TITLE: Moose and Eagle's Traveling Menagerie
AUTHOR: Julian Lee
CATEGORIES: West Wing/Northern Exposure crossover; Sam/Chris, CJ/Maggie
DISCLAIMER: I am not Sorkin or Frolov; I am not NBC or CBS (thank heavens); I do not own these characters, places, or shows. Nor do I own the music of Miles Davis, Chester Arthur Burnett, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Credence Clearwater Revival, Giuseppe Verdi, or Billie Holiday.
SUMMARY: Men up trees; omnisexual love gods; mysterious music no one can hear. If not for Air Force One parked in the driveway, you'd call it an average day in Cicely.
NOTES: I fought this plot-Tribble long and hard, but it proved too strong for me. I still miss "Northern Exposure" like mad, all these years later. Dedicated, with thanks, to Perpetual Motion, sounding board extraordinaire, and to Nomi, a spectacular beta and researchinatrix.
Moose and Eagle's Traveling Menagerie by Julian Lee
Holling, wiping down the bar, watched in bemusement as Chris stumbled into the Brick and staggered to the bar. Chris planted both palms on the countertop and stared wildly around the room, but whatever he was looking for didn't seem to be there. It was 2:16 on a Tuesday afternoon, and he should have been on the air. Holling raised his eyebrows at Shelley, who came closer to watch. "Can I get you something, Chris?" Holling asked carefully. You didn't want to spook a man in Chris's condition.
"Ah. Holling." Chris licked his lips. Bringing his gaze down, he looked first at Holling, then Shelley, with a clarity that made them both take a step backwards. Then the fog rolled back in, and he shook his head, long brown hair swishing side to side. "Um, no. I'm...looking for someone."
"Who?" Holling asked.
"I don't know yet." Chris cocked his head. "Do you guys hear strange music?"
>From the next stool over, Ed offered helpfully, "That's your playlist, Chris."
Chris looked at his friend blankly, then shook his head again and stumbled out of the bar.
Shelley came up and leaned into her husband's side. "Poor Chris," she said.
Holling nodded and tossed his dishrag into the washtub. "He's gonna get it bad."
CJ readjusted the blanket on her lap. It was too short. Even on Air Force One, everything was too short. "Toby. You're not going to die."
"I am," Toby insisted. "I am going to freeze to death and die. It's Alaska."
"In July," Josh countered.
"I feel so much warmer already." Toby sank further down in his seat.
"Let's not forget that this was your idea," Josh said.
"It was not," Toby protested. "The President said he needed to make a campaign stop in Alaska, and I happened to mention that I had this friend, and then *he* said--"
"Hey there, Rain Man." CJ put her hand on his arm to shut him up. "We know what he said. We were there."
"I'm just saying, you - you can't pin this on me."
"Toby." CJ sighed. "We'll be fine."
Toby blinked at her. "We'll die." Grabbing a notepad, he slid out of his seat. "I'm going to see what Sam's up to."
CJ shook her head as she watched him walk away. "If Alaska doesn't kill him, I might."
Josh stretched elaborately. "Wait a couple of minutes; Sam'll do the job for you."
"Oh, yeah." CJ adjusted the blanket again. "How's he doing, anyway?"
Josh shook his head. "Ready to snap. I don't know what's wrong; I've been so careful with him--"
"That's the problem right there. Sam doesn't *want* people being careful with him. He wants his life back."
"The bitch broke his heart." Josh spent a minute hating Ainsley Hayes. Then he brightened. "You know what Sam needs while we're in Alaska?"
Josh chuckled. "That, too. I was going to say he needs to get laid."
Arching an eyebrow, CJ said, "I hardly envision this town being full of glamorous blonds."
"That's not Sam's usual type. Ainsley was an aberration."
"Sometimes I think Ainsley *is* an aberration. Do you really think Inuits in parkas are going to do it for him?"
"That's an amusing image, but no." He grinned. "Alaska is famed for its rugged individualists."
"Ah." CJ nodded. "You mean Sam needs a man."
"Interesting. And when were you planning to do this pimping?"
"I'm not - it's not pimping!" Josh looked appalled.
"Okay, sorry." She held up her hands. "Just don't, you know, do it, all right?"
"No, you're right," Josh said absently, craning his neck to look to the back of the plane where Sam and Toby were holed up.
"I wonder if Toby's friend is cute."
He stood abruptly. "I'm going to see what Donna's doing."
"Probably she's trying to work," CJ said, "so you could try leaving her alone for once."
"No can do," Josh said, grinning. "I'm just not happy if I'm not stirring up trouble."
CJ sighed as he bounded off. "I've noticed."
CJ fell asleep. She dreamt of a vineyard not far from her brother's house in the Napa Valley. It was late summer, and the grapes were starting to weigh down the vines. She was awfully naked.
There was a guy leaning against a support pole. He looked like Danny, except for the bow and arrows, and he was pretty well naked, too, which CJ could get behind. "Hey there, Claudia Jean," he greeted her, tapping an arrow to his forehead in
"Hi," she said tentatively and took a few steps closer. "What are we doing here?" This close he didn't look like Danny at all.
He shrugged. "I thought, change of scenery but familiar to you - might be nice."
"And you would be...?"
CJ's eyes widened. "Eros, the Greek god of love?"
"No; Eros, the attendant on pump 5. You're a smart woman, Claudia Jean; keep up."
"Aren't you supposed to be--"
"Don't say it!" he snapped. "The Romans infantilized my image, and I'm still pissed about it. Do you think the Greeks would trust a baby with the arrows of Love?"
CJ shrugged. "I don't know. You trusted the infancy of Dionysus to a guy with wings on his shoes."
"Shut up. What's your problem with me, anyway?"
"Nothing." With the warm breeze ruffling her hair, CJ couldn't imagine having problems with anything. "You just look an awful lot like a guy I used to kind of have a thing with."
"I like to manifest as someone familiar." He was laying an arrow across his bowstring.
"And that's nice of you, but...Danny? You couldn't have picked, I don't know, Sam? I've always wondered what he looks like naked, and, whoa boy, less emotional baggage."
Eros huffed and tapped his foot. "I'm sorry my choice pains you, Claudia Jean. Can we do this? I'm a wee bit swamped today."
CJ eyed him. "You're gay."
He lowered his bow. "Excuse me?"
"You've got a little thing for the fellas."
Eros rolled his eyes dramatically. "I'm *omni*sexual. Hello? What kind of half-assed love god would I be if I didn't sleep with *everyone*?"
She patted his shoulder. "Sure thing, honey. You keep telling yourself that."
"Look, girlie," he said, swinging the bow up wildly to point at her, "I'm not a guy whose bad side you want to be on."
