TOTLE: Variations on Variations: Fun Fact of the Day
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
RATING: R, 'cause Toby swears. A lot.
SPOILERS: If it happened in the first two seasons, it's fair game.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own 'em, but only because Aaron Sorkin is way cooler than me and thought of them first.
ARCHIVE: Anywhere you want
SUMMARY: "'Learn something new every day, don't you, Toby?'"
NOTES: Comes about a week after "Drunk & Disorderly." Thanks to Beth for needing to be distracted. And a curse upon the AFLAC duck.
Variations on Variations: Fun Fact of the Day by Julian Lee
"Sam, you should sleep."
"I'm fine." He yawned.
Josh pressed the pad of his thumb into the arm rest. "You didn't sleep the entire time we were in Arizona."
"I slept plenty in Arizona."
"You sound distressingly like my mother when you do that."
"Don't change the subject. You didn't sleep in Arizona."
"How would you know?" Sam tapped an ice cube from the bottom of his cup into his mouth. "Unless you weren't sleeping either, and I know you were sleeping."
"You snore." Sam nudged his glasses up.
"Ah-hah! And how would you know I snore unless you were awake?"
"Josh, I know you snore. I know for the same reason you know I sometimes sleep with my foot hanging over the side of the bed."
"Yes, and that is freakish of you." Josh pushed his fingers into the tiny bag of pretzels. "But how do you know I was snoring in Arizona?"
Sam stared at him. "Josh, are we really having this conversation? On Air Force One, are we having this conversation?"
"You have to sleep, Drive." There were no pretzels in the tiny bag.
He yawned again. "I'll sleep when we get home."
"No, you won't."
A devilish smile crept over Josh's lips. "No, you won't. I have other plans for you when we get home."
"We could always switch the plans around."
"No, Sam, I will not have sex with you on Air Force One."
"It's not like we haven't done it before."
He rolled his eyes. "Go to sleep."
"I'm reading this brief." He waved the brief at Josh.
"Fine." Josh fished an ice cube from the bottom of Sam's glass and sucked on it loudly. He couldn't remember what Sam had been drinking, but the ice cube tasted faintly syrupy. "I'm just gonna, you know, sit here and glare reprovingly at you."
"You go right ahead and do that."
Half an hour later, his head was drooping over the brief. Josh leaned over. "Drive."
Sam jerked awake. "I'm fine."
"I have to finish this."
"By...some other time."
"Sam, you're useless. You can't remember when you need this by; you've been reading the same page for an hour; you're drooling on it--"
"I am not!"
He grinned. "No, you're not, but you're cute when you get paranoid and indignant."
"Oh, for god's sake."
"So here's what you're going to do. Give me the brief--" he took it from Sam's unprotesting hand; "take off your glasses--" he took the glasses off, folded them, and slid them gently into Sam's shirt pocket, his hand lingering a moment on Sam's chest; "and go to sleep."
Sam tried to glare at him, but his eyelids drooped. "I swear, Mir, some days this relationship is a great big Freudian nightmare."
Josh smiled and rubbed Sam's arm. "Do you need a blanket?"
"No," Sam said around a yawn. "Toby's going to be furious that I don't have the brief read, and I fully intend to blame you for it."
"You'll thank me for this when you wake up."
Sam smiled. "Oh, believe me, I will."
Josh chuckled softly. Within seconds, Sam was asleep. A few seconds after that he slumped over onto Josh, who shifted him slightly and put the armrest up, then let him fall back and slid an arm around his shoulders. For reasons Josh would never understand, but was unendingly grateful for, there were no reporters on this flight. He leaned his head against the seat back and stared out the window. He had work, but there was no way to get it without waking the stubborn one, and he wasn't about to do that.
Josh felt Toby before he saw him. Toby had been a madman on a mission the last day and a half in Arizona. No one knew what had happened, but he'd harangued everyone who would listen about "a startling new way to talk about defense in this country." Josh figured he had finally lost his mind.
The communications director stormed up the aisle, frantic energy proceeding him by five steps. He waved his omnipresent yellow legal pad in one hand, pen in the other, and charged up to Sam and Josh. "Sam!"
Thank God he was too conked out to hear. Josh glared at Toby and slid his hand over Sam's ear. "It took me 45 minutes to get him to sleep," he whispered. "Do *not* wake him up."
