TITLE: Variations on Variations: Something Like Iago
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
DISCLAIMER: I own the junkie and the drooling babies. Anyone with direction in life belongs to Aaron.
ARCHIVE: Knock yourself out. Just tell me where.
SPOILERS: "Five Votes Down;" "The Crackpots and These Women;" "The Leadership Breakfast."
SUMMARY: "We had...for lack of a better word, Sam, we had an equation. There were no children in that equation."
NOTES: 6 months after "Fix." For Boji, because sometimes this is exactly what it's about. Beth, as always, was a pillar of support and suggestions.
Variations on Variations: Something Like Iago by Julian Lee
Josh knew, when he humbly accepted Jed Bartlet's offer to serve as deputy chief of staff, that his days of ten hours of sleep had taken their leave. Still, he thought, when the pounding on his door began at two thirty on a Saturday morning, there were limits to what a man might be expected to endure.
Sam was not awake. He was nearly impossible to wake before his internal clock informed him he'd slept enough, and mere knocking on the door was not going to do it. So Josh staggered into the living room, trying not to trip over anything -- including his feet -- on the way.
When he pulled the door open, he was faced with a young woman with flyaway dirty blond hair and eyes so like Sam's he felt ridiculously tempted to run back to the bedroom to make sure the speechwriter still had his. She held an extremely fragile-looking infant awkwardly in her arms. "Um...hello?" he said.
"Josh?" she asked. "Are you Josh?"
**Oh, thank God. She's only guessing at who I am; maybe I'm not supposed to know her.** "Yeah?"
"I'm Angela. Angela Vinci? Sam's cousin? I have to talk to him," she pleaded, and Josh nearly cried for the way everything slipped away at the edges of her voice. He recognized that sound; it was the way his voice had sounded for at least a year after Joanie died.
"Angela, what's -- come inside." He reached out to draw them into the living room. She flinched; he drew his hand back. Angela slipped inside, careful not to come in contact with Josh. He closed the door and motioned toward the couch. "Have a seat. Can I, um, get you anything? Something to drink, maybe?"
"Could I have a glass of water, please?"
He hurried to the kitchen and ran the faucet. What was the baby's name? It was Italian and perhaps Shakespearean. Given that, he could only come up with "Iago," and he was fairly sure that wouldn't be it. He brought the water and told her, "I'm gonna go get Sam, all right?"
She took a gulp of water. "Thank you, Josh." Josh rested his hand briefly on her shoulder, and she shuddered but didn't protest.
Ferdinand? Mercutio? Doubtful.
He flipped up the bedroom light switch and called Sam's name softly. No response. "Sam," he said, louder, bouncing the mattress with his knee. Nothing. Josh pressed his palm down hard against Sam's arm and ran it from his elbow toward his wrist. "Wake up, Drive," he said sharply.
Sam's eyes sprang open. "I'm awake." And he was. Once those baby blues were open, Sam Seaborn was up for the day. "Jesus, Josh, it's...what the hell time is it?"
"It's -- I think it's two thirty. Listen to me: Angela is in the living room, and to say she looks like Death lightly seared would be too charitable. She's asking for you."
"My cousin Angela?" Sam was out of bed, searching for his slippers. Crisis was de rigueur among the members of Clan Vinci, and Sam's job was taking care of them, but for his black-sheep cousin to show up at his door in the middle of the night -- especially considering she lived in California -- was an entirely different ballgame. "Is Sebastian with her?"
Sebastian! "Yeah. Cute kid. Looks kinda vulnerable, you know?"
Sam raised an eyebrow. "He's four months old, Mir. That's how they all look at that age." He headed toward the living room, stopped, looked over his shoulder at Josh. "Coming?"
"I assumed you--"
"I go, la donna goes," he said decidedly.
La donna shrugged and followed.
"Angela?" Sam said softly as they came into the room.
His cousin looked up at him, eyes trembling with tears. "Sam!" she sobbed, and burst into a rapid stream of barely coherent Italian that Josh didn't even pretend to follow.
Sam sat on the couch while Josh hung uncertainly in the hallway. "Slow down, Angela," Sam said gently and glanced over his shoulder at Josh. "In English." Somehow he managed to look authoritative, despite baggy sweatpants, "Ministry of Silly Walks" t-shirt, and floppy-soled gray slippers he said were too comfortable to put out of their misery.
She gulped air and started over, though she was crying so hard her English was barely more intelligible than her Italian. "I can't do this, Sam," she gasped. "I can't be a mother. I dropped out of school; I'm -- Sebastian's father came back and he's mad as hell that I didn't tell him about the baby." Sam didn't understand men who could dump their girlfriends -- cruelly, in Angela's case -- but still think they had any sort of claim to the children of those relationships. Angela sniffled. "But he's -- I want to go back to him, but I'm afraid what he'd do to the baby if he got his hands on him. That's why I came here. And I'm--" she stopped and hung her head, hiding her face behind a curtain of hair, which her son pawed at irritably.
