Title: Late Night Phone Calls
Series: Wild Ride
Author: Beth
Email: bethandsam@earthlink.net
URL: www.angelfire.com/ok5/eal/index2.html
Categories: Josh/Sam; AU (decidedly)
Rating: PG-13 (for cursing)
Archive: Sure thing. Just let me know about it. I like to visit.
Disclaimer: I am not Sorkin. I am not operating under the delusion that Josh or Sam belong to me. I do, however, like to think that Kelly, Sarah, Jake, and Carrie are mine.
Summary: The long, long awaited get together story.
Spoilers: Noel, but only vaguely
Notes: As usual, I owe a debt to my betas, Nomi and Julian for being on call, both literally and figuratively, for well over seven months on this particular piece of the Wild Ride universe. I definitely owe both of you a drink should we ever meet up. This is dedicated to Gail for her birthday because she has waited patiently for over a year for me to get these two together, and there seemed no better time to offer it up than for her birthday (even if I am a day late.) Also, for Amber who has taken more than her fair share of crap over the last few days.

****2007****

Late Night Phone Calls by Beth

Josh knew there was trouble when Carrie didn’t call his name as soon as she entered the house. She usually wanted to share her day in minute detail and then re-share it when Sam arrived home. Today there was ominous silence in the front hall. Josh stuck his head around the corner and saw her sitting on the bench, arms crossed, sporting a determined look on her face.

“Hey, little bit, have a good day at school?” Josh threw out the conversational salvo to see what kind of storm they were in for. Carrie rivaled her mother in the temperament department.

“When is Daddy going to be home?”

Okay -- not rude, just focused. With Carrie, they had learned quickly to pay attention to the tone. “Probably going to be a couple of hours yet, sweetie. Would you like a snack?”

“No, thank you, Josh.” Carrie propped her chin up on her fist.

“Is there anything I can do?” Josh always found it strange that when she was upset, Carrie would sit and wait for the person she needed. She wouldn’ t eat, play, or watch TV. Jake was in California, so Josh had taken a couple of half days in order to be home when Carrie got there.

“No, thank you. I need Daddy.” The determined lift of the chin and the sudden set look to her features made her look so much like Kelly, it was startling.

“Okay, little bit. I’ll be in the kitchen if you change your mind.” At Carrie’s nod, Josh turned and went into the kitchen. He grabbed the phone and left a message with Sam’s assistant that there were storm clouds over the townhouse. Hopefully, Sam would hurry – silent six-year-olds were unnerving.

****

When Sam arrived two hours later, Carrie was sitting on the same bench – waiting. Her one concession to the length of the wait was a pad of paper and some crayons. Sam took considerable effort to restrain the chuckle – she looked so serious and so like her mother – as he opened the door.

Carrie immediately folded her arms across her chest and glared at her father. “Do you love my Josh?”

Sam blinked. “Yes.”

Carrie nodded approvingly before she said, “Good. You have to marry him.”

“I have to – wait, Carrie I have to what?” Sam glowered over her head at Josh who was trying not to fall over laughing.

“When you love somebody you marry them and have babies. That’s what Tommy said. And I know you didn’t marry Mommy because she loved Momma, and you had me anyway. But you love my Josh, so you should marry him.”

How *do* you explain things like narrow-minded people to a six-year-old? “I do love him, honey, but I can’t marry him.”

“Well why not?”

“You know that Daddy’s a boy, right?”

Carrie laughed. “Course, Daddies are *always* boys, Daddy.”

“And you know that Josh is a boy too, right?” At Carrie’s nod, Sam continued, “Well, in this state boys can’t marry boys.”

“That’s dumb.”

Sam allowed himself a small smile at the bark of laughter from the kitchen and then returned his attention to his daughter. “I think so too, but that’s the way it is.”

Josh stuck his head out of the kitchen and announced that dinner was ready, and neither he nor Sam suspected that Carrie hadn’t quite finished with the subject.

Carrie was subdued during dinner. She didn’t argue with the announcement of bath and bedtime as she usually did. Josh and Sam exchanged concerned glances, but decided not to pursue it further. Carrie would talk when she was ready and not a moment before.

Even knowing that something was still upsetting her, Josh wasn’t ready for Carrie to wrap her arms around his neck and start sobbing when he came to tuck her in.

“Don’t leave, Josh. Please?”

Josh leaned back against the headboard and ran tried to sooth her. “Shhh. I ’m not going anywhere, little bit. What’s brought this on?”

“I’ll be good, I promise.” Earnest blue eyes peered up at him as she nodded to confirm her promise.

“You’re already good, baby. Who told you I was going to leave?”

“Tommy.”

“What did Tommy tell you?”

“He said that people have to be married or they don’t have to stay together. Daddy said he can’t marry you, so you don’t have to stay. Katie’s parents live in different houses and it’s not good, Josh. I don’t want you to go, and Tommy said I have to be good *all* the time, or you will go.” Carrie paused for breath. “And I’ll try really hard, but it’s hard to be good *all* the time.”

Sam walked in to hear the last few words and snorted. “Given that Josh finds it difficult to be good even part of the time, I’m sure he’s sympathetic.”

When Carrie started to sob harder, Sam realized his mistake. Josh kept a tight hold on her and motioned Sam to the other side of the bed. “Daddy didn ’t mean it like that, little bit. He’s just teasing me. It’s okay.”

“What’s going on?”

“Our *friend* Tommy told her that if she wasn’t good that I’d leave.” Josh rolled his eyes over Carrie’s frantically nodding head.

“He *said*, Daddy.”

“I’m sure he did, sweetie, but he doesn’t know Josh or me, does he?”

“No.”

“So see, he doesn’t know everything.” Sam thought for a minute, and then had a brainstorm. “Carrie, aside from Josh, who knows me best in the whole world?”

“Mommy.”

“Right. And what did we tell you about Mommy and Josh?”

“Mommy loves Josh lots and lots. She knew if anything happened to her or to you she’d want Josh to take care of me because he loves both of you and he’d love me because I’m part of you.”

“Right. Well, what if I told you that your Mommy got Josh and me together in the first place?”

“She did?”

“Yes, she did. And she wouldn’t do that unless she was absolutely sure it was the best thing for me and for Josh, right?”

“Right.” Carrie snuggled into Josh’s arms, and blinked up at Sam. “What did she do, Daddy?”

Sam smiled, “Well, it all started when she got pregnant with you . . .”

*****December 2000*****

When the phone rang at 3 AM, Sarah was instantly awake. Being that she was the only one likely to receive calls late at night or early in the morning – depending upon perspective -- the phone was on her side of the bed. She grabbed the phone before the ringing could wake up Kelly.

“Dr. Miller,” she said with customary efficiency as she strode quickly from the bedroom so she didn’t disturb Kelly.

“Hey S, it’s Sam. She awake yet?” Sam’s voice held a hint of tension.

“What time do you think it is, Samuel?” Sarah was not kindly disposed to Sam when he made these ridiculous late night calls.

“6 AM, why?”

“Well, perhaps on your side of the world. On our side, it’s 3 AM,” Sarah said barely concealing her exasperation, “And how often is she awake at 3 AM?”