"Whoa." CJ held up her hands and stepped back. "Hang on, Annie Oakley. You're not going to shoot me with one of those love
"You're right." The bow didn't waver. "This isn't a love arrow. It's an arrow that'll keep the pain down when it's over."
"When *what's* over?" CJ's eyes narrowed. "We're three months from reelection here; this is not a good time for me to fall
in love. So just...put that thing away before you put someone's eye out."
Eros put a fist to his hip, but the bow remained remarkably stable. "Claudia Jean, you know I don't give a damn about shit like that. This order came from upstairs."
"Upstairs? You mean, like, Zeus?" That was impressive.
"No, I mean upstairs. Central Processing. Yeah, they have the whole system on computers now; it's been a godsend."
"You're not going to shoot me."
He took aim. "It's for your own good."
"No." She waved him off. "I'm not going to fall in love; ergo, no broken heart; ergo, no need for a...whatever's in that arrow."
"It's a heart-healing potion. And, did you have to? With the Latin?"
"No arrow." CJ crossed her arms and scowled, though being naked diminished the threat.
With a put-upon sigh, Eros lowered his arms. "Your call. But you'll regret it. And don't come crying to me when you do."
"Fine. I won't."
"You really are gay."
Eros was raising his bow again when CJ woke up. Giggling. Then she frowned. Her dream had been more than normally odd, and the too- short blanket had fallen to the floor. No more sleeping on the plane.
"O'Connell, if you want my French fries, you could ask." Joel looked at her over the top of his reading glasses.
Maggie wiped salty fingers on her napkin. "Fleischman, may I have some French fries?"
He flipped a page in his four-month-old _New England Journal of Medicine_. "No."
Maggie made a face at him and took another fry. "OW!" She slapped her hand onto the back of her neck.
Joel was instantly concerned. "O'Connell? You okay?"
"No." She pulled her hand away. There was no blood on it, but she felt the throb in her neck beginning to build.
"Something stung me, or bit me, or something."
Joel leaned over. "Yeah, something got you," he said with a nod. "There's no stinger or anything, so it must've been a bite. Mosquito, probably."
"If it was, it was a mosquito the size of Fairbanks." She scowled and rubbed the spot.
Joel smiled. "Come by the office later if it's still bothering you."
"Thanks, Fleischman." Looking up as the Brick's door jingled open, she groaned and tried - completely without success - to hide behind Joel. "Maurice at one o'clock. Headed this way."
"Oh, great." Joel closed his journal and took off his glasses. There was no escaping Maurice today - not for him, anyway. He watched the aging astronaut work the crowd as he threaded his way to their table. The man really did have a way with people. Even if it was often just to rub them the wrong way.
"The man of the hour!" Maurice hailed him from a few tables over. Maggie tried further hiding. She was doomed.
"Hi, Maurice," he said. He wasn't surprised when Maurice slid into the booth across from them. "Everything ready for the big arrival?"
"Like clockwork," Maurice boasted. "And it's all thanks to you."
Joel fiddled with his glasses. "Come on, Maurice," he mumbled. "I'm just a guy who knows a guy."
"A guy who knows a guy?" Maurice scoffed. "Joel, that 'guy' is President Bartlet's director of communications, and he is bringing the President to our sleepy hamlet. He is bestowing the favor of the White House upon us."
"They're going to be here for eighteen hours." Joel put his glasses in his shirt pocket.
"They're putting Cicely on the map!"
"Cicely's already on the map. I looked us up once." Joel, Maurice, and Maggie turned slowly. Shelley looked down at them, smoothing her apron with her hand. "What?"
Shaking his head, Joel dropped his napkin on the table. "Can I have my check, Shelley?"
"No worries, Dr. F.," she said as she slid a cheeseburger in front of Maurice. "Maurice took care of it."
Joel gritted his teeth. Maggie snickered. "Maurice," Joel said, "this has to stop."
"No, Joel." Maurice winked. "*You* have to stop denying the greatness that is being thrust upon you."
Joel rose, grabbed his journal and his jacket. "Shelley, lunch was great, as always. O'Connell, enjoy my fries, you crazed kleptomaniac." He stalked out of the Brick.
Chuckling to himself, Maurice tucked into his cheeseburger. "He's so modest."
Maggie raised her eyebrows but didn't feel like reminding Maurice of how wrong he was. Popping another fry into her mouth, she said, "I hope his friend's not like him."
Chris wasn't having a good week. Chris was having, in fact, his worst week in years. He wasn't sleeping. He barely ate.
His on-air meditations disintegrated into incoherent pleadings about mercy and second chances. He's called his brother so many times Bernard was on the verge of booking a seat on the next plane to Anchorage. But who could blame him for being scared out of his mind?
President Bartlet would be in Cicely in less than four hours. President Bartlet, Chris suspected, would take one look at him and know every crime he had committed and order him back to jail. Chris couldn't think of any parole violations he'd committed lately, but this country had thousands of laws, and the President struck him as the kind of man who knew them *all.*
He would have to make sure that the President never saw him, then. Or any of his people. They were only in town for eighteen hours, a stop-over on the way to some Russian summit. He could survive eighteen hours.
The area that had been set up for Air Force One was long and narrow, and there was a house at one end. It looked like some drunken party guest had parked their 747 crookedly in the driveway. The landing area was crammed with people, but it was a less enthusiastic welcome than the President was accustomed to. "They don't seem happy to see me, Toby," he said as he waved to the crowd.
"They're a reserved people, sir," Toby replied dryly.
"Mr. President!" An officious middle-aged man in a NASA uniform that probably looked dashing ten years ago but now pulled across the middle dashed towards the plane. Jed plastered on the big, fake smile and descended the stairs. "Mr. President, my name is Maurice Minnefield, and as the head of the official greeting team, it is my distinct privilege to welcome you to Cicely, Alaska. May I just say what an honor it is to have you here?"
If only he could say *just* that. But Jed knew Minnefield's type - this sort of self-important minor dignitary had been the thorn in his side since his days in the New Hampshire governor's mansion. He whipped the big, fake smile back into shape. "Thank you, Mr. Minnefield. It's wonderful to be here."
"Now, sir, if you'll come with me, I'll take you to the quarters we've arranged for you - after a tour of the city, of course."
Of course. Jed looked at Charlie, pleading. "I'm not sure we have time...."
With an unreadable glint in his eyes, Charlie said, "Actually, sir, you have forty-five minutes before your meeting with the governor."
Jed's eyes widened. "You're punishing me?" he asked. "*You* are punishing *me*? For Amsterdam?" Charlie shrugged and motioned to the agents, who started after Minnefield. "It's a long walk across the Bering Strait, my friend," Jed hissed. "There's no land bridge anymore." Charlie didn't turn, and when Jed looked up, he found Minnefield at his elbow. The big, fake smile was going to be a permanent feature of his face. "All right, Mr. Minnefield."
