Title: What's Next?
Author: Nomi
Posted: 11/2/00
Archive: Sure, just tell me where
Codes: J/S
Rating: NC-17
Notes: Spoilers for "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", "The Midterms"
Dedication: For everyone who said, "So what happened during Josh's recovery period?"

What's Next? by Nomi

They tell me that when I first woke up in the recovery room, my first question was "What's next," which was a catch-phrase I picked up from the now-President during the campaign.

But I have no memory of that.

My first clear memory of what happened after I got shot - which, mind you, I don't even remember (my last memory is of throwing myself against the gate in an attempt to get to Sam) - is waking up in the hospital room to the sound of anguished but quiet sobbing.

My throat hurt, my chest hurt - Hell, my hair, what there is left of it, hurt - and I felt like I'd been trampled by an angry herd of elephants. But when I opened my eyes, my first instinct was one of protectiveness. 'Cause the sobbing was coming from the only other person in the room, the person who has become, in what has really only been a short time, the center of my universe - Samuel Norman Seaborn.

I turned my head as much as I could - what with all the tubes and wires leading from me to the beeping machines around the bed - and said "Hey." It was all I could manage, but I knew he'd understand.

His head shot up. I hated the way he looked - like he hadn't slept this century, like he'd been crying for days, like he hadn't eaten since the Carter administration. But I didn't think it was appropriate for me to berate him. And, anyway, I didn't have the strength right now. That could wait for later.

"Josh...oh, God...I thought..." he gasped, choking on a sob. Then he pulled himself together. "Hey," he said.

And there it was, in that one word. All the love we felt for each other, in one simple, nondescript word.

"How long...what day is this?" I whispered. I was so disoriented - I last remembered it being Monday.

"It's Thursday...but just barely." Sam paused. "I've been here as much as they've let me - they have a strict policy about visitors, and they don't make any exceptions...." I could tell by how he said that last part that he'd probably used all legal methods - and even some questionable ones - to get the hospital to let him stay. "They gave us a lounge we could stay in, and most people have come and gone, but I've been here almost continuously, 'though I had to go back to the West Wing for a bit. Donna's also been here full-time. She looks like Hell - I don’t think she's slept since you got here."

I restrained myself. Really I did. But I gave Sam a look that he seemed to understand.

"Yeah...you're thinking the same of me. But, Hell, J, how was I supposed to sleep without you? It feels like I just got you back, and I'm so..." he stopped. "Never mind. It's not the time. I need for you to concentrate on getting better and getting back on your feet."

I wasn't even sure what I was recovering from - I wanted to ask, but breathing alone was difficult; talking was more effort than I wanted to expend.

Sam took my left hand, which was both closer to him and not attached to an IV. "I'm gonna stay here 'til they kick me out again, OK, but if you think you have to fall back asleep, go ahead. Sleep is probably best for you right now." I felt Sam shift slightly in his chair, and then I heard the telltale beep of a cell phone being turned on. A couple of seconds later, I heard Sam speaking again.

"Hi, CJ. Where are you?...Is Donna with you?...Could I talk to her?...NO! It's good news." He waited a minute, then spoke again. "Donna? It's me. They'll kill me if they find out I'm using a cell phone in a hospital room - actually, they'll have to stand in line behind the First Lady - but I wanted to tell you that Josh has woken up. No, don't come now - he's about to fall back asleep, but...it won't be as long this time. I know it...I'll call you when I leave the room later."

Good - it sounded Sam and Donna had worked through enough of their personal issues regarding me to help each other get through what must have been the worst experience of their lives. It bothers me that there's disharmony between Sam and Donna, but I think they're still trying to figure out where the other fits into my life. I couldn't function on either a personal or professional basis without both of them.

Sam eventually hung up and turned back to me. "J? Get some sleep." He leaned over and kissed my forehead, then, after putting his phone back into his pocket, he smoothed my hair with his free hand.

I drifted back into sleep, and for some reason I dreamed of the early days of the Bartlet campaign - right after I went and fetched Sam from his comfortable law-partner-and-fiancee life.

He told me recently that he loved me even then. I was just too blind to see it. Luckily, everyone made me open my eyes and see what was right in front of me. And we've had our rough spots - Hell, every couple does, right? - but we've come through them.

This was shaping up to be the toughest thing we had ever faced, and we'd faced some real challenges.

***

When I next woke up, there was again someone in my room. From the breathing pattern I heard, I didn't think it was Sam - here's a confession: I often lie in bed at night just listening to him breathe. But this didn't sound like Sam to me. When I opened my eyes, I was right - it was Donna.

"No, you can't claim this as sick time," I said weakly, but I knew she heard me when she whipped her head toward me.

"Joshua," she said, "it's not very nice to scare your friends that way." And then she started to cry.

"Hey, hey...none of that! I'm fine," I said. Sam was right - she _did_ look like Hell. "Go home."

She sniffled and looked at me. "What do you mean, go home? I promised Sam I'd stay here until you woke up or he came back. It was the only way I could get _him_ to leave."

Ah, then I had her. "Well, I'm awake. So go home." She looked worse than I'd ever seen her, and Donna's such a strong woman that it scared me. I hadn't realized the impact my injury would have on my friends. Not that I'd ever thought I'd get shot, but everyone has the "what if I were to disappear one day" thought, and I'd never thought that I'd inspire such concern in my friends. And I knew that, once she stopped to analyze everything, Donna would be embarrassed by her loss of control. And I didn't want her to go through that for me.

Plus, I was looking forward to arguing with her. It's a game we have.

But we were saved by the door opening. It was some random doctor I didn't recognize, trailed closely by the First Lady who was dressed in a stunning gown with a lab coat over it. That combination sums up Mrs. Bartlet perfectly.

"Donna, shoo," said Mrs. Bartlet, and Donna shoo-ed. Great. I'm her boss, and she ignores me, but Mrs. Bartlet says jump and she jumps. 'Course, I'm the same way with Mrs. Bartlet. Hell, if it weren't for her, Sam and I wouldn't have gotten together. No, on second thought, we probably would've eventually, but God only knows when.

Anyway, this was Mrs. Bartlet in combination First-Lady-and-Doctor mode, a very scary thing. She came to the side of the bed and helped me sit up as she adjusted my bed. Then, taking the stethoscope from around her neck, she proceeded to unbutton the first few buttons of my pajama top.

Now, I know the woman's a trained professional, but seeing how much she knows of my personal life, I was a bit taken aback. But I figured that the President had asked her to keep an eye on me, and I would be getting the best medical care possible, so as long as she didn't make any personal comments...

No such luck.

"I saw Sam coming out of the elevator just as I headed in here," she said. "You know, he needs his sleep." As she spoke, she was listening to my heart and then to my lungs. "Take a deep breath, then hold it," she said, and I complied. "And he's not a machine," she said, getting back to her previous topic, my Sam. "OK, you can release the breath."

Exhaling - and then wincing in pain - I tried to speak, despite the raspiness that still existed from me having had a tube down my throat. "He's...he's a big boy, Mrs. Bartlet."

That just seemed to spur her on more.

"Yes, he's a big boy, but he loves you, and he's been worried sick about you. The only one he'll listen to is you. If you tell him to go home, maybe he will."

I had two immediate thoughts - Donna wouldn't listen when I told her to go home, and Sam listened when Donna sent him home. I think the First Lady and Donna had to coordinate and get back to me - I was _way_ too drained to deal with this right now.

I could feel my eyes closing again. "Mrs. Bartlet, please," I started, but she cut me off.

"You're gonna need more sleep, so I'll clear out of here," she said, re-buttoning my top and readjusting the bed. "I'll let Sam in on my way out, but _don't_ let him stay."

Right. As if he'd listen. But I nodded, hoping she'd believe me and let me get some sleep.

I must have dozed off, 'cause I didn't hear her leave, but I felt Sam grab my left hand again.

"J? I just saw the First Lady, and she said you'd send me home...but please don't." The desperation in his voice was just too much for me. I couldn't send him away now.

"Love?" I could barely make my lips move enough to say that, I was so tired. "Please sleep. For me." And that was all I could say. Between the physical pain of my injury and the emotional distress of seeing Sam - my vital, energetic, amazing Sam - reduced to this, I couldn't stand it.

I might have to take drastic measures if Sam wouldn't listen.

***

When I woke up Friday morning, I was alone. I took a minute to assess my current situation, and realized that I felt a lot better than I had when I first woke up. Not that I thought I could actually do something as bold as get up out of the bed, but at least I could take every third breath without wanting to rip my lungs out of my chest.

My solitude didn't last. I don't know if they had spies everywhere, or if I was being recorded, but I wasn't awake for more than 5 minutes when Mrs. Bartlet came in.

"I have some good news and some bad news," she said without preamble.

"Give me the bad first," I replied, happy I could get that much of a sentence out all at once.

She also seemed pleased by my ability to talk. "OK...and you're _really_ not going to like this. I'm not letting you be discharged from the hospital for at least a week."

One week would be hard, but not impossible. "But then I can..."

She cut me off. "And I don't want to see you in the White House for at least a month. You've been through a lot and you need to heal. Your body's not designed for the lifestyle you lead."

My face must have shown what my first thought was, 'cause Mrs. Bartlet laughed. "That's _not_ what I meant, Josh, but you'll have to hold off on that, as well, at least until you're strong again." Not even a blush from the First Lady. She could stand there and discuss my sex life and not even blush. Whereas my face was burning. I guess that's what comes from raising three teenage girls.

But anyway.

"So what's the good news?" I had my reservations about how good the news could be if I were stuck here for a week.

"We're having a special line put in that will allow you to conduct all your West Wing business via speakerphone without costing the hospital lots of money. You will be able to stay in the loop. Donna's agreed to be the go-between between here and your office."

So, I could still work. That was a relief - having to be here in the hospital and not have anything to do would bore me to tears. And when I'm bored, I get cranky. And the hospital staff wouldn't like that.

"I'll be back tomorrow," Mrs. Bartlet - I guess I should say "Dr. Bartlet" - said, "and I will expect you to have rested. If I'm going to allow you to work from here, I want a guarantee that you will allow yourself to heal. And that means no late night meetings, no stress," she grinned at that, knowing the lives we senior staffers live, "and _no_ funny business." I blushed again, and she just smiled.

After a final check of my pulse and breathing and a quick check of my temperature, the First Lady left my room.

I took a moment to revel in the quiet - I knew it wouldn't last.

***

I was right about the quiet. Right after my lunch was served on Friday - I was still on a liquid diet, but they promised me solid food early the next week - the guys for the phone wiring came in. They were followed closely by Sam, who must have escaped Mrs. Bartlet's eagle eye.

"Hey," he said, opening my door.

"Hey," I responded, smiling. It was good to see him. He still looked like bad, but I thought he'd actually gotten a bit of sleep, which was good. I also had missed him terribly, even though I had just seen him less than 24 hours previous.

I wanted to tell him right away what Mrs. Bartlet had told me. "Uh...Sam? I have some good news and some bad news."

He looked worried. "You're OK, right?"

"As OK as can be expected, but that's the bad news - the First Lady's locking me in this joint for the next week, and then will only let me work on a limited basis, and only from home. She's told me she doesn't want to see my face again in the White House until she gives the OK."

"So what's the good news?" Sam still looked concerned, a look he'd worn ever since I woke up.

"I'm going to be able to get back into the swing of things from here, according to Dr. Bartlet." I gestured to the workmen who were ignoring our conversation. "She's having them bring me a phone so I can be in on meetings and such, even while I'm stuck here."

The phone guys quickly finished up their job and left, while Sam called Leo - again violating that "no cell phones in sickrooms" rule - to have the info about my new line passed around the office.

Then I remembered the other thing Mrs. Bartlet had told me...which wasn't good news but not really horrible news either. I thought it was important to tell Sam _that_, too.

"Uh...Sam? There is one other thing." I wasn't quite sure how to say this, but I figured direct was the best way. "Mrs. Bartlet? When she was here? She heavily implied that we shouldn't...um..." and I do believe I blushed "well, basically until she gives us the all-clear. Something about my lung capacity, probably."

Now it was Sam's turn to blush. But he quickly recovered. "J? Hear this clearly. I just wanted _you_ back. Not for the sex. But because I'm incomplete without you. Hell, it was only a day and a half that we weren't sure you'd pull through and I was a wreck. Ask anyone." He paused. "On second thought, don't. Toby'll just tell you that I was irrational as always...and CJ...well, CJ will take the opportunity to tease me unrepentantly. We were all worried about you." I raised one eyebrow. "I think Mrs. Bartlet's mad at me - I yelled at her the first time she kicked me out of here to check your vitals while you were still asleep."

I laughed as best I could, but my voice still sounded raspy to my ears.

"She musta loved that," I said. I could picture it - Sam in full Righteous Indignation mode and the First Lady showing her steel. It would've been fun to watch...I told myself I had to quiz the others to see if they'd been around for the confrontation.

"Anyway, she'll kill me if I stay too long, but I just wanted to see you..." He got a look on his face that I couldn't quite read. "J? Don't do that again, OK? Don't _ever_ almost die on me again. I'm not sure I could take it." In the close to 6 months that we've been together, I've gotten to know Sam's emotions very well, and he was on the brink of losing it here, but he continued. "When we were all waiting to hear, and they said that you might not make it...it was like someone reached into my chest and pulled out my heart. I couldn't imagine what life would be like without you. Even before we were together - I've told you this - I'd been in love with you. And I couldn't imagine continuing living without you...without your laugh, without your smile. I couldn't imagine not being held by you ever again, you being there in times of joy and in times of anguish." I could see Sam's eyes were tearing.

"Love?" I tried to interrupt to reassure him, but he was on a roll.

"So never, never, never do that to me again, because it would probably be the end of me," Sam wound down.

"Love?" I tried again. "I want you to know that I would never, ever do anything to hurt you. I hate that you - that everyone - went through so much because of me. I'm going to just concentrate on getting out of here as soon as possible and coming back home to you, OK?" Even though Sam and I still had our own places, I tended to think of wherever we were together as "home," be it his apartment or mine.

"I want that, too," Sam said in a small voice. "I'm sorry I lost it back there."

"'Sokay, love. I know it's been hard. But..." I wanted to get Sam back on an even keel, "tell me all the gossip. What's been going with people since I've been out of the loop? Dish me some dirt here, OK?"

Sam smiled - a watery smile, but a smile nonetheless - and proceeded to tell me about the latest antics of the junior staffers - Margaret's latest crusade for truth in food packaging, Ginger's inability to find anything because the others were enjoying hiding her stuff, that kind of thing - the day-to-day hijinks that go on in any office.

Pretty soon I started to get really tired. "Love?" I didn't want to have to ask him to leave. I didn't actually _want_ him to leave. But if Mrs. Bartlet got wind of how long he'd been here, she'd never let him come back. "I think..."

Sam looked at me. "J? I've overstayed my welcome. I'll go now, but I'll be back as soon as I can be." He turned to the door, then came back to the side of my bed. Leaning down, he captured my lips with his own, giving me a gentle kiss that somehow still managed to convey all the love and emotion that was tied up in this brilliant, complex man whom I love to distraction.

"There," he said. "That'll give you something to dream on." And he turned and left.

***

Over the next couple of days - despite them being the weekend - things settled into a basic rhythm. Once an hour, either I would call Leo or someone would call me, and we'd have a 5-10 minute status check. It might seem a bit like overkill, but I work in a highly stressful environment where, if they don't hear from you on a regular basis, people get afraid that you've gone off and sold one of the 50 states or something. Not that I'd get into too much trouble lying here in my hospital bed, but you never know. Hell, if nothing else, I've proven myself able to get into trouble almost anywhere I go. CJ won't even let me talk to the press unscripted, even in the hallways, without her go-ahead. I think she's still holding a grudge from the time with her root canal, but...

Anyway. So I conducted and participated in meetings from my bed, and every couple of hours, Donna would come over to GW to get my signature on something or to ask me about something random. I think she mostly was checking up on me, but it was nice to have contact with people who weren't poking and prodding me.

Sam came by as often as he could, but between having to sneak around Dr. Bartlet and having actual work to do in the West Wing, I didn't see nearly as much of him as I would have liked. And every time he came by, someone else was waiting to see me.

On Monday morning, one week after the shooting, Donna came into my room at 7:30 - I was, of course, awake - and showed me a page of rules she'd set up for members of the senior staff relating to their coming to visit me: only 10 minutes maximum, no major hassles, leave if I started to drift, that kind of thing. I wasn't convinced anyone would follow the rules, but Hell, if it made Donna feel more in control of the whole situation, who was I to argue.

And Heaven protect anyone who crossed Donna and her rules.

"Hey, Josh," Donna said, "Dr. Bartlet's on her way over here, but she said I could have a couple of minutes. There's some random stuff for you to look at..." she dropped some papers off on the table by my bed "and some stuff for you to sign," which, of course, she plunked in front of me as she shoved a pen into my hand.

While I was taking care of those, she casually said, "And Sam says he'll be by as soon as he can get away. The First Lady's watching him even closer than she's watching me - something about him wearing you out." I didn't want an explanation of the look on Donna's face.

"You two doing OK?" I hate it when they're fighting, and I can only imagine what the stress of me being here has done to them both. Yeah, they were getting along when I first woke up, but now...there was time for them to go back to their sniping.

"Yeah, we've agreed that as long as I don't have to picture the two of you in bed together, all will be fine. Which means neither of you can describe things to me. But, Josh, don't take it to mean I won't be your sounding board...I will be...Just not your sex counselor, OK?"

With that, and leaving me flabbergasted (especially in light of her 'gift' before Sam and my first date), Donna gathered up her assorted papers and left the room. I knew she'd be back, but hopefully not too soon.

***

I got 10 minutes of uninterrupted rest before my door opened again. This time it was the First Lady. And she was in full doctor mode.

"Josh? If you're going to be allowed to continue to work from here, I am going to have to take a more hands-on approach to your medical care," she said. This scared me, 'cause she was already significantly hands-on. Proof of this was the fact that, as she spoke, she was undressing me.

She took a moment to listen, as usual, to my breathing - Hell, I'd tell her the minute I felt I was gonna stop, she shouldn't worry - and to check my pulse and heartbeat. Then she removed the bandage from where my wound was - I hoped - healing.

"Hmmm," she said. I hate it when doctors do that. I wondered if it's a required course in medical school - non-committal grunting 101. I also wondered for a brief moment if there was a similar course they make you take before accepting the position of Chief of Staff to the President. But then her continued probing of my wound began to worry me. Not to mention that it hurt like crazy.

"Everything OK, Mrs. Bartlet?" I asked, trying to keep my voice as calm as possible.

"Yes, Josh, don't worry. I just haven't really looked closely since you started moving around more, and I wanted to be sure you weren't pulling out the stitches accidentally."

That put my mind at ease a bit, but I was still afraid there was something she wasn't telling me. She made some notations on my chart, re-dressed the wound, and then re-buttoned my shirt.

"Josh," she said, "if you don't take care of yourself, I _will_ make good on my promise to keep you here. I care about you, and I don't want you getting worse before you get better."

I appreciated the concern, but I really didn't think I could do much damage lying here on my back all day.

She kissed me on the forehead and said, "Josh, you're a good boy. I know you'll do the right thing." And with that cryptic statement, she left again.

At some point after that, I think I fell back asleep for a bit. I remember fielding a couple of work-related calls, but for the most part I drifted. Around noon, Sam came by and brought me a contraband sandwich, which I ate with much glee - it's something about forbidden food that makes it taste just that much better, even just a tuna sandwich from the deli down the block. Hey, it was solid food and not hospital-issue. Two things greatly in its favor.