“Damn, I’m sorry I woke you. I don’t suppose I woke her too, did I?” Sam knew it was too much to hope for. At home, in her own bed, Kelly tended to sleep like a stone.

“No, you didn’t wake her. And no, I’m not going to wake her. I don’t care if you’re calling because you fell and accidentally launched a bomb in our general direction; she needs to sleep. Call back at a more normal hour, would you?” Sarah glanced at the calendar on her desk and added, “My god, Sam. It’s Christmas Day; why are you up this early? For that matter, why would Kel – this is one of the few days she doesn’t work. What’s going on?”

Sam hesitated for a second, and then said, “Well, Josh has been having some problems, and I thought maybe Kel could come out and give me hand with getting him –“

“No, she’s not going. Whatever it is, she’s doing it by phone, Sam,” Sarah said in her sternest voice.

“You know, S, she gets awfully pissed when you start making decisions for her.”

“Well, she’s only going to find out I’m making a decision for her if you tell her, and you aren’t going to do that, are you Samuel?” Sarah said with only the barest hint of humor in her voice. “Remember, to get to her, most of the time you have to go through me, and it could be a long, long wait.”

“I guess I’m not,” Sam said reluctantly, but he was puzzled by her attitude. “Man, what’s going on over there, S? You aren’t usually this bossy.”

“I’m going back to bed now, Samuel. Call back around noon your time; we should be up by then,” Sarah said, completely ignoring his question. That was Kelly’s to answer when she was ready, and she clearly hadn’t told him yet, so Sarah wasn’t going to get caught in the middle of that one. She liked to consider herself a smart woman, and getting in between Sam and Kelly when they might be about to have one of their arguments was not the place a smart woman put herself. This really shouldn’t be a subject of argument, but knowing the two of them as Sarah did, she could imagine the potential was there: Kelly would be defensive about not wanting to go to Washington right now and very likely would choose not to tell Sam why if he lit into her for not coming. Sarah could feel the headache building as she headed back to the bedroom to grab a few more hours of sleep.

As Sarah came into the bedroom, she realized that Kelly was, in fact, awake. She was stretching and looking around as if trying to figure out where Sarah was.

“Sar, was that the phone?” Kelly asked, still groggy. “Do you have to go in? I thought you took today off.”

“Yeah, it was the phone, but it wasn’t important. We should go back to sleep; it’ll be morning soon enough,” Sarah said crossing her fingers behind her back as she got back into bed.

Kelly’s forehead creased with confusion as she studied Sarah. “Who would call in the middle of the night and then say it wasn’t important?”

“I didn’t say they said it wasn’t important; *I* say it wasn’t important. At least not important enough to disturb our sleep over,” Sarah said with some measure of aggravation creeping into her voice. She turned onto her side, hoping to end the conversation.

“Did he say it was important?” Kelly was pretty sure she knew who had been on the phone – Sarah usually only got irritated with Sam.

“Something to do with Josh, okay? I told him to call back around nine,” Sarah said grumpily. “Can we please go back to sleep now? I’m sure whatever it is will keep until morning.”

Kelly started to get out of bed and grab her robe, as she said, “I’m going to go call him back. He only forgets the time difference when he’s upset.” At Sarah’s concerned look, she added, “I won’t forget the rules: no stress; stay in bed; no stress; and, no stress. Have I got them all?”

“I think you forgot that you aren’t supposed to be stressed,” Sarah said with an affectionate laugh, “but you need to stay here – in the bed, remember? I’ll go nap in the other room until you finish with him. By the way, I think you need to tell him. He’s part of this, too.”

“Somehow I suspect that this might not be the right time. But if it is, I will, I promise. Now go sleep while I deal with my best friend – the idiot,” Kelly said as she picked up the phone and dialed Sam’s number.

“Seaborn,” Sam said as if calls at six in the morning were usual.

“Look, pal, you really, really need to learn the whole time zone thing,” Kelly said with a laugh. “It’s not like you moved to the East Coast yesterday, you know.”

“S said you were asleep,” Sam said accusingly.

“Well, I was. I’m awake now, so tell me what’s going on.”

“Josh – he’s got PTSD.”

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Kelly said slowly – rolling the words around in her head as she thought about what that might mean for someone in Josh’s position, and then said, “Well that shouldn’t be a shock to you. Think about what he’s been through over the last few months. Do you want me to talk to Sarah – she knows more about this sort of stuff than I do.”

“No, I was kind of hoping you’d head out here and give Donna and me a hand with him.”

Kelly held her breath for a second, so it would seem like she was considering Sam’s proposal, then she said, “Sweetheart, I’m sorry but I can’ t do that. You can handle Josh without me. You can handle me and I’m sure even with PTSD he’s easier to deal with than me.”

“Well, that’s true,” Sam said with a laugh, “but I could really use your help here. I mean it isn’t like you can’t bring your work with you.”

“There’s this project I’m working on right now that isn’t conveniently portable, okay?”

“Have you changed mediums?” Sam knew that Kelly occasionally liked to experiment with things other than paint, and maybe this was one of those times.

“Well, sort of.” Kelly giggled and then said, “This wasn’t quite how I wanted to tell you but I guess it’s going to have to do. Our project is underway.”

“Huh?”

“Think Sam. What project have we been working on?”

“We haven’t—“ Sam sounded confused, and then he got it, “Wait. You’re pregnant?”

“Yup.”

“You can’t be that far along yet. Why can’t you travel? Is something wrong? Are you okay?” Sam couldn’t quite keep the panic out of his voice.

“Four months, and it turns out this isn’t as easy as it looks. I mean who knew that for every ten perfectly happy pregnant women you meet on the street, there’s probably one who is ordered on bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy. And guess which one your difficult best friend would be,” Kelly said with a laugh.

“Well, that almost goes without saying. So what does bed rest mean – aside from the fact that I’m dealing with Josh on my own now?”

“I just have to stay in bed – I’ve got my sketchbooks and I’ll be fine – maybe a little bored, but fine. As for Josh, you can always call me,” Kelly offered, then added, “You know, Sam, it seems to me that this might be the right time for that talk you’re supposed to have with Josh. I mean it might help him to know he has someone in his corner.”

“Or it might drive him further away because he can’t reciprocate, or doesn’t want to, or whatever. I’m telling you this isn’t the right time.”

“Sam, sweetheart, you aren’t waiting for the right time, you’re waiting for the perfect time and that just isn’t going to happen. There’s always going to be a crisis – national or personal – and you will continue to suffer silently. Well, at least silently where he’s concerned. Me, on the other hand, I’ll get to hear about this for much longer than I need or care to,” Kelly said with a laugh. She glanced at the doorway and saw Sarah’s reproving look. “Uh-oh, the mother hen is glaring at me. I should probably go back to sleep now, and you should tell him. Oh, and Merry Christmas, Dad.”

“Thanks, you too, Mom. And give that other Mom a hug from me and tell her I will *try* not to call at 3 AM anymore.” Sam laughed as he hung up.

Sarah studied Kelly from the doorway. She knew the look she was seeing and it always preceded some sort of crazy plan. “What are you up to, love?”

