TITLE: I Don’t Believe in Cheese Nips
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
DATE: October 30, 2002
ARCHIVE: Anywhere & everywhere. Just tell me where.
DISCLAIMER: Aaron Sorkin, John Wells Productions, &, yes, NBC own & profit from them. Not me.
SUMMARY: “Josh. Seriously. I don’t believe in ghosts. *You* don’t believe in ghosts. We’ll be fine.”
NOTES: For Bren, who challenged us to write more J/S. And, specifically, to do it for Halloween.
I Don’t Believe in Cheese Nips by Julian Lee
Josh plunked himself down in Sam’s visitors’ chair with a dejected sigh and propped his right ankle on his left knee.
Sam looked up from his report and chuckled. “Didn’t go so well?”
“Shot down cold.” He shook his head and examined the toe of his right loafer. “She doesn’t want me back.”
“She’s playing hard to get.” Sam turned a page in his report.
Groaning, Josh buried his head in his hands. “I don’t know what to do now.”
One of Sam’s eyebrows went up. “Josh Lyman has no next move?”
“I had plenty. But they were all contingent on...”
“On Amy saying yes.”
“Ouch.” Sam’s mouth twisted sympathetically. In the dim light of his desk lamp, it looked slightly macabre.
“Yeah.” Josh pressed the heels of his hands against his temples. “So. Listen.”
“Hear me out, Sam.”
“Josh, I won’t I can’t keep being your fallback plan.”
“It’s not—“ Josh blew out a frustrated breath. “You’re not - I have the cabin. I made the arrangements. I bought the...gear.”
“The ‘gear’?” The voice was heavily tinged with amusement.
“I didn’t grow up in the Swiss Family Robinson, Sam; I bought the stuff Chris told me to, and I didn’t question what it...is. Or does.”
Sam chuckled. “All right. Fair enough. I’m still not going.”
“Come *on,*” Josh whined. “It won’t be any fun alone.”
“So take Joey. Or Donna. Or hey, Mallory’s just kinda bumming around that weekend—“
“*Please.*” Very pathetic.
As usual, very pathetic was the one weapon of Josh’s that Sam couldn’t combat. He sighed and wondered when he was going to grow out of his Josh phase. “When do we leave?”
Josh grinned and jumped out of the chair. “Saturday at seven.”
“In the *morning*?”
With a laugh, Josh crossed to the door. “I promise you we’re gonna have a *blast.*”
Sam shook his head and went back to his report. “I’m terrified,” he muttered.
Josh stuck his head back in the office. “There’s, ah, there’s just one...*little* thing.”
“Of course there is,” Sam said under his breath. Louder, “What’s up?”
Josh scratched the back of his neck and looked sheepish. “Well, it’s just, um. One of the reasons Amy said no.”
“Yes?” Sam blinked up at him and waited.
“She claims the cabin’s haunted.”
Sam’s hands stilled above the page. “She haunted? Like, by ghosts?”
Josh snorted. “No, Sam; by Cheese Nips.”
“Well, there’s no need to be an ass about it.”
“She says Chris’s great-great-more-greats grandmother was killed there and now refuses to go away.”
“Josh. Seriously. I don’t believe in ghosts. *You* don’t believe in ghosts. We’ll be fine.”
“Yeah.” Josh nodded. “Yeah. Absolutely. We’ll be fine.” He walked back towards his office.
Sam sighed and rubbed his eyes. “If I don’t kill him.”
As Josh put the car in park and cut the engine, a sharp hiss escaped his lips. “Well, shit,” he murmured.
Sam’s sentiments exactly.
When Josh said that Chris Wick’s family owned a cabin in rural Massachusetts, Sam had anticipated, oddly enough, a *cabin.* What faced them now was a baby castle that had gotten separated from its mommy. It had a turret. It had an enormous deck off the side. It had dormer windows on the second floor. It had a second floor.
“So,” Sam said finally.
“Yes,” Josh agreed, nodding.
“Chris’s family’s a little bit rich, huh?”
“I am calculating, in my head, every dollar I spotted him for pizza and beer when we were in college. As soon as we get back to Washington, I’m demanding it back at...do you think fifty percent quarterly interest is high enough?”
Sam laughed and opened the back door, pulling out his overnight bag and one of the bags of groceries Josh had picked up in the last town they passed. Sam had stood outside the store with his cell phone squashed against his ear, watching his breath spiral away from his face and assuring Toby that the Communications department was not going to collapse because he hadn’t brought his laptop to Massachusetts.