"Whatever it is, Toby, it can wait. The man has not slept since Washington."
He watched Toby's brown eyes travel from Josh's right hand covering Sam's left ear to Sam's head on Josh's chest. He watched those eyes follow the length of Josh's left arm across Sam's back to where it rested on Sam's left shoulder. He watched those eyes grow wide enough to explode. "He -- you two -- I mean, you and Sam -- are --" His eyes narrowed back to normal width, then kept on narrowing until Josh might’ve been scared if he weren’t so pissed off.
"Learn something new every day, don't you, Toby?"
"I cannot believe this. I cannot fucking believe this."
"Not now, Toby," Josh hissed.
"Why the fuck not?" Toby's elbows dug hard into the seat, and Josh winced, imagining those elbows on his shoulders.
"Because Sam is sleeping."
"And why the fuck should that stop me? Why the fuck shouldn't I wake him up and rip you both apart?"
"Right here on Air Force One?" Josh couldn't remember Toby ever saying "fuck" so many times in so few sentences.
Toby's voice was like ice being slowly melted by an angry blowtorch. "Yes, Josh. Right here on Air Force One."
Josh licked his upper lip and tightened his grip on Sam's shoulder, and Sam stirred and muttered something about penguins in ascots. Josh decided he could handle Toby. "I'll ignore you. And if you wake Sam up, he'll ignore you, too.
"Will he?" Toby's almost-smile was the most terrifying expression Josh had ever seen.
"I will not have this argument with you now, Toby. I will have it tomorrow -- pick the time and place and I'll be there -- but this is neither the time nor the place. It's unprofessional."
"Big words from a man with Sam Seaborn sleeping in his lap."
Josh held Toby's gaze, and it felt like a challenge. "Shred us tomorrow."
Toby clenched his fist and slammed it into the top of the seat. "Oh, believe me, Josh, I will. First thing tomorrow, I will." He stormed back down the aisle, casting one quick, smoldering glance over his shoulder as he went.
Josh sighed. One more thing he'd have to tell Sam when they got home. Then again, Toby was the last domino to fall, the last senior staffer to find out. Shouldn't he be happy about that? Maybe he would be, if Toby didn't look so much like he and Sam would be his breakfast tomorrow.
Someone cleared their throat beside him. Josh looked up to see Leo frowning at Toby's retreating back. "So, that was Toby," he said quietly.
Josh affixed a fake grin to his mouth. "It was, indeed."
"Finding out about you and Sam. And looking none too pleased."
The deputy shrugged with an indifference he was far from feeling. "He'll get over it. I think he was more shocked than upset," he lied breezily.
Leo clearly didn't buy that, but he could tell Josh intended to stick with the lie. "It is a shocking thing to know." He pointed at the empty seat on the other side of Josh. "Can I? I mean, without--"
With a smile, Josh said, "You could dance the fandango on his head and he wouldn't notice. Climb on over."
So the chief of staff climbed over them and sat next to the window. "Where was I?"
"Yeah." He nodded toward Sam. "I mean, we knew about Sam, but you...you were 'The Straight Guy'."
Josh rubbed his forehead. "Well..."
"Josh, I've known you since you were, like, a day old. You were 'The Straight Guy'."
The deputy leaned way back, the top of his head rubbing against the seatback. "You know, when I was in college, I had to fill out all these surveys, and every time they'd ask for my sexual orientation, I wanted -- I wanted a box that said 'gay but repressing the hell out of it.'"
"Uh, if you knew you were repressing, you weren't doing such a good job."
He shrugged as best he could. "I had ambitions."
Leo raised his eyebrows. "You no longer have ambitions?"
Josh looked down at Sam. "Just one." He knew how corny and adolescent that sounded, but he couldn't help it.
Leo smiled uncomfortably, but forbore reminding Josh that he might well have to make that decision someday. "So, what did Toby want?"
"That stupid defense thing," Josh groaned. "What *happened* to him?"
"Meeting with Cartolay."
"What? Who the hell let her get within fifty feet of him?"
"Probably me." Leo scratched his knee, and Josh was fascinated by the crease that appeared and vanished in the wake of his fingernail. Maybe nobody had slept well in Arizona. "How do you think we did?"
"Overall, or the speech?"