"Angela," Sam said, caring but stern, "are you shooting up again?"
Josh reeled at this normally diplomatic man asking such a bald question, but Angela nodded, relieved. "I...I'd been clean since the instant I found out I was pregnant. But -- he cries *all* the time, Sam! I needed -- it was just something to take the edge off."
Josh leaned against the wall, thought of Leo and Hoynes. **I've heard that before.** But Angela Vinci took her edges off with heroin.
Sam sat back into the cushions and rubbed his eyes. Josh pushed away from the wall. "I'm gonna make coffee. Anybody want coffee?"
Angela shook her head. Sam sighed. "It's okay, Josh," he said.
"I'm gonna make coffee," he said stubbornly as he crossed to the kitchen.
Sam watched Josh go and wished he could see inside his head. Sighing softly, he turned back to his cousin. "Angela, what do you want to do?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, despair as plain on her face as her nose. Sebastian started to cry quietly. "Oh, no!" she moaned. "He's...he's doing it again." Sitting the baby on her knee, she jiggled him jarringly. He cried harder. "Ssh, baby," she whispered frantically. "Ssh. Be quiet, baby. Be a good baby. Be quiet. Ssh! Be quiet!" Her voice raised in volume and intensity with each plea for silence. Sam watched with increasing alarm as her knee bobbed more violently, and Sebastian slid off sideways. He put out a hand to catch the baby, and Angela latched onto his wrist. "Help me! Can't you make him stop? You have to make him stop!"
And as easily as breathing, Sam reached over and took Sebastian in his arms. "It's okay," he cooed. "Isn't it? Yes it is, Sebastian. It's okay. It's all right. Yes, it is." He stood and paced around the couch, bounced the baby gently and spoke softly in his ear, and within seconds the crying stopped. Sam looked up to find Josh standing in the doorway to the kitchen, mouth open, his expression too jumbled to read. Shock, perhaps? Admiration. A touch of fear.
Sam tried to hand Sebastian back to his mother, but she shrank away and put her hands defensively in front of her face. "No," she whispered, then straightened. "I mean -- he likes you."
He did seem to, at that; he slept contentedly against Sam's chest. Sam sat beside Angela, pushed his hair out of his eyes, and dropped his arm back around Sebastian. "Angela, this is ridiculous. He's your *son.* Why are you afraid of him?"
"Well," she said, eyes on her hands as they slowly twisted and untwisted her skirt, "he's so small, and -- and he cries so much, and he needs so much, and--" She laughed unconvincingly. "He's fragile, you know? I keep thinking I'm gonna break him."
Sam's eyes narrowed. He didn't believe a syllable of it, and, looking up again, he could tell Josh didn't, either. But whatever his cousin wouldn't say, he wasn't going to get it out of her at quarter to three in the morning. He stroked the baby's hair for a minute, then stood. "Why don't we all get some sleep?" he suggested. "Everything will look better in the morning."
It was on the tip of Josh's tongue to point out that it already was morning, but he felt an urge to be helpful. "I'll pull the couch out for Angela," he offered. The young woman stood, and Josh flipped the cushions off the couch, bent down for the handle of the hidden mattress.
"Sebastian can sleep with us," Sam said.
Josh popped up again. "He can?"
Sam smiled at him. "He'll be fine. We'll put him between us so he doesn't roll out." Of course he knew damned well that this wasn't Josh's concern, that it had something to do with the still-resented invasion of Vincis and Josh's general discomfiture around children, but he was too tired to deal with that.
Josh pinched the bridge of his nose. "Akay," he said, and turned his attention back to the couch. Something was not quite right here -- ah, yes; Sam had volunteered them to share their bed with a four-month-old. That meant...yes, that definitely meant a baby in the bed. Josh considered himself fairly adaptable, but there were lines. Oh, yes, there were lines that had to be drawn, and Sam had just crossed a big one. "I'll, uh, I'll go grab some sheets." Because otherwise, Angela would be in the bed with them, too.
"Thank you," Angela said timidly. He nodded, too numb to do anything else.
Sam touched his arm as he staggered past. "Thank you, Josh," he said quietly. Josh shook his head and kept walking.
After the couch was made up and Angela was tucked into it, half asleep before she even climbed beneath the covers, Josh stumbled back into the bedroom, where Sam was deep in conversation with the baby. He stood in the doorway and watched them, trying to decide if this was his life or whether perhaps he had fallen asleep again.
"Josh," Sam said, noticing him in the room, "we should--"
Josh held up his hand. "It's -- it's like three in the morning. We should sleep."
"Tomorrow, Sam." If they tried to talk about anything now, he would say quite a few things he wouldn't really mean to.
