Title: Kiss the moon goodbye
Author: Abigale
Feedback email: abigalep@yahoo.com
Author's website: http://subtractions.homestead.com/
Pairing: Sam/Josh
Rating: R ­ NC-17
Archive: Yes to list archive
Series/sequel: No
Warnings: Angst
Disclaimer: All characters are the creation and property of Aaron Sorkin. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: What is most important to Sam, and what price is he willing to pay for it? (A love story.)

••••

Kiss the moon goodbye by Abigale

His lip was bleeding. When Josh noticed, the words wore a groove in his mind.

Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding.

It seemed so insignificant; a small, thinly drawn dribble of bright red, seeping out of the corner of his mouth. Lip distended slightly.

And then he saw the smudge of brooding skin grow darker by the second above a smooth cheek. Foggy blue eyes brimming with crystal clear tears, threatening to drip from thick lashes.

Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding. Sam is bleeding.

"Jesus Christ! Sam!" When he spoke; when he heard his own voice over the close sound of cars streaking along the D.C. street, Josh broke whatever spell had held him and he came to Sam's side instantaneously.

They were just supposed to be buying vegetables.

•••••

"Nowhere - Didn't see ­ They ­ "

"They?! Sam? More than one? How bad are you hurt?" Josh felt his chest contract, squeezing his heart. Breathless. He drew Sam to him, flinched at the evident wince that brought to the usually flawless face, now grubby and fragile.

A creeping sense of being watched brushed across the back of Josh's neck; the shadows closed in on him, his imagination sparked to life by the flame of fear.

While one hand clutched Sam's arm, Josh dug blindly into his suit jacket. The feel of the cold, sturdy phone dispelled some of his panic. Even holding the priceless connection to their brightly lit, ordered world, Josh couldn't bring his eyes away from Sam. He was afraid of what he'd find when he looked back.

A stumble, a crumble, and Sam was slumping against Josh, who was still fumbling with their lifeline.

"Here Sam, sit. Sit on the curb. Sit down. Sit." Josh shifted Sam's weight away from himself, knees crackling as he lowered him down. A small gasp of breath, a hiss of pain, and Josh cringed along with his charge.

"I'll call for help. Everything'll be okay." The platitude nearly caught in Josh's teeth. Sam hated platitudes, avoided them when he could, accepted them when he had no other choice. "Did they take the car? Sam?"

Head bowed deeply, eyes latched to the pavement. Tears falling freely into space.

"No." The raspy voice didn't belong to Sam. Not to sweet, sensible, cocky Sam. It belonged to someone home from a war. A survivor of brutality. It was sorrow; not Sam.

The top buttons on Josh's phone, the ones meant for fire or police, were programmed for the White House. It had never once before occurred to Josh that any other kind of emergency existed.

The emergency services operator asked for his address. All Josh knew was the name of the market. Probed for a location, he almost said 'the one Sam likes to get vegetables from,' but he heard the words in his head first, and managed to replace them with something more helpful at the last minute.

Someone came around the corner, a woman with a stroller. Squirmy baby peering over the top of a yellow blanket, big round baby-eyes locked on the top of Sam's still lowered head. Even an infant could see something was wrong here.

Waving off the mildly concerned, but mostly relieved mother, Josh put an arm around Sam's quaking shoulder, brushed his mouth over his ear. "They'll be here soon. Hang on."

"I'm not... going... anywhere...." Sam brought his head up slowly, the pain it caused etched into his waxy skin. He turned slightly, spit a fat glob of blood onto the curb beside him, a string of pale pink saliva growing long from his mouth.

Instinct steered Josh, and he mopped it away with the back of his hand, wiped it off on the leg of his own pants. "Sam. Tell me what happened." The sound of an approaching siren layered itself over Josh's words, and brought him to his feet. "Here they are," he said reassuringly. The bruise that grew more vivid by the minute told Josh that whoever 'they' were, they were already too late.

First one, then another white patrol car turned into view, coming to a gliding stop in front of the two men. More people, laden with grocery bags, began to appear, rounding the corner into the first section of the parking area. A few marched directly to the officers, most hung back, drawn and repelled by the flashing lights.

"EMS is on the way," one officer, wearing the name Franklin on his chest, told Josh, moving around him easily to stand in front of Sam. "How bad...?" His skin was dark and highly polished, and Josh had the ridiculous urge to run his hand over the perfectly smooth cheek.

"I don't know. He's...." Sam's bleeding. "I don't know what happened. It just happened." Josh and Sam were a team. When one found himself faltering, the other reached out a steadying hand. Josh was faltering now, but Sam's hands were buried in his hair.

"We came out of the store. He went around back to get the car. I ­ I waited here. With the bags. And he...." Josh looked down at Sam, thinking how strange it was that he remembered all this, when he thought nothing existed before the moment he saw the blood running from Sam's mouth. "He stumbled around the corner. And... that's all." That's all he knew.

"Sir?" Another police officer joined the first, a younger man, lighter skinned, and Josh wasn't tempted to touch him. "How bad are you injured?" Squatting beside Sam, his holstered gun jutted out from his hip.

Bringing his head up to look at the dark brown face towering above him, left eye beginning to squeeze shut above folds of puffy flesh, Sam started to struggle to his feet.

Josh lunged into place, urging Sam to sit, helping him to stand. "Hey, hey. Easy."

"That looks like the mark of a gun butt," the younger cop observed, reaching out tentative fingers towards the vivid bruise. "Sir? Did he have a weapon?"

Josh stared at Sam, looked hard at the area the other man was examining. Sam was bleeding. And there had been a gun.

"Yeah," Sam answered. "I... they had... one." His eyes cut guiltily to Josh, as if the mere word 'gun' would cause him to lose his grip.

"So there was more than one man?" The officers traded looks. Josh caught a silent
exchange of information before the older man continued. "Can you remember how many? Can you give us a description?"

The scratchy sound of walkie talkies squawked to life making Josh jump, and Sam recoil. The only words Josh could make out were 'suspects' and 'armed' and it was enough to tell him that he wanted to get Sam the hell away from this nightmare.

As another siren began filling the air, Sam cleared his throat and spit again. He barely missed Josh's shoe; the blood splattered near the sole of the highly polished wingtip.

"There were, maybe four? I saw... I know I saw three. Maybe there were... only three. I think there were four." Sam's voice sounded unfamiliar, like his tongue was swollen and strange in his mouth.

"Did they take your vehicle?" they wanted to know. "We'll need a description."

"No."

Again, the officers communicated their silent thoughts to one another, and it pricked at Josh's nerves.

As the ambulance slowed to the entrance of the parking lot, Josh stepped closer to Sam, too late to protect him from anything but his own unfocused fear. "It's okay, Sam. Everything's gonna be fine now."

Two paramedics in blazing white uniforms, stethoscopes flung around their necks like scarves, swung from the ambulance and dashed straight to Sam's side. Nudged away, Josh watched helplessly as they lowered Sam back to the curb, and began a quick examination, asking terse questions about his medical history.

Sam Seaborn. No allergies, no medications, no prior health issues. Between Josh's mechanical answers, one of the policemen asked for a description of Sam's car, and disappeared around the back of the store in search of it.

"I need some more information," another said to the paramedics, shouldering himself to stand directly before of Sam. "Did these men say anything to you, did they ask for money?"

"I don't know," Sam croaked. He peered at the officer over the wad of gauze the paramedic was using to dab at his cheek. "I don't... think... they...."

"Did you hit your head Mr. Seaborn?" the woman pumping the blood pressure cuff asked with alarm. "Do you know if you lost consciousness at any time?"

"No. I don't...."

"No." Josh's face registered his unease, eyes darting wildly from Sam to the faces of the two EMS workers. "There wasn't time. He was only gone for ­ I mean, it was only a few minutes." All of eternity.

"They'll want to get a head CT at the hospital to be safe. And it looks like your ribs. I don't think they're broken."

"Mr. Seaborn?"

Josh heard something in Franklin's voice; impatience, maybe.

"You don't think they said anything, or you don't recall what they said?" His small black notebook dwarfed in his massive hand, pencil poised above it waiting for Sam's words to fill in the page.

"I... can't... think." Sam attempted to shake his head, and Josh could almost feel the exploding stars detonating through his brain.

"Sarge?" The officer who had jogged away to find Sam's car returned, addressing Sam's interrogator. "I don't think this is what we thought," he announced. "I was sure I recognized you two." Looking sympathetically at Sam, then Josh. "They work for Bartlet. He has a White House sticker on his car. You're Lyman, right? And Seaborn."

Yes! Josh wanted to shout. I'm Lyman, he's Seaborn! And this is all a dreadful dream. Instead he nodded slowly, his mind now finding the first part of the young man's statement. 'I don't think it's what we thought.'

A sharp intake of breath from Sam, a quick apology from the paramedic; blue eyes blinking back tears, and that was all Josh could manage to think about again.

Until the policeman spoke once more. "They're not gay. They work for the President."

Sam's expression remained mired in pain, but Josh felt his own tremble and shift. He tried to remember how he arranged his face when he was the mighty Joshua Lyman, Deputy Chief of Staff. But only Josh, lover of Sam was present here; only a frightened, and aching man existed at this moment.

"Mr. Seaborn?"

Josh looked down to where Sam sat, devoured by the concern of the paramedics. He looked paler, shakier, and more dazed than he had just five minutes ago, and alarm bells jangled in Josh's head.

"Sir," Franklin was saying, his voice softened now to a kind rumble, like distant thunder. "Did they want the car? Was this a car-jacking, Mr. Seaborn?"

"I... don't..."

"We have to roll. He's getting shocky." The woman straightened quickly, expertly gathering up the detritus that had just moments ago spilled from her duffle bag. A gloved hand under Sam's arm, her partner coming to his feet on the other side. Josh stood watching strangers do what he could not.

"We're going to Washington Hospital Center." She spoke directly to Josh. Established firm eye contact with him. He should have felt reassured, but it made him nervous.

"That's, why there? He's not critical."

