Title: The First Time
Author: Beth
Series: Wild Ride
Category: J/S & OFC
Rating: PG/PG-13 - people curse.
Spoilers: Possibly very slight ones for "ITSOTG I & II"
Disclaimer: I swear I'm not Aaron Sorkin. I am completely aware that I don't own Josh and Sam. However, I am responsible for Carrie and Kelly - they are mine. I'm just letting them hang out with Sorkin's characters because they are so cool.
Summary: He'd been drunk . . . no wonder he'd been acting like an ass.
Archive: Sure. Just let me know where.
Feedback: Always adored. elatshaw@earthlink.net
Notes: So Julian said, there has to be more, right? And behold, there was more. I also want to thank all the kind folks who have written such encouraging feedback on my first efforts. Oh, and I'm so not a date person, so if I have the timeline wrong -- let me know. Oh, and this isn't the first time that you might think it is.

*******

The First Time by Beth

1987

Sam didn't know why he'd let Josh talk him into this party. Either all the talk about connections and networking and such had weakened his resolve to get a good night's sleep, or he'd simply lost his mind. Josh had said he knew where he was going, but they'd wandered around in circles for a good hour before they finally found the place. At this point, Sam was tired and thirsty and no longer interested in the whole networking thing, but Josh was pumped up and ready to circulate.

Sam's first order of business was to find the bar - a glass of water first, then the requisite glass of wine. After gulping down his water, Sam edged off to the side to watch and listen. He was attracting his fair share of attention from women in the room, but he was paying attention to Josh as he circulated.

Josh was offering a rather loud commentary on a painting to someone Sam didn't recognize when Sam caught a flash of red hair out of the corner of his eye. He knew it wasn't possible that Kelly was here, but he turned toward the redhead out of habit. He could only see her back, but he would know that hair anywhere. He was torn between heading over to her and going to tell Josh to shut up; he decided on Kelly.

She spotted him as he was walking toward her, and the smile that lit up her face matched his own. "Two-fisting it tonight, Seaborn?"

Sam looked confused for a second, but then realized he still had both the water and the wine glasses in his hands. He laughed as he set both down to hug his old friend, "What the hell are you doing in DC, Kel?"

"Well, that's very nice, Sam. Not 'hi Kel, I've missed you'; not 'it's been a long time, I'm glad to see you'; but, 'what the hell are you doing here'. You sure know how to make a girl feel welcome."

"You're right. I'm sorry. Let me try that again," he said, laughing. He'd almost forgotten how much he laughed when she was around. He fixed a surprised look on his face and said, "I'm really glad, and surprised, to see you, Kel. I've missed you terribly," he arched an eyebrow at her and added, "Better?"

"Much," she said, laughing.

"Now - what the hell are you doing here?"

"I could ask you much the same thing."

"I work in DC, remember? I have to go to parties all the time. My friend Josh -- you know, the one I've been telling you about -- he talked me into coming tonight. Now I'm glad he did, but I still don't know why you're here."

"You have absolutely no idea where you are, do you Sam?" Kelly said, shaking her head at her friend's cluelessness.

"I don't understand."

"Obviously," Kelly said dryly. "I know you're not always quick on the uptake but even you should be able to figure out that you're in an art gallery, Samuel. And once you've gotten that part, you should know what I'm doing in DC."

Sam looked around and realized that, indeed, he was in an art gallery. "Is this an opening, Kelly?"

"Technically not; the pieces have been here for a few weeks, but the owner decided to throw a party, and I thought it might be fun to come out and surprise you. I got in today; I was coming by your place in the morning. I certainly didn't expect to see you here."

Sam looked around again and said, "So, where are the original O'Neals? How many paintings do you have here? Where's Sarah?"

Kelly started laughing again as she took Sam's hand to lead him toward one of her paintings. "Slow down, Seaborn, slow down. You know Sarah hates to fly, and this just wasn't a big enough deal to drag her out here. Besides, if she were with me, you wouldn't be able to monopolize my time while I'm here. As to the other, I've got four paintings here; another three in New York; and several more in galleries in LA."

