Author: Jackie Thomas
Archive: All yours
Disclaimer: All theirs
Spoilers: H.Con-172 and 100000 Airplanes
Summary: Post-ep for H CON 172.
Thanks to Abigale for help on this one.
Ensorcelled by Jackie Thomas
He watches her, unexpectedly beautiful, walking away from him. The snow circling at her feet, failing to settle and vanishing. Ensorcelled.
The wind picks up and shudders through his hair, a snowflake lands on his eye, rests on his lash and melts. When she is out of his sight he takes his phone from his pocket and calls Sam.
When Sam lets him into his apartment Josh finds it transformed. The carefully furnished living room has been stripped and dismantled. The furniture pushed into the centre of the room, the rugs rolled up and the walls, which were a pale ivory, are newly painted.
Josh stops in the doorway, snow melting in his hair, adjusting to the change. "What happened here?"
Sam guides him in, taking his coat from him. "I'm just repainting."
The walls are now a deep, reflecting blue and Josh remembers a Summer Sunday on Chesapeake Bay.
"Is everything all right, Josh?"
"Uh, yeah." He shakes the memory away, looks away from the wall. "When did you do all this?"
"I do a bit when I get home from work."
"Which is usually after Midnight. Don't you sleep?"
Sam doesn't answer but takes his glasses off, rubbing an eye.
"You gotta get out on the boat more."
"I know." Sam has painted the walls the colour of the sea at noon and Josh's gaze is drawn away again.
"Josh," Sam says. "Did you need something?"
"I wanted to tell you…there's a thing. Not work." He can't find the words so he nods at a pile of boxes stacked in the centre of the room. "Have you got your whole apartment packed away there Sam? Are you fleeing the country?"
"I don't think so. I've just been going through stuff." Sam points to one of the boxes. "There's some of your things in that one." He hesitates. "I mean, I've just been going through stuff."
"I can see." Josh circles the pile of boxes to get to his. "Why?"
"It needed doing." They both stare at the box efficiently labelled with large black `J'. "You could take it if you want. Just if you want to. No rush."
Josh opens the box marked `J'. There are a few clothes, books, some papers Sam always told him he ought to put somewhere safe.
"Apparently," says Sam through the brittle silence. "You have to clear out blockages in your life before your Chi can flow freely and you can move on."
Josh looks up. "Chi? Have you been talking to Donna?"
Sam blinks guiltily. "Yes."
"What did I tell you about talking to Donna?" He goes back to examining the contents of the box and thinks about being a blockage.
"I didn't mean…" Sam reads his mind. "I didn't mean that."
Josh doesn't look up. "Its all right."
"Maybe I meant it a little."
"Its all right." He folds the box lid down. "Is something wrong Sam?"
"No." Sam sinks down on to the couch, causing a landslide of the videos stacked there. "Yes. I had a stupid day and then I got an email from Lisa."
Josh sits on the arm of the couch, at the other end to Sam. He reaches over and sweeps the videos into a new pile. "What does Her Majesty want now?"
Sam brightens briefly at Lisa's new designation. "She's going to do a piece on me for Vanity Fair. Starting on the State of the Union and following me around for a few days. I mean, it's got to be cleared with CJ but…yeah."
"Lisa's coming to town?"
"That explains the sudden drop in temperature."
"It's a dumb idea, cancel her."
"I bet CJ won't let me."
"Yeah, but...you know, really dumb idea."
Sam shrugs. He has been working on the apartment and is wearing his oldest jeans and a torn white, blue-splattered shirt. There is nothing on earth for Josh like Sam untidy.
"Hey," says Josh. "She's not planning to out us is she? Because that would be ironic."
"She doesn't know about us," Sam replies definitively.
"You think? I'm not so sure."
"Well, let's try not to annoy her and then she might not."
Josh gives his most demonic smile. "'Kay." He rifles idly through Sam's videos. The inauguration, Bartlet's first State of the Union, documentaries on low pay and land struggles, some BBC dramas. He holds up Our Mutual Friend. "You better hide your videos from her. I mean, how gay are you?"
Sam throws him a look. "Did you want to tell me something, Josh?"
"I did." The unintended kiss already seems lost in time and an ocean away. He turns the video over and puts it aside. "Just now, I guess I kissed Amy Gardner."
Sam looks down at his bare feet and then up again. "Women's Leadership Coalition Amy?"
"Water balloon Amy?"
"She…you know about that?"
"Toby told me. He said you were…ensorcelled."
Josh sighs. "He shouldn't have told you."
"He assumed I knew. He thinks we talk." Sam shrugs away the implications of the statement. "Its okay. I mean I don't hold with throwing things at you from high windows as a rule. But it's okay."