"It's close. They're slow right now. You'll be in and out in a couple of hours, barring any complications." The bells went down a notch.

A firm hand grasped Josh's shoulder as he watched Sam being led away. "You should ride with them," the young officer was telling him. "We'll need to check out the vehicle."

After nodding enthusiastically, Josh dove through the dwindling crowd, making it to the ambulance right beside Sam. Clambering inside, he sank back against the side of the rig, trying to stay as unobtrusive as possible while Sam was lowered onto, then loosely strapped to the gurney. As the doors slammed shut, Josh moved into place next to his lover, finding his hand under the stark white sheet.

Looking out the back window, Josh saw two bags of groceries spilled across the pavement; dazzling red peppers, bright yellow squash, intensely green kale, and he thought again, they were just supposed to be buying vegetables.

•••••

"Mr. Seaborn? Can you tell me how you got those injuries to your hands?"

Sam blinked at the police officer vacantly, then looked down at his dirty hands, scraped and bloody, his right one showing unmistakable signs of swelling around the knuckles.

"Sir? Did you try to resist?"

The cold bright lights of the exam room, and the warm hands of the doctor were sharp contrasts in Sam's mind.

"We always tell folks, no vehicle is worth their life. Just let 'em take it, let 'em go, and chances are, you'll be fine." The policeman and doctor clucked their tongues knowingly.

"I didn't even get my keys out," Sam said. "I didn't see them coming." As if these things explained what had happened to him in those timeless moments before the moments froze forever.

Looking through the glass wall across from the table on which he sat, Sam could see Josh, cowering against a bank of pay phones, receiver in hand, hanging limply at his side. He tried valiantly to will Josh's eyes towards him, but the man stood perfectly, carefully still, gaze fixed on the leg of a chair nearby. So far away, Sam was already forgetting what his touch felt like.

"The x-rays are clear. No head trauma, no fractures. A few cracked ribs." The doctor had already told Sam, then Josh this. She repeated it word for word for the officer's report, her voice a blissful monotone. "But those bruises." She shook her head compassionately. "Front and back. They'll be with him for a while."

In his hand, Sam clutched the single sheet of home care instructions a nurse had given him. He'd tried to listen; he was a good listener. But every word she said evaporated into the air in front of him as she spoke, and Sam was too sore to reach out and pull them back.

He asked for Josh, over and over. He told her to just tell it all to Josh. But she'd kept talking, told Sam it was important, and he had to pay attention. It was Sam's job to listen to urgent, important things all day; this was just one more.

They allowed Josh back to help him with his shirt.

"They're not taping your ribs?" Josh sounded disappointed, reluctant to button the shirt over bare skin. Sam's ubiquitous white undershirt lay drooped on a chair, forgotten by both men. Josh slowed his motions as if to draw out the moments he was allowed to be this close.

"No fractures, so...." Sam touched Josh's fingers briefly; it was all he needed to remember the other touches.

Sam saw the now familiar frame of Sergeant Franklin walking towards the cubicle, and he shifted his hands away from Josh.

"You indicated that you might recognize some of the men who attacked you. We'd like you to look at some photographs, Mr. Seaborn. Known carjackers, and the like."

Sam set his stare on the shiny shield pinned to the large man's chest. A badge of courage, and honor, and faith in a system and world that Sam no longer understood. He swallowed hard, willed his pulse to cease throbbing at his temple, so he might hear what Josh was saying.

"...impression you were surprised this was a carjacking. Why is that?"

"Well sir, our, uh, first impression of the crime was more in line with some other attacks we've had over the last four months or so. Close to that area, same m.o. Except in those cases, the victims were clearly targeted for their homosexuality. And there was no weapon involved."

"And you haven't been able to catch them?" Josh asked with some irritation.

"The victims, for the most part, were too badly injured to make any kind of identification."

Sam's eyes stung, and he tried to blink them, but couldn't control the one nearly swollen closed, and the other was still fixed firmly on the polished shield in front of him.

"I understand," Josh said sympathetically. And Sam thought, that's good. Josh understands, he can explain it to me; under layers of blankets, with CNN in the background, Josh can explain all this to me.

"Well, he's not going to the station tonight. If he's up for it, in the morning; but not now." Josh sounded startling like a lawyer, and this thought almost brought a smile to Sam's lips. "Morning is soon enough." Josh's declaration ended the conversation.

Moving slowly into the night, Josh drew Sam to a bench near the curb. "Cab'll be here in five."

Sam shook his head slowly at the concrete slab Josh was directing him towards. "If I sit, I'll just have to get back up. I can stand."

His eyes searched the street for signs of a bright yellow vessel to take him back to the reality he'd left behind in a parking lot behind a grocery store. The precisely folded sheet of paper with careful, step by step instructions on how to regain his life tucked securely in his pocket.

•••••

Even to Josh, the apartment looked alien, like a set on a stage. Everything exactly as they'd left it that morning, each item waiting to be newly discovered in this fresh light their lives had been cast in.

"Bed or sofa?" he asked Sam, who stood wavering in the doorway.

"Um."

"Bed. You should lie down."

"Sofa," Sam said, looking embarrassed at sounding contrary.

"Oooookay."

He steered Sam around the back of the sofa, and Josh was about to lower him onto it, when Sam put a restraining hand on his arm.

"Bed," he whispered timidly, eyes cutting to the open bedroom door.

"Okay."

Settling Sam on the firm mattress, Josh bent to remove his shoes, his socks, stroking both ankles quickly before reaching for Sam's hands to bring him back to his feet.

After sliding pants off wobbly legs, Josh began twisting open the buttons on Sam's shirt, heart rate picking up as more and more purple skin appeared from under the filthy white shirt.

"Jesus," Josh mumbled, reaching behind the younger man to peel off the garment. "Sam, this looks bad."

Big, mottled bruises, splashed across Sam's torso like an angry abstract painting brought tears to Josh's eyes, while dark blotches shaped like continents mapped Sam's back, making him gulp down a strangled gasp.

Leaning his head against Sam's, Josh's mind raced though all the things he could say, all the wretchedly empty things he could utter in this moment. Nothing was right, nothing could make a difference, and Josh sobbed with helplessness.

"Hey. No. Josh, it's okay." Sam brought a hand to Josh's waist, that being as far as his screaming muscles would allow. "Shh. Please don't. I'm okay. I'm bruised, not broken. Everything's all right now. Shh."

Josh pulled away, brutally swiping at his wet cheeks, and looked at his lover carefully. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. I'm sorry you were alone."

"I'm just glad I'm not now," Sam answered simply. "And I'm so grateful you weren't there, Josh." A grimace creased Sam's brow as he stepped closer to the shuddering man standing in front of him. "Can we just...?" He glanced at the bed, the dove gray comforter like a storm cloud, puffy and promising.

Stepping back into his role as caretaker, Josh eased a clean over-sized tee-shirt over Sam's head, stretching the fabric cruelly to avoid as much contorting as possible. He helped Sam lie down, constructing a wall of pillows to keep him somewhat upright, lifting his legs onto the bed, deftly pulling the blankets over him.

Josh had read the care instructions on the way home, ticking off each item in his head as the cab clicked over the notorious pot-holed streets of D.C. Ice, for the first few days. Ibuprofen, as needed. A single tiny blue pill to put Sam to sleep.

Tucking the covers loosely around Sam's chest, he noticed the slight shivering, and wondered miserably how he'd be able to place sloppy, cold icepacks on that frail body.

Sitting cautiously on the side of the bed, Josh took hold of Sam's hand, careful of the scratches and discoloration. "What can I do for you?" His voice practically begging for guidance.

Sam's bleary eyes scanned the room, orientation dawning slowly before he rested them back on the concerned face before him. "I don't think I need anything. Maybe you could stay here with me for awhile." It came out sounding like a question.

"Yeah," Josh said. He almost gestured for Sam to scoot over, to make room for him to slip next to his battered body. Realizing the folly in that, Josh stood up and circled the bed. Climbing across what would normally be 'Sam's side', Josh was wary of disturbing him, imagining every jiggle of the mattress ricocheting violently through his body.

After what felt like an interminable amount of time, Josh settled his own lanky, healthy form alongside Sam's injured one, purposely not touching him anywhere.

"You know...." Sam's voice was getting thick and less distinct. "You should call. Someone. Let them know what happened." He let his head drop to the side a little, towards Josh. Sensing a desire for contact, Josh swept a light kiss over his forehead.

"I called from the hospital. Don't worry about anything now. Once you fall asleep, I'll... I'll bring in some ice, and...."

And what? Josh thought harshly. Heal you? Make everything better. Catch these bastards, rope 'em up and hang 'em high? The image of a pack of rabid dogs, nipping at each other's ankles in a frenzy of blood-scented hysteria intruded into Josh's mind. What do you do with mad dogs? he contemplated sourly. You shoot them. You Put. Them. Down.

A sorry little whimper from Sam set Josh's teeth, and he realized with dismay that he was clutching Sam's hand tightly, strangling it in his own.

"God! Sam, shit! I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Josh released the hand, breaking the connection, and it was like letting go of an astronaut's tether. He watched the anxiety build, Sam licking his arid lips with a dry tongue.

"I need ­ "

Josh was already moving away, retracing his earlier path, back across the bed to where he couldn't hurt the man he loved.

"I'll get you some water; I'll bring you the pill." His guilt rising as he saw Sam attempt to take a breath, assuming it was to tell Josh to calm down, but it ended in a gasp of pain, and Josh couldn't even look. He dodged around the bed and headed straight for the kitchen, propelled towards the counter, a drowning man reaching for the only boat floating in the lake.

After steadying Sam's hand as he tried to raise the glass to his mouth, Josh stayed and watched the pill take effect. One by one the horrors of the evening fell away, revealing a little more of the beautiful, trusting man Josh had called his friend for so many years.

Once Sam's breathing had slowed, lengthening enough for Josh to recognize it as sleep, he left the room and dragged himself to the sofa. Clawing for the phone, he hauled it to his ear and spoke raggedly to Sam's mother, lavishing assurances, and promising that he would have her son call the next day.