Toby watched President Bartlet go with a faint smile, rubbing his hands together for warmth. This trip was the President's fault; he deserved everything it stuck him with. He started looking around for Joel.
"Should one of us, maybe, have gone with the President?" Josh asked as he and CJ appeared at Toby's side.
"Nah." CJ looked where the agents assisted the President into a waiting car. "He has Charlie; he has official Cicely greeter Maurice Minnefield - he's great."
Josh squinted at her. "You and Charlie are punishing him for Amsterdam!" he accused. She smiled serenely at him.
"Uh, where's Sam?" Toby stopped looking for Joel and started searching out Sam instead.
"Am I your deputy's keeper?" CJ asked.
Josh sniggered. "Someone got up on the wrong side of the jet today."
Not considering Josh worth the effort of flipping off, CJ scanned for Sam. "There he is." She pointed to the side of the crowd.
"What's he doing?" Josh's brow furrowed.
"I'm not sure. Sam?"
"Yo, Sam!" Josh and CJ walked quickly towards Sam, repeating his name.
"Sam?" Josh asked when they reached him. Sam stood with his arms hanging loosely at his sides, staring up at...nothing.
There was absolutely nothing in the field of his slightly elevated gaze - not even clouds.
CJ touched his arm. "Sam, we've been calli--"
"Shhh." Sam held up a finger. "Hear that?"
Josh strained as though actually listening for something. CJ shook her head. "I don't hear anything. Come on; let's meet Toby's snide little friend and then go take a nap."
"Didn't you have a pretty long nap on the plane?" Josh smirked as he drew Sam by the elbow back towards Toby.
"I meant Sam. And...shut up."
Josh kept smirking, and CJ hoped he'd get mauled by a bear.
To the others, the moment that was passing between Toby and the man they assumed to be Joel Fleischman looked awkward. But Toby and Joel were not men who hugged, and you couldn't greet one of your closest friends with a handshake. So they settled for grinning at each other until CJ cleared her throat loudly. "Hi," she said. "We're standing here."
Unflustered, Toby did the introductions. Joel shook hands all around and looked at Toby with a small smile. "No McGarry?"
"Leo stayed in Washington to keep an eye on things."
"Leo stayed in Washington to play Whack-A-Mole with the Senate Judiciary Committee." Joel said with a knowing smirk. Before they had time to bluster their way out of it, he continued, "Toby and Josh, you're with me. And as soon as we find O'Connell - O'CONNELL!" Sam winced, and Joel smiled apologetically. "O'Connell!"
They hadn't expected O'Connell to be a woman with short brown hair and a defiant attitude, but that's who pushed through the crowd. "For Christ's sake, Fleischman, I'm two damned feet away."
"Language, O'Connell," he said.
"I've heard it before," Sam offered.
"Yeah, me too," CJ said. "Mostly from Toby."
"O'Connell, this is the President's senior staff - CJ Cregg, Josh Lyman, Sam Seaborn, Toby Ziegler. You're Sam and CJ's ride to the Sourdough."
"Yes, Fleischman, I know." She scowled at him. "I was at the same meeting you were. I was even running it."
"Wait. Wait." Josh held up his hand. "Margaret O'Connell? *Mayor* O'Connell?"
She sighed. "Yeah. That's me."
CJ looked at the mini-motorcade. "Why aren't you showing the President around?"
Maggie pushed her bangs off her forehead. "Maurice was so gung-ho to do it. And I...wasn't." She looked at CJ and Sam. "Do you have other luggage that needs to come with us?"
CJ shook her head. "I'm good."
Patting his computer case, Sam said, "Everything I need is in this bag."
"Okay, then, let's go." She looked at Joel. "Stay out of trouble, Fleischman. You wouldn't want to get the President's staff arrested."
"Go, O'Connell. And try not to get lost on the way."
Maggie feinted towards Joel, and he recoiled, putting up his hands defensively. Maggie laughed and relaxed, turning to Sam and CJ. "Ready?" She led them to a silver-new SUV at the edge of the field. The California in them both twitched at the SUV, but this was Alaska, and they suspected that the morals of the lower 48 didn't always apply.
"Mind if I turn on the radio?" Maggie asked once the car was moving. They did not. She switched the knob, and a sleepy, muted trumpet flowed into the space.
CJ leaned her head against the seat-back. "'So What,'" she murmured.
"Excuse me?" Sam leaned between the front seats. "Which of us was that addressed towards?"
She smiled. Exhaustion showed clear in her eyes - and under them, in dark circles. "It's the name of the piece. Miles Davis. 'So What.' I love this song."
"It's great," Maggie agreed. "I like 'The Pan Piper' better."
"'The Pan Piper'? I haven't heard that in years."
"Chris must have it somewhere in the studio," Maggie said, "if you want to meet him."
"Could we go now?" she asked.
"I guess. Don't you have...Presidential things to do?"
"We have a couple hours. Sam?"
"Knock yourself out. All we have to do is drop our stuff at the Sourdough."
Maggie chuckled. "Maurice almost erupted when he found out you were staying there. It was fun."
"What's wrong with it?"
Maggie scanned the road ahead - for moose, CJ thought. "Nothing. It's Ron and Erik's place, and Ron and Erik make Maurice really uncomfortable. He didn't even come to the wedding."
"What wedding?" Sam was less than half listening.
"Ron and Erik's," Maggie explained patiently.
"Oh," Sam said. Then he straightened and locked eyes with CJ in the rearview. "Oh!"
CJ settled back in her seat. "I like this town more all the time."
On the radio, the song ended, and a thoughtful voice filled the car. "Thank you, Miles. He says, 'so what?' and it's a question we could stand to ask more often. The crazy moon's gonna keep chasing the big ol' sun around the sky; spring's gonna go right on following winter, and we'd all be a lot happier if we learned to sit back, let go, and enjoy it."
Sam had gone very still. CJ glanced at him with a frown. "You okay back there?"
Sam pointed at the radio. "Who is that?"
"Chris Stevens," Maggie said proudly, "the voice of KBHR in the morning. And all the rest of the time. Also a mechanic and ordained minister. He did Ron and Erik's wedding."
"Who writes his stuff?"
The look Maggie gave him couldn't accurately be described, but it involved a great deal of incredulity and maybe some sympathy. "Nobody writes it. That's how Chris talks."
"You mean--" Sam took a moment to process this. "He opens his mouth and *that's* what comes out?"
"How d'you feel about going to the station now, Sparky?" CJ asked, smiling.
Sam sat further forward and pointed to the radio again. "Could you turn that up, please?"
