Title: Broken Series: Wild Ride
Author: Beth
Disclaimer: I know they aren’t mine. Really, I do. Sam, Josh, Donna, and any other assorted West Wing folks belong to Sorkin et al. Kelly, Sarah, Carrie, and Jake, however, are mine.
Rating: PG-13 (um, some of us are cursing a bit in this one)
Spoilers: Oh please, ISOTG I and II. Majorly. And if that doesn’t tell you what this one is about, nothing will.
Archive: westwingslasharchive. And of course, it’ll end up on my page eventually, www.angelfire.com/ok5/eal/index2.html
Summary: Donna’s rules finally make sense.
Notes: Um, always useful to have read something else in the series. This follows hot on the heels of “Life is in the Details”. I have two awesome betas, Nomi and J. Both of them have stuck with me while we fought out the ending. I think we all agree now that it was worth it. And Stanley, you know this one is yours because it’s what you asked for. And it’s the only one like it in the series, so you’d best enjoy it.
Feedback: Always responded to: bethandsam@excite.com

Wild Ride by Beth

***2003***

The incident, as they had ultimately come to call it, stood out as the point in time where their relationship changed. Calling it an assassination attempt gave too much credit, they felt, to people who were, rightly, beneath their contempt and not worthy of credit. To fully develop and explain how they went from being Sam and Josh: best friends to Sam and Josh: more than that (they still couldn’t decide what to call themselves and had adopted Kelly’s practice of simply not calling themselves anything) forced them to recall a particularly dark period of their friendship. Afterwards, when things were finally settled, Kelly would always say that it took the dark to bring on the light, but she would be grateful if they didn’t all have to go through that kind of hell again. They had no way of knowing then that Kelly and Sarah would be gone in a few years and that they would have to find a way to explain to Carrie how four such different people ended up creating a strange sort of family – their sort of family, the family that would bring about the vibrant little girl they all adored. First, though, they would have to explain the total cost of the gunman’s bullet – and it hadn’t all been about Josh’s lung capacity or his heart.

***Several days after the shooting****

When Josh awoke, he noted several things simultaneously. The room was dimly lit, so it must be either very late or very early. He was in an immense amount of pain and didn’t feel like he could move even a finger. The last thing was a figure across the room – it was difficult to determine who it was because the individual was wearing a large sweatshirt and a baseball cap that shadowed the person’s face. Josh attempted to say something but all that came out was a low groan. The figure responded instantly to the sound.

“Josh? Are you awake?” She walked over to his bedside and peered down at him. At a barely perceptible nod, she asked, “Are you in pain? Do you need me to get a nurse?” At another nod, she pressed the call button, and within moments Josh was drifting blissfully out of consciousness again.

When Josh awoke again, Donna was there. The room was better lit – must be daytime now. The pain was still immense and that led him to believe that he had somehow mistaken Donna for someone else earlier. He made a cautious attempt to speak. “Donna?”

The shining blonde head popped up at Josh’s voice. Her eyes were red, and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days. “Joshua – it isn’t nice to scare your friends like this. I’m going to call the doctor and let her know you’ re awake.”

“Wha – What happened?”

“There was an assassination attempt at the Newseum. You were shot, Josh. And you’ve scared us all really badly. You have to get better quickly because Toby is already creating disasters that will take you months to fix.”

“Sam?”

Donna glanced away, and then met his eyes, “He’s fine, Josh. The doctor is here. I’m going to step out.”

Donna headed out of Josh’s room and straight for a phone. She dialed Josh’s apartment, and when Kelly answered the phone she said, “Well, you were right. After ‘what happened,’ his first question was about Sam. I told him Sam was fine; that was the right thing to say, right?” At Kelly’s agreement, Donna continued, “How are we going to explain Sam not coming with the rest of the staff this evening?”

“What do you mean ‘we’? I’ll deal with Josh tonight when I get there – after hours like last night.”

“Why don’t you want to meet the senior staff, Kelly? They’re all going to be curious, you know.”

“About what?”

“Okay, you spirited Sam out of here and no one – including me – knows where his head is most of the time. He did the press conferences, and he comes into the office, but he’s not acting like Sam. You have somehow managed to convince the hospital staff to let you sleep in Josh’s room at night, but thus far I’m the only person who seems to know you exist. If I hadn’t seen pictures of you with both of them in Josh’s apartment, I’d be wondering who the hell you are too.”

“All Josh needs to know right now is that Sam is fine. No one needs to know that I exist – I can only make things more complicated, I promise you.”

“How could things get more complicated? You know what -- forget I asked that. The doctor’s leaving Josh’s room now, so I think I’ll head back. I’ll see you in the morning – a non-fat latte, right?”

“Yeah. You are a lifesaver, Donna.”

“Just do me a favor. Don’t tell Josh I’ve been bringing you coffee every morning, okay?”

“No problem.”

Donna went back to her vigil in Josh’s room. He slept most of the afternoon but was reasonably sharp when Toby, CJ, and Leo stopped by in the early evening to see him and to give Donna a break. When Kelly arrived, the senior staff was still there, so she skulked around in the hallways waiting for the hospital staff to remove them. She blended into the walls as they passed her, and once they were off the floor she slipped into Josh’s room.