After finishing the call Josh sat summoning memories of recent small joys; forced them to crowd out the hazy remnants of the night's atrocities.

Was it really only two nights ago Sam had fallen out of bed, laughing like a joyful lunatic when Josh had shaken him awake to tell him his aching dick was stuck?

"You woke me *up* for that? Take care of it yourself!" Sam had groused, attempting to turn back away.

"I tried," Josh had whined. "You know, when you get as far as you can, and you can't go forward, and you can't go back? I'm stuck."

Josh had felt pathetic, and a little fearful of Sam's anger at being roused on the first night in a week that they'd gotten to bed before one a.m.

Instead, Sam had waited a beat, absorbing what he was hearing, then began laughing. The hysteria, whether from exhaustion, or simply Josh's ridiculous ability to scramble every moment of his life, sent Sam over the edge of the bed. He'd eventually climbed back up, and dealt with Josh's problem between giggles and deep kisses.

Was it really only two nights ago?

Walking into the bedroom, Josh stood over Sam. Listening to the familiar sound of breathing, he felt the tears welling again, but instead of brushing them from his own cheeks, he reached out tender fingers to Sam, dusting them across the unblemished skin that served as a canvas for the sinister bruises growing near it.

Returning with two dishtowel-wrapped ice packs, Josh dropped to the bed, and drew down the covers. He had no idea where to place the ice. The bruises seemed to spread like a puddle, and he wondered if this was simply something they told caregivers to do to make them feel useful. He eventually placed one, delicately, in the center of Sam's stomach, pulling the t-shirt down over it.

Leaning closer to lay an apologetic kiss on Sam's mouth, Josh studied the unfamiliar outline the police concluded was a gun butt above the left cheekbone, where the darkest part of the bruise lay. To Josh, it looked like nothing he could ever recognize, save violence. He then held the other pack to the side of Sam's face, kept it there until the cold sting bit into his own hand, and he shifted the towel around to afford them both some relief.

He was beginning to feel drowsy, the pull of sleep growing stronger as each minute slid away. The sound of the phone ringing crashed through the room, his hand momentarily sending more pressure than he intended down on Sam's face.

"Hello? Yeah, hello?" Josh spoke in a frayed whisper.

"Josh? It's Leo. When did you get home? How's Sam?"

Leo referring to Sam's apartment as 'home' threw Josh for a second, still not entirely sure where they stood as far as making casual references to their relationship like that.

"A while ago. I'm sorry I didn't call you back." Looking down at Sam's slumbering form, Josh rose from the bed and backed away a little, but remained floating at the edges of the room. "And he's okay. They said... no concussion, nothing broken. Just, his ribs are cracked. A couple of ribs."

"That's gonna hurt like holy hell, let me tell you." Leo's voice reached through the line to find the frightened younger man he couldn't see. "He'll be fine in a few days, Josh. He went into this ahead of the curve; strong, healthy. He's not made of glass, and he's a hell of a fighter."

"Yeah," Josh sniffled. "Look, tomorrow ­ "

"You stay where you're needed, you hear me?"

"There were four of them, Sam thinks."

"Ribs?" Leo sounded unsure.

"Guys, Leo! Four guys jumped him. What the hell was he thinking, trying to fight back?"

"It's a reflex. Go easy on him."

"You should see...." A wave of emotion lapped at Josh's feet. "I've never seen.... He has the most beautiful skin, Leo. I can't describe it. And now he's got these furious bruises all over, and it.... I can't...." Gasping for breath, for control, Josh was unaware of the stark silence in his ear.

Stealing a nervous glance over at Sam, Josh quickly regained his equilibrium, and approached the bed stealthily. "He's, um, sleeping now. They gave him something." Picking up the conversation from somewhere close to where he'd dropped it.

"That's good." There was a tightness in Leo's voice, and Josh brought a distracted hand to his eyes to try and rub away some of the strangeness that clung to him.

"We have to go down to the station tomorrow, to look at pictures."

Leo's manner perked up at that. "He got a good look at them, then? That's great!"

"Yeah, great." Josh wasn't too sure yet how great that was. The threat of a trial loomed before him, Sam testifying to the beating he'd received from men Josh still couldn't bring himself to think of as human.

"It'll make a difference, Josh." As though he could read his thoughts. "Trust me. Bringing these guys to justice will be all it takes for Sam to put this behind him."

Josh could see the truth in that, a small flicker of truth. Sam was a law and justice kind of guy. And while feeling helpless and victimized was going to be hard to deal with ­ Josh could give him a few pointers on that ­ he also knew that being a part of the system that administered justice would help Sam feel like he was taking back his life.

"Listen, Josh. Toby and CJ are going a little nuts. You need to call them. Unless you want me to...?"

Josh shook his head heartily in the dark. "No, I'll do it. Are they still around?" Time no longer a set concept to Josh.

"They're waiting in Toby's office. They were hoping you'd call. I think I can put you through. Nah. I don't know how to do that." The familiar impatience in Leo's voice a tonic.

"Margaret's gone?" Josh dared to tease.

"She's, uh, up to something. Hell if I know where she goes." A moment of silky silence enveloped both men, so many things unsaid. "So, you'll call Toby and CJ?"

"Right now. Then, I need to get some sleep."

"*Anything* we can do, Josh." A pure statement of support, unequivocal and undemanding.

A grateful and clearly spoken "thank you," and then Josh hung up.

Toby answered, but CJ snatched the phone away before he finished his first query.

"Put me on speaker," Josh suggested, amazed that he still had the strength to speak. "I can really only go through this one more time."

Is Sam all right? Have they caught the guys? Did you see anything? Is he in pain? His face? Not his face! A few nervous snickers, washed away by the next wave of questions.

"I don't think his name has been released," CJ was saying, answering Josh's concern that Sam would be facing press inquiries. "Just another botched carjacking; it happens so often now they barely make the news."

"This one will."

"Yeah. But we're good on crime, Josh. No one will try to turn this into a morality tale. So...." CJ's voice petered out at the end.

"I just don't want him bothered," Josh complained weakly.

"No one will bother Sam." There was no arguing with Toby. Josh felt satisfied that the subject was securely closed.

CJ again, her voice a soft, womanly thing Josh had never paid much attention to before. "Do you need us to do anything? Do you guys have, I don't know, milk? And... bread?"

Deadbolts and peace of mind? Josh thought absently. But he smiled to himself and told them they were fine. They were both fine.

•••••

The slippery sounds of cars whooshing past his bedroom window made Sam think of raisin dark nights as a child, struggling against sleep, waiting to hear his father's car chug into the driveway after one of his business trips.

He wanted to roll onto his side, or his stomach, or anywhere that wasn't his back. But just drawing in the breath to support such an effort was enough to remind Sam why he was beached in this stagnant position.

Kicking his legs ineffectively was the only movement that didn't bring the pain screaming back.

"Are you awake?" Josh's voice melted into Sam and, despite the discomfort, he sighed deeply.

"It's hard. Sleeping in one position."

The bed complained a little as Josh slithered closer to Sam, rolling over to meet him. A warm hand rested on his thigh, breath at his face.

"Well, can I just tell you what a delight it's been for me?"

The subtle humor in Josh's tone made Sam curious enough to try and turn his neck to face him. He managed just enough to touch his cheek to Josh's lips.

"For once, *you're* the one with the bruises," Josh teased. "Although, if this is what it takes to keep you still for an entire night, I think I'll take my old Sam, even with all the violent tossing and turning."

"I don't toss and turn," Sam replied, reaching for Josh's hand, settled on his leg.

"No, of course not. You thrash."

A mild harrumph came from Sam before he drifted back to a dreamless sleep, unaware that Josh's eyes stayed on him for another hour.

•••••

The police station was modern and bright, and far quieter than Sam would have imagined. The phones purred, voices were hushed, and there was significantly less bustle than in the West Wing at midday.

Seated in front of a nineteen inch monitor; his second cup of coffee cold and scummy, and cradled in one hand. Sam removed his glasses, rubbed weakly at his eyes, and then slumped down in his chair slightly.

"I'm sorry, detective. None of these... people... look like the guys."

Josh leaned against a desk, arms crossed over his chest, eyes in constant motion between Sam's pale face, and the continually rotating images on the screen.

"You should take another break, Sam," he attempted for the third time in an hour. "They're just blurs at this point. You need to refocus your eyes, stretch your legs."

Sam was shaking his head slowly.

The detective, Hodges, leaned low over the keyboard on one arm. "You've looked at every white male car thief or known carjacker in the system half a dozen times, Mr. Seaborn. To be honest with you, there aren't a whole lot of those. You've seen four Maryland counties as well."

"Maybe if we expand the scope a little." Sam looked up hopefully at the perfectly groomed policeman, who reminded Sam of an actor he couldn't name.

"You want me to get Virginia to send over their mug shots?" There was tired resignation in the man's voice.

Josh groaned and pushed himself away from the desk. "I need to take a lea­ uh, where's the men's room?" he asked, already advancing down the aisle.

After pointing to a hallway, Detective Hodges rolled a nearby stool over to Sam and perched himself on it. "So, Virginia?"

Sam sat up as straight as his aching ribs would allow and put down his mug before looking over at the other man. "I was thinking. Maybe.... Granted, I know you have a system for dealing with these kinds of things. But, it occurred to me, if you thought it was worth pursuing, maybe I could look at some... other photographs. Of other.... What I mean is, maybe this is the first time these guys have tried to steal a car. Isn't it possible that they started out as something else, this is the first time?"

Sam reached for his mug, hesitating when he spied the coagulated cream quivering along the edge of the muddy looking liquid. He brought it to his mouth, and took a dainty sip. "Maybe if I looked at mug shots of guys who've been arrested for any violent assaults, you never know, it's possible we might get lucky."

The detective looked sympathetically at Sam, turning his stool to face him. "I understand how much you want to get these guys, Mr. Seaborn."

"Sam." Exhaustion barely allowing the single syllable to register past his lips.

