TITLE: Variations on Variations: Fix
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORY: Josh/Sam
RATING: PG
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the boys or the girls -- although, come to think of it, I do own The Aunts.
SPOILERS: Everything through the end of Season 2 is fair game.
SUMMARY: "This, then, was how Josh Lyman found himself in a rented Chrysler in the driveway of Sam's mother's turquoise '70s ranch house, and what seemed like a brilliant plan at eleven o'clock in Washington seemed like a colossal mistake at eight o'clock in southern California after a disastrous meeting with Ted Marcus."
NOTES: It's a week after "Litany of Wrongs." More thanks than I can count to Beth, a maven of many varieties.

**********

Variations on Variations: Fix by Julian Lee


The senior staff has taken to playing a game since they found out about the President's MS. It's called "You're Oliver Babish." It isn't a particularly funny game, but they play it anyway. It's simple. Person A speaks. Person B points at Person C and shouts, "You're Oliver Babish!" Person C has ten seconds to come up with a response to Person A's comment that might have come from the mouth of the irate White House Counsel.

Calling it the senior staff's game might be an overstatement -- it's Sam and Josh's game. Josh was the first one to do it; nine times out of ten, one of them does the pointing, and nine out of ten of those times it's the other one they point to. CJ thinks it's amusing because she hates Babish and relishes any opportunity to mock him, and Toby puts up with it because beating the crap out of Sam and Josh every time they do it would take too much effort. Leo treats the whole thing with an air of benign neglect -- unless they try it in his office.

They never -- *never* -- play it in the Oval Office.

One morning, Sam and Toby were, to no one's great surprise, arguing about the wording of a statement CJ had to make at the afternoon briefing. They'd been at it at least five minutes when CJ finally snapped. "What's wrong with the way it's already written?"

Without missing a beat, the President pointed at Toby. "You're Oliver Babish."

There was a long moment of stunned silence, then the senior staff, Leo included, burst out laughing.

Except Sam.

He looked around at his colleagues, giving Josh a particularly dark stare, muttered a half-apology and ran from the room.

Everyone turned to stare at each other. Leo scowled at Josh. "What was -- Josh, what the hell was that?"

"I have no idea," he admitted.

"Find out, please. And then fix it."

This, Josh thought, was the real problem with a workplace romance. Not the fear of your personal life interfering with your work, but the assumption on everyone else's part that when something's wrong with your partner, you can resolve it.

Sam had been weird all morning. Actually, now that Josh thought about it, Sam had been weird since last night. He wracked his brain, trying to remember what had happened, exactly.

They got home fairly early for them -- couldn't have been later than 10. Josh wandered into the kitchen on a quest for beer, and when he came back, bottles in hand, Sam was staring at the mail as though he expected it to bite his hand. "Drive?" He didn't even blink. Josh put the beer on the table and took Sam's hands. "Sam."

Sam looked up and dropped a cream-colored envelope on the floor, face-up. Josh couldn't read the return address label, but it had an elaborately scrolled "V" in the corner. Vinci. Trouble with Sam's family.

Now Josh stormed the corridors of the West Wing, muttering about Mafia dons and families who couldn't take care of themselves. He paused to collect himself outside Sam's office, then knocked on the open door. "Hey."

Sam looked up, his scowl fading some when he saw Josh. "Hi."

Josh came in and sat down next to him. "You left in a hurry."

Sam looked down at his desk, abashed. "Is the President angry?"

"Nah. Leo's pretty pissed, though."

"Is that why you're here?"

He tried to look offended by the question. "I am here, Drive, because I worry about you, and when you run out of a senior staff meeting -- when you run out *on the President* -- I take that as a bad sign."

"And 'cause Leo told you to."

Josh laughed. Sam knew him far too well. "That, too." Josh scratched his elbow and tried again. "What was that about?"

"I'm not sure, exactly." He shook his head. "We act like children sometimes. And that can good -- if we're this stressed now, I'd hate to think what we'd be like it we didn't do immature stuff every now and again. But when the President starts doing it..."

"Feeling guilty?"

"We're his advisors. We're supposed to be setting a good example."

"For the *President*?" Josh's eyebrows raised in surprise. "Don't you think he's supposed to be setting a good example for him?"

Sam dropped his head into this hands. "Don't listen to me, Josh. I...I'm not thinking clearly today."

Josh leaned forward slightly. "Okay. So do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Josh--"

"No, no; I get that this bothers you, but it hardly seems like it should have been enough to send you careening out of the Oval Office."

"I did *not* careen!"

"You almost walked into the door, Drive."

Sam glared at him. "I don't..." He sighed and seemed to deflate. "It's like I have this job, and then I have this *other* job, and right now they're both kicking my ass." He was hooking paper clips together.

Josh decided to prod. "You got a letter yesterday from someone in your family."

"Angela," he admitted.

Josh tried to decide if this was a name he'd encountered before. Then he had it. One mention, while Sam was in California for his grandfather's funeral. "My cousin Angela's been crashed on the couch, drunk and stoned, the entire time." **Great.** "What does she need?"

"She's pregnant, broke, and strung out. She's asking for money and help getting the baby's father back." Sam pulled his paper clip train around his desk. "She *needs*...shit, Mir, she needs a new life. And some serious therapy."

"Maybe she needs to find Jesus." Sam didn't laugh. "Hey, man. Cut a Jew some slack."

"Smartass." At least he was smiling. But Josh had never seen him this distraught over his relatives' requests. As though he'd read Josh's mind, Sam continued, "This one's different from the others. The other times -- I never realized until I got this stupid position how greedy and self-absorbed my family is. They ask for money; they ask me to use my position to get them jobs or promotions or -- self-interest, Josh. That's what motivates them." He banged his onyx ring, the mark of his position, against the desktop. "But Angela -- she thinks she's asking for something better for the baby, but she needs so much more than -- I don't know if I can help her. If I give her what she wants, it won't be any good for her kid. But if I don't, she'll accuse me of trying to run her life."