The kitchen was right inside the door. Sam put the grocery bag on the counter and wandered into the living room, where he stalled out, staring in dumb awe. The room was rustic in the way that only the ludicrously rich can pull off. Thick cream carpeting supported ponderous brown leather couches and a pair of leather armchairs so overstuffed they were almost obscene. An enormous fireplace was surrounded by every fireplace gadget imaginable and a few that weren’t. Photographs of generations of Wicks surrounded by generations of world leaders cluttered the mantel. Uncurtained glass doors led to the deck and its commanding view of the lake. And on the wall across from the fireplace—
“That’s a moose head,” Josh said, scratching his head. “Huh.”
“That’s kind of what it looks like, yeah.” They contemplated the trophy, and Sam walked towards the stairs. “How many bedrooms in this place?”
Josh scrunched his face up. “Uh, four, I think.”
Sam paused, his foot hovering above the first step. “And you didn’t guess from that fact that the place was, maybe, a little more than your average back-woods getaway?” He started climbing.
Josh shrugged apologetically. “I wasn’t paying much attention to that. I thought I’d only be needing one bedroom; the others didn’t interest me.”
“Right.” Sam shook his head. “Listen, Josh, I know you’re upset about the current status of the Amy situation, but I’m not about to spend my weekend holding your hand while you sigh heavily and compose sonnets to her beauty, okay?”
“Well, I really don’t think hers is a sonnet kind of beauty, but, um...” Josh crossed the room and stood next to the stairwell, looking up at Sam. “I *am* upset about Amy; there’s no denying that. But this weekend isn’t about her anymore. It’s about us.”
“Us.” Sam’s hand tightened around the railing.
“Sure.” Josh gestured expansively. “Two old friends in an old cabinesque house, kind of roughing it and getting back to nature. Or at least to watching nature through that really cool window.”
Sam eased up on the railing. “Right. Us.”
“Josh!” Sam peered into the sacks on the counter. “You bought an entire grocery bag full of Cheese Nips? This is your idea of what was it you said? ‘a well-stocked larder’?”
“It’s not like that’s *all* I bought,” Josh countered, hopping up on the counter. “There’s bread, and pasta, and possibly produce of some sort, in the other bags. And Cheese Nips are a gift from the gods.”
“Man cannot live by Cheese Nips alone, Josh.”
Josh tossed Sam a banana from the far bag, hooking his hand around the counter’s edge to keep upright. “By choosing to call Toby rather than coming into the store with me, you forfeited your right to say anything about anything I chose to buy.”
Sam regarded Josh for a long, hard minute. “It’s going to be a *really* long weekend, isn’t it?” he asked around a mouthful of banana.
But by the time sunset draped the western sky in breathtakingly violent swaths of orange and pink, Sam had decided that it might not be so bad. They’d taken a two-hour ramble through the woods, exploring the boundaries of the Wick family’s land and they were *large* boundaries indeed. Josh, it turned out, had bought plenty of non-Cheese Nip food and made a dinner that should have been absurd in the middle of the wilderness but seemed modest in this house. Sam got a fire going in the fireplace.
Darkness found them sitting beside each other on the couch, staring into the flames, an open box of Cheese Nips between them.
“I wish I’d remembered to buy marshmallows,” Josh said.
Sam nodded. “I miss camping out.”
“You did it a lot?”
“I was a Boy Scout.”
Josh laughed and popped a handful of crackers into his mouth. “I always forget that. It doesn’t seem like a California thing to do. Not...cutting edge enough.” He grinned. “Unless there was a badge for creative campfire tofu recipes.”
Sam snorted. “Someday, Josh, somebody should force you to live in California for a while, so you can see how *wrong* you are about us.” He stretched his feet closer to the fire. “There was one kid...Seth, I think...yeah Seth Havens and he told the most amazing ghost stories.”
Josh shifted towards the fire. “Yeah?”
Sam’s head dropped onto the back of the couch and his eyes fell shut. “Yeah. I remember this one where—“
He looked at Josh, whose voice had broken a bit on his name. “What’s wrong?” Josh’s eyes looked darker than usual.
“No ghost stories.” He glanced around the shadowy recesses created by the firelight. “Please.”
“Hey.” Sam leaned closer and put his hand on Josh’s shoulder. “There are no ghosts here, Josh.”
