Title: Here alone
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: January 2003
Category: Josh/Sam
Rating: PG13
Email: jackiethomas73@hotmail.com Feedback appreciated.
Website: www.angelfire.com/realm2/wayfinding
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: Series two
Warnings: None
Summary: When his eyes have become accustomed to the darkness, he sees him.

Here alone by Jackie Thomas

But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty but to me
The entirely beautiful (WH Auden – Lullaby)

Sam is home from the Bar Association reception by midnight. He tugs his bowtie loose and goes into the kitchen to look for something to drink. There is nothing in the fridge so he tips ice cubes from the freezer into a glass of water and drinks that in front of the TV.

Josh is not home. Sam guesses he is still working after spending the day with the Big Tobacco legal team in preparation for court on Monday. When Sam looked into the Roosevelt Room Josh was deep in conversation with Mick Brewer and didn't turn around.

Josh shouldn't be this involved anyway. That's why they spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers upon lawyers. So Josh can get home before 2am on some Friday nights.

Sam falls asleep on the sofa and wakes again around three. There is a cop show on and the noise of a shootout has startled him awake. His head aches with a dull intensity and he rubs his neck, stiffened from the odd angle it has been stuck at.

He finishes the warmed up water and watches as a man falls dead on the sidewalk. He has been shot, the bullet entering his chest a fraction lower than the one that hit Josh. He finds the remote digging into his back and switches off the television.

Josh is not home. He knows without checking because Josh would have woken him and not left him twisted in front of the TV, dreams tangling with the late night schedule.

He thinks about calling Josh's cell, telling him to come home. But if he is working with people around it could be awkward. And if he is sleeping in the office, as he does sometimes, it would be even less welcome.

He goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth, then peels off his tuxedo and goes to bed. Four hours ago he was so tired he could hardly string a sentence together. Now, after the brushing and the undressing, he cannot sleep at all. He listens to the clock radio but switches off when the classical music station interrupts for news and CJ comes on. He stares at the ceiling for a while and then wonders if he's cold. He puts on one of Josh's sweatshirts and finally goes to sleep.

He wakes with the light seeping in through cracks in the blinds. He has had uninterrupted sleep, which is good. But it was not deep or satisfying and his head still hurts from last night. Also, he thinks he might have a hangover from drinking champagne with nothing to eat but olives stuffed with, weirdly, jalapeno peppers.

He listens to the TV news while making coffee, swallows aspirin with the coffee. He leaves the mug on the edge of the bath and shaves while worrying about the lines that he believes he can see around his eyes. He is running to seed, he concludes. He should be taking exercise and eating properly to make up for the long hours and stress. But he lives off food left over from meetings and has not been to the gym in forever.

And Josh should have called by now. He usually calls if he is not coming home or the first chance after. They have the strangest of secret, inconvenient relationships but they usually call.

Sam showers, puts on jeans and a sweater and is in work by nine. He stops by Josh's office. He is not there and the papers in a heap on top of the other heaps are Big Tobacco. Josh is not in Toby's office either or the Roosevelt room. He is not with CJ and Leo is away.

He wonders if he should be worried or annoyed. Opts for worried and goes back to Josh's office just to see if he has shown up in the meantime. He hasn't. He uses Josh's phone to call home. There is no answer there so he tries his cell. A ringing from outside the office tips him off that Josh's cell phone is forgotten on Donna's desk.

Finally, because he cannot think what else to do, he calls Josh's apartment. The one he keeps for appearances. There is no reply there either and the answering machine clicks in.

He goes down to the mess, gets coffee out of the coffee machine, candy out of the candy machine and takes them back to his office.

The President is to address the United Nations on Thursday on the fragile ceasefire he has negotiated between Israel and Palestine. Sam wants to begin the address with images of renewal, of broken parts harmonising but all he can think of are temples crashing. Of the broken Buddhas in the Middle East, of earthquake shattered renaissance frescos in the South of Italy which he reads about in day old news briefings.

The phone doesn't ring. Neither of the phones ring. At one o'clock he realises he has not gone this long without speaking to Josh since he lived in New York.

CJ comes to get him and Toby for lunch. "It's so quiet," says CJ as they walk down to a sandwich place near the White House.

"Are you complaining?" Toby asks.

"Yes. It's too quiet."

"Where is Josh anyway?"

"Good question. Where's your furry friend, Sam?"

Sam has been trailing behind. He shrugs. "He was working late on Big Tobacco. Maybe he slept in."

"I think he's been acting weird again," CJ mulls. "Do you think he's all right?" She looks expectantly at Sam. He doesn't know and says so. But then worries he has not been paying attention and missed something. Again.

When Sam abandons his sandwich half eaten CJ asks him what's wrong. Instead of telling her he describes the restoration of the Renaissance frescos he has just read about. Shards and fragments sifted from the rubble had been fitted together like a ten thousand piece jigsaw in an achingly careful reconstruction. Toby stares at him and tells him not to put stuff like that in the UN address.

