TITLE: Variations: Hidden Things
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORY: Josh/Sam; CJ/Leo
RATING: PG-13 'cause everyone's still swearing
SPOILERS: Anything through the end of Season 2 is fair game.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, but only because Aaron Sorkin is way cooler than I am & thought of them first.
ARCHIVE: You want it? It's yours. Just tell me where you're putting it.
SUMMARY: "It's the rumor mill. Robin Leach, celebrity weddings, what flavor salad dressing would you be, that kind of crap."
NOTES: This one comes about 4 months after "The Secret Lives of Tracy & Hepburn" and "Fun Fact of the Day." Thanks to Beth for overseeing reconstruction.
Warning: This fic contains both slash and het storylines. Everyone's been warned.

**********

Variations: Hidden Things by Julian Lee

"Hello."

Leo turned and broke into a grin. "I know you," he said. It had been a crazy week, and he and CJ had barely seen each other.

She came in and shut the door, crossing to the file cabinet for a kiss. Leo gave it gladly, but jumped back slightly when the sound of the President walking into something -- followed by his muffled curse -- drifted from the Oval Office. CJ sighed and retreated back around Leo's desk. "Something has to be done about the way Donna's treating Josh and Sam."

Leo slid the file cabinet shut. "I'm open to any suggestions you have."

The press secretary sighed. "Yeah. I got nothing. How has Sam not noticed it?"

"Never underestimate the power of denial, Claude." He leaned closer. "Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm great. Why?"

"You look kinda...puffy."

CJ flinched and pulled away. "Thank you."

"I didn't mean...never mind." He gathered all the red file folders he could find, hoping one of them was the one he needed. "You need anything else, Claude?"

She shrugged. "I was just...I've been thinking of Dallas."

An almost shy grin stole over his face. "That was a great time."

She grinned back. "Just you and me."

"And Toby calling at six in the morning." Leo stretched for a folder that was just out of reach.

"Yeah. But the rest...we haven't done that in a long time." She snagged the folder and handed it over. "We should maybe...do it again."

"CJ. It's election year."

"So?" Her voice spiked.

"So we can't--" He frowned. This was about to become one of the conversations they'd always had the first time, CJ wanting this to be like any normal relationship, Leo insisting that there were things they simply could not do. He dreaded these conversations. They were the ones he feared would lead her to realize she deserved better -- the ones that might convince her to leave him again. "The timing's not right."

Her voice heavy and bitter, she returned, "The timing's never right for us."

"CJ, please--"

"Never mind, Leo. I'll be fine." She sighed; what should have been a relaxing, maybe even romantic, mid-afternoon interlude was turning into their weekly war about nothing much. "I'm gonna head back to my office, okay?"

He nodded, wanting to say more but fresh out of anything useful. "What time are you taking lunch?"

She eyed him suspiciously. "Why? Are you taking lunch at all?"

"I could be persuaded to at least eat something. And if you happened to stop by while I was doing that..."

"Leo--"

"Yeah, yeah; I know. I should take a break. I should slow down. I should do a lot of things I don't have time for just now. Talk to me in five years."

CJ shook her head and looked at her watch. "I'll come back at 1:30."

He smiled, relieved. "I'll be here." She let herself out of the office, smiling at Margaret as she passed.

Outside her own office, Carol was looking considerably less than cheerful. "CJ?" she asked tentatively.

"What's up, Carol?" she asked, feeling the second lead weight of the morning hovering just behind her.

"How are you feeling today?"

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" CJ frowned. "Do I look deathly ill?"

Carol shook her head. "You look...your face looks swollen, like you've been crying."

CJ considered this. "I have not. But it's early yet." She looked at the scrap of pink paper in her assistant's hand. "What's going on?"

"Danny called. He wants five minutes with you sometime today."

She sighed and tapped the desk. "Carol, please tell me there's some other guy named Danny who's vitally important to my life and I've just forgotten about."

Carol smiled apologetically and held out the message slip. "It was Danny Concannon."

"Yeah, that's what I figured." CJ rubbed her neck. "What does he want?"

"Five minutes. That's honestly all I know."

"I hate my job." She took the slip and crumpled it slightly. "I'm running away to join the circus."

Carol laughed softly. "Want me to call Danny back and set up the appointment?"

The press secretary shook her head. "I want you to call around and see when the circus is coming to town next and what work they've got for a six-foot-tall woman who falls over a lot."

**********

Donna buzzed into Josh's office in search of a file Toby had been braying for all morning, but Sam's presence brought her up unpleasantly short. "Sam? What are you doing?"

"Josh has the Luddington file buried under here somewhere. I thought I'd come see if I could dig it up and get Toby off my back before Josh gets back from his meeting." He smiled at her. "What did you need?"

Icing him with a glare, she plucked a yellow file folder off one of Josh's innumerable piles and swept out. "The Luddington file."

Sam frowned and crossed to his assistant's desk. "Cathy, have I done something stupid to Donna lately that I don't know about?"

"Oh, Sam, you do so many stupid things on a daily basis, it's hard to know where to begin." Cathy grinned at her computer screen.

"I really could fire you, you know. I don't think you bear that in mind enough." He leaned against her desk. "Seriously, what have I done recently that would make her hate me?"

"Hate's a strong word, Sam."

"But she is mad at me, right?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Now Cathy looked up, mildly irritated by the useless question. "'Why'? You're kidding, right? You could start with the two huge fights she and Josh had about you." Sam's blue eyes sprung wide. "And...you didn't know about that, did you? Crap." She turned back to her computer.

"What fights?" Cathy typed frantically. "Cathy? What fights?"

"Forget it, Sam. Forget I mentioned it."

Of course there was no way he was going to do that. "When did this happen?"

Cathy sighed. "Um, the first one was when the UN inspector was here, and the other one right after your grandfather died."

Sam's voice grew dangerously quiet. "What did she say?"

She had said so much, Cathy didn't know where to start. She hadn't heard the first fight, in Josh's office, but the second had been in the middle of the bullpen late on a Wednesday night, long after Sam went home, when she, Donna, and Bonnie were the only assistants left. Josh ran out of his office calling for Sam -- and received a chilling reply from Donna about Sam abandoning him hours ago. "Some...uh...generally unhappy things?"

"Cathy."

She shook her head. "No, Sam. I won't get in the middle of this. Take it up with Donna or Josh."

Sam gritted his teeth and stalked toward his office. "You better believe I will," he muttered.

Josh and Donna had fought about him, and Josh hadn't said a word. Sam had assumed that Donna found out with the rest of the junior staff during Josh and Ainsley's humiliating discussion of Sam's sock drawer, but Papa Vinci died six months ago, and the UN inspector had come months before that. So Donna had learned all that time ago and reacted badly, and Josh had never seen fit to mention it. He could seriously strangle them both.