Sinking. That was the feeling in Chris's gut when Maggie's SUV pulled up. The two unknowns with her had to be the President's hired guns. Somehow, President Bartlet had found out about Chris and sent these two to - what? They were bureaucrats, not law enforcement agents. Could they do anything to him? Did they have that kind of authority? Why did the station have to have a glass front?
Chris swiveled his chair to face the door and tried to look cool and unconcerned. He had a reputation, after all.
"Hey, Chris. I brought you fans."
Chris's forehead creased. "Fans of what?"
She laughed. "Well, CJ's a fan of Miles Davis, but Sam is definitely a fan of you."
"Me?" Chris leaned forward, elbows on calves, and looked Maggie's entourage. He began to relax. People this pretty couldn't have been sent to toss him in jail. "You don't say."
The guy grabbed the hard plastic chair by the door and pulled it up opposite Chris. Sitting forward so their knees almost touched, he shoved a wayward lock of dark brown hair out of his eyes and said, "I'm Sam Seaborn, White House deputy director of communications, and I want to know where you get the stuff you say on the air."
A fan. Chris could handle that. He leaned back, letting his knee brush Sam's. "You need anything, Maggie?"
Maggie had been leaning against the wall with her hands in the pockets of her jeans. Now she pulled one free and made a motion that encompassed the station, the crazy-tall woman next to her, and a whole host of other things besides. "CJ and I are going to roam the stacks for a while, so I can show off how cultured you are."
They grinned at each other. "Have fun," he said, his smile encompassing the stacks, CJ, and a whole host of other things besides. He turned his warmest smile on Sam. "Now. What *exactly* do you want to know?"
President Bartlet was not working from the Sourdough. He'd wanted to, mainly because of the name, but the Secret Service hadn't been able to get security the way Ron Butterfield wanted it, so the owners of a nearby house had been well compensated to be elsewhere for the night. This was where Joel dropped Josh for his briefing, which would begin the instant the President was done with the governor.
"Thanks for the tour, and the ride," Josh told Joel. "See you in thirty, Toby."
Toby nodded. "Don't reverse our policy on Nicaragua or anything."
Joel leaned across Toby, whose eyes widened in protest. "Hey, Josh - Toby and I are getting *very* drunk tonight. Join us."
"Really?" Josh asked. Toby's scowl was dire. "Nah. It's a New York thing, right?"
"Besides which, I don't like Josh," Toby said.
Joel ignored him. "You're family. Over-educated East Coast Jews have to stick together."
Josh couldn't keep from grinning with childlike glee. "Thanks, Joel. I'd love to."
"Great." Joel sat up. "Whenever the President springs you." He waved and edged the car around the mailbox.
"But I don't *like* Josh," Toby protested weakly.
"So...Mayor O'Connell?" CJ said as she and Maggie rifled through the endless span of KBHR's record collection.
Maggie gritted her teeth. "Please don't do that."
Unwrapping a cough drop she'd found in her pocket and hoping it wasn't too disgustingly old, CJ said, "You're the only mayor I've met who doesn't like people to know she's a mayor."
"Cicely's barely big enough to justify the post. It's not like I really do anything mayoral."
CJ thumbed through the well-worn covers. "What do you do the rest of the time?"
"Hey, that reminds me of a joke--" CJ stopped, frowning. "Or, maybe not."
"No, go ahead, tell me," Maggie urged her. "I always like a good bush joke."
CJ choked on her cough drop, and Maggie's attempt to help out - whacking her back and then rubbing the whacked area 'soothingly' - was decidedly unhelpful. To cover, she pulled a record off the shelf. She gasped. "Maggie, look! Howlin' Wolf's _Ain't Gonna Be Your Dog._ You don't find this album laying around every day."
Maggie's eyes sparkled as she took the record from CJ. "I didn't know Chris had this. He never plays it."
"Track 7." CJ pointed at the listing. "God, I loved this song when I was a kid."
"Make him play it," Maggie said.
"Jeez, I don't - do you think he would?"
Maggie looked where Chris and Sam conspired at the front of the station. "I don't see why not. If you ask nicely."
CJ giggled. Honestly giggled. She didn't know why, but she felt like she used to in tenth grade when she and her best friend would cut fourth period gym to smoke crappy cigarettes behind Darlene's dad's house and talk about whether Darlene was going to let her boyfriend get to third base this weekend. Hugging the record, she raced up to Chris and held it up. "Play 'Sweet Woman.' You just have to." She pushed the album into his hand and rushed back to Maggie.
"So that's how the President's senior staff asks nicely," Maggie said.
"Like you wouldn't have done the same."
Smiling, Maggie turned her gaze back to the stacks. "I liked the bossy," she said. "It looked good on you."
And CJ found that she was blushing.
Sam and Chris had cracked the code. The gasp was followed by the ten seconds of whispering, which was followed by the giggle. Then CJ would rush to the front of the room, deposit a record on the floor by Chris's chair, and say, "You have to play this." Chris did, every time. CJ and Maggie had excellent tastes in music; they were unearthing records he'd forgotten he had; and he got a big kick out of being able to say, "My playlist today is being hand-picked by White House press secretary CJ Cregg." Sam's eyes lighting up like a carnival every time they brought something up was just a bonus.
While the songs played, he and Sam talked. He had difficulty convincing Sam that nothing said during his broadcasts was scripted. "You mean you--" Sam didn't have words for it.
"Wing it," Chris said, overplaying his nonchalance and wondering if fear of jail was the only thing that made him eager to impress Sam. "I open my mouth, and there it is."
"Wow." Sam's eyes skipped around the room as though trying to discover the mystical source of inspiration Chris drew on. "Where do your ideas come from?"
Chris tapped the albums CJ had left by his feet. "From the music."
"That is amazing." Sam shook his head.
"I just open my mouth," he admitted. "What you do - that's amazing."
CJ arrived with the Austin Lounge Lizards' _Never an Adult Moment_, and the Seaborn/Stevens Mutual Admiration Society adjourned its first meeting.
Chris didn't know why he'd been scared of these people. They were overgrown kids. CJ kept calling Sam 'Sparky,' and Sam exacted revenge by asking if she was still 'Charlie's bitch.' When "40 Years Old and Livin' in My Mom's Garage" began, they danced like refugees from a John Hughes film - including a brilliantly klutzy moment when CJ spun Maggie out and then lost her on the spin back, sending them crashing into a wall and laughing like madwomen. Chris leaned against the board to watch, and when Sam came to lean beside him, flashing a shy smile, Chris decided that the White House needed a permanent satellite office in Cicely.
The Austin Lounge Lizards ran out of clever rhymes for 'garage,' and CJ glanced at her watch. "Oh, shit!" She raced around the room grabbing sunglasses, purse, and water bottle from the stacks. "Sam, if we leave *this instant,* we'll only be late enough to piss off the President. Thirty seconds more, Josh and Toby fall, too."
