Now, I'm gonna go talk to Leo, and you should call Dr. Bartlet. I'll call you from the car when we're almost there."

"Thanks, J," Sam said. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

After another moment of silence, we said good-bye, and I headed off to Leo's office. Margaret was on the phone when I got there, but Leo's door was open. He saw me and waved me into the office. I sat in the chair facing Leo's desk.

"Hey, Josh. How's Sam doing?" Leo said.

"He's feeling better. He was in for a while today."

"Yeah, I heard about the plot to get him to go home. You really don't want to cross the assistants, do you?"

"Nope," I said. "No matter what the public thinks, the real power brokers in this office are the junior staff."

"Anyway," Leo said, "I'm assuming you didn't stop by for small talk. What's up?"

I still hadn't decided exactly what to tell Leo. But it was now or never. "As you know, Sam hasn't been well recently," I said.

"Well, yeah," Leo said. "Passing out in his office was kind of obvious."

"Right. Well, Dr. Bartlet ordered a bunch of tests, and the results are back. She's advised me that Sam shouldn't be alone when he hears the results, so..."

"Go...don't worry about things here. We'll muddle through. Sam needs you, and that's where you should be." Leo thought a minute. "The passing out...it wasn't just stress, was it?"

"We don't know," I said honestly. "That's part of what we've been waiting to find out."

"Go home, Josh. Tell Sam we're all pulling for him. And, if you need more time, just call and let me know."

"Thanks, Leo," I said, standing up. "I'll call as soon as I know anything."

"Call later...first take care of Sam...in whatever way is necessary." Leo cocked an eyebrow at me and smiled.

Not knowing how to react to salacious suggestions from one of my dad's oldest friends, I beat a hasty retreat to the First Lady's office. Lilly Mays was at her desk in the outer office.

"Hi, Josh. She's waiting for you."

"Thanks, Lilly," I said.

"Give my regards to Sam," she said. "He hasn't been around to harass me recently, and I'm beginning to miss it." Sam and Lilly have something of an adversarial relationship, but they do care about each other.

"I'll let him know...can you tell Dr. Bartlet I'm here?"

"Yeah...sorry. I know you're in a rush." There are no secrets in this building, which is probably a good thing, but it's sometimes unnerving.

Lilly picked up the phone, said, "he's here," and hung up. "She'll be right out," she said to me.

Not 30 seconds later, the door to Mrs. Bartlet's office opened and she came barreling out. "I spoke to Sam," she said as she hustled me out the door, her agents following behind, "and he said he'd be waiting for your call."

"Yeah," I said. "I told him I'd call when we were a couple of minutes out." I didn't feel the need to tell her that it was so he wasn't naked when she arrived.

"Probably smart," she said, as if she'd read my mind. Now _that_ was a scary concept.

We got in the car and headed off. As promised, I called Sam to warn him as we approached, and then five minutes later the limo pulled up in front of our building.

"I don't know how long I'll be," Dr. Bartlet said to the driver as she and the agents got out of the car. I followed behind them, realizing only a bit too late that, as the one with the keys, I should've gone first. My mind, however, was somewhat distracted and therefore not up to peak performance standards.

Mrs. Bartlet seemed to understand, however. She waited patiently as I juggled the keys, my hands shaking.

"Relax, Josh," she said.

I opened the door to the building and we all trooped inside. Instead of unlocking the apartment door, however, I knocked, giving Sam another moment to prepare himself.

Sam opened the door clad, as I had anticipated, in his robe. He leaned in and kissed me hard and long. When we came up for air, he looked over my shoulder.

"Hi, Dr. Bartlet, guys." The agents nodded and Dr. Bartlet smiled.

"You're looking good, Sam. How're you feeling?" Dr. Bartlet asked as we filed into the apartment and walked into the living room.

"I'm doing fine," Sam said.

"I'll want to verify that before I leave," Dr. Bartlet said. "But first..." She looked at her agents. "Guys? Can you give us some privacy?"

They nodded and wandered off to the kitchen - probably for a quick game of poker. After they'd left, Dr. Bartlet turned to us. We'd already seated ourselves on the sofa. Sam's left hand was in my right, and he was squeezing very tightly. It wasn't totally comfortable, but I completely understood his need for physical contact. I moved closer so that our thighs were also touching. Sam was fidgeting a bit, but I couldn't tell if it was in an attempt to find a comfortable sitting position with the plug up his ass or if it was due to nerves.