Josh sat very still through this tirade, wanting desperately to hold Sam, to help him somehow, but acknowledging that he was outside the Vinci family circle and could never fully understand what Sam was going through. He asked, hesitantly, "What do you want to do?"

"I want to help her," he said. Josh took his hand. Sam didn't react, just stared absently into the bullpen. "I told them!" he blurted. "I told The Aunts I wasn't prepared for this. They went right ahead and gave it to me anyway. Even my own mother ignored me."

Josh almost smiled at how Sam referred to his mother and her sisters as "The Aunts." When he'd gone to California, they'd been "The Daughters," but now that Sam was patriarch, everyone was referenced by their relationship to him. Josh wondered if anyone called him "the lover." Probably not. "Sam," he assured him, "you're doing a great job, and I think if you just...just follow your conscience on this one--"

"Papa Vinci did this in his sleep!"

Josh groaned. Sam's invidious comparisons between himself and his predecessors had been a point of contention between them in the past six months. "He did it in his sleep when you knew him, by which point he'd been doing it for forty years. When you've had this job forty years, you'll be a pro, too. But I'm sure that during his first six months--"

Sam was shaking his head. "It's not the same anymore, Josh. Men aren't...we aren't taught things our grandfathers were taught."

Josh had had enough of Sam's self-pity. "My grandfather was taught how to hide from the Nazis," he said bitterly. He gave the paper clip chain a vicious jerk.

"Mir." Sam realized how petulant he must sound. "I'm sorry. I just -- I don't want to screw this one up."

"Then don't," Josh said. "You know what you want to do -- do it. It'll work out, as long as you stand firm. You just have to believe--" he stopped; 'you have to believe in yourself' sounded too hokey.

Sam understood. "Yeah." He ran a hand through his hair and propped his chin on his fist. "I should apologize to the President."

"Probably not a bad idea." Josh stood. He hated leaving Sam in this condition, but he couldn't miss his appointment. "I have a meeting with Rayanne in ten. Got any messages? Other than Betsy owes you fifteen bucks."

Sam drummed his fingers against his cheek. "Betsy owes me fifteen bucks. And I want my black sweater back."

"I'll be sure to tell her you said hi."

**********

When Leo called "Come in," Josh bounded into his office like the world heavyweight champion. "Hey, Josh. You figure out the thing with Sam yet?"

"I'm working on it." Josh bounced up and down on the balls of his feet.

Leo smiled at him. "Your meeting with Dettman went well, I take it."

"Fantastic," Josh crowed. "Not only are they going to support 454, she's sending her canvassers out in the Florida 10 and the Louisiana 6 next week."

"Nice work. You get Sam's money back?"

Josh laughed. "I, uh, I think Betsy's gonna leave it to him in her will." He closed the door and came up to the desk. "Send me to California."

"Pardon me?" Josh had had his share of harebrained schemes over the years (and several other people's shares, as well), and Leo shied away from granting requests that sprang fully formed from Josh's convoluted brain like some Hollywood Beach Athena.

"I had an epiphany at lunch." Josh picked up one of Leo's pencils and bounced the eraser end on the desk. "Well, Rayanne had an epiphany, but I'm, um, not too proud to claim authorship." Leo laughed. "I know how to help Sam now. But I have to go to California--"

"Without Sam knowing why."

He flipped the pencil in the air a couple times. "Exactly."

"May I ask why exactly you want to go to California? In the middle of an incredibly bad week? On a clandestine scheme? In an *election year*?"

Josh looked Leo dead in the eye. "To save Sam."

Leo didn't blink. "Josh, go to L.A. and slap Ted Marcus around for the comment he made to the _Times_ last week."

A grateful smile lit Josh's face. "Thank you, Leo."

"I want you back here first thing Monday morning."

"I'll be here."

Leo flipped folders open and closed, looking for the one he needed. "'Cause you know what happens if you aren't...."

"Sam loves me, Leo. He'd be very upset if you castrated me."

He looked over the top of his glasses. "Let's not go down that road."

"Sorry." The deputy didn't move.

"Josh? You going to California?"

"Oh. Yeah." Josh headed toward the door.

"Josh!"

He paused.

"Give me my damned pencil back."

Flashing Leo a goofy grin, Josh dropped the pencil onto the desk and left the office.

**********

Josh stuck his head into Sam's office. "Sam?"

"What's up?" Elbow-deep in useless files and old speeches, Sam barely looked at him.

**Anything to keep from focusing on Angela,** Josh thought. "I'm going to California for the weekend."

Now he had Sam's attention. "This is a joke, right?"

"I don't mean on vacation. Leo's sending me to smack down Ted Marcus."

"Good. 'Cause that went really well last time."

Josh laughed ruefully. "Yeah. So, you'll be okay if I go?"

"Gee, Josh, I guess I'll muddle through somehow." Sam flipped a page violently.

Josh exhaled sharply. "I didn't mean -- I know how the thing with your cousin--"

"I know." He tossed the file onto the floor. "I didn't mean to snap at you. I just want the decision to already be made, you know? And I want someone else to have made it."

"Yeah. Maybe my absence will jump-start the decision-making part of your brain, and by the time I get back you'll have it all figured out."

Sam raised his eyebrows. "Is that how it works? Thanks for clearing that up for me, Mir."

Exasperated, Josh stepped into the office and closed the door. "C'mere."

Sam smiled and came into Josh's arms, kissing him with more than a little desperation as Josh ran his hands down Sam's back, then let them rest on Sam's hips. Sam moaned and tightened his grip on Josh's hair. Sam pulled away with a small gasp, blue eyes glazed. "You have a plane to catch."

Josh groaned. "Yeah, damn it, I do." Ravishing Sam on the floor of his office was such a much happier prospect, but he could do that any time. Right now he had a noble deed to do. "See you Sunday night."

"'Kay." He ran his thumb across Josh's lips. "I love you, Mir."

"I love you too. It's gonna be okay."

Sam sagged a bit in Josh's arms. "I really hope you're right. But I've only got your word on it."

And that, Josh decided, was the saddest thing Sam had said all day.