"Either." He looked over at CJ, who was quietly but desperately attempting to avoid being Toby's next victim.
"The speech was good. The meeting with the governor could've been more productive, but we knew going in the man was a prick." Josh shifted uncomfortably. "Listen, Leo...I wanted to apologize for the other night. Getting arrested and everything. And for after -- I wanted to mention it before, but we kept running out of time--"
Leo held up his hand. "You didn't do anything, Josh. Well, other than sticking up for yourself at not the brightest of moments. You were good, after."
Josh put his left ear to his shoulder to stretch his neck. "Akay. But Sam wasn't."
"No, he wasn't." The chief of staff tapped the armrest. "So why am I hearing this from you?"
"'Cause I'm not sure you'll ever hear it from him."
"Lord, Josh. What's his problem?"
"I don't know." He let his breath out in a whoosh. "I don't get it, either. I've been trying to get him to apologize to you and CJ, but he won't even talk about it. It's about his father, and the President, and--"
"And I am neither of those men."
"I know." Josh stared past Leo out the window. There was this small dark corner of Sam that he didn't share with anyone, but Josh had seen it anyway, because Sam, much as he'd deny it, wasn't much better than Josh at hiding things. It was the place where the secrets lived, and it was eating Sam alive, and Josh spent hours trying to crack it open, but nothing did any good. The night they were arrested lived in that corner, and Sam would not discuss it. "Sam doesn't..." Josh's fingers moved unconsciously for a moment before he realized he was scratching Sam's shoulder and not his own. "You know, I don’t know, but I'm working on it, I swear."
Leo frowned. "Well, if he ever gets it figured out, he knows where to find us."
The chances of Sam seeking out Leo and CJ were infinitesimally small, and Josh and Leo both knew it. Still Josh smiled and nodded at his boss. "Yes, he does."
Josh and Sam lay knotted up in the sheets and each other. Sam had indeed thanked Josh when they got home, and now neither of them was in any condition to move, even if they'd wanted to, which they really didn't. Sam trailed his fingers up and down Josh's thigh. "What did you do while I was sleeping today?"
"Watched Leo and CJ."
"Yeah." Josh traced a figure-eight on Sam's back. "Leo came over and talked to me for a minute, then he went back and sat with her for a while...how no one else has caught on to them yet -- sometimes I worry about the fact that we're totally oblivious to what's going on right under our noses, and yet we think we can run this country."
Sam smiled. "What's happening under our noses seldom has anything to do with the running of the country. What did Leo want to talk about?"
Hmmm...be honest with Sam and start this argument now...or postpone the agony for about ten and a half seconds..."He wanted my opinion on how the trip went."
"The governor's a prick."
Josh scratched his arm. "That's what I told him."
"And then you just...what? Stared at them the rest of the way home?"
"Five minutes tops, thank you." He flicked Sam's shoulder blade lightly. "I don't get them. She's so vibrant, and he's so...I mean, don't get me wrong, Leo's like a father to me, but -- CJ? They don't seem like they should go together at all. But if you'd seen them today...they didn't think anybody was watching--"
"And of course it never occurred to you to look somewhere else."
"I am an investigator, Sam." He gestured grandly and not a little ridiculously. "A gatherer of information."
"Sure, Mir. Whatever you say. So, what did you gather?"
"Oh, so the great Sam Seaborn is too good for my investigative methods, but not my conclusions?" Sam laughed and didn't reply. "They're crazy about each other. It's completely incomprehensible, but they're in love."
"Good," Sam declared. "It wouldn't be fair for us to be the only happy ones."
"That's quite a switch from the night we found out."
"I was wrong then." But Josh felt Sam's body tense. "That night, they were just one more thing that had fallen apart."
"But why? What is it about the two of them that you objected to so much?"
"It's like...it's kind of like how you don't want to think about your parents having sex, you know? Leo seemed above it all."
"Above falling in love?"
"Maybe." He rubbed the corners of his eyes. "Above sex, definitely. Maybe it's because CJ and Mallory aren't that far apart, age-wise. I don't know. I screwed up. CJ may still be mad at me."
"Leo's none too thrilled with you either, my love."
"What did he say?" The sheets were scratchy against Sam's legs.
"He said he wished you would say you're sorry yourself, instead of me apologizing for you."
"You apologized for me?"