They slowed down as they reached a group of people standing in front of a painting. Sam cringed as he recognized Josh's voice and realized what he was saying.

"Now this painting, I just don't understand. I mean anyone can do something like this - heck, a first grader with finger paints could do better than this. And they want ten thousand for it? I think this whole art thing is the biggest scam in the twentieth century," Josh laughed jocularly with the rest of the crowd and then moved on to the next painting.

"Okay, now I remember why I don't come to these things more often. I just love it when people who have never even picked up a brush think they can do it better." Kelly grinned ruefully.

Sam studied the painting for a long minute and then said, "Kel, is this what I think it is?"

"I don't know, sweetie. What do you think it is?"

"It reminds me of the time we went sailing and got caught in that squall. I mean the greens in the upper part and the almost ink color in the lower part - it's gotta be that, doesn't it?"

"And you told me you would never understand art - you are getting quite good at this, Sam." At his slight flush of embarrassment, she continued, "Really, you are. I'm so proud of you. So, am I going to get to meet this friend of yours?" Kelly asked, just as Josh began expounding on another of Kelly's paintings.

"And this one is just awful. I mean, for god's sake, these artists should, like, have to go to school or something. And they think this one is worth more than the other one, are they crazy?" Josh laughed derisively and then said, "You know I'm as big a supporter of the NEA as the next Democrat, but I really think that they should insist that these people have talent before they can get grants."

Sam blanched and tried to recover before Kelly noticed, but he was too late.

"Oh Sam. Not him. Please tell me it's not him." She stared pointedly at the guy she had mentally labeled the asshole art critic.

"You don't know how much I wish I could, but I can't. He's not usually this much of an ass." Sam was attempting to appease Kelly, but he doubted it was working.

"Ah well, that makes all the difference, Samuel. I'll let it go - for now." She smiled at Sam's relief, knowing that she was going to destroy it in a second, "but Sam - I want to meet this guy and find out just who the hell he thinks he is."

"Kel, please -"

"Sam - find a way to make it happen later, or I do it right now. Take your pick."

"Fine. I'll set it up," Sam sighed. He had a feeling dental surgery would be more fun, but at least Kelly would have a chance to calm down a bit. If he let her talk to him now, her temper would get the better of her and there would never be a chance that the two of them would get along. He would propose dinner. At least at dinner, he might be able to keep Kelly from annihilating Josh. If all else failed, he could always shove food in her mouth.

***

The next morning, Josh was trying to clear the cobwebs out of his head when Sam appeared in his office. Josh had only a sketchy memory of the previous evening. He remembered going out to a party with Sam. He remembered a couple of glasses of wine, and then nothing. He couldn't even remember how he'd gotten home.

"Uh, hey Sam. Some party last night, huh?" Josh was hoping that Sam could clue him in on what had happened without realizing that Josh had no idea what he had done.

"Yeah, guess so." Sam studied Josh for a long minute. Josh's bloodshot eyes told the story; he had been drunk at the gallery. Damn, no wonder he'd been acting like an ass. "You don't remember anything, do you?"

"Not much. Why?"

"No reason. Look, man, my friend Kelly is in town. Want to go to dinner with us tonight? I'd really like for you to meet her, and this is probably your only chance before I leave for Duke." Sam almost felt guilty about setting Josh up like this, but he was hoping that the fact that Josh had been drunk would get him off the hook with Kelly.

"I never turn down an opportunity to meet a good-looking woman. She is good looking, right?"

"Well, yeah, but trust me, Josh, you aren't her type."

"I've never met a woman yet who won't succumb to the Lyman charm," Josh said, grinning.

"Prepare to meet the first then, because I can assure you she won't. Look, this is just an opportunity for two good friends of mine to meet each other - nothing more. I'm not trying to set you up or her up or anyone up for that matter. I just want to go out to dinner with my two closest friends, okay?" From Sam's perspective, the only way this could get worse was if Josh started hitting on Kelly. As it was, she was pissed about his derogatory comments about her paintings; if Josh did anything else to tick her off, Kel wouldn't be able to understand why Sam was friends with him.

Josh held up his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay. No hitting on your woman, I've got it."