"Shit!" Jumping up, Sam capped his pen and dropped it in his pocket. "Listen, Chris, I'm not done picking your brain yet."
"Are you sure?" Chris rubbed the top of his head. "It feels pretty empty."
Sam laughed. "Maybe tonight, after the party--"
"Now, Sam!" CJ was in a state of near-hysteria.
"Ask around," Chris said. "Everybody knows where I live."
Sam's grin was worth any amount of jail time the President could devise for him. "Great."
"Do you like your *job,* Samuel?" CJ demanded.
Sam grabbed his computer case. "Ready." He waved. "Later, Chris!" And then even his protests were swallowed as CJ grabbed him by the lapel and dragged him into the street.
Too many meetings. Too many meetings and speeches and glad-handings, and all Josh wanted was to get away from these people. No more elegant champagne flutes - he needed a real drink.
As he went in search of Toby and Joel, Josh passed CJ, deep in conversation with Maggie O'Connell. He shook his head. You never would've guessed, the way she acted, that she was the mayor of Cicely. She and CJ stood quite close together, CJ's leg sliding against Maggie's as she shifted position against the wall. Josh grinned. Yup, that was going to fuel a couple weeks of fantasies.
At a far corner of the ballroom, he spotted Sam, his head bent close to Ed Chigliak, the black-haired young filmmaker. He didn't strike Josh as Sam's usual type - too young, too apolitical - but sometimes that's what made it work. Opposites and all that, right?
And there was Toby, halfway to soused, gesturing more broadly than was usual even for him, bowtie hanging from his collar in defeat. Josh sighed. He didn't mind being designated driver - even if he was deadly terrified of hitting a moose - but the instant they got to Joel's house he had better get a double - or triple - shot of whatever they were drinking. "Have we been cleared to leave yet?" he whined, and Toby looked at him with the disdain only the nearly- wasted could manage.
"Josh, don't whine. It's not dignified."
"Toby, here I stand in East Ass Nowhere, Alaska, in a tux, at a party that is one cheesy theme and one big pile of shoes away from being classified as a sock-hop. Dignity and I parted ways long ago, so if I want to whine, *I think I will*!"
Toby looked at him for a minute and then sighed. "Joel?" He took a few steps towards the center of the room.
"What are you doing?" Josh dogged Toby's steps.
"What does it look like I'm doing, Josh?" He craned his neck. "Joel?"
"Really? You mean it? We can leave?"
"As soon as we find Joel."
"You're not saying it to be mean to me?"
"What are you, twelve?" Toby grabbed the arm of a young man passing by. The one Sam had been talking to earlier. "Excuse me. We're looking for Joel Fleischman."
Josh leered at the kid over Toby's shoulder and winked. Ed's eyes widened, and he tried to sidle away, choosing to point to Joel's corner of the room.
Toby turned abruptly and caught the tail end of Josh's attempts to corral the leer he'd unleashed on Ed. One eyebrow went up.
"I, ah, I was--" Josh got his smirk under wraps.
"We need to get you to where people are not," Toby observed.
Josh nodded. "What I've been saying."
He and Toby made their way across the space they were charitably calling a ball room. There Joel stood, where Ed had waved them, arguing as usual with Maggie. This time they had an audience - CJ, leaning against the wall and looking highly entertained.
Josh slid up to her. "I don't think I've told you how spectacular you look tonight, CJ."
She squinted at him. "How much alcohol, Josh?"
"Not as much as I will before the night's over." He pointed at Toby. "Toby's getting Joel, and we're going to go to his house and get plastered."
CJ shook her head and exchanged a bemused glance with Maggie. "You sure that's a good idea?"
"CJ," he said, flinging an arm around her shoulders, "I do believe it's the best idea anyone's had since we got to this godforsaken wilderness."
"I thought you liked Alaska."
"You have me confused with Sam." He blinked blearily at Maggie. "That happens a lot."
Toby and Joel arrived at Josh's side. "Ready?" Joel asked.
CJ put a hand on her hip and glared at Toby. "You really want to get this one--" Quick head-jerk at Josh-- "drunker?"
"It's a toss-up between taking him with me and abandoning him in the middle of the tundra." Toby shrugged. "And it's Joel's car, so..."
Laughing, CJ gave Josh's shoulder a pat. "Have fun, then. Don't do anything that'll land you on the front page of the paper." She looked at Joel. "You guys have a paper?"
"None to speak of."
"Still." She fixed her most intimidating glare first on Toby, then on Josh. "Behave."
Josh saluted flippantly, and Toby shrugged again, and he and Joel herded Josh out of the room. CJ turned to Maggie. "That was fun."
"If I'd known two wayward Easterners were all it took to get rid of Fleischman..." She smiled at CJ. "Enjoying yourself?"
"Yeah." CJ nodded. "Yeah, I am."
"You sound surprised."
CJ sipped her champagne and surveyed the crowd. White House staffers were disappearing in droves, but the locals kept dancing like high schoolers with no curfew. CJ turned back to Maggie. "They're going to be here a while, aren't they?"
"This is a party for the President of the United States. It's never going to happen in Cicely again. They'll still be here tomorrow."
CJ nodded and drained the last of her drink. "Well, not me. I'm completely exhausted."
"Need a ride back to the Sourdough?"
"You don't have to do that."
"It's no problem." Maggie caught CJ's gaze and held it fast. CJ felt a warm rush flood her system. "Really."
Slowly, CJ set her empty cup on a table. Slowly, she turned back to Maggie. "Let's go," she said, her voice gone quiet and whispery- rough. Her hand brushed Maggie's, and she kept on letting it brush all the way to the car.
Sam clutched the paper in his fist as he scanned the road. He'd had to do some fast talking to convince Ron to okay his borrowing one of the official cars, and he drove surrounded by dread that a local moose would lumber out of the woods and destroy federal property. Probably wouldn't be good for him, either. Or the moose.
Ed's directions, written on the paper clenched in his hand, were very good. Still, if not for the midnight sun thing, he wouldn't have found the narrow road that led to Chris's trailer. Sam wasn't surprised that Chris lived in what was, even for Alaska, the middle of nowhere. He parked the car outside the silvery structure and climbed the steps, hoping Chris would still be awake.
The door flew open from the inside, a hand grabbed Sam's collar and hauled him inside. Then he was against the door being kissed stupid.
"You're still awake," Sam said when he had control of his voice again.
Chris rocked back on his heels. "I had no idea I was going to do that until I did it." He gestured around his narrow home. "So come in; get comfortable; let me kiss you again." Sam was more than happy to let him. "Want a beer?"