"I wish you wouldn't try to be chivalrous, Mir. I'm a grown-up; I can apologize for myself when I choose to do so."
"I -- I told him I didn't know if you'd ever apologize yourself." Josh pulled back slightly to avoid any physical assault this might provoke.
"You've been resistant," he pointed out. "This is the first time we've really talked about what happened that night."
Sam tapped the headboard lightly. "Week-long hangover?"
He shrugged. "It was worth a shot. Maybe I've been so panicked that a reporter we didn't notice is going to pop up with pictures of us beating up that guy that I haven't been thinking about what happened after."
Josh's gut did that twisting thing it did when Sam obsessed about the outside world finding out about their relationship. "Are you still worrying about that?" he asked wearily.
"Admit it -- the two of us in the middle of a bar brawl would not be the image you would pick as the general populace's first exposure to us as a couple."
Josh nodded thoughtfully. "Admitted." He rolled his shoulder forward; five hours on a plane -- even Air Force One -- did no favors for his back. "Now, about Leo and CJ?"
"I guess I'll have to go apologize to them," Sam said without much inflection.
"Don't sound so enthusiastic there, Drive."
Sam set his jaw firmly. "I will do it. Tomorrow morning I will apologize to Leo and CJ." He turned his head and looked timidly over his shoulder at Josh. "How's that sound?"
Josh's response was a kiss between Sam's shoulder blades. Then he sighed, remembering what he'd forgotten to mention in their race to the bed.
Sam shivered as Josh's sigh traveled his spine. He gripped Josh's hand. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. There's just something I meant to tell you."
"It's about damned time. We've only been living together for two months. How'd he find out?"
"Today on Air Force One."
Sam flipped over to face him. "While I was asleep?"
Josh propped himself up on his elbow. "He was on his thing about defense again. You hadn't been asleep five minutes, and you...you kind of flopped over on me, and he came barreling up the aisle like -- like he was the Lord Almighty. I told him to let you sleep."
"You should've woken me up."
"It was Toby and the defense thing. You should thank me for saving you from it." He'd never noticed how big the numbers on the clock display were.
"If he needed something--"
Josh flopped down on his back, frustrated. "The damage was done, Sam. What good would it have done to drag you into it too?" What he feared was that if Sam had seen the way Toby looked at them, he would have sat up fast and slithered out of Josh's embrace, swearing to Toby that it was all a misunderstanding.
"When my boss comes looking for me, Josh, I should be awake."
"Why? So you can tell him it isn't what it looks like?"
Sam drew back, startled by the pain in Josh's dark eyes and the bitterness in his voice. His heart caught in his throat, and he lay his fingers against Josh's temple. "Is -- is that what you thought I would say?" Josh dropped his eyes. He couldn't look at Sam. "I was going to say, 'To see what he wants.'" Josh still wouldn't look at him. "Mir, I love you," Sam insisted. "We've been through all sorts of people finding out about our relationship, and I've never been tempted to deny it. If no one had told us not to, I'd be telling the whole world what you mean to me. But the *President* told us. And we made a rule. Our relationship can't interfere with our work."
"Our relationship didn't interfere with anything. *I* didn't interfere with anything. You needed sleep; Toby wasn't talking about anything important. Anyone would have made the same choice."
"I wouldn't have. Not if Leo were looking for you."
Josh raised his eyes to meet Sam's again and took his hands. "Sam, you're killing yourself. Ever since you and I got together you've been so worried about people thinking you're not working hard enough that you're working twice as hard. You don't sleep; you're not eating well--"
"I think I can get away with blaming both of those things on you."
"Drive." Sam looked away. "Your involvement with me isn't hurting your job performance. The fact that Toby didn't know about us until today is a testament to that. You don't have to burn yourself out trying to prove you're still the best damned speechwriter in, you know, ever."
"I just...I worked hard to earn Toby's respect. For him to see us cuddled up on the plane is like having my father catch me making out in the back of the car." He scowled at the ceiling.
"Toby respects you, Drive. He was upset, but he won't stop respecting you because he found out you have what I'm sure he will consider questionable taste in lovers. I mean, I think he knew that one after Laurie, right?" Josh wasn't sure if that was funny.
"Are we having a serious conversation or not?"