They go back to the office after lunch and Josh is still not in. Sam works a while longer but his concentration falters and he goes home. He finds the apartment empty.

He has brought his laptop home but soon abandons his work to play solitaire for hours as the daylight fades. He only stops when his eyes hurt so much he cannot see the screen anymore. He shuts down and, pulling on his jacket, he goes out. It is eight o'clock and he cannot sit at home anymore.

He drives to the few bars Josh sometimes goes to but he is not in any of them. In the last place he orders a drink and then leaves it untouched. He shouldn't be drinking. What if something has happened to Josh and Josh needs him?

At what point should he say something? At what point should he tell Leo, call the police, the secret service? It would be impossible to do any of those things without explaining the nature of his relationship with Josh. And he is not sure now he can do that, even to his own satisfaction.

To his immense relief he finds that Josh's car is parked outside the building when he returns home.

All the lights are off in the apartment but Josh's coat is on its hook and his bag is by the door where he always drops it. Josh is not in the living room so Sam goes first into the kitchen. When his eyes adjust to the dark he sees Josh there, peering into the refrigerator. He is dressed in yesterday's suit, minus his tie, but otherwise seems all right.

Sam curbs his first instinct to pull Josh into his arms. There is something in Josh's eyes he has never seen before warning him off. And anyway Josh won't let go of the fridge door.

"Are you all right?" He asks instead.

"I've been working," Josh says quickly. "On…"

"Right."

"On Big Tobacco. At Mick's place. We went…some of us went…"

"Mick Brewer? Did you get it done?"

"Yes."

Sam accepts this. It is not unusual to work through the night on a project, to look at your watch and find that nine or ten hours have passed. He wants to tell Josh he should have called but he doesn't want him to know he overreacted, or tell him he has been looking for him in bars.

Sam nods at the fridge. "Is there anything to eat?"

Josh shuts the door. "No. I'm not really hungry."

There is old bread which turns to stone when Sam toasts it. He works for a while and Josh watches the same news over and over on TV.

"I'm going to bed." Sam hears himself say when it is barely eleven o'clock.

"Okay." Josh says as Sam automatically presses a goodnight kiss to his lips.

The sound of Josh watching TV in the next room has always provided a sort of comfort and he goes to sleep soon enough. But it is not a satisfying sleep and he wakes early, his mind clogged with fragments of nightmares.

Josh has not come to bed. Sam gets up and goes into the living room and finds him asleep on the sofa. Not accidentally, not in front of the TV, but covered in a blanket he must have taken from the end of their bed.

Sam suddenly feels the chill of the early morning. He remembers last night's conversation and thinks of one thing. Josh's Big Tobacco papers were on his desk in his office at the time he said he was working on them.

He says Josh's name and he opens his eyes immediately. Josh sighs and, after a moment of staring up at Sam, sits up. He has only taken off his shoes and jacket to go to sleep.

"What's going on?" Sam asks. "Josh, what's happening?"

"Sit down." Josh says. He nods at an armchair not at the space next to him. Sam sits.

"Sam, something's happened and I'm going to be moving back to my apartment."

Sam stares.

"I've been having an affair with Mick Brewer." He looks unblinking at Sam, waits while he processes the information. "I've told him I don't want to see him anymore. But Sam, I've betrayed you and I don't think I can give you any assurances that it won't happen again. I'm worthless and faithless and you deserve better."

Sam can feel the world turning. "Don't you love me?"

"Sam." Josh sighs again, as if the question has wounded him. "Of course…yes, I love you."

"But that can't be true."

"It is. Believe me."

"Why should I believe you?"

"Okay," Josh's gaze does not falter. "But, I don't even know if we're compatible anymore. When was the last time we made love? When was the last time we talked about anything that wasn't work? This life destroys everything."

"Only if you let it."

"I'm not as strong as you."

"Do you love him?"

"I don't feel anything for him."

Suddenly he has to know. "When did it start?"

"A couple of months ago. The night you went to Toronto."

"Then how many times?"

"Sam…"

"How many times?"

Josh speaks softly, submitting to the cross-examination. "I don't know, the nights you thought I was in the office. The nights you were away."

"Where?"

"Hotels, his apartment."

Sam can think of lots more questions. How did he touch you? How did you touch him? But he can't stand to hear the answers.

Josh ends the conversation when he flounders. "I'm going to get my things together. I'm sorry."

"Yes, get out."

Sam can't be around for this. He goes into the bedroom and changes into sweats, a T-shirt and running shoes. He goes out, glancing at Josh, who hasn't moved from the sofa and is staring into the empty air ahead.

Sam runs a familiar route along the streets around the apartment building. It is early Sunday and he meets no one. He focuses on the run but he's out of shape and hasn't warmed up. He shouldn't be going so fast, running so hard and anyway it doesn't work, he can't stop thinking.