Sam searched Josh's face and tried to decide if he was angry, but he had shut down so completely there were only physical features, without an emotion showing anywhere. The speechwriter sighed and nodded. Sebastian stirred when Sam lay him in the bed, but he did not wake. Sam climbed into bed and smoothed the baby's dark hair again. "Coming?" he asked, and Josh thought he sounded almost scared.
"There's a baby in our bed," Josh said feebly, uncertain whether it was a joke or a protest.
"Please, Mir," he said. "Please just...it's just for tonight, and she's -- I think a night away from her will be good for him."
Josh gave up. "Yeah," he sighed, and crawled into bed, marginally comforted by the assumption that, whatever else was going to happen today, life couldn't get more surreal than it was at this moment. Except that then the kid rolled and ended up bumping against Josh's chest, and Sam started to laugh --quietly, but like he couldn't stop -- and Josh reminded himself that there was *never* a limit to surrealism.
Sebastian started crying at four. Sam was up instantly, carrying him and speaking to him as he had earlier. Josh lay perfectly still and watched them, sorting out the emotions clunking around inside. It was Sam; he was the same Sam he'd been when they'd gone to bed the night before. Only he was carrying a baby. **It's just for tonight,** he repeated to himself.
Sebastian started crying at six. This time it was Josh who popped up and grabbed him, but this time he needed more than a little walk around the room. Somehow Sam had had the presence of mind to bring the diaper bag into the room, so Josh grabbed it and headed to the bathroom. Of course, what he would do with it when he got there...
He wasn't sure how long he'd stood there, as Sebastian regarded him with the detached serenity that can only be mastered by a four-month-old who was screaming his lungs out two minutes earlier, before Sam wandered into the bathroom. The baby lay on the counter, naked from the waist down, legs flailing good-naturedly, while Josh held the new diaper open in both hands and studied it as though it were a blueprint of the missile defense shield. "You have no idea what you're doing, do you?" Sam watched Josh in the mirror.
"You -- you're being too generous," he said. "I, uh, I've never done this before."
"You're forty years old and you've never changed a diaper?"
Josh waved the diaper around like the white flag of surrender, which Sebastian found immensely entertaining. "Youngest child. No nieces or nephews. Not close to extended family. Do you see how my opportunities might have been limited?"
"Observe," Sam instructed. Josh watched while Sam did a flourish with his wrist, something that seemed to involve Sebastian's legs, another couple of wrist things, and -- voila -- freshly diapered baby. "Just like that," he said, as he washed his hands.
"I have *no* idea what you did there."
Sam shook his head and picked the baby up off the counter. "Come back to bed, Josh."
"Nah, I'm, I'm really up," he said as he ran a hand through his hair. "And I think the kid's hungry."
Sam held Sebastian up in front of him and looked him over. "What makes you say that?"
"'Cause I'm hungry?"
Sam laughed. "That's not how it works, Mir, but--" he stopped. "Are you saying you want him for a while?"
"I'm up," he repeated, as though this were an answer of any sort. He half held his hands out. "I may as well..." He drew his hands back. "But I can't--"
Sam laughed again and held Sebastian out. "I'm sure Angela's not breast-feeding." Josh didn't move. "It's okay, Josh. He won't break."
"How are you so good at this?" Josh asked and took the baby gingerly.
"Seven younger cousins, remember?" he said. "And, Josh? His name's Sebastian."
He grinned sheepishly. "I keep thinking it's Iago."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Only you, Mir. Put your hand behind his head."
Josh did this and started down the hall toward the kitchen. "Come on, Sebastian," he said. "Let's get ourselves some breakfast. Or maybe just me. Or...whatever."
Sam laughed softly and sat on the edge of the bed. He could desperately use two more hours of sleep, and it would mean a lot to Josh that Sam trusted him that much with the baby.
On the other hand, did he trust Josh that much with the baby? He tried to convince himself that the distance from the bedroom to the kitchen was not enough to get into trouble, but then he remembered that he was dealing with Josh, and that two inches might've been enough.
Exhaustion must've gotten the better of him, because the next thing he knew it was seven thirty, the sun peeked in through the gap where the curtains didn't close completely, and he had slept sitting up for the past hour and a half, slumped against the headboard. The rest of the apartment was distressingly quiet. Didn't kids usually make noise? Didn't Josh?
Sam slid off the bed and back into his slippers and tried to work out the crick in his neck. When he walked through the living room, he noticed Angela still sprawled across the pull-out, dead to the world. Her son had woken up screaming twice, and she'd been oblivious to the whole thing. He shook his head and continued to the kitchen, and at that point he could barely decide whether to laugh or bang his head against the wall.