He was already asleep when she arrived, so she settled into a chair to watch him sleep. Kelly couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept for more than ten minutes – between taking care of Josh at night and dealing with Sam the rest of the time she was letting herself get stretched thin. She hadn’t picked up a paintbrush or a pencil since she got here and that was a bad sign too. Josh stirred and Kelly moved quietly to the side of the bed to see if he was waking up – if he needed anything. When Josh’s eyes opened, she said quietly, “Hey, sweetie. How are you doing?”

“Kel? Really you?”

“Well, yeah. Who else is crazy enough to sit up all night with you?”

“Hair?” Josh was concerned that he was confusing Donna and Kelly – and that in the morning this would seem like a dream again.

“What about my hair, sweetie?” Kel was worried about the confusion on his face. “You want to see it?” At the look of relief on his face she realized that she guessed right, “Okay” she said, as she pulled the baseball cap off with a flourish. Her hair cascaded down her back like a river of fire.

“Really you,” Josh said more confidently.

“Yeah. I’m just trying to keep a low profile and this stuff,” she said indicating her hair, “makes that difficult. Thus, the baseball cap. Keep it tucked up out of sight, and no one will remember me too easily. Perfect all the way around.”

“Sam?”

“He’s fine, Josh. I promise he’s fine. He just can’t come here right now, okay?” Kelly could see the combination of worry and fear in Josh’s eyes, and she was trying her best to assuage it without telling him what an emotional basket case Sam was.

“Why?” Josh knew there was something Kelly wasn’t telling him. The fear that something had happened to Sam was overwhelming. The rational part of his brain kept saying that if Sam were in this hospital, or any hospital, Kelly would be with him, not Josh. The irrational part kept saying for her to be here and Sam not to be around could only mean one thing and he couldn’ t face it if that were true. Tears started sliding down his face unbidden.

Kelly grabbed a tissue and started wiping his face, “Hey, hey – why are you crying?”

“Never told him – love him.” The words left his mouth without him realizing it, and the wide-eyed look Kelly was giving him made him wonder what he had said.

“Josh – you’ll get a chance. He’s okay – he’s just really emotional and difficult to deal with – even for me and you know I can handle any mood he throws at me,” Kelly was trying desperately to grapple with what Josh had just said. She had her proof. Now all she had to do was get the two most stubborn men on the planet to say those words to each other, not to her. “I won’t let him come here until he calms down. He’ll just stress you out and you don’t need that.”

“Need to see him,” Josh was being stubborn.

“How about a compromise? I’ll call him and you can hear his voice. Would that work?” Josh gave her a look and she laughed, “Look, buddy, you’re pinned to this bed by enough equipment to launch a space shuttle if it had the mind to do it; I don’t think you’re in a position to either threaten or negotiate. Take what you can get, okay?”

Kelly picked up the phone and dialed. She knew Sam wouldn’t pick up the phone but figured he would be standing next to the answering machine – she thanked God that Josh hadn’t gotten sucked into that whole phone company voice mail thing; it would make screening a nightmare. When the machine picked up, she said, “Sam, pick up. It’s me.”

“Kel?”

“Who else knows you’re there? I have someone here who needs to hear your voice. I’m telling you right now, if you upset him in any way, I will hurt you in the morning, got it?” With that, she put the phone up to Josh’s ear and let him listen to Sam for a couple of minutes.

When she could no longer hear Sam’s voice, Kelly hung up the phone and arched an eyebrow at Josh, “Better?”

“Much. What’s wrong?”

“What makes you think something’s wrong? You should be sleeping anyway,” Kelly grumbled at him.

“Not tired, and you’re here. What’s wrong?”

“You know there are a lot of ways I can take that, and none of them are particularly flattering. I’ll assume that the reason you’re not tired is because I’m here.” When Josh indicated she was misinterpreting, she laughed, “See, not flattering. Something has to be wrong to have dragged me cross country – let’s see, one of my best friends in the world was shot a few days ago, I think that’s justification for flying cross country, don’t you?”

“No. Sam.”

“Fine. Sam isn’t dealing well with all of this.” She waved a hand to indicate the machinery, Josh’s injury, and the world at large. “He held it together for the first couple of days, but when I got here he just – I don’t know, he wasn’t himself. I tried to put him on a plane to Sarah, but he didn’t want to leave. So, I’ve got him hidden away until he seems more normal. And he won’t do that unless I can give him daily reports on you and the only way I can do that is if I’m here with you. Oh, and by the way, if any of the nurses ask, you have a younger sister.”

“Ahhh. Clever woman.”

“I try,” Kelly flashed a quick grin, “Now humor me. Close your eyes and try to sleep, okay?”

“When do you sleep?”

“Haven’t you heard? Artists don’t need sleep; now people who had fights with bullets, they need to sleep. Go to sleep, Josh.”