Her eyes glinted, and she grinned. “Remember when you met Josh for the first time?” At Sarah’s nod, she continued, “Sam and I had the first of a series of conversations that day about what we really wanted in life.” Kelly let her hand rest on her gently rounded tummy. “This is what I wanted. He wants Josh. He helped me get what I want, so now I’m going to help him get what he wants.”

Sarah glared at her. “You are *not* going to Washington.”

Kelly laughed. “Uh – hello, haven’t you heard of the internet? Computers? Telephones? I’m not going to Washington, but I can darn well do everything I need to do to make this happen from right here in my little bed. All I need is the laptop from my studio.” At the dubious look from Sarah she added, “And what I can’t do from here, I can get Jake to do for me, okay? I pay him enough – he’ll make the trip to Washington for me. I know he will.”

Sarah shook her head ruefully as she crossed over to join Kelly in the bed. “Just promise me that you will *never* turn this interfering streak of yours on me, would you?”

Kelly grinned, “Nope, I’m an equal opportunity meddler. Think about it this way -- working on this will keep me occupied and I won’t get quite so grouchy about being trapped in this room for the next five months.”

“It’s going to take you *five months* to plan this? Good lord, what do you have in store for them?”

“No, it’s going to take maybe a week to plan it, but to find the right time to execute the plan could very well take all the rest of that time.” With that, Kelly settled back under the covers and into Sarah’s arms.

****February 13, 2001****

Kelly had decided to go with both the cute and the clever for her “get Sam and Josh together” plan. She had all the details worked out – her friend, Jake, who handled security at all of her shows, was already on a plane to DC to take care of the stuff she couldn’t do from California; all she needed to do was maneuver Sam and Josh to the location she had chosen. Josh would be the easier of the two she suspected because, as best as she could tell, Sam hadn’t told him that she was pregnant and on bed rest. She was, in fact, counting on that to persuade Josh to do what she wanted. She picked up her phone and called him.

“Lyman.”

“Hey sweetie – how’s it going?”

“Kel? Long time no hear,” Josh said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I think it’s been a whole twelve hours since you called to check on me.”

“Consistency. I aim for consistency. Anyway, I’m going to be in town tomorrow and I was wondering if you’d like to actually see me, so I can check you out in person. Maybe then you could persuade me to cut my calls down a bit.” Kelly rolled her eyes even though he couldn’t see her – she knew he wouldn’t be able to refuse that offer.

“Sold. Where and when?”

“I’ve borrowed a house from a friend of mine – I’ll e-mail the directions to you. Tomorrow night work for you, about 8 PM?”

“I don’t have anything on my calendar, so sure; it’s yours. Do you want me to bring Sam or Donna?” Josh was used to asking these sorts of questions, though he wasn’t sure why.

“No, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t mention to Sam that I’m in town. Before you jump to conclusions, we aren’t fighting or anything; I just don’t have time to get into the things I need to get into with him.” Kelly hoped that would be enough – one word from Josh to Sam about this and the plan would be sunk.

After the call to Josh, Kelly’s next step was to call Sam. This call was going to be much trickier because there was a greater risk that she could mess up the details. As she picked up the phone, she felt the baby kick – again. She was completely convinced at this point that she was having a football player. She addressed her belly sternly before she called Sam. “Look, you, I’m trying to do something nice for your Daddy. I am going to have to tell a couple of lies, but you can stop kicking me for them now. I swear that, if you insist, you can start kicking again as soon as I’m done. Now be nice while I call your Dad.” With that, she hit the speed dial for Sam.

“Seaborn,” he said in clipped, efficient tones.

“Ouch. Hey Sam – would you please tell your kid to stop kicking me so hard? This is, quite frankly, getting ridiculous.”

“May I remind you that you were the one who wanted to have a baby? I just helped you out – hell, you can’t even prove it’s mine – I was clear across the country when you got pregnant.” Sam was laughing.

“Please tell me your office door is closed and that no one can hear you.” Knowing how secretive Sam had been about this whole thing, she could not believe, honestly, that he would risk saying something like that when there was even a slight chance that someone could hear him.

“Yeah, you don’t think I’d actually say that in front of anyone, do you?”

“No, Sam – I’m pretty sure you’d only say that to me,” Kelly said with a long-suffering sigh. Then she added, because two could play at this game, “So, have you talked to Josh?”

“No. Is that why you called?” Sam asked with an equally long-suffering sigh.

“Nope – asking that question is just a nice side benefit. I need a favor.”

“I think you got your big favor for the year already. Along with your birthday present and your Christmas present. If you don’t remember, I’m sure he or she will kick you again in a minute to remind you,” Sam said. “Now, seriously, what is the favor?”

“Okay, you remember my friend Tina, right?” At Sam’s rather noncommittal response, she continued, “You know, the sculptor – works with unconventional materials. Anyway, she’s working in Italy this year, and I thought I was going to be in DC now, and I was supposed to receive a delivery for her at her place in Virginia *tomorrow*. Obviously, that won’t be happening, but the delivery is still taking place. Would you please, oh please, go to her place and wait for the delivery? Please Sam – I completely forgot about it until I found it on my calendar today.”

Sam chuckled and then responded, “Well, I’m a pretty busy guy. What time are we talking about?”

“Early evening. If you could be there by about 7:30 PM, you wouldn’t have to wait too long,” Kelly said, crossing her fingers and hoping that this would work.

“You’re in luck; I don’t have anything for tomorrow evening. So, once again, I’m going to save your reputation.”

“Well, after trashing it a few minutes ago, it’s the least you can do, really,” Kelly said, smiling.

“Now that that’s out of the way, how are you doing?”

“I’m fine. Sar says I’m glowing. I think I’m sick of this room. I really miss painting – but I’ve filled like five sketchbooks, so I’ve got plenty to work on once I’ve had the baby, and I’m bored, bored, bored. Certainly not stressed, though.”

“That’s good. Now since I don’t remember Tina, I assume you’re going to tell me how to get to her place, right?”

“I’ll e-mail you the directions this evening. You’re saving my life, Sam.”

“Well, your reputation anyway.”

“Oh, and Sam, this is a solo journey, okay? You don’t want Josh to start worrying about me, which he will do if he finds out I was supposed to be there and I’m not.”

“So you figured out he doesn’t know.”

“Well, yeah, it’s kind of obvious. You know you could just tell him I’m pregnant if you’re worried about how he’s going to feel about your, ahem, part in this.”

“I’ll figure it out eventually. Love you, sweetheart – I’ll talk to you later.”

“Love you too, Sam. Talk to Josh.” Kelly knew he’d be suspicious if she didn ’t say that at the end of the call, but this time she hoped he wouldn’t do anything before tomorrow night.

****Valentine’s Day – 7:30 PM****

Sam arrived at the house precisely at 7:30 PM. Until this moment it hadn’t occurred to him that Kelly hadn’t told him how to get into the house. He figured he’d check the usual hiding places for a spare key first, and then call Kelly if he couldn’t find it. He found the key under a plant on the front porch and let himself into the house. He found Jake lounging against the wall just inside the door.

“She set me up,” Sam said without hesitation.

