Title: Secret Keeper
Author: Jackie Thomas
Date: August 2002
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Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: Series one. This begins before the pilot episode
Warning: Some violence and implied sexual violence.
Summary: “What’s a Secret Keeper?” Sam asks. Josh doesn’t reply. He rubs his forehead, closing his eyes.
Thanks to Abigale for her help with this one.
Secret Keeper by Jackie Thomas
Sam is driving down P when he sees Josh. Alone there among the throng of people he would have known that back anywhere. Josh is standing with his forehead pressed against a wall at a cab rank, a cigarette burning out in one hand, backpack in the other resting in a puddle.
Sam double-parks and makes his way through the crowd. He puts his hand on Josh’s shoulder. “Josh.”
Josh turns. Hair dampened by the rain, Mac half-buttoned, he smiles as he recognises Sam.
“Sammy,” he says and transfers his forehead to Sam’s shoulder.
Sam hugs him quickly. “Come on, let’s go.”
“No, I’m…” He lifts his head and gestures expansively. “This is the line for the…I’m getting a cab.”
“No, Josh, my car’s over there, I’ll take you home.”
“I think its time to go to work.” He squints at his watch. “I think it might be time.”
“Not yet. Home first. Tomorrow we’ll go to work.”
“Tomorrow then,” Josh nods. He lets Sam take the cigarette out of his hand and throw it away and then he goes with him to his car. Sam waits while he laboriously fastens his seatbelt. “I’ve had a few drinks,” he explains as Sam drives. “Maybe one or two.”
Sam glances at him, wonders if a drunk Josh is more communicative than a sober one. “What’s going on with you lately?”
“Huh?” Josh closes his eyes and shakes his head. “There’s no escape.”
“There’s no escape from the Secret Keeper.”
“Josh, come on, what’s going on?”
“You should throw me out of this car. You should just…” Josh rests his head against the window and doesn’t say anything else.
Sam sees there is nothing to be gained from this conversation and concentrates on the wiper blades making geometry out of the rain on the windscreen.
At his apartment Josh sinks down into the sofa, his eyes closing. “Why don’t you go to bed, Josh?” Sam says, sitting next to him, arm around his shoulders. Josh makes a defeated noise and lies down, right there on the sofa next to Sam, instantly asleep, his legs curled under his coat, shoes still on. Sam can’t wake him so he rests his hand in his hair and lets him sleep.
Later, Sam is disturbed from his own uncomfortable sleep by Josh waking and sitting up. Josh lays the palm of his hand against Sam’s cheek and smiles slowly.
It’s still dark outside but about time to go to work anyway. Josh gets up and goes in to the bathroom, peeling off his Mac on the way. From there he goes into the kitchen and when Sam has stretched each stiffened limb he follows the same route.
Josh is at the kitchen table watching thin drifts of smoke from his cigarette while coffee drips into the jug. Sam sits opposite him.
“What’s a Secret Keeper?” Sam asks. Josh doesn’t reply. He rubs his forehead, closing his eyes.
Josh still smells faintly of alcohol and the mingling scents of coffee and cigarettes and Josh before his shower are as intoxicating to Sam as opium. Sam fingers the pack of cigarettes, letting one slip out into his hand, considering it.
Josh takes the packet and the cigarette and puts them into his pocket. Sam is instantly reminded of his mother taking a sharp knife from him when he was small.
“You quit too,” he points out and Josh shrugs.
“Are you going out again?” Sam asks. Josh inhales and flicks his head up. He always expresses himself with a tilt of his head and long breaths in and out. These gestures are remnants of his smoking days. Sam thinks he must be the only one who remembers that now. He could have a PhD in the archaeology of Josh. “You couldn’t be that stupid.”
“Couldn’t I?” Josh exhales a humourless laugh. “You probably think me being arrested for lewd behaviour or public indecency would be bad for the Administration? Shall I ask Mary Marsh about it when I’m on the thing with her tonight?”
Sam is always surprised by Josh’s capacity for darkness, but he shouldn’t be by now. “You have to stop.”
“I have.” The cigarette has mostly burnt itself down and he crushes it out. “No more blowjobs round the back of The Paris for me. I promise.”