He thinks about Mick Brewer. A man he hardly knows and has never spoken to. A man that Josh mentions only in relation to work. He cannot understand how he never saw this, never entertained the most obvious explanation for Josh's increasing absences and distant behaviour. On some level, he tells himself, he has to have known. Can't really believe he is that stupid.

He wonders who made the first move. Wonders if it was Josh. If it was like the time so many years ago when Josh had sat back in his chair at the end of the night, as the barman closed the bar and said, "No, I can't do it, I can't leave you here alone." And had taken him home.

They had been in love. A rare enough thing in their world, between their sex. And Sam had trusted Josh unreservedly because he had no reason not to. Because he is that stupid. He stops running when his eyes blur with perspiration. He wipes them on the end of his T- shirt and starts running again.

He should have learnt by now that the people you should be able to trust the most are the ones that can be trusted the least. He should at least have learnt that.

He runs on, only stopping when he can hear his heart pulsing inside his head and his calf muscle cramps. He sits down on the pavement, leaning against a wall and tries again to wipe the perspiration from his eyes. He is rubbing his painful leg when he hears a car draw up. He looks up and sees it is Josh's car.

He watches him get out and come over. For a moment Josh is silent then he puts his hand in his pocket. "You went out without your key," he says.

Sam takes the key he is offered. "Thanks."

"Shall I…do you want me to drop you home?"

"No."

But Josh does not go away. Sam looks down and can see Josh's feet, unmoving beside him.

"Josh, leave me alone," he says eventually.

"You've hurt your leg. Come on, it won't take a minute and then you don't have to look at me for a whole four hours." He looks up then. Josh shrugs. "We've got senior staff."

He had forgotten. Leo had been away for a few days and wanted a senior staff meeting to catch up. "Shit."

He peels himself off the floor, puts too much weight on the bad leg, unbalances a little and ends up some how in Josh's arms.

Josh holds him tightly, unmoving and silent, holding Sam's head to his chest, his lips pressed to Sam's hair. He only lets go when Sam remembers and struggles free. Sam steps back and Josh puts his hands in his coat pockets and looks at his feet.

"Are you just going to go, Josh? Aren't you even going to try?"

"I am leaving." There is a flat, finality to the words that squashes any, come back. And Sam decides he's not going to say that again.

"Fuck you, then."

Sam turns away and starts walking, limping even, towards his own street. He is aware of Josh watching him until he reaches the corner of the block.

Josh has taken almost everything he owns from the apartment. He must have worked quickly, thoroughly and without a second thought. Sam stands in the middle of the living room. The apartment seems to be expanding at a dizzying rate. He clenches his fists, takes breath after breath, doesn't fall apart.

He quickly realises he cannot be at home. Josh's shadow continues to live there; in the scent of his aftershave, in the gaps where his suits have gone from the closet, even it seems in the patterns on the rug. Sam showers and goes to work.

Where nothing has changed except, in Senior Staff, Josh won't look at Sam and Sam won't look at Josh.

The days pass, Sam focuses on work and does everything he can to avoid going home. He finishes the draft of the UN address and spends his evenings revising and refining. The images he keeps are of healing, communication, restoration. He deletes the dark, shattering descriptions of destruction that appear, line after line, on his computer screen.

Toby reads it at midnight on Wednesday after demanding to know what Sam has been doing all this time. Sam has some ideas on how it can be improved.

"Leave it alone," Toby says. "It's a speech, not Wordsworth. Its perfect as it is."

"Perfect?" Sam raises an eyebrow despite himself.

"Well, you know, perfectly adequate."

"Thank you, Toby."

The world turns, oblivious and normal. Except CJ gives him a picture she has found in press cuttings of two of the restored frescoes. The ones he had read about the day before Josh left him.

"That's the point, isn't it?" She says. "The restoration, isn't it incredible?" Two saints smashed into dust and rubble and then healed as if God's hand had rested on them. It is incredible but even so the beautiful faces are cracked and flawed. The restoration is incomplete. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the healing god is imperfect or disinterested.

The world turns, oblivious and normal except Sam swings from hurt to fury each time Josh passes his office. Still, it is easier to be working with Josh than not. It is easier to know exactly what Josh is doing most hours of most days than to be wondering and imagining.

What Josh is doing is working. This isn't unusual, Josh has always worked hard. But it is different now. He works without looking up from his page, without cracking up his meetings with a joke. There is no time wasted in teasing Donna, annoying Toby, joining in other people's arguments for the fun of it. No more fun. Just a sombre silence which seems to spread like ice, from his office throughout the building.

CJ and Toby notice the difference. Sam sees the way Toby watches Josh. But it is not like before, it is not like that Christmas. Josh is calm and civil to people, he is not having mood swings. Sam cannot in any way explain this to Toby, cannot explain that this time, if he is unhappy, he has pretty much brought it on himself.

CJ is getting to be a bit of a problem about it.

"You know I really think there's something wrong with Josh," she says lingering in the doorway of Sam's office when he fails to invite her in. "I don't understand why you don't see it."