"She's not 'my woman,' Josh; she's my best friend. I'm begging you, man, don 't make an ass out of yourself tonight. I want Kelly to see you the way I see you and that's not gonna happen if you're trying to charm her. Please god, just be normal and don't drink, okay?"

"Sam, did I do something stupid last night? To your friend, maybe?" Josh asked suspiciously.

"Kinda, yeah, but look, I think I can fix it. You just have to be normal tonight - really, really normal. I know I'm asking a lot, 'cause it isn't like you've got the tightest grip on what normal means anyway, but it's important to me that Kelly likes you. And the only way that's gonna happen is if you aren't acting like a jerk tonight." Sam was talking really fast because he was nervous. Even though Josh was a bit older than he was, he could be really dumb with women and Kel was not one to suffer a fool -- gladly or otherwise.

"You want me to get us a reservation some place?" Josh offered. He had obviously done something awfully stupid the previous evening, because he could not remember seeing Sam this panicked before, and if he could make it up to him then he would.

"Sure, just don't try to impress her, okay? She doesn't impress."

"Got it. I've got work to do. I'll call you later and let you know what time, okay?" At Josh's querying look, Sam nodded and left.

*** As Sam headed over to pick up Kelly, he kept thinking of metaphors for how bad this evening was going to be. Clash of the titans was probably his favorite. He was taking the approach that if he anticipated the worst possible outcome - that Kel would despise Josh and he would never be able to get them in the same room, possibly the same time zone, again - then anything better than that would be awesome. He couldn't explain, even to himself, why it was so important to him that Josh and Kelly get along, especially when he would be leaving for Duke in a couple of months, but it was important.

When Sam arrived at Kelly's hotel, she was waiting outside for him. Some things never change. "Ah, Kelly, how many seconds late am I?" Sam tried desperately to suppress a grin.

"Twenty-three, but who was counting," she said, laughing. "So where are we going for dinner?" she asked as they started walking away from the hotel.

"A Chinese place that Josh knows. He says it's really good." Sam considered her for a minute, and then said, "Look, I know he was an ass last night. He was drunk and he didn't know what he was saying. Would you please, please give him another chance? For me? I'll get down on my knees and beg - I swear I will."

"Okay, first of all - don't get down on your knees on the sidewalk - you'll just look silly and I'll start laughing and it would ruin the whole effect. Second, you can't possibly be suggesting that I let him off the hook, can you? And third, why is it so important to you that I like him?"

"Let's see - my two closest friends - I'd like them to get along. Does that seem strange to you? It doesn't to me. Yeah, he was a jerk last night, but he didn't know what he was doing and he doesn't remember it. Calling him on it won't do any good - he has no idea what he did. Please, Kel, give him another chance. He's a good guy who was having a bad night, I swear."

"Fine. I'll give him one more chance - for you. But you owe me big for this."

"You have more money than I ever will - how am I possibly going to pay you back?" Sam rolled his eyes because he knew what her answer was going to be.

"Graduate from law school, pass the bar in California and be my lawyer. That's how you pay me back."

"And if I don't do all that?"

"Um," Kelly's eyes twinkled. "Personal slave?"

"You drive a hard bargain, lady; law school it is. But, I love you anyway." Sam slid an arm around her shoulders as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Well good. I love you too," Kelly said with a smile. "So, are we there yet?"

Josh was already seated when Sam and Kelly arrived. He decided it was a good thing because the two of them together were the most visually stunning couple he had ever seen. Having spent almost an entire summer with Sam, he had already been convinced that Sam was the most physically attractive male he had ever met. Sam's lady friend was gorgeous - long curly red hair; slender, but curvy; tall enough that she fit perfectly in Sam's grasp, but not so tall that they were the same height; a smile as arresting as Sam's; and now that they were at the table he could see her eyes - as green as Sam's were blue. Josh suddenly felt like the ugly cousin at the table.

Kelly fixed Josh with an appraising look as she and Sam approached the table, and she realized that he was off balance and seemed a bit unsure of himself. **Okay, this might be fun after all,** she realized, in that strange torturing "pathetic males" way she enjoyed sometimes.