*********

This, then, was how Josh Lyman found himself in a rented Chrysler in the driveway of Sam's mother's turquoise '70s ranch house, and what seemed like a brilliant plan at eleven o'clock in Washington seemed like a colossal mistake at eight o'clock in southern California after a disastrous meeting with Ted Marcus.

When Josh rang the doorbell, a dark-haired woman who looked so much like Sam it was surreal opened the main door and regarded him from behind the screen. "Can I help you?" she asked.

"Mrs Seaborn?" he asked.

"Vinci," she corrected sharply.

Josh swore. **Strike one.** Of course she would have taken her maiden name back -- if she'd taken her husband's in the first place. The family was full of Vincis who should've been something-elses generations ago. "Of course. Ms Vinci. I'm sorry. I'm--"

She squinted, and her eyes lit in recognition. "You're Josh," she interrupted, a warm smile breaking across her face. "How wonderful!" She turned away from the door. "Tina! Rose! Isabel! Sam and Josh are here!"

"No -- I -- Ms Vinci!" Three women who showed what Sam's mother would look like in five, ten, and fifteen years piled behind her in the doorway. "I -- Sam's not with me. In fact...he doesn't know I'm here." Josh watched four faces droop in disappointment. **Strike two.**

"What do you mean?" one of the women asked.

"Isn't it obvious, Isabel?" the oldest one shot back. "He's on some sort of secret mission. Yes?"

Josh picked his jaw up off the ground. "Um...something like that. If this is a bad time--"

Diana Vinci laughed and opened the screen door. "Don't be silly, Josh. Any friend of Sam's is always welcome here. Come on in; meet the clan."

Josh couldn't get over Diana Vinci. He knew she was the youngest of The Aunts, and that she'd been barely 17 when her son was born, but she absolutely did not look old enough to be Sam's mother. Suddenly it was as if he were carrying Sam in his head as he remembered what he'd been told about the Vinci family. **Don't let her fool you. Mom looks young and innocent, but she's been through shit you and I can't imagine. She could kick your ass any day.** Josh smiled at this warning, and then he was inside the house, shaking hands with The Aunts -- or rather, he was trying to, but they kept hugging him instead.

"This is Tina." **Albertina, the oldest,** the Sam-voice told him. **The practical one. If you need something done, she's your woman.**

"Rose." **Crazy Rose. Loony but harmless. Great sense of humor, especially when things aren't going so great.**

"And Isabel." **It's always like that. "And Isabel." An afterthought. She leads the most "normal" life of any of them, and she's being punished for that. But if you ever need to just sit and talk with someone, pick her every time.**

"And of course I'm Diana," Sam's mother said.

Josh had hoped this would be an in-an-out type mission -- maybe he'd be home by tomorrow night instead of Sunday -- but two minutes with Sam's family told him he wasn't going anywhere. Patriarch be damned -- these were the real rulers of Clan Vinci. "Diana, if I'm interrupting something--"

The Aunts burst into fits of giggles. "Interrupting?" Diana asked. "Goodness no. This is where you'll find us most nights: just us girls, sitting around gossiping. And we've been waiting a long time to meet you."

He gulped. He'd never been good with the whole meeting the significant other's family thing, and he'd never attempted it without said significant other ready to jump to his defense when needed -- and it was always a "when," not an "if."

"Diana," Rose scolded her, "are you going to leave the boy standing in the middle of the living room all night?"

"Where are my manners? Come into the kitchen. That's where the good gossip is."

"Well, I don't--"

"And the beer," Tina added.

Did these women have him pegged or what? Josh grinned. "Lead the way."

The retired into the cool kitchen, overlooking the pool and the yipping white dog of the backyard neighbors. "Lilly," Rose said reprovingly. "After Peter Lillienfield."

Josh sputtered with laughter. "Oh, that's...I have to tell that one to Leo."

Diana smiled and handed him a bottle. "Yes, Josh; maybe we can pry more information out of you than we get out of Sam. Tell us about the White House."

Josh looked at them, astounded. "Sam hasn't...Sam doesn't tell you about the White House?" He took a drink, peered down at the label. It was his favorite beer: a microbrew unheard of outside New England. Now he was scared.

"Job stories," Isabel said. "And, don't get me wrong; we enjoy hearing about the amazing work you do. But we want to know about the people who have become our Sam's other family."

He rubbed the back of his neck. If Sam hadn't told The Aunts stories about the staff, was it Josh's place to say anything? He decided to start with a safe one -- falling on his way to his meeting with Senator Stackhouse. "When I told Donna about it," he said, "she went on and on about how sweet Mom was to send me shoes -- completely disregarding the fact that the stupid things nearly killed me."

"Donna?" Isabel asked, and Josh noticed that The Aunts were suddenly twice as interested.

**Great. Sam probably told them about the fights.** "Uh, yeah. Donna Moss, my assistant."

"Your assistant is named Donna?" Rose asked gleefully.

"Yes."

Rose's sisters were shooting her warning glances, but she paid no heed as she laughed so hard Josh feared she'd fall off her chair. "La Donna di la donna!" she cackled.

There was paralyzed silence in the kitchen. The Aunts looked appalled. "Rose," Isabel managed finally, her voice strangled, "we agreed we weren't going to call him that."

Josh was floored. A conversation with Sam sprang to mind:

"Most of the patriarchs were married, right?"

"All of them, I think."

"So their wives were the matriarchs?"

Sam laughed. "No. The patriarch's wife is la donna."

"Donna? That's funny." Though not as funny as it might have been had it not come less than a week after he and Donna had their second fight about Sam.

He turned to Rose. "What did you call me?" She clammed up instantly, refusing to make eye contact. "Rose? Am I la donna?" She sighed and nodded. Josh took Rose's face in his hands and kissed her soundly on the forehead. "Thank you, Rose. You have made my weekend a thousand times easier." Rose's sisters were too bewildered to do anything. Straightening, Josh explained, "I wasn't sure anyone other than Sam thought of me as part of the Vinci circle."

Diana regarded him as though he'd said he was uncertain of the color of the grass. "Sam told us he loved you, and that we should consider you family. That was all we needed."