"J?" Sam had been silent while I ate, which meant that I could wolf down the sandwich without anyone catching me at it.

"Yes, love?"

"It's becoming unbearable. I know it's only been a week, but..."

"I know, love, I know. I miss you, too."

"J..." he got an embarrassed look on his face. "It's...um...it's not just that."

At my puzzled look, Sam continued.

"I..." he took a deep breath. "I _need_ you. To touch me. To..."

From the color of Sam's face and his inability to string together a coherent sentence, I figured out what this had to do with.

"Sam...lock the door." He did.

If Dr. Bartlet tried to come in and the door was locked, she'd figure I was involved in a top-secret meeting. Or that's what I hoped she'd figure.

"C'mere," I said. Sitting up slightly, I silently thanked the fates, or God, or whomever that the IV was out and that I had at least some freedom of movement.

Sam came over to the edge of the bed. I shoved over a bit, and he lay down next to me.

"No, love, this will be easier if you sit facing me." Now he got a worried look on his face.

"J? You wanna tell me something?"

"No, love, I want to show you something." And with that, I kissed him with as much power as I could, given my weakened state. He sat passively for a second, and then he kissed me back with as much force as I was kissing him. But it still wasn't enough for me to put his mind at ease.

I reached forward with my left hand and started stroking Sam through his pants. He quickly realized what I was up to, and he shifted to give me better access. It didn't take long for him to be panting, his breath coming in almost gasps.

"Oh, J, it's been so..."

I increased the pace, all the time kissing him - I kissed his cheeks, his nose, his chin, anywhere I could reach. Sam shifted again and loosened the fly of his pants. I guess he'd had enough of the teasing and wanted to feel my hand on him for real, 'cause he quickly shoved his pants and boxers down so that he was sitting on his bare ass on my hospital bed. He aimed his hard cock right toward my hand, giving me perfect access for what I was doing.

Somehow, I knew Dr. Bartlet would know - sixth sense or something - if I were to blow Sam right here. But I knew also that Sam needed me to bring him off, and the question was what would happen when Sam came. Trying to explain the stains on the hospital blankets wasn't something I really wanted to do. But then I had an inspiration.

"Sam, love, grab that washcloth off my bedside table, OK?" I know Sam - when he's this far aroused, and making those little mewling sounds, he'll do just about anything I ask. This was the first time I'd asked him to do something so mundane, but he did it.

I took the washcloth and draped it over the part of the blanket right under Sam's already-weeping cock. Even if not all of the cum ended up on the cloth, it would be less than if I hadn't put down protection <heh>. Sam was so close now, but I wanted one more thing.

"Open your eyes, Sam." I love what happens to his eyes when he goes over the edge. They get all dark blue, and it makes me wild.

Sam's eyes shot open just as he reached the end of his rope. He came, calling my name in a strangled voice - he was holding back from his usual vocal self because he was afraid we'd be heard and detected. I used the washcloth to clean up whatever the cloth didn't catch, as Sam stood up and put his boxers and pants back on correctly. Then he came back and lay next to me on the bed.

"J? That was perfect...how did you know?" Sam still doesn't understand how I can read him so well. "And you...what about you?"

I chuckled. "Sam, I don't think I could even get it up at this point, my body's so drained."

Sam got an "is that a challenge" look on his face.

"Love, no. Not now. There will be Hell to pay if you get me all stressed - I'm still on a cardiac monitor, after all, so Dr. Bartlet will know...and you don't want to get her angry, do you?" I hoped Sam would listen to reason...much as I appreciated what he had in mind.

He didn't look happy - he likes our sex life to be balanced, so that neither of us feels deprived - but he seemed to understand.

Sam looked at his watch. "I've got to be getting back, anyway," he said. "I'll be back this evening. I promise." He kissed me deeply, then climbed off the bed.

"Tell everyone I'll be here if they need me." As if they didn't know. As if I wasn't stuck here at the whim of the First Lady.

"I will." Sam turned to the door, unlocked it, and then turned back to me.

"Think about what you want me to do when...well, when you're not being watched so closely, OK?" And with that, he smiled and left.

OK, now _those_ images were going to get me through the rest of the afternoon.

***

By Thursday of that week, I was totally stir-crazy. I'd now been in the hospital for 9 days, and I was tired of it. I wanted to go home, and since I was healing well, according to what everyone said, I felt that I shouldn't be held captive any more.

I knew that there was no way that anyone would let me resume my normal schedule, but if I could at least be home, sleeping in my own bed. And people wouldn't be waking me every couple of hours to make sure I was sleeping.

Do you get the idea I hate hospitals? If so, you'd be right. I hated them before I was a patient in one, and now that I've been a patient, I hate them even more.

Most of all, what I wanted was to be able to sleep with Sam. I don't mean anything besides sleeping. I hadn't really realized how much I expected him to be there. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, expecting to hear him breathing softly next to me. And I can't count the number of times I rolled over to just touch him and ended up with a handful of air.

He wanted me home as much as I wanted to be home. We've kinda settled into sleeping most nights at my place - we have keys to each other's homes, but he'll leave the office before I do and he'll go wait for me in my apartment. But wherever we slept, as long as we were together, it was OK. And this extended forced separation was driving both of us nuts.

He'd taken to ending our phone conversations - no matter whether they were business or pleasure - with "Come home soon." Sometimes he even slipped and said it when we were on a senior staff call. But everyone seemed to understand what my being here was doing to Sam, so they winked at the breach of protocol. CJ and Donna were keeping me in the loop about how he looked, how much they thought he was sleeping, whether or not he was eating. He was beginning to have that hollow look he'd last had during that period we were broken up after our trip out to LA. I knew I needed to get out of here, not just for me but for him.

At around 11:00 AM, Dr. Bartlet came around on her normal rounds. I knew what she'd be looking for, so as she came in the door, I started unbuttoning my pajama top. It had become a bit embarrassing to be undressed by her, especially once I was strong enough to do it on my own.

On this day, she did things a bit differently from her normal routine. Usually, she listens first to my breathing and then checks my other vitals. This time, however, she immediately pulled a thermometer out of her lab coat pocket, quickly sheathed it, and stuck it in my mouth. I had a sneaking suspicion it was 'cause she wanted to shut me up - she keeps having to tell me to be quiet when she's listening to my breathing 'cause I keep asking when she's gonna spring me. This suspicion was even stronger because up until now, she's used one of those digital jobs stuck in my ear to check my temperature.

While I was forced to be silent, Dr. Bartlet listened to my breathing and my heart, and then took my blood pressure. She then took the bandage off my wound. She does that almost every time - checking the rate of healing, I suppose - but this time, she looked especially pleased.

"You seem to be healing nicely, Josh. If you look the same tomorrow, I just might be convinced to let you go home."

I was thrilled - this was the first time she'd said anything concrete about letting me go.

She took back the thermometer, looked at it, made a couple of notations on my chart, then stuck it back in her pocket. "OK, Josh. I'll draw up a list of requirements, and if you can comply, I'll let you go tomorrow," she said with a smile. "I know of a couple of people who will see this as good news."

With that, she left my room. I couldn't decide what to do - should I call Sam and let him know, or should I wait for his call (knowing he'd probably call or come over at lunch time)? I didn't want to make him wait, but I didn't want to disrupt his concentration, which has been shot ever since I was.

My decision was made when my phone rang two minutes later. Somehow, I knew it was him.

"Hello?"

"Hey, J."

"Hey."

"What's the good word?"

"I have some news - the First Lady says I can probably go home tomorrow."

Sam took a deep breath. "You don't know how happy I am to hear that. As soon as you know what time, I'll do whatever I can to arrange my schedule so I can come get you."

"Sam, love, I can take a cab. I'm just going home."

Forcefully, he said, "No, let me do this." And then, quieter, "I need to do this."

Well, who was I to deprive him. "OK, love, as soon as I have details, I'll let you know."

The rest of that day couldn't have passed slower for me - I was so focused on being released that I think I counted every minute of the day. Finally, I went to sleep and dreamed of what being home would be like. It was sort of pathetic - it's not like I live in a castle or anything - but it so beat being stuck in the hospital.

At 7:30 AM Friday morning, Dr. Bartlet did one final examination and declared me fit - or, at least, fit enough to go home and lounge on my own sofa. I called Sam right after she left and told him what she'd said - that I could be sprung at lunch time.

At 12 noon exactly, Sam showed up at my room. I had packed all of my meager belongings and was ready to go. Sam grabbed my stuff before I could.

"Sam..." I didn't want him coddling me - I'm an adult, and I'd been declared well enough to go home.

"J, let me do this. Let me take care of you. It's not an offer you're likely to get too often."

I knew that wasn't totally true - given his way, Sam would wait on me hand and foot - but I appreciated the sentiment.

"OK, then," I said. "You can carry the stuff. I'll carry myself." Then I actually got moving, and found that carrying myself wasn't as easy as I had anticipated. I was tired by the time we reached Sam's car. And I wasn't sure I could make the climb into the passenger seat of the SUV, I was so drained.

Sam noticed, and he gave me a hand up after stashing my bag in the back seat.

I think I dozed on the short trip back to my place, because before I knew it, I was home again. Sam jumped out of the car, grabbed my bag, and then came around to give me a hand out. He let me support myself on him during the trip up the flight of stairs outside my place. Taking out his key to my place, he opened the door and guided me into the living room.

"Do you want anything? You haven't eaten. Let me make you a sandwich or something. Donna and I came by here this morning and we stocked your fridge, so there's plenty of choices. I'll just go and find you something...." The stream of words seemed to just continue. Sam doesn't usually babble like that unless he's really nervous, and I couldn't figure out what would be causing it now. He had nothing to be nervous about - all he had done was brought me home. I wasn't going to be able to deal if Sam was going to be a whirling dervish.

"Sam...love...slow down. Please."

"But...I just want to make sure you're all set."

"I'm fine. Just tired. I've been cooped up in a hospital room for 10 days. I just want to sit here with you - I called Toby after I called you and told him I just might detain you for the balance of the afternoon." I was somewhat afraid that Sam would see that as overstepping the boundaries of personal vs. professional, but I needed to just sit and reconnect with him. I knew Toby would understand.

"You did what? That would explain the strange look he gave me when I told him I'd be back by 2." Sam smiled. "Thanks. I didn't want to ask Toby for the time..." I knew Sam still had a couple of things to deal with in terms of Toby, his former lover, being his boss. It was sometimes awkward when Toby needed to sign off on time that Sam wanted to spend with me. Not that Toby ever minded or said no, but Sam was overly sensitive about it.

I patted the sofa cushion next to me. "Come on, love. Come sit here by me. I promise I'll eat later. I just want to be with you."

Sam came and sat. He sat close to me and I put my arm around his shoulders. Just that bit of contact was wonderful. We both sighed, almost simultaneously.

"I've missed this," Sam said. He paused, then took a deep breath. "Oh, Josh, I was so scared. I was sure I'd never be able to hold you again, to kiss you again, to tell you how much I love you, how much I need you in my life."

I was deeply touched and didn't know what to say. "Sam...baby..." I never call him that, but it seemed appropriate here. "I'll always be here. Didn't I tell you that once? Not even death can stop true love." Great...the most emotional time of my life, and I'm reduced to quoting from 'The Princess Bride.' But the sentiment was perfect. There was nothing that could keep me from this man. I'd cheated death to get back to him, and I was never going to leave his side again.

"Sam?" I wasn't sure what sort of mood he was in, but I wanted more than just sitting, pleasant as that was. "Remember in the hospital? When you...when I..." I paused, trying to get my thoughts in order. "I need you. Dr. Bartlet gave me strict orders what _not_ to do, but she didn't rule out everything. Please let me love you."

I was desperate to get my hands on Sam's body, the more naked the better. I pushed at his left shoulder - the one my hand was on - until he turned to face me. Without giving him a chance to think, I undid his tie and the buttons on his shirt. Stripping it off him - actually, baring his chest, 'cause I hadn't thought this totally through and therefore hadn't unbuttoned his cuffs, so he was trapped in his shirt - I started to kiss any naked skin I could find. My lips and hands were everywhere, and since he was still trying to free himself from his shirt cuffs, I had free range. Just because it made me happy, I took first one of his nipples then the other into my mouth, tonguing them until they were sharp little points. I trailed my tongue between them, nipping and sucking at them in a random pattern. Sam was already moaning and I hadn't even undone his pants yet.

Turns out he was way ahead of me. As soon as he managed to free himself from his shirt, Sam undid his pants and, shifting around on the couch, managed to push them and his boxers down to his knees. With a bit more wiggling, he maneuvered them down onto the floor, where he could kick them off after toeing off his loafers. Pretty soon, he was sitting naked on my couch and I was kissing him all over.

"Josh," he gasped. "Stop a sec, OK?"

Not exactly the response I had wanted or expected, especially since he'd been the one to totally remove all his clothes.

"Huh?" I said, again showing off the results of the great education I had received.

"I have an idea. This will just tire you out, and you're already exhausted." At my raised eyebrow - accompanied by a quick glance at his raging hard-on - he continued. "No, I'm serious. Let's go to the bedroom." Taking my hand, he led me out of the living room and into my bedroom. Once there, he - very sweetly, and with a minimum of effort - stripped me naked and pushed me into the bed.

"C'mon," he said. "We'll just lie here, holding each other, and if you fall asleep, that's fine. I just want to feel you, touch you."

So that's what we did. Two exceedingly horny men, but we just lay there, holding each other. The friction between our bodies was soothing rather than exciting, and he drew little circles on my back with his hand, which was just as soothing.

As I began to fall asleep, I said, "Sam? Words can't describe how much I love you."

He kissed my forehead. "I love you, too. Now sleep. I'll still be here when you wake up, and I promise you I'm gonna make you eat something."

I drifted off to sleep, the first really peaceful sleep I'd had since before the shooting.

Life was getting back to normal.

***

I think I spent most of the weekend asleep. I remember vague bits of conversation, mostly with Sam, but for the most part, I used the weekend to recharge my batteries. Leo called once, but Sam grabbed the phone before I could and told Leo that I wasn't available. Leo's been good about giving me all the time I need for recuperation. I think we were all so spooked by the shooting in general that everyone's being more lenient when it comes to personal issues.

Over the course of that first week I was home, I fell into a rhythm much like the one I had when I was in the hospital, except that people didn't come in and poke me as often. Donna came by periodically to check up on me and to bring stuff from the office. With me home rather than in the hospital, there was more opportunity for people to stop by, and they did.

Monday was peculiar - I was so used to getting up at 5:15 and getting into the office around 6 that when I slept until 7:30, at first I was very disoriented. I looked to the pillow next to me, and while Sam was no longer there, the indentation from his head on the pillow let me know that he hadn't been gone for all that long.

I had a long day of almost nothing ahead of me. In some ways, I hoped that there was some sort of national crisis just so that I'd have nothing to do. I then canceled that thought - I have a bad habit of hoping bad things into existence.

It had been so long since I had time to just relax, I wasn't totally sure what to do with myself. I spent a lot of time reading - just for pleasure, what an amazing concept - and more time lying on the couch and channel surfing. I now understood why the President had been so annoyed when Mrs. Bartlet had kept him in bed after his collapse right around the time of the State of the Union - daytime TV sucks.

But for the most part, I lay around and tried to make myself heal quickly so that I could get back to my regular work-driven and Sam-driven life. The Sam-driven part was still there - even though we were going real easy and not doing anything beyond cuddling - and it was what was keeping me sane. I knew it had only been a couple of days, and it beat the hospital stay, but I was so used to being busy.

Monday afternoon around 4:30, the First Lady brought Sam to my place. She'd never come to my apartment before - Hell, why should she have? - and I hadn't realized how much went into getting the First Lady into a building. First the Secret Service came through and did a security sweep - as if, having just been shot, I'd be harboring skinheads in my apartment. Once they declared my apartment safe, they ushered in Mrs. Bartlet and Sam, and then they stood guard outside my door.

I wonder what went through their heads when they went through that duffel bag at the bottom of my closet. Well, nothing in there they've never seen before, I figure.

Anyway.

So Mrs. Bartlet - Dr. Bartlet, 'cause she was here in an official medical capacity - came in and instructed Sam on my care and feeding. No, that's not fair, I know, but in some ways it felt like I was extraneous to their whole discussion. They didn't actually talk _to_ me, they talked _around_ me. She showed him how to check and dress my wound, how to check my breathing and heartbeat, discussed the appropriate ranges for my temperature, pulse and blood pressure, and then showed him how to check all these.

What freaked me out most was that there I was, stripped to the waist in front of Dr. Bartlet, who sees me as a patient, and Sam, who knows me intimately as a lover. When Sam was feeling for my pulse, I felt myself beginning to get hard - any contact between his hands and my naked skin does that to me - and I was embarrassed in front of Mrs. Bartlet. But she seemed to ignore any subtext that was going on between the two of us. She's one of those people who can be so totally focused on a task that anything outside is irrelevant, even if she notices it.

When Dr. Bartlet was convinced that Sam knew what he was doing and that he'd check me on a regular basis and report any abnormalities, she collected her Secret Service agents and left.

As soon as the door had closed, Sam said, "Sorry about all that, J, but she wanted someone you'd trust and, since I'm basically gonna be camping here for the interim," he paused, as if he thought I'd disagree, but it's not like he wasn't basically living here anyway, "I seemed like the best choice."

Then he grinned. "And you can't tell me that you've never thought of us 'playing doctor'."

Unfortunately, he couldn't stay - he had a meeting up on the Hill at 6 that couldn't be postponed - so with a too-brief kiss, he was off again.

"I'll call you when my meeting's over, and then I'll come home, OK?"

I was interested to see how this convalescence of mine was going to play out. Sam's so used to me being the dominant one in this relationship, the leader, the caregiver, and this situation - horrible as it was getting shot, and he'd never even think it was a good thing - gave him an opportunity to care for me.

I'm not afraid to say I was looking forward to being pampered. Sam's such a gentle man, a giving soul, that I knew he'd go all out to make me comfortable. But I knew that I was going to have to be sure that he didn't ignore his own needs in his aim to fulfill mine.

***

I soon discovered that Sam saw his new role as my caregiver as a way to get to know my body even better than he had previously. For instance, on Tuesday, he went looking for all my pulse points, claiming that it was for the benefit of my recovery. And, as he found them, he explored them. In great detail. For an extended period of time. He seemed especially interested in the one right at my groin.

"Uh...Sam? Love?" I said as he used his lips to "examine" his way down the crease between the inside of my thigh and my cock, "I don't think this was what Dr. Bartlet had in mind." I was beginning to get hard; I knew that much more was going to give me an uncontrollable urge to pounce on this man.

"I beg to differ," he said in a too-logical voice. I know that voice. That's the voice he uses when he's about to try to explain why some harebrained scheme of his is totally sane and rational. Sometimes I fear this voice. But now I was looking forward to what he might have in mind.

He continued. "Part of my job now is making sure you are in the best health you can be. Dr. Bartlet trusts me to get to know your...physiology...to the best extent that I can. It is your responsibility to let me." And with that, he went back to licking my inner thigh.

When I was at full hardness, he stopped.

"Josh?" he said in a mock-concerned voice, "I am...concerned...about your current health status. There seems to be unanticipated swelling I will have to examine."

With that, he cupped my balls and began to explore the crease between them, dipping lower periodically to finger my ass.

This was the best physical exam I'd had in years.