"Hey Josh - are we late?" Sam asked as he pulled out a chair for Kelly and then grabbed a seat for himself.

"Nope, right on time - which, frankly, is surprising for you, Sam."

"Yeah, well, Kel doesn't like to be late for anything. She's a pain in the butt that way." Sam grinned fondly at Kelly as she glared pointedly at him. "Oh, damn. I'm not going to win any etiquette awards - that's for sure. Kelly O'Neal -- Joshua Lyman."

"Hi Josh - I've heard a lot about you." Kelly smiled warmly.

"Unfortunately, I can't say the same. What has he told you about me?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Josh wanted to recall them. What the hell was the matter with him? He was usually much smoother with women than this. It had to be the combination of wanting to make Sam happy and the knowledge that he had done something to offend this woman the previous evening that was making him a social disaster.

Kelly looked at Josh steadily as she said, "I suppose the most important things are that you are quite smart and that you probably have an incredible future in politics. Oh, and that you don't use your law degree."

She watched as a slight blush crept up on both men's faces, and Kelly had her "a-ha" moment. So that's what this was all about: Sam was *attracted* to this man. She had to test her theory, so she added, "Oh, and he said you were cute."

Bingo. Sam turned bright red and choked on his water. Fortunately, in Kelly's opinion, Josh was so busy studying the table that he didn't notice Sam's reaction, but she saw the flush increasing in his face as well - appeared the feeling is mutual. It was also clear to Kelly that neither of them realized that the other was interested, and that neither of them had acted on their interest.

Silence descended over the table for several minutes. They each pretended to be occupied by the menu, but in fact they were each trying to decide which direction the conversation should go.

"How long have you known Sam?" Josh asked after they placed their orders.

"Since we were kids. I'm not really sure I can remember when I didn't know him." Kelly smiled fondly at Sam.

The conversation continued that way for quite a while - vague questions and vague answers designed to ease the tension that they all felt. After a while, Josh and Sam were carrying the conversational load while Kelly observed. She liked what she was seeing. Sam was relaxed and engaged at the same time, and it was a beautiful sight. Josh challenged Sam in ways that few people could or would, and that was what Sam needed. Kelly was so engrossed in her thoughts and speculations that she didn't notice, at first, that both men had stopped talking and were studying her.

"Uh, Kel, wanna share?" Sam asked.

"I was just thinking -" She then looked at Josh and said, "You're curious about me; I'm curious about you. So why don't we do this - give me the highlights and I'll do the same. Sam can fill in the blanks later."

"Okay, the direct approach - gotta admit I like that in a girl, woman, whatever. The highlights of Josh Lyman: undergrad at Harvard; law school at Yale; did a Fulbright; worked on a couple of low-level political campaigns; and, I'm now the floor manager for a congressman. Oh, and I'm a Mets fan."

"Well, there's a strike against you; I'm a Yankees fan. Otherwise, I don't think I'm as interesting as you are. I paint - somewhat successfully; I have a house in California; and, I sail." Kelly smiled again.

"You - paint?" The conversation with Sam from that morning suddenly came back to him, "Oh god, we were in a gallery last night." Josh's mind was racing as he tried desperately to remember what he had said. "Please tell me I didn't say anything insulting."

Sam looked steadily at Josh. "I'd like to, but -"

"He can't. I think the lowest point was when you said that a first grader with finger paints could paint better than I do," Kelly said with a smile.

Sam looked at Josh and added, "Really I think the worst part was when you looked at her next painting and said something about requiring artists to go to school."

Kelly laughed. "Oh, I don't know Sam. I think maybe the part about the NEA insisting that artists have talent before giving them grants was worse than that."

"Oh good god, and you're eating dinner with me? How have you managed to not stab me with something?"