The counters were strewn with bowls and measuring cups. Every burner on the range had a pan on it, and a light dusting of flour coated everything. The table alone had survived the catastrophe; a plate, fork, a glass, and a baby bottle were the only things on it. Josh sat at the table, his feet on another chair, Sebastian on his lap, an enormous book balanced against his knees. "Why, thou has put him in such a dream, that when the image of it leaves him he must run mad," Josh said, his voice low and questionably British. "Nay," shooting up half an octave above normal, "but say true; does it work upon him?" His voice dropped again. "Like aqua-vitae with a midwife."
"Josh!" Sam hissed, "what are you *doing*?"
"Reading to Sebastian," he said, unperturbed.
"Reading him *what*?"
"_Twelfth Night._ What's wrong?"
"Aque-vitae and midwives?"
Josh shrugged. "It's Shakespeare. Specifically, it's the play his name comes from. I thought he should know it. At least, I assumed it's this one." He flipped the book over and looked at the front cover. "I suppose it could've been _The Tempest._ But the Sebastian in this one's a nicer guy."
"You were doing voices."
"There's, like, four characters in the scene," he pointed out.
"It's not from Shakespeare, Josh." Sam pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "I really hate to burst your bubble, but she named him after Belle and Sebastian."
"The really awful band?"
"Taste in music is so subjective, Josh--"
"Drive," he said sternly.
Sam shrugged. "Yeah. The really awful band."
Josh regarded the baby. "You did not tell me these things, Sebastian. But l guess it's okay. It's not your fault your mother makes unforgivable choices in music -- and child naming."
"What happened in here?" Sam asked, surveying the counters.
"A culinary experiment. Didn't go exactly the way it was supposed to, but we had fun trying, didn't we?" Sebastian gurgled approval.
Sam's eyes widened, and he shook his head. "I'll clean up," he said, desperate to have something -- anything -- to do with his hands.
"We were going to get that," Josh insisted, and turned a page. "As soon as we finished this act."
Sam leaned against the sink and willed the shaking to stop. Josh sat at the kitchen table with a baby in his lap, reading Shakespeare out loud and referring to himself and the baby in the plural. Suddenly Sam was terrified. A gear had slipped in the life he thought he was building with Josh. He could tolerate Sebastian for one night because Angela was family, but Josh was getting too cozy for Sam's liking.
At a quarter to nine, when the kitchen was clean again and Sir Toby Belch had been put back on his shelf, Sir Toby Ziegler called to ask Sam where the hell he was. "Listen, Toby, there's this thing going on here--" he began, but stopped when Josh waved at him. "Hang on." He covered the mouthpiece and looked at Josh.
"Go on in," he said. "Leo said he doesn't need me today; I can stay with Angela and Sebastian. It's okay."
But Sam knew, instinctively, that it was not. If he wanted even a marginal shot at getting his life back, he would have to remain with mother and child. He shook his head at Josh and uncovered the phone. "It's just the intro for Monday, right?...I can write that from -- I need to be here today, Toby," he said firmly. "No, I -- I'll finish it by noon. I promise.... I will finish it by noon and email it to you....Yes....Yes. Thank you, Toby." He hung up and steepled his fingers in front of his lips. "Josh," he said softly.
"Write your intro. We're good here," he said, totally misunderstanding the message. Maybe on purpose.
Angela practically fell into the kitchen. "G'morni," she slurred.
"Morning," Josh said, waving Sebastian's hand at her. "Tell Mommy 'good morning,' Sebastian."
Sam's breath came a little easier. At least Josh still remembered who the child belonged to. Angela clung to the edges of the kitchen, avoided the table where Josh sat with her son. Sam pursed his lips and watched her pour a bowl of Cheerios and eat it dispassionately, glassy-eyed, upright at the counter. She didn't offer to take Sebastian; didn't ask how he'd slept or apologize for him disturbing their sleep. She acted as though her connection to the child had been completely severed.
"Who wants the shower first?" Sam picked up a mug and the coffee carafe, and then put them both down.
"Take it," Josh offered. "You've got a speech to write."
Sam turned a spoon lying on the counter in slow circles. "As soon as the intro is written, we're all sitting down and talking," he said. His cousin kept her eyes trained on a Cheerio that had fallen to the floor.
Nothing could ruffle Josh today. "All right."
And thank god Toby had sworn to eviscerate Sam if the speech wasn't on his computer screen by noon. Only that threat kept his mind even remotely were it was supposed to be. He wrote in fits, distracted by noises from the living room, his attention captured by Josh's bizarre interactions with Angela and her son. They watched some Saturday morning cartoon Sam envisioned as a rapid series of red and blue cut-aways. Josh tried to engage Angela in conversation, but she was 19 and scared, and Josh was 40 and more than a bit on edge himself, and the only subject they had in common -- Sam -- they viewed from such antithetical angles he might as well have been two men. Josh gave up and went for a walk -- no doubt taking Sebastian with him. Sam hit "Send" and hoped the magic of Toby's red pen could resuscitate his lackluster draft.