"I've had more than enough alcohol for one night, thanks."
There wasn't much room in the place. A chair at the small table looked clear enough to sit in, and the bed had been completely denuded of clutter. Sam chose the chair, and when Chris turned his way, the corner of his mouth twitched, so Sam knew his challenge hadn't gone unnoticed. Chris sat on the bed, and once more they were face-to-face, knees touching, while Chris's finger traced around the top of his beer can.
Once they were both settled, they had a briefly awkward moment. "You weren't at the party," Sam said finally.
"I'm hiding from the President," Chris admitted.
"I don't want him to throw me in jail for parole violations."
"You've violated your parole?"
"Not that I know of, but we have a lot of laws."
Sam scoffed. "Ancient history. Debt to society more than paid."
Chris smiled in relief. "I'm glad."
Spotting the only framed photograph in the place, Sam leaned up and across Chris to pick it up. "Who's this?"
Chris's smile broadened. "That is my karmic doppelganger."
Sam lowered the picture. "Your - I'm sorry, your *what*?"
"My half-brother, Bernard. We're kind of hard to tell apart."
Sam's eyes went to the photo again. "The melatonin doesn't give him away a little?"
Laughing, Chris took the picture and returned it to the window sill. "It's in the eyes. You'd understand if you met him."
"Maybe someday I will."
"Does that seem likely?"
Sam shrugged. "Not really, but it seemed like the thing to say."
Chris realized that Sam was still leaning across and against him. He slid a hand up Sam's thigh. "Is it important to you to say the right thing?"
Sam shivered and leaned into Chris's touch, his own hand twining through Chris's hair. "Words are all I have."
"Oh, I don't know about that." Tugging Sam's belt, Chris pulled him down onto the bed. He held Sam's face between his hands and guided him close. "I bet we could find something else your tongue is good for."
"I haven't had a real bagel since I moved here," Joel announced. He punctuated the proclamation with a jab of his glass, not a particularly wise move given his level of insobriety.
Toby nodded. "New Yorkers all over the damned place in D.C. Can any of them make a bagel?"
"That's nothing," Joel said. "When I first got to Cicely, no one but O'Connell knew what a bagel *was.* I tried shipping them in, but it never worked."
"My mom sold the house in Connecticut without telling me," Josh said.
"Josh, shut up," Toby said.
It had come to this. Josh had caught up to Joel and Toby's level of drunk - and then passed it. Toby and Joel had fallen into a game of 'Who Misses New York More?' and Josh, excluded from that flavor of self-pity, was bemoaning anything that came to mind.
"Korean food," Joel said. It sounded like a prayer.
"At two in the morning," Toby added.
"Yes! *Yes*!" Joel sat up fast, sliding off the edge of his chair. "Look outside. Look! At midnight it's as light as it was at noon, but is anything open?"
"Sometimes we get out of meetings at three, and there's - there's nowhere to go for pie."
"Or egg creams."
"Not that I could *get* a decent egg cream."
"I shudder to think of trying to explain an egg cream to anyone around here."
"There's no egg in egg creams."
"Josh, shut up," Toby said.
"Toby, why are you so hard on him?" Joel looked at Josh from his vantage point on the floor to see if there was something reprehensible about the other man that he'd missed.
Toby shrugged and sipped the scotch he'd brought. *Good* scotch, because who knew what Joel had access to up here. "You should try it; it's liberating."
"No cream in an egg cream, either," Josh observed.
"Shut up, Josh," Joel said experimentally. He looked at Toby. "You're right. That's fun." He sighed. "Not as much fun as walking around New York."
Toby poured more scotch all around, though some fuzzy part of his fuzzy brain was hinting that Josh didn't need any more. "*Nothing* is that much fun."
When CJ called to check in, Carol greeted her with half a dozen messages. Maggie groaned, but CJ smiled widely. "Is that all?"
Maggie could just make out Carol's voice on the other end. "For right now. Josh and Toby are off getting hammered, and nobody's seen Sam for a couple of hours, but there's nothing you can do about that now, so you might as well wait 'til morning."
"Carol, you've made my night. Can you take care of the last message?"
Carol thought for all of a quarter of a second. "Consider it done."
"And then go to bed."
"Yeah. There's nothing else that won't keep. Get some rest."
"You're the best, boss."
CJ snorted. "If I were the best, you'd be lounging in Maui right now."
"And leave all this? Good night, boss. And tell Mayor O'Connell I said good night, too."
"Good night, Carol." CJ hung up with a sigh and a wry smile as Maggie ushered them into her bedroom.
Maggie sank into a chair. "Did she have to mention the mayor thing?"
"Carol once had to tell the star reporter of a newspaper known for its scathing, humiliating exposes that he was no longer welcome in the briefing room. She had to tell the mothers of two Marines killed in a friendly fire incident that the White House had no comment. And she fields an average of one hundred calls a day. She's big on propriety."
Maggie nodded. "What about you?"
"What about me what?"
"Are you big on propriety?"
CJ was standing across the room, letting the closet doorknob press against the small of her back. She pushed off slowly and sauntered over to Maggie's side. Dropping onto the arm of Maggie's chair, she murmured, "That all depends on the company I'm keeping."
Maggie shot out of the chair and busied herself at the dresser - moving her brush and comb back and forth across the smooth top.
A panicked scowl marred CJ's forehead. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to freak you out."
"You didn't," Maggie denied too quickly, not looking at CJ.
"No; clearly you're a model of composure." Maggie snickered nervously. CJ came right up behind her, and she jumped. "I'm sorry," CJ said, backing away quickly. "I don't want to make you nervous."
"You don't." Maggie shook her head. "I mean, it's not you. I'm a little cursed."
One of CJ's eyebrows shot up. "Cursed?"
Sighing, Maggie dropped her head, her hair falling into her eyes. "People I sleep with tend to...die in horrible ways."
"This is the most bizarre conversation I've had all day. And I include the one I had with Eros on the plane."
"Never mind. What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the string of dead ex-lovers I've left behind me. None of them died normal deaths. There was bad potato salad, a falling satellite, a nap on a glacier - and those are just the men. The recent ones."
"Maggie, I'm sure that's a coincidence."
"There are six of them, CJ. How coincidental can that be?"
"Did you kill them? Personally, I mean. With your hands."
Maggie jumped. "Of course not!"
CJ touched her arm. "Then it wasn't you."
"Lots of people have said that. And then they've died."
CJ wanted to laugh, but Maggie was serious about this. She really believed that sleeping with her could get CJ dead. She slid her hand up Maggie's arm. "I survived Roslyn. I bet I can survive sex with you."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
CJ stared at her a minute later, then stepped back, unbuttoned her blouse, and let it fall to the floor. "Is that a better one?"