Damn. Amazing how Sam could humble him from five thousand miles away. He dropped his eyes.

Tina smiled and put her hand on his arm. "Are you hungry, Josh?"

He remembered Sam complaining, "It's a wonder everyone in my family doesn't weight a thousand pounds. No matter what happens -- you're happy; you're sad; someone gets married; someone dies -- The Aunts' first reaction is to feed you." Coming from a family whose gatherings weren't complete without enough food for you and a hundred of your friends, Josh sympathized. Now he realized he hadn't eaten since breakfast, and he was famished. "Yeah," he answered.

Diana laughed at the surprise in his voice. "Sit down, Josh, and I'll--" She frowned as the phone rang. "I'll go answer the phone, and someone else will make something for you."

Josh protested that he didn't need anything cooked for him, but The Aunts would hear nothing of it. "Our family, our rules," Tina insisted. "We cook; you talk." And so Josh sat in Sam's mother's kitchen and told Sam's aunts stories about the White House. President Bartlet sending Charlie on a week-long quest for the perfect carving knife. Ainsley, drunk and wearing a borrowed bathrobe, meeting the President for the first time. Trying to make CJ say "Foggy Bottom" after an emergency root canal. Tina and Rose made him the best fettuccini Alfredo he'd ever tasted. He saved his Sam stories for when Diana came back; it was a mother's prerogative to hear about her son getting the White House Communications Director lost in Connecticut or almost burning down the West Wing.

>From the living room, Diana called, "Would you banshees keep it down? I'm trying to talk to my son!" which made them laugh harder. A few minutes later, she returned to the kitchen, shaking her head. "You," she said, pointing an accusatory finger at Josh, "have a very loud laugh."

"He heard me?"

"Yes. It took me a full two minutes to convince him it was the TV."

He flashed his "yes I'm a shit but you love me anyway" grin. "Sorry."

Diana sighed. "Can Sam ever stay angry with you?"

"Not usually."

The Aunts laughed. "Your phone's about to ring," Tina predicted.

"Probably."

"We'll say good-night, then," Isabel said, standing.

Josh looked at his watch (a new one that didn't suck -- a birthday present from Sam, on advice from Donna). "It's only 8:45," he protested.

"Your body thinks it's almost midnight," Diana said. "By the time you get off the phone, you'll be more than ready to crash."

"Yeah. Maybe I should head for the hotel--"

"Hotel?" Diana asked sharply. "What are you talking about? You're staying here, of course."

"I have a room booked in--"

"Joshua." She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. Josh gasped.

"Uncanny, isn't it?" Tina asked.

"It's...she's *Sam.*" His phone rang. "Uh, I have to--"

"We'll see you tomorrow," Isabel promised.

He gave The Aunts one-armed hugs as he dug in his pocket for the phone. "Lyman."

"Hi." Josh heard Sam's smile through the wires.

"Hey there. You still at work?"

"Been home about an hour."

"Did you eat?" They were still occasionally having this argument about Sam's level of interest in his own well-being.

"You know, that's the only good thing about you being gone: I get to eat whatever I want."

"I shudder to think what that entails."

"Nothing heinous. I had a couple of hot dogs."

Josh cursed under his breath. Sam usually only ate hot dogs when he was distressed -- the situation with Angela had hit him even harder than Josh had realized.

"How's California?" Sam asked.

Josh leaned against the counter. "Beautiful. Sunny. We should move here."

"Mir--"

"I'm just saying. When the second term's over..."

"We'll see. I am so bored without you here. I called my mother."

"That's great." Josh ran his finger across the Mount Rushmore magnet that held up a ten-year-old Polaroid of Sam and Diana in front of the house. "You don't call her often enough."

"Have you been talking to her or something?"

"What?" Josh tried not to squeak.

"That's what she always says when I call." He paused. "It was the weirdest thing. In the middle of the conversation, I swear I heard your laugh. She said it was the TV, but it sounded--"

"Maybe someone's re-running my brilliant 'Capitol Beat' showdown with Mary Marsh."

"Ugh." On the other end of the line, Sam yawned.

"Why aren't you in bed?"

"No way was I getting to sleep without talking to you."

"And now you've talked to me, so you should go to bed."

"You really are channeling my mother tonight, Mir."

Josh laughed and caught Diana's eye across the kitchen table. "I know how you get when you don't get enough sleep."

"I'm not going to get much sleep without you here."

"You'll survive."

"Well, sure, but I won't like it."

Josh laughed. "I love you, Drive."

"I love you too. Call me tomorrow morning?"

He consulted his watch. "Your morning or mine?"

"I hope you'll still be sleeping during mine. I have a meeting with Interior at 11."

"Knock 'em dead."

"Can I? I mean, really dead?"

"Go to sleep, Sam."

"Good night, Mir."

Josh hung up, smiling to himself. Diana watched him for a minute. "What was that you called him?"

Josh blushed slightly. "Drive. It's, um...it's a long story."

She seemed willing to accept this for the time being. "And he calls you?"

"Mir," Josh said, hoping to God she didn't ask what that meant.

But a sad half-smile quirked her mouth. "Miracolo," she said, and Josh nodded. "Come on," she said, switching into her brisk, take-charge mother mode. "Is your bag in the car?" He nodded again. "Go grab it. I'll take you to your room."

Josh went out to the car, replaying the evening in his mind. This would go down as one of the strangest adventures he'd ever embarked on. The Aunts seemed to like him, and if they could help him help Sam, he had no doubt they would; he just hoped it would be enough. But hiding from Sam at his own mother's house made the whole thing weirder than he had envisioned. And they called him la donna, which he found bizarrely appropriate.

Josh brought his bag into the house and followed Diana upstairs, but when she flipped on the light in the second door from the top of the stairs, he nearly fell over. "Diana, I can't stay here," he gasped. "This is Sam's room."