**********

"Thank you for meeting with me, CJ." Danny tapped Gail's bowl lightly. "I miss talking with you."

She nodded. She missed it, too, but they had no middle ground; either they were fighting or they were making out. "So, what can I do for you?"

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Ten seconds out and he had already lost control. Of course CJ would have guessed that she would be the one doing the favor for him, and not the other way around, but he had hoped to hold onto the illusion for a while longer. Since that was not to be, he decided to get this shitty tabloid assignment disposed of as quickly as possible. "Now, CJ, please keep in mind, when I tell you this, that I am a serious journalist, and that this is not the kind of crap I want the _Post_ to be covering."

CJ ran a hand across her eyes. "Oh, shit," she muttered.

"I'm sorry, CJ; I really am."

"Give it to me fast, Danny," she said, sighing.

"I have intelligence of two senior staffers involved in a relationship of a romantic nature. I want to do an interview with the staffers in question."

She stared at him incredulously. "You -- you're absolutely kidding, right? I mean, what in God's name made you think I'd give you permission for a...a *stunt* like that?"

"CJ--"

"Jesus, Danny, I should throw you out of the Wing -- out of the corps. I should kick your sorry-excuse-for-a-reporter ass all the way back to the _Dallas Morning News_."

He clenched his jaw and waited for her blood to come down from a boil. "I *also* have," he continued quietly, "and my editor sure as hell doesn't know about this, or the other story would be gone faster than you can say 'high level White House scandal' -- some highly privileged information about a Labor Department bill called the Hanson Farmworker Protection Act of 1992. And it looks very bad for the man who was Secretary of Labor at that time."

**Oh, Leo,** CJ thought, putting a hand over her mouth. Still she couldn't give Danny what he was asking for. "This is so far beneath you, Danny."

He hung his head and addressed his reply to the carpet. "I know that only too well. One of the hazards of being a reporter is that you take the assigments your editors hand you -- no matter how disgusting they are. I don't want to do this interview -- God, do I not want to do this interview -- but even I have to admit that there's something not unlike news to it."

And that was when what he'd said really hit her.

**Two senior staffers. Relationship of a romantic nature.**

But which ones did he want?

Many, many people suspected the true nature of Josh and Sam's relationship, but even with the two of them living together no one could prove anything. Except that maybe now Danny could. Or maybe something she had said had tipped him off to her own relationship. Either way, there was at least one relationship he *didn't* know about -- because it was entirely possible that he was bluffing and didn't really know about either of them. And of course she couldn't ask.

She spread her hands, playing for time. "I...I am uncertain as to the veracity of your story."

He rolled his eyes. "CJ, can we please pretend, just for a minute, that you don't think I'm a complete moron?"

She shrugged helplessly. "I can't do anything without the permission of the staffers involved, Danny."

He stood, staring down at her. "Make sure you get it," he told her. "Otherwise, I'll have to run with the other story."

"Hold on!" she called, leaping up and coming around the desk to face him. "And you're really going to sit on this...this Hanson whatsit?" He nodded, and she laughed harshly in his face. "Danny, can we please pretend for a minute that *I'm* not a complete moron? You're the same man who ran Mandy Hampton's goddamned memo; you're the one who--"

"What I've got on Leo," he interrupted gently, "is petty and mean and small."

"And the tawdry affairs of White House senior aides aren't?" She crossed her arms.

"I like Leo; I respect him. But my hands are tied. Either you give me the interview or I run with the Hanson story. It'll make me look bad; I know that -- I'll be the new Drudge, but it's what I've got." He still wasn't looking at her.

"Danny, you can't be in *that* much of a bind. You're a serious journalist -- why do you have to go with either of these stories?"

He shrugged. "The winds of change are blowing, CJ. Can't you feel it? The President's MS and the cover-up aren't interesting anymore, but the bar's been raised again -- or lowered -- depending on how you want to look at it. The American people need more now -- they're waiting for the Next Big Thing, and it's going to have to be pretty damned big -- or scandalous -- to get their attention."

"That's sick." She practically spat the words.

"That's what this business has come to," he replied sadly.

She put her hand on his arm. "Then you should get the hell out of this business, Danny. Now, before it eats you alive."

He smiled ruefully and turned to leave. "Believe me, I think about it twenty times a day." He opened the door and looked over his shoulder at her. "Twenty-four hours is all the time I can give you, CJ."

She nodded. "I'll be in touch." After Danny left, CJ returned to her desk and sat for nearly ten minutes, staring at nothing, wondering at what point everything had fallen apart, and how she ended up trying to hold all of the pieces in one hand.

**********

Usually Josh was thrilled when he came into his office to find Sam waiting for him. Usually Sam in Josh's office meant a midday ravishing, and you couldn't beat that. But as he closed the door he caught a glimpse of the tight, shut-down look on Sam's face and predicted that a pounding of different -- and entirely unpleasant -- nature was what was on the younger man's mind. "Hey there," Josh said, deciding to attempt casual until Sam indicated otherwise.

"Hey, yourself," Sam replied evenly enough, then gestured at Josh's chair. "Have a seat, Josh."

**Oh, fuck. Sam's inviting me to sit down -- in my own office. I'm about to wish I'd stayed on the Hill all day, aren't I?** He sat anyway. "Uh, okay."

"How was your meeting?" Sam asked pleasantly.

Josh rubbed his hands over his face. "It was...it was Regan and his bloodhounds; you know how they get. Listen, Sam, if you're going to, I don't know, shred me, could you please do it now and get it over with and not do this passive-aggressive whatever it is you're doing here?" **Yes. That's a brilliant strategy, Lyman. Antagonize the man before he even gets started.**

But Sam sat back slightly, looking surprised that Josh had read him so easily. "All right," he conceded. "How about this: why the hell didn't you tell me about the fights you and Donna had about me?"

Josh blinked. Two arguments that took place more than six months ago were nowhere on the list of things he had imagined Sam would be upset about today. "Sam--"

"Don't 'Sam' me, Josh!" The speechwriter jumped out of his chair and leaned over Josh's desk. "You and Donna had two fights about me, and you didn't say a word about it."

"What difference would it have made?" Josh forced himself not to retreat into his chair or jump up in Sam's face; that was his normal reaction when people started yelling at him, but neither were recommended methods for dealing with people you were in love with. "The damage was done -- man, was it ever done. Donna was upset; we had words; she got over it."