“I know. I mean, intellectually, I *know.*” He sighed. “But Amy’s not superstitious, and the way she was talking about this place very much creeped me out.”
Sam tried a smile. “It *is* her ex-boyfriend’s family cabin. Maybe she meant the ghosts of bad memories. Metaphorical ghosts.”
Josh shook his head. “She specifically mentioned a dead grandmother. So unless she meant a metaphorical grandmother, or the woman’s only metaphorically dead, these are actual, non-metaphorical ghosts.”
Sam pulled his hand away and rubbed his eyes. “Only, we don’t believe in ghosts.”
“No.” Josh blew out a sharp breath. “I guess we don’t.”
“And, hey, we know more impressive dead people than Chris Wick if any of his ghosts tried anything, we’d sic Simon and Mrs Landingham on ‘em.”
Josh laughed softly.
Sam took a minute to study his friend by firelight. “You look exhausted.”
“I always look exhausted.” He smiled wanly. “It’s part of my dastardly plan to get Amy back.”
“I don’t think it’s going to work.” Sam grabbed a cracker from the box and twirled it between his thumb and index finger.
Josh shrugged. “It’s the sympathy card. I’m not above playing it.”
“You’re not above much of anything when it comes to her.” Sam stared into the fire.
“I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m only trying to win her back because I’m too stubborn to admit the relationship is dead.”
Sam stood and looked down at Josh. “Well, I wish someone would pursue *me* as single-mindedly as you’re pursuing Amy. I hope she appreciates it.”
Josh’s smile was almost shy. “Thanks, Sam. You going to bed?”
He nodded. “You?”
Josh looked at the dying fire for a minute, then back up at Sam. “Nah. I’m going to stay here for a while. With my Cheese Nips.”
Sam laughed. “Okay. Want to get up in the morning and go for another walk? We didn’t make it very far East.”
“All right, but not too early.” Josh stretched. “If I’m walking into the sunrise, I’m going to be very upset.”
“Okay.” He was grinning as he started up the stairs. “Night, Josh.”
The house was old. Old houses make old-house noises. Sam had grown up in an oldish house, and he thought Josh had, too. As each bizarre sound floated to him, Sam catalogued it and then dismissed it, going back to the surprisingly difficult business of getting to sleep.
Bad insulation in the attic.
Branch against the window.
Josh at his door.
Sam peered blearily at the travel alarm clock beside his bed. 2:17. He crawled out of bed, getting his legs tangled in the blanket and nearly sending himself sprawling. “What’s going on, Josh?” he asked once he’d won his skirmish against the doorknob.
Josh shifted from one foot to the other, looking adorably sheepish in his ragged blue sweats and Rock the Vote t-shirt, carrying his pillow and what looked like every last one of the blankets that had been piled at the end of his bed. “I’m so sorry.”
“For *what*?” Sam’s eyes narrowed.
“I can’t sleep.”
“The house isn’t haunted, Josh.”
Josh looked at the floor. “I know. You keep saying that, and I Halloween was Thursday, and this time of year—“
Josh’s eyes came up to meet his, and Sam took half a step backwards. The brown eyes were almost black with something small and scared, and for a minute Josh looked like a freaked out nine-year-old kid. Sam put his hand out, and Josh flinched. Frowning, Sam stepped back and waved into the room. “Come in.”
Josh walked into the room, sagging with relief. “Thank you, Sam. I feel like a total idiot, but—“ Sam waited for him to finish, but he was focused on arranging bedding on the floor. As Josh settled into the impromptu bed, Sam shook his head and climbed back beneath his own covers.
Josh was lying on his floor having a meltdown. There was no longer a question of sleep.
Josh sat up. “Did you hear that? Sam? Did you hear that?”
“Okay, but if we’re both in here, *who the hell is making the floorboards creak?*”
Sam tucked the coverlet under his chin. “The wind, Josh. It’s an old house.”
“An old house with old ghosts,” Josh muttered, just loud enough for Sam to hear.
This *couldn’t* go on all night. “What’s wrong, Josh?”