Sam continued his monologue, looking at my lust-flushed skin. "And I think you might have a bit of a raised temperature. I'll have to check that." With that, he took my now-weeping cock into his mouth. I wasn't quite sure that was an approved method of checking for a fever, but I wasn't complaining.

More precisely, I was moaning. Loudly. And I was breathing heavily, which Dr. Bartlet probably would frown on, but I was so crazy with lust for Sam, and had been since I had gotten home, that any amount of physical contact and release _had_ to be the best medicine for me, right?

Right before I was about to come, Sam stopped sucking me. I was so far gone that it took me a moment to realize the sensations had changed.

"Love?" I asked. "What...huh? Are you going to just torture me like this?"

"No, J," he said, removing his clothes, "I just wanted to be a full participant." And with that, now totally naked, he climbed up onto the bed with me, put his knees on opposite sides of my head, and re-claimed my cock. Understanding what he wanted, I took him into my mouth - he'd been hiding a full erection in his pants for only-he-knew-how-long.

It didn't take long for both of us to reach our limits, and we came almost simultaneously. We've been together long enough now that we can read each other's signals and vary our tempos to try to come in sync.

We finally collapsed back onto the bed, and Sam rearranged himself so that he was lying at my side.

"Didja like that?" he asked tentatively. "I didn't want to rush you, but we haven't...I mean, you haven't been in any shape to do anything since you were shot, and I needed..." he stopped, as if unsure how to continue.

But I understood. "It was perfect," I said. "Thank you."

And I kissed him lightly on the forehead as we both drifted off to sleep.

***

So that's how the next week or so played out. Sam would take my vitals - seriously, not for play - in the morning so that he could report them to Dr. Bartlet when he went into the West Wing. I'd then work and rest and get bored and rant and everything else one does when one is confined to the house. In the evening - earlier than usual, as everyone at work knew he was caring for me as well as working - he'd come home, we'd eat dinner, and then he'd re-take my vitals...his way.

It was good for us to keep this sex play going. I was getting depressed being at home full time, and reconnecting with my lover every night reminded me that I did have a place in the universe. It sounds strange, but that's what it did.

And the sex was amazing, even at the level we were keeping it. We seemed to have developed an unwritten "no penetration" rule until Dr. Bartlet gave us the go-ahead. I think I wasn't sure what I could handle, and Sam was afraid of breaking me.

***

By the end of the second week of what came to feel like house arrest, I was thoroughly tired of being home. Everyone at work was stressing about the midterm elections. Toby was ranting about repealing the second amendment, mandatory background checks on the universe, all sorts of things in relation to having been shot at. I think the whole shooting affected him worse than anyone originally suspected. I hoped he'd come through the trauma OK. I didn't fault him at all for what he was feeling. Hell, having been shot, I totally agreed with his convictions, if not his methods.

The time at home with Sam became my focal point each day. I appreciated what work I could do from home, and the assorted people who would drop by during the day, ostensibly to get me to help them with work stuff but really to keep me from quietly going stir crazy. But it was the time I spent with Sam that made me look forward to the end of each day.

I felt fine, for the most part. Breathing was painful at times - coinciding with physical exertion sometimes, but often just at random times. I didn't mention it to Sam, because I was worried that he'd blow it out of proportion and bring Dr. Bartlet back in. It was bad enough that she still expected him to report on my progress every morning.

But with the holiday weekend coming, I wasn't going to worry about anything - the First Lady was making the President go out of town to Camp David for a vacation, so none of us were expected to be working unless some major crisis arose.

***

It ended up being a very relaxing and enjoyable weekend. Since the President was away, the rest of the senior staff had all this free time, so many of them - as well as some of the junior staff - came by my place to sit and chat about non-work things. CJ came by with Danny for a bit, and while they were there, Toby called to find out how I was doing. Donna and Margaret dropped by on Saturday on their way back from some random shopping trip I knew I'd never stop hearing about from Donna. Even Leo dropped by with Mallory for a bit. Charlie and Zoey had managed to escape the trip to Camp David, so they came by for a while on Sunday.

I don't think I realized exactly how starving I had been for human companionship until that weekend. Having people come by, even for just half an hour at a time, reconnected me to the outside world. I said once that I wanted to spend both the sad times and the joyous times with these people, be there for them in triumph and in tragedy, and now I found that they were there for me as well.

On Monday, Sam and I just lay around the apartment, doing nothing of any great import.

But then Tuesday came and the real world came back.

***

Sam was distracted on Tuesday by problems at work, and I was distracted on Tuesday by Toby. Sam's distraction came from an old law-school friend of his who was running for office at Sam's bidding who, it turns out, might have been a racist jerk. My distraction came from the fact that Toby wanted to overturn the Bill of Rights and wanted me to be involved in this endeavor.

So, just as I had predicted, life returned to normal. Of course, we have a different definition of "normal" from most people, but we work for, as Leo has put it, "a demented, demented man."

Speaking of whom, according to all accounts - Donna, when she brought me my lunch, CJ when I spoke to her on the phone, and Zoey, who called just to vent, knowing that I was sympathetic to her situations with both her father and Charlie - the President was driving himself and everyone else nuts about a school-board election in New Hampshire.

It's those little things that made me think that perhaps, just a bit, I was lucky to be out of the office on sick leave.

So, as I said, right after Labor Day, our lives settled into something of a standard rhythm. Sam went to work every morning, and, for the most part, I got up when he did. With the First Lady on a goodwill tour of North Africa, Sam was slacking on my morning medical exams, which was fine by me, 'cause then I didn't have to be poked and prodded.

Though he was keeping up the evening ones. They were becoming more intense as I began to get my strength back. But we were still keeping to some boundaries, mostly because I think Sam was afraid of hurting me. And, in some ways, I think he got a secret thrill of bringing me to the edge and then backing off. He'd been asserting his dominance in little ways since I got home, and I think it was good for him. That sounds patronizing, but I sometimes worry that he suppresses his need to assert himself around me, as I have become the dominant partner in our relationship, and this situation allows him to reassert his strengths.

But enough analysis of Sam. All I know is that he has always been there when I needed him, especially during my healing stages.

I continued to experience some pain when breathing, and it was getting more often and more intense. I still didn't say anything to Sam, as - despite all his strengths - he'd worry too much. He's got a loyal streak a mile wide, and I know he'd neglect his own needs to take care of mine.

But then the coughing started. It was minor at first, but it began to get worse during the weekend after Labor Day. I took cough syrup in an attempt to hide the new symptom from Sam, but even large doses weren't able to control the coughing.

On Sunday afternoon, we were sitting on the couch when a really bad coughing fit hit.

"J?" I heard the fear in Sam's voice. "You OK?"

I nodded, but kept coughing.

Sam jumped off the sofa and headed for the kitchen. I heard him running water, and then he came back with a glass. "Here. Drink this if you can."

I was able to control myself for a minute and started to drink, but then the urge to cough got too strong again. I was having trouble getting enough oxygen, and I was feeling a bit lightheaded.

"Josh, I need you to lie back." I heard the steel in Sam's voice before I could actually process what he was saying. He took the glass out of my hand and pushed gently on my shoulders until I was lying on my back on the sofa. Once he was convinced that I was not going to move - not like I could, seeing how I was coughing continuously - he left the living room and headed toward the bedroom. He came back a minute later carrying all his medical equipment.

"OK, Josh, I'm gonna just check you out a sec. Relax, and I'll make you better." Under the steel was a lot of fear, which was revealed in his face, but he was putting on a good act in an attempt to get me calm.

The longer I lay still, the better my breathing got and the less I was coughing, but it was very much touch-and-go. Sam reached underneath me and pushed my shirt up so that my chest was exposed. "Sit up just a sec, J," he said, easing me into a semi-sitting position. As soon as he'd finished removing my shirt, he lay me back down. Taking the stethoscope that Dr. Bartlet had loaned him, Sam listened to my chest and then to my back - again sitting me up momentarily, not allowing me to move on my own. He also took my pulse, which even I could tell was racing.

"J? I'll go call Dr. Bartlet; don't go anywhere." He handed me the glass of water again and headed off to the phone.

He returned really quickly. "Forgot - she's still on that goodwill mission, but I left a message with Lilly. Do you want me to take you to the hospital?"

"No," I replied as forcefully as I could, "I _do not_ want to go to the hospital. I'm better just lying here." I took more sips of water, happy that they didn't trigger a new coughing fit.

"Can I get you anything?" Now that the immediate crisis seemed to be past, Sam's composure was beginning to crumble. "Anything...." I shook my head. Sam came over and helped me back into my shirt - not like I couldn't dress myself, but I appreciated the help. I was still somewhat woozy.

"Cup of tea would probably be good." I'm not a big tea drinker - much more of a coffee person - but I thought my abused throat might appreciate it. Also, I wanted Sam to feel like he could do _something_, seeing the desperation on his face.

I heard him go off to the kitchen, and then I heard the water running again and the stove being turned on. Silence descended for a minute, and then I heard what sounded like muffled sobbing.

"Sam? Love?" I called to him as loudly as I could, but I was afraid of starting to cough again. When I didn't hear anything in response, I eased myself off the sofa. Sam wouldn't be thrilled that I got up, but I wanted to make sure he was OK.

"Love?" I said again, as I entered the kitchen. And there was my beloved, wearing the most devastated facial expression I'd seen since I woke up in the hospital with him crying at my bedside. "Sam? Baby?" There was that nickname again. "You OK?"

"This is all my fault," he cried. This was more broken than I'd ever seen him, and it scared me. Especially 'cause I couldn't figure out what he was talking about.

"What do you mean, Sam? What's your fault?"

"Your coughing...your breathing sounded real bad, and it's all my fault."

I didn't get that. He wasn't why I got shot. He had done nothing but help me since I woke up in the hospital, so I couldn't figure where any of this had come from.

"How's this your fault?" I was trying to get to the root of this complex man's thought process.

"You know and I know that I haven't been keeping on schedule with your exams, with making sure you were OK. If I had been, I know I would've found this before."

I didn't want to tell him I'd been keeping information from him, but at the same time, I needed him to know that this development in my health wasn't his fault. "Sam, love, I've been having breathing...issues...for a couple of weeks now. I didn't say anything." I hoped he'd see that what I was saying was that even while he was checking me every day I was having symptoms, but he didn't take it that way.

"So I've been incompetent this whole time. Dammit, Josh, you should've told me. We could've gotten in a competent nurse and then you wouldn't be having this problem."

That wasn’t the reaction I'd been expecting, nor was it what I'd wanted. So now I had to try to talk him out of this mindset.

"Sam, I didn't - I don't - think you're incompetent. I just didn't want to worry you. I know you've had a lot on your mind, between helping me get better and all the shit going on at work - Tom Jordan's campaign imploding, Toby being a nut about the hate crimes bill, and the President being a nut in general." I had a flash of insight, remembering something he'd told me while I was in the hospital. "Remember right after the shooting, when you had basically saved CJ's life, but you didn't want to tell her how it all went down so that she wouldn't feel 'beholden' to you? See, that's what you really are all about - you not only protected CJ during the shooting, you spared her feelings by not telling her what really happened. That's the sort of kind, caring person you are. You are stronger and more competent than anyone else I know." I stopped, mostly 'cause I couldn't breathe again. I tried to breathe slowly through my nose, which seemed to help a bit. But, not wanting to cause more trouble, I just walked over to where Sam was sitting and embraced him. When my lungs weren't burning anymore, I said, "I'm gonna be OK, OK? And we'll go through all of this together. Now just let me go back and lie down, and if - when - Dr. Bartlet gets in touch, we'll deal then." I'd worn myself out again.

"OK," Sam said, giving me a weak smile. "Go back to the sofa, and when your tea's ready, I'll bring it over."

I went back into the living room and lay back down. I think my body was trying to tell me something, though, 'cause I fell asleep and never even heard Sam come in with my tea. But he was sitting by my side when I woke up again.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," he replied.

"How long have I been asleep?"

"'bout an hour. Not too long. But your tea is cold."

"That's OK. I don't really need it now," I said.

"J?" Sam asked in a quiet voice, "Sorry about before. I didn't mean to lose it on you like that."

"Don't worry, love. I know this has been hard on you. And I can't guarantee it won't get harder. If this coughing thing turns into anything, I need you to be strong, 'cause I won't be able to take care of me if I'm worried about you." I didn't mean to be demanding, but I needed him to know what was gonna help me.

"No promises," he said, "but I'll try, OK?"

That was good enough for me.

***

Sunday night after dinner, I was lying in bed reading, waiting for Sam to come by for his usual exam/play session. When it got to be about 10 PM and he still hadn't come in to bed, I got concerned and went looking for him. I found him in the living room, reclining on the sofa with a book in front of him, but he wasn't reading. He was just lying there, staring at the far wall. He'd turned the stereo on, but I don't think he was even conscious of what was playing.

"Sam? I've been waiting for you."

He shook his head as if to clear whatever thoughts he'd been caught in and looked at me. "Huh?"

"I've been waiting for you." I indicated the robe I was wearing. "I was hoping...I'm not fragile, you know."

Sam looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "Josh, you can't be serious!"

"Oh, but I am," I said. "Very serious." Seeing that I was going to have to take matters into my own hands, I walked over to the sofa and leaned down over Sam. I pressed a kiss to his forehead, then said, "C'mon, love. Don't leave me hanging." I started kissing his face - near his eyes, the tip of his nose, his chin, moving slowly but constantly moving.

"Josh..." he said, but then I caught his lips with mine, stopping whatever protest I knew he was going to try to make. I sat down on the sofa next to him - he's so thin that I can still sit next to him while he's lying there. Slowly, in order to prolong the sensations, I reached up under his shirt, tracing little patterns on his skin. When he closed his eyes, I knew I'd won this round. I dragged his shirt up out of his pants and, when he raised his arms, over his head. I then loosened the belt on my robe so that it opened enough that I could bring my skin in contact with his. I was still decently covered - but not by much. Too much movement, and the robe would fall completely open. And, since I had been waiting for Sam in bed, I was totally naked under the robe.

I was very aware of my breathing - I didn't want another outbreak of coughing to stop what we were doing - but I tried to keep Sam occupied so that he wouldn't pay attention. To accomplish this, I started kissing Sam's collar bone - it makes him nuts, and I can get him to agree to just about anything when I'm kissing him there.

"Sam?"

"Mmm?" he moaned.

"You made me wait. You know how I hate having to wait," I said with mock severity.

"Mmm?" he said again, recognizing my tone of voice as one that usually leads to things he really enjoys.

"Yes, you did. And you know what I do when you make me wait." Last time he'd made me wait was in his office - he'd been caught in the hallway by Toby and CJ about something I don't even remember anymore - and the result was that I used his tie and my tie to tie him to his office chair while I sucked him off. It's a good thing that the communications bullpen is usually so loud - the scream he let out when he came almost split my eardrums.

"Sam..." I said as he started to shift his hips on the sofa, "you know better than that." I reached down and started unbuttoning his jeans, thanking whatever spirit drove Sam to wear his button-flys. I undid the top two buttons and then stopped.

"Josh, you're...c'mon, J," Sam pleaded.

I unbuttoned the next button, which now left me enough maneuvering space to stick my hand into his pants but not enough space for him to find any freedom of movement for his quickly-hardening cock. I took this advantage and caressed him lightly through his boxers, which I knew would only make him harder.

After a minute or so of this, he moaned again. "Josh, _please_!"

I unbuttoned the fourth and fifth buttons, finally opening his fly all the way. I dragged the waistband of his boxers down so that it came just under his balls, exposing him to my eyes, lips and fingers. The rest of his lower body was still encased in his clothing.

Staring him straight in the eye, and not breaking eye contact, I took just the head of his cock into my mouth. I tongued at it, lapping at the slit, but not really sucking him with the ferocity he really likes.

When he was moaning so loudly that I could no longer hear the CD from the stereo, I stopped.

"If you want more, you know where to find me," I said and, leaving him hard and panting on the sofa, I headed back to the bedroom.

I wasn't alone there for very long. In about two minutes, a totally naked, half-hard, desperate Sam Seaborn appeared in my bedroom doorway. I knew that he was leaving me in the power position, something he hadn't done since I'd gotten home.

I motioned Sam to come into the room. I had already removed my robe and was lying back in bed naked. I'd had a sneaking suspicion that Sam wouldn't be able to wait much longer, and he knew better than to jerk off when I was in this kind of mood. And he knew I'd know if he had.

"C'mon over here, Sam." He came over and lay down on the bed.

"You know this time with you is vital to my recovery, right?" I figured a little bit of guilt was appropriate, but I didn't want to torture him too much.

At his nod, I said, "So why didn't you come to me tonight?"

"I was scared, J. Real scared." He looked at me. "After that incident this afternoon, I didn't want to stress your system out any more. I know that we've gotten a bit carried away in bed recently, and I didn't want to cause you any more pain than you'd already been through. I don't think I could live with myself if I caused you more pain."

This side of Sam that I was seeing was different from anything he'd ever showed me before. I knew that he was loyal, that he cared deeply - Hell, I knew without a doubt that he loved me - but I had never realized what a capacity to hurt him I held. I think I had seen some of this when we'd been broken up back in the winter, but he had tried to hide his pain from me then. Now, we were both so emotionally exposed, and we knew each other so much better now, that neither of us could hide from the other. And that's why I was finally seeing the depths to which my strong, opinionated, courageous beloved had sunk.

During his speech, I had gotten comfortable next to Sam and had been running my hands all over his bare skin, but he hadn't seemed to notice. He was so caught up in his own thoughts to feel the messages his body was sending his brain. He was now completely hard, and I could've brought him off right then and there, but I knew he'd want to be a focused participant.

"Love," I said when he'd seemed to have run out of steam temporarily, "I'm gonna be fine. I promised you that when I first woke up, and I mean it. But let's not worry about the future right now." I paused - one might say for dramatic effect - then said, "Right now I'm gonna make you crazy."

I then proceeded to show him just how much his concern meant to me. I worshipped his body with my hands and my lips, touching and caressing him in all the places I knew would make him crazy.

"Hell, Josh," Sam moaned. "Do it...make me yours."

Ah, good. I'd made him wait long enough that he was ready to beg. I like that occasionally.

"You made me wait," I said, "and turnabout's fair play, yes?" I trailed my fingers down between his legs, tickling his inner thighs, straying toward his cock, where he wanted my fingers, but not actually landing there. "And you've _always_ been mine."

"Yes," Sam gasped, but I wasn't sure if it was encouragement in what I was doing or an answer to my assertion.

I continued to play with Sam, approaching and retreating to the sounds of his increased agitation.

"C'mon, J," Sam finally said. "I get it. I won't make you wait again. Just _do_ something."

"What do you want me to do?" Sam can be quite reserved at times, but if I get him hot enough, he gets quite a mouth on him. I hoped I'd made him hit that point.

"Suck me, Josh. Fuck me. Fuck me now!"

OK, that sounded right to me. So I leaned down and took him into my mouth, still teasing him with my fingers.

"No, Josh. More. Harder." I raised my head temporarily, moved to the bedside table and took out the lube that was there. I greased up my hands and then sat between Sam's knees, facing him. I reestablished my previous position on Sam's cock. He raised his knees, giving me the access I needed. While I sucked and licked and tongued him, I worked the first two fingers of my right left hand into Sam's ass. I scissored my fingers so that I was hitting his prostate rhythmically but not constantly.

"Oh, yes! Fuck me, fuck me!" Sam had made a litany of it, and the volume increased as he approached his climax. With one final scream, Sam came, spurting hot and long into the back of my throat.