"Except that she didn't." Sam took a step backwards and crossed his arms. "Because now that I've been thinking about it, I realize that she's been treating me like shit for quite some time now. Eight months or so -- maybe since around the time the UN inspector showed up?" He started to pace, then changed his mind. "Now, I know that I am not that perceptive sometimes, so I don't know who's noticed that Donna is treating me badly, and I can't say that it particularly makes a difference in the day-to-day running of the Bartlet Administration. Except that, when I got to thinking about it more, I realized that she hasn't been treating you so well, either. And that has to be affecting your job."

Josh sat still after Sam stopped to make sure he really was finished. He didn't go on rampages like this nearly as frequently as Josh did, but his had a way of rambling on longer than Josh's did, and they weren't always over when you thought they were. "Can I say something now?" Sam snorted and shrugged. Josh stood and came as close as he dared with the younger man in such a violent mood. "Donna said...some ugly things, Sam. Things about you that -- that were mean and untrue. I was furious with her...but I didn't need the two of you going to war. That was the last thing we needed then. Hell, it's the last thing we need *ever.*"

"But it's what she *did,* Josh. She went to war anyway." He stared at the floor. "For the past eight months, Donna's been treating me like shit, and you didn't do anything to stop her."

"I didn't notice," he insisted, dropping dejectedly back into his chair. "I chose not to notice, I guess. When Donna and I had our first fight about this, she promised me that she'd lay off of you. And I guess I just...I just wanted to believe it so badly I wouldn't allow myself to see anything that proved otherwise."

"And the way she was treating you? How could you have ignored that?"

"I--" Josh spun his chair back and forth slightly. "Donna and I verbally abuse each other, Sam. It's what we do. If her jibes have taken on a less jovial quality in the last eight months...no, I guess I ignored that, too."

"Then we need to have a serious discussion about reality and avoidance, Josh," Sam told him. "What bothers me most of all is that you didn't tell me. This started eight months ago, and you never said a word. It makes me wonder what else you've been hiding from me."

Josh scratched the back of his head and tried for the easy joke. "I, uh, still have a piece of the blanket I slept with when I was a kid?"

Sam smiled in spite of himself. "I know. You had it in your hand the entire time you were on the phone telling your mother about us." The smile faded. "But I mean it, Josh. I think...I think it's going to take some time before I can trust you again. I need time to think about all of this...crap; figure out what it means for us -- for our relationship."

Josh spread his hands, trying not to let his eyes reflect the fact that the bottom had just dropped out of his world and everything was looking tilted and wavy. "You take all the time you need."

Sam's jaw set, and his eyes danced dangerously. "Clear ten minutes in Donna's schedule today. She and I need to have a talk."

If it had been any other day of this week, Josh would've told Sam that talking to Donna while he was in this mood was a terrible idea, but today he would do whatever it took -- including letting Sam rip Donna apart -- to repair the damage he'd done. "Whatever you need," he said.

**********

CJ knocked on Leo's open door and hoped to God she didn't look as nervous as she felt. "Leo?"

His eyes widened. "Is it 1:30 already?" He looked down at his watch and then back up at CJ. "What's wrong?"

The press secretary licked her lips and sat across the desk from him. "Danny Concannon came to see me this morning."

Leo groaned. "That's a reassuring start to any conversation." He folded his hands on the desk. "What does he want?"

"An exclusive interview with the two top aides involved in a romantic relationship." Now she was the one talking to the carpet.

"What!" Leo jumped up so fast he nearly launched himself over the desk. "Which ones?"

"That's the problem. He didn't say, and I couldn't very well ask."

"And what obviously vital screw has fallen out of Danny Concannon's brain that makes him think he'll get permission for this?"

She took a deep breath and held it until her lungs began to burn. "Uh, Leo, what can you tell me about the Hanson Farmworker Protection Act of 1992?"

He frowned at what he considered an abrupt change in topic. "The Hanson -- aw, hell. Garrett Keith, that weaselly little..."

"Weasel?" CJ offered.

"Yeah. Damn it all." Leo stared into space. "So Danny's got Hanson, and he's got -- well, *somebody.*"

"Yes."

"And he's offering to make Hanson go away in exchange for an interview with two as-yet unspecified senior staffers?"

"That's his offer. As a point in his favor, if you'd like one, he really is sick about it."

The chief of staff had never admitted to CJ how jealous he was of the relationship she and Danny had almost had early in the administration -- mainly because he freely acknowledged how juvenile and unfair that jealousy was. Still, the last thing he wanted was CJ offering points in Concannon's favor.

"Leo?" CJ broke through his reverie. "This...the Hanson thing? Is it bad enough that this deal is worth making?"

He pulled off his glasses and spun them. "A deal like that is never worth making, CJ."

"Says the man who'd blithely die for this administration before doing a thing to help himself," she said, and crossed her ankles.

He rubbed his eyes. "CJ--"

"You want to tell me about it?"

He tilted his head and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Not much chance of that, Claude."

"Okay. But I'm here."

Leo smiled at her. "I know you are, and you have no idea how much I appreciate that. How much time do you have to get back to Danny?"

She looked at the clock on Leo's desk. "Twenty-three hours."

He stood and patted his pockets, even though he knew damned well that what he wanted wasn't in them. "Okay. There's one thing I want to try, to see if I can take care of this--"

"Ha!" Her laugh pained her. "I know what Leo McGarry 'taking care of it' entails: Leo McGarry quietly turns in his resignation and withdraws before the administration takes a hit. Luckily, the President's too smart to fall for that."

He sighed, knowing that she was right. He would go into the Oval Office and tender his resignation, and the President would tell him to take that resignation and "shove it where the sun don't shine." "Light it on fire," Jed had told him when he was trying to discuss exit strategies for when the story about his time in rehab broke. "Roast a damned marshmallow over it; that's all the use you're going to get out of it."

There was only one way out of this situation: *someone* was going to have to sit down with Danny Concannon.

Leo couldn't stop staring at the cuff of CJ's gray shirt. He felt an urge to rip the shirt -- all her clothes -- off of her, as though having sex on the couch would somehow replace whatever Danny Concannon was about to take from them.

Instead, he smiled sadly and took her hand. "Schedule a meeting for the President and the Senior Staff for sometime tonight. Everybody together should be able to come up with some sort of solution. Maybe the four of us will flip for it."

She gasped. "But that'll mean...that means telling Toby and the President about us."

He inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly. "It's time, Claude."

CJ took a long look at him. "I love you, Leo."

"I love you, too. I don't know what that idiot thinks he's started today, but you and I can get through it together."

CJ's eyes widened, and she found she was fighting back tears. "You really feel that way?"

He stared at her, then came around the desk and pulled her up out of the chair. "Of course. We may not always -- I realize that you and I seem to be moving at cross-purposes a lot of the time, but I have faith in this relationship. I certainly have faith that it's stronger than Danny Concannon."