***Several weeks later***

Kelly couldn’t decide what she regretted most – staying in Josh’s apartment, letting Sam stay with her in Josh’s apartment, or not drugging Sam and forcing him on a plane to Sarah. He was making her nuts. Even after several consults with Sarah – at times when Sam was otherwise occupied – Kelly could not get a grip on what was going on with him. At first she had thought it was shock; he had been through a traumatic incident and one of his closest friends – not to mention the person with whom he was in love – had been seriously injured. As far as she was concerned, that would be enough to freak anybody out. But as time passed, he wasn’t coming around the way she thought he would. Josh needed him, and Sam still refused to go to the hospital. It had started out that Kelly didn’t want him to go, but it had shifted so subtly that she had almost been unaware that she had begun suggesting he join her in the evenings and he was refusing. Tonight’s refusal though had been difficult to ignore. As she was getting ready to leave, she asked as she had begun to do, “Coming with me tonight?”

Sam had looked up from his books and said, “Hell, no,” and returned to his reading. There wasn’t a moment of indecision or consideration, and that had jump-started Kelly’s brain – at least the reactive part of it. So now, as she sat in Josh’s hospital room feeling as if she were guarding him from the night demons, she had to consider why Sam would be so adamant about not coming to see Josh. She didn’t like the conclusion she kept reaching that the problem wasn’t that Sam was in shock or confused anymore but that he was conveniently choosing not to “deal” with the situation at hand. This was a side of Sam that she had only seen once before, and she hadn’t liked it then either.

By the time Kelly arrived home the next morning she had worked herself into a full boiling rage. When they were sixteen was one thing, but now he was a grown man and he needed to stand up and act like one. She went to the kitchen and found a note from Sam saying he had gone into work – well, she hadn’t gotten home early enough to stop that but she was certainly going to tear a strip off of him when he reappeared. Even if she had wanted to, Kelly couldn’t sleep because she was seething – every time she closed her eyes she would see Josh’s face. He was scared and he needed Sam and she had obviously lost her persuasive abilities somewhere in the last few weeks. Somehow Sam seemed to have reached the conclusion that she could handle all of this on her own, and if she had been dealing with only one of them it was probably true, but with both of them down, in different ways, she was definitely in over her head. Without Donna’s help, she was certain that she would not have kept it together this long, but she knew that if Sam didn’t get with the program soon she was going to end up in pieces herself.

When Sam arrived at Josh’s apartment that night, he knew something wasn’t right. Usually, he would have had breakfast with Kelly before heading into the office, but today he had slipped out before she got home from the hospital. She had been getting more demanding lately that he go with her to sit with Josh, and it wasn’t something he wanted to do. He figured if he went to work before she got home and stayed until he was fairly sure she had left, he could avoid that argument for several days at least. He had not anticipated that she would know what he was up to and be waiting for him on the first day. He had also not expected to find his bags packed and her sitting grim-faced on Josh’s bed.

“So, you finally decided to come back, did you, Samuel?” Kel said caustically. “Since you have absolutely no interest in being helpful, you should go back to your own place.”

“God, not even a hello first. I never said I didn’t want to be helpful; I just can’t see Josh right now,” Sam said.

“You know I’ve always hated this side of you – I hate that I can’t count on you when things get ugly. This is like being sixteen all over again, and just like last time you are running and leaving me to deal with everything.” The anger dripping from her voice and shooting from her eyes was almost too much for Sam to take.

“Kel it’s not like –“

“I don’t want to hear it, Sam. I want you to go.”

“Would you let me explain?”

“There isn’t anything you could say that I would want to hear right now. I’m leaving to see Josh. I don’t expect you or your stuff to be here when I get back,” Kelly said as she walked out of the bedroom.

Sam started to go after her, but then he realized that, right now anyway, Kelly wouldn’t listen to him regardless of what he said. She was too angry – she’d cool off in a couple of days, and then he would be able to explain.

****The Next Night****

Kelly could not believe how long these guys were staying tonight. Most of the senior staff, minus Sam, had been in with Josh for the last hour – at least half of that was past the time visiting hours ended, but the nurses on this floor weren’t as efficient at clearing the rooms as the ICU nurses had been. She was still fuming from the argument with Sam the day before. Some part of her had believed that their argument would get Sam in to visit Josh, but as best as she could tell that hadn’t happened. She was so lost in thought that she almost didn’t notice the group of them coming out of Josh’s room. As soon as they had left, Kelly ducked into Josh’s room. She had barely made it in when Josh started in on her.

“So what exactly did you do to Sam yesterday, Kel?”

“You know, I think you might be feeling better, Joshua.”

“Yeah, well, they’re talking about letting me out of here in the next couple of days. And again, what did you do to Sam?”

“Sounds like my work is done here. I think I’ll find a flight out of here in the next day or two,” Kelly was already planning an escape route to get her out of town quickly – back home where it was safe. “And these questions about Sam mean what? You’ve heard from him, seen him, heard rumors about him?”

Josh was puzzled both by the questions and the tone, but he said, “He called this morning and he sounded strange. He told me if I needed to reach him he was back home at his place, and I know he was staying with you. But, he wouldn’t tell me why he went home, so I thought you would enlighten me.”

Kelly studied the floor as she said, “It was time, Josh. He was going back to work and I needed space. Really, it was no big deal.”

“Hey, Kel, come over here, would you?” Josh patted a spot on the bed. “What about this leaving thing?”

Kelly went over and sat on the edge of the bed making sure to keep her head down so Josh couldn’t read her expression. “Look, I’m not going to stay at your apartment once you’re home – I don’t think it’s big enough for both of us. I’m certainly not staying in that hellhole Sam calls an apartment, and I hate hotels. It’s time for me to go home – I have a show in a couple of months and I’m way behind.”