Sam shrugs, thinks about saying, `talk to someone who cares' instead settles for the less petulant. "He's got work to do that's all."

"Really, do you think that's it?" She frowns. "Maybe you should talk to him."

"You talk to him CJ, I've got 142 things to do before I can even think of going home tonight."

She tilts her head, bird-like and looks at him curiously.

"I mean. I'm just…"

She says. "You know I read about a kind of parasite that can only complete its life cycle inside a cat. So when a rat catches the parasite, it makes the rat behave in a disinhibited manner, so that it throws itself at cats until it gets eaten by one."

"CJ."

"Now they think it has the same effect on humans. So if it gets into your brain you have the urge to make yourself more alluring to cats."

"And you're telling me this because…?"

"Toxoplasma Gondii." She says annunciating each syllable. "It's a parable, a lesson. We learn that people may have less choice than you think they do in what they do. I'm going now. To flaunt myself in front of a cat."

When they are due to leave for New York Josh reads through the final draft of the address. They are in Josh's office and it is the first time they have been alone since they broke up. Sam stands with his arms folded, staring at his feet but he looks up when Josh closes the file.

"It's beautiful Sam, really beautiful." Sam watches him, looks at him properly for the first time. He remembers the broken saints and can't unravel Josh's expression. A thing he used to be able to do so easily.

"How are you, Josh? How have you been?"

Josh half-smiles in response. "You don't have to ask that anymore?"

"I know, but anyway."

"I'm okay. I don't feel anything much. How about you?"

Sam shrugs. "It hurts."

"I'm sorry."

"Yeah, you said." He looks into Josh's eyes, he looks exhausted. "But you can't expect to go through life without picking up one or two scars. Right. You said that."

"I talk a lot of crap." He hands the speech back to Sam, abruptly ending the conversation.

"Anyway," Sam speaks when the silence threatens to engulf them. "I have to go and give this to the President." He starts to leave but then stops in the doorway and turns. He catches Josh staring steadily after him. He thinks Josh has become an unbreakable code. He holds the file up. "Is this…are there any changes?"

"No, its perfect," Josh says and reaches for some paperwork. "Can you close the door behind you."

After he has left the speech for the President to look over he goes back to Communications to get his coat and briefcase. He goes with Toby to the cars that are taking the President and staff to Air Force One. CJ and Carol are already there. Leo is waiting for the President and talking to Margaret. Donna is there but no Josh yet.

As the minutes pass Donna looks increasingly anxious. Eventually she gets out her phone and has a swift conversation. She puts her phone into her pocket and exchanges a glance with Margaret. Leo catches the exchange.

"Donna, where's Josh?" Leo asks.

"He's not coming."

"Why not?"

"Something came up."

"What the hell came up?" As Donna begins to stammer out an answer he says. "All right, never mind."

The President appears then with Charlie and his secret service agents. Leo goes with him in his car leaving the staff, except Sam, exchanging perturbed looks. Sam gets into one of the cars before CJ can start asking him what he thinks is wrong with Josh.

The United Nations are not the type of crowd to give standing ovations but Sam's address is well received. When it is over and the President leaves the podium to enthusiastic applause Sam instinctively looks around for Josh. To see his reaction, to share the moment with him. That he is not there, that he is not where he is supposed to be unexpectedly hits him. The sheer strangeness of it knocks the breath out of him. It could not have been more strange if he looked down to find his arm suddenly missing.

He believes then that he is incomplete without Josh, realises he must try to salvage what he can of their relationship. Why should Mick Brewer mean the end? He was a mistake and everyone is allowed a mistake.

He goes outside into the cool New York evening and telephones Josh. He calls all of his numbers. He gets a staffer from Josh's office telling him that Josh has left for the day. There is no reply from his apartment or cellphone numbers. He leaves messages that he needs to see him urgently.

"Did you speak to him?"

CJ is standing behind him.

"I was just…"

"Calling Josh, I know. What did he say?"

Sam sighs. "There's no answer."

She nods and changes the subject. "That was good work there, Sam. I saw Brazil and Belgium shedding a manly tear." He is so tired he can no longer tell when she is joking.

Back in DC Sam goes straight to Josh's apartment. He knocks but there is no answer. He decides to wait for him, sits on his doorstep for an hour or more before it gets late and he gives up and goes home.

In his apartment he makes himself a drink and then another. He watches TV until he falls asleep there on the couch. He wakes at three with a familiar headache, more tired than when he went to sleep. He takes a shower and goes back to work.

It is still early in the day when Sam gets a call from Margaret. Leo wants to see all the senior staff straight away in his office. Toby is already there when Sam arrives, talking quietly to Leo. CJ follows him in with a cup of coffee which smells so inviting Sam takes it from her.

"God, look at the state of you, don't you sleep?" She says.

Donna comes in with Margaret saying. "Josh isn't here yet, I'm sure he'll…"

Leo interrupts. "Margaret, close the door. Josh is what we're meeting about, so lets gets started."