He came into the living room and leaned against the wall, arms crossed, watching the tableau. Josh had zonked out the far end of the couch, one foot on the floor, his other leg sprawled across the couch, head back, mouth open slightly, one hand dangling over the edge of the couch, the other resting on his head. Angela sat on the near end, awake, eyes still glued to the floor, hands twisting incessantly in her lap. Sebastian lay on his back between them, blissfully oblivious, hands and feet pumping uselessly in the air. "The speech is done," Sam announced.
Josh woke with a jerk, hit himself in the head, and struggled upright, drawing the frayed cuff of his gray Harvard sweatshirt across his eyes. "Any good?"
Sam shrugged. "Nothing wrong with it that Toby can't fix." He sat on the couch between his lover and his cousin, pulling Sebastian onto his lap. "So." He pressed the bottoms of the baby's feet together. "Who wants to go first? Angela?"
She still didn't look up from the floor. "I -- I resent the hell out of him." Her voice was low, and calm, and totally unlike the night's squeaky panic.
"Sebastian's father?" Sam asked.
She shook her head; her hair fell further in front of her face. "Sebastian."
Josh lunged forward, fell back when he realized he had nothing to say, only vague indignation. Sam dropped Sebastian's legs and pushed up the sleeves of his sweater. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"I mean, exactly, that this baby has ruined my life. I don't -- I know it's not his fault, but there were *things* I was gonna do, you know? Every time I look at him--" She would not go on.
"Angela?" She looked away, stared unblinking out the window. "Every time you look at him...what?"
"He should be somewhere," she said quietly. "Someplace where somebody will appreciate him, and not think of their huge fuck-up whenever they see him."
"You want to give him up, you mean." Sam kept his voice as neutral as he could. Josh was rock-still beside him, glaring down at clenched hands.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Okay." Papa Vinci's way had been to rant, and throw things, and bemoan the collapse of a dignified family with centuries of history and tradition. What had developed as Sam's way was quiet and dreadful, and you understood that whatever consequences resulted from your actions were *yours* to deal with, not the family's. Angela blanched and pulled away from him into the couch.
Josh felt the world shift. Until twenty seconds ago, he had thought of Sebastian in the abstract -- he was a cute kid and all, and the two hours they'd spent together when Sam fell asleep again had been pleasant enough, even considering that Sebastian wasn't much of a conversationalist -- but he was just a house guest, like any other house guest passing through their apartment. Now, suddenly, he was a four-month-old baby whose mother was discussing discarding him as casually as any other piece of useless junk. Josh stood. "Sam, a word, if I may? In the bedroom." Sam handed Sebastian to his mother and followed down the hall. Josh slammed the door. "You're just going to let her give him away?"
Sam sat on the bed and ran his hands across Josh's grandmother's quilt. "What else can I do, Josh? She's obviously -- he's not safe with her. Especially not if his father's hanging around."
"There has to be a better option! She's family, for God's sake. You can't just let her go around giving her kids away." He stormed around the foot of the bed. "Someone in your family -- your cousin Tracy--"
"Cut all ties to the family when The Aunts put me in charge."
"The Aunts! Yes! They raised 11 kids; they can take one more."
"They raised 11 kids, Josh. They've earned a rest."
Josh dropped wearily. They faced away from each other on the bed. Josh put his fingers to his forehead, pressed his elbows into his knees. "There has to be *somebody.*"
Josh popped up like toast. "No way. Uh-uh, Sam."
"You asked for options." But he was relieved. He had worried this morning, when Josh looked like he wanted to meld Sebastian into their family unit, but clearly taking the kid for longer than one night was nowhere on Josh's list of priorities.
"Not this. We had...for lack of a better word, Sam, we had an equation. There were no children in that equation."
Sam's breath caught again. **No. No "still." Please, Josh--**
"We have the money."
The stripes in the wallpaper were doing weird little wavy things at the edge of Sam's field of vision. "We work twelve-hour days, Josh. And those are the good days. We also -- and what the hell? It takes a damned lot more than money, and you know it."
"Yeah, I do."
"We didn't want kids, Josh."
Josh exhaled fast, his nostrils flaring slightly. "No, we didn't."
They slouched in silence on opposite sides of the bed, not looking at each other. "There are really good agencies in California," Sam said.
The phone rang, and Sam picked up on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Sam?" CJ hadn't had a full night's sleep since Nora was born, the day before re-election, and Sam heard it in the ragged patches in her voice.
"Hey, CJ. What's going on?"
"Well, I -- I feel really silly, but I -- hey, why aren't you at work?"
"Minor domestic complications."