She hugged him and refused to let go. "That's not really that big of an accomplishment, you know."

He ruffled her hair and smiled. "Let me dream, Claude."

**********

Sam stood at the edge of the bullpen and watched the flow of the junior staff, men and women who always seemed so busy -- and he had no idea what they did. It took him a while, in the sea of human efficiency, to spot the willowy blond he'd been searching for, but once he saw her, he cut through the hordes and was at her side in under three seconds. "Hi, Donna."

She jumped. "Sam! What do you think you're doing, sneaking up on a girl like that?"

He shrugged indifferently. "Just wanted to make sure I got your attention, is all."

"You certainly have it now," she said, flipping her hair back. "What do you need?"

He smiled disarmingly and pointed to his office. "A word, if I may."

She scowled, sensing something not quite right in the wind. "I'm really busy right now, Sam--"

"Actually you're not," he cut in. "Josh cleared some time on your schedule."

"Um, okay." Donna had done some awful thing to Sam in the past few months -- and she had gotten away with it all -- but she had a feeling that that was about to end. Suddenly she was afraid of Sam.

As they passed Cathy's desk, Sam tapped it and said, "Donna and I are going to be in my office for a few minutes, Cathy, and I don't want to be disturbed, all right? Especially not by Josh."

Josh was Donna's safety net. She wasn't sure why, given the way she'd been treating them lately, but she assumed that Josh had been shielding her from Sam's rage, which -- all kidding aside -- could be considerable. Donna had no idea what was going on here, but she was beginning to wish that she'd called in sick today. Or maybe that she'd resigned yesterday.

"Please, have a seat," Sam offered, and to Donna it felt much like an executioner inviting his victim to make her head comfy on the block, but she sat and looked up at him with as brave a face as she could muster.

Sam watched Donna pretend to be brave. **You're damned right you should be scared,** he thought. **But it's a little late to panic now.** He perched on the edge of his desk and looked down at her. "You and Josh have been fighting about me. About my relationship with Josh."

She nodded and drew a shaky breath, but whatever she had intended to say was suddenly drowned. "WHAT THE HELL BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS?" Sam demanded, and Donna was practically thrown back in the chair from the force of it. "Is this jealousy? Concern for the administration? Do you just not like me? Tell me what this is about, Donna, so I can list for you the many ways in which you are wrong and we can go back to business -- because whatever it is has created a gigantic chip on your shoulder, and if this continues much longer, I can't speak for the security of your job."

Donna's eyes widened. "Are you threatening me, Sam? Are you threatening my job because Josh and I disagree about his love life?"

"Disagree?" Sam's eyebrows shot up. "If it were just the disagreement, Donna -- it's detrimental to your work, and so, by extension, Josh's. It's affecting me; it's affecting the other assistants--"

"It isn't--"

"Of course it is!" he cut her off. "You've caught them in the middle of this battle you're waging, and they have to choose between the solidarity of assistants everywhere, or whatever, and the administration that cuts their paychecks. So then *their* work starts to suffer, and that pisses off Toby and Leo -- a situation we want to be avoiding at all costs. We're in the middle of a *serious* campaign here. It's in no way certain at this point that President Bartlet's going to be re-elected; Josh's head needs to be completely in the game and not worrying that some statistic he's going to quote to the head of Campaign Finances is wrong because his assistant's punishing him."

"I resent your implications, Sam." Donna's voice spiked. "I would never do anything to jeopardize the President's re-election campaign or Josh's job performance."

He threw his hands in the air and jumped off the desk, pacing the office. "You already have, Donna! And over something that, to put it bluntly, has nothing to do with you."

"I think that--"

"No! There is no part of my relationship with Josh that is any concern of yours, and I can't for the life of me figure out why you want to make it a concern of yours."

"Because I'm still jealous! Because I thought it would be me, not you." She glared at him. "There, Sam, is that what you wanted to hear? That I have, for the most part, gotten over it, but sometimes it still makes me so furious to see him so happy and know that I could've been the one making him feel that way?"

He sighed. "I will not deny that Josh did, at some point early in your time working for him, have romantic leanings towards you. But--" He raised a finger in warning as her mouth opened slightly, "but that's all they were. Leanings."

"We'll never know that now, will we?" she threw back.

Sam rolled his eyes and ignored her. "He is also your immediate supervisor, and as rash, impulsive, and even idiotic as the man can often act, he is *not* stupid. He would never have done anything about those leanings as long as you were working for him." Sam ran his hand over his face. "And let's face it: Josh *needs* you working for him."

She sighed. She couldn't deny that. "I know."

He dropped into his chair. "So what was this really about?"

She shrugged, struggling to find a way to phrase it that wouldn't make her sound irredeemably pathetic. "Haven't -- haven't you ever had to watch someone you're in love with go be happy with someone else and just hate them both -- no matter how close you are to them?"

They stared at each other for a minute, Donna realizing just how much of her soul she'd bared to Sam; Sam realizing he'd seriously underestimated the depths of Donna's pain. Finally, he nodded. "It was called Josh's relationship with Mandy."

Donna's hand flew to her mouth. "God, Sam," she breathed. "Even then?"

"Yup." Then he snickered, and didn't seem to be able to stop. "He can be a real jackass, you know."

She started laughing, too. "Oh, yeah. I know."

"Should we start a club? The 'Josh Lyman Done Me Wrong' club?"

Donna pressed her hand to the stitch that had formed in her side, and she forced enough air into her lungs to reply, "We could make buttons. Have a secret handshake. Which we would have to teach to Joey."

This sent Sam off anew, and he gasped, "Oh, that poor woman! The crap he's put her through -- professionally and personally."

"Wait," Donna protested, wiping away a tear, "you *get* Josh. I don't think you get to be in this club."

Sam leaned forward in his chair. "Donna, I should be the head of this club. Josh broke your heart once. He stomps all over mine repeatedly. Do you know he didn't tell me about the fights you two had? Eight months ago, this started, and not a word from him about it."

She smiled sadly and folded her hands in her lap. "That's sweet, if you think about it. He was trying to protect you."

"He was protecting himself." Sam shook his head. "He figured -- correctly, unfortunately -- that I wouldn't notice the way you were treating us, and then he wouldn't have to deal with both of us pissed off -- whereas, if he'd bothered to mention it, there'd have been a day or two of unpleasantness and then we could've gone on with our lives. But he didn't want to deal with that day or two."

"What happens instead?"

A distressed scowl traveled briefly across Sam's face. "Instead, I have to--" He waved his hand. "It's not important."