Licking her lips, Maggie surrendered and stepped in close. "Much better."
"Whenever someone in Washington tells me something is kosher, I have to check to make sure it's really kosher and not the crazed liberal New Age version," Toby said.
"Kosher." Joel snorted. "Moose meat is not kosher."
"I think Donna rearranges all of my files once a month so I can't find anything and remain totally dependent on her."
"Shut up, Josh." Joel sounded convivial. It had become his and Toby's response to everything Josh said, the way they'd say 'Oh, really?' or 'Is that so?' to anyone else.
"I miss public transportation," Joel said, trying to take another drink and spilling half on the arm of the chair. "Actually," he added reflectively, "I miss having there be enough people for there to be public transportation. And places for it to take you."
"Kids with blue hair."
"People with bad attitudes."
"Italian Catholics who speak fluent Yiddish because it's good for business."
"Oh." Toby sat his glass on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Damn, Joel. I'm sorry."
The old friends looked at each other, Joel from the depths of a drunken sorrow, Toby from a drunken inability to comfort him, both trying to remember if this was why they'd stopped drinking together.
"Who's Elaine?" Josh asked, his voice almost lost, like the rest of his body, in the depths of Joel's sagging couch.
"Ex-fiancée," Joel corrected without much heat. "Just one of the many, *many* things I miss about New York." He stared disconsolately into the bottom of his glass, and Toby sighed, rubbing his forehead.
"Somebody told me they thought they'd seen Mandy in New York," Josh said. "New York is welcome to her. *She's* something you'd never miss." He looked at the two other men, lost in a haze of pain and nostalgia, a homesickness and fierce pride of place he would never share, and for a brief, disorienting moment he heard himself as they must. "Josh, shut *up,*" he told himself in disgust.
And Toby had been right. There *was* something liberating about saying it.
Chris devoured Sam like a lollipop; Sam scaled Chris's body like a kid on a jungle gym. The best sex brings out the tawdriest metaphors.
No shameful, secret fumblings in the dark - making love here was like making love with all the lights on. Neither could remember the last time sex was this much *fun.*
If they'd been listening, at the instant of their second simultaneous orgasm (or maybe the third; they'd stopped counting), they would've heard the ethereal music that had haunted them earlier.
But they were busy with other things at the time.
CJ had tricks Maggie had never encountered. Maggie had a hunger CJ could barely keep up with. They were tangled together so tightly that telling one from the other would've been difficult, but if anything, they were trying to get closer - each inside the other's skin, if they could've.
Maggie pressed her fingers into CJ's hips, her lips against CJ's breasts. CJ drew her fingers through Maggie's hair, her tongue along Maggie's palate. They slid against each other's bodies, long, fast, frenzied, clinging with sweat and charged with desire, until moment after moment after moment of release and eventual collapse.
Maggie fit herself along the length of CJ's body, drawing CJ's arm over her, CJ's hand on her stomach. As Maggie muttered a sleepy "Good night" and burrowed into her pillow, CJ leaned down to kiss the back of her neck - and thought she saw a mark, like an insect bite.
'Or like a tiny arrow point,' said an annoyingly Dannyish voice in the back of CJ's head. She put it down to too little sleep, and the mark to a trick of the light, and let Morpheus claim her. *He* never tried to shoot her.
No alarm ever screamed, but the clang of metal against metal jolted Sam awake, and he rolled over to find himself alone in a strange bed. "Chris?" he asked uncertainly.
"Sorry, Sam," Chris said, slipping the end of his belt through the last loop. "My belt kind of got away from me."
Sam peeked out the window. "I couldn't begin to guess what time it is."
Chris smiled. "4:52. You should try to get some more sleep."
"Nah. My alarm's going to go in eight minutes anyway. Been a long time since I shared space with someone who got up before I did."
"You didn't get a lot of sleep last night."
Sam grinned wickedly. "But it was the sleep of the well-used." He appreciated Chris's soft laugh, and then, as he stretched his arms up and over his head, he appreciated Chris's soft hiss. "See something you like?" he asked.
"Plenty. Nothing I can take advantage of in the next eight minutes." Chris threw his leather vest over his t-shirt and pulled his hair back with a rubber band. Sam sighed. "You don't like the ponytail?"
"I liked it better down."
"All right." The rubber band came out.
"Just like that?" Sam asked, eyebrow up.
"Just like that."
"You're an easy guy to persuade."
"I have a feeling *you* could persuade pretty much anyone of pretty much anything." He picked up a sleeve of graham crackers from a box on the table. "I have to go."
Sam nodded. "So do I."
"I had a great time yesterday. And this morning."
Sam smiled up at him, propping his head on his hands. "So did I."
"If you're ever back this way, I'm sure I'll still be right here."
"Then I'll look for you. If you're ever in D.C., I'm in the book."
"My chances of being in Washington..." He nibbled a graham cracker.
"I know. Though, I swear, no one's going to arrest you."
"I'll probably stay here, to be safe." Chris pointed to the radio on the table. "Have that on in fifteen minutes. I'll play a song for you."
"I'll be listening."
"Great." Chris swooped down, kissing Sam lightly. Smiling apologetically, he wiped a few rogue crumbs off Sam's lips.
"Have fun in Russia."
Chris slipped out the door, and a minute later, Sam watched his motorcycle speed toward town. It was the easiest parting he'd ever done. But he figured that was because nothing that had happened since they arrived in Alaska had quite caught up with him yet.
Sam lounged in Chris's bed for five more minutes, then he pulled himself up, went to the bathroom, and wandered around the small trailer. He ate a graham cracker from the other sleeve. He picked up the picture of Chris and Bernard. "Karmic doppelganger," he muttered, but he had to admit that the resemblance between them *was* all in the eyes.
He switched on the radio. At first there was only static, and then Chris's voice floated through the room. "Good morning, Cicely. This is Chris in the morning, and I'm starting out by dedicating a song to President Bartlet and his hard-working staff. Thanks for stopping by."
When Sam heard the drum beat, it sounded familiar. His eyes popped when the guitars cut in. He wouldn't. No way had Chris - and there was John Fogerty. Sam laughed so hard he had to sit back down on the bed - and then try not to fall off of it.
He had done it. Chris had dedicated "Fortunate Son" to the President and his staff.
"Maggie, there's a man in that tree." CJ fumbled for her glasses, sure she wasn't seeing what she was seeing. But, no, there it was. "Maggie, there's a man *sleeping* in that tree."
Maggie yanked up the zipper on her pants and stepped calmly to the window. "Yeah. That's Ed. Hang on." As CJ scrambled to keep the sheet over her breasts, Maggie opened the window and leaned half-way out. "Ed? What are you doing up there?"