“She did indeed. And you fell – hook, line, and sinker. How’ve you been, Sam?” Jake said with a quick grin and a hearty handshake.

“I’m doing fine, Jake. Why are you here?”

“To make sure things happen the way Kelly wants them to happen,” Jake said. “Right now that means you should make yourself comfortable, we have about a half hour before – well – before the thing she set you up for happens.”

“And you don’t plan to tell me anything before the half hour is up, do you?” Sam felt like sighing was becoming a lifetime occupation where Kelly was concerned.

“Nope. I like my job, Sam. In order to keep that job, I do what she says. She keeps saying you’re devious and I shouldn’t even be talking to you tonight. Feel free to make yourself comfortable though – now we’ve got about twenty-five minutes to wait.”

“So whose place is this?” The house was simply too large for any artist that Kelly might know.

“Look, man, I like you – you know that -- but she told me not to tell you anything.” Jake raked a hand over his short blonde hair. “I’ve got unbelievably specific instructions about what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. This event has been better planned than a military strike against a foreign power; trust me. Aside from sketching, she’s done nothing but plan every detail of this for the last two months.”

“I can only imagine – if I had realized what pregnancy was going to do to her, I don’t know if I would have gone along with it. So, can I call her or is that against the rules?” When Jake shook his head indicating that Sam wasn’t to call Kelly, Sam asked, “What about a couple of hands of gin or poker, or does she have a rule against that, too?”

Jake pulled a deck of cards out of his shirt pocket and offered them to Sam. They were playing poker when there was a knock at the door. Jake glanced at his watch and grinned at Sam, “Well, here we go. You are to go in the dining room and wait.” Once Sam was out of the hallway, Jake opened the door. “Hello?”

Josh was taken aback by the large man who answered the door. “Uh, Josh Lyman. I was supposed to meet Kelly O’Neal here, I think.”

“Mr. Lyman – a pleasure to meet you. Please come in.” Once Josh was inside, Jake closed the door and leaned against it. “Miss O’Neal sends her regrets, but she would like you to join her other guest in the dining room.” Jake indicated the direction of the dining room, and Josh, too stunned to argue, simply went the direction indicated.

Jake followed behind Josh, quietly picking up two envelopes resting on a table in the hallway. If he weren’t better disciplined, he would have laughed at the shocked looks on both men’s faces. As it was, he struggled mightily to keep even a hint of a chuckle out of his voice as he said, “I believe you gentlemen know each other. My instructions are to deliver these envelopes and then to check on dinner.” He handed each man an envelope and backed out of the dining room, locking the door as he went.

Sam glanced at Josh and said, “Yeah, I know. She’s my best friend, and somehow I should be able to explain what we’re doing here, but I don’t know. Hopefully these,” he indicated the envelopes, “will give us something to go on.”

Josh was impatient and ripped open his envelope while Sam was attempting an explanation. The note in it said **Payback is a bitch** and **Tell him what you told me in the hospital**. Josh rolled his eyes at the contents of the note and pinched the bridge of his nose. He understood the first part – she must have gotten the locked door idea from him. The second part had to be referring to the conversation they kept half-having while he was recovering. She had been forever asking him if he remembered saying something to her about Sam during those early days in the hospital, and he still wasn’t sure what he had said.

While Josh was attempting to figure out his note, Sam opened his envelope. His note was longer than Josh’s, and he was fairly sure before he opened it what it was going to say. He knew there was only one reason that Kelly would go to these lengths to get him in a room alone with Josh, and the note confirmed his suspicions. **Sammy: Don’t be mad at me. I’ve never been as happy as I am now and it’s because of you. I know that the only way you will ever have a chance to get close to this happy is if you tell him how you feel. Be brave. Take the chance. Remember I love you, and I’ll be here for you no matter what. Kel**

“So do you know what this is about now?” Josh inquired.

“Yeah,” Sam said in a strangled voice, “I think I do.” He was weighing what he should say next when Jake walked in with salads. Sam spluttered, “What the hell? She isn’t even going to feed us?”

Jake grinned, “The salads were all her, but I’ve got your back. Don’t worry.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “You stepped outside of the plan?”

“With what she’s got in store for you, I decided you needed something more substantial than rabbit food.”

Josh watched as Sam’s eyes got even wider, “There’s more? What she’s already done isn’t enough?”

“Sam, Sam, Sam,” Jake said, shaking his head almost sadly, “You should know, given the planning that went into this, that there will be more involved than salad. Whatever she wants you to do, wait until I bring in dinner. My orders then are to lock you in and leave you in here until she’s satisfied or you start climbing the walls – whichever comes first.”

As expected, the salads were good, and Jake’s stroganoff was impressive. Sam ate a few bites and then started pushing the food around on his plate as he contemplated doing what Kelly wanted him to do.

“Uh, Sam. You should probably clean your plate. You don’t want Godzilla out there to think that you didn’t like his efforts, do you?”

“Godz--,” Sam started. “Oh, you mean Jake. He’s harmless, and he won’t care as long as he doesn’t hear you calling him Godzilla.”

“Do you know why we’re here?” Josh figured since Sam wasn’t eating anyway, he could at least fill him in on the reasons for this strange evening.

“Yeah, I know.” Sam said quietly. Even though he’d had this conversation a million times in his head, he had no idea how to say what he needed to say. All he kept thinking about was how he was risking everything on what amounted to a dare.

“Hello? Sam – you still with me in there?” Josh asked. “You going to give me a clue as to what’s going on?”

“Yeah, yeah. I am. I’m just –“ Sam started. He took a deep breath, and started again, “I’m just trying to figure out how to explain it – that’s all.”

“Start at the beginning or start at the end – I really don’t care; just give me something to work with here.” Josh was getting impatient. He wasn’t used to not knowing what was going on, and he was getting frustrated both with Sam and Kelly.

Sam recognized the tone in Josh’s voice and knew that if he didn’t say something quickly his friend would explode and then there would be no way he could get out what he needed to say. “Okay, do you remember when you met Kelly?”

Josh grimaced, “How could I forget? She still gives me hell all the time for that. It’s been what, almost –“

“Ten years. Ten very long years,” Sam said sadly. “She – okay, this is not the way to do this.” Sam suddenly realized that having Kelly in the middle of this was not what he wanted. If he was going to do this, it was going to be about him and it was going to be about Josh.

“Do what? Sam, what are you talking about?”

Sam gripped the edge of the table and swallowed hard. “Okay, it’s like this. We’ve known each other for a long time – that’s not right either. Damn it.” He got out of his chair and started pacing around the room.

Josh was beginning to get alarmed. “Sam. What the hell is going on?”

It suddenly dawned on Sam that Josh had gotten a note too, so he asked, “Wait. What did your note say?”

“Just that thing about payback that she always says just before she knocks me on my ass,” Josh said leaving out the part he didn’t understand. “What is this all about, Sam?”

Sam sank back into his chair as he realized that Kelly hadn’t given Josh the same kind of ultimatum – even if it wasn’t explicit, he knew it was there, either he told Josh or she would -- that she had given him. This was going to be a disaster. **Okay Seaborn. Kelly believes in you and she loves you. She would *not* send you into this if she didn’t think it was going to work out the way you wanted.** Sam felt a not-too-gentle tap on his forehead.