"Believe me, we appreciate you sitting here for the last few hours looking at all these faces. But unless these jokers were just out for a joyride, carjackers usually have a network in place to move the boosted vehicle. Which means, they tend to stick with what they know."

Sam stirred in his seat, sucked in an exasperated lungful of air before he could catch himself. Biting the inside of his lower lip to keep from whimpering in pain, he blinked hard a few times. "I'd be willing to try, anyway," he said helpfully.

Placing a meaty hand on Sam's shoulder, Detective Hodges rose to his feet. "I appreciate that. Look; you remembered this morning that there were only three men. And your descriptions were a little vague, but certainly gave us enough to narrow the scope of our search down. I'll bet by tomorrow, your memory get's even sharper. When that happens, you let us know, and we'll take a crack at the pictures again."

Sam was being dismissed. "Yeah," he agreed quietly.

"Hey." Josh came alongside Sam's chair. Sam saw him hesitate before fleetingly touching the back of his neck. "You gonna take a break?" Josh asked hopefully.

"Actually, I think we're done for today," Hodges said. He reached a hand out for Josh to shake. "We sure do appreciate the White House sparing both of you to come down here. We'll do everything we can to find these bastards."

Sam rose unsteadily to his feet, searched helplessly for his jacket.

"Oh. Okay then. Well, that's good," Josh was saying. "So, you're ready, Sam?"

Taking the presented hand, Sam firmly shook with the detective before accepting his jacket from Josh. The leather felt cold and slippery in his hands, and Sam smelled autumn and animal on its supple surface.

Outside, Josh offered to bring the car around, while Sam waited by a Wall Street Journal vending machine. He was tempted to plunk in some coins and take one. At the office, the daily papers were divided between Communications staff, but Sam always read beyond his assigned papers. It had felt strange that morning to have only the Post with his first cup of coffee.

The sharp yelp of a horn jolted Sam away from his stupor, and he walked awkwardly to Josh's car, taking his time folding himself into it.

"So, that wasn't too bad." Josh looked over his shoulder before pulling into traffic. "They seemed to think you have a shot at finding these assholes. Listen, I was thinking; how about I give Mike a call at the Bureau?" Josh glanced quickly at Sam's regal profile. "Carjacking's federal, Sam, and they used a gun. I can call in a favor, get some real lawmen working on this."

Sam wished he had his sunglasses. The glint from the sun bouncing off the hood of the car sent daggers of light through his eyes. He shut them tightly, but it seemed to burn straight through, turning hot pink against his clamped lids. "Josh?"

"Yeah?"

Sam sat silently for a moment, then a moment more. Josh's head swiveled back and forth between his passenger and the road ahead.

"Yeah, Sam?"

"Um. Josh...."

Sam's Adam's apple rose and fell a few times, his vision growing murky around the edges.

"Are you going to be sick?" Josh asked with growing alarm. His eyes searched out a safe place to pull over.

"No," Sam said. "Just get home. I need to get home."

For the rest of the drive, Sam held tightly to the armrest, nails pinching deep furrows in the cushiony leather. He tried to keep his eyes straight ahead, aware of Josh's frequent, pointed glances.

By the time Josh smoothly delivered them into a lucky parking spot directly in front of Sam's building, the seeds of panic Sam had felt taking root in his chest seemed to re-submerge.

The inside of his apartment felt warm and close. Like someone had been breathing heavily in it over a long period of time.

Shuffling into the center of the room, Sam swayed slightly from the density of the air. Hands were on him, drawing him close until all the light streaming through the window was blocked by Josh's throat, where Sam buried himself.

"You need to sit down," Josh murmured sternly. He began to pull Sam away, turn him in the direction of a chair near the sofa.

Sam seemed to surprise him by stepping away and shaking his head.

"No, Josh. I... I need to talk to you."

"Okay. Let me fix you something to eat. Come sit at the ­ "

"*No,* Josh. I need to talk to you *now.*"

Even Sam was a little bothered by the sharp tone he'd used. But he was feeling the pull of something, and he couldn't ask Josh to hold onto him if he didn't understand. He had to allow Josh a chance to understand.

"Sam?" Josh closed the distance between them and brought his hands up to Sam's face, a feathery thumb dusting across the yellowing bruise on his cheek. "Sam, what's wrong? Should I call someone?"

"No. Not.... Please, Josh, I have to talk to you." The tears that Sam felt prickling at his eyes didn't drive away the burning he felt there. He sucked them up and walked to the window, putting half a room between him and his lover.

"I never meant for this. I never... I didn't have time to think, it all kept happening before I could deal with it. It just kept coming, and I tried to make sense of it, but I... I couldn't do it fast enough, Josh."

Josh took a step closer, arms hanging lifelessly at his sides.

"The thing is..." Sam paused to draw in a painful, steadying breath. "When he said it, it seemed right. I, I believed it. I wanted to. Believe him."

"Who, Sam? One of the carjackers?" Josh took another step. "What the hell did he say?"

"No," Sam whispered in frustration. "No, no, no. No. The, the cop, Josh. When the cop came back, and he said it wasn't... what they thought. He said, we worked at the White House, we weren't gay, it couldn't be what they thought."

Sam's eyes, brimming with unshed tears, met Josh's questioning stare. "They were right. It was. It was what they thought." The tears toppled over Sam's bottom lashes, splashed to his battered cheek. Excruciating, heaving breaths rasped out of Sam's runny nose, and his lips clamped tightly against the sobs.

"Sam...."

"It was." As Sam's head dropped, the sobs sprung from their confinement. He ignored the agony they brought to his battered ribs and instead of choking them back, he let them wash out of him, hoping distantly that it might cleanse him of this indignity.

Josh came to Sam, hesitant at first, sure when he reached his side. Taking him into his arms, Josh's expression of pure shock was hidden in Sam's shoulder.

When the crying slowed, Sam was leaning awkwardly against the windowsill, Josh pressing into him painfully. Sam didn't care. He was holding on for his life, and possibly for the last time, he thought abstractedly.

"Oh, Sam. Oh, Sammy. Did you just remember all this?" Josh asked, between flimsy, healing kisses to Sam's neck, his ear, the untainted side of his face, finally his mouth. Desperately driving his lips against Sam's, Josh didn't allow him to answer.

Eventually unable to stand the discomfort any longer, Sam weakly pushed at Josh's chest. "I'm sorry. I should have told you last night. I should have said something right then. But I.... The next thing I knew, there were people saying 'carjacking' and, they said...." Sam extracted himself from Josh's arms and moved away from the only place he knew he could find security. "... It wasn't the same gang anyway, because of the gun, and the, the, they never used a gun."

"Wait. You remembered all this last night? Sam! Why didn't you... god. No. You should have said - "

"I tried to." Staring at the floor with unfocused eyes, Sam buried his hands under his arms. "But when they said - *they* said it was a carjacking, Josh - I started to believe it could have been. I didn't have to say a word."

"Well, maybe? Sam, maybe it was. I mean, how do we know? Right?" Josh's expression held all the hope Sam didn't feel. All the hope he wanted to cling to, but knew was about to slip through his fingers. When he yanked it away.

"*I* know. There wasn't a whole lot of room for doubt. When they.... After what they said. After they started...." Sam gasped a little at the memory, and now he did need to sit down. Maneuvering across the room, he bypassed the single chair and went to the sofa, selfishly hoping Josh would join him. Hold him again. Wipe his nose with his sleeve, the way he had a moment ago.

Josh came. But he didn't sit. He stood over Sam, palms out. "What about today? I can understand what happened last night. You were in shock. And there were so many people, and it felt like we weren't left alone together for two minutes." Josh placed his hands on his hips, and took a deep breath. "But today, at the station, you could have told Detective Hodges. He'd understand, Sam. He deals with this stuff all the time."

"I know."

Throwing his hands into the air, Josh fell to the sofa at last.

"Sam! Listen, Franklin said no one had ever gotten a good look at these animals before. You did! You could...." Josh blinked at Sam. "You did. But you, you were looking at mug shots of car thieves all morning."

Sam blinked too.

"That's why you couldn't identify the guys. You were looking at car thieves."

"I guess I was still hoping they might be. That I'd recognize them. But then I knew. I asked Hodges to... I tried to get him to show me other pictures."

"But you didn't tell him why."

"No."

"Aw, Sam."

Josh was giving up on Sam. He could feel it. He was giving up, and Sam didn't know what to do. How to explain so it didn't get any worse. Something in Sam faintly wondered if he would recognize what 'worse' looked like, even though it was what he'd been staring at every waking hour.

He knew what 'worse' was. And he didn't want to look at it alone.

"I don't think I can do it, Josh."

"Fuck that, Sam."

The sound of Josh was the only thing Sam needed right now. If Josh would just keep talking....

"You have to do it. You have to tell them the truth. Why are you even...? I don't understand. Sam, this is you, right? No injustice unpunished? Righteous, honorable, upstanding Sam? You have to do this. *We'll* do it."

Now, Sam needed Josh to stop talking. He couldn't find his voice, so he told him with more tears, fighting not to fall.

"Sammy, no." Pulling him into his arms, petting his head compulsively. "There's nothing to cry about. We'll be okay. I don't care, Sam. We'll be okay."

"We...." Sniffles filled the air. " Josh, I don't think ­ "

"Sam. Leo, the President, they aren't gonna take this lying down. They're still a little shocked about us, but they've been supportive. You can't doubt that?"

"No."

"You know they'll stand behind us."

"Yes."

"Everyone will. It's, it's sooner than we'd talked about. I mean, it's a lot sooner than we'd planned. But fuck that! And forgive me for sounding like a cold and calculating politician for a minute, but public opinion will be behind you, Sam. To have it come out because of this, you'll ­ we'll - have more sympathy than that girl that fell down the well. You can't doubt that!"

"No."

"Then, what? What?"

"It's...." The worst. "Us." Sam mumbled the word into Josh's shoulder, had almost bitten through his wool sweater to keep from saying it.

"Us what?" Leaning away from Sam. "What us?"