Sam looks up from his notebook. "Where is he?"

"He's taking some time off."

"Josh doesn't take time off," exclaims CJ.

"He never said anything to me," says Donna.

"He called me this morning," Leo continues. "He says he's tired and his doctor advised him to take some time. He didn't say how long he'd be off and he didn't tell me anything else. I was hoping you guys would enlighten me. But by the looks on your faces I guess not."

"Something's been on his mind," CJ says. "I knew it. Didn't I say Sam? I knew something wasn't right. I'll phone him."

Leo shakes his head. "He says he won't be at home. I guess he might be going to see his mom but he asked me to say he didn't want any calls."

Sam's concern for Josh increases. Things would have to be bad for Josh to take even one sick day. At least, though, he is talking to a doctor, at least he is taking time off. As his therapist used to nag him to do those few times he actually went to see her.

"So, I need to farm out some of his work. Sorry guys." Leo looks through some notes, distributes the projects that can't wait. "Sam can you take Big Tobacco?"

"No." He drops his notebook and the coffee nearly goes after it.

"I'm sorry?"

"Nothing." He is on the floor gathering papers together. "Sorry."

"What's the matter? Have you taken up smoking or something?"

"No. I'll do it. Absolutely. Sorry I…it's fine."

Leo eyes him despairingly and then sends them back to work.

He walks back to Communications with Toby. "Do you know about this, Sam?"

"I don't."

"Well, why not? You two used to be Bob and Bing. What happened?"

"Dorothy Lamour."

"What?"

"Nothing. Really I don't know. Josh doesn't talk to me anymore." That much at least is true.

He has only been at his desk a few moments and is half-forming an idea to go back to Josh's apartment to see if he is there and check he is all right when the phone rings.

He almost knows its Josh before he answers.

"Sam."

"Hey. We heard you weren't coming in."

"Yes."

"Leo said you were taking some time."

There is a long pause. "I should have called you first."

"Not technically."

Josh doesn't seem to know how to respond to this. "No," he says finally.

"I appreciate the call Josh," Sam says, wondering that Josh seems to have forgotten their ancient speech rhythms. "Are you…are you all right?"

"Yes. I didn't want you to be…Anyway. I should…"

"Are you sure you're okay?"

There is another silence that worries Sam. "Yes."

"Okay. Maybe you should phone CJ she's going a bit batty worrying about you and I can't say much."

"All right," Josh says unconvincingly. They drift into silence again.

"But she might start talking about cat parasites." Sam offers.

"Yes, that's what happened last time."

"Do you want me to come over?" Sam asks.

"No."

"Fine."

"No, I mean. I'm not at home."

"Where are you?"

Josh doesn't answer.

Light dawns. "Are you with him?" Sam exclaims.

Josh pauses. "Yes."

"Don't call me anymore," he says and hangs up.

He slams papers on to the floor and kicks the side of his desk. He stands, knocking his chair against the wall. Ginger looks up from her work, wide eyed. He doesn't trust what he'll do next so he goes to the men's room. He stands in a cubicle, breathing hard trying to regain control.

He can't believe he has allowed himself to be deceived again. Can't believe he so willingly believed the lies Josh told him. The one thing he should have learnt is that Josh cannot be trusted.

With a sense of relief he decides, finally, to draw a line under his long history with Josh. Makes a decision to learn how to get along without him.

When he has calmed down and his anger has been replaced by a dull grief he goes to see Donna. He needs to take over the Big Tobacco files and see where it all is after Monday's preliminary hearing. He mostly wants to find out how long he can get away without dealing with it.

Not long. At three o'clock Donna whisks him into a meeting with the legal team and a few other interested parties. It is a follow-up from the last hearing and thankfully it is over in half an hour after a quick review and update on funding. Sam is theoretically leading the meeting but mostly he can just listen.

Mick Brewer, of course, is there. Sam finds he cannot take his eyes from him. He is a sober, dark eyed man, probably a little older than Josh. He doesn't say much but when he speaks he seems to instantly end any dispute or argument. Sam can easily see why Josh would be attracted to him.

After the meeting, Mick comes over to talk to Sam. They shake hands. "I don't think we've ever met," Mick says.

"Its good to meet you," Sam says grimly.

"Is Josh handing the project over to you, Sam? Or will he still be involved?"

Sam meets his gaze, searches it for hidden meanings and finds none. "He's taking a few days off but we expect him back soon enough."

"That's not like him, is it? I've never known Josh to have a day off."

"Well there was that time he had the bullet in his lung."

"Yes," he says raising his eyebrows. "That would even slow Josh down. But I didn't think he looked that great last time I saw him. Acted sort of washed out, flat like."

"When was that Mick?" Sam asks, keeping his temper with difficulty.

"When did I see him? I don't know, Monday." He shrugs. "But anyway if you want any help with this just give me a call." He leaves then with his colleagues. Sam wonders if Josh knows that Mick is this cool, wonders if Mick lies so easily to Josh. He stops the thought. `His problem not mine.'