“Are you in there?” Josh said somewhat sarcastically. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Josh – please don’t get mad. I’m having a hard enough time here,” Sam sighed. **Well, this is going well.**

“I’m not mad; I just want to know what’s going on. Would you spit it out already,” Josh felt his alarm slide to concern. “Why is this so hard for you? We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’ve never seen you have such a hard time getting something out before.”

“Yeah, well. I’ve never –“ Sam stopped again.

Josh reached out to put a hand on Sam’s shoulder. When he made contact, Sam jerked away, got up and walked across the dining room. Josh followed him to the other side of the room and again placed a compassionate hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam tried to shrug him off again, but Josh held fast and turned him so they were looking at each other. He searched Sam’s face and saw panic and fear. “Sam, what’s the matter? Why can’t you talk to me? I thought we could always talk to each other.”

Josh was so close that Sam was having trouble breathing. He wasn’t thinking clearly; that’s the only way he could explain what he did next. He closed the distance between them and gave Josh a gentle kiss. When their lips met, Sam felt as if he might explode. He increased the pressure of the contact, and as he did his hands slid slowly across Josh’s chest, feeling his friend for the first time. Before Josh could react, Sam realized what he was doing, pulled away, and attempted to put as much distance between them as he could. Of course, in a locked dining room, he didn’t get far.

Sam was banging his head against the wall and muttering about leaving things well enough alone by the time that Josh had shaken off his initial surprise. Although maybe not a hundred percent sure what he had said, Josh had a pretty clear idea now what Kelly was driving at with her ‘tell him’ instruction. He watched for a minute and realized that Sam would probably give himself a concussion if Josh didn’t take matters into his own hands.

“Sam?”

Sam didn’t turn at Josh’s voice, but he muttered into the wall, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Sam,” Josh said, a little firmer this time. When Sam still didn’t respond to his name, Josh carefully reached out and grabbed hold of Sam’s shoulders. He was prepared when Sam attempted to flinch away and just tightened his grip. He turned Sam around to face him, but he wasn’t prepared to see self-loathing on his face. “Oh, Sam, come on – don’t. It’s gonna be okay – really it is.”

“Is it, Josh? Is it really? I don’t see how. I just did something unforgivably stupid. I wouldn’t blame you if you never spoke to me again. Hell, I may never speak to me again.” Sam was starting to babble, and Josh did the only thing he could think of to stop the torrent of words -- he kissed Sam silent. Josh was more aggressive with his kiss than Sam had been – invading Sam’s mouth with his tongue, plundering and possessing. He was trying to show Sam what he wasn’t sure he could say – hoping that Sam would understand. He pulled Sam into his arms, and after only the briefest resistance, Sam melted into his embrace.

Sam’s brain was clouded with Josh. There was no other way to describe what was happening to him, but the little part of his brain that hadn’t given over to the feelings was screaming that he needed to be more sure of his footing before this – whatever this was – progressed any farther. Sam pulled back from Josh – enough to see his eyes and his face. “Uh, Josh?”

Josh shot him a cocky half-grin and said, “Well, it seemed like such a good idea when you did it, so I thought I’d try it. Still seems like a good idea to me.”

When Josh started to move back in, Sam pulled a little farther away and said, “No – wait. Why does it seem like a good idea?”

“You have to ask?” Josh was starting to get confused again. “Can you tell me now why we’re here?”

Sam swallowed hard and looked deep into the brown eyes that were staring back at him. He could see trust and desire and something he couldn’t quite name commingled, and that gave him the confidence to say what he finally wanted to say. “I’m not sure exactly how to say what I want to say. Though I guess the stumbling around I’ve been doing makes that completely obvious. The reason we’re here is because I’m a coward.” When Josh started to protest, Sam laid a finger over his lips to silence him. “No, if you don’t believe me, there’s a certain woman in California who would happily verify it for you. I’m a coward because I’ve been attracted to you for a long time, but I’ve been afraid to say anything. But, for some reason – could be the whole kissing thing -- I’m not afraid right now. For a long time I thought I might even be in love with you, but lately, I’ve realized that it isn’t a might; it’s an is. I am in love with you. I didn’t realize until now how much I needed to say it, and it’s okay if you don’t feel the same, or if you don’t want the problems that being involved with me would bring; I just really needed for you to know the truth. I want us to be friends – that’s the most important thing. I can live with that – I have and I will. I –“

Josh wouldn’t be silenced anymore, “Do I get to talk now?” When Sam nodded, he continued, “I lied to you earlier when I told you what was in Kel’s note.”

“What?”

“I didn’t understand the second part, and since I couldn’t explain it, I didn’t want to tell you what it said. But once you kissed me, I understood it. The second part said to tell you what I told her in the hospital.”

“What did you tell her?”

“See, that’s the thing. I didn’t know. While I was recovering – when she was staying with me -- we kept playing this weird game where she would ask me if I remembered anything about the first few days she was with me in the hospital, and I’d say no, and she’d drop it. We kept doing it again and again, and I couldn’t remember. I still don’t remember, but I know now what I must have said.” Josh stopped for a moment to catch his breath and then said, “I had to have said something about loving you – being in love with you. And see, I know you’re going to say it was the drugs, but it wasn’t. It’s how I feel.”

Sam looked at Josh in wonder. “So, she’s known for months now. No wonder she –“

“No wonder she what?” Josh asked curiously.

“Nothing really. Not important.” Sam couldn’t quite contain the hint of misery in his voice.

Josh cocked his head at the tone and studied Sam’s face for a hint of what was bothering him. He gingerly moved to smooth Sam’s hair in a gesture that he hoped Sam would understand was meant to comfort. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Sam was quick with his denial.

“Yeah, right. Tell me another one,” Josh chided. “Shouldn’t this be a good thing? You have feelings; I have feelings; and, they’re the same kind of feelings. And, those feelings are for each other. So why do you seem like you’re about to lose your best friend?”

“Because I thought I would feel better after I told you, but I almost feel like I’ve lost something, you know?” Sam thought about it for another minute, and said, “I guess it’s because knowing, and knowing that nothing is going to come of it, is almost worse than not knowing.”

“Okay, wait.” Josh’s confusion was apparent on his face. “Why is nothing going to come of it?”

Sam snorted, “Come on, Josh. Who are you again? And who am I? It isn’t like we can start going out and building a real relationship.”

Now it was Josh’s turn to think for a bit. He was weighing the alternatives and trying to figure out a workable solution that would get him what he wanted. And what he wanted was Sam – in his life, in his arms, and in his bed. Now he had to convince Sam that this wasn’t the career-ending -- or friendship-ending -- mistake that he seemed to have decided it was. “Okay, so you’re right that we can’t just go out like normal people, but that’s true no matter who we try to date. We actually have a better chance of building a solid relationship with each other than we do with just about anybody else. I mean, seriously, who else would put up with you and your schedule?”

Sam laughed. “Like your schedule is any better? And as to the putting up with, it isn’t like you’re a prize in the personality department. So you mean you want to do this?” He waved vaguely between the two of them.