It was a running joke that for them Sam’s apartment was a vision of hell – neat, orderly, and everything in its proper place. But this time, the laughing wasn’t there with the joke. She sounded serious. Josh reached up and pulled off the baseball cap she was wearing and tossed it on the chair, and then put a hand under her chin to tilt her eyes to meet his. “Kel, what’ s wrong with you?”

“What makes you think something’s wrong?” she said as steadily as she could manage.

Josh looked at her incredulously, “You’re kidding, right? Something between you and Sam is – well – off, and neither of you is talking. You’ve stayed at my apartment – with me – at least a dozen times, and there’s never been a problem. In fact, most times you come to DC, you stay with me because you can’t stand staying at Sam’s. And, for as long as I’ve known you, you have never, and I mean never, been behind for a show. Hell, the paintings are probably already at the gallery. You’re running, and I want to know why.”

“Josh, I’m tired. I want to go home. You don’t need me anymore, and it is going to be *very* difficult for me to keep my presence here quiet with people coming and going from your apartment all the time.” Kelly didn’t bother to point out the number of times that she’d been to Washington and Josh never even knew. Or the number of times that she’d stayed with someone who didn’t have White House ties at all.

“So? I’ll tell everyone but Donna to stay away. I need you to stay, Kel – please.” Josh combined pleading with pathetic and hoped it would work.

“Begging is so not you, Josh,” Kel laughed, but the laughter didn’t reach her eyes.

“But you’ll do it?” Josh said with hope in his voice.

“For as long as I can, Josh. Put Donna on the case, she’ll keep everyone away. Now, go to sleep,” Kel said as she moved off the bed and onto “her” chair.

***The Next Morning***

Donna arrived early, as usual, carrying coffee for Kelly. She had so far been successful in her mission not to be discovered delivering coffee to anyone, but she knew she was going to get busted eventually. Kelly was asleep in the chair next to Josh’s bed when she entered Josh’s room, but she felt the brown eyes on her and knew she was in for it. She didn’t expect though that Josh’s concern for Kelly would outweigh his interest in harassing her.

Josh put a finger to his lips to indicate that he wanted her to be quiet and then motioned for her to come close to the bed. He whispered, “I don’t think Kel has slept this much in days. I want to let her sleep for as long as we can.”

“Awww, Josh. This is a side of you I haven’t seen before.” Donna grinned at him as she set Kelly’s coffee down. “But I should warn you that Toby was planning to be here first thing this morning.”

“Shit. Can you manage to head him off and tell him – something? I’m sleeping late -- anything – Kel will be on the first plane out of here if she has to deal with Toby,” Josh pleaded, and then added, “Oh and Donna, when I go home, can you come up with some way to keep everybody away from my apartment?”

“Consider it done, Josh. Both things. Now I’m going to go head off Toby and let the two of you rest.” Donna blew Josh a kiss as she left the room. And thus was born the legend that was Donna and her rules.

***Approximately one month later***

Kelly was sitting in the middle of Josh’s living room floor with a sketchpad balanced on her knees when he came out of his bedroom. She had pencils scattered on the floor around her and she was completely unaware of Josh standing in the doorway watching her. Every few seconds, she would add something to the page and then switch pencils to add something else. Josh had never really had the opportunity to watch her work before, and this past month had been quite enlightening. He learned quickly that disturbing her when she was in the middle of something was one of the most dangerous things he could do – the pencil marks on the wall from where she’d missed him stood as testimony to that truth. He stood quietly -- patiently even -- until she looked up and saw him.

“How long have you been standing there this time, Josh?” Kelly asked, barely hiding the exasperation in her voice.

“Not long. Hungry?”

“Is that an offer or a request? Let’s not forget the chicken soup fiasco of last week.” Kelly grinned at him. Josh grinned back – he’d never known anyone who could actually ruin chicken soup from a can, but Kelly had managed it.

“Half offer, half request. Come help me and I’ll feed you.” Josh wasn’t much of a cook either, but he managed not to starve to death. He couldn’t imagine how Kelly would survive without Sarah looking after her.

Kelly watched Josh as he moved around the kitchen collecting various things to make she really wasn’t sure what, and noted, with some satisfaction, that he seemed to be doing better. He was starting to plague people at the office and he didn’t seem to be in as much pain as he had been when he first came home. She was hoping that he was reaching the point where he wouldn’t panic when she suggested it was time for her to go home.

Josh studied Kelly as they ate breakfast – well, he ate it; she picked at it. If he didn’t force her to sit and eat with him, he was entirely convinced that she wouldn’t. She was still barely sleeping, and she hadn’t spoken to Sam in weeks. Josh was getting restless; he wanted to see his friends and he wanted to spend some time with Sam, and as he saw it only Kelly’s stubborn insistence on privacy was standing in his way. “Kel, you know I have some really cool friends, and I think you would really, really enjoy them if you’d take the time to meet them. I just don’t get why you don’t want to meet Toby and CJ. I also don’t understand why Sam isn’t coming over.”