"Sam." She considered him carefully. "It may be none of my business, but I have to say this. Josh may hurt you, but I'm not sure you fully appreciate your ability to wound him. As hard as this is for me to admit, he is gone over you. I'm talking adolescent loopiness, puppy- dog *gone.* He lives and dies by the look on your face, and if you're thinking of doing something that would--"

"He concealed this huge thing from me for eight months!" He pressed his knuckles into his forehead, trying not to let the enormity of what Donna was saying override the problems he and Josh were having.

"Yes." Donna nodded emphatically. "Sometimes he'll do things like that. Sometimes he'll be a jackass. But, Sam, you have to know that he doesn't do it maliciously -- he's trying to save himself trouble, not cause it for anyone else."

Sam's head dropped back and he stared emptily at the ceiling before sighing melodramatically. "Yeah, I know. I just...god, he can be so *difficult.*"

Donna's laugh didn't sound as harsh as it felt in her throat. "You should try working for him sometime."

The speechwriter hauled himself upright. "Oh, man, no thanks." He cocked his head and looked searchingly at her. "Are you okay?" She nodded. "I came down rough--"

"You were right, though. I...I *have* been treating you both badly. And I never considered that I might be affecting everyone else." She stood and smoothed her skirt. "I promise: the snarking stops here."

He nodded. "Thank you, Donna." Then he frowned up at her. "And you -- you're sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, Sam. Honest."

"All right."

"I'm going to get back to work now. See? The all-new, vengeance-free Donna. I feel better already." She tried smiling.

Her expression was so composed that Sam fell for it. "See ya' 'round."

The door clicked shut behind her and she rushed to the women's bathroom, hands clamped over her mouth, sobbing.

"Donna?"

The blond assistant's head snapped up and she frantically attempted to put herself back in order. "I -- I'm sorry; I hadn't realized anyone was...CJ?"

"Hey."

A toilet flushed, and CJ came from the end stall to the sink, looking a little green. "You all right, CJ?"

CJ groaned as she turned off the faucet. "I know; I don't look so hot." She took in Donna's bedraggled appearance and crossed her arms. "What did Josh do this time?"

Donna bit back a chuckle. "Nothing."

"Donna."

She ducked her head. "Honestly, it -- Sam and I had a little--"

"So he finally caught on."

Donna's eyes widened. "CJ--"

"You've gotta admit, Donna, you've been pretty rotten toward them both."

"Yeah, I have." Donna hung her head. "I just...you know, I'm not even sure I was in love with him."

"You always want what you can't have; is that it?"

"That's it exactly." She nodded.

"Still, you know it's not your place to say. And if you love Josh, even as a friend, shouldn't you be happy for him?"

"Yes. I should. But I...Christ, CJ, I don't know what's wrong with me."

"And now you and Sam are fighting."

She shook her head. "We patched it up, I think."

The press secretary stared at her, and Donna felt distinctly uncomfortable under that piercing gaze. "Really?"

She forced herself to nod. "Really."

"'Cause I'd be happy to kick his ass. I mean, I have no problem standing here giving you a dressing-down, but if Sam did anything that requires my shoe up his butt--"

"Thanks for the offer." Donna smiled. "But that really won't be necessary."

"Okay." CJ crossed to the door and looked back at Donna. "Coming?"

"In a minute." Donna fished a handkerchief out of her pocket and gestured at her raccoony reflection. "I need to do something about this."

"Understood. Listen, Donna, don't forget, if you need to talk--"

She nodded quickly. "I know. Thank you, CJ."

"Or if you need Josh or Sam beaten up."

"Yeah. Thanks."

"All right." The older woman gave her one more quick once-over, then left the disappeared.

Donna repaired the damage to her make-up, which wasn't as bad as she'd feared, then stared herself down in the mirror. "Recess is over, Donnatella," she scolded herself. "It's time for the big leagues." If she was aware, as she squared her shoulders and left the bathroom, that she had learned that particular sports metaphor from Josh, she put it cleanly out of her mind.

**********

CJ was at Sam's desk smacking the side of his head before he was fully aware she was in the office. "OW! What the hell was that for?" he whined, rubbing his head.

"For making Donna cry."

"Come on, CJ." Sam groaned and threw his pen onto the desk. "I'm sure *you* must have noticed that things have not been great around here where Donna's concerned."

"I have, and I'm extremely relieved that one of you has finally taken it up with her. But you must have been one cold-hearted bastard for her to end up crying in the women's bathroom."

Sam picked up his pen just to throw it again. "She's crying in the bathroom?" That was one of the worst possible outcomes of men's interactions with women. Tears could be soothed; a stand-off in the bathroom could be ended peacefully -- but crying *in* the bathroom meant you were in deep shit.

"Yes, Samuel. She said you two had an altercation."

His eyes widened. "She said that? I mean, she really called it an altercation?"

CJ frowned, trying to remember. "Come to think of it, she never made it to an actual noun."

"Well, as unheard of as that is in this administration," Sam returned, looking relieved, "let me assure you that 'altercation' is too strong a word for what happened. We had to have a talk, and now we've had it. Everything goes back to normal now."

"Sam, you wouldn't know normal if it bit you in the ass." CJ put a hand on the back of the visitor's chair. "So why did it take you eight months to bring this up with her?"

"Because I didn't catch on to *this* until about two hours ago."

"Wow." CJ was impressed by the depths of the stupidity Josh was sometimes capable of. "That boyfriend of yours is some piece of work."

"Tell me about it." Sam sighed and put his pen in his pocket.

"Senior Staff in the Oval in five minutes," she said, heading for the door. "Please be on time; this one's really important."

He nodded. "I'll be there."

CJ came out of Sam's office just as Josh rounded the corner. "Hey, CJ!" he called out. She smacked him, too. "Shit! What did you do that for?"

She reflected that her aim was improving considerably. "For not telling Sam about the fights." Not wanting to hear his excuses and rationalizations, she continued down the hall toward her office. "Senior Staff in 3."

**********

"So, CJ, care to explain what's going on here?" Toby demanded.

"Hi, Toby; how's your day been?" she returned pleasantly, settling onto the couch, and he scowled but sat next to her anyway. "Here's what's been going on in my office this morning." She told them about Danny's visit, limiting Leo's role in it to saying, "And we have to agree to the interview because he has a bigger story he's offered to sit on in exchange."

"Shit," Josh muttered. There was a long pause while CJ waited for either Josh or Sam to ask the obvious question.

Josh got around to it first. "Who does he want, though?"

CJ shook her head. "He didn't say."

"And you couldn't ask," Sam finished.

"Yeah."

The president's eyes were dangerously dark and wide. "You mean there's someone *other* than the two of you?"

"Well," CJ said, "there's me."