"What I doubt." Sam could barely see through his waterlogged lashes, the swelling eyelids. "Us."

•••••

He doubted them.

Josh stared unwaveringly at his lover, barely recognizing him through the discoloration, and the bloating; the dread and this doubt. The eyes were still blue. But not steady and clear, the way Josh had seen them for nearly a decade. They were white-washed, watered down, barely holding onto their color. Bleached.

"Ex... explain what you just said," Josh said hoarsely. "Explain why you sound like you don't have faith in us getting through this." Josh had his answer. He had it the moment he realized Sam couldn't look at him. With diluted, bleached eyes.

"It's too soon." Sam rubbed at his runny nose with the heel of his hand. "I don't know that we're ready. For something this... Big."

"We were gonna tell everyone, Sam. We agreed we weren't going to live our lives shrouded in secrecy."

"And we did. We started to. We told who needed to know." Sam's words tumbled from his mouth like pebbles. "But the rest, Josh. You know we aren't.... we haven't had enough time."

"I don't know what the hell you're talking about." Josh removed his hands from Sam, sat away from him.

The younger man finally drew his eyes to Josh's, obviously searching for something he'd seen just this morning, gone now. "I'm not sure we're strong enough for this."

"You know how I feel about you, Sam." The words themselves were comforting, but the tone they were relayed in was damning. "I *thought* you knew." Slowly changing to uncertainty.

Sam reached for a hand, but he barely touched a finger before it was pulled away. "I do. And I love you. I'm just not sure if that's enough for this. Can you see that it's possible we won't be seen as noble victims of intolerance by everyone? It would be hard, Josh. It'd be messy. And it'd go on for a long time."

Josh leaned in, the hand offered freely now. "We have time. We have all the time in.... Oh." Now it was Josh's turn to look away. "Wait. You don't think we'll, that we'll have time. You're thinking we could be over before that."

Sliding his hands over his face, Sam shuddered.

"*Is* that it, Sam? You're not even sure how long we're gonna last, you're already thinking of the end."

Josh leaped to his feet and strode towards the bedroom, then paced back. Curled fists, brought in front of his face like hands praying in anger. He glared at Sam, still sitting meekly in the center of the sofa, arms folded protectively around himself. And Josh impulsively thought, 'That's my job. That should be me, protecting him.'

Moving closer, but not willing to give away any more ground than necessary, Josh tried to look into Sam's face, wilted, but stunning, even with all this anguish sweeping across it.

"Sam? Sam, look at me, please?" Taking another slight step closer, his arms aching to take his friend into them. "I don't understand. I thought we were good. You thought so too. What was this? What was this to you?"

Sam hesitated before speaking, squinting up at the man he loved. "The same thing it is for you, Josh. And it is good. You know what this has been for me - "

"I thought I did."

"It's ­ you've given me everything I always felt was missing before. And I feel the ferocity of your love every time you look at me. I don't question that now." Sam's voice quavered with conviction.

"Yes. You do."

"No. I don't question it now. But, Josh," His chin jutted out bravely, a small child facing down the shadow behind the door. "Can it last? You, and me; we're not very good at this. In the best of times, with the best of intentions, we've never been good at this."

"But together, Sam, it's different. And I thought that was understood."

"We can want what we want. That doesn't guarantee *anything.*"

"Yes!" Josh exploded, sending Sam cowering into the cushions. "It guarantees we try, dammit! It means we don't give up so easily!"

"I'm not giving up!" With effort and barely veiled distress, Sam struggled to his feet. Standing unsteadily, one arm still wrapped around his own waist, he approached Josh. "Don't you see that I'm trying to protect us?!" he roared. "I believe we're good. I believe in us. And I'm doing *whatever* I can to make sure we have every advantage to make this work. I'll do *anything* for that, Josh! Anything! The *last* thing I'm doing is giving up!"

Gulping for air caused more waves of pain to ripple across Sam's features, and Josh was helpless in the face of it, stumbling to his side. He stroked between his shoulders, where he knew there were no bruises. "God. Oh, god. Slow down, Sam. Take it easy."


Grappling for control, sucking oxygen between his teeth, Sam leaned into Josh, accepting the support of arms stronger than his.

"I don't want you doing this for me. Even for us, Sam. You can't let them get away with what they did to you. The price, it's too high," Josh tried to reason, smoothing his hand over Sam's hair, his face. "I can't let you do it."

"I need to lie down. I'm sorry, but I need to go lie down," Sam said shakily.

Josh settled Sam on the bed and lovingly tucked a blanket around him. He sat down and studied him carefully. "This is a sacrifice I can't allow you to make, Sam."

Sam's haunted eyes drifted over Josh, drowsily blinking shut. "It's not your decision," he murmured.

•••••

Golden late afternoon light streamed through Leo's window. He caught himself following winking specks of dust through its path, challenging himself to focus his aging eyes on their tiny, dancing shapes.

Josh's call had set his jaw. He could sense something in the younger man's voice that told him he was likely to become a very worn-out man in a matter of minutes.

Hearing a commotion outside his office Leo attended to his posture, setting himself a little higher in his chair. He didn't stand when Josh entered a moment later.

•••••

"Leo, thanks for seeing me."

"Don't even mention it, Josh. Have a seat."

Hesitating a beat, looking from the formal array of sofa and two upholstered chairs, back to the more casual arrangement of table and chairs in front of Leo's desk, Josh mumbled his trademark 'ahkay', and pulled a chair around to face Leo.

"You sounded pretty grave on the phone, a little anxious, even," Leo began, leaning forward in his seat to close some of the distance between him and his deputy. "Has something happened with Sam? Please tell me his injuries aren't ­ "

"No! No, Leo, Sam's gonna be... he'll be fine, I guess. There's no reason to think he won't be." Josh gulped down his words, a nervous habit, more habit than nervous. "What I need to talk to you about though, it's more advice, than anything, I suppose. I, I need some advice."

"Okay."

The things Josh had rehearsed on his way to the White House, after leaving a sandwich and a note for Sam when he woke up, seemed to have been left back in the car. He stalled for time by rubbing at the back of his neck with both hands, pinching at the tense muscles he encountered.

Watching Leo's countenance grow more expectant, Josh drew a deep breath before diving in.

"The thing is, it turns out, the thing that happened, it wasn't the thing we, what we all thought it was."

"Come again?"

Scratching at the back of his hand, Josh sighed for a second time at his own uneasy ineloquence. "I'm sorry."

"Josh. What's the trouble?" Leo leaned back, his face empty of everything but studied concern.

A hissed "shit" leaked out of Josh. "I don't know what to do. The carjacking, Leo. It wasn't; it wasn't a carjacking. They didn't want Sam's car."

"What, money?" Confusion crinkled Leo's forehead, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

"Uh uh. It wasn't about money. It was just about Sam. Or, well, yeah. And, what they thought he was. What... we are."

"Are you saying...?"

Leo titled back in his chair, examining Josh, who'd started chewing on a cuticle, pulling the tough skin until he tasted the sudden, coppery bite of blood before speaking. "It was a deliberate attack on someone they presumed was gay."

"A gay-bashing?"

Josh cringed at the phrase he'd unconsciously avoided using.

"You're telling me this was never a carjacking, it was always... this other thing." The older man sat forward again, eyes piercing through Josh's discomfort. "Why the hell did you lie to us?"

"Leo! I didn't lie! I just found out!" His revelation over-running his sense of diplomacy, Josh continued on. "Sam just told me, and I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do now. You gotta help me convince him to tell the truth."

Leo's head cocked to the side, suddenly and significantly more alert than he had been a second ago. "You're saying Sam purposely lied to the police? That...." His eyes drifted away from Josh's slightly panicked face. "That really doesn't sound like something Sam would do. No, I don't buy it." Leo shook his head once, adamantly. "That's not Sam. There's no way - if he was sure of that - he wouldn't do everything in his power to take these guys down. Whatever happened out there, it must have left him with some qualms about it being the motive." Eyes back on Josh again, his voice turned into the familiar, professional one Josh had grown up politically listening to. "Start from the beginning, explain this to me."

One hand scuffing at the pink skin at the edge of his forest of unruly brown hair, Josh nodded his head.

"You have to understand, he was in bad shape after it happened. He was going into shock, and he was in pain. There was a cut inside his mouth that kept bleeding, and his eye was swelling shut." Josh's eyes shut momentarily, the image of Sam, looking beaten and ravaged, swimming in his head.

"It was confusing for him. Hell, *I* didn't know what was going on. When the cops showed up, I got the feeling they had a preconceived idea about what had happened, but I really didn't know what. It was just, eye contact and body language, and then one of them came back from checking out Sam's car, and he spoke right up. He said it didn't look like it was a gay-bashing."

"Why did they assume that in the first place?" Leo wanted to know.

"I found out a little later there've been some other incidents right around there. It's not known as a gay market; it's just a place to buy good produce," Josh said almost apologetically, his narrative becoming a little breathless.

"Anyway, the cop comes back, and he announces it must be a carjacking, because there's a White House sticker on Sam's car. We work for the president, and he recognizes us, so... we can't be gay. So, it must be a carjacking."

"Of all the narrow-minded ­ "

"Leo, please." Josh rolled his eyes. The thought of Sam, left lying on his back in his big bed, alone, triggered a shiver he felt all over. "They, they also said, these guys had never been known to use a gun before. So that pretty much convinced them, this wasn't the same people."

"Sam could still be mistaken. That's the only reason he wouldn't speak up."

"They.... no. I guess the... attackers made it pretty clear why they targeted him."

Leo was shaking his head. "*I* don't understand why they targeted him. Why would they assume he was a ­ gay? What, does he have a rainbow bumper sticker next to his White House pass, or something?"

Josh's head dipped at the sarcasm, the crease of his pants so sharp it looked as if it could cut, and he fingered it carefully, imagining a ribbon of red rising from his thumb as he drew it back and forth over the fabric.

"Josh?"

Looking up quickly, then ducking his head down again. "I suppose they, um, they could have seen us. In the car, before we went inside. I suppose we may have.... I don't know, Leo. I don't remember if we did anything to make them think...."

