TITLE: Second Date
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORY: Josh/Stanley Keyworth; post-ep to “Night Five.”
DISCLAIMER: All characters are property of Aaron Sorkin & John Wells Productions. Buick-related statements are the opinions of the characters & do not necessarily reflect the feelings of the management.
ARCHIVE: List archives; “Oh Those Guys;” all others please ask first I’ll say yes.
SPOILERS: “Noel,” “Night Five”
SUMMARY: “And I was so hoping we’d have a second date.”
NOTES: I suspected Stanley was gay after “Noel,” and with the lingerie crack in “N5,” I was certain. And he was just cute in “Holy Night.” So I gave him a fic all his very own. This also gives me a chance to address the ludicrous “N5” moment where Josh introduces Stanley to Sam. As a reminder, ATVA is the American Trauma Victims’ Association. Dark-roasted thanks to B.Lo., an eternal font of coffee-shop-wisdom. Unsurprisingly, for Perpetual Motion, who betad, & who loves Stanley, too.
* * *
Second Date by Julian Lee
“And I was so hoping we’d have a second date.” --Josh to Stanley, “Noel.”
BARTLET: For three hundred and seventy-five dollars an hour, you ought to bring your own damn lingerie.
STANLEY: I do.
* * *
**Excellent job, Keyworth,** I congratulate myself as I walk away from the Residence. **You should call ATVA now and resign, before Jed Bartlet has time to make the call that gets you fired.** I can’t believe I walked out on him. I told off the President and walked out on him. Nice to see my sense of self-preservation is working so well.
I round a corner and skid to a halt. Somehow I’m back in the West Wing. I hadn’t realized I was headed that way. Maybe I wasn’t.
At the end of the hall I spot Josh Lyman in conversation with Sam Seaborn. I laugh when I remember Josh introducing the two of us earlier. Like we didn’t meet before, like I didn’t talk to Sam longer than anyone other than Leo because he’s the one who called in the first place - when I was here that Christmas. But at that time, Josh was so far inside his nightmare that he couldn’t realize I would talk to everyone who came within a five-mile radius of him. So Sam and I played along, and Sam was damned good at this, jumping immediately to the same thing everyone else had “Did you know anyone on the plane?”
I hate this. I hate that we’re still in a place where needing a mental health professional is weakness, that Josh has to pretend to be giving me a White House tour to cover for the fact that President needs me.
I’m yanked off my soap box as I watch the two men. They stand close closer than any two co-workers I know, closer than the best friends Sam told me they were. I think of other things I learned last time I was here: that they were lovers once, in far flung days before they knew Bartlet, and that that was why Sam had been inaccessible during Josh’s meltdown couldn’t stand to get sucked into that pain again, CJ had suggested. But watching the way they’re standing, it’s not hard to imagine that he’s getting sucked back in after all, and that’s good. Good for Josh, who could use someone as stable in his life; good for Sam, who had so clearly wanted to reach out to Josh that Christmas but hadn’t felt he could or should. I don’t presume to know his reasons. But I *am* a psychiatrist, after all, and my money, were I a betting man, would be on Sam’s fear that he wouldn’t be able to help Josh without wanting them to get back together. Not, I think, that that would be a bad thing.
All of this is good for me, too. **You pretty well hosed yourself career-wise today, Stanley,** I tell myself. **Let’s not get screwed on the personal front too, shall we?**
Sam notices me standing here and gestures towards me. Josh glances my way and mutters something to Sam, who laughs and shakes his head before waving at me and walking away.
Josh saunters over to me, and I give my ring two sharp twists around my finger to remind myself that I’m not entirely a free man. Because, sure, Kurt and I claim to have an ‘open relationship,’ but I know he’s had a number of similar opportunities and chose not to take them. To me, this means that calling our relationship ‘open’ is, rather than an actual indication of non-monogamy, merely an attempt to appear more hip than we will ever be.
Come to think of it, does anyone even say ‘hip’ anymore?
I startle back to reality when Josh clears his throat. Christ. When did he get so *close*? “Does anyone say ‘hip’ anymore?” I ask.
I consider myself an intelligent man. My reputation is largely based on it. But from time to time I open my mouth and the words that come out of it can be described in only one way: just plain stupid.