"I think maybe we're going to date. Or something of that sort. I forget how it works."
"That's generally how it works. But you don't have to tell me every time you kiss her. In fact, please don't."
"I just didn't want you to hear it from someone else. From Toby, for example. I just wanted you to know."
"Okay. Thanks." Sam gets up from the couch sending the videos cascading again, and goes to the window. The curtains are down for painting and he stares out. Finally he nods to himself, which Josh recognises as a visible sign of an internal dialogue coming to a close. Then he beckons Josh over. "Look at the snow. The storm's here."
The snowstorm has developed from its calm beginnings into an apocalyptic frenzy. A vicious wind sends flakes flying sideways and upwards and turns the dark to grey and white. On car tops and in the circles around streetlights, it is beginning to settle. DC begins to disappear.
"Oh man," whines Josh. "Damn snow. Dammit"
"Still at one with nature then, Josh?"
"I gotta go, before my car disappears."
Sam puts his hand on Josh's arm. "You're not going out in that."
Josh rolls his eyes. "Don't go all California on me. It's just snow. Think of it as sand that melts."
Sam grips Josh's arm sending reverberations through his body. "It's a blizzard and its dark. You're not seriously thinking about driving through it."
"Stay till it passes. Stay here tonight."
There is no arguing with the intensity of Sam's concern. Anyway, he doesn't want to leave.
Sam releases his hold and returns his gaze to the storm. "Good."
Josh looks at his arm. He can still feel Sam's touch through his coat, through his skin and he knows from experience weeks will pass before the invisible burn marks are gone. He doesn't want to leave but he shouldn't be here, not on a night like this when a new world is created each time he turns his back.
He turns away. "Can I help you paint, then?"
"Can you…? It's finished."
"Can't we give it another coat?"
"I don't think it needs one."
Josh looks around, gestures at the dark wood bookcases that had lined two of the walls and are now empty and stranded in the middle of the room.
"We could put books back."
Sam looks at the shelves and contemplates the idea as if it is a new thought to unpack after packing away. Josh stares at him. "You were planning to put them back, Sam? I mean, you are staying?"
Sam's expression is unreadable. "Where would I go?"
Josh feels it is imperative to start this job immediately and he looks in the box marked J for old clothes to change into. "Come on, books on shelves. I'll take the top, you do the bottom."
Sam is silent for a moment and then breaks into a smile. "Oh yes, where have I heard that before?"
He and Josh move the bookcases back against the wall and then Sam goes looking for the boxes he has stored his books in.
Of course it is not straightforward. Sam insists on arranging his books into an entirely inexplicable system.
"What the hell, Sam. Is it Dewey Decimal?"
"Its simple Josh. Fiction, non-fiction, subject category, century of publication, then alphabetical by author's name. Here, look at the catalogue."
"You've got a…tell you what…I'll unpack, you shelve."
They work side-by-side, just as they always used to and while they work the world fades into background. Just as it always did. The anxieties of the hearings, the pain of the break-up. It seems natural to have Sam close by like this. A rustle of denim, muttering the names of legal philosophers and the faintest scent of aftershave beneath the new emulsion smell.
They quit when it gets late and the alphabet finally defeats Sam. Josh is suddenly tired too and while Sam goes to the kitchen to get glasses of iced water he sits on the floor against the couch.
He is facing the one wall still clear of furniture and he feels he could disappear into the overwhelming blue. "This colour, Sam," he says when he comes back with the drinks.
"You think it's too much?" Sam sits next to him and hands him his glass. "You think its 20000 Leagues under the Sea."
"Yeah, but I like it. Its just the thing to channel your Chi. Or whatever the hell."
"I thought so. Anyway, I have to paint every four years. Its in my lease."
"And people find it hard to believe you were a contract lawyer." Josh watches Sam's soft and sad smile. "So, is there, like, some kind of Chi crisis you want to tell me about? Because, I know all about these things from Donna going on about me not tidying my desk."
Sam leans back against the couch. "Josh, I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
Josh looks at him. His head is back against the sofa and he is staring at the ceiling. Josh imagines his lips on Sam's neck, at the triangle where his shirt is unbuttoned.
"If it helps I think these hearings are about to go away."
Sam lifts his head. "Don't tell me anything you're not supposed to."
"I won't. Just…that. I think there might be a deal."
Sam nods, his eyes wander over Josh and then sink down to examine the grain of the hard wood floor.
"But it's not just that is it?" Josh says.
"Honestly, no. I'm just...I don't know, whining. I'm fine."
"It's been hard since we broke up," Josh murmurs.
"Yes," Sam says, quietly too, his gaze staying fixed to the floor. "There's no one else to tell that to."