Sam's hands radiated warmth beneath his own. "My point is that just because Leo and the President don't want our relationship impacting our jobs doesn't mean they expect us to stop being human."
Sam sighed. He pulled one hand from Josh and rubbed his eyes again. "All right." He put his hand back over Josh's. "Just promise me one thing."
"From now on, if I fall asleep, and someone needs me for something work-related, wake me up."
Josh rolled his eyes. "Sam, I don't--"
"Believe me, if Toby had started in on the defense thing today, I would have told him to go away, and then I would've gone back to sleep. But I need to be able to make that decision for myself."
Josh smiled, finally understanding. "I promise. If you promise to start taking care of yourself again. You -- you're falling apart on me. I want you to start sleeping again so you won't be run down, and I want you to go back to the gym so you don't have a heart attack and die on me when you're fifty. I won't be anywhere near done with you by then."
Sam grinned back. "Deal."
"Wait -- how upset was Toby?"
Josh shook his head. "He's going to want to take a big chunk out of you tomorrow morning."
"Drive, you can handle him," Josh said supportively, then added under his breath, "Better than I did."
"What did you do?"
"I told him I was going to ignore him." The traffic from the street sent bars of light sliding across the bedroom walls.
Sam started laughing, quietly and with genuine humor. "I see now why they call you a master strategist."
"Shut up." He couldn't help smiling back anyway.
"No, seriously, Josh, that was brilliant. Ignore your problems and they will go away -- I wish we'd thought of that when we found out about the President's MS."
"Are you done mocking me now?"
Sam gave Josh's hair a glibly patronizing tousle. "If we live to be a hundred, I will not be done mocking you. You will be glad to know, however, that my urge to throttle you has been replaced by an urge to throttle Toby and remind him that he's not my den mother."
"Well, that's tomorrow's bad idea. For now, go to sleep."
"Hmm." Sam leaned down and kissed Josh hungrily, pressing his palm against Josh's chest. "No, I don't think I will."
This time, Josh didn't put up a fight.
Sam slunk into his office in a doomed attempt to avoid Toby. Damn Josh and his big mouth. "Don't throttle Toby," Sam muttered as he tried to get his desk in order. "Apologize to CJ and Leo. You're trying to kill me, aren't you, Josh?"
"Ah, Sam. Good morning," Toby called. Whoever decided the front wall of these offices should be glass ought to be flogged.
"Hello, Toby." He crossed to his boss's office and stood just inside the doorway.
Toby didn't look at him; just kept flipping through the enormous stack of papers on his desk, pausing occasionally to cross out large sections. Sam hoped to God it wasn't anything he'd written. "Sleep well last night?" Toby asked.
Sam's eyes narrowed. "I did okay for myself."
"Good. You looked like hell on the flight home." He finally looked up, flashing a tight smile that went nowhere near his eyes. "Then again, that may have had something to do with your ugly pillow."
Sam looked at him blankly. He really hadn't slept that well last night, and he'd had no coffee. "Ugly pillow?" He frowned. "Josh?"
"Yes. You really should give more thought to your accessories."
Sam crossed his arms. "So what you're doing is, you're having a little fun with me."
Toby stood and came around the desk. "Fun would, would be a massive overstatement here, Sam."
Sam felt rage building under Toby's skin, and he didn't give a damn. "Toby, I got no sleep in Arizona. None. Messing with me right now is a *rotten* idea."
"Believe me, Sam, I am not messing with you."
"You know, Toby, whatever you're going to say, Leo's already said it, and the President's already said it. So you're, you know, behind the times."
"Leo and the President already know?" If Sam didn't know Toby better, he'd say the older man sounded disappointed.
"As well as CJ, my mother, and Josh's mother. And probably the First Lady."
"Why didn't you tell me, Sam?" he asked, his voice quiet and harsh.
"Why didn't I tell you?" Sam waved his arms around and felt a little foolish. "Maybe because I had this crazy idea that you'd react badly. And -- oh yeah -- maybe because you *did.*"
"Because I found you guys all snuggled up on Air Force One -- when you were supposed to be working."
If it weren't his life they were discussing, Sam would have laughed at Toby's use of the word "snuggled." "I was trying to, but I kept falling asleep, and I wasn't accomplishing anything. And we weren't snuggled up when I fell asleep; I guess I just fell over."
