Title: The Thinner the Skin
Author: Jane St Clair
Fandom: The West Wing
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Josh Lyman/Sam Seaborn
Spoilers: In the Shadow of Two Gunmen, In This White House, Shibboleth, Noel
Archive: only with permission
Webpage: http://www.angelfire.com/sk2/mirrorgirl/warning.html
Feedback: Brings peace and justice where before there was none! (3jane@chickmail.com)
Summary: Of couches and expensive suits, with some mention of madness.
Disclaimer: "The West Wing" belongs to Aaron Sorkin, Tommy Schlamme, and NBC. And for a change, I actually believe they're better at this than I am. I hold them in the highest regard, and I fully intend to have all the characters back in one piece, so please forgive me, as no infringement is intended. The story is mine.
Sex disclaimer: No sex. Guys smooching. Get over it.
Notes: Fuelled by my current case of bah-humbug (brought on by the possibility of Christmas shopping) and a lovely episode of Joshie- hurts. Spoiler notes and episode references are at the end for anyone who's gotten a little behind. If you missed "Noel" because of RL politics, be forewarned that this is post-ep.

*****

The Thinner the Skin by Jane St Clair

He's getting very attached to Sam's couch. He can't explain why it's better than his own couch, but it definitely is. Browner, maybe. Better upholstery. That extra bolster pillow makes all the difference. Couches usually only come with two, so that third one is clearly the result of a special effort. Donna has a lot of pillows on her couch, but she also has a lot of cat hair, and sometimes there's lingerie drying on the back of it, and the whole room tends to smell a little floral. Toby's couch smells like the couch of a chronically depressed single guy who isn't home much -- gin and scotchguard and cheap fabric softener. His own couch is boring. Sam's couch is good.

At the moment, Sam's couch is the home of Sam's jacket. Grey wool, the soft kind he used to fantasize about as a kid. Satin lining. Little tag on the inside that says Armani. Nice. Beautiful flecks of something darker, like ashes in smoke, are scattered through the weave. Not loud enough to show up on TV, but subtle in a way that makes him look good up close. It, and he, smell like something spicy that Josh can't name. Cologne, and something under it that's a little better. That's Sam.

Sam's coat makes a fantastic pillow, even better than the little square bonus that makes this couch so wonderful. It reminds him of a particularly messed-up night, years ago when Sam was doing the Congressional aide thing, that he and Sam spent on some backroad in Maryland, very lost on their way back from a townhall meeting. Memorable because, among other things, it was the last time Sam let him drive anywhere. Getting off the highway, he's still sure, was a good thing, because his eyes were aching from the hours fluorescent lights and cigarette smoke, and if he'd stayed on the four-lane, he'd have killed them both. Getting off the pavement was not a good idea, but somehow he just wasn't regretting it while the two of them were sitting on the hood of Sam's rental car, breathing the dark air and getting loaded out of the bottle of oddly good scotch that the last renter had stashed in the spare tire well in place of a tire. Gleaming gold translucence in the glow of the flashlight when they went looking for the jack.

That was long, long ago, in the days before cell phones, when a man sitting in a field in Maryland without a spare tire was a man who was stuck. Or in this case, two idiots with delusions of governmental importance who were stuck. Flat tire. Bottle of scotch. Both of them already exhausted, their ties loosened and jackets unbuttoned and flapping in the not-very-cold wind.

Sam took the first swig. Maybe because he was tired and young, and a little too clean-cut to imagine that the bottle's contents could be anything *except* the Johnnie blue label they were supposed to be. He didn't flinch, like a good college man who'd gotten ripped on much worse. Just handed Josh the bottle, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, took his coat off, and walked back out to stare at the place where their road had ceased to be anything but a pasture track and where a loose strand of barbed wire had killed any hope of getting home that night.

So. The two of them, smashed, staring at the hazed sky. It didn't look all that different than home. Connecticut, like Maryland, like everywhere east of the Plains, was permanently hazed with a thin layer of pollution that made the stars fade to the glow of a dull few. Normal.