I shake my head and give the end of my tie a flick. “Don’t mind me.” He’s probably thinking, **And this is the guy we brought in to help the President?** “You have any coffee around here?”
“At this point, any coffee will do.” I’ve been up for something like thirty-three hours.
He grins. “Good, because we don’t have good coffee.”
I smile back and twist my ring again for good measure as I follow him down the hall. At every turn, I’m amazed by two things. First off, it’s almost eleven o’clock at night, yet the halls are crowded with bustling staffers who don’t look like they’re about to fall over and start snoring. Secondly, Josh knows them all. Every person who passes gets a genuine smile and a “Hey” from him. He calls at least three-quarters by name. I know it’s because he’s deputy Chief of Staff; because he’s the consummate politician; because he has that infamous Lyman charm. But it seems so *real* to me, and I don’t like to think that it might just be Josh’s shtick. He doesn’t say anything to me, and I try not to feel slighted by that. **He’s working,** I remind myself, **and he’s trying to protect the President.** That helps, but not completely.
In the Mess, Josh leads me over to a row of coffee pots along the wall. He picks up the closest once and squints into it as though trying to divine the future in its murky depths. He sniffs, frowns, puts that carafe down and picks up the one next to it. This one seems to meet with his approval, because he grabs a paper cup from the stack and pours. “Cream or sugar or anything?” he asks as he hands it to me.
I wonder at that ‘anything,’ tempted to ask if he keeps little airline bottles of Bailey’s stashed in his pockets, but I shake my head. “This is fine.”
“You sure?” He pours a cup for himself. “’Cause it’s pretty crappy stuff; you probably need something to, uh, cut it.”
I laugh and take a sip. And come *very* close to spitting it back out again. Good *God;* it *is* terrible coffee. I school my face into impassivity, too stubborn to add cream or sugar or ‘anything’ (wish I’d thought to stash some little airline bottles of Bailey’s in my pocket) at this point.
Josh adds one packet of powdered non-dairy creamer and four of sugar to his cup. “I think this pot was brewed sometime during this administration, so that’s an improvement,” he quips as he gestures towards an empty table. Okay, so pretty much every table is an empty one at this hour, but there’s something almost...chivalrous in the gesture, and an involuntary shiver races down my spine as I pause, half expecting Josh to pull out my chair for me. I’m both relieved and disappointed when he instead walks around to the other side of the table and sits down. He drinks from his paper cup and grimaces. “It’ll do,” he says.
I’m about to ask about coffee shops in the neighborhood hell, even Starbucks would be better than this sludge but I remember how paranoid everyone is about my presence here, and I realize that being seen roaming the streets with the ATVA shrink is the last thing Josh wants.
Josh puts his cup on the table and wipes the back of his hand across his mouth, and the motion is so sensuous that the shiver runs back *up* my spine. I stare into my coffee, and when I look up again, a laugh bursts out of me. Josh has tilted his chair up on its back legs and is grabbing the table with one hand to keep balanced. Kurt used to do that, back when we first met in college, and this must be what I find so appealing about Josh worldly sophistication mixed with boyish arrogance. I think I’m in trouble here.
Misinterpreting my laugh or maybe interpreting it perfectly Josh blushes and lets the legs of his chair drop back to the floor, though he doesn’t let go of the table. With a sigh half melodramatic and half heart-rending, he looks me dead in the eye. I don’t mind telling you that I find his unwavering gaze disconcerting.
“Listen, Stanley,” he says, “I’m not going to ask you what went on in there tonight.”
I lean back and take another drink, feeling myself on safer ground. “Good, because you know full well I wouldn’t tell you.”
He nods, unoffended. “But I do want to ask you only I’m not sure how—“ Josh rubs his free hand over his face. “I guess what I need to know is: can you help him?”
Sighing, I set my cup on the table and regard him solemnly. “Only if he’ll let me.”
Josh nods. “Then I’ll have to make sure he does.” He grins at me.
My eyes widened. “You will? You’ll get in the President’s face just because I told you to?”
Josh takes his hand off the edge of the table and puts it over mine. I don’t think he realizes he’s doing it, but I do I realize it all the way through. “You saved me after Rosslyn, Stanley. I believe that you can do anything, and I want to make sure you get whatever you need to do it. Hell, if you need President Bartlet tied to his chair so he *has* to listen to you, I’m going to make sure you get it.”