Dr. Bartlet sat in the armchair facing us.

"Sam, before I say anything, I need you to sign something." She pulled a form out of the briefcase she was carrying.

"What's this?" Sam asked.

"I need your written permission to release the results of your tests to Josh."

Sam mumbled something about ridiculous regulations but signed the paperwork anyway. He handed it back to Dr. Bartlet without comment.

Once she had the paperwork back in her bag, Dr. Bartlet turned to us. "So," she said, drawing another piece of paper out of her folder.

Now that the moment had come, I almost didn't want to know. I was afraid of what would truly happen the moment we heard that Sam had HIV.

"Sam, I want you to know that I will be available to answer any questions you may have. Don't feel that this will be the end of my involvement with your care." The longer she spoke, the more worried I became that it was going to be bad news. From Sam's death-grip on my hand, I could tell he was feeling the same way.

"Dr. Bartlet, please," Sam said. "Just tell me. I'll deal with the consequences - either way - once I have a real answer."

She took a deep breath, smiled, and said, "You're fine."

There was a moment of stunned silence. After all the waiting, all the mental preparation, Sam was...fine?!?

"Fine?" Sam sounded as confused as I felt.

"OK," Dr. Bartlet said. "'Fine' is an overstatement. You're anemic, and I'm very concerned about your weight loss. But all indications are that you are HIV negative. Both the ELISA and Western Blot tests came back clean. You're going to be OK. I'll just write you a prescription for iron pills before I leave, and I'm putting Josh in charge of making sure you eat."

I wasn't totally comprehending. "You mean..."

Dr. Bartlet smiled again, as if this confusion were standard. "What I mean is that you and Sam have had a good scare, and you're gonna be more careful from now on, but he is not infected."

It all finally clicked in my brain. The emotions flooded through me as if a dam had broken. Sam and I clung to each other, crying and laughing simultaneously. After a minute, Sam buried his head in my shoulder and started sobbing uncontrollably. I put my arms around him, patting his back.

"It's OK," I whispered. "You're OK." Sam had spent so much time preparing himself for the worst, and now the crisis was over and all the pent-up emotions were unleashed. As he regained control, the sobs faded to hiccups. After another minute, he was silent except for some light sniffing. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a tissue, and handed it to Sam. He looked up at me and we just stared at each other, as if to confirm we were both still here and that this was real.

There were still tears running down my face, and I wiped them away on the back of my hand.

Dr. Bartlet cleared her throat. "Guys?"

I looked away from Sam and towards where Dr. Bartlet was sitting.

"I know it's not a good time, but I'd still like to check Sam over."

Sam squirmed a bit, and I remembered suddenly why Sam being examined at the moment might not be the best idea.

"Uh...Dr. Bartlet...can you give us a second alone?" I hoped she'd think we needed another minute to compose ourselves.

"This'll only take a sec, Josh, really," she said, removing some equipment from her bag.

"I know, but..." I couldn't figure out a polite way of saying what I needed to say.

"Dr. Bartlet," Sam said, his voice shaking slightly, "trust us. You want to give us a minute."

I guess she decided that Sam had been through enough trauma today, 'cause she didn't argue with him, instead stepping out into the hallway. "I'll be right out here. Yell when you want me back in."

I knew she'd be able to hear anything we said loudly, so as soon as she left, I pulled Sam into a standing position and whispered, "Undo the belt, love." When Sam proved to be too fumble-fingered to untie the sash, I did it for him, exposing him to my gaze.

"I haven't touched myself once since you told me not to," Sam said softly.

"Good." I reached around Sam's back and undid the belt around his waist. As it fell forward, I eased the ring down Sam's hard cock. Sam gasped, but I trapped the sound with my lips, kissing Sam hard to prevent Dr. Bartlet from returning before we were ready. Reaching around behind Sam, I parted his ass cheeks and slowly eased the plug out of him. He sighed into my mouth again. I quickly removed the plug from the rest of the contraption, then reinserted it into Sam. Only when it was properly seated did I break the kiss.

"You gonna be OK with this?" I asked him.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, her examining you with my plug up your ass."

"Don't take it out, _please_," Sam begged.

"You sure?" I said, helping Sam take the robe off the rest of the way.