“Then, what was last night?”
Josh leans back in his chair and glances at the coffee maker. He grabs two cups from the draining board and pours coffees. He puts one in front of Sam who warms his fingers on the plain white china. “How did you find me last night?”
“I wasn’t looking for you.”
Josh nods but doesn’t seem to believe him. “When did you cut your hair?” He asks.
“Josh, tell me about last night.”
“It looks good. Makes you look about twelve years old though.”
Sam gives up. “Lets go for a drink tonight. After the show. We never do that.”
Josh doesn’t turn up and Laurie has forest fire eyes. She shivers when she makes love and her long black hair should be softer than Josh’s but turns out not to be. Sam wakes in her bed at 5 certain he can hear the Ave Maria drifting across the room and knows he shouldn’t be there.
When Sam sees Josh he’s wearing the same suit as yesterday and only just about employed. Maybe he wants to lose his job, maybe that’s the unconscious plan. Maybe Sam does too, because Laurie, whose body is sculpted marble like a renaissance virgin, turns out to be a prostitute.
They’ve fallen off their collective bike, they’re adrift between Havana and Miami and still Toby says the voyage doesn’t matter. Josh won’t explain what he means when he says: “Not you too, Sam?” Sam intends to ask him for the answer to this and many other questions but, by late evening, Josh is not at work, not at home and not on P.
Sam waits for him on the steps of his building. When he returns its after Midnight and Sam has fallen asleep huddled in his coat against the autumn cool.
“Hey, sleepy.” Josh wakes him and takes him inside. Josh is not drunk tonight but he’s not saying where he’s been. Sam notices a new bruise below the line of his shirt cuff. He tells Josh he’s putting himself in danger and the Administration at risk if he continues to do what he is doing.
Josh is still wearing the Mac, which is beyond crumpled, and Sam thinks he might be about to cry. He doesn’t, just walks away. Sam follows.
They’re in the kitchen now and Josh is peering speculatively into the coffee jug but Sam is sure it’s the same pot they started yesterday morning. “I’ll make some fresh, if you want.”
“Nah Sam, have a drink with me instead.” But when he finds the scotch there’s not even half a glass left. Sam jumps as Josh slams one of the glasses against the wall sending shattered pieces across the floor. Josh curses and goes to start cleaning up. Sam stops him by gripping his arm and pulling him into a hug that is almost restraint.
This close Josh smells of sex and another man’s aftershave. He never cries but his head is buried in Sam’s neck long enough for Sam to know he will spend tonight with his arms around him.
Josh’s hair curls round Sam’s fingers just as it used too, but this time Josh wants no more from him than one kiss and the illusion that tomorrow won’t come.
Sam isn’t really listening. He’s only in Toby’s office because CJ and Toby have pizza.
“We should be doing more, is all I’m saying.”
“What Toby, interrogate all the staff with light bulbs, and you know… baseball bats? Because of some dumb story about the VP’s Advance Man.”
“There’s a leak CJ, okay it’s not a big thing this time. Sam, get your own damn pizza.”
“What gets me is they didn’t just go to the press. They gave it to Parks, to be sure it came out with maximum damage.”
“There’s no escape from the Secret Keeper?” Toby murmurs.
Sam’s head shoots up. “What did you say?”
“You’re just going to eat that pizza aren’t you…despite you know…?”
“What’s that about the Secret Keeper?”
Sam is certain Josh would never willingly sell Bartlet’s secrets to Honan Parks. Sam knows beyond doubt Josh would never willingly go to him.
Beyond this he knows nothing. He guesses the Secret Keeper has found out about Josh cruising The Paris, but he doesn’t know what price he would exact to keep this secret. Would the price be harmless non-stories and has Josh decided these are less damaging than his own? Or is he just saving his own skin?
Honan Parks lives in a townhouse West of the Park. Sam follows Josh’s car there at eleven o’clock that night and waits until twelve when he emerges. Josh stops by his car to light a cigarette, scarcely controlling his trembling hands. Eventually he notices Sam.
“So what have you told him this time?”