The image of Josiah Bartlet trussed up in his chair amuses me so much I actually throw my head back and laugh so loudly that the three women at the only other occupied table in the place look my way sharply. Josh grins at them, but when one of the women frowns at our table, he realizes where his hand is and jerks it away.
I rub absently at the back of my hand. Squinting over at the other table, I recognize the scowler Josh’s assistant Donna, the one who told Leo that Josh was falling apart. I didn’t like her last Christmas, and I think I like her even less now. People who get possessive and overprotective of other people without discernible reason rub me the wrong way, and that’s how Donna strikes me. Maybe I don’t know her well enough. After careful deliberation, I decide that I don’t care.
“Listen,” Josh asks, “do you want to go somewhere that’s...not here?”
I’m glad that they hired Seaborn and Ziegler to do the writing, because the way with words is clearly not Josh’s to command. Still, I I’m sorry. Did Josh Lyman just proposition me in the White House mess?
He sits there looking at me, and I must look like I need more convincing, because he says, “Better coffee, maybe?”
Because some part of me remains certain I won’t have a job in the morning, I figure I can continue my fun-filled evening of recklessness and stupidity. “That’d be great,” I say, and we stand.
Our path out of the mess takes us past the three women (I know I talked to all of them the last time I was here, but I can’t remember who the other two are, the two red-heads Communications, maybe), and Donna’s scowl intensifies as she takes in the two of us, Josh with his keys already in hand. As we draw up alongside the table, Donna’s mouth opens, and she sucks in a sharp breath to berate Josh, but he shakes his head so quickly and minutely I almost miss it and there must be more to it than I can read, because she snaps her jaw shut and settles for continuing to glare at us as we leave the room.
“I haven’t gotten you in trouble with Donna, have I?” I ask, only half joking, as Josh leads me towards the parking lot.
He laughs somewhat harshly. “Nah. I get in trouble with her just fine all by myself; no assistance necessary.”
Josh drives a LeSabre that’s seen better days. I get the feeling that he doesn’t have a newer car not because he can’t afford one but because he’s too busy to be bothered with such mundane things. “Somehow this isn’t the car I pictured you driving,” I tell him.
“You’ve pictured me in a car?” he asks, his eyebrow quirked up enough to be either seductive or gloating, depending on the light. I take it as both and blush. Josh laughs and slips into the driver’s seat. “Let me tell you something about Buicks,” he says as I climb into the car, “say whatever you want about the company, the cars, whatever, but this LeSabre has survived all the crap I’ve subjected it to over the years it’s been through the worst America has to offer, weather-wise, and it’s driven down the shoddiest excuses for roads you’ll find in this country, and it keeps on plugging. Some days I think it’s going to outlast me.”
I bite down on my tongue to keep from saying anything. **You’re off the clock,** I remind myself, thought it’s damned near impossible to remain detached while Josh contemplates unraveling next to me. **You’re not his therapist anymore.**
“So...” he says finally, “you married?”
It must be difficult to make small-talk when you’ve vetted a guy a dozen times and know all the things that are supposed to comprise getting-to-know-you chatter. “More or less.”
He looks over at me as he pulls into a parking space on some random residential side-street. “More or less?”
I shake my head. “Josh, playing dumb does not suit you.” Looking around, I have to ask, “Where are we going?”
“Yeah. Sorry.” I’ll hand it to him; he actually looks abashed. “The place is around the corner.”
The place is called “Murky Coffee,” which makes me smile faintly. The instant we’re inside, though, I realize there’s going to be trouble. To say the place is the size of a postage stamp is way too generous, and the last thing I need is to be squished up against Josh while ordering coffee.
We squeeze up to the counter and order, and Josh looks at me apologetically while we wait for our drinks. And really, now that we’re standing right here, it’s not as awkward as I expected. Apparently, I *am* capable of keeping my hands to myself, though I am acutely aware of Josh’s intense jumpiness; his every twitch makes my body jolt. “It’s a little weird, I know,” he whispers, and the vibration tickles my chest, “but the coffee is absolutely worth it.”
There are no chairs in Murky Coffee, so we walk out into the night chill and sit on a bench in front of the building next door. Wrapping my hands around my cup for warmth, I take a cautious sip and immediately have to concede this point to Josh: this is some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.