She laughed wearily. "Funny you should say that. Nora and I, we're having a minor domestic complication of our own over here. Leo's holed up with the Chiefs, and I know Josh didn't go in today..."
"I'll send him over." Josh stood and robotically gathered coat and keys.
"Thanks, Sam. I owe you." She paused. "Hey, you all right?"
"Sure. Why not?" If she bought that, they needed a new press secretary.
"Whatever you say, Sam. Thanks for loaning me Josh."
"No problem. Talk to you later." He hung up and stared ahead.
Josh lingered in the doorway. "I, ah, I don't know when I'll be back."
Sam didn't look at him. "Hang on," he said. "I'm coming with you."
And if Josh thought there was anything strange about that, he didn't mention it.
CJ and Leo had a house now, out in Chevy Chase, not far from where Leo used to live with Jenny. He claimed it didn't bother him. CJ was almost deliriously happy, and Eleanor Amanda was as thrilled as a one-month-old can be about anything.
"It's weird, isn't it?" Sam asked as Josh maneuvered the byways of suburbia.
"Leo and CJ. Owning a house."
"It's for the best, really. Now that they have Nora."
Josh and Sam had been to Leo and CJ's house five times. They had this conversation every time.
"We'd have to move," Sam pointed out.
"You can't keep a kid in that apartment."
"Josh." Josh looked over at him. "You've lived in that apartment for, like, ten years. You've grown fond."
Josh considered. "I have." He brightened. "But I imagine I could become fond of someplace else."
Sam stared out the window and refused to speak to him again.
CJ grinned when she opened the door for them. "Josh. I see you brought a friend."
Sam hugged her with one arm. "Hi, CJ."
Josh stepped past them both into the foyer. "Nice place you got here, Ceej."
"So you always say, Joshua. So you say every time you're here."
"It's a nice place every time." He slouched in the hall, hands in his pockets, eyes on the ceiling. "So, what's going on? Where's the disaster?"
"Minor domestic complication," she corrected. "This way."
They followed into the warm, bright family room. Nora slept in a crib in the middle of the floor, hands curled into ineffectual fists. "Why is the crib in the middle of the living room?" Josh asked.
"There is *a* crib in the middle of the living room. It's an old one from when Annie was a baby. Liz gave it to us. The real one's in Nora's room, obviously." CJ led them to the fireplace. "The flue's stuck open. I think -- there might be birds building nests up there. Think you can get it closed?"
The two men looked from each other to CJ. "Oh, I get it," Josh said. "Very funny. That's a nice little joke at our expense, CJ."
She looked blank and then started laughing. "Oh, I -- no, really; I'd forgotten all about that. I just...we're not going to be having any fires -- Ellie says they're not good for Nora's lungs -- and I just thought...it's stuck, and I can't get it closed."
Josh climbed into the fireplace and poked around with a fire iron. Sam had no idea if he knew what he was doing. The speechwriter crossed to the crib and looked down on the sleeping child. "So, CJ," he said, too casually, "how's it going? Parenthood." Nora smelled like talcum powder, and she sneezed softly in her sleep, thrusting her tongue at imagined dangers.
"It's exhausting," she admitted. "I don't remember the last time I got a normal amount of sleep -- even what passes for normal with us. And I think I'm cheating, since Leo's done this before." She ran her hands through her hair. "The first couple weeks, I was terrified. Every time she moved I was ready to run for the ER. Thank God Ellie and the First Lady were around to tie me to the chair." She smiled and ran her index finger across her daughter's wispy bangs. The baby looked like Leo with CJ's hair. "But I wouldn't trade it. Honest to God I wouldn't. Not for anything." She looked at the strangled expression on Sam's face. "What's the deal, Sparky? You guys thinking about getting one?"
Josh climbed out of the fireplace, wiped sooty hands on his pant legs and laughed nervously. "No, no. I uh -- I think we should get a Golden Retriever." He stared at Nora as though she had crash-landed from a distant galaxy. "Uh, can I...?"
The press secretary searched his face, shrugged. "Sure." She reached into the crib and gathered the soft mass into her arms. "Wake up, sweetpea," she said. "Josh and Sam want to talk to you." She held Nora out to Josh, and he took her with even more trepidation than he had taken Sebastian. This baby seemed more gelatinous, like she was about to ooze over his hands to the floor.
Josh walked slowly to the couch and sat almost experimentally, relaxing only a little when Nora seemed disinclined to acknowledge she'd been moved. Sam sat next to him, hands back in his coat pockets. "Well," Josh said quietly.
"Indeed," Sam replied. They stared at her.
"It's, um, it's certainly a baby."
"Very good, Josh," CJ said, arms crossed in amusement.
Josh looked around the house, with a soothing seascape hanging on the wall and a sunburst window over the front door. He had never believed that only one man and one woman, legally married, could provide a home for a child, but damn it, Sebastian *had* a family. Sam was his family. Josh was, too, come to think of it. "Maybe it's not that hard," Josh murmured.