CJ stops him as he passes by her office. She has photographs in her hand. "Hey Sparky. Want to see some incriminating pictures?"

"Not really." Then he wonders what she can possibly have and says cautiously. "Of what?"

"Now that's guilt talking. I should investigate that further." He starts to walk away but she stops him again. "Sam, Sam. Come and talk to me. I won't tease."

He reluctantly follows her into her office and is alarmed when she closes the door.

She waves a hand for him to sit down and sits herself. "Sam, I hope you don't mind me asking but did something happen between you and Josh?"

"No," he says, caught off-guard by the question.

"I've been picking up a vibe between the two of you. Josh has been acting pretty weird. And now he's gone and you're slouching about like Rufino without Vittorino."

Sam blinks. "Who?"

"Those Saints. The earthquake boys. Its Renaissance humour. See how talented I am."

"Ah."

"So, I just wondered if it was anything."

"Nothing. Honestly." He wishes he could tell CJ everything. Pour his earthquake shattered heart into her hands.

"Because PTSD is a serious thing," she says surprisingly. "We forget, because its Josh and he forgets but you don't just get over it."

"Look, CJ…"

"I know you're not going to say anything. Maybe you and Josh have some kind of thing that isn't my business…But PTSD has lots of symptoms, we all looked it up that Christmas and you're so close to him you might not even see it."

"I really can't talk about this," he says quietly.

"I can't get hold of him, neither can Leo. I just think you're the only one who can make sure he's all right."

Sam notices his hand has plunged itself into his hair. He drops it flat on to his lap. "CJ. Josh is doing exactly what he wants to do, just like he always does."

She looks steadily at him. "Okay. Then."

"Sorry, it's just…"

"Yeah."

There is a difficult silence so Sam nods at the photographs she has in her hand. "What have you got there?"

She pauses, deciding whether to let him change the subject and then says. "It's pictures from the thing last Friday. There's an adorable one of you."

He takes them from CJ. "Adorable? I was going for statesmanlike."

It is fairly standard picture of him looking bewildered at the Bar Association with a canapé on its way to his mouth. There is one similar from almost every White House event he's ever been to. Toby is in the picture too.

"Did you tell Toby he looked adorable?"

"Yes, in fact, I did. He growled."

He takes the rest of the pictures from CJ and looks at each one, making the expected comments. Then one particular photograph catches his eye. It is a group picture of eight or nine guests. He only looks at it because of the people in it from Gage Whitney. But there, half in and half out of frame, is the last person in the world he wants to see. Mick Brewer.

He hadn't noticed Mick at the event but it was a well-attended function and, with Leo and Josh not there, Sam had been busy throughout.

"Do you know Mick Brewer?" He asks.

"The tobacco guy? He's cute." CJ says looking sideways at the photograph. "Find a picture with more than an eyebrow in and you'll see."

Sam rolls his eyes. "I wasn't asking about a date CJ. You know. I've got to do this tobacco thing."

"Excuse me for having eyes. He's a good guy. Real passionate, one of the few in this town who mean what they say." Sam nods, not particularly wanting to hear good stuff. "His wife died of lung cancer, did you know that?"

"I don't know anything about him. When did it happen?"

"A while ago but that's why he's so evangelical about Big Tobacco. They had a couple of kids when she died. Real young ones. He's just remarried though."

CJ's phone rings then and he leaves her office. Mick Brewer is turning out to be even more of a mystery. Two children, a new wife and an absolute passion for his work. Once Sam would have said this would preclude involvement in a secret affair but if his father could carry it off for years so could anyone.

He is back in his office when the revival of that particular memory along with the raw pain of the day finally catches up with him. He closes the door and switches off the light. He keeps his back to the door to keep it closed because the lock has never worked and eventually slides down to the floor. He squeezes his eyes shut but he can't stop his thoughts whirling.

It is only then that he realises the person in CJ's photograph cannot possibly be Mick because Mick was with Josh that night. He puts `hallucinating Mick' onto his mental list of worrying symptoms. Right above unmanageable hair.

The weekend passes and half of the following week. Josh does not come to work and Sam misses him more than he would have thought possible. Sometimes he goes to his office just to stand and look at the photograph Josh has of the two of them at Inauguration on his wall. Several times a day he has to physically stop himself from trying to contact him by going to talk to Toby. Toby is reassuringly grumpy about it but lets him stay.

He spends the nights either not sleeping or dozing on the couch. Apart from the one he spends at his desk face down on his laptop. It takes a while to retrieve his work from the sixty pages of the letter Y he has typed and a little bit longer for the imprint of the keyboard to come off his forehead.

He begins to think he needs to talk to someone. The lack of sleep and lack of appetite are affecting his thought processes and his coordination has, if possible, worsened. He seriously thinks about talking to CJ who seems to have worked most of it out for herself. But he and Josh made their rules to protect their colleagues as well as themselves and there seems little point in breaking them now.