Toby's eyes nearly fell out of his head. CJ had said that Danny had specifically mentioned Senior Staff, which left only himself and Leo as possible culprits in this newest wrinkle. And since it certainly wasn't him--

"You and whom?" Jed demanded, glaring back and forth between Leo and Toby.

**His best friend of over four decades,** Toby thought, **and he doesn't know.** Then he shook his head. **Hell, CJ's supposedly my best friend, and I didn't know. Except that I did, I think. Mallory's party--** Toby swallowed a gasp. **Lord, CJ, what happened that night?**

"Me."

Jed turned to stare at Leo. "What?"

"It's me, sir," Leo spoke calmly, evenly. "CJ and I are involved."

"For how long?" Toby heard the sharp edges in the President's voice.

Leo shrugged as though nothing could possibly have mattered less. "About a year and a half."

That floored Toby. Jed's face turned an alarming shade of purple. "Leo--"

"Mr President, right now we are discussing what we intend to do about Danny Concannon."

Jed hit the back of Leo's chair with the flat of his hand, but there was nothing he could do now. "We'll talk about this later," he promised.

"No," Leo said firmly. "We won't."

"As long as we're on a roll here," CJ said, "I suppose now would be a good time to mention that I'm pregnant."

Josh really, *really* wanted to laugh at the look on Leo's face -- he would've bet the entire Treasury that this was as much news to the chief of staff as it was to the rest of them.

Sam recovered first. "Congratulations, CJ. Leo."

"Thank you, Sam," CJ said warmly.

"Oh, this changes everything," Leo said.

She frowned at him. "What does it change?"

"Now it *has* to be you and me, regardless of who he wants."

"Why?"

"Because pregnancies show, Claude!" The fact that Leo didn't notice he'd used his pet name for her in the middle of a Senior Staff meeting didn't reassure CJ in any way. "Eventually we're going to be a story anyway; we might as well do the interview now."

She shook her head. "*I'll* be a story eventually. There's no need to drag you into it."

Leo stared at her as though he'd never seen her before. "What the hell are you saying? Are you trying to cut me out of my own life?"

"Well, there doesn't need to be a scandal--"

The others might as well not have been in the room. "What scandal? I love you, CJ. That doesn't need to be a secret anymore."

"Seriously." She crossed her arms.

"Seriously. Toby and the President know--"

"Toby and the President are still in the room," Jed reminded him.

"I'm sorry, sir," Leo said. "But this has suddenly become a situation that--"

"Give him Josh and Sam," Toby said abruptly.

"Excuse me?" Sam turned to his boss. "Since when are you--"

"Since I'm in charge of message, Sam. If it's you, we can have a real conversation. What it means to be gay in the White House and all of that."

"We're not re--" Josh started to protest, but Toby didn't give a damn.

"Give them Leo and CJ, and it's gossip, you know? It's the rumor mill. Robin Leach, celebrity weddings, what flavor salad dressing would you be, that kind of crap."

The President chuckled softly. Josh cleared his throat. "What d'ya think, Sam?"

Sam stared at Josh, oblivious to four other pairs of eyes on them. He was sick of being the one who panicked. The one who couldn't have anyone knowing. "No unneccessary risks." He'd said that once -- seemed like a lifetime ago -- but there were days he honestly couldn't remember why he was being so overly cautious. He was drawn to the idea of busting through the closet he and Josh had built around themselves, but they never wanted their jobs to be about this; didn't want their *lives* to be about this. If Toby believed that this was for the good of the administration, he wouldn't hesitate for an instant -- except that he wasn't sure where he and Josh were at this point. And then, as often happened, someone else made the decision for him.

"Absolutely not," Leo growled.

"Leo, it's our best option," Toby said.

"Then we let it go. I am not giving Sam and Josh to Danny Concannon."

"Leo, we don't--"

"CJ," he snapped, "you are hardly in a position to make this decision."

"Why?" She was standing and indignant; he was sitting and bound to lose. "Because of our relationship? I'd do the same for anyone in this room -- and everyone would do it for you."

"No."

"Leo," Josh cut in, "isn't this our decision?"

"It really isn't. I got us into this mess--" he cut off the protest he saw forming on Jed's lips. "The other story Danny's sitting on has to do with something that happened while I was drunk and high and running the Labor Department; I got us into this mess. I'm not going to see you two destroyed by it."

"They won't be," Toby said. "As much as it kills me to say it, I have faith in them. They have the ability to get through this with minimal damage to themselves -- or the administration."

"Thank you, Toby," Sam said.

"Shut up, Sam."

Leo locked eyes with CJ. Her look told him something the others couldn't read, and she nodded. He turned to Jed, who shrugged as only a friend of forty years can shrug and have it mean anything. The chief of staff groaned and slumped in his chair. "Fine. Set up the damned interview."

CJ looked at Sam. "Sam? Are you willing to--"

He stared at Josh, who stared back in horror and dawning realization as the breadth and depth of Sam's anger finally hit him. They needed time alone so he could try to defuse this bomb he seemed to have built. "Uh, Mr President," he said, "Sam and I need to take a couple of minutes and discuss--"

"Not now, Josh." Sam shook his head. The thing about Josh was that you knew, when you went into whatever kind of relationship you had with him, that he would continue to be the jackass he was, so you accepted it and moved on. You beat the shit out of him periodically, but you moved on. Especially when you loved him as much as Sam did. "We'll discuss it later." Josh had the grace to look afraid of that impending confrontation. Sam turned to CJ. "We'll do the interview."

"Thank you." He nodded, and CJ smiled at Josh. "Thank you, Josh."

Josh was so relieved he almost fell over. Maybe Sam hadn't consciously made his decision yet, but he knew that Sam would never agree to an interview about their relationship if he believed that the relationship was about to end. He swallowed and looked at CJ, who was waiting for him to say something. "Yeah. Anything else?"

"Yes," Leo said. "If you do this interview, it's just this interview. I don't want to see you two hooligans on the cover of _The Advocate_ or presenting at the GLAAD media awards. Got it?"

Sam grinned. That was the worst thing he could do at the moment, but he couldn't help it. "We understand, Leo."

"Just this interview," Josh promised.

"Good."

"I don't like any of this," the President said. "I want to make that very clear."

"We understand, sir," CJ told him. "But it's the only way."

"You gonna call Danny?" Leo asked.

"I was on my way to do that right now."

"Come to my office when you're done."

She couldn't decide whether to frown or smile. "I will." She walked out of the Oval.

"Are we done?" Sam asked.

"Yeah," the President said. "Get out of here." Sam, Josh, and Toby followed CJ, already arguing about what Sam and Josh should say in their interview.