Josh was puzzled. “Well, yeah. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I do, but what about that place we work? And those people we work with and for?”

“Fuck ‘em,” Josh growled. He’d be damned if his life was going to be ruled by or ruined by his job.

“Um, well, no. Don’t think so,” Sam said with a laugh, and then more seriously, “So, what exactly do you want to do?”

“Getting out of this room would be a start,” Josh said after looking around and realizing that unless they remained standing there really wasn’t a good place to conduct the kind of “business” that he had in mind. “And probably calling that woman in California, thanking her, and getting her to call off Godzilla. From there, we should probably talk or something.”

“Getting out of here shouldn’t be a problem. Under no circumstances do we thank her for this – that would only encourage her to do it again,” Sam said, rolling his eyes at the thought. “Unless this was the whole plan – which I seriously doubt -- she won’t ask Jake to leave, but we can probably convince her to speed up the rest of it – whatever that is.”

“Well, then, bust us out of here, Samuel, so we can get on with our evening,” Josh said with an imperious wave and a laugh.

Sam tapped on the door, which opened instantly. A hushed conversation between Sam and Jake ensued, the end result of which was Jake pulling a phone from his pocket and dialing a number that Josh assumed would be Kelly’ s. Jake said a couple of things into the phone and then motioned for Josh to join Sam.

“She wants to talk to both of you. Then you give me the phone back, and I’ ll find out what I’m supposed to do next,” Jake instructed.

Sam indicated that Josh could take the phone first, so he did. “Hi, Kelly.”

“Hey, Josh. So, do you hate me now?” Kelly asked with a hint of a laugh in her voice.

“No, but you do know that technically you’ve committed kidnapping here, right?”

“I did my research; you came voluntarily, and Jake knew to let you leave if you directly asked. Is it my fault that you didn’t have the brains between you to ask the question? So . . .”

“You want to know what happened? I don’t plan to tell you,” Josh said taking to heart what Sam had said about appreciation becoming encouragement.

“Fine – then give the phone to Sam. He’ll tell me what I need to know.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” Josh said confidently as he handed the phone over to Sam.

“Hey sweetheart, how’re you doing?” Sam asked.

“Great. I’ve decided to repaint the bedroom when this over. I hate the color; I’d never noticed before. But enough about me.” Sam could picture her shaking her head in frustration at almost being sidetracked. “What I need to know, first, is: are you happy?”

“Yeah,” Sam grinned.

“Okay, now I need to know one other thing – is something going to come of this evening?”

“I think so.”

“Then give the phone back to Jake. I love you, you know.”

“If I didn’t know before, I know now. And the feeling’s mutual, by the way. Here’s Jake.”

After a couple of minutes of listening, Jake hung up the phone and looked at Sam and Josh, “I have like three things to do, and then I’m out of here. If I’m lucky, I’ll be on the red eye back to California. First, if you two would follow me into the living room, I’d appreciate it.”

As they were following Jake, Josh asked quietly, “What did she ask you?”

“All she wanted to know was if I was happy – which I am.” Sam decided not to tell Josh about the other part, though he figured whatever else Kelly had planned might give away both the question and his answer.

After they were seated in the living room, Jake excused himself for a few minutes during which Josh took advantage of their positions on the couch and attempted to kiss Sam completely senseless. He was a good part of the way there when they heard a throat clearing and pulled apart – perhaps a little embarrassed, but mostly reluctant.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, guys, but if you’ll let me do my thing I can get out of here and you can have the place to yourselves.” Jake was speaking quickly as he moved into the center of the room. He was holding a rather large box, which he set down in front of Sam. “I’m supposed to give you guys this stuff – most of which is reasonably self-explanatory. Most of it – well, really, all of it -- goes to Sam who gets to decide what to do with it, how much to share, and so forth. The other things you need to know – or will need to know: the library she’s going to want you to go to is on the second floor, fifth door on the right. Kitchen is stocked, so if you decide to call in sick tomorrow, you don’t have to go anywhere. Finally, all the bedrooms are set up; towels are in the linen closet; pool is heated; cable is on; VCR is in the entertainment cabinet along with the CD player. Remotes are in the right-hand end table drawer. Unless you have questions, gentlemen, I’m going to leave you to your evening.”

Sam stared at Jake and asked, “Whose house is this, Jake?”

Jake gestured toward the box. “Your answers are in there, Sam. I strongly, and I do mean *strongly*, advise that you read first, and then let this,” Jake paused to clear his throat, “person know what you think he needs to.”

Josh had to ask. “When did I get demoted from ‘Mr. Lyman’ to ‘this person’?”

Jake grinned. “About the time you started calling me Godzilla. I’m heading out. Good luck, Sam. I think you’ll need it with this one.” Making it clear that he meant both Josh and whatever was in the box, Jake departed.

“Well, that was interesting,” Josh said quietly. “So, are you going to open the box?”

Sam stared at him for a moment and then turned his gaze to the box. “Haven’t you learned to be afraid, very afraid, of boxes from California?”

“Well, yeah, but this one’s for you, so I’m curious. I mean, she wants to knock me on my ass at every opportunity, but she loves you, so I can’t imagine this could be that bad. Look, why don’t I go make some coffee while you scout the contents, and you can tell me what I need to know when I come back.” Josh was being uncharacteristically patient about this, but he knew that for any relationship to develop with Sam he would have to respect the relationship Sam had with Kelly. He had watched Sarah and had learned that she simply didn’t trespass on what passed between the two of them, and he knew he would have to find a way to curb his usual need to know everything in order for this – this thing – to work.

About fifteen minutes later, Josh came back from the kitchen balancing a tray loaded with coffee, sugar and cream. He also had some cookies that he’ d found in the cupboard. He could not believe how well stocked the house was. He paused in the doorway to study Sam, who was still sitting on the couch. He had gotten his glasses out and was leaning forward resting his elbows on his knees as he read a thick document. He was shaking his head periodically and muttering, but Josh could not understand what he was saying. As he moved into the room, he realized that there was a litany of curses streaming from Sam’s mouth.

“Uh, Sam. I’ve got the coffee,” Josh wasn’t used to being tentative, but he didn’t want Sam to turn his anger or frustration or whatever the hell this was on him.

“Shit. Josh – I need a phone. Not coffee. Have you seen a phone in this place?” Sam was looking a little wildly around the living room, but there didn’t appear to be a phone in the room. “Do you have your cell with you? Mine’s in the car. I can go get it, but –“ Sam stopped as Josh silently handed him a phone – the one that had been sitting behind Sam on the end table the whole time. He watched Sam punch Kelly’s number into the phone and then realized that Sam was indicating he should sit.

“What the fuck are you thinking?” Sam shouted as soon as the phone was picked up.

“Nice, Sam. Very nice. I assume you’d like to speak to Kelly,” Sarah said with a bit of a laugh.

“Oh, sorry, S. Yeah, speaking to her would be ideal,” Sam said.

“Maybe I should talk to Josh instead. With him on my side, I might stand a chance against the two of you,” Sarah said with a sigh. “I know she’s waiting for this call, so I’ll let her know it’s you and that you aren’t happy.”