His hair has tousled during the course of their work, and Josh's hand goes to it, brushing away some book-dust which has settled there. "Just look at you."
Sam's eyes close momentarily, then he moves away from Josh's touch.
Josh's hand is left in the air, he pushes it through his own hair. "Yes."
"She's quite scary isn't she?"
"No… not once you…"
"Is she going to be another of your girlfriends that you construct endless imaginary battles with instead of risking a real relationship?"
"Or perhaps you think that's a personal question."
"Sam, she's not you. I've just got to try and remember not to blame her for it."
Sam blinks at that, considers Josh carefully. The newly painted walls are a shade lighter than Sam's eyes and when Sam looks at him, Josh feels the room is watching him too. He drops his head, inhales softly. "I kissed her," he says. "On the steps of my building."
Sam turns away. "We never kissed outside. It was against the rules."
Josh looks up. "Yes we did. On your boat. That day at Annapolis." On the day Josh had been recalling Sam had taken them out to sea, far from the dock or other boats. Out of sight of land he had taken Josh in his arms.
"You're right." Sam says, contemplating the paintwork. "You know, I've been thinking about that day." He finishes the glass of water and puts it aside.
"You do know you're painting your way out of DC?" Josh asks. "You're painting yourself out to sea."
Sam likes the idea. "Right out into the ocean. Do you want to come too?"
"Yeah, why not," Josh replies. Sitting back he waits for the world to change one more time. "Start the engine Sam, hoist the main sail, up periscope."
"That day…that was a good day."
"Sam, it was the best."
"Ah, but I miss you Josh."
Josh reaches his arm around Sam's shoulders and Sam half-heartedly shakes him off. "Josh."
"We're still friends aren't we? I can put my arm around you."
"And that's how it always starts," But he leans back against Josh anyway and they stare at the wall.
"So what are we waiting for?" Josh says drawing Sam nearer. "It's a beautiful July day, the President's in New Hampshire, nothings going on."
"I love that sound. It's the lap of the waves against the boat. Can you hear it?"
"And can you see the seabirds floating about out there on the breeze?"
"It's the perfect spot, Josh. The sun's shining and DC is a thousand miles away."
"Okay. We'll stay for a while." His fingers move through Sam's hair.
Sam lifts his head to Josh and brushes a kiss across his lips. Josh tastes salt spray in the kiss and goes back for a deeper, longer one. Ensorcelled.
"God, Sam. On a day like today, it feels like we could last for ever." Sam doesn't reply but rests his head against Josh's chest.
They stay still and silent, arms tightly around one another. Josh thinks they were always like this. Two stowaways, fearing movement might bring discovery. He strokes Sam's hair, kisses the top of his head and after a while the rhythm of his breathing tells Josh he has fallen asleep. He eases Sam's glasses off without disturbing him and puts them aside. Then he gathers him in with both arms.
For a long time, while Sam sleeps, he watches the blizzard raging outside. He has Sam in his arms so he doesn't wonder that amid the chaotic violence of the storm he can feel he is adrift in the calmest of oceans, subject only to a boat's gentle motion.
When he lets his eyes close Josh dreams of the way the rising wind caught Amy's hair as she walked away from him, of the unbelievable bright of her red coat. When the click of her heels on the pavement reveals itself as rain against the window he wakes. He has slept for a few hours and Sam has hardly moved.
Through the window he can see the storm has passed and the snow has turned to a steady downpour. The rooftops are still white but the rain, if it continues to fall this way, will soon wash them back to brown.
Sam stirs, shifting slightly. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"It's okay, you can sleep." But Sam is still for only a moment before pressing his forehead to Josh's chest and moving out of his arms. Sam gazes sleepily at him and Josh looks away to the window. "It's stopped snowing."
"There's supposed to be eighteen inches."
Sam yawns. "Another broken promise from the Bartlet Administration." He reaches across Josh to get his glasses and puts them back on.
"I should head back."
"Yes." Sam absently peers at his watch. "I mean you can stay in the guest room…you don't have to…"
"No, I'm going to go."
"I'm just going to take a shower and go back to work anyway." Sam nods and they get to their feet. Josh gathers up the discarded components of his suit and Sam finds his coat and helps him in to it.
They both glance at the box marked `J'. Josh won't pick it up and Sam stands awkwardly and doesn't mention it. He looks up when Josh says. "See you later."
Sam nods. "Take it easy driving."
Josh has his hand on the door to open it. He stops and turns back to where Sam is watching him with his fingers hooked into the back pockets of his jeans, eyes still fogged with sleep. He leaves without looking back again.
Back to the Big Block of Cheese Main Page