Josh was silent for so long that Sam began to think he’d fallen asleep, despite his panic. Then he said, more quietly than before, “I was twelve.” Sam rolled onto his side and propped himself on his elbow. “It was this time of year, around Halloween. I was doing a school report on the Days of the Dead, so it was on my mind a lot.” He paused, and Sam could just make out the almost convulsive working of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed repeatedly. “My dad had he’d been out with some friends, and I think it must’ve been those big, old tires on the gravel. I’d been really deep, that kind of sleep you feel like you can’t get out of? And the sound woke me up, and I opened my eyes just as the light from his headlamps was crossing my wall. It only lasted for a second, but for that instant...”
Sam could hear every miniscule whoosh of the wind in the silence that followed. “For that instant, what?” he asked softly.
Josh cleared his throat. “I would’ve sworn Joanie was standing at the end of my bed.”
Sam’s hand clenched around the coverlet. His brain whirled, and he tried to come up with something - *anything* - to say to this scarred man. “Josh?”
“I know. It’s—“
“You can’t be comfortable down there.” He flipped back the covers.
Josh stared at the ceiling for a moment longer, then he sighed gratefully and scrambled to his feet, clutching his pillow. He slid beneath the covers and lay facing Sam, some small measure of his fear beginning to fade. “Thank you, Sam.”
Nothing more would be said about it.
Some indeterminable amount of time later, the weight of an intense gaze woke Sam. He didn’t bother opening his eyes. “Go to sleep, Josh.” The gaze didn’t waver, and soon a finger joined it, tracing down the side of Sam’s face. He cracked his eyes open slightly and immediately shut them again.
Who needed ghosts when they had Josh Lyman looking at them like that?
“Don’t do that, Josh.”
“It’s been a really long time since we were in a bed together.” Josh took his finger away.
“Oh, boy, let’s not do this.” A chunk of hair had fallen into Sam’s eyes in his sleep, and he tried ineffectually to blow it aside.
“I’ve missed you.”
“All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.”
“I’ve *missed* you,” Josh repeated insistently. “I’m not afraid of ghosts when you’re with me.”
Sam opened his eyes and forced himself to look at Josh. Josh’s eyes looked impossibly large in the moonlight, his face impossibly earnest. “You’re in love with Amy.”
“I think I only *think* I’m in love with Amy.”
“The distinction means very little to me, Josh. We’re not doing this,” he said firmly.
Sam’s jaw clenched for a moment. Then he looked at Josh again. “Because it’s four in the morning, and you’re scared. In the morning, the sun will come up. The ghosts will turn back into floorboards and badly fitting windows and big trees. You’ll remember that you love Amy, and this will all have been a big mistake. And I can’t do that again.”
“You think so?”
Sam ran a hand over his face. “If I’m still wrong in the morning, Josh, come talk to me.”
“I will.” Josh flashed a grin at Sam and curled up in the blankets. He was out in two minutes.
And if Josh had been afraid of the dark before, now Sam was terrified of daybreak.
Gentle fingers stroking through his hair brought Sam out of an odd dream about Simon, Mrs Landingham, and Cheese Nips. For a minute he allowed it, allowed himself to lean slightly up into the touch. Then his eyes opened slowly, reluctantly. “Josh—“
“Good morning, Sam,” Josh said softly. His eyes danced in the early morning sunlight and a smile twitched the corners of his mouth. “You’re still wrong.”
Sam shook his head. “What?”
“You told me to tell you, in the morning, if you were still wrong.” He pulled his hand from Sam’s hair and propped his head on his palm. “The sun came up. The ghosts turned back into floorboards and windows and trees. And it turns out I’m not in love with Amy.”
“When did you decide this?”
“During the past fifteen minutes, while I’ve been watching you sleep.”
“You’ve been—“ How had Josh been staring at him for fifteen minutes without him being aware of it? “Josh, one night - fully dressed - in the same bed isn’t enough to counteract your relationship with Amy, or your feelings for her.”
Josh’s free hand rested on the blankets over Sam’s hip. “We broke up. I’m enjoying this weekend with you. I *slept* last night. Do you know how long it’s been since I felt safe enough, comfortable enough, to really sleep?”
“Do you not want this, Sam?” Josh’s stare bored into him. “Say you don’t want us back and I won’t say another word about it.”
“You know it’s not as easy as that, Josh. You *know* that.”
Josh nodded solemnly. “I do know. But we’ve done harder things. We’ve done things that should’ve been impossible. We’ve done *this.*”
In so many ways, nothing was more impossible than this. But the sun was shining, and he could feel the heat radiating off of Josh, and sometimes he just had to say “Screw it,” and allow himself to hope.