“I’m not discussing Sam with you.” Kelly said her eyes flashing angrily. She paused, shook her head, then said, “You don’t understand why I’m not more interested in meeting your friends? You can’t be serious, can you? You are the political guy, right? I haven’t mixed you up with someone who is incredibly naïve about the media and other such things, have I?”

When Kelly paused for breath in her tirade, Josh jumped at the chance to get a word in. “I just don’t understand what you think the danger is.”

“Let’s take it slow then. What is the political upside for your guy if I suddenly am ‘involved’ with the majority of his staff?”

“Maybe it’s just the effects of the trauma I’ve been through recently, but I still don’t get it.”

“Okay, who am I?”

“Kel. That’s an easy one.”

“No Josh. In the ‘public arena’ who am I?”

“Kelly O’Neal – painter.”

“Much as I hate to disillusion you, it isn’t that simple. I’m *that* Kelly O’Neal. To conflate my recent press: the ‘flamboyant,’ ‘ultra-liberal,’ ‘take no prisoners’ ‘wild child’ artist who ‘makes no explanations or apologies for who she is’. I know you don’t think that highly of my work –“

“Hey now, wait just a gosh darned minute. I’ve apologized a million times for that, and I do appreciate your work. Would I display one of your paintings in my living room if I didn’t think highly of your work?”

“About that. You should probably take it down or, at least, hang it somewhere a little less prominent. Someone, eventually, is going to wonder how you could afford that thing, and there isn’t an explanation you can give that won’t reveal your ties to me. My work garners a great deal of attention and respect in a lot of quarters. It’s just the artist who causes a problem,” she said with a casual shrug.

“I don’t understand. What is it that you think is so inherently dangerous about you, and why was it never an issue before?”

“You never worked for a person I actually liked before. As for what makes me ‘inherently’ dangerous, my politics are a bit too liberal, even for Bartlet -- especially for Bartlet -- and being seen with me could do so much more harm than good, and he is a good guy and he’s doing a good job – well, a better job than anyone else would do – and I would like to see him keep doing it. That being said, I don’t often agree with your ‘steer to the middle’ type of politics. And when you do something I don’t agree with, I don’t hesitate to say so.”

While Kelly was speaking, Josh had been working on what she had said about his not being able to afford the painting in his living room. “Kel, back up a second. I thought you said that painting wasn’t worth much – that the gallery had overpriced it.”

“I have a superb lawyer who worked it out so that I always dictate the prices of my work – at least initially. My paintings are worth what I say they are worth. So in your case, the painting is worth about what the paint and canvas cost – about a hundred bucks give or take. However, on the open market that painting is probably worth a thousand times that, or maybe more; I don’t try to guess what kind of nuttiness will happen these days at an auction. I don’t suppose you’ve got insurance, do you?” Kelly smiled as Josh’s mouth dropped open in utter shock.

“You mean I’ve got a painting that is possibly worth more than I make in a year hanging over my fireplace?” Josh was gesturing wildly in the general direction of the painting.

“Yup.” Kelly’s smile got even wider as she continued, “and believe me when I say that I sell most of my work for prices well above that these days. That painting was an early one so it was priced lower than anything I sell now.”

“Okay, I did not know that. And from your view, your political positions are way too far out there for us to comfortably explain away? To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I know any of your ‘political positions’; are you sure they’re that much of an issue.”

“You live in this hyper-insulated world you call DC. I live in California and sometimes New York, remember? Contrary to what you apparently think, I am extremely well known. This hair,” she said as she lifted it to make her point, “guarantees that I’ll stand out in a crowd and the rest of this, the whole lesbian – yes, Josh,” at his again shocked look, “I know the word, I just don’t generally use it unless I’m trying to make a point. As I was saying, the whole lesbian artist gig coupled with my generally, shall we say, fiery personality makes me an exceptionally well-known person both in and out of the art world. Hell, I usually get booked on Letterman when I’m in New York – are you beginning to get the picture?”

“How did I miss that?” Josh asked, his confusion evident in his voice.

“What? Letterman? Could it be your obsession with CNN and ESPN? I don’t see why you bother paying for the other channels, you never watch them.”

“Hey, I watch C-SPAN too,” Josh said in mock outrage, and then said slowly as he tried to work out this puzzle, “So what you’re saying is you have a great deal of political clout, but I don’t understand why we can’t exploit that.”

“Okay, I’m obviously not making myself clear. I say what I think, Josh. That means that when Bartlet – or any of you – do something I disagree with, I’m not shy about speaking up. I’m a favorite of Dave’s because I indulge in what he likes to call ‘Bartlet-bashing.’ And it would be my guess that as a result I am not on the top of Toby Ziegler’s most favorite people list,” Kelly chuckled softly.

“I don’t think Toby would even know who you are.”

“I’ll make you a deal. You call him and ask him, he says he doesn’t know who I am, and I will happily meet all of your friends. Hell, I’ll paint something for President Bartlet. But, he says he knows me or says anything negative about me, and you back off on this, deal?”

“Deal, but it sure sounds like I get off easy on this.”

“Hmmm, fine then. You also agree to let me go home.”

“Damn it, Kel. That isn’t fair, and you know it, how about I’ll, I don’t know, fund an art camp for underprivileged kids this summer or something.”