"Fell over?" Toby snorted. "That has to be the lamest -- how long has this been going on?"
"About ten months."
"Ten *months*?" Toby pressed his hand hard against his thigh. "You two have been together for ten months and you didn't think that, maybe, letting your boss in on the secret was an idea you wanted to explore?"
"No, Toby, I didn't. Not after the way you acted with Laurie and your heartwarming display of support during the Mallory situation."
"I would've been totally unprepared to spin, Sam. If something had happened, I wouldn't have been equipped to do damage control."
"There will be no need for damage control!"
"Hah!" The sound was short and bleak and ugly.
Sam's pencil creaked as his fingers closed around it. "Toby, let's not do this."
And instantly, Toby's face was as blank as a sheet of ice. "Do what, Sam?"
"This thing we did during the campaign where you smacked me down every time I showed a little initiative."
"Initiative. Is that what you're calling this?"
"I'm calling this my life, Toby."
Toby smacked his desk. "The hell it's your life, Sam. In five years -- maybe -- it's your life. When you no longer work for the President of the United States -- when you no longer work for *me,* maybe it's your life. In the meantime--"
"Christ, Toby, you've got serious control issues."
"Oh, no, you don't. We're not doing *this,* either. This thing where you somehow turn all of -- of your problems into mine." He had taken two steps forward -- Sam wasn't sure when -- and his eyes were looking a little bit crazy. "This is *your* problem, Sam, and you're, you're going to have to figure out how to make it go away."
"It's not a problem, Toby, and it's not going away."
If Toby hadn't been standing so close, Sam wouldn't have seen the spark before the explosion. As it was, he barely had time to get out of the way before Toby's arms started flailing around his head and he started storming around the office. "Do you not -- do you not comprehend what you're capable of, Sam? Have you not realized that someday -- God help us -- it could be Josh in that office--" he thrust his finger toward the Oval, "and that you could be doing my job -- or, hell, Leo's job -- and doing either of them better than we do? Shit, Sam, when I think of, of what you two might be capable of -- and you're throwing the whole goddamned thing out the window 'cause you can't keep your dicks to yourselves."
Sam threw a hand out to keep himself from falling over. Just when he thought he had Toby figured out, just when he had come to accept the fact that the communications director would never view him with anything but barely concealed contempt, Toby threw shit like this at him. And Josh...as President? Of course he had considered it, and he knew that Josh thought about it fairly often, about what he might have given up to be with Sam, but he had always assumed that Toby considered Josh a slightly-smarter-than-average buffoon -- the Bartlet administration's comic relief. "Toby," he said hesitantly, unsure what other surprises his boss had up his sleeve.
But apparently the tirade had taken all the fury Toby could muster. He sighed and scratched his chin. "I'm -- I'm tired of yelling at you, Sam. Both of you. I tell you not to see Laurie anymore, and I get a picture in the papers of you with your arms around her. I tell Josh not to get cute with Mary Marsh, and he almost loses his job. So it's not, you know -- I'm not the crossing guard over here. If you think you know what you're doing, I'm gonna go ahead and let you do it."
"You can hardly lump our relationship in the same category as those--"
"I can and I do, Sam," he said softly. "That's my job. Yours, too, when you bother to remember it."
Sam shook his head. "That's the part of the job I've always rejected."
"I know." Toby smiled faintly. "But just because you've rejected it doesn't mean it's gone away." He dropped into his chair. "So when, uh, when you and Josh moved in together..."
The deputy smiled. "Had nothing to do with saving money."
"Okay. I have to tell you, a whole bunch of things make a lot more sense now."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Like -- like why CJ keeps calling you Bonnie and Clyde."
Sam blushed. "That's a -- yeah." Toby had suddenly become frighteningly nice about this, but that kindness would make a swift exit if he found out about Josh and Sam getting arrested.
"And all these people knew before I did." He said this with his eyes stubbornly trained on his computer screen.
"We never told anyone, but everyone just seemed to keep finding out."
"I could strangle CJ for not telling me." He looked up thoughtfully, though not at Sam. "Of course, she and I don't talk so much anymore." He brought his gaze fully, disconcertingly, onto Sam, and seemed to mentally brush his hands off. "All right. Write me a draft for Thursday. And read April Cartolay's defense paper."
"Toby--" Sam whined.