Leaning forward, he pressed his lips against Josh’s. Josh sighed and returned the kiss, more insistently. Sam moaned softly, and Josh thrust his tongue into Sam’s mouth, teasing at every corner. “Josh, I don’t think we should—“
Josh cut him off. “Yes, we should.” And to prove it, he pressed his hips forward, and Sam groaned again, louder.
“Shhh. Let me do this for us.” Josh’s hand slipped down the front of Sam’s sweats, and Sam bucked helplessly as long fingers wrapped around his rapidly hardening cock and set a maddeningly slow rhythm.
“Josh, I have to I need—“
“What? Whatever you need, Sam.” Josh’s eyes were glazed but earnest. Sam swatted impatiently at the waistband of Josh’s sweatpants. Josh lifted his hips slightly, and the pants went puddling around his knees. Somehow, while all of that was going on, Josh had shoved Sam’s pants down, too, and he hauled Sam in by the ass so their cocks brushed against each other with an electrical jolt that traveled all the way down Sam’s spine.
“Josh!” Sam hissed and pressed desperately against Josh, who soothed him with a warm hand on his back. When Sam’s eyes stopped looking spooked, the hand disappeared from his back and grasped both of their erections. Sam dropped his own hand and tangled his fingers with Josh’s, increasing the pressure. He knew Josh was staring at him as their hands started to move; he knew Josh wanted to see his eyes, but he couldn’t look away from their entwined fingers, gripped so tightly he couldn’t tell where either hand became the other.
They were strangely silent. The pressure built quickly, and Sam finally raised his eyes so he could see the moment Josh lost control. The wild, animal look in Josh’s brown eyes sparked something in Sam, and he came without warning, making the low keening sound that only Josh could pull from him. Josh wasn’t far behind, his body freezing for a split second before his hand sped up until it was almost a blur, and he shouted Sam’s name hoarsely.
They stared at each other in the early morning light, eyes wide as they waited for their breathing to slow. Sam lifted his free hand to Josh’s chest and pressed his fingers against the beat there, too fast but reassuringly strong. Josh raised their still-joined fingers and carefully licked them clean, sending another shiver racing through Sam.
And then Sam started laughing.
Josh pouted. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had anybody laugh at me in bed.”
Sam shook his head helplessly. “It’s not oh, God, Josh, what have we done?”
Josh shrugged one shoulder. “Fixed a mistake we made a long time ago?”
“I hope you’re right. I really hope you’re right.” He stopped laughing and pressed his hand harder against Josh’s chest, leaning close and staring into Josh’s eyes. “Don’t make me regret this, Josh.”
Josh shook his head. “Never.”
It was a lie. Or, rather, it wasn’t something Josh could really promise. They both knew it, but for now Sam was willing to let it slide. After all, if the truth was what had kept them apart all these years, he could close his eyes, and kiss Josh, and swallow the lie for a while.
Freeing his hand from Josh’s, Sam fumbled under the covers and wriggled back into his sweatpants. “Still up for that walk?” he asked, sitting up.
Josh raised his arms over his head, and as his shirt stretched across his chest, Sam ran an appreciative eye over a body he’d been away from for far too long. “Sure.” Josh brought his hands down to his abdomen and looked out the window as Sam went into the bathroom to clean off. “But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the East, and Chris Wick’s vast woodland holdings is the Sun.” He put up his arm to shield his face from the towel Sam lobbed at him, but he was a little slow, and his muffled laugh emanated from beneath a mound of cotton.
“Take the first shower, Shakespeare; I’ll make breakfast.”
Josh hauled himself out of bed and crossed towards the bathroom. “Don’t bother making me anything but coffee.”
“Josh,” Sam chided, kissing him when their paths intersected halfway across the room, “if we’re going to wander around the woods all morning, you have to eat something.”
“I know.” Josh flashed his most disarming grin. “I’m having Cheese Nips.”
Sam laughed all the way to the kitchen.
Late that afternoon, after the “gear” was loaded into the car for the trip back to DC, Josh tossed a handful of Cheese Nips off the deck. He said they were for the birds. But Sam saw him, thinking himself unobserved, look towards the attic and mouth a heartfelt “Thank you,” and he knew better.
Josh was leaving a gift for the ghosts he didn’t really believe in. The ghosts that had brought them back together.
Like? Loathe? Send feedback & Cheese Nips to email@example.com
Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page