“Okay, okay. Can’t blame me for trying, can you? And so you know, you can’ t afford to fund an art camp, trust me. You can, however, volunteer to work at mine this summer – take some time and come help out. Now why don’t you go make your call – I’ll wait.” Kelly stretched back out on the floor with her sketchpad while she waited for Josh to make his call. He stayed in the room and indicated that he would put the call on speaker-phone so she could hear the whole exchange.

“Mmphh,” Toby said around a mouthful of sandwich.

“Damn good thing it’s someone you know, Toby,” Josh said, laughing.

“No one but someone I know would be able to direct-dial into my office, Joshua. What do you want?”

“Why do I have to want something? Couldn’t I just be calling to hear your voice? To have a few moments of meaningful conversation with one of my closest friends?”

“No,” Toby said sternly, “Now, what do you want? I have work here and a sandwich. I’d like to get back to both of them.”

“Fine. I was watching PBS, and I had an idea. What about inviting Kelly O’ Neal to the state dinner with France next month? She’s a major US artist, a party supporter, and you know how the French go nuts over painters.”

“Have you lost your mind?”

“I don’t think so. What’s the problem?”

“O’Neal is a political firestorm. I wouldn’t want that—that woman within a hundred miles of the president of either country. I’m going back to my sandwich now,” Toby said as he hung up the phone.

Kelly had her hand over her mouth as she laughed, “Well, at least he didn’t call me a bitch this time.”

“You knew. You let me call him and you already knew,” Josh was looking at her disbelievingly.

“I told you I wasn’t on his favorite persons list – what more did I have to say? No, you needed to hear it from the – excuse the expression – horse’s mouth.” Kelly smiled calmly, “Have I made my point?”

Josh was still studying her – feeling more shock than he had before. He chuckled quietly as he realized that Sam was right, he had truly underestimated her, and he was man enough to admit it. “Kel, you know, I’m sorry. I had no idea – I guess that wins me the stupid prize for the century. Why didn’t you just tell me?”

“Okay, and how would that conversation have gone? I know, over lunch one day, I could have just casually said, ‘Oh, by the way Josh – I’m not the starving artist you seem to think I am. Actually, I’m a world-famous artist and a ‘media personality’ with a reputation for bashing your bosses at the slightest provocation.’ Yeah, that might have done the trick,” Kelly said sarcastically, then more seriously, “I don’t like to talk about that part of it, and it was all sort of an accident anyway. A couple of influential people bought a couple of my early paintings and before I knew what was happening I was ‘in demand.’ I paint; I have fun – the money/fame thing lets me do the stuff I want to do, but Sarah, you and even Sam are so much more important. And you mean to tell me that the house wasn’t a major clue that you hadn’t gotten the whole picture?”

“You’re going to hate me, and you might even want to punch me when I say this – just remember I am recovering from a major injury before you react, okay?” Josh was eyeing Kelly warily. When she nodded, he continued, “I assumed that Sarah was the moneymaker of the family and you were, well, laboring in obscurity.”

“Well, thank you for your support, Joshua. I’ll treasure that always. I know Sarah will get a kick out of it – especially if you consider that the painting hanging on your wall is worth more than twice her salary for the year. The only well-paid ER doctors in this country are the actors who play ER docs on TV. I always thought that Sam was the clueless one; now I know why you work so well together – you’re both idiots.”

Josh decided to ignore the insult and instead focused on the opening she had just given him to bring up Sam. “Ah, speaking of Sam. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on between the two of you?”

Kelly turned her gaze back to her sketchpad as she muttered, “What makes you think something’s going on?”

Josh studied her thoughtfully for a second, and then dove in, “You know, Sam told me a long time ago that you aren’t always what you seem. He said that only a fool, or someone who doesn’t know you well, believes you are as strong – as uninhibited – as you appear to be. He said that you are much more complex than many people give you credit for being – I’m giving you that credit right now. I know there’s something going on between you and Sam – something that you are trying to keep from me. I can’t decide if you’ re keeping it from me because it involves me or because you think I’m too fragile still to deal with whatever it is. Either way, I want to know what’ s going on. So, spill it, Kel.”

Kelly kept her eyes focused on her sketchpad – absently adding details as she made some rather non-committal noises that Josh took to mean she wasn’t willing to confirm or deny what he had just said. When she realized he was staring, she said, “What do you want me to say, Josh?”

He stretched his hands and pressed them absently into the table as he said, “I want you to tell me what’s going on. I know I’m not Sam, but I want to help.”

“Leave it alone, Josh,” Kelly said as she pushed up off the floor, grabbed her sketchpad, and stalked out the room, thinking as she left, that she would actually have to murder Sam for this latest assault on her privacy.

Josh muttered as she was leaving, “Well, Lyman, that went well. I think you ’re losing your touch.”

****About three weeks later****

After their argument about his friends and Sam, Josh and Kelly had managed to live peaceably. Donna dropped by frequently, bringing movies, food, and gossip. Josh was starting to do some work by phone though he really wasn't ready to go to the office, and Kelly continued to spend a great deal of time with her sketchpad. She never let Josh get a glimpse of what she was working on, and he was almost dying of curiosity. She normally put it away when she was going to be out of the room for any period of time, but tonight she had left it out, and while she was doing the dinner dishes, Josh decided to take a peek and see what she was up to. He couldn't hide his surprise when he found a series of portraits - almost all of Sam, but there were a few of him as well.