The young man's eyes opened, and he took in his surroundings with a satisfied smile. "Hi, Maggie. Wasn't sure that was going to work." He sat up on the branch and swung his feet onto the roof.
"Is this some new training thing?" Maggie asked as she helped him out of the tree and into the room. "Ed's a shaman," she explained to CJ. CJ squeaked in protest at the incursion, pointing frantically towards her body naked beneath the sheet, but Ed barely noticed her.
"Miss Cregg's friends are looking for her, and she wasn't at the Sourdough, so I made myself go to sleep thinking about her, and hoped that would bring me to her. Which it did." He waved at CJ. "Good morning, Miss Cregg."
"Uh, good morning, Ed," she returned weakly.
"Your friends are at the Brick. Mr. Ziegler says for you to, uh--" His face scrunched as he tried to remember Toby's exact words. "Get your ass down here if you don't want to walk across the Bering Strait with Charlie."
"Oh, I bet he does," CJ muttered. "How does he seem? Toby, I mean."
"Hung-over. Mr. Lyman, too." He looked at Maggie. "And Dr. Fleischman."
"Good," CJ and Maggie said simultaneously. They smiled at each other. Served the snotty Northeastern bastards right.
Maggie finally remembered that CJ was naked and herded Ed into the hall. After taking the planet's fastest shower and shimmying into as few articles of clothing as she could get away with, CJ emerged from the bathroom, shoes in hand, and looked at Maggie. "This is about to be the hard part, isn't it?"
"Oh, CJ," Maggie said, and CJ heard no sarcasm in her voice, "they're all hard parts."
CJ kissed her, letting her hands skate up and down Maggie's back, letting Maggie pull her in by the shoulder blades. She knew she should say something romantic, or profound, or hopeful, something Sam or Toby would've been proud to have written. Instead she blurted, "Can Ed be trusted not to tell anyone what he saw?"
Maggie's eyes widened, and she looked almost offended. "You really know how to kill a mood, CJ."
"I'm sorry, but it's important."
"Of course it's important," Maggie said impatiently. She sighed, raking her fingers though her hair. "Other than Ruth Ann, there's no one for him to tell. You're safe."
"Thank you," CJ said. "I should get going."
"They're waiting for you."
"Exactly." CJ wet her bottom lip with the tip of her tongue. "I'd say see you around, but..."
"That doesn't seem likely," Maggie finished, nodding. "It's all right, CJ; I understand."
"I had a great time."
"Me too. Try not to die under freakish circumstances, would you? I'm trying to break this thing."
CJ envied Maggie. Envied her like crazy, for her ability to detach like nights of wild lesbian sex with near-strangers were a matter of course. She flicked a glance at the tree where a man had recently been sleeping and decided that maybe they were, in Cicely. But her emotional distance would've come in handy for CJ just now. "I guess I'll get going."
"Okay." She looked at Maggie for a minute, but Maggie didn't move. CJ walked out of the room and gestured to Ed, who was waiting in the hall. "Lead on, my good man."
At the Brick, Toby looked up at CJ as though the very sight of her hurt his eyes. "Did you have to wear purple?"
"Good morning to you, too, Mr. Happy-face!"
Beside Toby, Josh winced. "No need to shout."
CJ and Sam exchanged bemused smiles. "You two ought to be careful around demon rum," she said, snagging a forkful of hash browns off Josh's plate. It didn't look like he was eating them.
"It was demon scotch," Toby informed her archly, as though that justified everything. "Very good twenty-five year old scotch."
Looking around, Sam spotted Joel, hunched over a mug in a back booth, squeezing his temples with his thumb and forefinger.
"Dr. Fleischman didn't fare much better, I see." He smiled his thanks as Shelley put a stack of blackberry pancakes in front of him.
"Can I get you anything?" Shelley asked CJ.
Those pancakes looked awfully good. But then CJ caught Toby's death stare and over-enunciated, 'No time.' She sighed. "Coffee, please."
Sam frowned over his plate. "You should eat something, CJ."
Nodding, CJ commandeered a piece of Josh's toast and slapped preserves on it. "I am."
An influx of chatting, laughing patrons into the Brick looked to be on the verge of splitting Toby's and Josh's heads open. Toby threw a wad of cash onto the table and shoved his chair back, shuddering when it scraped against the floor. "I'm going back to Air Force One. Senior staff in twenty minutes; I suggest you be there." He stalked out.
Josh scrambled up and followed without a word. CJ looked at Sam and shook her head. "Ah, the hung-over."
Sam nodded. "Josh forgets he can't drink the way normal people do. He's a featherweight."
"I don't think Toby forgets he's a complete jackass when he drinks. Actually, for him that's probably an added bonus."
"Yeah." Sam chuckled.
Ten minutes later, Sam was polishing off the pancakes, and CJ was on her third cup of coffee. Sam pulled his fork across his plate, leaving patterns in the syrup. "What were you up to last night?"
CJ looked him over. He obviously hadn't showered, had dark circles under his eyes, and if she wasn't mistaken, that was the same shirt he'd been wearing at the party last night. She smiled knowingly over the rim of her mug. "Same as you, I'm betting."
He blushed, and then nodded. They were co-conspirators now.
When they paid and walked out of the building, they found a car and an impatient driver waiting. "Did the President send you?" CJ asked.
"No, ma'am," he said, opening the door for Sam. "Mr. Ziegler did."
She rolled her eyes and climbed into the back. "Of course he did."
As the car rolled along, Sam looked at the buttons on the console. "Is one of these a radio?"
CJ pulled her hands into her lap. "I never touch those things; afraid I'm going to nuke Armenia or something."
Sam poked the only button he recognized for sure - the intercom. "Does one of these buttons get me the local radio station?"
Instead of a reply, the last notes of the brindisi from _La Traviata_ filled the air. Sam smiled and sat back, content.
"Let us enjoy life, for the pleasures of love are swift and fleeting," Chris's voice followed the song. "You got that right, Giuseppe. But if anything, that makes them even better, more worth grabbing whenever you can. Because *everything* in this mad, whirling life is swift and fleeting, and if you don't latch onto happiness whenever you can, you're going to find out the world's a pretty cold, lonely place, too. So here's another song for love, and lovers, from Lady Day."
"Please, no," Sam whispered, his fist pressed against his thigh. "Please, Chris, not what I think it is."
'I don't know why, but I'm feeling so sad. I long to try something I've never had. Huggin' and a-kissin', oh what we've been missin', Lover-man, oh where can you be?'
"Damn it." Sam turned away, but CJ saw his reflection in the window blinking rapidly. "Tell me, CJ," he said, his voice wet, "do you ever consider moving to Alaska?"
CJ leaned her head against the upholstery and swallowed tears of her own. Air Force One loomed in the window. She sighed. "All the time."
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