"Whole damned place is falling apart," Jed muttered.

"Yes, sir," Leo agreed. "It certainly is."

Jed sat across from his chief of staff and rubbed his hands together. "Leo, I...this has been one of the damned strangest days I've had since I've been in office."

"You, sir? This has been one of the strangest days of my entire life."

Jed sighed and stared just over Leo's head. "I was harsh earlier. About CJ. I meant to say congratulations. About the baby and...and everything."

"Thank you, sir."

The President shook his head. "Why didn't you tell me, Leo?"

Leo spread his hands. "Because we wanted...aw, hell, sir, Toby's right. Why make it a story when it's not?"

"Yeah." Jed looked out the window. He had nothing to say to his closest friend. "Still," he ventured, "you could've...now I feel like there's a whole part of your life you walled off. A joy I couldn't celebrate with you."

Leo looked away, ashamed. "I screwed up that one."

Jed chuckled. "You didn't know, did you? That she's pregnant."

"No, sir. Indeed I did not." He grinned crookedly.

"I wish I'd had a camera." The President looked down at his hands and wondered when they'd started looking like the hands of a sedentary old man.

"So...Sam and Josh?" Leo wasn't entirely sure what he was asking.

"They'll be okay, I think." Jed slouched further down the chair. "I hate the whole thing, but they'll be fine."

"I know how you feel." Leo sighed. "Because I feel the same way."

"CJ's right, Leo. It's what you guys do for each other. I mean, these are the same yahoos who went to Sam's friend after you expressly told them not to, on the off chance it might help against Lillianfield."

"Yeah." He let out a chuckle that was half bemusement, half surrender. "It was almost inevitable that they'd wind up together, wasn't it?"

"And I say thank God. Can you imagine anyone else putting up with them?" Jed looked his best friend in the eye. "I think it's going to work out, Leo. All of it."

Leo nodded and did not look away. "Thank you, sir."

**********

"Danny." CJ ushered the reporter into her office. "Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice."

He shrugged and sat, waving at Gail. "This is important to both of us, CJ."

She folded her hands and waited a moment. In about twenty seconds, Danny might be as upset with her as he'd ever been, and she wanted to make sure she was ready. "Well, you get your wish. It's all set."

"The interview?" She nodded carefully. "When? Where? What's my format?"

She remembered why Danny hadn't taken the editorship. "You'll have to figure that out with them," she said. "Josh is in a meeting with Justice, so--"

He came halfway out of his chair. "Hold on, CJ! You and Leo--"

"This is our offer, Danny," she spat back, her blood racing. "Take it or leave it. This is a better story anyway." She waited for him to come down from a boil.

And she was right. So now he had to think like a reporter, and right at this moment he hated that. "Josh and Sam?" he asked quietly. She held herself still and refused to speak until he had made a decision. "So it is true about them." CJ nodded. Danny flipped his pencil end over end on his clipboard. The lead end clicked, the eraser thudded, and he stared out the window, his eyes glazed. Click. Thud. Click. Thud. "You're right. It is a better story." But that wasn't an answer, so she kept silent. "Fine. I'll do it." He shook his head. "But this is damned cheeky, CJ. What if I'd said no?"

She shrugged. "We would've come up with something else."

"Yeah." A silence stretched between them.

"Sam's in his office, if you want to--"

"That's okay. I'll wait 'til Josh gets back."

They stared at each other. Danny wanted to say a million things; they were at the tip of his tongue and the front of his eyes, and he couldn't bring himself to say them, but that was all right, because she couldn't bring herself to hear them. Instead, she asked, "Leo and I, where did you -- you said there was a rumor, and you won't tell me who, but I have to ask anyway..."

He dropped the pencil on the clipboard and refused to look her in the eye. "There was no rumor, CJ. I -- we see you every day. We know you well enough to tell when...things have happened to you. You've had this weird...glow, and since we assumed you hadn't been exposed to radiation or anything, we decided it had to be love."

She laughed. "And how did you know it was Leo?"

"He's been smiling."

"You know we've been together a year and a half."

He nodded. "I knew it was about that long. But before the Hanson Measure came up, it didn't matter." Danny stuck his pencil behind his ear and stood, and she followed him up. "I'm sorry, CJ. About a lot of things."

She nodded. "So am I, Danny. So am I." There wasn't anything left to say, so he took another strangely poignant glance at Gail and walked out.

**One confrontation down,** she thought, **one to go.**

**********

Donna was a small blond mass of rage in the doorway. "Danny Concannon?" she demanded.

**Yes,** Sam thought. **Because this is exactly the kind of stress I need more of in my life.** "We made a choice."

"CJ gave you to Danny."

"To save Leo. Yes." To him, it was a simple choice -- no choice at all, really.

"And you're going to do this interview? You and Josh are going to sit in front of a tape recorder and a reporter and discuss your personal lives." She came a few steps into the office, cold waves of disapproval radiating off of her.

"It's not that kind of interview, Donna. But thank you so much for your touching concern about our personal lives."

"Sam--"

"Again, this is none of your business, Donna."

"What the hell is going to happen to the administration when people find out about this?"

"Oh, no! Queers in the White House! One of the signs of the apocalypse, surely." He glared through her. "And are you sure this is about us and not about the fact that you're still jealous?"

She laced her fingers together. "To be totally honest with you, Sam, I don't know. I just know the idea doesn't sit well with me."

"Well, that's just too damned bad, Donna! You don't make policy decisions for this administration. Danny has something on Leo. This was his price for swallowing it."

"Christ." She sounded scared, and that reminded Sam that he was scared, too, and his anger deflated somewhat.

"Yes." He nodded. "So we step in front of this train for Leo. I can think of far worse ways we could've been outed."

"Josh and Ainsley discussing your sock drawer?"

Sam laughed grudgingly. "Incriminating photos of some sort." He couldn't help but think of a bar not far from here. "Some idiotic slip of the tongue."

"Someone who's smart enough not to believe your 'we're sharing an apartment to save money' bullshit?"

Sam spread his hands. "Hasn't happened so far." He curled and uncurled the bottom of his tie. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"Please don't apologize. I've been..."

"A pain in the ass?" He sighed. "Yes, you have, but I shouldn't have taken your head off. It's been a really rough day."

"And it's not even close to over yet." She looked toward Josh's office. "Do you know what he's going to be like when he gets back from this meeting?"

Sam shrugged and turned back to his computer. "Maybe a piano will fall on his head on his way back."

"I should be so lucky."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "We both should."