I took a minute to admire Sam's body, then had a moment of clarity followed by a moment of panic. Sam was completely nude...which would be awkward to explain to Dr. Bartlet. I knew he'd stripped off his boxers when he came home in an attempt to reduce the amount of friction against his hard cock and plugged ass. It had been a logical decision, but now we had to face the consequences of that decision. I couldn't exactly waltz out to the bedroom to get Sam a pair of boxers, and I knew he didn't want to be bare-assed in front of Dr. Bartlet.

I took a quick look around the living room and spied a basket of clean but unfolded laundry. The fact that Sam had let a load of laundry go unfolded was a testament to how crappy he'd been feeling, but the fact that the laundry hadn't been put away was suddenly a blessing.

I rummaged quickly through the laundry but found none of Sam's boxers. In desperation, I pulled a pair of mine out - white cotton with Mets logos - and flung them at Sam.

"Here...put these on," I hissed, and Sam shimmied into them, not even commenting snidely about having to tacitly support a hated team. I went back over to where Sam was standing and helped him onto his back on the sofa, propping him up against some pillows.

"You ready?" I asked.

"Yes," Sam said. "Now let's get her in and out of here as soon as possible. The plug's great, but I want to feel _you_ inside me. It's been so long!"

And it really had been - between Sam not feeling well and then our need to use condoms until we got the test results, we hadn't been skin-to-skin for way too long.

"Don't worry, love," I said. "The minute she's gone..." I had plans. I'd had plans for a while, but I'd had to shelve them - I'd thought, perhaps, indefinitely - when Sam got sick. He still wasn't up for anything overly athletic, but I was gonna follow some advice I'd once gotten from an old friend - "First you show up; then you see what happens."

"You guys OK in there?" Dr. Bartlet called from the hallway.

"Just fine, ma'am," I said. "You can come in now." Dr. Bartlet came back, and if she was surprised to find Sam lying on the sofa in slightly-too-large boxers and nothing else, she didn't comment. She quickly checked Sam's vitals, not lingering, as if she could sense our urgency to be alone. As soon as she was finished, she gathered up her equipment, her briefcase, and her agents, and with a final warning of "be careful," she was on her way out of our apartment.

For a minute, Sam lay on the couch, looking somewhat dazed, and I perched on the coffee table.

"You OK, love?" I seemed to be asking that a lot recently.

"I...I think so," Sam said. "She tires me out when I'm at my best; these days, it's like having a run-in with a bulldozer."

"Oh, how well I understand," I said.

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"Do me a favor?"

"Anything...you name it."

"Take me to bed and fuck me until I don't remember my own name."

This called for a change in plans, but I could work with that.

I helped Sam up off the couch and led him to the bedroom. As we walked, the boxers he was wearing kept slipping down to expose Sam's hip until he would notice and yank them back up. I appreciated the flashes of Sam's skin, but the looseness of the boxers just served to remind me of Sam's weight loss.

Sam had abandoned his robe in the living room, so divesting him of the boxers once we reached the bedroom was all it took to get him naked. That accomplished, I started to remove my own clothing.

My hands were shaking almost enough to prevent me from undoing my shirt buttons. I had nothing to be scared of - Sam was fine, and we were going to be all right. And it wasn't like Sam and I hadn't already been together for more than a year. But this time, the sex - the lovemaking, in truth - was going to be imbued with a deeper meaning. This was going to be a time for us to heal, to reconnect, to...

"C'mon, Josh, I'm dying here!" Sam said, interrupting my contemplation.

OK, this was going to be for fucking Sam into mental oblivion. _Next_ time would be the deep, meaningful lovemaking for reconnecting.

As I said, the plan was malleable.

That decided, I quickly stripped off the rest of my clothing. Sam was still standing at the foot of the bed, pre-cum already moistening his gloriously tumescent cock head.

Despite the hormones raging through my bloodstream, I made a concerted effort to be slow and gentle with Sam. I walked over to him and enfolded him in a hug, holding him close and contenting myself with the feel of his warmth against me. I ran my hands down his back, caressing him lightly, as I captured his lips with mine. I cupped his ass with my hands, rubbing my thumbs across the underside of each cheek but not approaching the crack between them.

Sam effectively brought my tongue's gentle exploration of the inside of his mouth to a halt by snaking one of his hands between our bodies and grasping my cock.

"Don't, love. I won't last too long that way."