Leo brought his hand to his eyes, shielding them under a leathery palm. "Christ."

Josh shifted awkwardly. "You gotta help me. What can I say to get him to talk?"

"That's easy. Just tell him we're behind him. President Bartlet, me, the entire administration. He's one of us. We'll take care of him, Josh."

"Leo, he's not just worried about himself ­ "

"Oh, of all the stupid...! In this particular case, it's not Sam's job to protect the president! Does he really think we're nothing but a bunch of pretty words about tolerance and inclusion?" Leo darted to his feet, and began pacing, dragging infinitesimal particles of dust through the air behind him.

"Let me tell you, Joshua. When you two came to us, we weren’t thrilled about your... relationship. But we aren't against it. And for Sam to even suggest that we would allow him to put our own interests in front of his ­ "

"Just, wait, will you?!" Josh joined Leo on his feet, completely unaware of the swirl this caused in the path of sunlight. "Sam's not trying to protect the president! He knows he ­ we ­ have your support. He thinks he needs to protect *us.* Our relationship. He's doing it to give us a fighting chance. He... god, Leo, he told me he doesn't think we can survive something like this yet." A strangled half-sob retched out of Josh. "Shit, shit, shit."

Josh looked around the room frantically, eyes skipping over everything, darting into each corner and crevice they could find. Searching for a bottle, an elixir that would coat and soothe his rising panic. An elixir, he realized with horror, which would kill Leo. He had almost complained about needing a drink.

"What am I gonna do?" he asked weakly.

"Is it true?"

The question took Josh almost as much by surprise as Sam's admission had. "What the fuck do you mean, 'is it true'? I'm crazy about him, Leo." Ignoring the way Leo's eyes slid away.

Sinking into a chair that bumped up against the round table in front of the desk, Josh began to keen softly. "I love the man, dammit. I can't predict where we'll be in three months, or nine months. But I know that tonight, I'm going to be right beside him, holding onto him as tightly as he can stand, and I have no plan or intention to let go."

"Aw, Josh," Leo sighed tiredly. "I know you love the guy. I don't think there's any question of that."

"And he loves me, Leo. That's why I can't believe he's even thinking we're not strong enough for this. Sam's *not* a fatalist. This is shock talking." Josh sagged against the table, arms folded on the cool surface, cheek resting forlornly. "If I can just convince him."

Josh felt, more than saw Leo join him at the table. The air that was dispelled by his movement felt teasing and ticklish on Josh's face.

"It is shock, I'm sure that's it," Leo pointed out. "There's no way Sam could ever let something this important take a backseat to an affair."

Josh's head snapped up, mouth hanging open for only a split second before he clamped it shut.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded, Josh."

"I know," Josh lied. "Look, I think he wants to come forward. He as much as tried to steer the detective handling the case away from the whole theft angle. If he'd seen a shot of one of the guys, Sam would have identified him, no matter what."

Leo nodded his agreement.

"So, what can I do? How do I get him to go the rest of the way?"

Pulling in a deep breath, Leo held onto it a moment before setting it free. "I'm not sure you can do anything, here, son. This is something Sam has got to do on his own."

"But, Leo ­ "

"You'll blow the relationship apart for sure if you try and pull something behind his back. I don't see him forgiving that, not easily."

Nothing came easily with Sam, Josh thought dejectedly. It was why he'd fallen in love with him in the first place. Sam didn't let Josh get away with any of the usual tricks he used to deflect true intimacy. Sam stayed in his face, held him to his feelings, and consumed him in a way that left Josh too numb to fight back.

"He'll come to it on his own, Josh. That's the only way. But he has to know, if *our* reaction is in any way influencing his decision, he's gotta know; we're behind him. And President Bartlet'll tell him himself, if need be."

"Thank you, Leo." Josh's suddenly lessening apprehension left him winded and weak legged. He struggled from the chair and headed for the door.

"Hey, listen; I'm coming in tomorrow, I just don't know.... I can't really give you a time," he was saying as he cracked open the door.

Leo was waving Josh off, the hand fluttering in the air like a kite's tail. "That's fine, we've got you covered."

As Josh began to walk out of the office, Margaret appeared like an apparition, two large brown shopping bags weighing down each arm.

"Hey, Margaret," he said, attempting to step out of her path.

"Hey, Josh. Again. These are for Sam," she declared, shoving her load into his hands.

"What the - ?"

"Margaret, what are you doing?" Leo asked, joining them in the doorway.

"They're for Sam," she said again, a look of authority on her face.

Leo cocked a measured eyebrow at her and slipped into his best annoyed voice. "He's not doing any work, you know. He's supposed to be resting."

"It's not work, *Leo*," she chided, then turned to Josh. "Last night a number of the assistants went home and cooked some things for Sam. The usual casseroles and one-dish meals. They're all prepared, and each one comes with a typed description of its dietary information, as well as step-by-step heating instructions, and menu suggestions. You'll see that they're stored properly?"

"Uh, yeah. Thanks," Josh gawked.

As Josh left the office, he could hear Leo bellowing half way down the hall. "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Margaret! Sam's not auditioning wives, here!"

•••••

Most of the sandwich Josh had left for Sam was gone. What wasn't eaten, a gnawed section abandoned on the plate, sat on top of the note.

The television mumbled away on its own; no one in the room to answer it. Josh took in the stack of pillows smashed against one end of the sofa, and the pile of opened mail on the coffee table beside the plate. Hearing a sound come from within the bedroom, he waited for Sam to emerge a moment later.

"You're back."

Just seeing Sam standing there, a little hunched, still pale, made the lump in Josh's throat lurch. "You look a little better. Let me see your eye." Stepping around the two oversized shopping bags, he came closer to Sam, turned him into the light. "The swelling's really come down." Fingertips hovered over the ugly discoloration. "How does it feel?"

"Warm. And tight. But, I don’t think it hurts." Sam flinched when Josh's fingers danced too close.

"And the ribs?"

"You know what they say. It only hurts when I breathe." It alarmed Josh that Sam didn't even attempt a conciliatory smile here. "No, they're okay. If I take it easy, I'm not in any pain." Sam moved away from Josh and continued on to the sofa. "What's in the bags?" he wondered, looking into them briefly as he passed.

"You won't believe it," Josh said, a pair of shallow dimples, like parentheses, appearing around his smile. "Margaret organized an assistant meal train for you. I have no idea what's in here, but it looks like a hell of a lot of food."

"Your note said you were going to pick up the car."

Josh was worried about the flat, faulty sound of Sam's voice. Coming around to face him, he noticed his eyes, staring nowhere. He sat down gingerly next to Sam, one hand drifting over his leg. "I did. Then I stopped by the office."

"Of course."

"Yeah. Everyone says, you know, feel better; come back soon." Josh scrutinized Sam cautiously.

Skimming his eyes over Josh briefly, Sam's lids fluttered, and he looked away. "Who did you talk to?"

"No one," Josh coughed back too quickly. "Everyone. They all said to say hello."

Sitting on Sam's right, looking at him in profile, Josh could pretend everything that had happened in the last twenty hours had happened to another man, another couple. Certainly not to Sam, loving and spirited and full of an unquenchable desire to do right.

Dropping his eyes to their hands, unconsciously intertwined in Sam's lap, the bleak reality squeezed back into place, displacing Josh's well-intentioned denial. Scabs had formed over the top of Sam's knuckles, the swelling decreased, but not completely gone.

"So, what did you do while I was gone?" Josh asked casually after clearing his throat.

"I slept. Took a shower. Called my parents. Did you... talk to anyone, Josh?" Sam turned to take a side-long glance at his friend, before lowering his voice solemnly. "Did you tell anyone?"

"No. I didn't talk to anyone." One of Josh's fingers flicked lightly over Sam's. A reassuring gesture, and a reminder that he was the one sitting right there. "But we have to talk. We should finish talking about this."

A groan Josh knew had to be painful ripped out of Sam's chest. He twitched his hand, a feeble attempt to pull away, but Josh could feel the underlying desire to stay connected.

Sam quieted quickly, but he remained sitting rigidly on the edge of the sofa. "There isn't anything to talk about."

"Before you make this decision ­ "

"Think about it? Is that your helpful suggestion?" Sam brought both their hands to his brow, seemly oblivious to the fact that he was still gripping Josh's tightly. "You can't think I came to this lightly. You know me better than that."

"Thought I did," Josh scoffed, a little more bitterly than he'd intended. "Which is exactly why I can't understand what you're doing here."

"I know you can't," Sam conceded. "Every time another screen of mug shots flickered past without my recognizing one of the bastards, I knew I was moving a little further away from someone finding out the truth. And a part of me was screaming to put a stop to it all, right then and there." Sam dropped their hands, his own fingers disentangling reluctantly. "And then I'd look over at you, and I'd see that expression you get." He licked his lips. "You didn't have to touch me for me to feel you. Or say anything for me to hear what you were thinking. You threw these looks at me and I realized, I never want them to stop finding me, so I... I kept looking at the pictures."

"Do you know why I look at you like that?"

Sam looked embarrassed.

"Do you know that one of the most attractive, amazing, endearing qualities you possess is your invincible belief in things? Now, I look at you, Sam, and I don't know what you believe in. Not us. Not the system, or your role in it."

"That's not fair ­ "

"Fair?!" Josh slammed to his feet, then seeing the abject misery on his lover's face, retook his seat immediately. "What's fair about you turning your back on all those other guys, huh?"

An expression of mild confusion skittered across Sam's face.

"The other guys who've been beaten to a pulp; the ones who weren't as lucky as you!" Josh yelled at him. "The ones who were either injured so badly, or felt so vulnerable, they couldn't identify their attackers?" Josh snatched Sam's hand, fully aware that he might run off at any moment.

Sam cringed at the pressure to his hand, but gripped Josh back just as tightly. "I can't save the world," he said wearily. "But I can try and save our chance at being happy."

"We don't need saving." The bitterness Josh felt seeped into his words. "Keeping this relationship together is not your job alone."