"Was Sam's room," she corrected easily. "Now it's a room full of junk he doesn't want with him but refuses to let me throw away." That sounded like Sam, all right, but this room...it didn't look like it had been changed since Sam left for college. It was like walking into the middle of Sam's childhood, and Josh wasn't sure he could handle that. "Come look at these pictures," Diana said.

Josh dropped his bag by the bed and crossed the room to study the clutter on the dresser, vowing to stop complaining about the ten pictures on their mantle. He peered at one of Sam, about 16, his arm slung over the shoulders of a girl in a light blue cap and gown, triumphantly holding up a diploma. "That's Betsy Wong! She owes Sam money."

"That was fifteen years ago! Is Sam still bugging her about it?"

"Ever since she and Rayanne moved to DC it's been a running joke around the Beltway."

"There was a bet -- I have no idea what it was about -- and Sam claims he won. Betsy claims he's full of shit." Josh gave a short, shocked laugh as Diana looked wistfully over the pictures. "When Sam was in high school, he never went anywhere without his camera. He took thousands of pictures. I guess he doesn't have time for that anymore." Josh wasn't sure Sam even owned a camera.

There were nearly fifty pictures on this dresser alone; a dozen more were scattered around every flat surface that presented itself. There were pictures of palm trees and the uniquely kitschy buildings of southern California, of The Aunts (who were The Daughters in those days), of a man Josh assumed was Sam's father, and one of-- "Is this your father?"

"Sam dreaded him. He never understood that Papa was trying to prepare him to take over."

"Sam? What about Jason?"

"Papa was nothing if not pragmatic." She touched her father's face in the picture; it left a mark, and she didn't look like she cared. "Officially, he had to teach Jason everything, but he did what he could for Sam. Come down here; these are the best ones. Sam sent them to me after the election."

They were from the campaign, and Sam seemed to have captured the essence of every member of the staff. Toby at his computer, scowling in concentration. Leo and Governor Bartlet poring over what Josh imagined was polling data, postures intimating their forty years of friendship. CJ, Abbey, and Donna laughing so hard they had to lean on each other for support.

There was only one of Josh, a relative close-up that he guessed was taken not long after he returned from his father's funeral. He was sprawled across a couch in the Governor's suite, sound asleep. For a split second, he was offended; with Sam's gift for catching his friends' best moments, a picture of Josh sleeping seemed insulting. Then it hit him. **I spent all those years trying not to think about whatever the hell was going on between us. And the whole time, he was watching me sleep.** "My God," he whispered.

Diana's smile widened. "Good night, Josh."

"Diana?" She turned. "Thank you for everything."

She nodded. "I'll see you in the morning."

**********

"Sam, it's Josh," Cathy called.

"Thanks, Cathy. Put him through." Sam put down a file on the economy of Luxembourg. "Good morning, Sunshine."

"Hi. Sleep well?"

"Hardly." Sam attempted to write "Luxembourg" with his left hand. "Have I mentioned how stupidly large the bed feels without you?"

"Every time I'm out of town. And then I say it when you're gone."

"I feel bad for you, stuck in a hotel with stale donuts and yesterday's coffee."

"It sure sucks." Josh bounced once on the edge of Sam's impossibly soft mattress and thought of the waffles Diana had promised for breakfast. "You meet with Interior yet?"

"Fifteen minutes. How's Ted Marcus?"

"I leave for that in ten." Josh heard Sam shuffling papers on his desk.

"Hey, I meant to ask you--"

"SAM!" Toby bellowed so loudly Josh winced.

"Oh, Lord. Hang on, Mir." Sam covered the mouthpiece. "I'm on the phone, Toby."

"Tell Josh you'll call him later. I need you in here *now.*"

"Well, that was rather unequivocal," Josh said.

"Yeah. So, I'll talk to you later?"

"Looks that way. Oh -- you wanted to ask me something?"

"It's not a big deal," Sam said. "Bonnie wants to borrow a book of yours, but I'll--"

"SAM!"

"I'll ransack the apartment for it tonight. Gotta go."

"Bye." Josh wandered downstairs, drawn by the smell of coffee and waffles. Diana Vinci was going to spoil him senseless. "Good morning, Diana," he greeted her.

"Good morning, Josh. Sleep well?"

"That mattress has to be illegal."

"When Sam was very young, he had a lot of trouble sleeping. That was the only mattress that worked."

"Sam? Trouble sleeping?"

She laughed. "He got over it quite nicely, wouldn't you say?"

Josh rolled his eyes, thinking of the war against Titanic forces that was waking Sam up in the morning.

"There's coffee and orange juice," Diana said. "The waffles will be ready in two minutes." Josh looked at the coffee and was amazed to discover he'd rather have orange juice. Diana went back to the griddle. "How's Sam?"

Of course he shouldn't have been surprised that she knew they'd talked, but of course he was. "Um...he was okay 'til right at the end. Then Toby started screaming at him."

"That man could use some anger management courses." Josh chortled at that image. "You feel bad about lying to Sam. About why you're here."

"I do," he said. "But if I'd told him what I was planning, he'd have told me not to, and I would've anyway, and the whole thing would've been, you know, very ugly." Diana smiled.

She didn't say much through breakfast, but as soon as Josh looked done, she took his plate from the table and sat back down across from him, staring into his eyes. He tried not to squirm under her scrutiny, and she seemed satisfied with whatever she found, because she leaned back and sipped her coffee. "We got you so wound up telling stories last night you never told us about your mission."

He hadn't noticed. Now he leaned across the table toward Sam's mother. "Sam got a letter Thursday from Angela--"

"Isabel's youngest," she interrupted. "Yes. I was afraid that might upset him."

"He thinks he's a bad patriarch." Josh tried not to fixate on how crazy that sounded.

Diana shook her head. "He's doing a remarkable job, especially for his first six months."

"I keep telling him that, but he won't stop comparing himself to his grandfather."

"Papa?" She laughed. "Oh, Josh, if Sam knew half the mistakes Papa made when he started--"

"That's why I'm here." He was thrilled that Diana understood. "He thinks his anxiety is some sort of -- of indictment of our generation." And how strange to say "indictment" and not have it mean another subpoena on his desk come morning. "Is there anything that would help Sam believe Gualtiero was every bit as bewildered in the beginning as he is?"