Before he really thought about it, he called into the kitchen, "Hey, I didn't know you do portraits." He heard what sounded like a plate crashing to the floor and he knew before she rounded the corner into the dining room that she was furious, but he wasn't prepared for the pure rage that he'd only heard about but had never witnessed first hand.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she said, her voice literally shaking as she tried to control her anger.

Josh held his hands up in a rather lame effort to appease her. "I was just curious. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have looked."

Kelly didn't say anything – she just grabbed her sketchbook away from Josh and headed to the other room. Josh followed her and saw her throwing stuff into a bag. She looked at him, or rather through him, and said, "I'm going home -- now."

"You can't just walk out. I still need you."

"You *don't* need me anymore; you'll be back at work in no time. I actually do have a life and better things to do than babysit you."

"I'm not ready to go back to work. I get worn out sitting here looking at files."

"You weren't too tired to go through my private stuff."

"You left it out."

"Fuck that, Josh. You leave confidential crap all over this place. I haven't read any of it. It takes a small amount of will power. God, how did you ever get into a position of trust anyway?"

"Kel -"

"I'm serious, Josh. You have the impulse control of a three-year-old. No one touches my sketchbooks."

"I figured if you didn't want me to look at it, you'd put it away. You always have before."

"Three. You have to be three. That's the only answer." Kelly started to snicker as she continued to throw things in her bag. "The height's just a gag, right? I'm trapped in a movie or something with you, right?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about." As quickly as Kelly was stuffing things into her suitcase, Josh was pulling them back out. For a moment, even he had to admit there was something of a comedy being played out in his bedroom.

"That's right. CNN and ESPN. Never watched a movie in your life, did you, Josh?"

"The President favors the classics. You know, _Dial M for Murder_ -- that sort of thing."

"And somehow that doesn't surprise me."

"You can't leave now."

"Give me one good reason."

"Sam."

Kelly rolled her eyes. "I said a *good* reason, Josh."

"You'd actually leave without patching up whatever's wrong between you?" Josh could count on one hand the number of times Kelly and Sam had argued since he had met them, and he couldn't remember one time that it had continued for as long as this one had.

"In a word, yes. Doesn't concern you; hasn't concerned you; won't concern you."

"Okay, but you can't leave now."

"Again, give me a good reason."

"Because Sarah would kill me if I allowed you to head out there in this sort of mood. And you've put an awful lot of effort into my recovery to allow her to kill me now."

Kelly couldn't help it. She started to laugh. "You've got me there. She'd take whatever major body parts she could. Okay, I'll stay a couple of more days. But, Josh - what aren't you *ever* going to do again?"

"I'm never going to look in one of your sketchbooks without your expressed consent first."

"Two days, Josh," Kelly said as she wandered out to find a phone and start setting up flights and such to get her back to her own part of the world.

Josh sat on the edge of his bed and considered this new problem. He had assumed that if he kept her in DC long enough, she and Sam would make up. Now he had two days. How was he going to fix this in two days?

****** While Kelly finished her packing the night before she was going to leave, Josh finally did the only thing he knew he could do to fix things for his two closest friends; he called Sam.

"Seaborn."

"Sam - it's Josh. I need you to come over," Josh said in as close to a commanding voice as he could.

Sam sighed, "Kel has made it *very* clear that she doesn't want me there. Unless she's gone, I'm not straying into her territory."

"It's my territory, not hers."

"If you want to believe that's true, I suppose you can. So she's still here then?"

"I screwed up, and I need your help to fix it."

"I'm not your best choice right now. She's not talking to me, remember?"

"She won't talk to me either, and I don't know what to do. You've got to come help me. She's threatening to leave tomorrow, and I've never seen her like this," Josh was talking so fast that Sam couldn't get a word in.

"What did you do?"

"I was looking in her sketchbook and I found some portraits -"

"Portraits? She's doing portraits? But she doesn't - shit. You went in her sketchbook? Damn it Josh, even I don't do that." Sam was trying to process this information and formulate a plan as he said, "Okay, look. I'll be over as soon as I can. Don't let her leave the apartment, okay?"

"Sure and thanks."

"Don't thank me - I can fix it, but it's going to be ugly and will probably be loud." Sam spared the briefest glance into Toby's office as he headed out. Toby wasn't there, so Sam simply told Ginger that he was leaving the office and he didn't know when he'd be back.

Keeping Kelly in the apartment was going to be easy, since she wasn't nearly as upset now as she had been two days ago, but Josh was preoccupied with thoughts of how to make this plan of his work out for the best. The only logical course of action he could come up with was to make sure the door to his bedroom closed behind them - thank god he'd forgotten to get the super to fix the lock -- and force them to talk out whatever was wrong. Then everything would be as close to back to normal as it probably ever would be.

His thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door and he moved quickly so that Kelly didn't notice before he managed to get Sam into the room with her. "Thanks for coming so fast. She's still in there and I don't know what's wrong. I don't think what I did could have caused all of this."