I let his now-softening cock fall from between my lips and placed a light kiss on his hipbone. But I didn't remove my fingers right away.

With my fingers still embedded in Sam, I took my own cock in my right hand, which was still slick with lube.

"Sam? I want you to watch me." And with that, I matched the rhythm of my right hand to the rhythm I had established within the depths of Sam's body. In just a couple of minutes, I was ready to come, and I could see that Sam was not only hard again, but that he was also reaching his limit. With a couple more pulls of my hand, I came all over Sam's stomach, and he came all over himself as well.

Finally removing my fingers from inside Sam, I got off the bed and went over to the bureau. I grabbed a towel from the top - I keep some there for this sort of occasion - and used it to clean my hands. I then went back to Sam and drew the towel across his sticky stomach and thighs, murmuring nonsense to him the whole time.

I placed a kiss right in the middle of his breastbone, and then cuddled up against his side. I was drained, both mentally and physically, from the assorted events of the day, and I felt another coughing spell coming on.

"Sam? Remember what I said and please try not to worry about me," I said, and that was all the oxygen I had left. I started hacking again, and Sam shook off his languor and got up - still totally naked - to get me a glass of water.

This coughing attack went on about as long as the last one, but this time I was more prepared and I was already lying down. Sam just put his arms around me and held me while the coughing shook my body.

"Josh?" Sam said when I had myself back under some sort of control, "I don't like how you sound. I really think you should be looked at."

"No," I said. "I'm tired of doctors and hospitals. Dr. Bartlet will eventually call, and then we'll get her opinion, OK? If she says I have to go back to the hospital, I will. But not until then."

Sam wasn't happy about this, but he grudgingly agreed. I think he was more worried that arguing the point would make me upset and then make me cough again.

He held me tight and kissed my forehead. He got a worried look on his face but didn't say anything other than, "OK, J. Go to sleep now, and we'll talk to Dr. Bartlet when she calls."

I eventually drifted off to sleep, and I woke myself up a couple of times during the night to cough, but fell back to sleep each time. Whenever I woke up, Sam tightened his hold on me, even though he was fast asleep.

***

At 5:30 Monday morning, there was a loud knock at my apartment door. Sam, who had woken up about 15 minutes before, was just getting out of the shower. He gestured for me to stay where I was, and, pulling on my bathrobe, Sam wandered out to the front door.

Not that I was planning to move any time soon - I'd woken up feeling like death on a popsicle stick.

I heard a number of voices, but I could only immediately identify Sam's. But I didn't have to wait long to find out who it was.

About a minute after Sam left the room, he was back, followed by a horde of Secret Service agents and Dr. Bartlet.

And she was pissed.

***

I like to think of myself as an intelligent man.

Part of that intelligence manifests itself in the ability to sit down and shut up when appropriate.

Without even being told, I knew this was one of those times.

(Which some would tell you is an amazing feat: I have a reputation in some circles - OK, within the Senior Staff - for not knowing when to back down from a confrontation. Ask anyone about the "The god you pray to is too busy being indicted for tax fraud" incident some time. But I digress.)

Abigail Bartlet is a formidable woman at any time. Given an issue she cares about, she becomes an unstoppable force. And, it appeared, at that moment, I was her issue.

It was 5:30 in the morning, when most sane people are still asleep and those of us who serve the American people are usually just finishing our first cups of coffee. But here was Mrs. Bartlet, not only awake, but in full "I-am-in-charge-here" mode. I knew that she'd been in Africa no more than 24 hours ago; she'd been scheduled to be there for another 4 days. So how was it that she appeared magically on my doorstep?

I sat up in bed and was getting ready to ask when she started to talk.

"On a whim, I called Lilly Mays last night local Morocco time, and she mentioned in passing that Sam had called and that he was concerned about Josh," she said, as if neither Sam nor I was actually in the room. "When I pressed her for details, she had none. And, knowing the two of you the way I do, and knowing that neither of you are willing to ask for help even if both your feet are caught in a bear trap and the vultures are picking at your heads, I knew that for Sam to call, there had to be a major problem. So I hopped on the plane, flew all night, and now I'm here." She paused. "So you'd better have more than a hangnail."

I didn't even get an opportunity to talk. For one thing, Sam was already talking, and for another, I took a breath and started to cough again.

Sam and Dr. Bartlet were immediately at my side.

"C'mon, J, lie back. OK...yeah, like that," Sam was saying as he eased me back into a horizontal position. "I'll go get you something to drink." He walked into the bathroom and then returned with a glass of water and a straw.

The coughing stopped, mostly 'cause I was too tired to continue. These spates of intense coughing really were sapping my energy. I slowly sipped at the water while Dr. Bartlet started grilling Sam.

"So, how long has this been going on, and why didn't anyone tell me?" she asked Sam.

"I called you right after the first one - I think - but you weren't there. I didn't want to explain to Lilly, and..." Sam stopped, took a breath, and then spoke again, pacing along the side of the bed as he talked. "Ma'am, this is all my fault. I've been lax in keeping up with monitoring Josh while you were away."

"Sam..." Dr. Bartlet said, but Sam was on a roll.

"Had I been more vigilant, I would've noticed something was wrong, and..."

"Samuel," she tried again.

"And now he's sick and he can't breathe and I could've prevented it and..."

Dr. Bartlet tried one more time. "Samuel Norman Seaborn," she said in one of those "I'm the mother, that's why" voices, "this is _not_ your fault."

That stopped the torrent of words. Actually, it seemed to stop Sam dead in his tracks.

"And I won't know anything until I closely examine Josh, so give me a bit of room here, OK?"

Sam nodded, as if Dr. Bartlet had removed his ability to speak.

She then turned to me. "Josh? You think you're up to answering a couple of questions?"

I nodded, then, testing out my voice, said, "Yes."

"OK," she said. "Now, when did this all start?"

"The pain when I breathe has been on and off since the beginning, though it was very mild at first, but the coughing didn't really start until about two weeks ago," I said. Sam stared at me - I guess I had done a very good job of hiding my symptoms from him.

"That long, Josh?" he asked incredulously. "I've been missing symptoms that long?"

Dr. Bartlet interrupted him. "Sam, there was nothing you could do if Josh wasn't being honest. One of the things you learn in medicine is that you can't help a patient that is not willing to participate in his own rehab. And one of the things we depend on is the accurate reporting of symptoms. It was Josh's responsibility to tell me - or you - that he was experiencing pain. So don't take this on yourself."

She turned back to me. "Now, Josh, let's see how much trouble you've gotten yourself into this time. You OK to sit up again?" At my nod, she helped me sit up against the headboard.

"Sam? Do me a favor?" Dr. Bartlet asked. "Can you go out to where I abandoned the Secret Service agents in the hallway and let them know that I'm going to be a while and they should make themselves comfortable? Thanks." And, assuming - correctly - that Sam would do what she requested, she turned back to me, morphing into "doctor" mode.

Sam walked out toward the hallway as Dr. Bartlet pulled down the sheet I was lying under. It was only then that it actually registered in my brain that I was still totally naked...and that I probably had Sam's scent all over me. I hoped that Dr. Bartlet would be too distracted to notice.

No such luck. As my nudity was exposed, she raised one eyebrow. "Josh," she said, shaking her head sadly, "don't you listen?"

She didn't give me an opportunity to really answer, which was probably good 'cause I didn't really have a good answer.

"But that's neither here nor there. Let's see if we can figure out what's going on." She opened her medical bag and pulled out her stethoscope. "You know the drill by now." And I did. As she listened to my chest and back, I drew as deep a breath as I could, held it for ten seconds, and then let it out. I felt like I needed to cough, but I suppressed the urge.

Eventually, she took the ear pieces out of her ears and slung the stethoscope around her neck. Moving back and forth between the bed and the table where she'd left her bag, she checked my pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. She then took a close look at the stitches on my chest, which were still healing.

She didn't say much as she continued her examination, probing and poking in all sorts of interesting and intimate places. I couldn't understand what some of what she was doing had to do with my lungs, but I trusted _she_ knew what she was doing.

Finally, she pulled the sheet back up to cover me, removed her stethoscope and put it back in her bag. Turning back to me, she said, "You got lucky this time, Josh."

"Excuse me, ma'am?"

"I can't see anything worse than a simple upper-respiratory infection, but with your recent medical history, if you - actually, if Sam - hadn't thought to call me, it could have developed into something worse. Your body is still vulnerable, especially your lungs. You have to pay attention to what your body is telling you, because if you don't, you could end up back in the hospital. And if you can't prove to me that you can take care of yourself, that's where you'll end up. Do you want to end up with bronchitis or, worse, pneumonia because you're too damn independent and stubborn to take care of yourself?"

"No, ma'am." It wasn't just the tone of her voice that made me agree so quickly. I realized she was right - I _had_ been too stubborn to believe that my body was trying to tell me something. And I was too independent to ask others - Sam in particular - to help me.

Dr. Bartlet headed for my bedroom door. "I'm gonna go tell Sam that it's safe to come back here, and then I'm going to outline for both of you what your course of treatment will be." She headed out but was back two minutes later with Sam.

"Hey," I said.

He smiled. "Hey."

Dr. Bartlet spoke up. "OK, guys, here's the deal, and if you don't follow what I tell you to the letter, I'll be back and I'll put Josh back in the hospital where I can keep an eye on him." She paused a minute, removing a prescription pad from her bag and scribbling on it. She handed the prescription to me.

"This is a prescription for antibiotics," she said. "I want you to take it three times a day for 10 days, starting this morning. If you actually take this as prescribed, it should clear up the infection. But you've caused your body too much stress already. So here's what you have to do. I am cutting off your access to the West Wing. You'll have no - and I mean no - contact regarding any work issues during the time you are on the antibiotics. If those you work with wish to come here and be social, I will not say they cannot. However, if I hear that you are conducting business during the next 10 days, I will come and personally take you back to GW. Got it?"

"Got it," I said, cowed.

"And, Sam," she continued, whirling to face him, "I am putting you in charge of making sure that he complies with all that I just told him."

Sam looked concerned. "Uh, ma'am...I'm not sure that I'll be able to enforce this. Josh I can handle." I raised my eyebrows at this but didn't say anything. "But Leo?" Sam continued, "I'm not sure that he'll comply. And Toby either."

"Don't worry about Leo and Toby, Sam," Mrs. Bartlet said. "If they give you trouble, tell them they can appeal to me. That should keep them in line." She smiled. "Y'know, for strong, intelligent men, they get intimidated by a petite woman very easily." She seemed taken by that thought for a minute. But then she brought herself back to the issue at hand. "So, for the next 10 days, you will be in charge of making sure Josh is healing and that he takes his medication as ordered."

I liked that she was putting Sam in charge, even though I hated the thought of being cut off for 10 days. She was giving Sam a chance to prove to himself - he didn't need to prove to me or to her - that he could be put in charge of my well-being and not have a problem.

"OK, that's it," Mrs. Bartlet said, gathering up her stuff. "I'll see you, Sam, this afternoon, and Josh, I'll come by Thursday afternoon to see you." She turned and left the room.

"I'm gonna go walk them to the door," Sam said, "but I'll be right back." He left, and suddenly the room was quiet again. I lay there for a few minutes, just enjoying the peace. Then Sam came back in.

"She left with a parting thought," he said, bemusedly. "She said, and I quote, 'and tell him I mean _no_ sexual activity for the next 10 days.' I think the Secret Service agents almost swallowed their tongues, but you can never tell with them."

I grinned. Some of us on the senior staff - OK, me - like to play a game I call "see if we can make the Secret Service agents laugh." I haven't been totally successful yet, but I've come damn close a couple of times. If I'd been the one at the door just then, I probably could've won a round.

Sam got dressed quickly, and then went to the pharmacy down the street to get my prescription filled. He came back about half an hour later, dropped off my pills, gave me a quick kiss, and then ran off to the office, 'cause he was already running late. I called Cathy to let her know he was on his way - Sam had called earlier, while I was with the First Lady, to tell her he'd be late, but at the time, he hadn't known when he'd be able to leave home.

Meanwhile, I settled in for the beginning of what I anticipated would be ten of the most boring days of my life.

***

Things didn't end up as bad as I had anticipated. Once the word came down from the First Lady that I was not supposed to be bothered with work-related issues, but that I could be visited for social reasons, the other members of the West Wing staff apparently decided that lunch out of the office was a new and exciting experience. To this end, someone always came by at lunch time just to talk. It was strange entertaining people from my bed, but I muddled through.

CJ came by frequently - once, she even brought me a pair of pajamas (they were way too big, but I had no intention of telling her this).

Toby came by, and I could tell it was a hardship for him not to talk business, but we did have a very nice lunch with conversation regarding the current standings of the New York baseball teams. We debated the merits of a subway series, which I said could never happen.

Donna brought Bonnie, Margaret and Ginger one day for lunch, and they talked about things I couldn't keep track of, but at least they were good company.

And then there was Sam.

Sam came home every minute he could get away. He'd come by even for just 5 minutes between meetings. He never called to tell me he was coming, so it would be a total surprise when he'd appear in the bedroom, or living room, or kitchen - wherever I was, he would track me down - and he'd chastise me if I wasn't in bed. He knows me so well by now - not just 'cause we're lovers, but because we've been friends for so long - that he knows that I'd lose my mind if I had no external stimulation all day long. I think _he_ had a lot to do with these lunch visits, but there was no way for me to thank him without embarrassing him, so I tried to just let him know how much I appreciated them without thanking him directly.

Sam also carried out Dr. Bartlet's orders to the letter. He monitored my health status regularly - and this time, no fun stuff on the side. He made sure I took my antibiotics (even making me prove to him that I'd swallowed them the first couple of times to be sure he could trust me), and he kept Dr. Bartlet appraised of my progress.

The only time he let me out of bed for any period of time was once a day, when he first came home from work. We'd sit for a bit and discuss how his day went - in broad terms so that I couldn't be considered to be working. Then I'd shower and have dinner, and then go back to bed.

So that's how the time played itself out - people came by for visits, and Sam kept me sane the rest of the time. My phone never rang, which turned out to be quite a relaxing development - I don't think I had ever before realized just how much of my day I spend on the phone.

Since I had been good and had "behaved" during the time I was on the antibiotics, I figured Dr. Bartlet would let me go back to work right after she'd seen for herself that I was fit and healthy.

Boy, was I wrong.

***

Dr. Bartlet came by on Thursday, the day after I finished my antibiotics. I was upbeat, as I was convinced she'd let me go back to work right away.

Sam had been less certain. "You know, J, you haven't shown that you know how to slow down unless you're forced to," he said to me Wednesday night as he gave me a back rub. This, too, had become a nightly ritual. No matter what time he came home - which was usually early, 'cause Leo was still being nice about letting him come home, and since Sam was under no obligation not to work from home, he was always reachable if necessary.

Oh, and that's another thing. Over the course of these many weeks, both Sam and I had taken to referring to my apartment as "home." I think there was an unspoken agreement that we were now living together, but Sam kept his apartment for appearance sake.

I didn't totally understand that, seeing as we had come out in the press three weeks before I got shot, but I could understand Sam's need for a place that he still considered "his" (even though he seemed to have more clothing and stuff in what had become "our" apartment than he had left in his place).

But anyway, I digress...again.

So Dr. Bartlet came to see me, and she did a whole work-up on me this time. The poking, prodding and peering seemed endless, but finally she put all her equipment away.

"So," I asked, "when can I go back to work?"

"I figure right after the election in November," she said, and from her face, I knew she wasn't kidding.

But I still had to ask. "November? You mean a month and a half from now?!?" That seemed like an eternity when combined with the time I'd already been under "house arrest."

"Look, Josh," Dr. Bartlet said, "You overdid when you got home from the hospital, after I explicitly told you to take it easy. Because of that, and because you don't listen to your body, you got sick again. The only reason you've gotten better so fast this time was that I forced you - with Sam's help - to slow down your lifestyle. I can't in good conscious let you go back to your regular schedule when you are still vulnerable."

"But why November?"

Because I know what's going on in the West Wing right now. Everyone's going crazy because of the midterm elections - well, except for Toby, who's just going crazy. If I let you go back now, you will get caught up in the same craziness, and you'll ignore your health again."

"But..." I tried to get a word in, but she was too fast for me.

"I will make you a deal, though." At my nod, she continued. "I will agree that you can be in telephone contact with Donna or with other members of the senior staff, but for no more than 2 hours a day. You can distribute that any way you want, but it means no more marathon meetings, no more teleconferences, none of that. I _will_ be monitoring your phone activity."

I had no doubt of that - she'd get the FBI to wiretap me if necessary.

"Leo will back me up on this - he wants you whole and back in the office as soon as possible, and he told me that if tying you to your bed was the only way to do make you behave, so be it."

OK, now I knew this was serious - any day that Leo says I don't have to be in on meetings was a day I checked to make sure I wasn't dead.

With a parting shot - "And, by the way, Josh, you and Sam can feel free to resume your regular activities, as long as you take it easy" - she swept out of the room and out of the apartment.

I was left lying in bed, conflicted - I was happy 'cause I was being allowed to work again, but I was frustrated, 'cause I was still under orders not to go into the office. Things were happening without me; I was being left behind in the day-to-day operations of the country. And it bothered me.

When Sam came home that night, I still hadn't worked through my conflict. But I did have some good news, and I couldn't wait to tell him.

"Hey, love," I greeted him at the door.

"Hey, J." He looked me up and down. "I'd guess from the fact that you're out of bed that either you're disobeying orders again or Dr. Bartlet gave you a clean bill of health."

"The latter - she said I was able to resume some usual activity, as long as she didn't see me in the West Wing until after the elections." I wiggled my eyebrows at Sam, but I don't think he saw it. I was gonna have to be less subtle.

I looked at my watch. It was just about 7.

"You hungry, love?"

"A little..." Sam said, somewhat distractedly. As we walked toward the kitchen, he said, "Wait...you said she said not until after the elections. That's, like, a month and a half. You gonna be OK with that?"

"Donno yet," I replied. "I'm not thrilled, 'cause I really want to get back into the thick of things, but after this last time, I'm not gonna cross the First Lady. Bad things happen when I do."

As we started putting dinner together, I went back to the original topic I had wanted to talk to Sam about.

"Hey, love?" I said, "Dr. Bartlet gave me the all-clear."

Sam turned to look at me. "So...what you're saying is...what, exactly?"

OK, subtlety wasn't gonna work this time. I love him dearly, but sometimes my Sam can be a little dense. So I went for the direct approach instead.

"What I'm saying, my love, is that," I walked over to where he was standing and kissed the tip of his nose, "as soon as we satisfy your hunger, we're going to go and satisfy mine." And with that, I backed him up against the kitchen table, took his face between my hands, and kissed him deeply.

Sam responded immediately. "The Hell with dinner, Josh. Oh, God. I...I want..." but real sentences were beyond him. He relaxed into the kiss, totally pliant, giving all control over to me.

There's something about us together after an extended separation that makes us more wild. I was tearing at his clothing - once I got his tie off, which I removed carefully so I didn't strangle him - and I think I heard a couple of shirt buttons bounce off the floor when I was too impatient. While I worked on his belt and fly, Sam was stepping out of his shoes, and very soon he was standing in the kitchen in just his boxers and socks. He reached out and undid the belt on my robe and slid the robe off my shoulders. It landed on the floor somewhere near the pile of Sam's clothes.

Once there was enough bare skin showing, fingers and hands and tongues were everywhere. We were relearning each other's textures and flavors. Sam was moaning as I slipped my hand into his boxers and caressed him lightly.