Diana stared out the window. "I'm not sure. If there were something, it would be in the old house. That's where we put Papa's things after he died." She stood. "Help me clean these dishes, and we'll go over to the old house. Let's see if we can't straighten my son's brain out a little."

*********

The "old house" turned out also to be the current house of Tina and her husband Frank. Diana dragged Josh through the dining room and living room, ignoring Tina's demands to know what they were doing. They yanked down a ladder in the closet of the guest bedroom and climbed up to the attic, and Josh coughed as the dust rushed to meet him. The lone light bulb swinging from the ceiling illuminated the place fairly well, and Diana swept her arms to indicate the expanse of boxes and crates littering the floor. "If there is something to be found," she said, "this is the place to find it. Some of these we packed ourselves, but most of it was already like this when Papa died."

Tina huffed up the ladder behind them. "Diana, what are you doing up here?"

"Sam's panicked about Angela and thinks he's not suited to this job. Josh wants proof that Papa didn't spring from the womb knowing how to do it."

Tina unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled up her sleeves. "What are we standing around for?" she asked. "Start unpacking."

*********

After five hours of searching the boxes in the attic, Josh had accumulated a pile of interesting but useless mementos and a throbbing ache in his lower back -- but not a damned thing that would help Sam. Tina and Diana had long since stopped being helpful; lost in memories evoked by rummaging through their father's worldly possessions, an occasional shout of laughter or loud "Oh!" was Josh's only proof they were still here. Exhausted and disheartened, he sank onto the crate he'd just emptied.

Across the sea of boxes pillaged and left to be pillaged, he spotted one he hadn't noticed before, wedged in a corner halfway behind another stack. He crossed to it and pulled off the lid. "Pay dirt!" he crowed. The box was full of musty old logbooks.

A brief pause was followed by a fit of giggling as Tina and Diana stepped carefully across the scattered boxes. "Josh, I'm so sorry!" Diana gasped. "We lost track of--"

"Our brains," Tina finished. "What've you got?"

He indicated the open box at his feet. "Something really old, I think. Something good."

Diana reached into the box and pulled out a book. "Papa's journals," she breathed.

Josh pulled out the next book and flipped through. "My Italian's rusty," he admitted.

"It's all right," Diana said. "Sam will be able to read it."

"All we have to do now," Tina said, kneeling beside the box, "is figure out which one comes first." They rifled through the journals, all filled with Gualtiero Vinci's tiny, precise script. Tina held one above her head as though wielding Excalibur. "This is the one."

"You sure?" Diana asked.

"Grandpa died in August of '49. The first entry is here September of that year; I doubt there are any before that." She read a few pages to herself. "From what I'm reading, Josh, this is exactly what you want for Sam." She held the book out to him.

He translated the first passage as best he could and found the word "uncertain" five times in two pages. A surge of vindication ran through his body, leaving him exhausted. "Thank you both," he said.

Diana looked around at the chaos of the attic. "We'll clean later. Right now, I think lunch would be in order."

Josh had started to follow them to the ladder, clutching the book to his chest, when another memory struck him. "Can I see the other ring?" he asked.

Tina and Diana froze. "The other ring?" Diana repeated.

"Yeah." Josh spoke with great enthusiasm, somehow missing the fear in the women's faces. "One time I asked Sam if the patriarchs' wives had a ring, and he called it, um, girlish and said I didn't want anything to do with it. Still, I'd like to see it."

The sisters sagged with relief, and Josh, caught up in a bizarre nostalgic haze, still didn't notice. At that moment, anyone who'd called Sam the only unobservant half of the duo would've offered him a heartfelt apology. "Mom died years before Papa," Diana said, walking to the back of the attic, "but the ring should be...hang on..." She rummaged in a clump of boxes. "Here it is!" She came back to Josh and Tina, grinning. Had Josh known her better, he would have seen something determined and more than a little sly in that grin. Tina recognized the glint and searched her sister's face for a sign of what she was up to, but Diana refused to look at her. "Here you go, Josh," Sam's mother said, holding the ring out. It was stunning but indeed "girlish," a cameo in an intricately scrolled setting.

Josh turned the ring over and returned it to Diana. "It's beautiful. Thank you."

She grinned at him, and the mischievous glint flashed again in her green eyes. "Lunch?" They went back down the ladder, chatting about nothing special, Josh clinging to Papa Vinci's journal.

*********

Josh woke with a start, dimly aware that it was still dark outside -- and that someone was in the room with him. "Sam?" he said automatically.

"It's Diana, dear. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

Josh propped himself on his elbows. "Nah, it's -- is something wrong?"

She shook her head. "I used to do this with Sam. Just watch him sleep."

He laughed, his voice raspy. "Sam's a much heavier sleeper than I am."

"I would imagine." She paused in the doorway.

"Is there..."

She came uncertainly to sit on the edge of the bed. "I -- I have a request, and I will absolutely understand when you say no, but I have to ask." She wet her lips, and Josh's mouth suddenly felt very dry. "Can...can I see your scar?"

Josh's eyes widened. People had seen the scar, of course, but in all the world, only Zoey Bartlet had specifically asked to see it. He saw in Diana's eyes that she expected him to refuse her request. He pulled his t-shirt over his head.

The rays of the moon through the window provided the only illumination, but it was enough to see the angry red line snaking beneath Josh's heart. Diana gasped, and her hand reached out, but she pulled back hastily. "It's okay," he said.

Diana ran her hand along the rough skin. "Miracolo," she whispered.

"Yeah."

"And the name you call him?"

"Drive. Sam...Sam is my drive. He's what keeps me going. The only thing that gets me out of bed, on the bad days."

She touched the scar again, tears glistening in her eyes. "He came that close to losing you."

Josh fought back his own tears and nodded. "But I'm not going anywhere now."

She hesitated a second, then told him this story: "Josh, the ring Sam wears was created by my father's great grandfather. But his son Anselmo commissioned the ring I showed you today -- la donna's ring -- for his wife Isabella. That ring is an apology."