In the end he gives up and goes to his doctor to get sleeping tablets. He is back at work with the bottle in his pocket when Leo calls him into his office. He gestures to Sam to sit down.

"When was the last time you spoke to Josh?"

"Uh, Friday he called me just after your meeting."

"How did he seem?"

"I don't know…" Sam hardly knows how to frame an answer that disguises his own sense of betrayal. "Okay. A little off colour I guess. He didn't tell me why he wasn't coming to work if that's what you're asking."

Leo looks appraisingly at him, and then takes off his glasses. "I got a letter of resignation from him this morning, or rather an email."

"What?" Leo hands him an email printout. It is a note from Josh's own email account handing his resignation in without notice, without reason and without any other comments. Sam looks up from it, amazed. "Are you accepting this?"

"I'm not going to until I talk him. I went to his apartment this morning but there was no answer. The super hasn't seen him in a while, seemed to think he'd been living somewhere else. I wondered if you knew where he was."

Sam stands. "I'll find out."

He remembers CJ's lecture about PTSD and for the first time seriously worries about Josh's well being. He can easily believe that Josh would do something impulsive and leave his relationship. He refuses to believe that Josh would give up the job by which he defined himself.

He goes back to his office and tries Josh's cell phone. The phone is answered by Donna who says that she found it on her desk when she came back from New York last week. He calls Mick Brewer's office and is told he is in court. He takes a cab to the courthouse and waits for a break in his case.

Sam has to wait for an hour, in increasing anxiety, before Mick comes out of the courtroom. "Hey Sam, how are you doing?"

"I need to talk to Josh."

Mick looks blankly at him. "He's not here. This case isn't Big Tobacco."

"Mick, just…look…I know." Sam is having trouble keeping his voice low and level.

"You know what?"

"Don't fuck around Mick, just tell me where he is."

"I can assure you Sam, I have no idea."

Sam stares at him. "You really don't know?"

Mick spreads his hands. "Sam, I really don't. I haven't seen him since we went to court last week. Is something wrong?"

"No. Everything's fine," Sam examines Mick's expression, he sees no duplicity or deceit there. "Mick, can you tell me where you were last Friday evening."

"Same place as you at the Bar Association."

Sam remembers the photograph from the event and realises that Mick is telling the truth. "Mick, forgive me. I'm an idiot. And I have to go."

Sam takes a cab to Josh's apartment. He knocks on the door, calling to Josh to let him in. There is no answer and he keeps knocking. The super hears the noise and comes hurrying up the stairs. "Can you let me in?"

He must recognise Sam or at least responds to the urgency in his voice because he rushes off returning a few minutes later with the key. He lets Sam into the apartment but Sam leaves him outside and closes the door.

The apartment is in darkness, the blinds are closed and the lights off. The air is stale and the only sound is a drift of traffic from the road outside. The answering machine by the door blinks with a dozen or so unlistened to messages.

At first Sam thinks he is mistaken, that Josh is not there. But then, when his eyes have become accustomed to the darkness, he sees him.

Josh is sitting at the dining table at the back of the room. His hands, curled into tight fists, cover his face. Sam joins him at the table, sitting down next to him. "Josh." He does not move or respond.

He takes Josh's wrist, gently prising a hand away from his face. Josh looks at him through red, tired eyes, drops his other hand onto the table.

"Sam, what are you doing?" The words come haltingly as if he has not used his voice in a long time.

"I wanted to talk you," he says. "Leo said you resigned." Josh looks at him as if he has made a pronouncement in a foreign language.

"I don't remember."

"You look terrible, Josh." His hair is unwashed, the sweats and Tshirt he wears are dirty and crumpled.

Josh hesitates. "I don't think I'm exactly well."

"No, not exactly." Sam wonders how he could have missed this earthquake; it has brought down a city. He takes Josh's hand in his own and Josh stares down at their fingers curled together. They sit still and silent as the minutes pass.

Then, disastrously, Sam's cell phone starts ringing. Josh flings himself away from the noise and when he stops he is standing almost on the other side of the room breathing hard.

Sam hastily switches off the phone and goes to Josh. "It's okay, it's just the...it's all right."

The last time Josh was ill he became sensitive to loud noises but it was nothing compared to this reaction. Sam can only imagine the affect that he and Leo would have had on him when they came banging on the door these last few days. He decides Josh cannot stay here.

Josh finally lets Sam turn him around so they are facing each other and Sam pulls him into a hug. He whispers, "We're going home, we're going to get you better." But Josh resists the embrace and soon pulls away.

"I can't come back with you."

Sam rests his hand on Josh's arm, trying to keep a connection between them. "Why not?" Sam asks.

Josh looks at the hand. "I don't love you." Despite himself Sam is taken aback by the words, but Josh makes a dismissive gesture. "No, that's not what I mean." He puts his hand on his heart. "This doesn't work any more. I don't feel anything, except... I can't love you and it's been impossible to keep pretending. And then you're the only thing that gets through and that's worse. That's why, this thing with Mick…"

"I know about that. It's all right. I know it's not true. I know that you weren't involved with him."