Some slight portion of my brain that was still sane made me realize that we were gonna need something - anything - to use as lube, and I sure as Hell wasn't gonna stop just to go to the bedroom. Without losing contact with Sam's cock, I reached out with my free hand to "see" what was on the table. When I felt the cruet of olive oil that was there, I knew we'd be fine.

Sam was writhing and moaning my name. I quickly shoved his boxers down, then stepped back a bit to take off mine. As I kicked my shorts out of the way, I looked up at Sam. He had situated himself face down on the table, with his feet spread wide and planted on the floor, offering himself ass-first to me.

Even through my lust-filled haze I realized that something was different. We _never_ have sex this way, with him totally submissive and me totally dominant. Even when I tie him up it's for face-to-face sex, because I need to see him, hear him, to know what makes him crazy, what makes him yearn. This was new for our relationship.

But I was too far gone to argue with him about it. Quickly grabbing the olive oil and uncorking it, I slathered some on my cock and on and in his asshole, and then I rammed myself into him.

"Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God! Fuck me, Josh. Fuck me." I moved to the rhythm of his words. I knew I wouldn't last long, and from the noises Sam was making, neither would he. I kept my hands locked on his hips and just pistoned myself in and out of him. It was fast, it was wild, and we both screamed as we came.

I collapsed on Sam's back as all my strength vanished. It took me a minute to return to myself, and then I heard something.

It was Sam. He was whimpering softly.

"Love?" No response.

"Sam?" Again, no response. It suddenly occurred to me that I still had him pinned face-down on the table.

"Sam? Love?" I said again as I levered myself off him and off the table. He was still totally pliant, so I turned him over.

"Baby?" I seem to only call him that at his most vulnerable times. "What is it? What did I do?" I was beginning to realize I had attacked him, taken him forcefully. I would understand if he hated me forever. "Oh, God, Sam. I'm so sorry."

He still didn't speak, just got off the table and started getting dressed again. He seemed a bit confused when he noticed that some of the buttons on his shirt were gone, but he dressed as best he could. Meanwhile, I pulled back on my boxers and robe.

"Sam?" I tried again.

Now fully dressed, he whirled. "Josh...not now," he said in a very low, barely controlled voice. "I'm...I'm going...I..." he stopped, took a breath. "I'm going home." And he walked out of the kitchen.

It took me a minute to parse that what he meant was that he was going back to his apartment, and by then it was too late for me to catch him. I heard the front door close, and I sank into the nearest kitchen chair.

The dinner ingredients were still all over the counter, but I didn't move to put them away. I just sat there in the kitchen - I have no idea how long - thinking and hurting that I could have caused Sam so much pain that he wouldn't be able to look me in the eye. I finally looked up and saw it was about 9:30. I quickly cleaned up the kitchen and went back to bed.

I lay in bed all night, tossing and turning, but I don't think I ever fell asleep. When dawn came, I got up again.

During the day on Friday, I hoped I'd hear from Sam. Other members of the senior staff called - Toby and Leo each had questions for me that couldn't wait for Donna's visit - but I didn't hear from Sam at all. When the time came that Sam would usually be coming home, the front door remained closed. I wanted to talk to him, to apologize for my actions, but I didn't know what to say. How do you apologize to your lover for attacking him? And even though Sam had wanted me, there was no other word for the way that I took him with violence and force.

I spent the weekend in a haze. I still hadn't heard from Sam, and I was beginning to worry. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, I had the courage to pick up the phone and call Sam at his apartment, but he wasn't home. I tried him at the office, too, but Cathy told me he wasn't in. I wasn't sure if, in fact, he wasn't in the office or if he was just avoiding me, but either way, I didn't get the opportunity to speak to him. I left a message with Cathy that Sam should call as soon as he could, and then I went back to the book I was nominally reading but couldn't begin to tell you what it was about.

By Sunday afternoon, I was at my wit's end. I hadn't heard from Sam in over two days, and no one was able - or was it willing? - to tell me where he was. I knew I was going to have to do something, or I would lose my mind, not just because of worry about Sam - which was foremost in my mind - but because until he disappeared, I hadn't realized just how much I depended on him to be here during my recovery. He really _had_ become the center of my universe.

And now he was gone because of my actions.

I needed to find a way to get him back, and to do that, I needed another perspective on Sam. So I did something I never thought I'd do - I called one of his past lovers.

"Hello, Toby? I need your help."

***

It was not an easy conversation. Toby is a wonderful friend and a great writer, but it was awkward for me to ask him about his relationship with Sam. They'd kept quiet about their relationship the whole time it was going on, but Sam told me about it not long after we first got together. We'd had one of those "so tell me about all your past relationships" conversations that new couples tend to have, and that's when Sam told me he'd been involved with Toby during the campaign.

Toby comes across as very gruff, but he has a very soft spot for those he cares about - as could be seen now by the trauma he was still feeling from the assassination attempt. And Sam was among those that Toby felt the deepest for. So he seemed to be the best authority on how to reach out to Sam.

The hardest part for me was describing the final event for Toby. How do you tell a man about your sex life with his ex-lover? But Toby seemed to take it well. After hearing my description of the events - without comment - he asked me a question I hadn't been willing to ask myself.

"Josh, did Sam appear to be in any sort of physical distress? Did he look like you'd hurt him physically?"

I thought a minute. "No," I replied. "He was barely holding it together emotionally, but physically he seemed OK."

"So you have to ask yourself - was it what you did to him physically that hurt him, or perhaps something you did to him emotionally?"

Now Toby sounded like Stanley, my part-time shrink. But I thought a minute about his question.

"I don't know what I could've done - all I know is that I told him that the First Lady said we could resume our sex life, and then...well, afterwards he ran out, almost in tears."

Toby paused. I wished in some ways that we'd been having this conversation face-to-face so that I could see his face as he thought about what I'd just told him. But then he spoke again.

"Josh, you know Sam better than anyone else. You know he wears his emotions close to the surface. And you, as the one he loves most, have the most power to hurt him. I should know...I know I hurt him when we broke up, even though he's never said anything to me." I knew that there was still baggage from Sam's relationship with Toby, but, like with Toby, Sam had never said anything to me. But I know Sam, and I can see it sometimes when he and Toby disagree on work related issues.

I tried to clarify what I thought Toby was aiming at. "So, what you're saying, Toby, is that I should go and find him and bring him back. Convince him I'm never going to intentionally hurt him." I couldn't promise that I'd never cause Sam pain - there's always a chance I'm gonna hurt him, 'cause, Hell, we're both human. We've hurt each other already in this relationship. But I could promise - with no hesitation - that I wouldn't try to hurt him.

"Yes."

"One problem." I said.

"What's that?" Toby asked.

"I can't leave my apartment. Dr. Bartlet would kill me."

Toby thought a minute. "Then we're all going to have to help you to bring Sam back."

"What do you mean, 'we'?"

"Me, Leo, CJ, the President and First Lady, plus all the junior staff. Don't worry - we all think you're perfect for each other." I was surprised to hear this from Toby, 'cause he's usually so taciturn, but at the same time, he calls things as he sees them, and therefore if he said it, I knew it was true.

"How's this," Toby said, "what if I send CJ and Donna over to you tonight, and the two of you can come up with some cockamamie, contrived plan to get you and Sam in the same room. I will then make Sam's life a living Hell until he - unwittingly - conforms to the role that you will have planned for him. That way, the two of you can be in the same room and work out your problems."

I wasn't sure if Toby was kidding or not, but it was worth a try.

"I'm willing at this point to try anything. If you'd talk to Donna and CJ, I'll try to think of a plan here. Have them call before they come by." And with that, Toby and I said good-bye and hung up.

I felt a little better already, knowing that I'd have support in my mission to get Sam back.

About half an hour later, the phone rang. It was Donna, who informed me that she and CJ would be by in about 20 minutes. By then, I'd come up with a plan, which I was depending on the two women to help me flesh out:

I was going to woo Sam Seaborn.

***

"You're going to _what_?"

I told Donna and CJ of my plan the minute they walked in the door, and that was their basic reaction. I guess I'd never struck them as the wooing type.

But I'd decided that it was exactly what I had to do. So I tried to explain.

"Y'see, when we first got together, we never really went out on any dates. I had invited him here for a dinner, and...well...we ended up in bed, and..." I paused, seeing Donna's face. "Sorry, Donna, I know I promised I wouldn't tell you about our sex life, but I have to explain where this is all coming from, OK?"

Donna nodded, and CJ said, "Oh, please, continue. I'm fascinated." I wasn't sure whether or not she was joking - I seem to be confused a lot these days as to whether people are joking or not - but I took her words at face value.

"Anyway, I didn't really plan anything around Sam or around our getting together. We've been out for dinner once - during the time we were broken up, in fact, so that can't really be considered a date; it was more of a meeting." I neglected to mention that I arranged our "meeting" at one of the most romantic spots in DC, because that was irrelevant at the moment. "And it occurred to me that I haven't really showed him how much he means to me. He's been wonderful during my recovery, and I never really thanked him. I'm not sure what set him off on Thursday, but I need to understand him and make him understand just how much I love him and just how much he means to me."

"Wow," said CJ. "You're really desperate."

Great...I didn't want to come off so desperate. But then I had a thought - if they'd help me more 'cause I was desperate, I wasn't gonna dissuade them of that notion.

"So what do you want to do?" Donna asked. That's one thing I love about her - she cuts to the chase when necessary.

"Well, Toby had some idea of the two of you convincing Sam to meet with me in the same room so that we could talk, but I'm not so sure that's the best idea." I was worried about Sam feeling like we were all ganging up on him.

Donna and CJ looked at each other in a way that women do that men will never understand. Then CJ spoke again. "Josh, I think Sam ran because he felt trapped. Not necessarily by you, but by a situation. Remember, I was one of the people who watched him drown his sorrows when he caused your breakup." I hadn't known that, and it probably showed in my face, 'cause CJ said, "Oh...well, I guess Sam never told you about that. But he was so sad, so distraught about what had happened between you - and you hadn't even made your relationship public yet, remember? - that he tried to run, not physically but mentally."

"So how is he? I mean really. It's been days since he's come to see me. And, honestly, I'm beginning to worry." On Friday, when I didn't hear from Sam, I figured he would just get over whatever was bothering him. But this was longer than it usually took him to get back in touch.

Donna looked at me. "Josh, we're all watching out for him. He's usually locked in his office, not even coming out for meals, but I make sure to bring him a sandwich every day at lunchtime."

"But...but..." I was showing my eloquence and brilliance again.

"I know...you don't think I really like Sam, do you?" Donna said. "I do - like Sam, that is - but I worry about you, and that's why I come off all Mama-Bear around him. I'll try to back off, OK?"

CJ spoke up again. "We're not getting anywhere, guys. Let's plan this thing, OK?" I suspected I was keeping her from another date in her on-again-off-again relationship with Danny, and I greatly appreciated her taking the time to help me out.

We buckled down and brainstormed for a while, but we didn't really come to any sort of solution. There were many great ideas - and I'll admit that very few came from me - but all of them required me to be able to leave my apartment. Which was something I knew Dr. Bartlet wouldn't go for.

Donna and CJ left at around 7 with a promise that they would continue to think and plan, and then they'd let me know what my role was supposed to be.

***

Over the next few days, the members of my crack Get-Sam-Back staff worked really hard on ideas. They called every day - two or three times, but mindful of the First Lady's proclamation regarding my phone time - to give me more ideas. Many of them were good - sending him gifts of food to make sure he was eating; writing him a letter of apology, even though they didn't know what I was apologizing for; CJ staging a kidnapping and bringing Sam to my apartment - but the ideas weren't quite right. Donna also proposed ideas when she dropped by to bring me things from the office or groceries - seeing as I was now alone and unable to go outside. I was still working on my own, as well. I wasn't having any better luck.

And every night, in what little restless sleep I got, I dreamed of Sam.

Not just dreams about our recent history - since we got together - but old dreams, about New Hampshire, about the campaign. I also had more explicit dreams. Dreams in which he came back and crawled into my bed. Dreams in which he had never left and was always waiting for me. Dreams in which I tied him up and had my way with him. Dreams that made me crazy with need for him.

I woke up every morning missing him.

Every time someone called me, they remarked on Sam and his appearance. He was thin, he had suitcases under his eyes, he seemed glued to his office chair. Only Toby seemed to be able to get him to eat, according to everything I was told, and then only periodically. I hated that Sam was doing this to himself, but I didn't know how to get him to stop. I didn't know how to make up for what I had done.

Every night, I lay in bed worrying about him, and every night I dreamed of him.

***

On Thursday morning, a week after Sam left, I started coughing again. Having learned my lesson the first time, I called the First Lady right away. As usual, I couldn't reach her, but I left a detailed message with Lilly Mays.

About half an hour later, there was a knock at my door. I dragged myself out of bed - it was only 7:30, and the phone hadn't started ringing yet, which was probably a good thing 'cause I was coughing so much - pulled on boxers and a robe, and went to the door. As I had anticipated, it was Dr. Bartlet.

"Josh, we've got to stop meeting like this," she said with a smile. "At least you called this time."

I nodded as I turned to go back to the bedroom. Dr. Bartlet was right on my heels, while the Secret Service made themselves comfy in my living room. This was beginning to be routine for them; they pulled out one of my decks of cards to pass the time while Dr. Bartlet was in the bedroom with me.

I took off my robe and lay back down in the bed. I was tired of this already, and I said as much to the First Lady.

"C'mon, Josh, don't waste your breath," Dr. Bartlet said as she began checking my vitals - a routine I was quite familiar with and equally tired of. "I know you're tired of this, but tell me - actually, just nod if I'm correct. You're not taking care of yourself, right?"

I nodded.

"It's because of Sam, right?"

I nodded again.

"Well, he looks like death warmed over. I don't think he's left his office all week, and everyone on the senior staff is worried about him. From what I hear - and you know my sources are reliable - he's not eating or sleeping regularly. Toby tried to get him to go home. He even ordered Sam to leave the office yesterday, but Sam still hasn't budged. OK," she said, "it looks like you're running a low-grade fever, but I don't detect any sort of new infection. However, you're very weak. And ignoring your own needs isn't going to be any help. Just look at yourself!"

At this, I sat up a bit to look in my bureau mirror across the room. I looked...like me. Well, me with about 2 days growth of beard - actually, "beard" is an overstatement. Donna's more worthy of the title "beard" than the growth on my face was. I had a five o'clock shadow on steroids, but it wasn't anything approaching beard status.

As Dr. Bartlet packed away her equipment, she said, "Josh, please see what you can do for Sam. I am worried about both of you, and I'm afraid that you're the only one who can snap Sam out of his...mood. He's working himself to death. He's more productive than he's been in a very long time, but it's at the expense of his health."

"But he won't talk to me!" I said.

"I'll see what I can do to help with that," Dr. Bartlet said. "And, in the meantime, rest more, drink lots of water, and if you have any more symptoms, call me immediately - like you did this time."

She turned and left the bedroom, and I heard the front door open. I assumed she'd collected her Secret Service agents - after breaking up their poker game.

I'd just gotten comfortable in bed again when there was another knock at the door. I figured Dr. Bartlet had forgotten something, so I got back out of bed, put my robe back on, and went back out to the door.

I opened the door, expecting to see Dr. Bartlet, but I was wrong.

It was Sam. And he looked like Hell.

"Oh, God, Josh. Dr. Bartlet called me from the limo after she left here, but she wouldn't tell me anything. Is everything all right? I was so worried," he said, virtually all in one breath.

I had come up with so many schemes to get Sam back, but I hadn't anticipated that his concern for me would override whatever had driven him away.

While he was trying to catch his breath, I gestured for him to come into the apartment. This wasn't a conversation I wanted to have in my open doorway. "Sam, love," I said, "I'm fine. I just had a bit of a scare this morning, and I wanted Dr. Bartlet to check me out."

"Oh, J, I was so scared." Even though he wasn't making eye contact with me, I took the fact that he was using his pet name for me to mean that all hope was not lost. "When Dr. Bartlet called me..."

"Sam, look at me." When he raised his eyes to mine, I continued. "I'll be fine. I just need to sleep more."

Sam looked confused. "You haven't been sleeping?"

"Have you?" I asked pointedly. I knew that he hadn't been, but I wanted to see if he'd be honest with me. The grapevine in the West Wing is notorious, so he probably knew that I wasbeing kept up to date on his comings and goings, but I asked anyway.

He looked at me sadly. "No, Josh. I haven't been able to..." He stopped.

"Love, I'm so sorry. Whatever I did, I'll try to make up for it."

"I..." Sam paused a minute, clearly unsure whether or not to tell me what was actually going on with him.

"Sam, I need to understand what's going on."

He looked at me, but he still didn't say anything.

We were still standing in the entryway of my apartment, and I suddenly realized that I hadn't even touched him. I moved close and enfolded him in a hug. "Oh, love. I'm glad you've come back, even if it was just to check up on me."

I released my hold on Sam but kept one arm around his shoulders. "C'mon. Let's go into the living room and just sit. I want to..." All of a sudden, I had a brilliant flash of insight into this wooing thing.

"J?"

"I have an idea I want to run past you."

"OK." And we walked into the living room.

The minute we were near the sofa, Sam made me lie down. "Come on, Josh. I don't want you making yourself sick again." He was busy arranging the sofa pillows so that I would be comfortable.

It suddenly occurred to me that Sam was supposed to be in the office. "Hey, love?" I said, "Much as I appreciate your presence - and don't take this as me saying you should leave - don't you have to be at work?"

"When Leo saw me running through the communications bullpen, frantic about your condition, he told me to go to you and not come back until I was ready," Sam said. "I don't _think_ he was angry, but I took him at his word. So here I am. And I'm at your disposal for as long as you want."

My thought, which I wasn't ready to vocalize because I still wasn't sure why Sam had left, was "Forever."

I lay down on the sofa and then reached out my hand. "Come sit with me, OK?" I said. Sam took my hand and sat on the edge of the sofa, next to my legs.

"Actually, love, why don't you lie down with me here?" Sam kicked off his shoes and stood up. I spread my legs and he sat down between them, then maneuvered himself into position so that he was lying with his back and head against my chest. I'm a couple of inches taller than Sam - though he's convinced he's taller than me - and we fit together nicely when we lie like this. From here, I could hold him close against me, and I did.

"Oh, Sam," I said softly, "I thought I'd lost this."

Sam swiveled so he could look me in the eyes, but he stayed between my legs. "Josh, I thought I'd lost you. Twice. You can't keep doing that to me."

"I'm so sorry, love." I truly was. I didn't mean to scare him. "I thought you'd be better off not knowing I was sick, especially after all you went through when I was first shot." He angled a glance at me. "Don't think," I continued, "that no one told me that you barely left my side the whole time I was unconscious. I know you were there. I know you neglected yourself for me. And now you're doing it again."

"But....What was I supposed to do, Josh? Leave you? Not be there in case you needed me...I needed you! You almost _died_! That's not something I can forget!"

While Sam had been talking, I'd been playing with his hair - he's letting it grow out a bit, and I'm still not sure how I feel about his new style, but it does give me something sensual to play with. But I stopped my fingers so that he'd concentrate on my words.

"Know this, Sam Seaborn," I said. "I will _never_ leave you. I remember telling you that while I was still in the hospital, and it's true. There is nothing that could make me leave you. You're my rock, my lifeline. It's for you that I came back after the shooting. I have vague memories of dreaming while I was unconscious." I'd never really told him this part. "Remember when I came to New York in the pouring rain to get you to come with me to work for the campaign? Remember when my dad died, and you came to the shiva? It was right in the middle of the primaries, but you came anyway. Remember? You have always been there for me. And I will always be there for you."