"I'm not saying it is," Sam sighed. "But it's, it's the most important thing in my life right now, Josh, and I didn't even realize it myself until this happened." For the first time since they had both stepped into this wavering world of blood and bruises, a barely visible smile appeared on Sam's lips.

Daring to match the expression, Josh slipped an arm around Sam's shoulder, drawing him close enough to catch the fresh scent of shampoo in his hair. Closing his eyes, his fingers lightly played against the fabric of Sam's shirt, his other hand still holding Sam's tightly. He wanted to absorb Sam into himself, trap him in a secure embrace of sinew.

Feeling Sam sigh against him, hearing his helpless moan float up to his ears, Josh's own body began betraying him. He tried to extinguish the warmth crawling through his belly with thoughts of his sincere concern for Sam's health. He concentrated on how freakishly long Sam's pinkies were, the way the hem of his t-shirt was beginning to unravel. None of these things quelled the continued awakening Josh felt in his groin. The heat that had begun in his stomach began draining into his thighs, pooling between his legs. He could feel himself grow firmer, and he couldn't help feeling like he was betraying Sam too.

Laying his lips against the side of his lover's head, Josh willed the blood to stop flowing to his awakened cock, but it was useless. Sam had squirmed against Josh, opening the floodgates.

"Sam," he mumbled into his hair. "God, Sam, I want you so badly right now. I think I need to... go for a walk or something." Josh started to retract his arm, but the pleading look he discovered on Sam's face stopped him cold.

"You don't have to go anywhere. I want you too."

"We can't. You can't possibly."

"Just kiss me, then."

Josh would kiss Sam. He'd hold him, and pet him and take over, if Sam would just let him.

Sinking into Sam's mouth, Josh hummed contentedly, tasting a slippery tongue, suckling there until he was out of breath. Curiosity led his hand to Sam's crotch, where he felt heat, but no sign of arousal. Pressing carefully, he closed his hand around the quiet bulge he recognized from clandestine gropes behind Sam's desk at work. Running his tongue along the inside of Sam's lip brought a faint whimper, and Josh remembered too late the trickle of blood that had been drawn across Sam's chin the night before.


He mumbled an inadequate apology against his mouth and brought a hand up to caress Sam's face.

Pulling back slightly, azure blue eyes looked back at Josh, unfocused and unsure. "I want more."

"I don't think so," Josh chuckled lightly.

"I want more."

"Then why are you wincing? C'mon, Sam. There's plenty of time later. Despite what you might think about our future." Josh felt the end of the sentence drop off his tongue, too late to pull it back.

Sam swung his head away from Josh sharply, and began chewing his lip. He straightened the fingers of the hand Josh was holding, splaying them out rigidly, making it impossible for Josh to miss the message. Off.

Removing his arm, Josh got off. Off Sam, off the sofa.

"I think I will take that walk. Or... maybe I should go home tonight. I'm just gonna put this food away. Is there anything I can get you before I go?"

Just eyes darting around the room, maybe a mist layered over the tired blue. But Sam said nothing.

•••••

"Toby."

"Hi, Sam. I'm, I'm sorry, I should have called first. But I thought, if you were resting, the phone would wake you. This way..."

"Your knocking would wake me?"

Toby chuckled lightly, but there wasn't any humor attached to it, just an unmistakable quality Sam recognized as discomfort.

"I thought Josh would hear, and quietly come to the door to tell me to go away." The smile was genuine now.

Toby perched on the edge of a chair near the sofa. He looked ready to bolt. Sam wasn't very surprised that Toby accepted the drink he suggested. He *was* surprised when Toby asked if Josh had been taking good care of him.

The sun had set, and a chill settled in that Sam could feel coming from the window all the way on the other side of the room.

And Josh wasn't back.

Toby filled him in on the status of some policy meetings Sam had been scheduled to lead, and recited verbatim a page and a half of a speech he was working on. CJ had bought pepper spray to carry in her briefcase, and Toby got five minutes out of ridiculing the fact that he was sure her would-be attackers would pause while she dug around for it.

And Josh wasn't back.

A shiver wracked Sam's shoulders, and Toby draped a throw across them, not making eye contact, and not interrupting his soliloquy on cotton imports.

When Josh finally did come back, Toby took his empty glass to the kitchen, and left amid awkward minutes that should have been filled with supportive hugs.

Then Sam stood in the kitchen, frankly aghast at the military precision Margaret and the assistants had shown compiling a week's worth of meals for him. "Did you see this, Josh? They broke down the nutritional information on *everything!*"

"Sam."

"Bonnie made jambalaya."

"Sam."

"I love jambalaya."

"Sam, stop it."

He blinked at Josh, hand still holding up the sheet of White House stationary for him to see.

"I don't know what you want me to say, Josh. I've tried to explain. I don't think I can do a better job of it."

They sat at the table, Sam's dejected expression set like stone. He thought back, to try and discern the moment he'd discovered that living with Josh was more important than living with himself.

"I want to be with you, Sam." Josh silenced the other man with a look. "And right now, we are together. If we don't work out... well, I can't see that happening for any other reason than what you plan to do here."

"Excuse me? I'm trying to give us the chance ­ "

"I don't buy it. I don't see you living with something like this. And if you can, then you really aren't the man I thought I knew. I can't believe you don't know that I rely on you for that. That's who you are to me. If I can't count on you for that...."

"What?"

"You're not the Sam I fell in love with."

The grind of the icemaker took over the conversation, protesting through its cycle while the two men sat waiting their turn. After the muffled clunk of cubes tumbled into the bin, they were brought back into a loaded silence.

Reaching across the short distance, Josh's fingers settled alongside Sam's.

"They'll ask me if we're lovers," Sam said quietly. "That'll be the first thing. And I'll be compelled to tell them. From there, it's how long, and who knew? The president will be asked the question, and he won't be happy."

"Bullshit."

"Oh, he'll answer it. Proudly. But he won't be happy. That's how it'll be. They'll be supportive and non-judgmental. And deep down, they'll all be wishing we'd kept it secret, or kept our hands off each other, or.... And that's gonna wear us down, Josh."

Sam looked up at the man he'd admired and respected for so long. He saw the future they had discussed for years, over sweaty bottles of beer, and a growing, never-voiced attraction that kept them darting in and out of each other's lives. Josh, the king maker. Sam, man of the people.

Sam allowed the silence to settle around them like fog. Neither one moved, or looked away. Their eyes locked in an unwavering connection. Sam's pleading; Josh's solemnly reproachful.

Finally, "You know that you're dooming us to secrecy, Sam. You know that."

"In time ­ "

"No." Josh told him. "Do you know what happens if we go public later?" His voice grew into a disdainful growl. "You'll have made us liars; to the press, to the police. If they ever catch these assholes without your help, we'll have to lie." Josh shook his head in amazement. "And I'm actually considering letting you do this."

"I told you." Sam's voice, tempered with reluctance. "This is *my* decision. If it makes it easier for you."

Josh's snort was dismissive. "Yeah, Sam. That makes it all better." Each word, weighted with insincerity, dropped from his mouth to the floor. He drew his chair closer, until their knees were nearly touching, and although Sam's instinct was to move closer too, he stayed where he was, hands still and folded on the table.

"Sam, listen to me. You do this, and we will never be able to go public. We'll be stuck in this lie, at least for the rest of our term, if not forever." Josh directed Sam's eyes to him with a guiding hand to his chin. "I may not have planned to come out to the whole world tomorrow, but I'm not about to surrender the rest of my life to living like that. You'll make liars of us all."

Sam ducked his head down briefly, when Josh moved his hand away. "I don't see another way, Josh." Sam looked up at him through cloaking lashes. "We just, we don't have all the pieces in place. Leo can't even *say* the word bi-sexual while looking either one of us in the eye. CJ thinks we're precious; Toby uses such neutral language around me, I can barely decipher what he's saying half the time. We could come out, go through that whole circus, only to break up under the same scrutiny. No one's ready for something like this. Not them, not us."

Josh took Sam's hands in his, coiled their fingers together. "We don't have to be ready. We just have to be together I. Love. You." He allowed a small, incredulous smile to rise to his lips. "You can't believe how miraculous it is to me, to say those words to you. You; Sam Seaborn. I can't imagine ever going back to the way things were before I could say them."

For only the second time since they'd been plunged into a swirling sea of circumstance, Sam managed to smile back at his lover. "Oh, I can believe. Completely."

"Then you'll believe this, Sam." Josh tugged on Sam's hands, ignoring the almost imperceptible sign of discomfort on the face he often thought of as perfect. "When the time comes, when you realize that you can't live with your decision, when you're looking for someone to blame, you better make damn sure it's not me."

Sam recoiled slightly from the intensity in Josh's eyes, the bitterness of the words. "I won't take the blame in your mind, when you start to turn this around, looking for someone to punish," Josh finished.

The quiet shattering of Sam's heart passed unnoticed in the brightly lit kitchen. The crisp sheet of White House stationary fluttered to the floor when he abruptly got to his feet. He turned his back to Josh, placing his hands on the edge of the sink to steady himself against the waves of regret he already felt displacing the fractured shards in his chest.

"Now who's only thinking about the end?" he asked the backsplash above the sink.

"I'm thinking about you, Sam." Josh rose from his chair and came up behind him, placed his hands carefully around his waist. "I'm thinking about how doing the right things for the right reasons has defined your life ever since I've known you. And I'm thinking about how, as much as I want to, I'll never be able to protect you from yourself, when the full weight of this gets to be too much, or someone else gets hurt. Or worse." He pushed his body close, mindful of the injuries to Sam's suddenly shaking body.

Leaning his head back into Josh, Sam felt loving lips creep up to his ear. "I won't watch the man I love do that to himself, or to us," Josh whispered, his breath a living thing against Sam's skin.

It wasn't sex Sam was thinking of. He just wanted to be touched by something other than fists.

Shifting his body so his hips pressed against the other man's groin, he rocked slowly, feeling Josh fall into the rhythm. An unchecked moan grew in Sam's throat as he felt Josh hardening.