"Maybe it's--" Sam shook his head in a mixture of exasperation and rising panic at Josh's stubborness. "CJ, tell Josh how hard it is. Being a parent."
"Unimaginably hard." CJ leaned against the back of another chair. "Indescribably hard. Chaos personified."
Josh grinned at her. "But it's okay, right?"
She smiled back fondly. "It's better than okay." She started to say something else, changed her mind. "Did you fix my fireplace?"
"This was not -- this really did not constitute a domestic crisis of any kind," Josh complained.
"I know." She nodded. "I miss you guys." She tapped her fingers against the dark upholstery. Sam stared at her nails. The polish was probably called peach, or mango, or passionfruit.
Sam asked, "When are you coming back to us, CJ?"
"Three more weeks." She looked at Nora. "I love her. I adore her. But I *miss* you guys."
Josh smiled, half at the baby, half at the mother. "We miss you, too."
Sam pushed himself up off the couch. "We should go. There's a...we should be getting back."
"Okay." CJ leaned her chin on her palm. "Can I have my daughter back?"
"Oh -- ah -- oh, yeah." Josh remembered he was holding a baby. He got just as carefully to his feet, holding Nora half a foot ahead of him.
Sam kissed CJ on the cheek. Her skin was soft and whispery, and he wondered what kind of makeup she wore and why he would give a possibly damn. "Your daughter is beautiful."
She touched his arm. "Thank you."
"Your daughter," Josh said accusingly as he handed Nora off, "looks like Leo."
"I feel a need for some fruit juice," Sam told Josh as they climbed the stairs to their apartment.
"Fruit juice?" Josh held his key ring up. All these years in the apartment and he still couldn't tell which key let him in.
"I need some fruit juice," he asserted, nodding. "Something exotic. Peach; mango -- maybe passionfruit."
"Uh, akay." He shook his keys in triumph. "There it is! It really shouldn't -- we need house keys that don't look like every other key on the ring."
Mr Estancia across the hall was a nasty old man who often accused them of dealing drugs to neighborhood kids. He opened his door to the full extent allowed by the chain and pressed his lips into the gap. "There is," he informed them, leering at Sam, "a baby crying in your apartment."
Now they heard it -- shrill and rapid and not at all the way he'd cried in the night. "Uh, sorry," Josh said.
"There has been," Mr Estancia continued, "a baby crying in your apartment for the last fifteen minutes."
"Shit," Sam muttered. Josh fumbled the key into the lock, and they fell inside.
Angela sat on the couch with her son on her knees. He screamed and screamed, and she stared at him and didn't move. She did not turn her head toward the door when it opened. "Help me, Sam," she begged, staring at Sebastian. "I can't -- he won't shut up, and I can't move."
Josh dove halfway across the room, scooped up the baby, and headed for the bathroom. He got Sebastian cleaned up easily enough, but he still had no idea how to change the damned diaper. He felt Sam behind him. "He...he needs to be changed."
"And fed," Sam said, hiding a smile.
"And a lot of other things," Josh almost had the first wrist thing and the leg thing, but the second wrist thing continued to give him trouble. All he could think was how he'd never forgive himself if anything happened to Sebastian, and how it was certain to if he went back to California with his mother. And maybe that had something to do with Joanie, and he knew it shouldn't, but he figured the immediate physical well-being of a four-month child had to trump the age-old emotional scars of a forty-year-old political operative.
"Josh--" Sam began.
"All I'm saying is--"
"We had an equation, Josh."
"So we'll write a new one. We're smart guys."
"I'm no good at math, Josh. Never have been." But he touched Sebastian's arm just the same.
Josh clenched his jaw. "They'll take him away, Sam. They'll give him to somebody else, and we'll never see him again."
"One less Vinci to harass us."
Josh pressed the tip of his finger against the countertop and watched the skin under his fingernail turn white. "Yeah, so, I know I've been kind of vocal about my annoyance with your family--" Sam raised his eyebrow, and Josh sighed. "Okay, so I've been loud and obnoxious about my annoyance with your family. But, look -- they're always asking you to do these shady, immoral things, and now for once you have a chance to do some good."
"Oh, for god's sake, Mir! That's one of the dumbest--"
"All right," Josh cut him off. "If his father is so dangerous, will Angela even be safe taking Sebastian back to California?"
"There are agencies here, too, Josh." Sam slumped against the wall, too tired to continue this argument upright.
"I want him here. With us." Josh said it with some finality.
Sam avoided making eye contact. "A new equation, huh?" Because, sure, there were good agencies, and thousands of people waiting to adopt, and he felt a little guilty depriving someone of a child they'd wanted for five years, but Sebastian was family. He felt the connection -- blood calls to blood, his grandmother would've said. And if he were honest, there had been something beautiful in watching Josh read Shakespeare to a four-month-old, and suddenly he couldn't remember if he said he didn't want children because he didn't want children or because Josh didn't.
