Title: Three Times
Author: august
Email: appelsini@hotmail.com
Spoilers: Set just after 'Proportional Response', so spoilers up to that.
Archive: With thanks.
Summary: "So now he's a thirty-something, and he's powerful and he's taken to occasionally thinking about Sam."

Three Times by August

*

He remembers each time, vividly, and that's another thing for him to be angry at himself about. He's a politician, of sorts, and he's consequentially careful. More than careful. And for a while there is nothing, no drive, no desire that doesn't revolve around being the best he can be. Being the best there is. Joshua Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff.

But sometimes, these times, it slips.

When he was in college, he used to tell himself that it was about people, that gender was a technicality. And, in a way, it was. It was easier in college, Josh thinks, when he wasn't high up in the line of succession, when he wasn't going to be saved in a bunker in the event of nuclear war, when didn't have to treat the Christian Right as a legitimate influence in his life.

He met Sam in college, too, and they become friends. Best of friends, the kind that looked out for each other, the kind that got the other drunk when their girlfriends left. Although Sam never seemed to have girlfriends,and Josh only ever had fucks.

He never told Sam about the guys. Not in the beginning, anyway.

So now he's a thirty-something, and he's powerful and he's taken to occasionally thinking about Sam. Remembering Sam, vividly, and he's angry at himself because he's slipping up, and because of the months afterwards, where it's all tripping over conversations and avoidance. He can forgive himself the first time, but not the second and certainly not this. Never trust a man who makes the same mistake twice, Leo says, but Leo says a lot of things and none of them are to do with waking up with Sam Seaborn in your bed.

The first time, the very first time, was two months after they had graduated from college. He had thought, at the time, that it was perfectly Sam to wait until after college to experiment. And he tried not to think too much about being the experiment.

And then, as he watched Sam take off his sweater, he knew that at that moment, he didn't really care.

Of course, it wasn't entirely that straightforward.

"I don't really know how to do this..." Sam had stopped, his arms either side of Josh's head. And there was all uneven breathing surrounding them, and bodies and Josh's head on Sam's forearm.

And Josh was quiet then, too busy thinking that if Sam left now, if his back went cold, there was no way that he could possibly... but then there was a hand on his shoulder and then, oh, and then.

They'd been accepted into different law schools, applied to different law schools, and Josh had tried not to think about the sometimes relief he felt for that.

So, they'd had a few beers that night, and met some friends. At some point, they had stopped outside a 7-11. Josh had searched his pockets for change to buy cigarettes and Sam was muttering something about college days.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Josh finally asked, as he had held a coin up to the light and tried to tell whether it was poor craftsmanship or alcohol that made all his nickels look like dimes.

"I don't think I fully utilised my college years, is all."

"Fully utilised. What are you talking about?" He looked at the change in his hand, bemused as he no longer remembered whether a dollar, ten dimes and six quarters was enough for a packet of cigarettes.

"You know, threesomes, cocaine." Sam took the nickels out of Josh's hand and made a stack of them. That kind of thing."

And Josh had said, "you do realise that no one does that, outside of the cast of Porky's?"

And Sam had sighed, and walked to look at the gutters. And Josh had watched him, and then walked inside.

Sam was leaning against the ice bin when Josh returned. "Why didn't you tell me? Before?"

"About what?" Josh asked, throwing the plastic cigarette wrap on the ground.

"Paul. It all. The guys."

Josh had glanced back inside the 7-11, thinking about the cool of the refrigerator and how he wanted to be anywhere but having this conversation with Sam. He didn't have an answer, so he waited for Sam to keep talking.

"It's going to make things harder for you."

"Sam. Come on."

"I'm serious, Josh. I've been thinking about this."

"Well don't." He had lit a cigarette.

"You know, you and me. Chief of Staff and President-"

"-President and Chief of Staff," Josh interrupted absently.

"It's going to make it hard, is all. I was thinking about it."

"Well don't." Repeated.

"I'm sorry for that," Sam had pushed, almost gently.

"Sam, I seriously don't want to talk about this with you."

"I know. I just...I wanted you to know."

And the million replies, confessions, retorts that Josh considered in those few moments were interrupted as Sam had kissed him, in the parking lot, next to the ice bin. And his back was tense under Josh's hand and he tried not to think this was happening, that this was Sam utilising his college years, that they went to bed.