Normal like home. He could remember knocking off studying, late at night, not wanting to think about his sister or his family or his dreams law school. Talking a friend (he remembers who, but his power of discretion still swallows up the name every time he tries to say it) into driving him out of town. The booze was a six-pack, then, lifted from the fridge. They got drunk, stared at the hazed stars, sweated in the June heat. Got drunker. Made out. Which was . . . oddly good. Better than he would have admitted then, or for some time after.

It was good, but it didn't compare, really, to Sam Seaborn leaning over a kissing him. Just once, and not deeply, but there it was. Very much the kiss of a het boy who'd had a little too much to drink and who got curious in the process, but wonderful. Sweet, even. It tasted a lot like Sam, who tasted a lot like innocence for a man who worked on Capitol Hill.

So. Just that one kiss. But when they laid the car seats back and sacked out for the night, he had Sam's jacket pillowing his head, and the smell got under his skin sometime in the dark hours that followed. Enough that he was hard by morning. He woke up when it was just light, and watched Sam curl on his side in the not-quite-flat-enough driver's seat and whimper slightly. That short, messy dark hair that wasn't long enough to get into his face cast just enough shadow to look like it was doing just that. Enough that Josh reached out to smooth it back and got a palmful of skin instead.

He stayed that way just long enough for Sam to get restless, then stroked fingers through his hair and watched him relax. Petted him a few more times just because it felt good. Then got up, got out, and walked through the morning. Bright and wet and technicolour, just like it was supposed to be. At the edge of the field, there were a handful of brush trees. Enough to give him cover while he relieved himself and then surreptitiously jerked off.

When he came back, Sam was sitting with his legs hung out the door, rubbing his eyes. A bit hung over, and a little abashed. Very grateful when Josh didn't say anything. Almost cheerful by the time they flagged down some guy on a tractor and talked him into giving Sam a lift to the nearest phone.

That was a good night. It made Sam a friend, where before he'd just been a like-minded guy from around the Hill.

Sam's fingers are nice, too. Warm, tangling in Josh's hair. The pants leg under his cheek has the same softness as the jacket. Sam's cologne is everywhere.

"How're you doing?"

"How should I be doing? I'm insane."

"You should be thrilled. If you're ever called to give evidence before Congress, you've got a get-out-of-jail-free card. You should be thrilled. Besides, you've been nuts for years. This is just the first time anyone let you in on the secret."

Which should sting, but oddly it just makes him feel better. Like CJ might come in any second and make him speak to fifty second-graders on the importance of democracy, like *now*. Very normal, like every other good thing he can remember. Plus at the moment he has Sam, which is getting progressively to be a better thing these last few months. Like Sam's an extra layer of armour that Josh can put on in the morning. He doesn't always appreciate it -- hates it, most of the time -- but it's there, and sometimes it's good. Sam bares a lot of perfect capped teeth when people come after him, and checks on him during lunch and does this careful diagnosis while pretending to be just clasping him on the shoulder. Hugs him when he needs it.

Sam raises sudden, snarling defences of him to pretty southern girls that end in near-hysterics. He remembers that incident very well, probably almost as well as Ainsley does, because he spent the ten minutes after it futilely waiting for Sam to calm down. During the last two, he walked the perimeter of the room and made sure the doors were all locked and the venetians closed. Then walked over and wrapped both arms around Sam. Held on and pressed his face into that perfectly-suited shoulder.

"I'm all right." Which was a lie. But he wasn't physically bleeding, at least, and he wasn't sure, at that moment, that Sam was aware of that.

He'd expected an 'I know' and a shake-off, but what he got was the second kiss.

That one was a little deeper. Sam was sober, but there were a dozen natural chemicals in his body screaming *panic!*, and they had him on edge. Both arms were wrapped tight around Josh's body, and his mouth opened, and there was a tongue in his mouth. Male, warm, with a lingering, bitter aftertaste of coffee. No wandering hands, but there was quite a bit of clinging going on. And by the end of the kiss, Josh knows he wasn't the only one who was hard. Sam was already blushing, already pulling away. Fast enough that Josh didn't have time to lay that last, tiny kiss on him that he wanted to.

Sam's protective. It's a fact. And it's getting more overt.