Toby flipped a large, forbidding document at him. "You're walking out of here on your own two feet, Sam. Read the paper."
"You'll be glad you did."
"Sure thing, Toby."
"It's really a startling--"
"I'm reading the damned paper, Toby!" Sam sighed in exasperation and turned to leave.
"Next time, Sam, tell me," he said quietly.
"Next time what?"
Toby shrugged again. "Next time anything. That way I can at least pretend you still need me for something."
Sam's eyes widened at something he thought he had heard in Toby's voice, something a little vulnerable and almost pleading. "Toby, I will always need you -- you, frighteningly enough, are the only link to sanity I have."
He shook his head. "You have Josh."
Toby tented his fingers on his desk and considered this for a minute. "Right."
"Right." Sam walked out of the office. **One down.**
Josh's door was open, and the thought of hiding there for the rest of the day, of lying and saying he'd already talked to Leo and CJ, was so tempting he had to tear his eyes away. He was defective about lying to Josh. He walked toward Leo's office.
"Hi, Sam," Margaret said cheerily. "Want to hear a joke?"
"Sure. I could use a laugh."
"What does a duck wear in war?"
"I have no idea."
"AFLAC jacket." She giggled. "Get it? A flak jacket? The AFLAC duck?"
"Seek help immediately." He looked toward Leo's closed door. "Is CJ in there?"
She nodded. "They'll be done in a minute. They're just--"
Sam frowned. "Yeah, I know what they're just. Actually, I need to talk to her, too."
Margaret nodded and pushed the intercom button. Sam wondered if Leo were better acquainted with the phone system than the President, who was forever calling Nancy into the Oval to explain what all the buttons did. At the sound of a brief scuffle inside the office, he knew that Leo was as technologically impaired as his best friend; he pictured CJ leaning over to push the button while Leo protested that he could have done that perfectly well on his own. "Yeah?"
"Sam's here," Margaret announced. "He needs a word with both of you."
Sam heard shock through the wires and smiled dryly.
"Send him in," Leo said.
He touched Margaret's shoulder. "Thanks, Margaret."
"Good luck," she whispered. Sam had no idea how much of the story she knew, but if she were wishing him luck he had to be in a damned lot of trouble.
"Hi, Leo. Hello, CJ," he said politely as he came into the office.
"Close the door and have a seat, Sam," Leo told him.
The speechwriter closed the door and sat across from CJ and Leo, both sitting behind Leo's desk. The chief of staff looked at the massive document Sam was clutching. "April Cartolay's paper."
"A condition of cease-fire."
Leo gave a lopsided smile. "Toby?"
"I think he's going to let me live." Sam smoothed the top sheet of the paper.
"Good." He closed a window on his computer. "You wanted to talk to us?"
CJ, Sam noted, had not turned her attention from Leo's letter opener. He cleared his throat and tried not to dwell on not having thought about what he was going to say. "Yeah. I wanted -- I behaved badly the other night -- when Josh and I were arrested." Words tumbled over each other in a rush to leap from Sam's mouth. He didn't know if they were the right words, but they were the ones he was coming up with, so he'd trust that they would be okay. "I mean, you guys got up in the middle of the night to bail us out, and I didn't even -- I don't think I ever said thank you." He gripped the edge of the document. "So I wanted, you know, to say I'm sorry. And -- thank you."
Leo favored him with a benevolent smile, and he started to breathe normally again. "You're welcome. And you're forgiven." Sam grinned back. "Hey, be sure to let me know if there's *anything* worthwhile in that paper, wouldja?"
Sam started to nod, realized that CJ hadn't said anything, hadn't looked at him. "CJ," he said cautiously.
"What?" she asked, and even Leo seemed taken aback by the venom in that word.
Sam drew back, but he had to keep talking. "You -- you haven't said anything."
She shrugged. "What do you want me to say, Sam?"
The bottom of Sam's foot itched, and now the itch was spreading to the rest of his foot. "I...I don't know," he admitted.
"Why did you do it?" she asked, leaning abruptly across the desk and coming alarmingly close. "That -- that thing you did in the car. What the hell was that about?"
"It was like three in the morning; I'd just gotten out of jail after, by the way, a truly *awful* bar fight. I was worried about Josh; I was worried about reporters...then I called your apartment and Leo picked up. It was..." How could he explain what he didn't understand himself?
