Author: Candle Beck
Archive: Let a kid know.
Disclaimer: Characters herein depicted belong to Aaron Sorkin, Bradley Whitford and Rob Lowe. No money is being made off this story.
Summary: Don't trust anything that happens in the middle of the night.
Notes: Many thanks to Jackie Thomas, who took a look at this when it was mainly just nonsensical dialogue and got me to stop being a lazybones and make the story, you know, coherent.
Held by Candle Beck
Sam woke up and Josh was sitting on the edge of the bed, his hands clasped lightly between his knees, his back curving shallowly. There was a scattering of moonlight dousing the room, swatches of pale, pale silver drifting on the walls and picking out the shadowy notches of Josh's spine, little cups of dust-gray running in a line down the white of his shirt.
Sam pushed himself up on one arm, blearily dragging his other hand across his eyes, fisting away the remnants of sleep. "You leaving?" he asked, yawning.
Josh nodded but didn't turn.
Absently scratching at his bare stomach, Sam nodded back, even though he knew Josh couldn't see it. "Okay," Sam replied, but he didn't lie back down, watching Josh sitting there on the edge of the bed, wondering how long he had been there before Sam had woken up.
Josh didn't stand, the muscles of his back working carefully, his shoulder blades lifting and falling like low hills rolling gently, so that Sam knew he was twisting his hands together, fighting himself about something. "Are you . . . all right?" Josh asked, sounding like he regretted the question before it was half out of his mouth.
Wanting to roll his eyes, knowing it wouldn't mean a thing, Sam said with the least amount of bitterness he could manage, "Sure I'm all right, Josh. I'm all right this time, I was all right the last time, I'll be all right the next time."
Sam wondered what it was that made Josh worry about him when Josh was the one leaving, Josh was the one who knew what he was doing. If Josh thought Sam wasn't all right, it was in his power to fix it, but Sam had been for months now waking up to Josh sitting on the edge of the bed, Josh dressing in the darkness, Josh pulling the front door closed behind him, for months now Sam had been waking up alone, or almost alone, so that the difference between the two didn't matter to him anymore.
"Sam, can I . . . can I ask you something?" Josh asked, all hushed and sad, staring down at his knees.
Pulling a palm across his face, over his eyes, exhaustion like an ache in his bones, Sam replied, "Yeah. Of course," secretly, darkly hating Josh's inability to keep from digging at fresh wounds, never letting anything heal between them.
"Why did you let me in tonight? Why do you . . . why do you keep letting me come back here? Come back to you. It's always the same, every time we do this . . . why don't you stop me? Why don't you end it?"
Sam was trying hard not to feel like he was being crushed from the inside, trying so very hard to remember how to breathe. He was astonished when he found enough oxygen inside himself to speak, astonished by the scald in his voice. "If you want to end it, end it yourself."
Josh released a heartbreaking shudder of air. "I can't. I can't stop. I want to, but . . . it's like there's something holding me to you. I don't want to come here, because I know I'll just end up leaving you like this, and I hate leaving you. I hate the way you look at me when I'm walking away from you."
Josh was drowning, he was sinking like his heart was a stone, but Sam had been watching his friend slowly destroy himself for years now, and he didn't think he had the strength to keep them both above water any more. Struggling to hold his mind together, Sam said hoarsely, "Then don't leave," hating how simple it sounded, how easy and right, hating that he couldn't count on righteousness anymore.
"You know . . . you know that's something I can't do. That's more than what this is."
Forgetting to take care with Josh, forgetting that Josh was like glass, Sam said with stab of coldness, "That's more than what you've made it."
Josh winced, the calm planes of his back flickering, and he replied dully, "This is what it is, Sam. This is all it can be."
Sam knew anger wouldn't protect him from pain, but he couldn't hold it back, snapping, "Yeah, well, it sure as hell isn't much."
Sam could see Josh's hand fisted and pressed to his knee, a rock- shaped shadow low in the dashed square of moonlight that made a strange spot-lit world of Sam's bedroom.
Josh let out a long, quiet breath, and asked, his voice struggling to hold low and even, "Then why do you keep letting me come to you like this? Why do you keep letting me do this to you?"
Sam's face closed up as all that blind rage flooded through him. "Jesus Christ."
"What?" Josh answered, a tight thread of impatience running in his voice.
"You just managed to take you leaving me and somehow make it my fault." Sam glared at the back of Josh's head and wished the other man would turn around.
"Sam-" Josh wouldn't face him, so Sam cut him off, the words ripping from him quick and cruel.
"No, I'm serious, did you practice that? Is it like a skill? We should figure out a way to bottle and sell your stunning arrogance, because it's really impressive."
"Shut up." Josh lost his line of carefully-held restraint, the harsh phrase flying at Sam like a broken-winged bird, out of control and black in the night.
"Fuck off." Sam fell onto his back and flung his arm up, covering his eyes with his forearm.
Josh made a sound halfway between a sigh and a moan, and his voice clenched hard, saying tonelessly, "I need you to stop me. I can't do it on my own."
Sam sat back up again, and said to Josh's tense figure, "You know what you're like right now? You're like a drug addict who has a moment of perfect lucidity and makes his friends swear to never let him touch the stuff again, makes them promise to hold him down or beat the crap out of him or whatever they have to do to keep him clean. And then an hour later his high wears off and he says he didn't mean it, he'll kill them if they try to stop him."
Josh finally turned to face him, and it was something very near begging as he replied, "You're my friend, Sam. Stop me." Josh's hand was wrenched in the bedsheets, the muscles in his arm twitching, visible under the thin material of his shirt.
Speaking clearly, forcing his voice to stay flat, Sam answered, "I'm not your twelve-step program, Josh."
Josh pulled his eyes closed and turned away, bending forward to bury his face in his hands, his elbows on his knees. "Sam, you're . . . you've always been a better man than me. I hate doing this to you, but it's like I can't help it."
Sam wanted to put his hand on Josh's back, wanted to smooth down Josh's spine, but there was anger and tension and heat in the room with them, there was too much. "Maybe I can't help it either."
Josh swept his hands through his hair and moved to pin the other man with a desperate stare. When he spoke, his voice trembled, "I don't want to hurt you, Sam." Then he shut his eyes, like he couldn't bear to look at his friend any longer.
Sam lifted his hand and rested his fingertips on Josh's eyelids, feeling the slow stumble of Josh's mind beneath the delicate skin.
"It's too late, Josh." It was a terrible thing, not being able to lie. The truth was all that existed for Sam, and it was the worst thing in the world. He drew his hand away and Josh's eyes came open like magic, a small sigh drifting from him.
Josh looked at him sadly, his eyes ebony with pain and the shadows of the room. Then he stood and walked to the door, picking up his coat from off the arm of the chair.
Josh paused with his hand on the doorknob, his shoulders slack, angling forward so his forehead rested on the jamb, his eyes shut, and Josh said, "What goes on . . . this thing . . . what we're doing isn't good for either of us." He raised his head and met Sam's eyes, somehow found Sam's gaze in the dimness, and Josh said again, "It's not good for either of us, Sam."
Josh left, and Sam wished that the door would slam shut behind him, a noise that would be strong and sharp and certain to end the harsh night, but there was only a quiet snick, a breath indrawn that wasn't let out, and Sam was alone, waiting for something that never came.
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