Sometimes, Sam knows. Really knows. He howls more about gay rights. He gets in people's faces. To be fair, he always got in people's faces; it's why he's a good lawyer, and God's gift to speechwriting. But he carries a little invisible placard around now, one that says *I'm doing it for Josh*. It's cute and it's irritating, and Josh wishes in all honesty that he'd stop. But he's still touched.

And at the moment, he doesn't want to be anywhere other than on Sam's couch, with Sam's fingers tangling in his hair and stroking the palm of his hand. Under the new, hospital-sterile bandages, there are eight tiny black stitches that stand as a tribute to Josh's newly- diagnosed state of Losing It. Donna took him to the hospital to get them, and fairly gloated when the intern who condescended to stitch him up winced in horror at the state he'd let the wound get into. The intern was a good guy, though. He took a long look at the new bloodshot streaks on the whites of Josh's eyes and carefully didn't ask how such a neatly-dressed civil servant had turned his hand into a work of gore.

Later, Donna stood with him in the doorway of his apartment and pursed her lips and said she wasn't leaving him alone. Josh told her she wasn't staying with him all night. He tried to sound fierce, but he knows he just sounded pathetic and tired. So he didn't complain when she called Sam. Who actually came and got him, and took him home, sacked him out on the couch and let him sleep until just after midnight. Woke him trying to unbutton his shirt.

"I thought you'd be more comfortable."

"Sure. You just want to get me naked."

"Yeah. Um." And he almost laughed, because Sam Seaborn, maximum WASP and shameless favourite son of the liberal survivors, blushed. And managed to look like a messy high school kid with an unexpected hard- on.

What happened after was that Josh took off his tie himself, and his shirt, and sat there in his t-shirt and suit pants looking expectant until Sam sat down and pulled Josh's head into his lap. Petted his face all over. Talked quietly. Long, sturdy fingers eventually massaged Josh's cheekbones until he relaxed and dozed and woke again to Sam complaining.

"Shit you're heavy. Lift up for a sec." Sam pushes him up and moves out from under him. Crawls over him, and for a second there's a mess of elbows and knees that Josh is sure is going to end in tears, or maybe just him howling in pain. But then Sam's behind him, and wrapping an arm around Josh's waist, and they're both taking advantage of that extra pillow and the now terminally-wrinkled jacket balled up on top of it.

Spooning's good. He could do this for a long time. Especially if Sam's going to lean in and kiss the base of his skull every now and then, as he seems inclined to do.

"You aren't allowed to go crazy, OK?" That wonderfully warm hand is back, hanging onto his palm and massaging it.

"OK. Tell CJ she's not allowed to be mean to me anymore."

"I'll tell her."

It occurs to him that Sam should be somewhere more celebratory. For the gentiles of the world, it's the night before the big consumer day. Christmas, if you want to be technical about it. But it's not bothering Sam, as far as he can tell, and Josh is Christmased out. No more carols, if you don't mind. Silence is good. Just snow and Sam's breath. He thinks the world could freeze like this and it would be OK.

End

Um? 3jane@chickmail.com

Because the eps are wonderful and involved, and details are easy to forget, these are the references. I'll

l e a v e

s o m e

s p o I l e r

s p a c e

and explain myself.

Josh and Sam's history and the origins of their friendship are mine. They're loosely based on the personal histories we got in "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen." Anybody who hasn't yet figured out that Josh got shot has to go back and take the remedial test.

In "In This White House," Sam lays into Republican commentator (and now White House lawyer) Ainsley Hayes (the pretty southern chick) over gun control in a speech which ends up being a screaming rant about how Josh was almost killed. But it's a good speech. Sam's an eloquent guy.

In "Shibboleth," Sam lays into Christian rep Mary Marsh over freedom of religion, on the grounds that Christian fundamentalists demonstrated against a play in which Jesus and his Apostles were portrayed as gay.

In "Noel"(this weeks ep, pre-empted in the States, so I hear, so you guys could hear about the more depressing, RL kind of politics), Josh cuts his hand by putting it through a window. He's diagnosed with PTSD.

 

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