The second time, well, Josh had never been completely sure about the second time. He thinks about it sometimes, and it's painted in different shades each time. It was a few days after the inauguration and he was pretty sure it had gone something like he'd had three beers and ended up professing something close to, at least, love.

It had been a pity fuck, he was sure, and for once he was thankful that he couldn't really remember.

And he had learnt his lesson after that. The next time he got drunk, he went to Donna's apartment and yelled at her room-mate's cat. Or passed out on his office floor. Or something, anything, that didn't involve Sam.

And he got better at it. He got damn good at it.

Which is why, how, he can't really understand waking up next to Sam.

Again.

He tries to clear his mind, quickly, in those first waking seconds of confusion. He remembers an attack on Syrian air space. Interviewing the kid Charlie for Ted's old job.

And then he attempts to move, and his thigh muscles strain, and he remembers it all.

Sam had been pissed at him, and he hadn't wanted to leave it like that. It sounds simple, like that, but Sam had shanghaied him the minute he'd approached his office to invite him for a beer.

"You were wrong, today." Sam had begun, pulling his glasses off.

"Are you going to start this with me, again?"

"You were wrong, Josh."

"Seriously, are you going to start this with me?"

"Did you answer the question, in your interview?" Sam leant back in his chair.

"What?"

"Did you answer the question, in your interview?" He repeated, slowly.

"Sam, I didn't have an interview. You know that."

"Would you have answered it? If someone had said 'Joshua Lyman, are you gay?'"

"Oh, come on. You know it's not the same-"

"-you know, you don't get to say that, Josh. "

"Well it's not. It's totally not."

"Because you didn't have an interview."

"Yes. Among other things, yeah."

"And Charlie applied for a messenger job."

"Oh, come on. Don't do this. Don't start with me."

"No, no. Let me just get this straight."

"You know it's not like that."

And Sam had sounded disappointed when he replied, "no, you know, sometimes I don't."

"Let's go get a beer."

"You know, Josh, I don't really want to get a beer at the moment. I don't think I really want to be around you."

Pacing, stopping and then starting.

"So I get to be the poster boy for gay rights in the Bartlett administration?"

"Yeah, maybe. I mean, yeah, why not?"

"You know why not, Sam," Josh had said, pinching the bridge of his nose like he was expecting a bleed.

"I just think it should be different, that's all," Sam replied, and Josh knew he realised how naive he sounded as the words left his mouth.

"I know you do. Please, can we go get a beer?"

There was a second before Sam answered, grabbing his coat in the process.

"I'm coming but I want you to know it's only because I love beer. You were still wrong."

They took separate cars, and it had given Josh thinking time. Sam was right, and he knew it, they both knew it but it didn't change anything.

It never changes anything.

So they had talked carefully around it. About the Syrian attack, about the President, about the new computer Sam was thinking of buying. And the had drinks kept coming, and Josh had kept drinking because it was easier than letting there be a real silence in the conversation.

And when 'Pale Blue Eyes' had started playing in the bar, Josh was pretending not to notice the angles of Sam's collarbone as he drank from his beer.

"It isn't just about you." Sam had said, quietly, finally.

They'd never discussed it, he and Sam, this thing between them that seemed to upheave Josh's life once every few years. And being in a bar, sitting at a table with someone else's empty bottles in front of them was not going to change that. But for the first time in a long time, he had felt like he could have reached out and pulled Sam to him.

And later that night, as he had scaled Sam's body, as he had gripped Sam's wrist, as he had let Sam scale him, Josh decided that he didn't care. And he was too tired to think about whether he would, or not, in the morning.

Which is, he guesses as he tries to imagine his pillow swallowing his head whole, how he finds himself pretending to be asleep as Sam wakes beside him.

And then, not that he remembers setting it, his radio alarm goes off. With the weather forecast playing in the background, he forces himself to turn to Sam.

"It happened again." He says, finally.

"Yeah." Sam sits up, rubbing his face.

"How did it happen again?"

"You have a delicate system," he mocks, dressing quietly and Josh is glad for the gentleness, feels pathetically glad for the smile.

"Don't talk to Donna. Ever." He replies, finding mock anger easier to think about than anything else.

They don't look at each other in the silence, and Sam laces his shoes. This is how it's going to be, this silence, for now, and he's mad at himself for still thinking about Sam's back.

"Josh?"

"Forget about it, Sam."

"I don't, you know," he replies, after he stands. Leaving Josh, again.

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