"I think Sam agreed to Chinese specifically because chopsticks are blunt. Really though, Sam convinced me to give you another chance. You've been perfectly pleasant this evening, and you haven't been insulting once. Oh, and for the record, never applied for and have never needed an NEA grant - so a talent requirement would be lost on me anyway." Kelly laughed, hoping that Josh and Sam would laugh with her. Only Sam did; Josh still seemed too stunned. Kelly slid out of her chair walked around the table and gave Josh a hug. "It's okay. We all do stupid things when we're drunk. Why one time, Samuel over here -"

"Kel -"

"What, you don't think he'd like to know about your sordid past?" Kelly was giggling as she grabbed Josh's hand and pulled him out of his seat. "Come on - I'll tell you some of his secrets, while you walk back to my hotel with us." She then stretched up slightly to whisper in his ear, "I like you, Josh. I like the effect you have on him - he gets too wound up without someone around to loosen him up. You seem to be able to do that, so I'm counting on you." She hugged him again, and then said louder - for Sam's benefit, "If you think this was too easy - that I'm being too forgiving - don't worry, you will get what's coming to you for last night. Payback is a bitch."

Josh nodded, accepting that fate had dealt him a kind blow for perhaps the first time in his life. He would be friends with Sam Seaborn and with this woman because they would give him no choice. He wasn't even worried about her threats; he had a feeling she would be kinder than he deserved. The three of them walked back to Kelly's hotel arm in arm, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Six Months Later

It had reached the point that he almost dreaded deliveries. The first box had arrived about a week after Kelly had returned to California - a guide to art appreciation. A week or two later, it had been catalogues for museums in DC with certain exhibits highlighted for him. After Sam had left for Duke, he assumed that the boxes would stop coming. If anything, the frequency increased. She sent him finger paintings done by a class of first graders for which he had written thirty-two thank you notes. Then there had been the box with canvases, paints, brushes, and a palette. She followed that with an NEA grant application with his name on it. She sent him reviews of her work with words like "spectacular," "fresh talent," and "fabulous" underscored. Every time there was a gallery opening in the greater DC area, he got an invitation. Usually with a note from the gallery owner that Kelly O'Neal suggested he be included on the guest list because of his "unusual take" on modern art. Whether he wanted to or not, he was becoming something of an expert on modern art and discovering that painting was a great deal more difficult than it appeared.

This new package scared him though. It was fairly large, it had come by special messenger, and she had had it delivered to his office. He sat and stared at it for a long time trying to decide what he should do. He knew it wasn't going to explode or anything, but still she could embarrass the hell out of him without half trying. He was still contemplating the package when the congressman came back from the floor of the House.

"Josh - we have a lot of work to do on --, say what's this?"

"Nothing, sir. What do we have to work on?" Josh knew his boss wouldn't be deterred, but he could hope.

"It's a package with your name on it, and you haven't opened it. Come on, aren't you even curious?" His boss was like a kid at Christmas.

"Fine. I'll open it," Josh said barely concealing his exasperation. He pulled the brown wrapping paper off and revealed a painting. The instant he looked at it, he knew what it was - didn't have to read the note. He couldn't help it; he just started laughing as he reached for the phone. He knew exactly what he was going to say. Fate was indeed kind.

2003

Anyone who saw Josh that evening, or most any evening since Sam had brought Carrie to the West Wing, would have thought he was staring off into space, but he wasn't. He was concentrating on the painting hanging on his living room wall. As long as he was looking at the painting, he could still believe that fate was kind. He could see that day clearly in his mind. He could hear Kel laughing into the phone while he protested that it was too much. He could hear her telling him that the nice thing about what she did for a living was that sometimes she could give a piece of her heart to someone who mattered to her. He had been honored to realize that he mattered to her - that it wasn't simply acceptance because of Sam.

And then he would remember that she was gone. He could feel the tears building up behind his eyes, and he would fight them down because Sam might need him, and he would not cry, would not appear to have been crying, in front of Sam. Not about this, not now - someday both he and Sam would be able to acknowledge their loss and feel their pain, but for now there was a little girl who needed Sam to be strong. For Sam to be strong, Josh had to be too. Stanley would call it denial, and maybe it was, but it seemed to be the only way they could make it through.

But until Sam called, Josh would just continue to stare at the painting and remember. He could still hear the last thing she'd said that day before she hung up the phone: "A painting is a piece of an artist's soul. It's what we leave behind when we're gone. Never mock my work again or I swear I will haunt you for the rest of your days, Joshua Lyman. Just see if I don't."

END

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