"Good," Sam responded, beginning to stroke me as he spoke. "Don't hold back. You promised to make me forget my name. Right now, I know damn well not only that I am Samuel Norman Seaborn, but that I'm the Deputy Communications Director for the Bartlet Administration." He sped up the movement of his hand along my length. "That's much more higher brain function than I should have right now."

I moved my hands off Sam's ass and brought my left hand up to pinch his left nipple.

"You think you're smart, eh?" I asked.

"I'm a graduate of both Princeton and Duke. Many people think I'm smart," Sam said.

I tweaked his other nipple. "Can you do anything else with that mouth but give smart answers?"

"I give damn good head," Sam answered, slithering his way down my body and kneeling at my feet, his face a hairs- breadth from my groin.

I already knew that, but was more than happy to be on the receiving end of a demonstration of Sam's skills. Sam's tongue is almost as talented as his fingers, and he can make me hard just by licking his lips. To prove his talent, he was alternately using the tip of his tongue on my slit and the flat of his tongue on the underside of the head. In less than a minute, I was coming, screaming Sam's name.

Sam looked up at me from his position on the floor. "J?" he asked calmly.

"Yeah," I panted, trying to re-regulate my breathing.

"Now that I've taken the edge off for you, can we _please_ get to the 'fucking me 'til I can't remember my name' part?"

"OK," I said, and hauled him to his feet. With a minimum of effort, I spun Sam around until he was facing the foot of the bed. He crawled up onto the bed, bare ass facing me, and spread his legs. I could see the base of the plug jutting from his ass, and I grasped it.

"You ready?" I asked, easing the plug out of Sam.

"More than ready," he responded, thrusting his ass back toward my hand.

I walked over to my bedside table and pulled out a tube of lube. Wasting no more time, I climbed up onto the bed, greased up my cock, and crawled over to behind Sam. The time it had taken me to prepare myself was long enough that I was hard again. Putting my hands on Sam's hips, I leaned down, kissed the nape of his neck, then rammed myself home.

Sam gasped at the sudden intrusion.

"Too much?" I asked, holding myself still against my instinct to thrust.

"Not enough," Sam replied. I reached around to Sam's front and grasped his cock.

"Better?"

"Move, dammit!" he rasped.

"Who are you?" I asked, withdrawing and then thrusting slowly forward.

"Samuel Norman - OH! - Seaborn."

I started pumping his cock in time to my thrusts. As his breathing quickened, I asked again.

"Who are you?"

"Sam - Ahh - Seaborn."

I moved my free hand over to tweak his nipple in counterpoint to my thrusts.

"What's your name?"

"Oh...God!...Sam Lyman!"

"I only wish..." I pushed into Sam with each breath. "Who." ~thrust~ "Are." ~thrust~ "You?" ~thrust~

"Oh, God. Oh, fuck. Oh...fuck!" Sam, finally incoherent, came violently, coating my hand and the bed underneath us with cum. I followed, shooting deep into Sam's body.

In the aftermath, I rolled us both over so that and I were lying on our sides, me spooned up against Sam's cooling skin. I reached down with my free left hand, caressing Sam's hip. As our breathing slowed, Sam leaned back to look at me.

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"We've gotta..." He indicated the hand caressing his hip, which I suddenly noticed was stickier than Sam probably appreciated.

"Yeah," I said reluctantly, not really wanting to move but knowing I had to. I started to shift away from Sam to go get a towel.

"No, J. Let me," Sam said, moving down to the foot of the bed and then off.

"But..."

"J, you've been taking care of me for longer than I remember now. And for the past week, we've thought that maybe you were gonna be having to care for me for the rest of my life."

"It wouldn't have been a problem," I started to say, but Sam cut me off.

"J, please. Let me take care of you for once. Let me try to give you back even one-hundredth of what you've given to me this week."

I refrained from reminding Sam about how he'd cared for me during my long convalescence. This wasn't about fairness. This was about Sam needing to prove his strength. I nodded, and Sam went off to the bathroom. He returned a minute later and cleaned us both off. After draping a dry towel over the spot on the bed sheet, Sam climbed back into the bed, reclaiming his position in my arms, and sighed.

"I could stay like this forever," he said.

I knew we had things to do - I had to call Leo; Toby and Donna should probably be told that it was a false alarm and that Sam was going to be fine, and there was highly important work waiting for us both. But not now.

We'd have plenty of time.

---END--

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