The smile split Josh's face. "It's just algebra; I promise. There will never be differential calculus."
"You still don't know how to do this," Sam said, and pointed at the diaper.
"I -- I watched you do it once. It's not like--"
"It's a thing you'd need to know how to do." He nudged Josh aside and finished off the wrist thing as easily as flipping a light switch.
Josh fought back a grin. "I'd learn."
The speechwriter picked up Sebastian and wiggled him gently. "Toby will be thrilled for us."
"Screw him." Josh blew a raspberry at Sebastian. "I want this kid."
"Really." He somehow managed to pose it as a challenge.
Josh stared Sam dead in the eye. "Really really."
Sam nodded once and handed Sebastian over. "Okay."
"Okay?" He blinked. "That was...that was freakishly easy."
Sam shrugged. He tickled Sebastian's arm. "He's a Vinci. Taking care of the Vincis is what I do."
Josh grinned. "I think even Gualtiero would say this is this above and beyond the call of duty, Drive."
"Well then it's a good thing he's not in charge anymore, isn't it?" he asked Sebastian. He frowned. "Will Angela agree?"
"We're not her. She'll be ecstatic."
"And the rest of the staff?"
"Screw 'em." Sebastian thought that was pretty funny.
"You are a master of the English language, Mir." Sam reached for the doorknob. "Truly."
They dispensed with another incident involving Debbie O'Leary. Really, the woman wanted to get fired. Josh's palms were sweating.
"Anything else?" Leo asked.
Sam stared at Josh. Josh stared at the floor. "Um..."
The President raised an eyebrow. "Yes, Josh?"
"We -- um...on a personal note..."
"This should be great fun." Toby turned his notepad around in his lap.
"My cousin Angela--" Sam decided to throw Josh a rope. "She had a baby four months ago. Sebastian."
"Great kid," Josh said.
"She's no good with him. She's in no way prepared to be a mother." Josh rubbed his head a couple times. "So Sam and I are taking him."
Jed nodded. "Admirable of you, guys. How long? A week? A month?"
Sam's mouth twisted to the side. "Actually, sir..."
"Oh, fuck." Toby was an eloquent man.
"Permanently?" Leo laughed. "Definitely not a Golden Retriever, Josh."
Sam put a hand over smiling lips. Josh kicked the carpet. "Can't tell that woman anything."
"This is...this is such a bad idea I can't formulate an argument against it," Toby muttered.
"It's done, Toby," Sam said firmly. "There's no argument to be made."
"So you two are, what?" Toby asked. "Parents now?"
Josh hadn't thought of it that way, but he nodded thoughtfully. Sam grinned and stared at his hands. "Yes, Toby," he said. "I guess that's what we are. We're still working out legal issues, but we don't foresee a lot of problems."
Josh stared at Sam, astounded by how easily the lie rolled off his tongue. They had stayed up half the previous night discussing just how many problems they were looking at with adoption laws and residency issues, never mind Sebastian's father, reputedly to be a vicious young man with a volatile and unpredictable temper. Sam caught the look and shrugged minutely: not here, that shrug said.
"Congratulations; really." Jed patted Sam's arm.
"You guys are idiots. You are aware of that?" Leo pretended to scowl.
"Where is he now?"
"At home, sir. His mother is staying until tomorrow night to...to say good-bye, I guess." Josh wasn't certain how he felt about that, knowing how Angela was with her son. But it had bought them two days to figure out what to do with him while they weren't home, and she was his mother, and his ability to formulate coherent arguments about any aspect of this situation was vanishing rapidly.
Toby crossed his arms. "God help this child. He's...four months old is far too early to have your life destroyed." To Sam and Josh, this was the same as a blessing.
The speechwriter frowned as they left the Oval Office. "I have an urge to call and make sure he's okay. Is that--"
"What anxious first-time fathers do? Absolutely. We'll call from your office."
Sam pressed his fingertips against Josh's chest. "Josh! Have we done an immeasurably stupid thing? I mean, have we done a gigantically, catastrophically *dumb* thing?"
Josh put his hand over Sam's. "Of course we have, but that's not the right question."
"Not the right question?" His eyebrow lifted.
"The right question is: Would we *undo* the gigantically, catastrophically dumb thing we've done."
Sam slid his hand away. "No chance of that."
"There you go." Josh squeezed Sam's shoulder. "See? A new equation, and it didn't hurt a bit. How are you feeling about math now?"
A faint smile lit Sam's face. "I admit, it's not so bad. But, seriously, Josh; try any of that upper level shit on me and I *will* throw an abacus at your head."
They went to make the call.
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