“Thanks, S. And I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have yelled at you.” Sam tried to sound contrite, even though he was still seething.

After a moment, Kelly picked up the phone. “Don’t yell at the pregnant woman, Samuel. I know you want to, but do *not* yell at me. Now, what seems to be the problem?”

“You can’t do this, Kel. You just cannot do this. Do you understand the problems you are going to create if you do this?”

“One – it’s already done. I have a fabulous lawyer – as you know – and the guy who drew this up for me just followed your lead. Two -- it’s only this way until the baby’s born, and then it will be rewritten, and you and Josh will simply be administrators and caretakers. Three -- I need somewhere to stay when I come to Washington. I can’t stay with Josh anymore – there won’t be enough room. And, if you two are together, I really can’t stay with you either. So, what other objections do you have?”

“So, your idea is—“

“My idea is that I’m not crazy about estate taxes and the living trust thing helps me avoid them. And you know that, you helped me set this up – the only part that’s changed now is that the Washington house is for you. Enjoy it – use it when you want to have weekends away. I’ll let you know when and if I ’m coming. Please let me do this – I can afford it and I want to.”

“And I’m going to explain this how?” Sam thought of Toby’s reaction to Sam using a house that was clearly deeded to Kelly O’Neal.

“Don’t explain to anyone. You’ve got other issues to deal with -- and as a tip, the not explaining thing might be a good strategy for those things too. No one has to know about this. Now, go have fun and give him a hug from me, would you?”

“Kel, is there anything else I need to know?”

“Well, if you don’t want him to know I’m pregnant, I wouldn’t play the videotape. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the library.”

“Got it. Love you.”

“Love you too. Have fun.”

Sam hung up the phone and turned to look at Josh. He marveled at how calm Josh seemed. Sam wasn’t used to Josh Lyman exhibiting patience, and yet here it was. “So—“

Josh looked at Sam expectantly. He reached out to take his hand and met his eyes. “Yeah, so – what do you want to talk about first? Us or Kelly?”

“Us?”

“Well, yeah, I mean, we ought to have some idea of what we’re doing, don’t you think? Or are you just wanting to stumble along and see what happens?”

“Well, I pretty much do the stumbling thing on a day to day basis –“

“Yeah, and while a good general strategy for you – or not – I don’t know that’s it worked too well as a relationship strategy. Sarah said once that you haven’t had any healthy relationships, and I’d like to be your first,” Josh said earnestly but with some humor.

“You already are that – just because we’re friends. So you want to . . . what? Set up ground rules or something?”

“Something like that. I’m lousy in relationships – look at *my* track record. I want this to work, but if it doesn’t, I still want us to be friends after, and I haven’t been able to do that before. I want us – I don’ t know – to promise to be friends no matter what – god, that sounds sappy.”

“Well, yeah, a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. What rules do you want exactly? I mean, is this how real relationships work? Maybe we’d better have Kelly tutor us or something.”

Josh thought about this for a bit. It was true that neither of them had been in a successful romantic relationship, and, in fact, except for Kelly they didn’t know anyone else amongst their colleagues or friends who had either. It wasn’t as if they could talk to his mother or the President about how to have a healthy relationship – talk about embarrassing. He couldn’t imagine Kelly having rules. He knew he was feeling insecure – he didn’t believe, really, that once they were more involved Sam would want to stay with him. God, he sounded pathetic, and he hadn’t even said it out loud, but as he looked at Sam he realized he hadn’t needed to – apparently it had played out on his face.

Sam looked down at their joined hands and then carefully extracted his hand so he could pull Josh in a little closer. “Look, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but I can promise you that neither your tendency to be an impulsive idiot nor your temper – which rivals Kel’s, by the way -- will drive me away. Piss me off? Cause some arguments? Yeah, but that already happens. I don’t plan to go anywhere. But as for what I want right now, I want privacy to let this develop as it’s going to develop – do you think we can do that?”

“Privacy meaning what, exactly? Kelly knows and Sarah knows and Godzilla knows. You don’t want to . . . what?”

“I don’t want it to become a story. I don’t want to have to talk it to death with everyone in the West Wing. Especially if we aren’t even sure yet how it’s going to work or if it’s going to work. I don’t necessarily mean hide it, but be discreet. Can you do discreet?”

“I don’t know – I’ve never really tried it before, but I could – I mean I would, for this – for you. But how discreet do you mean? Do you mean I can’ t talk to Donna?” Josh couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to Donna about something this huge.

“Well, given that most people -- including me some days -- think you’re in love with her, I don’t know if she’d be my first choice, but I trust you.” Sam stopped; he had to admit that his relationship with Kelly was at least as strange to most people as Josh’s with Donna – that Josh wasn’t going to complain about Kelly meant he really couldn’t complain about Donna.

“Well, okay, so basically we’re doing don’t ask, don’t tell civilian-style. I can live with that,” Josh said, choosing to ignore Sam’s comments about Donna. “So, what has Kelly done now? I haven’t heard you curse that much in an age, so it must be big.”

“Yeah, you could say so. Guess who owns this place.”

Josh looked at Sam for a minute and saw the ironic humor in his eyes, and he thought he knew but he wasn’t sure. “Kel. But why does that have you so upset?”

Sam breathed an exaggerated sigh and said, “More years ago than I care to count, I helped her set up a living trust – this house is now part of that trust. The house is deeded to you and me, by way of the trust, if anything happens to her. The document I was reviewing is the current revision of the trust, and to further complicate matters, she has named us its co-administrators, so it would probably be a good idea for you to review that mother at some point. I’ve always handled the majority of her financial stuff. She’s brilliant, but no head for numbers that one – stocks, yes; numbers, not so much. Anyway, there are a bunch of messy things -- involving stocks; property; and paintings -- that could cause serious problems for us as government officials, but none of them are relevant unless something happens to her in the next few months.”

“What happens in a few months?”

“She has the baby and the whole thing gets changed around – again,” Sam was so busy envisioning the amount of extra paperwork he’d be doing in May that he didn’t even realize what he’d said until he got a good look at Josh’s face.

Josh’s eyes almost bulged out of his head; he was so surprised. He choked on his coffee but managed to get out, “She does what?”

“Well, so much for keeping that secret. Kelly’s pregnant – due in May. There’s a videotape in the box, but we can watch that later – I haven’t seen her in a couple of months, so I’m curious.” Sam didn’t offer any information on the father and Josh didn’t ask. “I think I’m ready to find out what’s in the library and then find a bed. Knowing Kel, she’s got everything set up for us to sleep here. Wake up here. Go to work from here. Do whatever – she’ s nothing if not thorough.”

Sam took Josh’s hand again and pulled him toward the stairs. They counted off doors and opened the one to what Kelly had called the library. It was clearly the only room she had put time into decorating. Comfortable leather chairs – the kind Sam preferred. Shelves and shelves filled with books – classics, contemporary, and biographies of all kinds. What caught their attention, though, was the fireplace. It had a beautiful mantelpiece – hand-carved, knowing Kelly – but what was absolutely stunning was the portrait hung above it. She had taken the sketches of Josh and Sam that Josh had seen during his recovery and combined them into a portrait that made it very clear how they felt about each other.