He couldn't remember who led whom into the bedroom. He knew Josh lay on the bed first, pulling Sam down beside him. He knew that he was as shocked by his own strengthening erection as Josh seemed to be, when he'd slipped his hand into Sam's jeans, fondling it reverently.

Sam felt a swelling in his chest, a partial mending together of the splintered heart and life he'd left back on the kitchen table. Vacantly thought he should clean all that up before going to bed, the way he liked to do with the dinner dishes. Nothing bothered Sam more than waking up to a mess in the kitchen.

But he couldn't pull himself away from Josh's kisses, dwindling as he undressed Sam with hesitant hands; surging again when he lay naked and exposed on top of the covers. Josh shucked his own clothing, waving away Sam's awkward, helpless motions.

Feet caressing feet, knees opening knees, cocks dueling and stomachs aligned, Sam felt whole, healed. Josh's mouth claimed him, and released him, finding new places to engulf. His nipples grew painful under a wicked tongue, and the pounding between his legs was nearly distracting him from the nimble fingers that found their way under, and into him.

He moaned indulgently, heedless of the compressed discomfort from his badgered ribs. All he knew was that Josh was still with him, still loving him, still in love with him. For another hour or another month, Sam couldn't know. But he felt, as surely as he felt the hand curl around him and begin the measured stroking, that he would prove Josh wrong; would find a way to live with his decision.

"Am I hurting you?"

"Not even close."

"You have tears in your eyes."

"I love you."

He tasted Josh's tongue in his mouth, familiar and thrilling as it probed the dark, wet cavern thoroughly. He longed to flick his own tongue over bullet­hard nipples, breathe the thick, musky scent between Josh's legs. To run his hands over Josh, to feel the throbbing pulse in his cock; but the pleasure and the pain kept him pinned in place.

"I can't feel you, Josh."

"I'm right here."

"I mean I can't *reach* you."

"You don't have to. Shh."

The trembling thunder in his thighs, in his belly, began to radiate from the center of him, sweeping through Sam in undulating waves. Josh's sure, strong grip tightened and quickened, and Sam saw flashes of twinkling blue light above the bed.

"God, I'm close."

"I know."

"I'm, I'm gonna - "

"I know."

"Josh."

"I know."

He pulled Josh to him, arched his hips up to solidify the contact. Pain bit him like a viper, just as he felt the scorching fire shoot from his body. His groans lingered on, as a tiny string of quieter convulsions shook him, wrung out of him as Josh smoothed his fingers over and over his un-bruised cheek.

"Ah, god, Sam. I can't, I just can't."

Sam nipped at Josh's collarbone, the taste of skin sour on his tongue.

"We can. I promise you we can."

Their bodies were fused together, cemented by the drying stickiness that coated Sam's stomach and thighs.

"I didn't tell the President of the United States, and my *mother* that I was sleeping with a man, just so I could keep it a secret from everyone else for the rest of my life." Josh leaned on his elbows, gazing down at the distressed expression looking back. He touched his head to Sam's, a brief nuzzle to his ear, a light kiss to the full lips.

Sam shifted under Josh, craved the feel of the body covering his own. He ignored the ache it brought, the physical as well as the emotional. "Three men, Josh," his voice harsh and whispery. "They came out of nowhere. Stepped right into my life. And when they were done hitting me, when I was home, and it was just you and me, I thought the only way to get them out was to will them away. I'm just trying to make them go away."

Josh rolled off of Sam, and settled on his back, pulling the younger man to him with remarkable tenderness. "You know you can't, though. Right?" Josh's fingers combed through Sam's hair. "You know."

Sam burrowed his non-response into Josh's neck. His own hand brushed across his lover's chest, mesmerizing a brown nub into a tight point. "Josh, please. I'm so tired. I can't keep doing this." This discussion, this debate, this dance around their future, and what exactly each man thought would be its downfall.

His hand had just found Josh, semi-hard, yielding and hot to his touch. He had just subdued the dull twinge in his ribcage, when Josh nearly dislodged him by sitting up against the headboard.

"Then don't, Sammy. Don't." His thumb lifted a lock of hair from Sam's forehead and moved it carefully away. Sam's breath warmed Josh's face. "Okay, you're trembling now; that can't be good."

Sam sniffed once, placed his hands on Josh's chest lightly, possessively. "Then maybe you should put your arms around me."

Josh brought Sam to him, arms encircling the battered body, the gentle soul, the grave optimism and the aching spirit.

Falling into the security of Josh's arms, docking himself to him with determined faith, Sam sighed wearily, and looked up into the saddest eyes he'd ever seen. He marveled at the feeling of being joined, yet drifting, and questioned whether he had the strength to even face which one he'd be left with in the morning.

"I...."

"What, Sam?"

He ground his mouth into Josh's, left a trail of kisses across his face; breadcrumbs he could follow, in case he got lost and couldn't find his way back. "I could call Detective Hodges. In the morning."

Josh didn't stir. Even his chest ceased its gentle rising and falling.

"I could tell him. I do remember more. Then I did before." Sam kept his eyes fastened to the edge of the bed, where the sheets spilled off the side. "I remember what they said, and I, I...." His emotions overtook the words, enveloping them in a hoarse whisper. "I know they weren't trying to jack my car. They were, they just wanted to, they were...." He shook his head against the side of Josh's face, dragging his eyes up to meet his lover's. "God, Josh, please tell me? Tell me we'll be all right?"

Looking deeply into sapphire eyes, Josh spoke with controlled passion. "When we got together, my priorities shifted; in a way that had never happened to me before. I, I barely noticed at the time. But... it's that simple." He ran his eyes and his hands over Sam's quivering body. "So, this is what I do now. You and I. All right? You understand?"

Sam nodded hesitantly. "So, I call. And then...." His voice trailed off, the words sinking leisurely, like small stones pitched into a murky pond.

"And then?" Josh prodded cautiously.

"And then, I wait for him to ask the question, I guess." Sam covered his face with one hand, pawing at his eyes with a lazy, distracted motion. "And we wait some more. To see if they catch these guys; for the media to catch wind. I don't know, Josh, what else am I gonna be waiting for?" he asked with muffled, unexpected anger.

A slow, heavy tear dropped from Josh's cheek onto his chest, and Sam reached for it, spreading it around in a circle with one long finger, then bent to brush his lips across it.

It tasted like the sea.

•••••

Sam's lips were soft. Josh could feel his tongue dart out to lap at the fallen tear, the scrape of perfect, white, movie star teeth rake across his skin. Enfolded in each other's arms, Josh swore to himself that he wouldn't let Sam give in to his dim prophecy of their future. He swore it to himself, but he stayed silent to Sam, knowing instinctively that promises would sound shallow and desperate to him at this moment.

Lips buried in Sam's hair, a frantic need pulling at him, Josh skimmed his hand down Sam's back, heedful of the livid bruises that colored his skin. But the need to feel all of his lover grew past his need to be cautious, and Sam seemed to understand this. He opened his mouth to Josh, accepted the kisses that were like an assault, moaned his approval when Josh brought Sam's hand to his hastily hardening shaft.

"If you want to stop, you can, you know you can, just, tell me you want to stop," Josh murmured as Sam dropped lower and lower down his body, a trail of fresh saliva marking his descent. "Ohhhhhhhhhh...."

A wash of heat enveloped him, wet and rough. Sam held one of Josh's arms down to his side, fingers cutting into the flesh with gritty deliberateness. Josh recognized Sam's unspoken yearning to exert some control, so he ignored the nails that dug deeper into his skin.

Bringing his head up for a moment, looking desperately into his lover's eyes, Sam impaled himself once more on Josh's pulsating erection, and remained fastened to him until Josh unleashed the full power of his love into his throat.

Afterwards, they lay wrapped in each other's arms once more, savoring a union neither had felt strong enough to surrender. The dulcet sound of Sam's breathing lulled Josh into an easy pre-sleep, unconcerned with the strong odor that engulfed them, or the flaking white substance that covered their bodies.

Josh had Sam. And he had the conviction to hold them together if Sam faltered again, unsure of the veracity of their relationship. He had the optimism Sam usually held onto so staunchly. But he also recognized the faint burble of doubt Sam had planted in him. And as he glided into sleep, a snatch of song came to him, drawling into his subconsciousness, and he murmured it to himself as he drifted off. "We can be heroes, just for one day...."

•••••

"Are you okay?" Josh asked solicitously, standing across the street from the police station. He'd thought Sam slept well; at least he knew he hadn't moved around much. That alone should have afforded Josh a good night's sleep, but it had only served to further his concern over Sam. And now there were new, dark smudges under Sam's eyes, and a pallor that had grown more evident since the night before despite the rest he'd gotten.

Sam struggled to manufacture a skimpy smile, and he offered it to Josh with a tilt of his head. "I think so." He chewed his lip thoughtfully for a moment, then looked up at Josh through the crackling blue of his eyes. "I do want to say something first. Before we go in." He shot a glance at the building on the other side of the street.

"'Kay."

Shuffling his feet made Sam look almost childlike. He took a deep breath, and Josh noticed that the grimace it brought was decidedly less than it had been yesterday. "I want you to know that, no matter what happens today or tomorrow, you're my best friend, Josh. Beyond everything else you mean to me, you're my best friend."

The simple phrase took Josh by surprise. He'd thought, when Sam started speaking, that he was about to express his love for the older man. Josh's own echoing declaration caught, and crumbled in his throat in the face of Sam's simple, sincere words.

Reaching out and clasping his lover to him was impossible, and also unnecessary. He could see in Sam's reflective eyes that he understood what the statement had meant to Josh. A barely audible "thank you," was all Josh could manage to say, but he infused it with all the wrenching potency of Sam's words to him.

Squaring his shoulders, Sam smiled bravely, if shyly, and stepped off the curb. Josh held his breath a moment, before following behind him, the rest of the song from the night before filtering into his head.

"Though nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh we can be heroes
Just for one day...."

End
•••••
Lyrics to "Heroes,' by David Bowie.

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