That much talking did me in, and I started coughing again.

"God, Josh, I hate when you do that!" Sam said when I had my breathing under control again. "Every time you cough like that, I'm convinced you're gonna stop breathing. That's part of why..." he stopped.

"You left?" I probed, gently - I hoped. "You were afraid that I'd what? Die on the kitchen floor after making love to you? It wouldn't be a bad way to go..."

"Josh, don't even joke about it. I told you - I wouldn't survive if you died. I barely survived when you were shot..." He stopped again, and from his face it was clear that he wasn't sure whether he should say what was on his mind. Finally, he spoke again.

"I've felt so selfish since you woke up. All I've wanted is to be with you again. It's all I've been able to concentrate on. Hell, I would've sucked you off in your hospital bed had you not convinced me it wasn't a good idea. My libido hasn't been this out of control since I was 17. So last week, when we...did what we did...I lost the control I had been imposing on myself. I was afraid that if I stayed - if I let it happen again - you'd just lose whatever strength you've managed to regain since the shooting. I could have made you sick again, and you could have died, and it would have been my fault."

I looked at him, incredulous. "Love, it wasn't all you. I was firmly in control of my actions that night. If it was going to be too much for me, I would've stopped," I said as gently as I could.

"But I didn't want to risk it," Sam said. "And I knew that if I stayed, it would just happen again. I decided that it was better for me, better for both of us, if I just left. I would rather have you healthy and in my life than in my bed. I can't imagine what my life would be like if you weren't in it. Hell, Josh, I've loved you almost as long as I've known you. When you came to get me in New York, I followed you because you had asked. Not because I believed in the campaign, not because I believed in Jed Bartlet, but because you had asked. That's all it took."

I was shocked. "You mean, you gave up..." I paused, not sure how to ask this next part.

"Yes, Josh. I gave up my job, my fiancee, my life for you. I realized when you were there outside the conference room - I can picture it as if it was yesterday - dripping wet, grinning like a nut. I loved you before that, and at that minute, I realized that I'd throw everything away to be with you."

I was floored. If I hadn't been lying down already, I would've fallen down. "God, love. I never realized. You...wow." Great...my beloved tells me he rearranged his whole existence for me, and all I can say is "wow."

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Let's make a deal," I said, playing with his hair again.

"What's that?"

"I'll promise to try not to get almost-killed again, and you promise to _tell_ me when things get too intense, OK? I can't help with issues I don't know are there." I hoped he'd agree.

"I didn't tell you for two reasons," Sam said softly. "First, I didn't want you to think I was burdening you with my needs when you had to concentrate on your own. Second," he continued when I tried to interrupt to rebut point one, "I felt weak - I couldn't control myself, even when it was so obvious that you were under so much stress."

When he'd wound down, I spoke. "First, Sam, you could never burden me. I love you, and part of that love is me wanting to help you with anything that bothers you. We're no longer just individuals. We're a partnership, which means I'm always here for you, and you're always there for me, which you have been. And, as for the second, I could never think of you as weak. If either of us is more likely to be driven by urges rather than reason, it's me. You're the one who keeps me on track, keeps me from going off the deep end, and it's one of the myriad things I love about you."

I could see the moisture at the corners of Sam's eyes, and I knew I was close to the edge, too. I tried to lighten the mood. "So, now, all we have to figure out is..."

"Yes?"

"Who from the office can we con into bringing us lunch this afternoon? I don't want to move from here."

Sam smiled, the first genuine smile I'd seen from him in a long time. "Cathy's a pushover. Let's ask her. But not yet. I just want to spend some time with you."

With that, he faced back away from me, leaning his head back on my chest. I listened to the near-silence in the room, which was marred only by the sounds of us breathing - me more harshly than Sam - and our heartbeats. I heard Sam's breathing and heartbeat slow as the adrenaline powering him finally drained from his body and he fell asleep against me.

I leaned down and pressed a kiss to his ear. "Sleep now, my love." And then I closed my eyes and fell asleep as well.

***

I woke up about an hour later, and Sam was still asleep in my arms. I didn't want to wake him, but my bladder had other ideas. I tried to extricate myself from around Sam, but every time I moved, he moved with me. After much wiggling and stretching, I managed to free myself from my Sam-blanket and wandered off to the bathroom.

As I returned to the living room, I heard something. Sam was still asleep, but he'd become restless. He was making a sound I'd never heard come from him, somewhere between a wail and a keen. I quickly returned to the sofa, but getting back around him was virtually impossible, so I sat on the edge where he'd been originally, and held him as close as possible.

"Don't worry, love, I'm here," I kept whispering over and over until Sam settled back into a more relaxed sleep. Damn - if that's what he'd experienced every time he'd tried to sleep, no wonder he hadn't tried in days. I managed to move him so that his head was resting on my lap, and I went back to running my fingers through his hair. Even in his sleep it seemed to soothe him.

As I sat there, I realized I hadn't yet told him about my brilliant plan.

***

I let Sam sleep while I just sat and watched him. He looked so peaceful, and considering what must have been going on in his dreams to make him produce that noise I heard, it was something of a miracle.

At about 10:30, Sam finally opened his eyes again.

"Hey," he said.

I smiled. "Hey."

"Josh...I dreamed..."

"Don't worry, love. All is well. I'm here and we're fine, OK?" I felt this overwhelming urge to reassure him that everything was going to be fine from now on, even though I knew I couldn't promise. But he looked so lost, so vulnerable, and I hate seeing him that way.

Sam sat up and swung his legs around so he was sitting next to me on the sofa.

"So..." he said, "what was this brilliant idea you wanted me to hear?"

OK, I couldn't avoid this any longer. But how to explain? If I explained this wrong, I could cause more harm than good.

"Sam, you know I love you, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I realized in the past week that I never really...well...courted you. I mean, we had that dinner date here that ended up with us in bed, then we had that weekend away - that ended up with us in bed - and the only time that we really have been out at all was that time during our breakup that we went out to talk. And I don't know about you, but I didn't think of that as a date. So, here's my idea. Why don't we back up a step?" At his facial expression, I tried to explain quicker. "What I mean is, you deserve to be shown just what you mean to me, and now that our relationship is public knowledge, we don't have to skulk. We should do all those things couples do when they first get together. I realize that I have been derelict in my...wooing."

Sam sniggered. "Did you say 'wooing'?"

"Yeah, I did. You got a problem with that?" I tried to sound menacing, but when I started to cough again, I think I just managed to sound pathetic.

"Josh," Sam said, immediately concerned, "tell me honestly this time. _What_ did Dr. Bartlet say this morning?"

"Honestly, Sam, she said I had a slight fever, but that as long as I rested and drank a lot of water, I should be OK. You don't have to worry." And I wanted to finish outlining my plan.

I put my arm around Sam's shoulders, pulling him as close to me as possible. "So here's what I was thinking," I said, blowing lightly in Sam's ear just to make him squirm. "We'll do what couples do - dinner, dancing, the occasional movie. Y'know...date. One catch, though. We have to do it all here, 'cause Dr. Bartlet would probably kill me if I went out."

I held my breath, hoping that Sam would agree to my idea.

"J, I never felt like you failed in your so-called 'courtship,'" Sam said. "I've always known - since even before you realized it, I think - how you felt about me. So I don't need to be wooed. Mind you, if you wanted to show me a good time, a nice, romantic evening, I'd be a fool to turn you down."

"So you don't think I'm nuts?"

"No, I know you're nuts, Josh, but I appreciate the sweetness in you that wants to show me the...softer side. And the doing-it-here part would be fine. But I don't want _you_ to do anything too strenuous right now, OK?" That's the way Sam is - always trying to protect me while I'm trying to protect him.

I realized that Sam wasn't going to be willing to discuss this right now. For one thing, he was still sleep-deprived, impairing his decision-making process. Also, neither of us had eaten yet - him not in days, if the reports were to be believed - which I thought was important to rectify. So I gave up, but only temporarily.

"OK, love. Here's an idea you don't have to think about too hard," I said. "I'm starving. Let's go raid the fridge." Actually, I wasn't _that_ hungry, seeing as I'd eaten dinner the night before, but I knew that Sam wouldn't eat by himself.

Still holding each other close, we got up off the sofa and headed into the kitchen. While I put together a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and potatoes, Sam called Cathy and convinced her to bring us lunch around 12:30.

As I was turning towards the table to put the plates down, I spied the cruet of olive oil and remembered in exacting detail the last time Sam and I had been at this table. I froze, and he noticed. He followed my gaze and then looked straight at me.

"It's OK, Josh," he said softly. "We can't avoid this table forever."

"But..." I said, unsure of how to continue.

"It was a misunderstanding," Sam said. "I _wanted_ you to dominate me. I love it when I can make you so crazy that you're not gentle with me. I don't get a chance to push those buttons very often - you're too in control for that."

This surprised me - I knew Sam was willing to be submissive at times, but I hadn't realized that there were times that he wanted to be dominated when I held back. We'd have to discuss this at another time.

I was still standing there holding our breakfast plates. "C'mon, Josh. For the first time in days - months, even - I have a real appetite. Don't let me down now," Sam said with a smile.

So we sat and ate, and Sam really did have an appetite and did clean his plate, which made me quite happy. And if every once in a while during the meal I happened to cast a glance at the cruet of olive oil and experience a brief flash of regret, I tried to ignore it.

As we were cleaning up from breakfast, the phone rang. Sam had just wandered out of the kitchen, so I went to the kitchen phone and put it on speaker so I could finish doing dishes while I helped solve whatever crisis was going on now.

"Josh Lyman."

"Hey, Josh."

"Hey, CJ, what's up?" I turned the water off so that I could hear her more clearly. She probably wanted more details on something for her morning - or afternoon, more likely, given the time - briefing.

"Two things. First, can you give me any more details on that bit about the psychics?"

"Physicists, CJ, and that was weeks ago. Why's it coming up again?"

"Danny's having fun with me, seeing if I can remember to say 'physicists' rather than 'psychics' from one briefing to the next, and so I figured that if I had more info for him, it would make him shut up and stop teasing me."

"Yeah," I said, "I can probably dig something else up." At this point, Sam came back into the kitchen from wherever he'd gone.

"Thanks," CJ said. "And about the other thing..."

"Oh," Sam said, "Hey, CJ."

"Sam? That you?" CJ seemed honestly bewildered to hear Sam's voice. "I saw you run out of here around 7:30, but no one knew where you went. Is everything OK?"

"It is now," Sam said, and I could see the smile CJ couldn't.

I figured I'd try to get this phone conversation back on track. "CJ, you had something else for me?" I said.

"Oh...no, Josh. Nothing...never mind. I'll let the others know you're taking a day of downtime, so no one should call you." And with that, she ended the call and hung up.

I knew immediately that CJ had called to tell me she had another idea of how I could get Sam back, and, upon finding out that Sam was back, she realized there was no need. I also knew that by lunch time, Toby, Donna and everyone else would be aware of the fact that Sam had come back.

I wasn't sure whether or not this made me happy. Not Sam's return, but that it was very quickly going to be public knowledge. I felt compelled to warn Sam.

"Uh...love?"

"Yes, Josh?"

"Ikindaenlistedthehelpofacoupleofpeopletotrytogetyouback..." I think I said that all in one breath.

"Try that again, this time with breathing," Sam said.

I took a deep breath. "I kinda enlisted the help of a couple of people to try to get you back," I said, bracing myself for Sam's outburst.

I surprised when Sam started to laugh hysterically.

"That explains a lot," Sam said when he finally had his laughter under control.

"Huh?"

"People keep dropping by my office every couple of hours with harebrained errands for me to go on which involved dropping by here. I was too far gone to go on any of them, but people kept trying. Donna tried to send me to pick up her dry-cleaning. CJ wanted me to canvass your neighborhood to get people's opinion on...something...I forget what. But I was too oblivious to connect the requests."

I wanted to make the relevance totally clear to him. "Sam, what I'm saying is...the whole office is going to be in on the status of our relationship. There is no way that we're going to be able to have any semblance of a private life for a bit...I'm sorry. I screwed up, big time, and I'll understand totally if you're angry."

"Josh, I couldn't be angry," Sam said. "I totally understand - and am very touched by - your desire to find some way to bring me home." At my facial expression, he smiled. "Yes, _home_. I'm sorry I ran off. And I'm sorry I didn't take the time to clear up the confusion between us. I was hurt and it was childish, but I needed to protect myself. And I'm sorry it took you getting sick again to bring me back. But I'm here now, and I'm not going anywhere."

He paused, looked around the kitchen, and grinned. "So..." he said, leering in the goofy way that only he can leer, "do you want to create some different memories to go with this table?"

I wanted to, I really, really did. But I also knew that I couldn't let myself lose control while I was sick, and sex with Sam would most likely involve me losing control. I didn't want him thinking I didn't want him, though.

While I pondered this dilemma, Sam was busy stripping off his clothing.

"J...you're thinking too hard," he said.

"Sam...love..." I paused. How was I going to explain this?

"C'mon, J. It's only 11:30. Cathy won't be here with lunch for at least an hour..." While he spoke, Sam was working the belt on my robe loose.

"Sam...uh..."

"What...Oh." Sam's brain seemed to finally catch up with his glands. "Right...you're not feeling well..." It was semi-comical to see Sam standing naked in my kitchen discussing my health.

"Actually," I said, "I feel fine. It's just this damn cough that keeps coming back. If Dr. Bartlet hadn't told me, I wouldn't have known I was running a fever or anything." I felt bad about disappointing Sam, especially after a week of us being apart. But I underestimated my lover.

"OK...so we'll approach this differently," Sam said. "I won't be accused of wearing you out. But I just...I really want to feel you against me, know you're here, know you're OK. So here's my plan." With that, Sam hopped up onto the edge of the kitchen table. "You're gonna sit and watch and learn."

Ah, yes. I'd forgotten about Sam's exhibitionist streak. He keeps it under control so much that when it reemerges, it's always a bit of a shock.

"Learn?" I was intrigued by what Sam thought I was missing in my knowledge of his erogenous zones.

I sat back to enjoy the lesson.

***

"Yes," Sam said, "learn. There's a lot you still don't know about. And I'm gonna show you part of it."

While Sam was talking, he was slowly drawing circles around his nipples. I'd asked him once to jerk off in front of me, and he'd started the same way. But I knew that his nipples were sensitive. Sometimes it's like they're directly wired to his cock...But now I was getting distracted from the lesson at hand...so to speak.

Just watching Sam give himself pleasure is enough to make me crazy. I was already hard, and he hadn't even gotten to the good part yet. My robe was hanging open around my chair and my boxers were gonna be uncomfortable in not too long, but I wasn't going to move a muscle and chance losing this opportunity to watch Sam.

Same as the last time I watched him jerk off, Sam closed his eyes as his hand traveled down his chest to grasp his cock lightly. As he started moving his hand rhythmically along his shaft, he gasped lightly, and I thought I heard him murmur my name, but that made no sense, 'cause I wasn't touching him at all. With every motion of his hand, he gasped my name a little louder. He was caught up in his own pleasure, and I was feeling each of his movements as a throb in my own cock. I shifted minutely to allow a little freedom of movement of my hips, which were instinctively thrusting off the chair as Sam built closer to his peak.

Suddenly, he was moaning full sentences, which I guessed were from whatever he was visualizing. It was garbled at first, but I finally figured out what he was saying.

"Yes, Josh, yes! Let me suck you. Make me yours!" Then Sam opened his eyes and locked his gaze with mine.

Well, now. My autonomic reactions took over, and I groaned as I came. I hadn't been touched or touched myself once. It was solely watching Sam pleasure himself and the understanding that it was - at least to some extent - a visualization of me that gave him pleasure that brought me to my release. Sam, meanwhile, was quickly reaching his own orgasm, and he screamed my name as he went over the edge.

Once he had his breath back, he smiled at me and said, "So, did you enjoy?"

What was I supposed say in a situation like that? I was covered in my own cum, still turned on, and my lover wanted to know if I enjoyed watching him?

"Hell, yes, Sam."

I helped Sam down off the kitchen table - I'd have to wash the table down before I used it next, but I'd do that later - and took him into my arms. "Love, that was beautiful," I said. "But...I think we both need a shower. C'mon and join me?"

It's not very often that we have the leisure time to shower together. But today, I wanted us to take all the time we needed to reconnect on an emotional level. We'd both been in such a crazy place since I got shot, and we needed to just take the down time and enjoy each other's company. Knowing that nothing could really happen between us while I was still sick, I had confidence that this shower would be sensual without being sexual.

And, anyway, Sam and I had just taken the edge off our need. Not that I didn't want to jump his bones any less than I did before, but it wasn't as desperate a need.

We went into the bathroom and took a nice, long shower. We touched and re-learned all parts of each other's bodies, but it was more of a healing touch than anything else. After we got out of the shower, we helped each other towel off. I led Sam into the bedroom, where I put on clean boxers and a clean robe and offered a robe to Sam as well - one of the popular "get well" gifts I've been getting are robes. He'd just finished tying the belt when the doorbell rang.

"Damn. That'll be Cathy with lunch," Sam said.

"I'll get it, love, in case you don't want your employee to see you...less than fully dressed." I'm never sure what is going to feel awkward for Sam and what's not, but Cathy's been seeing me in a robe for weeks, so it wouldn't phase her a bit, but she might be slightly taken aback by seeing her boss in nothing but a bathrobe.

At Sam's nod, I went out to the front door. As predicted, it was Cathy.

"Hey, Josh," Cathy said. "Sam asked me to bring lunch here for the two of you...I hope subs are OK. Leo told me not to expect him back for the day, so if you could tell him I've rescheduled all his meetings, I'd appreciate it."

"Thanks, Cathy. Subs are great. Sam's...a bit busy at the moment, but I'll let him know about his meetings."

I didn't want her to feel she wasn't welcome here, but...at the moment, I really didn't want to have to entertain anyone. She seemed to get the hint, though, 'cause she left right after handing me the sandwiches and the receipt. With a quick "see you soon," she was gone.

"OK, Sam, it's safe again," I called towards the bedroom. "I'm taking the food to the living room."

Sam came out of the bathroom toweling off his face. He'd taken the opportunity while Cathy was here to shave. I'd miss the pseudo-beard he'd had growing, but I took the fact that he'd shaved as a sign that he'd be paying more attention to the details of his appearance now that he knew I was doing OK.

Me, on the other hand, I couldn't be bothered to shave as long as I was cooped up at home...

Unless Sam asks. I think there's very little he could ask that I wouldn't do.

I went into the living room, and Sam joined me a couple of minutes later. He was still clad in my bathrobe. He came and sat next to me on the sofa, and we spent the next couple of minutes just eating in companionable silence. I was glad to have gotten him to eat twice already; I wondered briefly if he'd only eat in my presence, and decided that if that were to be the case, I'd make sure he came home at every mealtime. I wasn't gonna let him abuse himself again.

When we'd finished, we arranged ourselves on the sofa again as we had this morning - both of us lying down, with his head on my chest.

I had a question I wanted to ask him. I was half-afraid that we'd already dealt with too many personal issues so far today and that one more would be too much. But I had become intrigued, and I really wanted an answer to my question.

"Love? I have a question, and feel free to not answer if it's too personal, OK?" I wanted Sam to know from the get-go that he could refuse to answer if he wished.