Josh squeezes shut tired eyes. “I wouldn’t…it’s not…it’s not like that.”
“Then what?” .
He takes the cigarette from Josh’s hand and the smoke at the back of his throat is an ancient memory of fallen Sunday mornings and Josh’s lips on his neck. He throws it on the ground between them.
“You have to tell me. I’m going to Leo if you don’t.” He has no other weapon against Josh and maybe he’s about ready to use it.
Josh drops his gaze to the floor, steps on the stub and then sighing he looks at Sam. “I ran in to Parks one night at The Paris.” His voice instinctively lowers. “He told me he’s got stuff on everyone.”
“He’s got us all. Sam, he’s got you and Laurie from someone Billy told. He’s got something on Leo from when he was secretary of Labour, I don’t even know what but I’ve managed to stop him selling it to a Congressman. For now anyway. He’s got something on Harrison if he’s nominated and some Lloyd Russell document he stole from Mandy and he says he’s got the start of something on the President. I believe it all, and right now he’s keeping it secret.”
Sam slumps against the car. “What does he have on the President?”
Josh shrugs. “He wouldn’t tell me, I don’t think he knows yet. He swaps information to get what he wants but he gets it, bribe by bribe, blackmail by blackmail, and then he sells.”
“Why isn’t he using what he’s got? Why aren’t I reading about us in the papers?” Josh won’t answer this one. “What are you doing to stop him giving us all up?”
“Leave it alone Sam, I’m handling it, you don’t need to know anything else.”
Josh’s eyes are dead and he is not at all bad at keeping secrets when he needs too. But he can never really keep them from Sam. Sam takes his hand and pushes up his shirtsleeve.
“How did you get this bruise?” he asks as Josh sweeps his hand away. “I swear to God if he’s hurt you.”
“Sam, take it easy, it’s not anything I haven’t done before.”
Then he knows.
When Honan Parks answers his doorbell Sam pushes his way in. He grabs the lapels of his pyjamas and throws him against the wall.
“Get your hands off me,” Parks spits. “Unless you want to be reading about your hooker girlfriend in the papers tomorrow or your boyfriend with the tight little ass.”
Sam slams him against the wall again. Parks is a big man, tall and heavily built but Sam is angrier and stronger. “If you touch Josh again, I’ll kill you.”
Parks gasps but recovers. “You’re sure you want to make that deal? He’s keeping your secrets for you.”
“I’m not making any deals with you, you insect. I’m telling you that if you touch Josh again I will kill you. If you sell a story about Josh I will kill you. If you’re ever in the same room as him I will kill you. Do you believe me?”
The last time Sam got in a fight was 17 years ago when he broke Bobby Zane’s arm. This time his hand is pressed against Honan Parks’ neck and he doesn’t even realise it until Josh’s hand, gentle but firm on his, causes him to relinquish his grip.
Parks sags against the wall. “You fucking lunatic.”
Sam slams him against the wall again. “I asked if you believed me?”
“I believe you. Leave me alone you maniac.”
Sam steps back and Parks is sinking to the floor clutching his fat, reddened neck and slowly regaining normal colour. Sam is looking at his hands and doesn’t notice Josh guiding him out of the house.
Now they are both trembling. Josh won’t let Sam drive so they go home in Josh’s car. He catches hold of Sam’s hand and hardly lets go
In Josh’s apartment, they pass a bottle of brandy between them. “How long were you going to…? How long did you think you could…?” Sam stares at their hands joined across the kitchen table.
“He’s a slow poison, Sam. He’s not going away.”
“I know but, you shouldn’t have, you just shouldn’t have…you gave up too much.”
Later when the bottle is empty and dawn is turning Sunday morning into layers of dark gold and grey Sam slowly undresses Josh. Each scratch and bruise has altered his archaeology and, with the shower crashing down, Sam kisses each one.
Josh stops him by pulling him close, kissing his mouth and talking above the roar of the water. “You’ll stay with me today.” This is higher than cigarettes on the list of things they’ve given up. “You won’t go away today.”
“I won’t go away.”
Josh never cries but Sam does sometimes. “Tomorrow we’ll go to work.”
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