Josh didn't understand. "An apology?"

"Isabella knew that, though she shared his bed and bore his children, Anselmo's heart would always belong to another. And so he made the scrolled ring to atone for the fact that his devotion would always be elsewhere." She took a deep breath, then continued, "That it would always lie with a man named Gianetto diCarlo."

Josh was rocked by the confession. "Gianetto?" he asked, unsure he dared believe what Diana seemed to be telling him. Suddenly, something cold and metal was pressing against his palm.

"This is the ring Anselmo made for Gianetto," Diana told him. "The confession he could not make aloud. You and Sam live in a different time; he's made the promise his great-great-grandfather could not. I want you to have the ring Gianetto wore." She grinned. "Technically, I suppose I should clear this with the patriarch first, but somehow I doubt he'll mind much."

Josh couldn't see the ring well in the pale light of the waning moon, but he knew from the feel of it that it was the mate of the gorgeous onyx ring Sam had worn on his right hand for the past six months. Without a second's hesitation, Josh slipped it onto the ring finger of his left hand. He embraced Diana. "Thank you."

"Thank you, Joshua. For doing this for Sam." She paused, then said, "Whatever he decides about Angela, you know, we support him."

He nodded. "I know. I just, you know, I think he could use a little advice."

"Don't let him bring the baby's father back. That one is trouble," she said decidedly.

"I'll tell him," he promised. Diana hugged him again, then slipped from the room, leaving Josh to sleep as best he could in the wake of her tale.

**********

When Josh woke the next morning, he smelled eggs and coffee and heard a gaggle of female voices laughing and arguing good-naturedly in Italian. If Sam were here, Josh could be persuaded never to leave this house. He brought his hand up to rub his eyes and bonked himself in the face with the band of his ring.

The ring. Josh flipped his hand over and regarded Diana's gift in the morning sunlight. As predicted, it was almost exactly like Sam's, except for a tiny diamond embedded in the onyx. He grinned like an idiot and padded downstairs, where The Aunts were crowded around the kitchen counter debating, as near as he could tell, the best place to buy cantaloupe. "Morning, ladies."

"Good morning, Josh!" they chorused, as Diana smiled conspiratorially at him.

"Hello, Joshua. There's coffee and orange juice, just like yesterday. I'm making omelets."

"You are too good to me, Diana."

She shrugged and turned back to the stove. "I'm Italian, Josh. It's genetic."

Today Josh needed coffee. With half an ear tuned to the comforting patter of The Aunts' argument, he filled a mug, then cast around for cream and sugar. Spotting it in the middle of the island counter, Josh murmured an apology and reached between Rose and Isabel.

Words died on The Aunts' lips mid-syllable. They stared at his hand. "Gianetto's ring," Isabel breathed.

Josh whipped his head around to look at Diana. Would she be in trouble for giving him the ring? She didn't look concerned, and he cautiously turned back to her sisters. They were beaming at him.

"Diana!" Rose leapt up and hugged her youngest sister from behind. "How wonderful!"

Tina laughed. "I knew you were up to something yesterday, Diana."

Josh looked around the kitchen. "You don't mind, then?" he asked.

"Mind? It's the best idea she's ever had," Tina said.

Josh sighed in relief. "Good. Because I don't intend to take it off."

Isabel considered him, and he found her gaze at once more bearable and less escapable than Diana's or Tina's. "You worry about Sam a great deal, don't you?" she asked quietly.

The energy seeped out of Josh's head, and he leaned against the refrigerator. "Yeah."

"Do you tell him that?"

"Well--"

"And I'm sure you had to pry like hell to get him to tell you about Angela," Tina added, and Josh saw Isabel flinch at the mention of her daughter's disintegration. He nodded at Tina, who snorted. "Men. Like pulling teeth to get them to admit they're feeling anything."

Thinking of CJ, Josh had to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Diana set an omelet and toast in front of him, and he leaned against the counter and started eating.

"Nothing. I was, uh, I was just thinking about a female friend of ours who's just as bad."

"The press secretary?" Rose asked. He nodded. "Don't worry about that. Once she starts feeling like a beached whale is parked over her bladder, you'll know every feeling she's having every minute of the day."

"What are you talking about?" he asked around a mouthful of omelet.

Tina reached behind him for the coffeepot. "The third trimester blues."

Josh nearly choked. How the hell did they know that? Nothing showed; nothing had been said, and he couldn't imagine that Sam would've risked the Fury of Leo and CJ by going against their wishes that no one be told yet. "Uh..."

"Josh," Diana said. "Tina was a nurse for thirty years, and we have eleven children and five grandchildren between us. She's pregnant."

Well, yeah, but what was Josh allowed to *say* on the subject? "Well, she, uh--"

"Is this a state secret, Josh?" Tina asked, amusement strong in her voice.

"CJ's a *lot* stronger than I am," Josh said.

Tina laughed and reopened the journal to the page they'd been translating the night before. "Come on, then. Almost done here."

Josh smiled, thinking how much Sam's family made him feel like a fractious schoolboy -- and how he didn't mind a bit.

**********

As Josh stood outside their door, pulling on his gloves so Sam couldn't see the ring, he couldn't resist smiling at the fact that for the first time in their lives together, he fervently hoped Sam *wasn't* naked inside the apartment. He'd been on edge since the plane took off, and he wasn't sure why. Though he was almost obscenely excited about sharing his prizes with Sam, he couldn't fight out an edge of fear tingeing his mood gray. He'd done quite a few things this weekend that could piss Sam off immensely, and he'd have to tell his story very well to get Sam past that pissedness.

Now he unlocked and opened the door, and Sam launched himself over the couch -- fully dressed, thank God, but looking like he didn't expect to be that way much longer -- and grabbed him, kissing him as though he'd been gone three years instead of three days. He tried pulling Josh toward the bedroom, tried grabbing for buttons and zippers and sleeves, but Josh stepped aside and steered them toward the couch instead.

"Well, I'm back," he announced, grinning.