Sam eased his way into Josh's bedroom, wariness clear on his face. When she was at her best, Kelly was unpredictable; upset, she could be completely out of control. He barely acknowledged the door closing behind him as he considered the woman in front of him. She didn't appear to be as upset as Josh had indicated she was. Something wasn't right here.

"What are you doing here?" Kelly said flatly.

"Josh called. He said you were upset and that he needed help --- that you needed help." Even as he said it, Sam realized that he had been played by the master.

"Just go away, Sam. The last, absolute last, thing I need is you."

"You know what - I don't believe you. I think I'm exactly what you need right now," Sam said quietly.

"I'm going home tomorrow. We don't have anything to talk about now. Later. Sometime later."

"I hear you've been doing portraits. Want to tell me who?"

"None of your god damned business," Kelly said, her voice rising as her anger started to get the better of her. "You haven't been here before; I don't need you now. I'm going back to California where I belong. Josh is better now and he doesn't need me any more. And I'm just not ready to deal with you yet."

"Running away? You?" Sam laughed derisively. "I never thought I'd see the day -"

Kelly whirled back around, and said, "I'm not running away."

"The hell you aren't. You're angry - and instead of dealing with me, you're going to run. I never thought you'd turn out to be the real chicken shit of this group." Sam knew he was poking an already irritated bear, but if he could get her to start pouring this out, he might be able to help her with what was bothering her.

"*You*," she said poking him in the chest, "are calling *me* a coward? You, who were too afraid to go to the hospital? You, who have never voiced your true feelings about another person for as long as I've known you? You have the nerve - the gall - to call me a coward? Just who the hell do you think you are?"

"You know what, Kel. I was sixteen - sometime, someday, you are going to have to forgive me for that. And I have voiced my true feelings for someone; you know how I feel about you. I'm mad as hell right now, but I still love you. I've always loved you and I always will. You've been my best friend, my confidante, my counselor, and my sounding board. I'm your best friend - I think I'm the only person ever who has managed to get close to you, and who truly understands you. Even S doesn't know you the way I do."

"She's never abandoned me," Kelly said more quietly.

"Damn it, Kel. I don't know what you're talking about. When have I ever abandoned you?" Sam was completely bewildered.

"When things get bad - when it's ugly, you aren't there. You only want to be around when things are neat and clean," Kelly said, replaying a part of their earlier argument. "How am I supposed to count on you when I know that if the chips are down you're going to vanish too?"

"That's what you said before, it wasn't true then and it isn't true now. If it were true, I wouldn't be here. Josh called and told me he'd screwed up. I could have let you leave and let S deal with this, but I didn't. I'm here and I'm handling it - and you," Sam said quietly.

"So what is true?" Kelly asked. "The last time I checked, you wouldn't go to the hospital when Josh and I needed you to."

"What's true is that I underestimated the toll that this was all taking on you. I didn't realize how completely undone you were. I'm used to letting you be the one who does the hard stuff, but that wasn't why I couldn't, or wouldn't, go to the hospital with you or for you," Sam said reluctantly.

Kel looked at him closely, "Sam? What was it? Tell me."

"I - I almost lost him," Sam said, his voice breaking, "and - and I couldn't go into that hospital and see him hooked up to all those machines and realize that I could still lose him, and that I still couldn't tell him how I felt. Then you came, and you gave me an out and I grabbed it. But it wasn't like before, I swear it wasn't."

She giggled softly, "If I hadn't already cried myself dry in the last couple of days, I'd probably be sobbing again. As it is, I think I owe you an apology. I just thought it was like before and I didn't give you a chance to explain, so I'm sorry."

"Your temper got the better of you - it happens. You were exhausted and I certainly didn't help matters any. I should have been more help with Josh and for that I'm sorry. So, are we friends again?"

"I think so - if you want."

"Yeah," he pulled her into a hug. He shook his head but couldn't help but smile back, "So, here's what's going to happen now. I'm taking you back to my place to feed you and get you settled in. Then I'll come back here and stay with Josh.”

“Sar’s expecting me home tomorrow,” Kelly informed him.

After I get you built back up a bit, you're going to tell me about the portraits you've been doing, and *then* I'm going to send you home to S. Any earlier and she’ll have my hide." At her sound of protest, he added, "Kel, it's time for me to step up to the plate. You've done your part, now let me do mine, okay?"

She nodded reluctantly, and then said, "About the portraits, you know I don't usually -"

"Shhhh," he said soothingly, "I know, not your usual thing."

"Yeah, so I'm really not ready to show-"

"Again, no problem. But when you're ready?"

"Canvas? After you take care of that thing we've been talking about?" Kelly was more aware now that she was in Josh's bedroom and that to be more specific when he could be lurking in the hall would be embarrassing for everybody. But she knew that Sam would know that she meant a long overdue conversation, and now she knew, thanks to her being here during this long ordeal, that Sam wasn't facing the outright rejection or loss of his friend that he was expecting.

"Agreed. Now, let's see if we can get Josh to open the door and let us out of here." Sam laughed at her surprised expression and said, "I seem to remember that this lock is broken. His way of trying to make us friends again, I guess."

"I suppose the nice thing to do is let him think it worked, huh?" Kelly considered the situation for a moment longer and got the first glimmer of her plan to bring Sam and Josh together. All that she lacked now was the perfect time, but she knew it would come - it always did.

END

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