"But *why,* Sam?" she insisted. "What is it about the two of us that you object to?"
His eyes bulged slightly at this question that was almost exactly the one Josh had asked. And suddenly he understood. "You hid it from us. My father...the President -- I never thought we would start hiding things from each other. Leo -- Leo was one of the last father figures I had." He bit back a gasp as he realized that, if CJ had asked him this question fifteen minutes ago he would've called Leo *the* last father figure. But now he knew he had Toby. Sam tucked that away to deal with later and continued, "And I felt -- I was stuck in this cycle that was just going to keep...going around and around." He sat back in the chair, exhausted, not having realized he felt so strongly about it. "As cycles tend to do," he added by way of a lame apology.
Leo blinked slowly. "Christ, Sam. Now I feel like I should apologize to you."
He smiled. "Don't do that, Leo. Never apologize to a jackass."
CJ nodded thoughtfully, unfazed. "You and Josh did a fair bit of hiding yourselves," she pointed out.
"Yeah," he countered, "but, if you want to extend the father-figure metaphor--"
"Which we really don't," she muttered.
"Josh and I would be the kids. And isn't sneaking around behind their parents' backs what kids *do*?"
CJ smiled a little -- lips only. "So what do you think about Leo and me now?" she asked, and Sam knew that whether or not the smile reached her eyes depended on his answer.
"I think you're happy."
Her eyes lit up. "All right, Sam, you're off the hook. Not because of your apology, but because you're doing some suffering of your own, and that makes me a little bit happy."
"Me, suffering?" he asked. "How am I suffering?"
"*You* have to live with Josh, and *you* have to read April Cartolay's paper." CJ jabbed her index finger at him.
He shrugged. "Toby tells me I'll be glad I did."
"Toby thought he was friends with Ann Stark," CJ countered.
"Thought my sister would be good as a national education advisor," Leo added.
"Thinks chipmunks in wheels should be producing the bulk of the nation's energy." She bounced a paper clip off the papers in Sam's lap.
"So if this turns out to be a brilliant piece of work and really no trouble at all--"
"I don't want to hear about it," she finished.
Sam stood. "Right. Okay, then." He looked at them; they looked at him, waiting for him to either *do* something or leave them the hell alone. "I'm gonna...go, now."
"Okay," Leo said.
"Okay. Good." Sam nodded, nodded again, spun on his heel and strode out of the office.
Margaret gave a thumbs-up as he pulled the door shut behind him. "All right, Sam! Still standing."
"Yeah." He scratched the nape of his neck. "Not sure how I managed that. Think Josh is in his office?" He shook his head. "You wouldn't know that. You would
have no earthly reason to know that. I'm just gonna...I'm gonna go now."
"Sam?" He stopped. "Josh said you should come to his office when you're done with Leo."
"Thanks, Margaret." He wandered away, surprisingly steady given his morning's activities. The instant he was in Josh's office, he barely held his feet long enough to make it to a chair.
"Well, hello there," Josh said sunnily. "You look surprisingly unbruised."
"They made sure to hit me where it wouldn't show." He curved up the edges of Cartolay's paper and then let them fall again.
Josh looked at Sam's lap. "Toby's stupid defense thing!"
"I'm all in one piece, Josh."
"That's his price?" Josh laced his fingers behind his head. "Interesting."
"He's upset, but he says he's tired of yelling at us."
"'Cause we never listen?" Josh was grinning.
"CJ's going to let it ride because she thinks living with you is punishment enough."
Sam's eyes unfocused. "I can certainly see her point...." For the second time in five minutes, someone threw a paper clip at the speechwriter. He stood. "I have to go read this thing," he said, brandishing the bulky document. "I just wanted to tell you that everybody's good. I'm going to lunch at one. Want me to come get you?"
Josh stretched. "I have a meeting with the chair of Appropriations."
"Lucky you." Sam shook his head. "All right. Will I see you later?"
"You know where to find me," Josh said. Sam wandered toward his office.
An hour later he stood outside Toby's office, lit by the fire of invincibility, April Cartolay's paper clenched between sweaty hands. "Toby! I want to talk about defense."
Toby's beard couldn't quite hide the smile that curled his lips. "And the first sheep returns to the fold," he murmured. "Come on in, Sam."
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