We don’t speak for a minute, sitting side-by-side and appreciating our drinks. A gust of wind rips through us, and we both shiver. Josh looks over at me with a hangdog look on his face that almost makes me chuckle. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.” He looks around the nearly deserted street. “Outside in the middle of the night, and it’s not exactly balmy out here.”
I shrug. “I’ve been through worse.”
Josh squints at me. “In San Francisco?” he asks doubtfully.
Now I do chuckle, taking another sip of coffee. “No,” I agree. “Not there. But I grew up outside Detroit, so...” I shrug. “This is fairly tame compared to some of those winters.”
“Detroit, huh?” he asks. That *has* to be in my file. But the first time I was here, my file would’ve been the least of Josh’s concerns. Maybe he *doesn’t* know everything there is to know about me. But he obviously knows enough. Knows enough to ask me out for a somewhat less than platonic coffee. “What took you to San Francisco?”
I close my eyes briefly and take a deep breath. Josh hides behind his job, his mask of professionalism. Within five minutes of meeting him, I knew that, but still I wonder how much longer I’m going to be expected to play along. “Take a wild guess.”
He chuffs an abrupt laugh and stares out at the street. “When do you go back?”
“Tomorrow morning.” I try to work a knot out of my lower back. “Then I’ll see whether I still have a job.”
“We called you because you’re one of the best, Stanley,” he says earnestly. “I like you. Leo likes you. We knew you could help the President.”
I shrug. “I don’t know that I helped so much as...got him agitated and put my job in jeopardy.”
“You mean walking out on him?” Josh laughs, and his foot taps a rhythm only he can follow against the leg of the bench. “Yeah, I heard about that.” Briefly, I wonder *how* he heard about it in the roughly forty-five seconds between when I left the Residence and when I found Josh and Sam. But I guess in a place as wired as the White House, a guy as nosy as Josh hears everything. “Don’t worry about that. The President likes people who challenge him.” He gives me a cocky grin. “That’s why he likes me so much.”
I roll my eyes. ‘Challenging’ isn’t the word I would’ve chosen for Josh, though it works as well as any other and is kinder than most of mine. Still, his statement comforts me. Maybe my job isn’t in as dire danger as I’ve feared.
I’m no longer Josh’s therapist. That’s the only reason we can be sitting here having this conversation. But my damned sense of compassion compels me to ask, “How are *you* doing?”
“I’m great.” He leans back against the bench and takes a self-satisfied gulp of coffee. “Things are looking up for the administration. For a while there, we weren’t sure, you know? Hoynes started ruffling his feathers, and all us little earthworms went scrambling for cover. But Leo and the President are gonna pull us through.”
A lovely story, but not an answer to the question I asked, and I tell him as much. “How are *you,* Josh?”
He runs his hand through his hair. “I’m doing all right,” he says softly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get back to where I was...before...but I’m as close now as I’ve been in a long time.”
I dent the rim of my cardboard cup with my thumbnail. The next question is more delicate. “Is there...someone...in your life right now?” I pause, then babble on, “Because that can be very helpful at times like these. Someone you trust, someone you can talk to...”
His smirk takes on a hard edge I can’t decipher. “What do you think?”
I think back to my last visit to DC. If half the things I heard then are true, Josh is the best-fucked man in the District. CJ thought he’d gotten back together with Sam. Sam suggested as did Toby that Josh had a thing with Donna. Donna pointed to either Joey Lucas or Leo, which had been the biggest shock of my visit. But Lucas’s recent return to California made her an unlikely candidate, and Leo had obviously not given a fuck (pardon the pun) who Josh was sleeping with, and that’s where the trail had ended. But the glint in Josh’s eyes has me worried now.
“I think,” I say carefully, “that you’re not a man who hears the word ‘no’ a lot.” That catches him off-guard. He sits incredibly still while I make a row of dents in my cup. “But an endless supply of available sexual partners is in no way the same as having someone in your life you really count on.”
Josh’s smirk wobbles and then falls right off his face. He glares at me over the top of his cup. “Then, no,” he says, and bitterness and regret ooze over the edges of his words and into his coffee, “I don’t suppose you’d say I have ‘someone.’”
We sit in a flat dead silence. This isn’t going the way I pictured it.
Then Josh turns to me, and I have a second and a half to sort out the resentment, despair, self-mocking, and tiniest spark of hope I see in his eyes before he wipes them blank again.