This not-staggering-directly-to-the-bedroom thing struck Sam as highly suspect, especially when he noticed that Josh was wearing gloves, strange under any circumstances, but especially inexplicable in summer when Josh had just come from California. "Uh, Mir, you wanna...?" He mimed taking the gloves off.

"Not yet." Josh took Sam's hands; Sam felt strange holding thin leather rather than actual Josh. Josh took a moment to look at him; he looked like a kid in those dorky red plaid boxers and Josh's old Camp Nehoc t-shirt. But something had happened to his eyes since his grandfather died; they had taken on an expression that was sad, and old, and wise, but still Sam, with his idealism and fire. Josh was tempted to sit here all night, staring at those eyes, but he figured Sam had other plans, so he had to tell his story now if he wanted it out there at all. "Sam, I did go to California this weekend, and I did have a meeting with Ted Marcus." He wiggled his toes inside his shoes. "It was a catastrophe from top to bottom. Leo's gonna have my head tomorrow. But that's, ah, not the real reason I went there."

Sam's blue eyes widened in alarm. So many ideas about what Josh had been doing this weekend crammed into his mind, and none of them were pleasant. "Why?" he asked, his voice small.

Josh couldn't keep the smile off his face, though he could see how insecure he was making Sam. "The letter from Angela--"

"Oh, shit."

"You were going to sit quietly in a corner and worry yourself into an ulcer, and -- and not ask for help. So I took the liberty--"

Sam's eyes narrowed. "The liberty of what?"

Josh's face was lit by a stupidly wide grin. "I went to your mother's house."

"You w--" Sam stopped. "It *was* you. She said it was the TV. *You* said it was the TV. What were you doing there?"

With a flourish, Josh presented the leather-bound journal to Sam. "Saving you."

Sam opened the journal and cautiously turned the pages. "Th-this is--"

"Your grandfather's first journal after his father died," he finished. He pointed to small slips of paper sticking out of the book. "I marked a couple passages for you."

Sam frowned. "You read this?"

"Tina and Isabel helped," Josh confessed.

"Tina and Isabel? *My* Aunt Tina and Aunt Isabel? My God, you really were there."

"All weekend. Even slept in your room." He smirked at Sam. "The Aunts love me."

Sam snorted and rolled his eyes. "I bet they do."

Josh turned to one of the marked pages. "Read this one." He waited anxiously. When Sam looked up, Josh wiped tears off Sam's cheeks and laughed softly. "See? He was as scared as you are. He didn't have a clue what he was doing."

Sam grasped Josh's gloved hand. "Thank you so much, Mir. I can never--"

"And I don't expect you to," he said. "Read the journal; make your decisions. That's all I ask. It's all I'll ever ask, as far as your family of nutcases is concerned."

Sam leaned over and kissed him. "Now, about these stupid gloves--"

"Ah. The gloves." Josh could barely speak; he was so elated. "Sam, who commissioned the patriarch's ring?"

Sam shrugged and looked down at the ring he had learned to tolerate, but not to love. "Patrizio. My grandfather's great-grandfather."

"And la donna's ring?"

"Josh, is this Vinci family twenty questions? 'Cause I have to tell you, you'll--"

"Humor me."

"Patrizio's son Anselmo," he answered. "Did you see it?"

Josh nodded. "You were right: beautiful but girly. Why did he commission it?"

This game was unimaginably uninteresting to Sam. There were so many better things he and Josh could be doing -- things that didn't involve Vincis, or the rehashing of family lore, or clothes, for that matter. "Isabella whined about not having a ring. He had a ring; she wanted one, too."

Josh grinned. "Wrong!" He took a deep breath to steady himself. "He made it for his wife because he felt bad about the fact that his heart belonged to Gianetto diCarlo."

He was more tickled than he could say to watch Sam's eyes as a thousand puzzle pieces fell into place in his mind. "Gianetto? Uncle Gianetto? In all the stories -- they call him a 'close friend' of Anselmo's, but they were -- he was..."

"Remember when you said there'd never been a gay patriarch?"

Sam laughed shakily. "I was wrong, wasn't I?"

Josh tugged at the glove on his left hand. "This is Gianetto's ring." He pulled the glove off and held it in a strangling grip in his right hand. For no reason whatsoever, he worried that Sam would be upset about Josh having this family heirloom.

Sam touched the ring. All these years, all the secrets his family had buried, had been brought to the surface in one piece of metal -- and one man named Joshua Lyman. **Oh, great purple prose there, Seaborn.** He didn't care. He yanked the patriarch's ring off his right hand and put it on his left. Only then did he dare look back at Josh, who was grinning more giddily, uncontrollably, than before, pulling off his other glove.

"Your mother says not to let Angela's boyfriend come back. She says you're doing a great job." Sam lost it, burying his head in his hands and sobbing quietly. "Hey," Josh murmured, gathering him up like a lost child. "Hey. It's okay now. Everything's going to work out."

"I know," Sam said, sniffling. "I've been -- so many things have been awful for so long, I'm not sure I remember how to do happy anymore."

Josh laughed and held him closer. "Well, don't worry too much. There's still work. And Danny Concannon's just outed us to, you know, everybody."

Sam rested his forehead on Josh's chest and groaned. "That was the most awkward hour of my life."

"You were great." He leaned down and kissed Sam. "Hey," he said when they broke apart, "I saw the pictures in your old room. You still have a camera?"

Sam waved a hand in the general direction of the building's storage lockers. "In one of the boxes downstairs."

Josh stood and pulled Sam off the couch. "Dig it out sometime," he said. "We could put it to good use."

"You think so?" Sam blushed and slipped his arm around Josh's waist.

Josh's voice went low through no effort on his part as his arm traveled across Sam's back. "Definitely."

As Sam led them lazily toward the bedroom, he said, "Maybe, if CJ and Leo have a boy, we can suggest that they name him Anselmo."

"Anselmo Cregg-McGarry?" Josh laughed and shook his head. "Why not just tell them to name him 'Kick Me'?"

Sam nodded thoughtfully. "That could work, too."

FIN

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