Josh stares at him, shakes his arm free. "No Sam. You're wrong."

"I'm not…I'm…" He had been sure that Josh had lied to him to manufacture a reason to break up with him. "You weren't with him that Friday night. He was at the thing with me."

"Not that Friday. But before." He frowns. "It started the night you were away in Toronto. We were in New York for… a meeting, staying in the same hotel. It happened." Josh goes back to the table and sits down. "Please go Sam, I can't keep having this conversation with you."

Sam has a dull recollection of that night. How he could not get hold of Josh in the usual ways and how Josh had not called. The night after was the first Josh spent in the office. He realises that until now he has not truly believed Josh has been unfaithful, now it seems cold and clear and obvious.

It is tempting to pin it all on the disorder, part of the self- destruct process Josh has set in motion. He must however accept that the explanation is likelier to be a lot simpler. Josh fell out of love. Josh found something more interesting. He looks at Josh, head bowed at the table and it doesn't matter. Not now, not with this darkness hanging over him.

He goes back and sits next to him. "Josh, something's happened to you. You have to see that. You've shut down each part of your life like lights going out in a house, room by room. Maybe because you think you can't get hurt or you think you can shut out Rosslyn. I don't know but none of it changes how much I love you."

"Haven't I done enough?"

He repeats. "None of it changes how much I love you. I know it hurts you to hear that, and that's the last thing I want to do. But all I want you to do is come home. I don't expect anything else from you. I really mean that. We'll move you into the guest room and just see how it goes." Both their eyes rest on Josh's hands clasped in front of him on the table. "You have to understand, I can't leave you here alone."

Josh swallows and closes his eyes. "This is what you do, Sam, you get in wherever I try to shut you out. I'm not strong enough for that."

Sam understands at last. "Josh you don't have to be afraid of me. I'm never going to hurt you. Never. Just come back with me. We've got our whole lives to work out what happens next."

Sam contemplates his own words. They have never talked about whole lives before. Josh leans forward and crushes back a sob.

Josh's hand grips Sam's beneath their coats during the cab ride home and his eyes don't open. He freezes each time a car engine revs or a driver hits his horn. Sam begins to understand the extent of Josh's deterioration. He is in a thousand fragments and Sam has no notion how to start piecing him back together.

All their old intimacy has gone. It is strange to undress Josh before a bath when he does not respond to Sam's touch, does not speak, seems to be frightened by the fall of the water and Sam's hands washing his hair for him.

Afterwards when Sam tries to interest him in a meal Josh shakes his head and leaves the table. But then perhaps the memory of what they had is still there or Josh would not have allowed him to bring him back to the table and feed him a few mouthfuls as he might a disinterested child.

Then, unnerved by his silence, Sam says. "Why don't you try and get some sleep, we'll talk in the morning."

Josh lets Sam take him to the guest bedroom and he gets into bed. Sam gives him one of the sleeping tablets he got from his doctor that morning and sits with him until he is sure he is asleep.

He goes to the living room and telephones Leo, who has been waiting for his call. He tells him part of the truth.

Then he goes through the apartment and switches off every phone, every pager, the alarm clock and anything else that could conceivably trigger Josh. In an especially bleak moment he locks away every tablet and the worst of the kitchen knives. And when he has done all of that he sits on the sofa and sobs.

Later he wakes from a dream which evaporates as he opens his eyes. He has slept for a few hours and it is after one. He checks on Josh. He is still and silent and Sam has to reassure himself he is breathing.

Sam does not dare take a sleeping tablet himself and when he finally goes to bed he immediately knows there is little hope of even closing his eyes. In the end he gets up and goes back into the living room.

With the room in darkness and the television muted he flicks through channel after channel. In a war movie a man falls dead, the bullet entering his chest a fraction lower than the one that hit Josh.

He is contemplating another long night when Josh comes out of his bedroom and crosses the living room. He stops when he sees Sam there. His eyelids flicker. Something, perhaps a dream, has pulled him out of sleep but he is fighting the effects of the medication. Sam whispers his name and Josh stares at him.

Josh grips the back of a chair and begins to look unsteady so Sam goes to him and gets him to sit down on the couch. He blinks. "Sam?"

Sam sits next to him, wonders if he needs a drink or something else. Instinctively he puts his arm around him. He would have taken it away as he has told himself to avoid physical contact which might alarm Josh needlessly.

But Josh unexpectedly folds himself up and lies down. He rests his head on Sam's lap. Sam doesn't dare move and Josh also lies still, his eyes closing though he is not yet asleep.

Then Sam smoothes Josh's hair away from his face and bends to kiss his cheek. He rests his hand on Josh's back and closes his eyes.

It is peaceful like that until the dawn washes the room in a pale daylight.

End

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