“You know,” I venture, though there’s *no* way this can come out right, “when I say ‘someone,’ I don’t necessarily mean someone you’ll be with for the rest of your life. I mean someone who’s going to care about you for as much time as they’re willing to give and you’re willing to take.” I catch his gaze and hold it until he nods, and I’m sure he understands what I’m offering. But even when he nods, I don’t move until he cocks his head towards the car and smiles at me. The smile is essential.
There will be absolutely, no arguments, *no more gloomy sex.*
As he’s about to unlock the passenger-side door of the LeSabre, Josh straightens, grabs my arm, and points at my ring. “What about...Whatsisname?”
“Whatsisname will be fine,” I say, smiling to reassure him. “We have...an understanding.”
He nods. “Okay.”
Josh doesn’t stop touching me the entire time we’re in the car. They’re small touches, but constant; not erotic, but like he’s trying to convince himself that I’m here. When we get to his place, he undresses me methodically, my clothes layers he has to unpeel to get to the ‘real me.’ The me, presumably, that can help him. Because that’s what tonight is about. Not a pity fuck no one’s mistaken it for that but a chance to have one night free of the obligations, complications, and rationalizations of his daily life. One night free of worrying about what comes next.
We’re good. Neither of us bursts into tears or yells the wrong name at an inopportune moment. And *it’s* good. Slow and gentle until the moment we can’t take any more, then fast and brutal until the moment Josh goes crashing over the edge. I see it in his eyes the instant he’s ripped away from all his worries and fears and griefs and drawn into his body, into sheer unthinking *humanness.* And that’s all either of us wanted.
We fall asleep draped casually over each other.
* * *
I swear to God I haven’t been asleep for more than thirty seconds when a noise like a cement mixer backing directly into my brain rips me out of slumber. Josh reaches up and smacks at his bedside stand about ten times, and the horrid noise dies, protesting shrilly. “Srry buh tha,” he mumbles.
I *think* that was an apology. “What time is it?”
“Christ.” I bury my head under the pillow.
“I have to get up,” he says and proceeds to do just that, trudging back and forth across the room pulling clothes from various places, “but you can stay as long as you’d like. I don’t have much food, but—“
I chuck the pillow to the other side of the bed and wave my hand at him. “I have to be at the airport at nine. Might as well get up.” Suddenly I can’t wait to be back in San Francisco. I miss my office (too many ferns and a scatterbrained receptionist). I miss our bright blue row house and crazy next door neighbors (lesbian sculptors who sunbathe nude on their roof, chain-smoking Pall Malls and feeding baklava to a yapping Pomeranian). But most of all, I miss Kurt.
I’m still lying in Josh’s bed, looking at his ceiling, when he comes out of the bathroom. He stares at me, and if he thanks me for last night, I’m going to have to deck him. But he’s so buoyant I must’ve misinterpreted his hesitation. “You’ll be okay getting to the airport?”
I sit halfway up so I’m leaning against the headboard. “Yeah. I’m good.”
“Good, then.” He knots his tie. I predict it’ll be gone by ten-thirty. “Listen, Stanley, I wanted to thank you—“ Automatically, my hand clenches. “—for helping the President.”
I relax, embarrassed at having jumped to such a wrong conclusion. “I don’t know yet if I helped him or not.”
He grins mischievously. “You must have. If you could help me, you can help anyone. I’m the biggest pain in the ass in the entire administration. That’s what CJ tells me, anyway.”
I snort. I believe it.
“So, I’m outta here. Say hi to Whatsisname for me.”
I sit all the way up. “His name is Kurt.” Suddenly it’s important to me that Josh knows that.
He snaps his fingers. “It was right on the tip of my tongue.”
“Whatever.” The guy’s funny, but every joke makes me long to be back in my own kitchen, waiting for a pot of *good* coffee to percolate while Kurt pushes his glasses onto the top of his head and demands to know why parents don’t instill in their children the proper appreciation of classical music. “You say hi to Sam for me.”
He freezes, turns back to me. “Sam?” he asks quietly. Then his face softens, and a little sparkle dances across his brown eyes, and I know CJ knew *exactly* what she was talking about. Josh nods. “I will.” He picks his backpack up off the chair and slings it over his shoulder. “I’ll see you around, Stanley.”
I don’t doubt that for an instant.
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