"At this point, J, there's really very little that I haven't told you, and even less that I wouldn't tell you. Ask away."

I took a deep breath, 'cause if I didn't ask all at once, I'd lose my nerve. "When you were...when you were jacking off in the kitchen just now, you were talking to me, but it wasn't really to me..." I paused, 'cause I wasn't making any sense. OK, Lyman, just ask. "What is it that you were picturing when you were bringing yourself off?"

From my slightly higher position on the sofa, I could see Sam blush, a color that I was sure matched the color of my own face.

"You, J. It's always been you."

"Huh?" I was confused.

"When I masturbate. I always picture you. Usually, I'm on my knees in front of you, we're both naked, and you're asking me to suck you off." He gave me a second to absorb that, and then dropped the real bombshell. "I've been using you for visualization ever since I met you," he said in a much softer voice.

"Huh?" I was still confused, and now I was flummoxed as well. Not a combination conducive to producing higher-level thought.

Sam smiled, and it was reflected in his voice. "I'll use small words so you can understand, Josh, 'cause you've been out of the loop so long. I have been using images of you to help me come ever since I met you."

"Even when..."

"Yes, even when I was engaged to Lisa. Hell, even when I was in _bed_ with Lisa. She never could do to me what you could, and that was way before there was an inkling of attraction between us. Well, at least on your part," he said as an afterthought. Then he continued his explanation. "Early on, it was just the thought of your smile that would do it - I'd think of you, see your grin, and get hard. If I was already aroused, thinking of your smile, your laugh, would bring me off almost instantly. I never let on to Lisa..." he paused, with a slightly sad look on his face. But then he continued. "Later, once you and I were working together - during the campaign - I sublimated it, 'cause, well, we were working together all day, and it was hard to think with a perpetual hard-on. And then I was involved with Toby...but after Toby and I dissolved our relationship, I went back to my visions of you. But now, it went further. You'd be naked, standing in front of me. Begging me to take you into my mouth. Or ordering me to."

He stopped again. He was blushing, but at the same time he was grinning. "You see, Josh, we were inevitable."

I was overwhelmed. I had never realized how deep and how long Sam had been interested in me.

"Yeah...we were, weren't we?" I didn't know what to say. I lay there, stroking Sam's hair and thinking about all he'd told me.

After we had sat in silence, in our own thoughts, for a couple of minutes, Sam spoke again. "J? I hate to say it, but...I think I'm gonna fall asleep again." I could already hear the sleep creeping into his voice.

"Don't worry, love, I'll be here when you wake up."

He quickly fell asleep again, and I just lay there and watched him. He looked so peaceful, but I knew that the demons that chased him in his sleep were not far away. I was afraid to get up, lest he panic again.

***

Sam slept for a long time - I lost track of the time, and I think I must have dozed for a while, 'cause I next remember looking out the living room window and seeing the sunset.

I didn't think it was good for Sam to sleep so much if he had any hope of getting sleep during the time normal people sleep - not that, by any stretch of the imagination, we kept "normal people" hours, but during my extended recovery, I was trying to sleep at more traditional times. I hoped I'd be able to convince Sam to stay the night.

"Sam? Love? It's about time for dinner," I whispered to him. He stirred slightly, but was not awake yet.

I whispered his name again, and got a mumble in response. I was going to have to be more aggressive.

Leaning down, I rimmed his ear with my tongue. "Sam?" I called his name again as I explored the outside of his ear. "Love, it's time to wake up." I approached the lobe of his right ear and nipped lightly. "C'mon, love."

Sam opened his eyes. "Nice way to wake up," he said.

"I didn't want to disturb you," I said, "but I think we should eat dinner."

"All I've done all day, Josh, is eat and sleep. I feel like I've eaten more today than I have in a month," Sam said petulantly.

"And you needed to," I said. "When was the last time you had a decent meal?"

Sam thought for a minute. "OK, you're right," he said, shaking his head. "But I can take care of myself. _I'm_ the one who should be making sure _you're_ eating and sleeping regularly, not the other way around."

"Yeah," I responded, not wanting to sing the same 'I'm a big boy and can take care of myself' song that Sam was currently singing. If it meant that Sam would take care of himself because he felt a need to take care of me, I wasn't going to dissuade him.

We got up off the sofa and went into the kitchen where, after I washed down the table thoroughly, we had a simple but nutritious dinner. After dinner, we went back to the living room.

"How are you feeling?" I said to Sam.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that?"

"I'm doing OK - I've done nothing but rest all day. But how are you doing?"

"I'm fine," he said.

"Up for a little physical exertion?" I asked.

"J, didn't Dr. Bartlet..." he stopped.

"No, actually she didn't; I'm the one who thinks I should wait. But that's not what I was talking about."

Going over to my stereo, I quickly flipped through my CDs until I found the one I was looking for. I put on a CD of mellow, romantic songs, and as the first strains of music began, I held out a hand to Sam.

"Love? Will you dance with me?"

We'd never done this before. Dancing and dating and movies and restaurants, all that got lost in the crazy maelstrom that our lives are as members of the President's inner circle. And now that I'd almost lost the opportunity - twice! - I wasn't going to let circumstances take away my chances to get closer to Sam.

He came willingly into my arms, and for a bit, we just stood there, holding each other, barely swaying to the music. After a bit, though, he started moving more rhythmically. I lost track of how long we danced - I heard the songs change, but I didn't really keep track of the passage of time. At some point, we shed our bathrobes and danced in just our boxers, holding each other close. There was nothing overtly sexual about the contact. This was a time for healing, a time for reconnecting.

Finally, I was getting tired, just from being vertical for so long after such a long time of inactivity. "Sam?" I said, "do you mind if I turn in early? I'm kinda wiped after everything that's gone on today."

Sam smiled. "Actually, I'll come and lie down with you. It's been a long time since I've done that."

After we neatened up the kitchen and the living room and I turned off the stereo, we went into the bedroom. As I was hanging the robes back in my closet - there's another bit of influence Sam's had on my life: he's a serious neatnik, whereas before him, I was what one might call a shlump, and so now I hang things up - Sam came up behind me and placed a kiss between my shoulder blades.

"Oh, I really missed this," he said. "C'mon. Let's go to bed."

We walked over to the bed, and Sam stripped off his boxers and then started pulling mine down.

"Uh...love?" I said, not wanting Sam to expect more than I could provide him right now.

"Josh, I just want us to lie together, feel each other," Sam said. "I don't expect anything else. For one thing, you're still sick. But I need to feel you, feel your body next to mine, and be sure you're real and not just another dream I'm going to wake up from."

So I let him finish with my boxers, and, true to his word, we just lay in bed, holding each other. It didn't take long for his breathing to slow and for Sam to fall asleep. I lay in the dark for a while, holding Sam close, just listening to him breathe, the way I often do. Eventually, though, I also fell asleep.

***

When I woke up Friday morning, Sam was no longer in my arms. I opened my eyes, looking for him, and he was still in bed next to me.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," he responded. "I hope you don't mind - I was watching you sleep. Actually, I was just listening to you breathe. After...well...it's comforting to watch you sleep peacefully, OK?"

I wasn't sure if I should tell him I did the same thing - we're still in a strange place emotionally, and I didn't want him overreacting. But I resolved that we'd start having real conversation - not work related - very soon. All this time we've been together, we've been so frenzied that we never really had all those new-couple conversations (other than the obligatory "who have you slept with in the past" discussion that is embarrassing but necessary in the modern age).

That was going to change.

Sam got up out of bed, and I just watched him walk across the room. Sam is so graceful - and I'm so ungainly - that it's a pleasure just to watch him move. And a naked Sam Seaborn is even more of a treat to watch.

I could tell the moment he became aware of my scrutiny, 'cause his cock twitched.

"Stop that, J, or I'll never get to work!" Sam tried to sound exasperated, but I could tell he was looking for me to dissuade him from leaving. Unfortunately, I couldn't take advantage of Leo's kindness that way. Leo had let me have Sam all of yesterday, and Toby was probably champing at the bit to get Sam back to work.

But there was nothing to keep me from torturing Sam while I had him here.

Sam turned to look at me, and I slowly outlined my lips with my tongue. And there was that twitching thing again on Sam's part.

"Jo-o-osh!" Sam moaned. He was quickly becoming hard, as was I beneath the covers, but Sam was much more obvious. His skin was turning a lovely shade of red as he became more aroused.

I met Sam's eyes and then perused his whole body with my glance, stopping briefly on parts that interested me. Sam started to squirm under my gaze.

"Joshua, I mean it. Don't do this if you don't intend to follow through," Sam said in what, I assume, he meant to be a harsh tone. It came out as more of a plea.

"Sam," I said in my most reasonable tone, "you know and I know that I can make you come without touching you. Your brain is an amazing tool, Sam, and I can make you do things with it..." I paused and took a breath, then started again. "For instance, I know I can make you picture in vivid detail me going down on you."

The twitch became a full-fledged jump.

"And I know you can picture what we look like when I am just starting to enter you."

Sam moaned again.

"And when I nip at that place on your chest...I know you know what that feels like."

That was all it took. Sam was coming and was screaming my name.

When he was composed again, he glared at me. "If I'd already showered, I woulda...." He didn't finish the threat, 'cause we both knew it was empty. He loves the power I have over his mind, and I don't exploit it very often. But I knew he wanted me to take him yesterday, and I couldn't, so this was my way of showing him what I _could_ do while I was recovering.

Sam stalked off to the shower, and I considered my options. I was hard as a rock - making Sam crazy always has that affect on me - and Sam was in a rush to get to work, so it was unlikely that he'd have the time to help me, but I didn't want to jerk off and then find out that Sam _was_ interested. So I waited...and thought about Sam in the shower. And got harder...so I thought about a budget meeting...and I kept this cycle up as long as I could, until I heard the shower go off. It's a good thing that Sam takes a short shower, or I would've been too far gone long before he came back.

Sam came back to the bedroom wearing only a towel - revenge, I thought, for what I'd just done to him. As he took clean underwear and socks out of the drawer, he turned his head to look at me.

The moment my predicament became clear to him, he grinned.

"Oh," he said, "so I guess you expect me to do something about that, huh?"

"It was a thought," I said as calmly as I could, given that I was about ready to just take care of matters myself.

"Well, what's in it for me?"

"This isn't a negotiation, Sam." I tried to be forceful, but I was suffering. All the while, I was shifting my hips, trying to get a bit more comfortable. I finally ended up swinging my hips around so that I was sitting on the edge of the bed. Then I got an idea.

"Down on your knees, Sam," I said, and was surprised at how quickly Sam complied.

I stood in front of him, the head of my cock brushing at his lips.

"Now take me into your mouth."

Sam opened his mouth and engulfed my cock. After a few quick moves with his tongue, I was close to coming, but I wanted to play out Sam's fantasy for as long as I could.

"No, suck me like you mean it," I said.

As Sam increased the rate and intensity with which he was sucking me, I knew it wouldn't be long. I was running my fingers through his still-damp hair, holding his head in place as I thrust in and out of his willing lips. I screamed his name as I came and then collapsed back into a sitting position on the bed.

Releasing his hold on my cock, Sam used his tongue to get the last bits of cum that had leaked out onto my thighs.

"J? That was...amazing," Sam said.

"_You_ were amazing, Sam. Now get ready for work."

Sam got up off the floor, finished getting dressed, and headed off to work. I lay back in bed and waited for the phone to start ringing.

***

That night, we started a series of conversations about our past, our present and our future. Each was spontaneous, and each taught us a lot about who we are and where we're going as a unit.

And somewhere over the course of these conversations, I realized that I wasn't wooing Sam, we were wooing each other.

***

30 September

"What'cha thinking, J?"

"Today's Rosh HaShannah - Jewish New Year. It makes me think of new beginnings."

"What sort of new beginnings?"

"Like us...like reexamining what's important in my life...like you. I don't think I ever could have made it through these past months without you. Thank you for just being there."

"I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else."

***

4 October

"So...when did you realize?"

"Realize what, love?"

"That I was the answer to all of your needs?"

"You are?"

"Jo-o-osh!"

"Begin to realize? Probably that state dinner. You remember, when Mandy asked if we wanted to be alone? Something in the back of my brain told me to say 'yes'."

"So what took you so long?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if you realized at the state dinner, in November, then why didn't we get together 'til February? That's 3 months we missed out on!"

"Well, sometimes it takes someone to point out what you're missing."

"You never _did_ tell me - who was it that made you come to your senses?"

"Guess."

"Jo-o-osh!"

"OK...it was the First Lady."

"I've always said she was a woman of unmatched brilliance and beauty."

***

7 October

"Hey, J?"

"Yeah?"

"Who's your favorite musician?"

"Ever?"

"Yeah."

"Bach."

"And modern?"

"Ooh, that's harder. Single musician or group?"

"Single."

"Uh...I'm gonna have to go with Paul Simon."

"OK."

"Uh...Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Dare I ask why?"

"This way I'll know what to use when it's _my_ turn to seduce _you_."

***

10 October

~ring~

"Sam Seaborn."

"Hey, love."

"Hey."

"I miss you. Come home."

"Now, J? It's 2:30."

"Doesn't matter. Come home. I'll make it worth your while."

"I'll be there in 20 minutes."

+++

25 minutes later...

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"Why do you let me do that?"

"Do wha...oh, yeah...like that."

"Order you around...tell you when to come and go?"

"Why do I...oh, there. Do that again...Huh?"

"Why do you allow me to control you?"

"Oh, J, yeah...that spot...yeah...just like that...what was the question?"

"Never mind..."

+++

another 45 minutes later...

"Now, really. Why do you let me do that?"

"Dominate me? 'Cause I can...'cause you will."

"What does _that_ mean?"

"I know that I can relinquish power to you and you won’t use it to manipulate or undermine me. Also, I spend so much time making such important decisions that it's nice to let someone else do it for a while. And anyway, it turns me on like you wouldn't believe."

"Oh, yes, I'd believe, love. Remember, I'm the one who can make you come with one look."

"OK, well, I'll give you that."

***

15 October

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell me about Toby."

"Toby? You mean Toby Ziegler? My boss? The one you've known for a couple years now?"

"No, Toby, your ex-lover...The Toby that seems to be known only by you."

"Oh, him."

"Yeah, him. Now masquerading as your boss. When you let him."

"Ah. What about him?"

"What happened with you two?"

"Well...I used him, he used me, and then life returned to normal...such as it is."

"Care to elaborate?"

"It's not easy, you know."

"Yeah, love, I know."

"Well, I used him to ignore my feelings for you - you'd just gotten involved with Mandy, and it really hurt. And I couldn't tell you, 'cause you wouldn't have understood..."

"Yeah, I would've."

"I know that _now_, but I didn't know that then. And there was Mandy."

"And what about him?"

"He was in a rough spot with Andi...I never really pushed him on it. That kinda tells you something, doesn't it. He called out her name a couple of times with me. While I was struggling not to call out yours."

"Yet you still found a way that you can work together...for the most part."

"Yeah...it surprises me, too, sometimes. But we manage."

+++

10 minutes later...

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"Was he good? In bed, I mean?"

"Uh...how do I answer this question, J?"

"Was he better than me?"

"You? Mr. I-can-make-you-come-with-a-look? Never."

"Good...'cause then I'd have to kill him."

***

17 October

"Love?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell me about Tom."

"Tom? You mean Tom Jordan?"

"Yeah."

"Well, we were close at Duke."

"_How_ close?"

"What...did I sleep with him? Is that what you want to know?"

"Well...yeah."

"And _why_ do you think I'd sleep with him? Do you think I slept with every guy I knew in law school? Or in college for that matter? Josh, do you really think that way about me?"

"No, Sam. Calm down. It's not that. It's...well...he's good looking, he's charismatic...he's...he's the kind of guy I thought you would've gone for."

"Well, I never slept with Tom Jordan. For one thing, he's straight as the day is long."

"You thought that about me for a long time, you remember."

"Yeah, but...Anyway, Tom's not my type. At all. Even if he were gay...or, I guess, bi, 'cause he's married now."

"_You_ almost got married."

"True..."

"And to _Lisa_!"

"You never liked her, did you?"

"Honestly? No."

"Why?"

"Because...because she wasn't right for you. She didn't understand you. She couldn't speak your language. She wouldn't have made you happy the way I could!"

"Uh...J?"

"Wow."

"Huh?"

"I guess that was part of it, even back then."

"I know it was for me. But don't worry about Tom. He's just a friend. Really. A friend whose life is getting very complicated because of me."

***

21 October

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"New relationship rule - we can no longer watch the Harvard-Princeton games together."

"Why? 'Cause your team couldn't find the end zone if they were given a detailed map? 'Cause Harvard won 35-21 and you can't stand that my team's better than yours? 'Cause you're finally admitting that you went to the underdog of the Ivys?"

"No, 'cause you gloat like more of a maniac than usual when your team wins."

"Fair Harvard! thy sons to thy jubilee throng..."

"No singing of the Harvard alma mater."

"...And with blessings surrender thee o'er..."

"OK, Josh, you're asking for it."

"...By these festival rites, from the age that is past..."

"I warned you...No singing of alma maters, or I'll have to retaliate."

"...To the age that is waiting before..."

"OK...don't say I didn't warn you...'Tune every heart and every voice/bid every care withdraw;/Let all with one accord rejoice/in praise of Old Nassau'."

"Sam...you can't sing that song in this apartment. You know it makes me crazy. Ever since I went with you to your reunion and they wouldn't stop singing it."

"I know that...why do you think I declared a moratorium on singing alma maters?"

"Are you always this sore a loser?"

"Are you always this insufferable a winner? No, don't answer that. I saw you the night of Bartlet's victory. I know the answer is yes."

"Sam..."

"Well, if you're gonna be all smug about it, maybe I'll just sleep on the couch tonight."

"Love, don't be like that."

"It wouldn't work, anyway. You know that by midnight, I'd be snuggled back up against you."

"I depend on it. You're a bigger man than I am...even if you _did_ go to an inferior school."

"Well, at least I didn't go to Yale."

"SAM!"

***

25 October

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"Who was the first girl you ever went out with?"

"Went out with? Susan Davis. Seventh grade. But I'd had crushes long before then."

"And what about the first guy?"

"First guy I had a relationship with? You."

"Me?!?"

"Well, you're not the first guy I've slept with, but...don't look at me that way. You knew that. I'm not your first either! We did the whole history-slash-health-status discussion months ago."

"Well, yeah, but..."

"But what?"

"I don't understand your answer."

"You are the first guy I've had a real _relationship_ with. In college I was still having trouble coming out to myself, so I had a bunch of meaningless one-night stands. In law school - I don't know about at Duke - everyone was too uptight to get involved for real in a same-sex relationship. After all, most of us had an eye on careers in public service or in white-shoe law firms. Bunch of paranoid guys sleeping together at night and then pretending not to remember each other's names in the morning. And then...well, then I got involved with Hoynes' campaign - there's that public service thing again - and then, after I was with the Bartlet campaign...well...then came Mandy...and the less said about _that_ relationship the better."

"Wow."

"What...I spill my whole dating history to you and your only response is 'wow'?"

"Well, I had pictured you as this stud who'd slept his way through both the cheerleaders and the jocks."

"Much as that's flattering - I think - it's really not me."

"Good."

***

29 October

"J? OK if I do this?"

"Yeah...ohh, yeah. Not just OK. Wonderful."

"How about here?"

"Oh, yeah."

"What does it feel like? I mean...when I lick the scar like that?"