“No wonder—“ Sam started.

“What?”

“She didn’t want us to see the portrait unless we were really going to try to make this work,” he said with something akin to awe in his voice. “She never does portraits, you know.”

“Why not? This is amazing.” It wasn’t the detail that was impressive, though it was -- she had captured each of them in a moment when they were wearing their feelings on their faces – it was the amount of life she had conveyed that Josh was impressed with. Both he and Sam looked ready to move off the canvas and into the room.

“Says it’s something about trying to make a soul static – she just never feels like she can make it work. Man, when she decides to do it though, she just . . . wow.” Sam thought for another minute and then chuckled. “Of course, there’s also the minor point that she generally doesn’t have enough patience to work with people.”

“That I can imagine,” Josh said with a wry grin. He then grew more serious again. “So, how slow are we taking this, exactly?”

Sam studied him for a minute, trying to figure out what the “real” question was. Josh was always difficult to understand, but now with all sorts of undercurrents and new things happening in the relationship, Sam was at a complete loss. “What are you asking, Josh?”

Josh walked over to the shelves and appeared to be studying the book titles when he said in a rush, “Arewesleepingtogethertonight?”

Sam didn’t understand a word of it. “Huh?”

“Where am I sleeping tonight?” Josh said more clearly as his scrutiny of the bookshelves became more intense.

“Anywhere you –“ And then Sam’s brain kicked over. “Oh, I get it. Still, anywhere you want so long as I get to come too.”

***Late that Night***

Sam slipped out of the bedroom and headed down to the living room to call Kelly. He’d told Josh not to thank her for this, but now it was the only thing he wanted to do. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this happy; this satisfied; or this relaxed. The relaxed feeling wouldn’t last long, but she was right -- both about Josh and about the house. It would make a good “safe house” for his relationship with Josh while they were trying to sort it all out – make it work. He dialed the number from memory and waited for her to pick up.

“Hello?” Kelly sounded groggy.

“Hey, beautiful, did I wake you up?”

“Maybe a little; why are you calling me this late? Is something wrong?”

“No, everything’s great. I have some things I need to say, and I just didn’ t want to wait,” Sam said happily, and then added, “and, Ms. Smartass, it isn’t that late on your side – just on mine.”

“Okay – spit it out already so we can both go back to sleep,” Kelly said abruptly, then added more quietly and more seriously, “You shouldn’t be calling me tonight anyway – it might make him feel odd – and I don’t want that.”

“He’ll be okay – you worry too much,” Sam said firmly.

“And you don’t worry enough. Josh isn’t like Sar, Sam. You can’t expect him to accept all of this as easily as she does – I know if the roles were reversed I wouldn’t accept it as well as she does,” Kelly said somewhat sadly.

“Okay, you know what, he’ll figure it out. We’ll find a way to make it work. You and I will be as close as we’ve always been, he’s not going to change that. He wouldn’t want to – he’s known us both for so long, and he respects us – our relationship, as odd as it is.”

“We’ll see,” Kelly said knowingly.

“Now, let’s move off this and on to why I called. I wanted to say thank you for giving me a push. I didn’t know I could be this happy, and I still wouldn’t if it hadn’t been for you being so damned stubborn.”

“Sar’s going to want to kill you for thanking me – you know that, right? She ’ll say you’re encouraging me.”

“Funny – that’s what I told Josh when he wanted to thank you. Maybe I should have taken my own advice.”

“Remember, Sam: pregnant woman trapped in a bed – I have a very, very short fuse.”

“And that’s different from usual . . . how? Okay, wait: before we get sidetracked arguing about your temper -- which would simply prove my point, by the way -- the other thing: you should really start thinking about doing more portrait work. The one in the library is damned amazing. Now I see why you didn’t want to show the sketches to me before. Were we really that obvious?”

“Only to me, but I’m glad you like it. Go back to bed, sweetheart. You finally have someone worth the time there and you’re on the phone with me – you can be a real idiot sometimes.”

“That’s what you keep telling me. Sleep well and say nice things about me to the baby,” Sam said, laughing. And then he was serious again. “Oh, I almost forgot: I told him you’re pregnant.”

Kelly was stunned – given everything that Sam had done tonight she hadn’t imagined that he would do this, too. “How did he take it? Did you tell him everything?”

“He’s surprised, but he’s happy for you, I think.”

“Happy for me – meaning you didn’t tell him part two – also known as the important part if you’re planning to have a relationship with some basis in truth. You’re being an idiot, but I love you, and I’ll remember to tell the baby what an idiot you were when Josh blasts you to smithereens for not telling him,” Kelly said ruefully as she imagined what would happen when Josh found out the whole truth. Everyone thought she was temperamental, but the truth was that Josh was the truly volatile one.

“Yeah, well, it isn’t as if that’s unprecedented – my being an idiot. Be good; say nice things to the baby; and I promise I’ll come see you soon,” Sam said, again ignoring her point about Josh.

“I’m holding you to that. Oh, and Sammy – Happy Valentine’s Day,” Kelly said as she hung up the phone.

Sam stared at the phone for a second and then broke out in a full laugh. She had gotten him again. Every time he thought he had seen everything she could do, she came up with some new angle, some new trick that made him respect her brilliance all over again. When he turned to head back upstairs, he found Josh leaning against the doorjamb wearing boxers and a t-shirt. Sam wasn’t sure what to say.

“So that was Kelly, huh?” Josh aimed for casual. “What was so funny?”

“Yeah,” Sam sighed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called her. Do you know what today was?”

“I’m not upset that you called her,” Josh said, trying to sound reasonable. And he really wasn’t – he might not always understand, but he wasn’t upset. It wasn’t as if he could expect that in one evening Sam would change a lifelong habit of sharing everything with Kelly – the bond between them was just too strong. His face took on a puzzled expression as he thought about it, but he couldn’t remember the date. “No, I don’t even know the date – what was it?”

“Valentine’s Day,” Sam said with a smile as he crossed the room to Josh. He pulled Josh into his arms and kissed him thoroughly, then said in a passion-laden voice, “Be my valentine?”

“Always,” Josh said quietly as he pulled Sam back upstairs – back to bed.

*****2007*****

Carrie was sound asleep when Sam finished his story. Josh eased her down onto her pillows and covered her with her blankets. As they left the room, Josh slipped his hand into Sam’s.

“You getting soft, Lyman?” Sam nodded toward their joined hands.

“Not likely, Seaborn. Just want to make sure you don’t get away.”

“And where would I go?” Sam grinned as Josh led him toward their room.

“Nowhere without me.” Josh pulled Sam onto the bed and settled him into his arms. “So you really didn’t know what she was up to either, did you?”

“Told you I didn’t,” Sam offered quietly.

“I know, but . . .”

“Where Kel’s concerned, you don’t feel like I’ve ever been entirely truthful.”

Josh raised an eyebrow at him. “Entirely?”

“Okay, okay. I’ll lie like a cheap rug for Kel.”

“Yeah, but you’re my cheap rug.” Josh grinned as Sam snuggled in further.

“You’re such a romantic, Lyman.”

And Josh set about proving it.

End

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