**********

CJ was waiting for Leo when his chat with the President was over. Sitting on his couch, back straight, hands folded in her lap, feet on the floor, she looked for all the world like a schoolgirl awaiting punishment, and while that image had possibilities he was enjoying a great deal, right now they needed to have a serious conversation. "You talk to Danny?" He could almost say that name without tasting something bitter and ashen on his tongue.

She nodded as he settled beside her on the couch. "He agreed to the interview. He wasn't happy about it."

"Neither am I."

"That has been duly noted. Many times. But, Leo, it's over." She took his hand. "And it worked out for the best." She wanted so badly to believe that.

"For me, maybe -- for now. But the Hanson measure is still out there."

CJ shook her head. "I don't know how Danny got the information in the first place, but I don't think anyone else is going to get their hands on it. Ever."

"And what about Josh and Sam?" This was not what Leo wanted to talk about, but it was easier than discussing what they needed to. "This is going to have repercussions we can't fathom. I think Josh wanted to be President someday."

She shook her head. "He wanted Sam more. He knew what he was giving up." Leo sighed, and CJ waited, and the silence sat between them, as solid and unavoidable as a slab of granite. "So...you wanna yell at me now?"

"CJ..." He stopped. He *had* planned to do some yelling, but now he couldn't see the point. "When are you due?"

"Mid-November." She smiled. "A re-election baby."

"If God still loves us by November." He placed a hand over her stomach and wondered how the hell he managed not to notice these things. "When were you going to tell me?"

"When the time was right."

"That could've been never."

"Well, yeah." They grinned at each other. They were beginning to find a sick humor in these glitches in their personalities that kept them just that much apart.

"Is it going to be okay? I mean, after..." Leo fell silent; they seldom spoke of CJ's last pregnancy.

She nodded. "I'll have to be careful, and there could be complications, but it should be all right."

Leo couldn't find words for his relief. "So...you wanna get married?"

She laughed explosively. "Not so much."

"Okay. Just checking."

"I mean, not now." She gestured off in front of them. "There'll be plenty of time."

"I'll be an old man by the time we get out of here, Claude." He grinned.

"Leo, you were born an old man." A new idea struck her, but she wasn't sure what he would think of it. "We could move in together."

Dizzy with a rush of newfound freedom, he drew back to get a better look at her. The last barrier in their relationship had been ripped away -- the President knew. Hell, Danny Concannon knew. "Yes, we could."

They stared at each other, then CJ smiled. "Then we will." She was lost in thought for a minute. "But it should be my place. Or some other place entirely. Not yours."

"What's wrong with my place?"

"The carpet." She shuddered. "That awful beige carpet. Your neighbors. The stupid back left burner on the range that has never worked right."

"I did not know that."

"'Cause when was the last time you cooked anything?" He shrugged, and her eyes glinted slyly as she let go of his hand. "If the baby's a boy, we should name him Daniel, to remind us of how much a man can take -- and the point where he pushes back."

He leaned across the couch and grabbed her. "Oh, you think that, do you?" She nodded, giggling. "You, Ms Cregg, are hopelessly wrong." He kissed her. "But maybe if it's a girl we can name her Ann, after your favorite political operative."

"Truce!" she yelled, and struggled to sit up. "We want to love our child. Let's not start them with a 'kick-me' sign on the birth certificate."

He grinned and kissed her again, softly. "Truce."

**********

"I want you to know I fought with Donna today."

Josh propped his chin on his hands and contemplated Sam standing in his doorway. "All right," he said carefully.

"I made her cry. I thought you should know."

Josh nodded.

"I thought it was important that I tell the man I'm sharing my life with about an event of that magnitude."

"Sam," he began.

"What were you thinking?"

"Honestly?" When Sam rolled his eyes, he rushed on, "I mean -- honestly, I was thinking that it was going to suck when you found out how Donna had reacted, and I wanted to avoid that."

"So you were sparing yourself some suffering." Sam smiled.

Josh spread his hands. "I thought I was sparing us all some suffering. You and Donna don't fight; I don't get caught in the middle..."

"You know, for a man who rushes into confrontations for a living, you sure are a fraidy-cat. And if you say *anything* about my use of the word 'fraidy-cat'--"

"Not a word." Josh held his palms up defensively and shook his head. "I don't want you to get hurt, Sam. I don't want there to be pain where this relationship is concerned. And yes, I know that's an impossible wish, but I love you, and Donna means a lot to me, and the two of you fighting about *me* is one of the stupidest ideas ever." He leaned back. "Although I have to admit that the attention has its appeal, in a strange, sickening way."

"It's nice to be loved, isn't it?"

Josh stood and came over to Sam. "Am I? Still loved?"

"You are such an idiot, Josh." Sam shook his head. "At this point it's almost a physical impossibility that I would stop loving you."

He nodded. "But do you trust me?"

Sam thought hard. "Anything else you're keeping from me?"

"Well, since it turns out you already knew about the blanket -- no."

"And you're not going to pull dumbass stunts like this on me anymore?"

"Never."

"Eight months is a long time, Josh," Sam said quietly.

"I know. I just--"

"I have to tell you; I'm not feeling like I trust you a lot right now. And I'm still pissed that you let Donna basically beat me up all this time without stepping in."

Josh closed his eyes tight.

"*But.* I'm still here. I mean, I'm still *going* to be here. As long as it takes to figure this out. That's the best I can promise you right now."

"Then that's what I'll take," Josh said. "And I'll do whatever it takes -- *whatever* it takes to make this right by you." He swept the younger man into his arms and gripped him tightly. Then he drew back and regarded him, keeping Sam's hands in his own. "You made Donna cry?"

Sam closed his eyes in a futile attempt to block out the memory. "In the women's bathroom."

"Uh-oh. That's the kiss of death, my friend." He rubbed the back of his head. "That would explain why CJ hit me."

"She hit you, too?" Sam sighed. "Pregnant women, Josh. Never mess with pregnant women."

"November's going to be a *long* time coming, isn't it?"

"You boys can both count on it." They whirled around, trying to look innocent and not at all like they'd just been talking about the woman standing in the doorway. "And don't blame the hormones. I could kick either of your asses any day of the year."

"Don't we know it," Sam muttered as CJ swept away again.

"Do you suppose that this child will possibly grow up to become some kind of international martial arts expert?"

"I think it's entirely possible that this child will be *born* an international martial arts expert. I think it's entirely possible that this child is *already* an international martial arts expert." The phone started to ring. "That's Danny."

Josh sighed and let go of Sam's hands. "Ornery reporters and first- trimester fetuses that can kick our butts. What's not to love about this job?"

And despite all of that, it really had been a light day in the Bartlet White House.

FIN

The Muses never sleep! Julian sometimes does, but the Muses are always up to *something.* Positive and constructively negative feedback welcome, thwarted1066@yahoo.com

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