"Well, the scar itself is sort of numb at this point, since it stopped itching - Mrs. Bartlet assures me that it won't be forever, but it is for now. But the area around it is hypersensitive. And why are you asking me to form coherent sentences while...oh, do that again...while you're..."

"C'mon, J, stay with me here. I need to know that I can do this and not hurt you."

"I wouldn't describe the sensation as pain in any sense of the word."

"Well, what about when I do this..."

"Oh...Sam..."

"Hm?"

"Ohhhhhhhhhhh..."

"Mmm."

"Oh, SAM! Oh, God, Sam...Oh!"

"Well. Now we can confidently say that the shooting left you with a new erogenous zone..."

"I don't see this as sufficient of a benefit to make up for having been shot, just for the record."

"So noted."

"Good."

"J?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think...oh, never mind."

"No, love. What were you going to ask?"

"Do you think you'd benefit from talking to someone? I mean, someone who wasn't as close to the shooting as we all were."

"No."

"Josh..."

"Sam, please. I said no. Let's leave it at that, OK?"

"OK."

"Can we talk about something else? Or do something else?"

"What did you have in mind?"

"Well, maybe something like this..."

"Oh, J...Ohh."

***

3 November

"Josh?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you really ready to go back?"

"What, to work? Hell, yes. I'm bored out of my gourd here at home. Also, the longer I stay away, the more it feels like they've won."

"How could they have won? They're dead or in jail."

"That's just those particular people. But their cause, their mission, it's still out there. And I need - for me, for my sense of place in the world - to go back out there and show everyone that I can't be scared off. All this hiding--"

"You're not hiding, you're healing."

"Yeah, but it feels like hiding. Anyway. All this hiding makes me think about my grandfather, and how he survived even worse hatred. Hell, Zayde lived through Birkenau. And I can't go back to work after some racists shot me? It shames me. I need to go back. I need to show the world - and myself - that life has gone on."

***

"God bless America," Toby said, raising his drink. We all toasted and echoed his sentiment, and then all of us - CJ, Toby, Donna, Sam and I - prepared to go our merry ways. Sam was staying with me tonight - as usual - which meant that he'd be running the risk of a parking ticket, but he always said it was worth it.

One of these days, we'll have to find him a more permanent parking space in my neighborhood.

As we re-entered the apartment, Sam helped me take off my trench coat and then he put his arm around my shoulders. "You're not cold, are you, J? I don't want to have the wrath of Dr. Bartlet coming down on my head 'cause I let you stay out too late tonight."

"Let me?" I said with mock indignation. "I'm an adult, Sam, and," I lowered my voice "anyway, I asked her permission this afternoon. She said that as long as I didn't stay out too long, it was OK. So don't worry - I haven't had a coughing fit in a couple of weeks now. I think I'm all better." I think the months of trauma - both physical and mental - have made us more aware of each other's emotional needs. I know when Sam needs reassuring about my health status, and he knows when I need reassuring about my place in the West Wing. Being out of the office for so long - despite the fact that every effort was made to keep me in the loop - made me feel...unnecessary in many ways.

As soon as we cleared the entryway of the apartment, Sam wrapped me in a hug and kissed my nose.

"You're cold, J. You shoulda told me you were cold."

"I'm _fine_, Sam. Only my fingers and nose were cold. It's November, for God's sake." I couldn't fault him for worrying - I've put him through enough these past few months that he has the right to hover for the next year, at least.

"C'mon...we'll go and I'll tuck you into a nice warm bed. You're gonna need rest tonight if you want to be at your best tomorrow."

I couldn't actually believe a my-mom-sounding phrase like that came out of the mouth of my lover, but I decided to ignore the comment. I'd be a good boy and go to bed.

Getting to the bedroom was the first step, though. We strolled down the hallway with me tucked up against Sam's side. It's hard for two tall men to walk that way, but somehow we managed. I knew it would be fruitless to point out to Sam - again - that I was perfectly fine and that I was capable of walking on my own.

When we finally got to the bedroom, I slid off my slippers and climbed into bed after Sam turned down the covers for me. Once I was settled, he pulled the covers back up to my neck. When he was sure that I was comfortable, Sam quickly stripped down to his boxers and pulled on a robe.

"I'll be right back," Sam said.

As soon as Sam left the room, I jumped out of bed, took off the ridiculous pajamas CJ had given me, and climbed back into bed, pulling the covers back the way Sam had left them. I didn't want him to think I didn't appreciate what he was doing for me.

When Sam had been gone for a couple of minutes, I began to wonder what was keeping him. I finally realized he was serious about the "tucking me in and putting me to bed" idea, but that's not what I was interested in. I was still running on adrenaline from being allowed out of the apartment for the first time in months. I was going back to work the next day, and I was jazzed about that, too. These many, many weeks of inactivity had taken their toll on me mentally as well as physically, and I was looking forward to getting back into the action.

Sam eventually came back into the room, and he was carrying cups of tea for each of us. He had originally started making me tea when I was first having those coughing fits, and then, when we fell into our series of discussions, they were often accompanied by cups of tea. Sam probably had something he wanted to talk about tonight.

But I wasn't in a discussing mood. I was in more of a "pouncing-and-having-my-way-with-Sam's-body" mood.

Maybe we could find a balance between these two moods. But in order to do that, I had to figure out what was going on in Sam's mind.

"What's up, love?" I asked Sam as I took my tea from him. I figured the direct approach is always the best.

"Nothing, really," Sam said, sitting on the bed next to me. "It's just that...well, I'm worried about you going back tomorrow. Not that you can't handle it. More that people will forget what you've been through, and think you can handle your regular schedule, and then you won't say no, 'cause you never do, and then you'll tire yourself out and get sick again, and I'll go back into that downward spiral I do so well, and then you'll get mad at me and just make yourself even more sick. So, as I said, nothing." Sam said this last part with a sardonic grin.

I didn't want to get into the same conversation we'd been having almost every day since I started preparing to go back to work. Sam was concerned that I was overtiring myself, and I was feeling like I was barely doing anything. We'd never agree on this. But it wasn't the time or the place to discuss it. So I gave an answer that would satisfy both of us.

"You'll just have to work closely with me to make sure I don't overdo," I said. I like working closely with Sam, and Leo and Toby often paired us up, so it wouldn't be hard for Sam to keep an eye on me. He'd feel better knowing what I was up to, and I'd know he wasn't imagining me working harder than I really was.

"And you won't travel more than you have to, right?" Sam asked.

"If I can avoid a trip, I will; how's that?" Travel is inevitable in our line of work, but there will always be trips that I will not be necessary for. "Now stop stressing and relax with me."

As he finished his cup of tea, Sam set the cup aside and swung his legs up onto the bed. As he settled back against the pillows, I turned onto my side to face him. I was determined to get Sam's mind off the next day.

I reached out and caressed Sam's face with my fingertips. It still amazes me the depth of the feeling I have for him; I wasn't lying when I told him that he was the first guy I'd had a relationship with, and a lot of this is still new to me.

"You're thinking too much again," I said to him. "You know what happens when you do _that_, don't you?"

"Hmm?" Sam said.

I reached out and undid the belt of his robe. "I...must...distract...you," I said as I pushed open the front of the robe. I shifted back onto my back, sat up and moved closer to Sam.

That's when he noticed my state of undress.

"Josh?" he asked, "what did you have in mind?" I could see the wheels spinning in that over-intelligent brain of his.

"Nothing too strenuous; just something to relax us both and get us in the right frame of mind for tomorrow." I was most likely lying through my teeth - we often get carried away when we're together.

As I spoke, I was tugging the robe down his arms until he was basically just sitting on the robe and it was doing nothing whatsoever to cover him. "C'mon, love, take off the boxers."

I didn't have to tell him twice.

As Sam started to climb back into the bed, having tossed the robe and boxers somewhere we'd eventually find them again, I had another idea. "Hey, love, do me a favor? Grab my duffel out of the bottom of the closet, would you?" Sam acquiesced easily - he knew what was in the duffel and what it meant in terms of his pleasure.

While Sam went over to the closet, I shoved the blankets off the bed - they'd just get in my way if I left them where they were. I also snagged the lube out of the drawer and placed it on my bedside table so it would be at hand when I wanted it.

Sam came back with the bag, and as he settled himself back on the bed, I opened the bag and withdrew a long silk scarf. I tied both of Sam's hands together and then tied them over his head to the headboard, tight enough that he wouldn't move them easily but not tight enough that he would lose circulation in his arms. If he was afraid I wasn't strong enough or healthy enough to go back to work, I was going to have to show him just how healthy I was.

I straddled Sam and took his lips with mine. We kissed slowly and lingeringly for a while, but I could tell that he wanted much more. Not that he'd necessarily say so - at least, not while I had him tied down. When we're playing this way, there are certain lines he usually won't cross - not that I've ever told him he couldn't, but he's imposed them on himself. But I could tell by the little sounds Sam was making in the back of his throat that my slow and leisurely exploration of the inside of his mouth wasn't what he wanted.

Well, that was just too bad.

When I released his lips and kissed the line of his jaw, Sam started to beg.

"C'mon, J, please. Do something!"

He knows I love it when he begs, so I knew that this was just his opening salvo. Fueled by Sam's pleas - vague as they were - I inched my way down his neck, spending a good deal of time exploring the planes of his chest. It had been so long since we'd had any intense physical interaction that I wanted to make this last as long as I could.

As I moved lower and lower, Sam's pleas became more and more explicit.

"Josh, lick me there. Bite me there. Harder!" As I bit lightly at his nipples, Sam came close to bucking me off the bed.

I spent a while nibbling my way across the flatness of Sam's stomach, taking a moment to explore his navel with my tongue. Sam's pleas were louder and less coherent as I continued my slow, painstaking journey down his body.

"Oh, yeah, Josh. There..." Sam's words dictated where I lingered, when I moved on.

I continued my exploration, sucking, licking, and nipping my way along. I left a hickey on Sam's left hipbone - just for fun - and then meandered down his left leg. I took a slight detour to place a light kiss on the already-weeping head of his cock, but then went back to my journey down Sam's leg.

"J...no...don't...Dammit, Josh, suck me off, already! Please!"

OK, now _that_ was specific begging, which showed me just how far gone he already was, but I was just getting started. And this was one of the reasons I'd tied his hands - given the opportunity, Sam would have jerked off, and that would've ruined all my fun. And it wasn't like he was suffering or anything; he's just into instant gratification.

And sometimes I'm not.

Sam was writhing as I sucked his toes. I don't do that very often, and it always surprises him when I do. Tonight, no part of Sam was going unnoticed. When I finished with his left foot, I shifted over to his right, moving back up his body. Again, toes were not ignored, nor instep, nor ankle...you get the idea.

When I explored the underside of Sam's right knee with my tongue, he let out this high-pitched wail I'd never heard before. I'd have to keep that in mind for the future...

After arriving back at Sam's hips, I placed another light kiss on the head of his cock.

Sam's reaction to that was totally incoherent and very loud.

But I didn't stop where he wanted me to. I proceeded up his body again to investigate every bit of his arms.

I wasn't trying to make Sam suffer. More, I wanted Sam so ready for me that he wouldn't want me to be gentle. And once he let me not be gentle, I'd show him just how healthy I was.

From the noises Sam was making, that time was fast approaching.

I spent a couple more minutes exploring Sam's arms and shoulders as he became more frenetic in his movements under me. As his thrashing increased, I slowed my tempo.

Finally, Sam hit his breaking point.

"Come _on_, Josh. I'm...oh, yeah...oh, God...Oh, Josh...Do it. Fuck me. Fuck me hard."

That's what I'd been waiting for.

"OK, love," I said soothingly. "I'll give you what you need."

Moving back down his torso - after grabbing the tube of lube - I prepared to give Sam what he wanted, what he was begging for. After slicking up my cock and the fingers of my left hand, I moved into position between Sam's knees, which were now bent and drawn way out of my way.

Sam was gasping and ready for me, and despite his desire that I take him immediately, there was no way I was going to hurt Sam. It had been a number of months since I had been inside him, and he was bound to be tight. But I didn't want to appear to be coddling him - when he's this far gone, he wants me to take him immediately. So I had to find a way to temporarily distract Sam. With my right hand, I cupped his balls and started massaging them while I worked three fingers of my left hand into his asshole. Despite the long time since I'd fucked him, it didn't take long to prepare Sam. I withdrew my fingers from Sam and positioned my cock at his opening.

"C'mon, Josh. Fuck me! Fuck me hard!" Sam continued this litany as I reached over and pulled his legs up so that they were resting on my shoulders. Returning my right hand to Sam's cock and balls, I reared back and then slammed into Sam's ass.

I'm not sure which one of us gasped louder - me at the sensation of being surrounded after so long by Sam's heat, or him at the feeling of finally being filled. I paused for a second to adjust to the sensations, but Sam was having none of it.

"Josh, Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me hard!" And he started jerking his hips down toward me so that he was further impaled on my cock. I was afraid he'd hurt himself despite all my efforts, so I held his hips in place. I pulled about half-way out of Sam and caught his eyes with mine.

"Slow down, love. We have all night," I said, and Sam whimpered in response.

_Then_ I rammed myself home. Over and over I slammed into Sam, fueling his frenzy with my own. It didn't take long before he was panting - all the while pleading with me to fuck him - and then, with a final cry, he came all over my chest.

I couldn't hold off my orgasm any longer, and I felt my cum shooting deep into Sam as he continued to gasp and beg. Finally, completely exhausted, I withdrew from Sam and moved back towards the head of the bed.

I quickly untied Sam's hands and drew his body close to mine.

"That was..." Sam took a deep breath. "That was...amazing. I don't think I've ever felt you like that before."

"You've never driven me that far before," I responded. Sam knows that talking dirty to me just makes me hornier, and tonight his litany had driven me wild.

But then I had a practical thought.

I rolled us to the edge of the bed. "Come, Sam. Bath. Now." I had surreptitiously looked as I had withdrawn from Sam, and I hadn't noticed any blood, but I was still concerned that Sam would be in pain tomorrow if he didn't soak for a while. And I'd go with him, both to wash the cum off my chest and to just be with Sam.

It took us a bit of time, but we eventually got out of bed and made our way to the bathroom. I ran a warm bath, and then, with some minor maneuvering, we managed to both fit in the tub - usually when we're both in there, we're standing, so this was a new experience for us. We ended up with me sitting between Sam's open legs - well, as open as the width of the bathtub would allow. It was sufficiently tight that my ass was wedged up against Sam's groin.

Sam grabbed a washcloth and, wrapping his arms around my chest, washed me down...making occasional forays under the water to "clean" my cock.

"Sam...love...we don't...we shouldn't..." but he didn't listen. He leaned down and kissed me, matching the movements of his hand on my cock to the movements of his tongue in my mouth. Just when I thought I was going to come, he stopped.

"You're right - we shouldn't right now," Sam said with a smile. "After all, we both have to go to work tomorrow morning. But just you wait until after work tomorrow."

And with an evil grin, Sam started getting out of the tub, pulling me along with him.

It was good to have Sam back in a playful mood - ever since the shooting, he'd been treating me like I was made of glass, but now he seemed ready to go back to his old self.

We dried off and went to bed, with him spooning himself around me. It wasn't long before we both fell asleep.

***

On Wednesday morning, I was awake before the alarm went off. Despite my overwhelming desire to go back to work, I was somewhat apprehensive - after all, it had been three months since I had set foot in the West Wing.

I lay in bed for a while, contemplating getting up and into the shower. Sam was still asleep next to me, but when I rolled over to start to get up, he awoke.

"Hey."

"Hey."

"J, you set for today?" Sam's face showed his concern, even while he was still half asleep.

"Yeah," I said. "I'm gonna be fine. Don't worry."

But that didn't stop Sam from following me everywhere - into the shower, into the car, and into the West Wing. He even followed me into my office.

When we reached my desk, I turned to face him. "Sam, love, I'll be _fine_. You don't have to follow me to make sure."

"You sure?"

"Yes. I'll see you at the senior staff meeting at 7:30." That gave me an hour and a half to reacclimate myself to my work.

"OK." And Sam finally turned and left. Not that I didn't appreciate his concern, but still....

As he walked out of my office, I paid attention to the way he was walking. He wasn't showing any ill effects from the previous night, which eased my mind.

When I was finally alone, I looked down at the piles of stuff that had accumulated on my desk during my absence. Due to Donna's vigilance, most of the important things had made their way to me, but other random things had piled up. I didn't have the energy to deal with any of them right now.

On top of the largest pile was a note in handwriting even more...distinct...than Donna's. It took me a while, but I finally figured it out: "Josh - when you get in, find my wife in Leo's office. JB."

OK...so the First Lady was waiting for me in Leo's office. This was a summons, not an invitation, so I headed off immediately. Margaret was at her desk - it always amazes me that she gets in so early, but I don't think Leo ever leaves the office, so I guess it makes some sort of sick sense.

"Good morning, Josh," Margaret said. "Mrs. Bartlet's ready for you. Go on in."

I did, and the First Lady was sitting in one of the armchairs. "Good morning, Josh," she said, rising. "Take off your jacket and shirt for me, OK?"

"Good morning, Dr. Bartlet," I said, automatically disrobing as requested. That woman has something about her - she tells me to do something, and usually I do it. Must have something to do with her sheer presence...and the fact that she helped save my life - in more ways than one.

Dr. Bartlet began her standard check of my vitals - which she hadn't done for weeks, but which I assumed she was insisting on because of my return to work. When she was done, she said, "Good...you look fine, rested...fulfilled. Get dressed again."

Again, I followed directions without questioning. When I had finished, she patted the sofa cushion next to where she had sat back down, and I sat as requested.

"So, Josh, you're fine physically. But how are you in general?"

"I'm fine, really. But I seem to have acquired a new shadow," I responded.

"You mean Sam? He's following you around?"

"He wouldn't let me shower alone this morning." OK, I didn't mean to tell her that, but it just popped out.

She smiled. "I didn't _really_ need to know that, but that explains the air of...serenity around you."

I turned bright red, and decided it wasn't really worth getting into this conversation. So I chose a different tack.

"Mrs. Bartlet," I said, "I don't think I actually ever thanked you for the push you gave me."

"I don't know what you're talking about," she said, the soul of innocence, but I knew better.

"No, really. If you hadn't pushed me, I wouldn't have ended up with Sam, and then I would've had to recuperate alone, and I can't imagine what that would've been like. So...thanks," I said, knowing it was insufficient.

But Mrs. Bartlet smiled. "You're welcome, Josh. You would've gotten there, eventually...I just pushed you along a bit...Now, get out of here...I think I hear your 'shadow' harassing Margaret."

I stood up and left, finding Sam, indeed, harassing poor Margaret.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey...what's up?" Sam looked concerned.

"Nothing. Really. If you're worried, go interrogate the First Lady." I gestured to where Mrs. Bartlet still sat. "She just wanted to make sure I was healthy before starting my first day back at work. And I am...But how did you know where I was?"

"I went looking for you in your office, and it was empty, but I saw the President's note to you, so I came here looking for you. I'm glad I found you...I missed you," Sam said with a small grin.

"Guys?" Margaret piped up, "If you're gonna be cute, could you do it elsewhere? Not that I don't love to watch the two of you in action, but Leo's gonna be looking for this report in a couple of minutes..."

"Sorry," I said. "Come along, Sam."

As we were leaving, the connecting door between Leo's office and the Oval Office opened, and I could tell that life was going to get back to normal as I heard the President's voice.

"OK, Leo, follow up with Fitz on that. What's next?"

---END---

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